Friday, January 31, 2014

The Great Man Directs - Part 3 - Bring On the Cooks

"“The first thing he discovered is that the creative architects knew how to play. They could get immersed in a problem. It was almost childlike, like when a child gets utterly absorbed in a problem. The second thing was that they deferred making decisions as long as they could. This is surprising."
-John Cleese on Creativity*

SPOILER ALERT: This story has a happy ending. It just takes a dark and twisted path.

I've always liked Iron Chef, though I still prefer the original Japanese show on which the Food Network show is based. It was more amusing precisely because they seemed so much more sincere, and the concoctions seemed more out-of-reach, as did the ingredients. The level of concentration and commitment on the part of experts who had reached the peak of their professions interested me.

Conversely, I have no interest in most other competition shows, especially food shows with waitresses, firemen and other semi-pros attempted the same thing.

There is a trope that goes something like this: too many cooks spoil the broth (soup).  I've come to believe it isn't too many cooks that spoil the broth, but, rather, the wrong combination of cooks.

On The Yellow People, the short I directed, there were definitely overlapping skill sets.

My producer, Dennis, is also an accomplished director in his own right. On a reality webseries a year earlier, he helped guide me in story editing a series from a factually-accurate but rather tedious snore-fest that was only missing John Cleese mocking BBC documentary voice-over artists to something that was quite entertaining.

My two actors. Chelsea, my lead female, had directed and been the lead in a short I had helped line produce and First AD. Subsequently, she had become a true producer on her own. James, my male lead, was also an accomplished editor.

Then, there was my respect for the process I had for Adam, my DP.

Finally, there was me, the long-time producing and production pro and novice film director (I had done a good deal of stage direction). While I was watching the creative side, the First AD that lives in my head kept one eye on the clock. Were we losing light through the window behind the actors? When was the best time to break for lunch? Which angles should we shoot out first and what would be most efficient.

While most of the experience mentioned above is a good thing, in another situation, it could have been awkward. Chelsea's experience has led her to direct herself, and, to some extent, to also direct her fellow actor (who in this case was also her fiance, just to make it more complicated).

James is an editor, so whenever we would move camera, I could see James calculating whether we had enough coverage from that angle.

Both actors were very sharp with continuity, sometimes reminding me of which hand had picked up a cigarette or whether they thought these two angles would cut.

Also, because the I had talked with the actors about motivation and the meaning of different moments for the weeks leading up to the live play, I felt it wasn't necessary or even healthy to keep beating those points. More extensive rehearsal before this would have been too much, and I very much agree with Tennessee Williams' belief that the film version of a play has a different life**, and I wanted that to be able to breath and grow.

It is also in keeping with what Cleese talks about in terms of creativity; that balance of being prepared but also being open to the moment, to trust yourself that you will be able to fix certain things as they arise. The extreme of this, of course, is not being prepared, and I was careful to make sure this wasn't true.

Everyone involved tossed their ingredients into the stew, but, thankfully, also knew just how far was reasonable and what would be crossing the line.

Yes, enough pepperoncino to bring out the taste, and, yes, maybe just a pinch more to connect with the heat, but not so much as to mask the flavors.

All of this compares and contrasts with my belief that filmmaking is at once a collaborative art and a dictatorship. To quote from Peter Brook's belief in The Empty Space, where he describes the Good Director, the Bad Director and the Deadly Director, the Bad Director is one where everyone can see that directing isn't happening, so everyone else jumps in. My own version of this theory is that someone will direct on set; if it isn't the director, it will likely be the DP, the producer, or the lead actor (or actress).

It's why I believe there is another fine line between welcoming input and cutting it off, something I try to be aware of when I AD or line produce if I see people disrespecting the director's space.

Finally, there is the editing.

My first look at the editor's cut through me. This isn't the film I directed? It seemed almost every cut and angle was the wrong one!

Of course, a deep breath and subsequent viewings made me more comfortable with the cut. There was no way it was going to come out the way I saw it in my head; that was an unrealistic expectation.

In working with the editor, I kept sending notes, and he kept making changes. The process was informative, There were key story points and transitions that the editor could not have known I was going for, and those (as well as the original music, which was way too on the nose) needed to be changed.

There were other places, though, that after I asked for a change, I realized I liked the editor's original cut more than my idea, that what he had done, while different from my idea, worked in a way to bring a fresh look at the piece, exactly in keeping with my theory on collaboration.

