Monday, October 26, 2015

The Indonesian Job - Visa-Vis

"It's pretty physically upsetting, living life on a visa."
-John Oliver

This thread started with an email to my key crew and production staff in early September. It was meant to be the last email to explain changes.

That turned out to be far from the case.

At that point, we were scheduled to shoot twelve days. Those included INT and EXT scenes written as NY. My key people (some of whom were introduced in the last post) were my PM Leigh, who was also serving as locations manager, my First AD Brian, my production supervisor Aliki as well as my gaffer and G&E vendor, Adam, my production designer Orly and my then-Costume Designer.

These "final dates" were based on assurances from the immigration lawyer in Jakarta that the visas would be approved by a certain date. The lead actress, Raisa, was the O-1, and the rest were O-2. I will provide a link to explain more, but suffice to say it is a visa for an exceptional artist and their entourage. This visa process had been going on since the beginning of the year, and finally everything that was needed.

Or so we thought.

The INS requested "more information." It seemed that while the lead actress, Raisa, was an enormous pop star in Indonesia (her videos have millions of views, and she is regularly referred to as the "Taylor Swift" of Indonesia), INS was not overly impressed with her movie credentials.

Now, think about it. From the very first days of motion pictures, singers became actors. Nelson Eddy. Frank Sinatra.  Dean Martin. Elvis Presley. It goes right up until today, where the highway between the music world and the movie world is well-travelled.

Evidently, film history is a strong point among INS employees.

On September 24th, our plan had moved to start shooting seven days, down from twelve, starting October 8th through the 14th. Again, because our star, Raisa, had to leave for a concert in Malaysia on the 14th, there was never an opportunity for us to go beyond that date.

On Friday, September 25th, we had scheduled a shot list Skype meeting with the director, Rako, at 8AM. Brian, Leigh and I would have that meeting at the office.

I woke up at 3AM on Friday the 25th. I tend to be a bad sleeper, so this is not unusual. By instinct, I checked my email on my phone.

What I read woke me quicker than any cup of coffee. This is from Reza, the Indonesian producer.

"We just received news from Rini that the US Immigration will need 9 more days to approve or Petitions. This news simply crashed us here in Jakarta. Which means that IF it's approve, the approval will be on Friday, 2nd October 2015. If we can spare 7 days for the visa in US Embassy in Jakarta, then the shoot will be at 12th October 2015, when we all know that Raisa has to leave at 14th October 2015.. that simply not feasible for this production. So JB.. it is in our deepest regret to inform you to postpone this production until the I797 approved."
I had to reread a few times to see if this meant what I thought it meant. If nothing changed, the shoot was over. That was it.

I got on Skype with Reza, and we spoke one-to-one. It was eleven hours ahead in Jakarta so it was the middle of the day.

I had not read it wrong. The immigration lawyer was going to try and expedite the process, and that was the small bit of hope we had to hold on to.

It's the middle of the night and my people are coming in for a shot list meeting when they wake. What shot list meeting?

I texted my other members of the Key Four - Leigh, Aliki and Brian - to call me when they woke. I texted Adam, my gaffer who had turned down other work for not only he and his crew, but for his equipment package - to do the same.

As they called one-by-one, I had to tell people who had put their faith in me that they might have made a mistake, that they stood to lose up to thousands of dollars because they chose to be loyal to meet.

Reza was still in shock. If it was bad for us, it was devastating for them. They had done everything right, but now it was possible that their movie would not finish. The entire final sixty percent of the movie was about Raisa coming to NY. There was no rewrite that would save their movie, their dream, their hard work and their investment.

He asked in an email if the shot list and art meeting should still happen. When I said we should wait - what was a meeting to be about - he apologized. I knew there was nothing for him to apologize for. It was time to show our support.
Please do not apologize. We are here to be supportive of you.
It will take a few days to absorb all this for everyone. Take your time and sort everything out and we'll work together and do what we can to make the new circumstances work.
For the time being I am telling everyone that we are on hold as of the end of the day today. No one as of now is scheduled to come in on Monday until further notice.
Hopefully when you are ready our entire team will be available. I know my key people - Leigh, Aliki, Brian and Adam, will be.
Of the others, any who are not available we will find wonderful people
Your friend JB"
I met that morning with Leigh, Brian and Aliki. We would have to tell our crew that they were not to come in on Monday, that we would know more the following week.

I learned that both Leigh and Brian had turned down work, Brian another feature just the day before. Aliki had turned down renting out their camera package.

Rini and I spoke on the phone late in the afternoon. Rini said she wanted to cry, and I wasn't far behind her.

My email to the crew the next day.

I spoke with Rini on Saturday. The latest is that the lawyer has put in for an expedited process for visas. They should have an answer on this Wednesday. The quickest that would get their cast and creative team here is the 7th for prep and the 8th to shoot. We would then shoot 7 days - likely straight, though it could be six. If it is seven straight I will talk with crew re: safety and opportunity to switch out - would have those discussions individually.

I am waiting for a Letter from Reza to confirm this is the plan. "The plan" has changed so often on their end, in fairness due to the visa problem and scheduling issues with Raisa, that I have asked that it be put in writing. I expected it today but did not receive, but understand that Reza may be swamped.

If they get turned down for visas, it's likely the film will be shelved.

