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.


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Kangas said...

As always, great post with excellent information. And some sad sad truths about production. It's a wonder we keep doing it...

JB Bruno said...

Thanks for the feedback Kangas. The repetition of the same issues is, truly, draining.

As for why we keep doing it, I truly think there is a need inside most production people to make things that are wrong right - we just can't help ourselves, even if we often are shoveling against the tide.

Andrew Bellware said...

See? I thought I was some kind of freakin' GENIUS when I discovered those small water bottles.
Although extensive testing has not been done and our data set is largely anecdotal I feel we have reduced water-bottle waste on set.
Of course when we start drinking whiskey right out of the bottle we don't really care about waste... ;-)