Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Over The Hill Gang Rides Again

"There's nothing tragic about being 50. Not unless you're trying to be 25."
-Joe Gillis, Sunset Boulevard

I once played poker with a very well-known, A-list actor who had created iconic roles in iconic films, and won a an Oscar, a Tony, multiple Golden Globes and literally been nominated for dozens more. He was producing and starring in a very personal film, one he had wanted to do for a while, and reached out to a young actress who was "flavor of the day" to be his co-star. She had not returned his calls.

"Maybe she thinks I'm over the hill," he said. He was about fifty at the time.

His friends assured him that was ridiculous, that he had earned much more in the business than she had, and of course she would respect him. Eventually, she did do the film, but this actor's reaction that night was genuine concern for no longer being relevant, regardless of what he had accomplished.

Fear of aging is nothing new for actors, and especially actresses. All About Eve is a great film about an "aging" star, Margo Channing who is getting bumped aside for a young ingenue, Eve Harrington. Bette Davis, who played the "aging" Channing, was 42 at the time.

Just referencing the 1950 classic immediately says something about my age. Note that the movie came out seven years before I was born, but I have seen it many times, and had seen it on late night television and occasional revival houses, the same way I saw all the classic films from before I was born. There was no Netflix or home DVD or HBO or TCM to watch them on a regular basis. Yet, I, and people of my generation, watched these movies, knew these movies.

Sadly, I meet many young film people who spent years at film school and have never seen these movies. Frankly, I just don't get it.

But, as I am wont to do, I digress.

While natural for performers, the issue of remaining relevant affects production people as well, and often I am working for much younger directors and producers. Most of the time, this is great, as I try to constantly learn from them as much from them as they learn from mel. Digital post, and then filming, has made this an industry that is changing exponentially, just as all of the technology around us is changing at a pace never seen before. One has barely downloaded all their apps onto their new phone before it is obsolete, replaced by the next model.

The picture above is of the Over The Hill Gang, a fun and charming western about truly elder lawmen and gunmen hired to protect a town. As you can see, the actors are in their seventies and eighties, and a fine group of character actors they were.

Now, when movies are made of past-their-prime heros, they are younger. Bruce Willis was 54 when he filmed Red about forgotten CIA agents.

I remember being forty and being the First AD on Floating with Norman Reedus and Chad Lowe, who were playing high school students, and the girls they hung out with in their teens. My director was in his early 20s, with a maturity level about ten years younger. I felt pretty old then, the "Dad", and that was nineteen years ago.

All of this leads me to recently having the opportunity to work with people in my age group, and loving the fact that we are not yet extinct. I story produced a trailer for a docu-series about moving a new opera to New York, and did interviews with two veteran theater people: a Broadway and Off-Broadway producer whose father had written for the Dick Van Dyke Show, and the founder of the opera company that had taken seven years to first get the opera to the stage in Wales.

Then, I worked with an LA film producer and casting director who joked about how every movie needs "an old guy" He is about three years younger than me, and since I will be line producing the film in New York, I said this production had two old guys and we would have to share the title.

Then, there are the two guys who I am helping develop film and television projects with, one of whom was born the same year I was and one a few years younger. The directors of one of those project are my age, and one is older.

More, soon, on all of these projects.

All of this has caused me to reflect not on whether there is a place for those of us who are older, but what is our place.

What keeps coming to me is balance. We have obviously learned a lot in our time, much of it the only way anyone learns, which is the hard way by making mistakes. We certainly should help others avoid those mistakes.

However, we can't completely change the process, or try to make them us. I've recently met a few extremely talented young women who are excited about production, and have been taking some time to share how I prepare projects. I think they are going to be fantastic but the first thing I ask them is, "how do you do this now." I try to work with what they know and what makes them feel comfortable.

One of them loves to print things out more than I do. One starts wanting to see shot lists and storyboards and will help create them. I usually encourage directors to work with the DP on shot lists and I stay out of it until they are done, and as for story boards, well, I can't draw stick figures.

I also recently went to a birthday celebration for one of the real stars I was lucky to have worked with at the beginning of her career, and two others from that same short movie, Venice, are also masters at what they do. That group I sometimes refer to as my "kids" (much to their dismay, I might add, as they all now on this side of thirty). If I had kids, I would want it to be them, not only because they are incredibly bright and talented but because they are never satisfied and always trying to be better.

And there's the lesson. I hope to be learning about this business until they wheel me out one day. I remember how excited my mentor, Stan, was when I showed him Movie Magic budgeting. He had been doing breakdowns by handwriting them and created a cardboard stripboard and budgets with a calculator since the 1950s, but he could not embrace this quicker way to do things fast enough.

 Rather than being frustrated by the changes, I embrace them, while still bringing the experience of things that still continue to work. I do show folks I mentor how I do it and how it was done before, so they can take what works and discard it when need be.

That's the "old guy" I want to be.

With "the kids"