I've watched directors give over their work in post, and I've watch directors smother editors to the point that I wondered why they hired an editor at all. I was determined to do neither.

An assistant editor who worked with Coppola on Apocolypse Now Redux quotes him as saying: "It's not finished, but it's done."

I know how he feels.

I still have some ideas for music, and will want to sit with this cut and also run it by my smart actors for input, but for now, thanks Hussein, for a nice job editing.

Here it is - feel free to share your thoughts. I know many of my readers are directors in their own right, and welcome the input.

* Cleese, a founding member of the brilliant "Monty Python" comedy troupe, has some great videos on the process of creativity. Only one linked here - there are more.
**While there is no one quote where Williams says this, he discussed it often. A look at Elia Kazan's book "A Life" will show how Williams wanted his work to be adapted.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

January Blues

"Last night's storm was fierce
As I can see from this morning's
Thick blanket of snow
Rising to kindle woodchips
In lonely Shigarati Village"
-Lotus Moon: The Poetry of Buddhist Nun Rengetsu

File this one under "mundane but true."

Generally, I try to steer clear of any topic that might be the subject of a local news feed, no less a ""slice of life" piece.

Those of us who chose a freelance life know that at times things will be slow, and in New York, things will generally be slow in January. Nothing new to see here.

Normally, January doldrums are no more common for me than the need to "do something" on the weekend, seeing as I can just as easily be working on the weekend and off on Wednesday.

Like most of us, I have a routine between gigs. A little more time meditating. Start or get back to a writing project. Of course, the endless round of emails, phone calls and resumes sent in search of the next project.

This is not usually accompanied by anything more than the usual angst, depression, doubt that all of us working in this business experience.

This year, though, was a little different. I share here not to wallow or complain - my life is good - but because I know how much we all share bits of the same truth; how what we think is unique to us is actually being felt by others in some way.

Consider this my turn in that virtual support group.

This January, I came off a rather hectic ride that goes back through most of the last year. It included working on a short, directing a play, shooting that play as a short film, dozens of budgets, and rewriting a horror script for a producer I know.

Then, of course, there was line producing a feature.

At the beginning of the feature, in early prep, I was still trying to do changes for a few features and polish on the horror screenplay, to the point where I could not finish everything I was doing. There was the inevitable irony that every freelancer experiences, having to turn down work because I was so busy, knowing there would be a need for that work once the feature was over.

The Universe provides, but it does so with a twisted smile and a sense of humor. You have to learn to laugh along.

A busy year would segueway (sorry, I hate the new spelling "segway" - the root word is segue!) into a feature where any time I could get four hours sleep or do one thing at one time was a good time.

When that feature ended, there were the holidays, which have been quiet for me for years. My birthday comes right before Christmas, so I am used to celebrating it with some level of solitude, and learned how not to get bummed about that. This year, however, I had a small but wonderful gathering with people who meant a lot to me, a combined celebration of The Feast of Seven Fishes, a Southern Italian tradition, with my birthday.

So it was that the year ended much busier and fuller than usual for me. Alas, ever silver lining has a cloud lurking around the corner, so a wonderful year, a nice retreat, and then a Monday. January 6th, where I woke up and had nowhere to be and nothing I had to do.

Top all of that with this vortex thing that seems determined to give us a winter more appropriate for Buffalo than Brooklyn and you have the January Blues.

Sure, there was catching up on this blog, and the usual work search, but then what?

I have a few writing projects I am toying with now, and finally got the chance to work on the editing for the short I directed. Hopefully, I will have a cut for you here in a week or so - feel free to judge for yourself!

Thankfully, my Zen practice and years of therapy have left me more prepared for these times, and like the rest of us, I'm slogging through. There are good prospects for work coming up, and I am going to get to some short stories I have wanted to finish.

Short stories and possibly a web series pilot - we'll see. The latter has been on my back-burner for a while, and maybe it's time for me to try the almost no-budget thing, the Kickstarter thing, and get this done. I still don't know that I feel comfortable asking the folks I know to send money multiple times a day, but if I get the group I'd like to get together, it will feel more like it's for us, than for me.

A new screenplay? I don't know. I have a number of screenplays, three of which have been produced in one form or another. None have earned me more than a pittance, and the practice of preparing budget for wonderful scripts for others only to see those project not get funded have left me with the same lack of enthusiasm for venturing there that restaurant workers have eating out: when you've been in the kitchen, the food doesn't look as good.

