Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Absence of Chaos

"Chaos was the order of nature; Order was the dream of man."
Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams

Be careful not only of what you wish for, but what you dream for.

For some time now, I have felt dissatisfaction with the nature of the indie film business in general, and the production side - especially line producing - specifically. It seemed like an insane way to go through life, and has made more than one good man or woman at least a little bit insane.

With budgets rushing to the bottom, the process has become endlessly trying to stuff 10 pounds of - well, stuff - into a 5 pound bag. After my last feature last summer, where we completed the project on-time and on-budget in 12 days and under $100K, but at the cost of my emotional well-being, I started looking at other work.

Let's be serious. I've been a freelance production person in film, and before that theater, and before that radio and the music business, my whole life. Yes, there were brief periods of "real jobs" such as being Director of Operations at a political research firm, and my time at Gun for Hire, but for the most part, it has been a life of making impossible dreams come true, bringing the imagined to reality and getting various creatives to work together with always a little less money than was really needed.

In other words, a life of herding cats.

It gets to a point where it becomes part of your nature, and you expect it. Well, at 57, I decided that it was time to make other things a priority and started looking for work where I could apply my administrative skills in a creative environment.

The problem was, theater and film are the only creative environments I truly know in and out. A few interviews for non-industry jobs scared me straight. I was never going to fit into that world; not even the tangential worlds of things such as event planning. I have no experience in the creative worlds of graphics or art direction.

This is where I was when I answered an ad for a production manager full-time at a media company. It looked like a glorified office manager job, but I was willing to talk.

I met with two guys, John and James, from Liverpool and Ireland, respectively. They were my age, and we talked about a show with a classic rocker cooking and sharing stories, and a few other shows they were developing. They had some false starts getting these projects going, but a lot of smarts, desire and serious contacts in the business world, finance world, and international broadcasting.

They were low-keyed and open in the interview, and I really felt a connection to them. The similarity in age had something to do with it - more on that in a subsequent post - but more than that, they seemed to really be enjoying their lives, and intended to continue doing so.

Hadn't someone told them how hard this world is? Hadn't someone mentioned there were more times that things didn't get done than did? Hadn't someone told them that even when you did succeed, it was at the cost of your sense of joy?

Evidently, not.

I see this often in younger people new to the game, which is why I think it's always important to mix youth and optimism with age and, if not pessimism, too heavy a dose of realism.

I wanted to say "yes" right away, even though the money up front was not very good. They were funding everything out of their pocket, out of other successful ventures. I made it clear that developing these projects could take some time and more money, and that I was intent on doing it right. They were game, and willing to bet the money they had made in other fields.

I asked for two days, and then went on to meet with a guy who had some commercials coming up, and then hoped to do some branding work for non-profits I believed in. The former was tempting from a financial standpoint; the latter from a sense of reward and doing something important.

By contrast with John and James, this guy was hyper as they come. Again, talented and experienced, but a guy who fed on adrenaline. I was ready to go with John and James anyway, and about an hour after I said "yes" to the guys, he called and said the sponsor for the commercial wanted someone they had worked with before on-board as PM.

So it was that I began working on the projects, and John and James immediately made me feel at home as a creative equal. They weren't afraid to speak up when they disagreed or just wanted something another way, but that is part of the process, but it was working. The job combines what I know and what I love, and the title now is "Producer/Production Supervisor."

I now found myself going into an office every day, with the prospect of doing that indefinitely, the same office. That office was in Midtown Manhattan, and I hate the rush hour crowds of people trudging to and from jobs they hate. Together with the fact I'm an awful sleeper and accustomed to getting up early from years of dawn shoots, I tend to get to work at 7AM or so. I love the peace and quiet of the building in general, and my office specifically, at that time. I can hear myself think.  The guys are very reasonable, and never expected me to put in massive hours.

I was working a normal day, one that often was half of what I knew on set. There was no one screaming, no impossible hurdles thrown in front of me. There was no angst or search for blame. As a matter of fact, they love to do meetings at the Irish pub next door, which I have dubbed "Conference Room B."

It isn't for the drinks, though there are often a few of those. They like meeting people in a more informal atmosphere to put them at ease, and it works with many of the people in the industry they know.

For once, I was home at a normal time, having relaxing meetings where we moved forward without a lot of grief.

I was talking with one of my teachers one day, and was surprised at what I told her. I missed the chaos.

How could I miss the chaos? Who misses chaos? It seemed, I did.

A lover of quantum physics, it does not surprise me. The history of the universe, as the quote above suggests, is creation coming from chaos. Artists from all fields, from the fine arts to music to dance to theater to film, will talk about the chaos. The lives of so many writers are filled with chaos.

The brilliant author Ray Bradbury described that part so well:

"Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a land mine. The land mine is me. After the explosion, I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces together."

As I searched for images for chaos, all of them had one thing in common. They looked like something being created.

I came across a quote which I saw attributed to different people in different forms, but it is the essence that stuck with me.

"Peace is not the absence of chaos."

What follows varies in the different quotes, and it is used by various people to make different points.

For me, what it reminded me was that, while the chaos is necessary for creation, we need to remember to love the creation - which we need to make work -  and not the chaos. We may need the chaos to get the creation started, but creation needs us to make something of it and find our peace in the middle of it to make it work.

Before I start too much down a shiny New Age-y path of joy and light and good coming from everything, life, and creating, is a messy business. I have found myself more than a few times in the past weeks frustrated with the process, or the guys, or myself, and that will continue.

I do need the occasional jolt, so I was really happy a few weeks back when one of the bright, young producers I know offered me the chance to AD a one-day commercial on a weekend, with the holiday the day before for prep. All the production juices flowed, and with a great crew. Yes, part of the day was me complaining about the focus - or lack thereof - of my director. As I do most days when I AD, I spent the entire day, right up until the Abby, as if we were not going to make it.

It was a bit exhausting - and I loved every friggin' second of it.

As I move forward, I will try to keep that touch of chaos in my life. It won't be hard. We're trying to get funding for a feature I believe in, and while I would hire a line producer, I know I will fret making the day and find myself pacing on set.

Be the chaos. Own the chaos. Even enjoy the chaos a little bit. It's okay.

Just make sure you get around to picking up the pieces.

NB - Adjusting to the new work schedule, as well as still taking some budgeting jobs and a busier social life - talented friends having their movies screened, for example - have made me a bad blogger. It's been too many weeks since I've posted.

Worry not. I've slapped my own wrist, to spare you the trouble. This time has not been barren, and getting this post out of the way will help me shape and give birth to the orphan posts that have been sitting in drafts while I figured out how to share this new experience.

I suspect the next few will come quickly.

For those trying to follow what happened on The Girl in the Holograph  - patience. I will get back to it, and a lot of things that came after it. I just need to sort out the present while it's still fresh before I go back to the past.

No comments: