Friday, July 15, 2016

Rebooting Again - Always Beginner's Mind

"What we call 'I' is a swinging door which moves when we inhale and when we exhale." *
-Shunryo Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

My Dad, who was not a Zen master but a pretty astute observer of human nature, used to say, "When one door closes, another one opens." I think he and Suzuki Roshi would have gotten along just fine.

There was a post named "Beginner's Mind, Beginning Again - Or the Great Reboot" from January 2012. In that post, I discussed how I started again after recovering from my operation. It was really when I focused my work on film more than theater, though I never really abandoned theater.

If you stick with this business long enough, you will find yourself "rebooting" a number of times. I think of this time as significant because I met a number of people who became part of my team for a while, and we did a lot of good work together.

As those who follow this blog are aware, there have been a number of times where I questioned whether this was really what I should be doing.

By 2008, I was not sure if I was done with this business, or if it was done with me. More and more, I was seeing people with less experience get positions for which I knew I was qualified.

Despair set in, not only because of what I was going through, but what the people who were important to me were going through. My good friend JR was dead some time at this point. Most of that crew had either moved up in the business or moved on to other businesses.

The filmmakers I had the closest association with had made their movies, and like the movie JR, Jack and I had made, they had received little attention and the barest of distribution.

The few projects I was working were, well, less than inspiring. One was a student thesis project that was very ill conceived (let's just leave it at that). A second was a Greek TV show which was, well, if you imagine the characters from My Big Fat Greek Wedding as a production team, you get the picture.

While neither of these projects seemed of any note, they brought me two of the people who would become a regular part of my team. It's why I always tell people that, however bad or crazy the project, do the best job that you can, and keep your eyes peeled for the good ones to bring on another project.

So it was that I was contacted by two brothers who were doing a short I'll call Speedboat**. It was a clever story of a rather inept small time hood who gets has stolen bribe money and is being chased by two killers when he thinks he finds the perfect out - a boat driver along the Gowanus river who looks like him can take the rap.

The two brothers, Paul and Dan, admitted after they hired me that when they saw my extensive resume, they thought about not contacting me because, given my extensive resume, they thought I wouldn't take it. Ha! I had actually heard that before.

When we started looking for a First AD, I saw a resume from a woman who clearly had been around as long as I had. The brothers admitted they had thought about her for my job, but that, again, thought she would say 'no'.

Her work went back a long way in LA, and she has done a lot of television back to 1980s shows I remembered. Wow.

I knew firsthand that if she sent a resume, she was looking for work. I brought her in - we'll call her "W" - and she and I immediately knew we had something in common. She was a short, stout chain-smoker, who seemed straight out of central casting as a gun moll. When she was trying to encourage the director to move along after a particular take, she would use expressions like "Moving on. You don't want to put your foot through a Rembrant!"

I loved her. I knew she would be perfect.

It was in interviewing for PAs on the shoot that I found a few amazing future crew people, as well as one I brought along from two previous oddball films.

One, named G (She used this as short for her actual name) I had found on the otherwise forgettable student short where I was hired to AD. When I got to the van, and we had all introduced each other, and I found that there was only ONE PA, G, and she didn't drive. Once on set, however, I realized she was bright and hard-working.

From the Greek TV show, I met Deena, who was that show's AD. While I usually do not like ADs who are yellers, on this shoot, everyone yelled, so there was definitely an advantage to yell the loudest, which she did. In fact, she would scare the director more than I could, and there was something to be said for that. Lovely and talented enough to be an actress, I knew Deena had a future in production.

Then there would be the other PA positions.

Em was bright and hard-working, with a "can-do" approach to everything. As good as she was with me across many projects, I appreciated her skills the most when I threw her in the deep end of the pool PMing for the first time on a feature that was quite difficult. She shined.

I always had one personal assistant. One resume got my attention because of her background as a stage manager. Everything about her resume screamed organization. We met at a Starbucks, and she was every bit as smart as I assumed she was. Her name was Maura - I use it because I mentioned her already in the Don't Shoot post - and she was an organizing whiz, with just the right amount of irreverence to speak up if she didn't agree.

As she was leaving, she said, "By the way, I can be a bit A.D.D., so you better keep me busy or I get really bored." I came to learn she wasn't kidding. She would finish any task in no more than half the time you thought it would take her and be back asking for more to do. She also turned out to be a math whiz with a love for Sudoku and Excel.

One of the other PAs was Dion. Sorry, D, there was really not another short version of your name that wasn't "D" and I know there would be other folks with names starting with "D."

D was a born organizer, and over shoots to come, he would quickly move from PA to Key PA to 2nd AD. First AD? More on that, later.

These folks would all be involved in the next chapter of my career. I will have more on Speedboat, but before that, I should tell you just a little about that Greek TV show.

Next post. Then, I'll get back to Speedboat.

* The painting is from the rather iconic Zen Ten Ox-Herding Pictures. They are meant to represent the stages of awareness through a man who "loses" an Ox, chases him, finds him, only to realize he is back where he began, but with more awareness. This is a terribly shortened version of the meaning of the story as it reflects Zen practice. These good folks explain it better.

** As these stories are closer to my current place, and most friends know these folks, I do my best to not always use their names or names of the projects. It's not because I have anything negative to say of them, but the process of production is bumpy, and I figure these folks don't deserve to have those bumps shared. With Maura and Dion, well, most of the bumps are humorous, and using pseudonyms wouldn't do much to protect their identities for those who know them anyway.

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