The latter reminds me of one upside to this slow-down; the chance to get back to reading, Currently alternating between some Zen writing, the collected works of Ralph Waldo Emerson and the latest Carl Hiaasen novel Bad Monkey. Each of these are good for different moods.

Hiassen has long been a favorite of mine, ever since Tourist Season. Shockingly, only one of the Miami columnist's novels was directly made into a movie, and that was a disastrous mess based on Striptease. Hiaasen has a great joy in his dark heart, and his villains (usually corporate types from outside Florida looking to destroy more of it's natural beauty for a buck) meet their deaths in ways we root for from the moment we meet them. That the movie version of Striptease choose to water this down was nothing short of a crime against humanity.

In Bad Monkey, Hiaasen's "hero" is a Key West detective who is "busted" down to a food inspector - "roach inspector," as he calls it - for using a vacuum extension in a way it most definitely was not intended on the husband of woman he is sleeping with. His experience seeing what goes on in the kitchen leaves him getting skinnier and skinnier as he cannot see his way clear to eating any food served him in a restaurant.

One of the Zen readings I finished was by my original teacher, the amazing Myotai Sensei (Bonnie Myotai Treace). The poem at the top of this post is from her short work, Winter Moon: A Season of Zen Teaching. (The link to the book is along the right, if you're interested) One of the things I love about Myotai Sensei is her impish sense of humor, the way she makes her teachings simple without being simplistic. An astute writer and editor in her own right, Myotai Sensei shares the poem above as part of the never-ending lesson not to judge but to see things just exactly as they are, without adding a layer to it.

So it is that I do not see this down time as some sort of eternal punishment or hardship, but merely as one moment which will pass, and lead to another moment when there is work.

This post started with me wanting to describe January Blues, and somehow turned into a book review of Carl Hiaasen and a Zen teaching. This was definitely not where I thought it was going when I started it, but if you follow my blog, you know this sort of stream-of-consciousness will pop up more often than not.

Hope you enjoyed the ride. If all goes well, in the next post, I will be sharing a version of the short film I directed, and then back to the turn of the 21st Century. and to the movies I worked on at that time. It's been a while since we got back to the timeline, and I think that time is getting closer.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Unattainable - Part 6 - Done and Done

"I don't throw darts at a board. I bet on sure things. Read Sun Tzu. The Art of War. Every battle is won before it is ever fought." - Gordon Gekko, Wall Street

You know all the movie quotes about the business world. Gekko in Wall Street and Blake (Alec Baldwin) in Glengarry Glen Ross both generate enough to fill a semester at Wharton's*.

"Greed is good."
"Always be closing"
"It's all about bucks, kid. The rest is conversation."
"Get them to sign on the line which is dotted"
"Lunch is for wimps."

Ok, the last one I might agree with, as I tend not to eat lunch when I'm working.

As for the others, and the million other quotes that have come from the generations of business people since the 80s who think that success in business is somehow a religion in need of scripture, the quotes are over-simplifications that are annoying as hell, the adult version of childhood sing-song nonsense that sound good but mean nothing.

The remnants of an age when we glorified yuppies who had built nothing and, as Carl Fox says in Wall Street, don't understand:

"Stop going for the easy buck and start producing something with your life. Create, instead of living off the buying and selling of others."

That's why we got into the arts, isn't it? There really are no easy bucks here for most, regardless of where you are in the chain.  For crew, there's a lot of heavy lifting and standing around in weather that is too hot or too cold. For production. there is too much of your time in development that you never get paid for, and working for a back end that often feels like a kick in another kind of back end.

For actors, there's waiting tables and spending more on headshots and acting coaches than you make in a year when you start.

For all, there are long hours.

For people like me, then, macho-sounding business quotes are like nails on a chalkboard.

Why, then, did I start the overuse of the phrase "Done and done" on this shoot? Why would I?

As line producer, approving things (or not) is part of the routine. From check requests to crew invoices to call sheets, you are constantly signing off on things.

In the beginning, especially with a production coordinator I had not worked with before, you look each thing over very carefully, make sure you are the one approving and not letting others make the decision, and make sure your POC knows why you are approving.

Then, the routine kicks in. They know what you are going to approve or not approve, for the most part. The conversations become shorter, the review quicker. You develop a short-hand.

