Wednesday, November 19, 2014

All in the Family: The Making of Town Diary - The Good...

"Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness"
-Venerable Thich Nhat Hahn*

(This post picks up on the series of posts about a film I produced and co-wrote, called Town Diary. The last in that series is here (it started here), which ends with the end of pre-production. Here starts the story of production.)

Low budget indie films are about Plan B. They are about letting go, which is definitely the only path to happiness in making your movie.

Understand what I'm not saying. I'm not saying that you drop your basic vision for the movie - and you have to have one. Reality is that it will never be exactly what you envision. Ted Hope, a great producer and a source for sage advice in the indie world, in part described it this way recently:

I often say that there is the role of the producer and there is the role of the director that are remarkably similar. The producer comes in and has to extract the big vision, the dream of everything that you want to accomplish, and then cut the legs out from under it and say, “That’s where we’re going. But with these funds, with this story, with this cast, we’re only going to be able to capture forty percent.” And then through work and through structure, hopefully [you can] achieve a place where you get another twenty or twenty-five percent. And then through good engineering, having built a structure where serendipity can occur, where the miraculous might be achieved, you get something more. And then to be able to sit and help the director recognize that you still may not have hit that full vision that you had before you ever shot, but you have something very unique and distinct that you were able to capture.

I can't say if the world owes anyone anything, but I know that the world owes no one a movie. If you get to produce or direct a film, it is a privilege. In this case, while I didn't get to see my name on the slate, I did get to see a script that I wrote actually shot. To hear my words on set and on film spoken by really great actors like Terry Quinn and Angelica Page and Annie Grindlay and Bob Hogan and so many more that I have mentioned.

Making an indie movie is hard - but not as hard as getting one financed, and JR and Jack put down their money and let this come true, all while trusting my decisions as producer.

Some of the good days included seeing Annie do a scene with her "children" not being excited to see their dad, the lead character of Brian, her ex-husband. While my ex and I never had children, I could still feel the heartbreak in the room.

Terry Quinn was every bit as terrifying as we imagined, all while being a very real and human character.

Luke Reily, as Frank Ryan, sold a scene where he talks about the vagaries of 'doing what's right' when it harms other people.

My dear friend, Angelica Page gave me maybe my best day.

She came in off the red-eye from LA, a flight, for those who are not familiar, leaves a person having lost three hours and landing early in the AM NY time. It often takes a lot out of people.

She had one scene where she is interviewed by a reporter. The reporter has a few questions, but it is pretty much a four page monologue where she coldly describes viaticals, a practice of buying insurance policies for pennies on the dollar which became "popular" during the AIDS crisis of the 80s and early 90s. Angelica is an amazing actress, and it took that to pull this off and make it believable.

She got out of make-up, showed us the wig she chose (she gave Jack and I cursory right of approval - of course, it was perfect) and then sat down to rehearse the scene.

All through the rehearsal, when she would try something out, she would call for "line" from the script supervisor. Usually, this is a clue that the actor may not, in fact, know their lines.

Jack was concerned. Was she going to be alright? Was it maybe the flight?

As I've said, her mom was the great Geraldine Page, who was not only a great actress but a founding member of The Actors' Studio. Angelica is on the board. Professionalism runs deep with Angelica, so much so that she once related a story of chastising a rather famous actor in an airport scene for not knowing his lines.

It was this discussion and others about professionalism that made me confident, and I told Jack she would be fine. I never asked her if there was a problem.

The minute we rolled camera, the lights went on; not just those that provided an image for the camera but within Angelica. She nailed it the first time. We did a second master for safety. She nailed it again. We did her CU - she nailed it once more.

As we were relighting for the reverse on the "interviewer," I stopped by her holding room. She grabbed my arm and asked "JB, was that okay?" She really did care what I thought, and thanked me for giving her the opportunity to do the role.

"It was more than okay," I told her. "It was great."

He face changed from questioning to recognition. She grinned and said, "Mommy knows how to get home." As she had told me often before, she knew that if you show up and do your job, it can be a short day for everyone with none of the stress. Her reaction was classic, and almost as good as the scene for me.

There were many other great performances and days of satisfaction. But, of course, there were those days that were not. If this post is entitled "The Good..." you can imagine what the next two posts will be entitled.

N.B. Sorry for the delay between posts. Been dealing with some personal issues, and also basically outlining and roughing all three posts about the making of - this and the ones to come - to make them part of a whole and not miss anything. I'm certain as soon as I hit "publish" I will think of more good things - but it's time to put it up there.

*At this writing, the Venerable Thich Nhat Hahn, the great Vietnamese Buddhist leader, is battling a brain hemorrhage. It may be why he was in my thoughts as I searched for a quote this week. Please send out whatever good vibes you can.

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