Monday, September 7, 2015

The Indonesian Job - The Line Producer's Nightmare

"Line! Line! Oh My God"
-George Spelvin desperately hopes someone will give him
his line.
-The Actor's Nightmare
Christopher Durang

In the introduction to his play The Actor's Nightmare, Christopher Durang explains:

"I assume that most people who are in theater ...have had these "actor's nightmares." - you dream you have to go onstage, but for whatever reason you've never attended rehearsal and you don't know a single line...I've learned that in psychological literature this dream is called "the good student's dream" and the prototype is the student, in life usually quite conscientious, who dreams that he has to take a test, but that he is totally unprepared.  He has forgotten to study, or he has lost his book, or he can't read the questions..."
The time leading up to opening the production office is spent not with textbooks or play scripts but with lists - miles and miles of lists.

List of positions to hire. List of forms to be created. Distribution list. File List. Cast List. Crew List. Vendor List.

Lists of lists that need to be created.

And the cruelest list of all - the to-do list.

The To-Do list grows with each passing day. Most line producers have benchmarks based on what week of prep you are in of things that should have been accomplished.

On bigger budget films, you get through all of these lists and all of these benchmarks by making sure the people who work with you are helping to clear them. On low budget films, you almost never can afford to give people enough prep time to aid you in the process early on, so you wind up trying to do them all yourself.

And failing.

This is usually solved by having everything ready for these folks once you do hire them, and also by shortening the lists to what is absolutely necessary. Prioritizing is such an essential part of production, where each day sees you knocking off a handful of things on the list as new things that you could not have anticipated get added.

It's a beast you never slay. You hope it just stops being hungry and goes away.

I open my office this coming week, and all of the factors above lead to the inevitable line producer's nightmare.

Some elements are always the same.

I am in my production office, and everyone else seems to know what needs to be done - except me. They are going about their business, and I have this awful feeling that there are things I need to be doing but I don't know what they are. I can't ask anyone directly, because if they know that I don't know, they will fear that I am not competent to lead the ship and that will affect them adversely.

Much like the George Spelvin* in Durang's play, I ask leading questions in the hope that it will come to me. Certainly, they have the answers, and if only I can extract those answers from these very confident and competent people, it will all click.

But, it never does.

There are always new twists. For one, the people in the office change. Sometimes they are folks from past shows, sometimes they are baristas or bartenders or doormen or deli guys I know.

This time, the production office was in a house. The house is familiar to me, though the waking me can't remember which house it is. It seems that prep has started without me, and things are all in hand. While this should reassure me, it doesn't. It only makes me more concerned that all these people are on point and I am, well, lost.

At one point in this dream, I walked to where I planned to put my office - to where I think it might have been on some previous production. It is near the front of the house, maybe even a garage that had been converted.

When I get there, it's stripped bare, with exposed wires and cement floors. It looks like there are renovations or construction going on. In any case, this cannot be my office.

No one leads me to my office or mentions it, so it must be here somewhere. I walk into some offices hoping that, just maybe, I am sharing my office and there will a desk there that is clearly mine.

There is not.

Now, I begin the search for the person who has been running things so far. In this dream, it is a fellow line producer who I may be fortunate enough to have as my production coordinator. I keep heading to her office. She will have the answers I need, and as we have worked well together in the past, and will be partners on this shoot, I will be able to confide in her and we will sort this all out.

One problem. Even though her office is in this one house, and everyone is talking about how she is waiting for me, I cannot find it. In fact, I pass some other offices for the second and third time without passing her office. That is impossible,  but it's true.

I think I was outside the house - maybe on a porch looking in a window - when I woke up.

My reaction was to bolt out of bed, sit at my desk, and check my lists. They were all there, and if they weren't any shorter, they also weren't any longer.

The opening of my office has been pushed back a few days because of visa issues, the Labor Day holiday and an attempt to start the clock - and the outflow of cash - a little later. That has only added to my sense of urgency to scream "Out!Out! Damn Lists!"**

N.B. After writing the above post a few days ago, I had a continuation of the dream. If the first one was noir angst, this one was more David Lynch.

While I was not in my office, I was no longer looking for it.

It seems we are ready to shoot in two days (the actual shoot is more than three weeks away). I am walking around checking on progress.

As one point, I talk to a person rigging lights. She is actually a hairdresser I know, but this does not seem to bother me.The person directing the lighting is a female monk from the monastery I attend. She seems quite confident and on top of what she is doing, despite the fact that in waking life her background is in pottery.

I get on an open elevator that takes a circuitous route to the next level and then seems to have mind of it's own as to where to stop.

Although the rigging seems to be taking place in a theater, when I go outside, it's outside that same house. It starts to rain. A woman walking toward me as she exits the garage gets into a crouch and does front flips to avoid puddles, seemingly in fast motion.

Part of the crew is idling (always a bit of my nightmare). I inform them that all special equipment orders must be in by tomorrow, and before they can protest, I tell them, yes, I am aware that we have not chosen, no less scouted and certainly not tech scouted the locations. I look in their eyes one-by-one to make sure they understand, even though it makes little sense to me. One of them, lying on the ground, looks up at me and nods. He is a key grip who I once fired and would never work with again.

There are two directors, neither being the actual Indonesian director who is working on this project. They are the two gentlemen who I work with in development, neither of whom has ever directed. When I talk to then, they have their backs to me, but not, seemingly, out of disrespect. It just seems the norm with them

I can't wait to see what dreams may come once we get closer to actually filming!

*George and Georgina Spelvin are traditional actor pseudonyms in theater, the way Alan Smithee is for theater and film directors.

**The lead character in Durang's play is pretty sure he is in a Shakespeare play, but he can't remember which one, and he keeps butchering famous Shakespeare lines. My apologies, Willie.

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