Monday, October 13, 2014

When The Music Stops

"When the music's over
Turn out the lights"
-Jim Morrison
Don't worry. I'm not ready to retire. Not just yet. Or, maybe, I am again.

At wrap of any project, Stan used to smile and say "Well, another gold watch!" As you might imagine, we don't get gold watches at the end of shoots, nor is there a retirement party. As producer or line producer, though, it's rare that you are jumping right into another project.

Movie shoots are an adrenaline rush, and like people in any situation driven by adrenaline, there is bound to be a reaction when the rush is over. Certainly, athletes and military folks famously experience this sort of feeling when, after a long time being needed in crucial situations, suddenly, you are not.

For production, it is even harder, because even though the filming is over, your job is not. There is the period of wrap, where a LOT of paperwork has to happen.

Line producing low budget shoots, this can be excruciating. Normally, I keep my office staff on for a week. While that is enough time to get returns done, settle out with vendors, make sure all crew is paperwork and invoices are done, and petty cash floats are accounted for, that is not the end of it.

Unlike money producers, I will not be that involved in the marketing or selling of the picture, which would be the next step for those folks. Pretty much my responsibility ends with production.

On an Ultra Low film like ours, I kept my staff on for a day - and then, only the trust-worthy and ever-loyal production coordinator, Tasha.

SAG has a lot of paperwork that has to be completed to get the bond you put up at the beginning of the shoot returned. First, they need to have proof from payroll that everyone was paid, with all of those totals.

Then, there is the issue of reconciling the budget. On a bigger shoot, this is not too insane, as there is an accountant, assistant accountant, etc. On lower budget shoots, we handle everything. This can takes a few days.

As grueling as shoot days are, the truth is, they are the best for a line producer. They are, as the phrase I used often with my newer staff goes, one foot in front of the other. You have prepared all you can, and you just keep everything moving as smoothly as possible while problem-solving.

Prep is filled with all the onerous details and to-do lists, and the constant fear that either something won't get done in time or will fall through. This location hasn't been found; not sure if that prop will arrive on time. We are replacing which cast member because they dropped out? What do you mean the script supervisor took a better gig?

Once you start shooting, there are no worries - just solutions. Fix it as fast and as well as possible, and, to use another over-used phrase of mine, it is what it is. No time to worry about it.

The height of adrenaline.

Now, in post, you are at your home office, surrounded by supplies and petty cash envelopes and invoices and SAG documents and so much more. What, I didn't know about this ticket. What do you mean there was loss or damage you didn't notice on return date? No, I'm not sure where this thingamajig is, or that what-do-you call it is. I will call the gaffer/art director/last PA to do drop-offs/anyone else who might know the answer.

All of this is being done in that post-adrenaline rush, and, without the satisfaction that comes every shoot day from seeing great footage in the can. In the can. Such a sad phrase. With actual film rarely being shot at this level, the data is on drives. In the can sounds so cool. In the drive? Doesn't really work for me.

On this last shoot, where getting it 'in the can' in 12 days and looking as good as it did was such a thrill (and on budget) the post-shoot blues were even worse for me, made even worse by the lack of wrap week for my staff. As usual, I had no one with whom to be upset. It was the budget that determined that I could not afford to keep them, not someone telling me we could not.

So often, in production, when that frustration or anger comes up, you have nowhere to look but the mirror, or the myriad of circumstance. As AD, when you write 5AM as a call time because you need every second of daylight, there is no one else to curse when the alarm goes off at 3:30AM. As line producer, it is you who wrote the budget that now leaves you alone surrounded by paper.

This time, it also coincided with some health issues, and the process seemed particularly painful and stressful. I found it a little helpful to have put up five posts talking about the process, but the rest? Ugh.

So, it has also taken me a bit to get back to the blog, and telling the story of Town Diary, which I left off right before we started shooting. Switching gears has been a little difficult.

I am back at it, though, and those posts will hopefully resume later this week. Until then, I hope this post offered a little look into what happens for production when the music stops for a line producer.