Friday, November 29, 2013

The Unattainable - Part 2 - The Real Digital Revolution

"The telephone. which interrupts the most serious conversation and cuts short the most weighty observations, has a romance all it's own."
-Virginia Wolfe

When my mentor, Stan Bickman, died, his daughters sent out a memorial postcard. It was of Stan at a payphone, smiling.

For years, most pictures of any producer, especially a line producer, would involve a telephone. Whether it was talking to vendors or agents or staff or potential locations, there was always endless time spent on the phone.

The advent of the cell phone meant that a line producer was not tied to the office, that the phone time could also be spent heading to location or doing other things. I specifically remember a drive to Long Island from Manhattan where my assistant and I got into the car, said hello, and then were on the phone, never disconnecting, hitting the call-waiting button for a trip that lasted over an hour. We did not speak to each other again until we got out of the car.

For line producers of old, this probably seemed impersonal. I am sure many of them preferred to talk in person, and rued the day that telephones did as much to keep us apart as to bring us together.

Stan always said to always have cash on you when trying to lock a location or holding area. Psychologically, it is harder for someone to turn down cash in front of them than a location agreement or a check.

With one notable exception (Alex, from Handheld Films, who I have dealt with since he got there but have NEVER met - we both now feel its a sign of good luck and we don't break this) I have always made a point of meeting my vendors in person and shaking hands.

Having become accustomed to the phone. I am now just getting used to weaning myself off of it in favor of email or text.

Email makes sense: it means I have a "paper trail" of all conversations, which is helpful a)because it's easy to forget the details of one of `100 conversations per day, and b)well, it serves as CYA (the first two being "cover" and "your") if someone says they did not know.

Texts are quicker, though I hate them. Fat fingers and the need to put on my glasses.

My last feature was about 2 years ago, and even though much of my communication on that one included email, etc., I still dealt a good deal on the phone.

When things would get hectic, the constant ring of the phone - and of all the phones in the office - served as the ambient soundtrack to production.

Today, that sound is replaced by keyboards clicking. The way I used to dread answering the constant calls, I now dread being in a meeting for a half hour or more, and then coming back to "refresh" my email - I know there will be dozens. and there is no chain I am in that I can ignore.

This goes for everyone in production. There are nights my last email out would be at 2AM, I would wake up at 6AM, and there would be 10 emails. When does ANYONE sleep?

The communal response in the office is often something like this: I will be reading an email cc'd to others, and hear "Oh, my" (or often something stronger - a film office is not Mayberry RFD). I will know that my producer or coordinator is reading the same email, and reacting how I feel.

While the need for digital copies, shared dropbox for filing, etc. is absolutely essential, there are times (such as looking over a call sheet or production report, or reading a scene, or going over specs) that I still like to have a hard copy in front of me.

In many ways. fewer calls are a good thing. It's faster. Still, it does sometimes feel less personal to me, and then there is always the issue that level of disassociation allows people - myself included - to sometimes go into rant mode in an email they would not if they were just talking to each other. It's the same as flaming on the internet - people say things they would not if they were facing the person.

Tone is lost in an email, as is often sarcasm, a mode I likely go into too often when shooting. It is my way of keeping things light, but is easy to misinterpret. I'm learning.

I love the digital "paper trail." I really like being able to do a meeting with my tablet and not having to lug around my laptop (who ever thought that carrying a portable laptop would be described as a chore!).

So many of the digital improvements have made production better. However, I cannot help but be a little sentimental for the phone lines we used to set up in the office, with a "hunting" feature so that if the first number was busy, it would "hunt" to the second, etc ("Hunt" is a term the "Phone company" used to use). All of this is completely unnecessary in an age when everyone is on their cell.

Much as digital technology has made filmmaking more accessible, though I still think with something lost in celluloid, the digital world has many improvements, but with that intangible something lost. I find that people not only like what the technology offers, but seem to sometimes almost resent being called on the phone, or doing an in-person meeting. Who responds to voicemails anymore? If you want someone to get back, text them.

Alas, I never thought I would become nostalgic for the telephone, that original link to others. While my tablet and smartphone give me access to my crew, staff and set at all times, it also means that there is no time when I am not accessible. Not always a good thing, the inability to be out of touch even for a moment.

To use one of my absolutely favorite movie lines, one I think of often, and have used here before, from Inherit the Wind:

"Progress has never been a bargain. You have to pay for it.  
Sometimes I think there's a man who sits behind a counter and says, "All right, you can have a telephone but you lose privacy and the charm of distance.
Madam, you may vote but at a price. You lose the right to retreat behind the powder puff or your petticoat.
Mister, you may conquer the air but the birds will lose their wonder and the clouds will smell of gasoline."

If old Henry Drummond thought that the telephone causes one to lose privacy and the "charm of distance," I can only imagine what that man behind the counter charges for our current digital age.

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