Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Girl in the Holograph - Part 3 - The Girl Can't Help It

"Tim, let me tell you about my life in the Big Apple. I have Hamlet's ghost on the phone for an hour every evening after rehearsal complaining that Polonius is sucking sourballs through his speeches. Claudius is off every afternoon doing a soap, and Gertrude is off the entire week doing a commercial for Gallo wine. Hamlet himself, would you believe, has come down with a psychological problem. Then, last night, Brooke rings me to say that she's very unhappy here and she's got herself a doctor's certificate for nervous exhaustion. I haven't got the time to find and rehearse a new Vicky. I have just one afternoon, while Hamlet sees his shrink and Ophelia starts divorce proceedings, to cure Brooke of her nervous exhaustion with no medical aids, except a little whiskey - you've got the whiskey - a few flowers - you've got money for the flowers - and a certain fading bedside manner. So, I haven't come to the theater to hear about other people's probelms. I've come to be taken out of myself, and, preferably, not put back again."
Lloyd (the director) - Noises Off

Life is easy. Producing is hard.

As you make your way through this post, beware. Tropes abound.

Noises Off is filled with moments like the quote above, making use of the trope that the performing arts are filled with neurotic,  dysfunctional people who can be dangerous to themselves and others,  but still quite entertaining.

They're called actors.

Tootsie. 8 1/2. The Producers. Black Swan. It's a long list.

Another trope about actors is the place of traveling companies,  like in Noises Off, or Summer Stock.  It's a place for romance, both literally,  as the ingenues often hook up, and figuratively,  in terms of the romance of the purity of theater done for the sake of art.

If the movie has a young Judy Garland,  a young Mickey Rooney,  or, in many cases, both, it's almost certain to offer the wistfulness that comes amid the barns and the trees and summer stock (including the movie of the same name)

When Phil, our director, found Abbie, she had never done a feature film - ever. Not a small role. Not a line. Now, he was given  her a chance to play the lead in one. There was only one problem - summer stock.

Yes, summer stock.

Every year for the previous few years, she had done summer stock with the same company. In three weeks there, what she would make in one week on our film, Again, playing the lead.

When she first brought it up, I didn't give it much thought. As someone who came from a theater background, who had gotten into the arts because of my love for theater, I certainly appreciated the allure of good theater.

This was not a new Sam Shepard  play, or thought-provoking Off- Broadway. This was not Shakespeare. This were some silly musicals or comedies that had been done a million times before, light fare for a pleasant August evening after a day at the beach.

First, she asked if the shoot could be pushed back so that she could do both. When we explained that was not possible, she started to ask that we compensate her for the money she would lose not doing the play.

This was ridiculous and insulting. In this business, we constantly find ourselves having to choose between gigs. I have sometimes taken a lower paying gig only to be offered a better one right after I started. Professionalism demands that I stay with the first gig. Talented actors often get a handful of offers for work at  the same time. They understand that they need to choose.

When her own whining did not move me, she had her agent call. I explained to her agent that I did not want to hear it, that she was being unprofessional, and that paying for money she "lost" would take away from money we needed to make the movie that would ultimately make her look better. She didn't care.

Neither did I.

Often, as line producer, I have to be the bad guy, and sometimes it's hard. This was not one of those times. I was incensed on a moral level that she would be so selfish. I told Phil that he was not to do this just to make her happy. I told him I would call the agent's bluff - if she wanted to do summer stock so badly, I would recast the movie. After all, with  all the legal hassles to getting the money, nowhere did it actually stipulate that we had to use her.

Phil got worried. He had a good deal of trouble finding someone he felt had the right qualities for The Girl, and he thought she just might ruin the movie.

These are rough times for a producer. There are a number of things that take up time in making a movie, and much of it is necessary and unavoidable. It is that much more enervating when something puerile and petty becomes one of those things.

Phil gave in, and we paid her part of the money she requested. It was ridiculous and set a bad example for the movie. At moments like these, I can often not be at my best. When informing her that we would pay it, I also informed her of exactly what I thought of her.

That latter is rare. There is an old expression my Sicilian grandmother used to use. You don't bite your nose to spite your face. The American version is cut off your nose, but I prefer the former, which better captures the brutal desire to do harm, even if it is to yourself.

Over the years, I have smiled and been polite when furious with people, grinned and beared it, discretion often being the better part of valor. Telling someone off here will only sour a relationship. It serves no useful purpose.

But, it sure as hell made me feel better.

I knew I would never work with this woman again. She and Phil, as actor and director, had to have a good relationship. As producer, I did not. She and I would have little to say to each other for the duration of the shoot.

As of today, she has done only one other feature film, and that was a day player role in a film no one saw. It seems she now has ample time to do summer stock.

Next, the rest of the casting.

Below, a little Little Richard, which inspired the title of this post. Just because Little Richard always makes me happy.

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