Nothing makes me more unhappy than sending an email with a lot of "ifs" - but I am walking a fine line between keeping everyone informed and confusing everyone. There will be one more email from me on this matter - one way or the other - and that one will be definitive. 

Obviously, none of this is good news, and, having released everyone (As I had to) I understand if some of you are not available when we start up again. In this scenario some people would start prepping again as early as this Thursday October 1st- but due to the uncertainty, I cannot "schedule" anything (such as tech scouts, production meetings, etc).

We are in the uncomfortable position of keeping our fingers crossed for our friends in Jakarta, and for us.  Rini may contact some of you for information between now and then - please do your best to provide it.  I'm glad to answer any questions, but any questions regarding "what are the chances...." would be nothing more than speculation on my part. 

Thanks for all the hard work - and here's hoping to see you all on set soon."
We were in the middle of the ocean and the winds were nowhere to be found. Right now, we were dead in the water.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Indonesian Job - The "Thank You" Dinner

"If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough"
-Meister Ekhart

Those who follow this blog have seen pics like this before from the "Thank You" dinner.

The "Thank You" dinner actually started a few years ago. For years, I was able to avoid bringing on unpaid interns as the digital age drove budgets lower and lower. On The Unattainable a few years back, I had to bring on an unpaid intern as my assistant (she was here on a student visa from India and could not accept pay, and was being supported by her parents) and we brought on an APOC, Tasha on a flat rate stipend of $1000.

Near the end of the shoot, my POC, Megan, suggested that she buy the APOC a gift and I buy my assistant a gift and we take them out for dinner. We did that at my old haunt, The West Bank Cafe.

A year later, when I did Keep my Brother on even a lower budget (under $100K) I brought on Tasha as my POC and two interns as PM and APOC. Again, we did the dinner, and then added the one paid PA who stayed through the entire shoot.

On this shoot, visa and talent schedule issues threatened the entire shoot. Rini, the Indonesian-American producer, was in Washington DC for most of prep and put in the impossible position of being told by me and my staff on one end what we needed from Jakarta and from their end what they wanted from us, which was often very different.

My staff faced several moments when it looked like the shoot would not happen, including almost a week long hiatus while we waited on visa answers and then whether the key investor would make a transfer of funds. In that time, many production people would have looked for and taken other work. I offered all of them the opportunity to go out and do just that if they needed to.

Not one of them did, turning down sure work to stay with me and "what if."

On top of their talent and their noble efforts, that sort of thing just doesn't happen. There were tense days when I worried almost the entire day about the "what if'" their loyalty to me cost people I dearly respected and, yes, to some degree loved, money.

Thankfully, it worked out, and I took all of them out for a delicious (and drunken!) dinner.

There are many heroic tales to share in coming posts, but let me introduce you to my own Band of Brothers and Sisters.

Left to right above are Rini, who I mentioned above; Arneece, who came in with little film office experience and rose from APOC to POC by the end, Aliki, who is, herself, a producer and line producer and agreed to work with me as production supervisor, Leigh, also a producer, who was my UPM and Locations Manager and oversaw US casting, doing three jobs, two of which were impossible on their own and made harder by our changes; myself, Patrick, our great 2nd AD who worked with a lot of green PAs, and the Big Man, the one and only Brian, our First AD, whose praises I have sang to the heavens often on these pages.

On a shoot where so much could have gone, so much went very right. We came in on schedule and under budget, and it only happened because of the folks pictured here.

I have individually worked with many very good production people, but the good feeling among this entire crew and the Indonesian creative team was so wonderful that in the few wrap days after the film, there were various get-togethers. Aliki and kept marveling at how, on a difficult shoot, everyone had such a great attitude and there was such good cheer.

On a shoot that had huge challenges every day, we all felt very good about getting to work with each other. This is Right Livelihood.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Indonesian Job - Please Stand By

I must apologize for my prolonged absence from these pages. When last we met, I was close to beginning the New York production of an Indonesian film.

In that time, we went from 12 days to 7 days to 6 days and then back to 7 days. Myself and my Fab Four - Production Supervisor, UPM/Location Manager and First AD - officially worked 10 days straight and more realistically more than a month. The project was put on hiatus for a week while we waited to see if they had their visas, and emails like the first one became a regular occurrence.

During the ensuing hiatus, we lost two iconic locations, Grand Central Station and Luna Park, and had to scramble to find other "iconic" locations four days before we began shooting; the type of locations that typically would not even talk to you if you do not book three weeks in advance.

We just wrapped one of the craziest shoots I have ever done, but, remarkably, especially because of the Fab Four above but also because everyone on the Indonesian and US crews were fun, good people, it was a shoot that was exhilarating, exciting, and in the end. came in on schedule and under budget.

It was also the first in the new production offices in Midtown Manhattan of my production services company, Fire Lotus Entertainment, LLC.

It will take a number of posts to catch you up on this one, but I look forward to sharing it with you all.

All you need to know is that my amazing PM organized a basketball game at Harlem's Rucker Park, which we discovered is very famous in Indonesia.

Below, pictures from the game, as well as Reza, their producer, decked out in a Knicks scarf that was part of a swag package that the NY Knicks were kind enough to send when I told them that he was a big fan.

The Mets caps were a present from me so my Indonesian creative team could show their support for this years' NL East (and hopefully World) Champions.

Lots more stories and picks to come. Right now, I'm way too tired to write anything more than this tease.