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.

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