Finally, our short-hand got shortened to "Done and done."

"We need to order toner."

You get past the point where you need to ask if we really need more toner or if they think what we have will last.

"It's 4AM and there is no train and the PA wants to know if they can take a cab to the truck rental house and pick up the personnel (15 passenger) van that is picking up crew in an hour?"

No, I'm going to save the few bucks on the cab and let the half the crew get to set late and start the entire day behind. Of course, let them take a cab.

With a thousand little decisions like this, you begin to delegate, but form still says you need to approve, and for those few times when you decide you will not approve - and they will come up - things still need to be run by you.

Hence, we still need the approval process. The question still needs to be asked, but the answer need not be as long.

Done and done.

Pretty soon, it became a catch-phrase in the office, with my POC using it often,when she wasn't mimicking the whistle that is the notification on my Samsung devices for messages, and driving my assistant and the APOC to distraction!

My APOC got into the act as well. "As Papa Bear says, done and done."

I've never used this regularly before, and I still don't know why I started to here. Fact is that I did, and it was, yes, done and done.

Having devoted a well-deserved entire post to my script supervisor, it is only fair to mention here how great my small but effective office staff was on this movie.

Megan, my coordinator, was actually my boss on a reality show. She worked 24/7, as we all did, on the internet and phone most of her days off, while also taking classes, and got an A! The role-reversal is actually one of the things I love about this business - my mentor, Stan's last gig was as my production manager. It never bothered him, and I would be honored if my last gig was working for one of my proteges (or hopefully Megan again!), which would not surprise me in the least. They are so damn smart.

I can be stuck in my ways at times, and Megan was incredibly flexible, while not being afraid to offer possible different solutions. That she remained chipper to my sometimes droll demeanor made the office a better place.

Me and my Megan, according to one crew member

(Yes, I used the picture before in this series - still thought it made sense here. Don't make me shoot you!)

Early on, I warned her about burning out the APOC and the producer's assistant. yet it was she who had to remind me at times to let them go home when I needed just one more thing.  For all the amazing things she did - and there were many - the way she watched out for the office staff really made me happy, showed that she kept human beings in perspective with the job.

Tasha was our APOC. Bright and hard-working, there was never a complaint when she had to re-do the sides she had already started, or whether "do this right now it's a priority" became "oh, we have a run for you and forget what you're doing" two minutes later. Though working for an insanely low salary, she, too, had the pride in her work to not only be online on her days off, but more than once came in to solve a problem on a day off - once solving a rather huge problem that no one else could have at that moment.

Aalika was the producer's assistant, and while working for all the producers, did most of her work for me. This is a position I use on every shoot. It's really hard, as it basically means all the stuff that falls through the cracks falls on the person in that position, and, in her case, much of this was responsibility for things she had never done.

This meant I had needed to take time to show her things, but, as the running joke became in the office, actually getting my undivided attention sometimes seemed like it would require a super-power. Somewhere half sentence, my phone would ring, an email would hit, someone would come into the office looking for me. On set, someone would be calling for me on the walkie.

There would be Aalika, knowing I would soon be asking her if something was done which I had not given her the complete information on. To say she was patient was an understatement, yet she filled so many tasks that were so important that it's hard to know what we would have done without her.

Here would be a good time to point out the help of a usual suspect who I know will be in the position to hire me soon, Maura. A young woman who just recently described herself as a "twisted carebear" Maura was my coordinator, my UPM and my 2nd AD on other jobs, and has since gone on to run bigger offices. She is a detail whiz - details are not my strong point  and she was endlessly helpful the few days she worked, taking that time with Aalika, who was the person on this shoot who found herself handling the dreaded SAG paperwork, and, as far as we know, did not take anyone's life in retaliation. That is, when Maura was not giving them tips on how not to let me steal their pens.

With that, I am going to move on from this shoot, at least in this blog. Principle photography is over, and while additional photography is planned, it's time to close this chapter. This is one I definitely cannot wait to see at the screening.

Until then, we are, done.  And done.

Left to right. Aalika, Tasha, Me, Courtney (our wonderful producer) and Megan in our home. Always nice to be surrounded by this many smart, beautiful women.

*Wharton's School of Business - one of the top business schools

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Unattainable - Part 5 - The High Cost of Free

"Nothing of value is free. Even the breath of life is purchased at birth through gasping and effort and pain"
-Robert A. Heinlein, Science Fiction author and visionary

And people say I'm not a cheery guy.

Heinlein may have been taking the deeper route when discussing the idiom that nothing in life is free, but my mentor, Stan Bickman, used to refer to it as the "high cost of free."

On any budget, a line producer is looking for value, but on extremely low budgets such as the ones I mostly work on, success and failure hinge on actually getting things of value, if not for free, then for a significant discount - and the two are not the same.

Some of my favorite readers, who have blogs of their own, have successfully found things they truly did get for free or for a token amount, mostly working on truly micro-budgets. I give them credit.

The problem with budgets under $1M but higher than, say, $100-$200K is that there is a level of expectation among the crew about rates, for one, and, for another, if you are going to get a distributor, you need to bring a different level of production value, comparable with films of higher budgets.

The Unattainable is, in no way, a genre film, easy to describe or pigeon-hole. Creatively, that is not only a good thing, but potentially a great thing. If the final version of the film is anywhere near the director's vision, or a representation of her skills, it will be a unique film that will shine like a diamond.

On a lower budget, it chose to achieve the look of some ground-breaking movies from the distant and recent past. I won't name those movies here, as people seeing the final project might then say, "Oh, isn't that just like so-and-so movie" and the comparison is more about mood and tone than subject matter.

All of that being said, to achieve that, we needed that perfect combination of connections, skill, hard-work and luck to pull it off. That is the formula for miracles, and those don't happen every day.

There were areas where our connections did an incredible job, including securing a high-end camera package, a great post facility and digital dailies for the 16MM portion of the movie at significant discounts, without which the project would have been grounded early on, or been forced to make very harsh adjustments.

In other areas, we were not as fortunate.

In the NY area, getting quality locations for even a good rate has been difficult. Over twenty years of all the Law and Order franchise, not to mention Blue Bloods and the film industry that comes here and throws money around, and it's hard to offer locations Muscatel after they've had champagne.

Stan used one of my favorite phrases, "How much is this free location costing me," in exactly this area, in references the home of an uncle of the director that, sure enough, wound up costing more than originally bargained.

Here is the thing about locations. Your friend owns a restaurant, or bar. You tell him or her that you are making a movie that is close to your heart on a small budget, and can you shoot there for free. Sure, they say. This is while you may still be sitting in their place writing your script.

Now, it comes time to actually shoot. The scene will take 11 hours to film, and involve closing down his business for that amount of time, not filming in some corner. Strike One. Next, we may not have flexibility on time of day. Let's say he offers you 8 hours from 4AM until 12 noon. That's great, but it also has to correspond with the shooting schedule for your movie. Are you on days or nights?

Turnaround. Strike Two. If you need crew to be there at 4AM, then they must have wrapped by 2PM (10 hours) the previous day - and that is tight. SAG actors need to get 12 hour turnaround.

On our shoot, our lead actress was in all but about 3 pages of the script. It was rarely possible to leave her out of a scene.

Strike three can be so many things. Their idea of a "good rate" may be good by industry standards, but not your budget. Their business has been slow and they can't close. It's near the Holidays and they are having parties. They recently got a bad health inspector rating and they are having work done. The place is in an over-shot "red zone" and the city is not giving permits there.

On and on the possibilities go.

With apartments, there is the issue that most people in the city rent, which means you need permission of the landlord. If you do own, it's likely co-op, which means getting approval of a board. Good luck with that.

It may have been one thing when you were shooting your student film in your friend's apartment with about 10 people total. I have a crew and cast of 42 people on any given day, and a two cube trucks were needed to carry my camera package and my G/E gear.

You're not sneaking that in.

Then, there is art department, which is linked to the location. They are two areas where you normally trade budget; if you find the great location for a great rate, you can spend more to dress it if it doesn't look right. If you find a location that is close to dressed the way it is meant to be dressed, you can pay a higher fee because you will be spending less to dress it.

This is the "taking from Peter to pay Paul" part of line producing, and while the term is not a positive one in the business world, it is common in the film world.

Our main problem was our "hero" location - the apartment of the main character. We knew we would be there for eight days, and that, with scenes taking place currently, in the character's imagination and in the past, that we needed a flexible set dress. Additionally, there were logistical considerations (french doors) and the possibility of reflections, and the ability to light through windows, which the DP felt was crucial. The latter limited us to first or second floor apartments or someplace with a penthouse or terrace, neither of which would have made any sense for the main character.

Our location manager worked out a good rate, if not one that was close to what we hoped to pay. Nothing in the apartment was right from a dressing standpoint, which meant moving and storing all of the furniture that was there.

The next thing was one of those classic examples of why "free" isn't always so "free."

One of our producers had just the right furniture - beautiful furniture - and offered to let us use it for free. We needed a 20 foot truck to pick it up significantly outside the city, the manpower to get it, and, at the end of the shooting period, to return it. As my production designer was quick to point out, the manpower to move it (we used professional movers to do the return), the truck rental, the parking of the truck, the gas and tolls etc were not part of her department's cost, and technically, she is right.

But, for the line producer, that does not really matter. It is money spent that was not budgeted, that needs to be made up somewhere else. As I pointed out in the previous post, no department thinks they should be the "somewhere else."

The latter donation by this producer crosses more than one idiom; both the high cost of free and Murphy's Law of no good deed going unpunished. This woman was more than generous, and as it turned out, the "professional movers" actually did some damage to what was magnificent furniture.

Then, there are vendors.

With vendors, the "deal" you got the last time is not necessarily the deal you get this time. The great camera package deal came at the last minute with a contact from one of our exec producers - the contact of the producer as well as a long-term contact of mine were fifty percent higher and more.

Then, there is crew. The reality of getting quality crew in NY is that even on a non-union film, you are paying something close to the lower union rates, and paying overtime and meal-penalties, if you want to get top-flight talent.

Again, this is an area where folks who do genre films consistently insist - and I believe them - that they can go a cheaper route, but with the background and reputation of some of the key crew we brought on, we were never going to get much better rates.

In specialty areas, there is always the question of how busy the city is in terms of work. A fantastic steadicam operator - and great guy - worked a few days for us for an unheard of rate, at first because he and I had a relationship, and later because he fell in love with the project and the director. Still, he was booked on many of the days we needed him, and even those he recommended were often booked.

These are only some examples, and I use them not to complain but to explain to aspiring "guerrilla filmmakers" some of the ways reality can intrude on the optimism you bring to items you think you will get free or cheap when budgeting. My hope is that these experiences help you to hopefully build something of a contingency into the money you raise.

This is not to be all negative. My staff and I got many great rates, and the producers and exec producers did bring in some great favors.

Still, whenever someone tells me that they can get something for free, a little twitch, more like an electrical shock from some torture device, goes off inside of me.

As The Boss reminds Mary in Thunder Road:

"From your front porch to my front seat,
The door is open but the ride it ain't free."

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Unattainable - Part 4 - Groundhog's Day

"I was in the Virgin Islands once. I met a girl. We ate lobster, drank pina coladas. At sunset, we made love like sea otters. Why couldn't I get that day over and over and over...?"
-Phil (Bill Murray, Groundhog's Day)

What's exciting about making movies is that every one is different. What is enervating about producing or line producing indie films is that you answer so many of the same questions, and see so many of the same things over and over and over.

None, I assure you, involve pina coladas or making love like sea otters.

Every department thinks that you are giving money to every other department except theirs.

DP: "But look how many people you have in the art department."

Art Department: "I saw that camera package. Now I know where all the money is going."

Gaffer: "Those curtains alone must cost you $5000."

Costume Designer (looking at back of G/E truck): "I never saw so much equipment on an indie film"

Key Grip: "Those costumes must cost a fortune."

Probably why I like sound and makeup. Sound recordists are usually quiet with dry senses of humor. Makeup folks are love and hugs.

At the end of the day, every department head fights for their department to have the resources to make the director happy, to make a good movie. As my gaffer one day told me when I was waiting on lighting, "We're making pretty pictures."

As if I didn't care about pretty pictures. It's all about getting the money on the screen, but everyone's idea of what part of the screen needs to look good is slanted by their department.

The same "what about me" mentality takes place during the production meeting. Every department needs more time for their answers; every department gets bored when you are taking that time with another department.

Except for production, of course. We just carry the water and try to make sure everyone else gets what they need, if not, necessarily, what they want.

Then there is the schedule.

As a guy who has been AD on more than my share of projects, I respect the hard work that goes into the schedule. For most others, it's a piece of cake.

Locations wants to know why you can't shoot this great location on the day it is available. Casting wants to know why hiring an actor with conflicts is a problem. Art department can't see why you would be silly enough to put two hard sets to dress together.

People look at the one-liner and say, "Why can't this go there?" as if they were doing a crossword puzzle that was a few levels too easy.

It is the AD who knows that each move has consequences, and if you saw something simple, they probably did, too - as well as why there was a conflict you didn't see.

These are some of the big issues. Then, there are the annoying little things.

Water bottles.

Here's the thing: no matter what you do, you have a lot of half-water bottles. Logic would say to buy the smaller water bottles.

Except people then drink half of the smaller water bottles.

I'm not exactly sure why. Every shoot starts with a lot of people putting initials on their caps. By the end of the first week ,reality sinks in.

There are going to be a lot of half-full water bottles, and that is not some glass-half-empty-glass-half-full analogy. It just is.

While we are in the kitchen, there is catering. I did a long post on the subject; suffice to say here that crew will tire of the best caterer, and will have bigger issues with most. Personally, I did not drink one cup of coffee on this set that I didn't bring myself from outside, and that is the case with so many caterers. The world of food allergies, moral choices, religious restrictions and the dreaded gluten-free has meant that the simple act of providing meals to the crew now requires endless attention.

On almost every project, I insist that we have multiple copies of the keys to the vehicles. On a Teamster shoot, of course, this is not an issue - there is a transportation captain. On small indie shoot, there is usually that dreaded moment - usually when one of the crew vans is going home at the end of an overtime day, when someone says, "Who has the keys to the van?"

It's one of the many reasons I love Living in Oblivion. It had me from "Who has the keys to the grip truck?"

On this shoot, the streak was broken. We never had to wait a moment on keys. A first for everything.

No department has enough walkies. If there is an intern to the intern in the department, somehow, it is crucial that person has a walkie.

As a production person, I understand the need for walkies. I also understand that I always have to save somewhere, so if  the grip department's intern doesn't have a walkie, they will live.

Then, there are the call sheets. Everyone needs them, and half barely look at them. Sides are done and distributed, and most get lost or discarded after the first shot. We all know that these things are important, but the truth is, most don't look at them or look so quickly that it hardly matters.

There are other truths.

No matter how well Day One goes, Day Two will have issues. Everyone is geared up for Day One. Everyone is on the alert for problems.

Our Day Two was completed as scheduled, but without the extra time I thought we would have for voice overs.

The person dealing directly with Screen Actors Guild (now SAG-AFTRA) will be exasperated. It's not the money. It's the paperwork, and the penchant reps have for losing paperwork. They just do.

On one shoot, my producer's assistant, who I normally have compile and handle the paperwork, was an all-smiles, sweet Southern gal. One day, she walks into my office in full Tourettes mode. She had faxed/sent/scanned something like her third copy of something, and the rep said they could not find it.

To paraphrase the advice the detective gets at the end of Chinatown: "Forget it, Emily. It's SAG."

We all love and appreciate ambitious and alert PAs. There seems to always be one, however, who tries a little too hard, and gets on people's nerves. I usually forgive these folks. They do the hardest work for the least pay.  They work silly hours and no one notices them unless they make a mistake. Still, sometimes I have had to suggest they tone it down a bit.

The above are examples from this and other shoots, and, as previously stated,  I get that people's intentions are good, to do the best job possible, even if that sometimes is not the way production sees it.

Whenever anything goes wrong, it is always production. My oft-used quote from Christine Vachon, "It's all my fault. Now, can we just move on?" is still my mantra.

People will bring the most ludicrous requests and problems, and expect production to solve it. It doesn't matter who caused the question. We need to have the answer.

People who are perfectly capable of dealing with simple problems at home will ask production to do things that they can simply solve themselves.

That is part of the job, whether you go the AD path or the UPM or line producer path. If that bothers you, find a different department.In the end, it doesn't matter if it was your fault - it's your responsibility.

Again, from Groundhog's Day, as Phil realizes he is experiencing the surreal and living the same day every day, he approaches Rita.

Phil:      "I am not making it up. I'm asking you for help."
Rita:      "Okay, what do you want me to do?"
Phil:      "I don't know. You're a producer. Come up with something."

N.B. I'm sure every department feels they have to deal with the same things every shoot. Please, leave a comment as to your "Groundhog's Day" experiences.