Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Speedboat - Part 1 - They Really Did Want to Direct

"Lots of people want to have written; they don't like to write. In other words, they want to see their name on the front cover of a book and their grinning picture on the back. But this is what comes at the end of the job, not at the beginning."
-Elizabeth George

Hello again.

Yes, it's been too many months, and another break from my obligation to this blog, which is, of course, an obligation to not only my followers (however many -  or few - they are) but also to myself, to my stated purpose at the beginning of this blog to not only offer some cool war stories and maybe some good advice, but also to make sense of a crazy career and answer the question, "Why do we do this?"

What does it say that this difficulty came in telling this story of Speedboat, which represented a new beginning for me with wonderful new people, as noted in Rebooting Again - Always Beginner's Mind?

One of the things that had soured me on the business before this project were the number of directors I had met who remind me of the quote above, itself a variation of a quote that has been attributed to many from Dorothy Parker to George R.R. Martin and others. (An interesting discussion of its origin can be found in this Quote Investigator article).

Like the picture above, many want to have directed, but don't want to truly do the hard work required to direct. How many directors have I met who could not take the time to do some sort of shot list or storyboard, to show up on set with ideas but no plan. How many wrote scripts with elements that went beyond the means of the project, and never bothered to figure out how that compromise was going to be accomplished?

Making a movie, especially an independent movie, requires a director to put in a lot of hard work, and to take with it their share of humility. Yes, humility.

Nothing gets handed to the independent director. First, they have to ask for money. Then, they need favors from friends - everything from locations to equipment.

Then, the humility to ask professionals to bring their own creativity and skill to the project, often for a fraction of the rate their services would bring elsewhere.

This element of what Paul and Dan did has served as an example for me to offer other filmmakers looking to do their own projects.

The writing ended about a year before we started shooting, and the script had challenges. Some of it took place in a run-down motel, which became harder to find than we thought, but a good deal took place on a boat that would run along the Gowanus Canal, and a driver to drive that boat, since it was unlikely that our lead actor would be able to do so. There were also scenes in a divey bar.

Just as they finished the script, Paul and Dan spent time in a seaman's bar at the end of Atlantic Avenue called Monteros, and with it's generous owner, Pepe (Montero). Pepe and his family are part of the history of the Brooklyn waterfront, and he shares some of those experiences in an article here.

Some of you will remember the reference because Pepe opened his place as a holding area to us on our Indonesian film, which is where our journey on that film ended.

It was a beginning for Paul and Dan, not only talking to Pepe, the owner, and his lovely wife Linda, but to the week day bartender with many stories, and the regulars, many of whom have their own (unofficial stools). Like any perfect divey bar, many of those regulars were daytime customers, and though there were a lot fewer boat drivers coming in, there were a few, and Paul and Dan worked out an excellent deal with a guy who regularly ran his boat on the Gowanus.

Along the way many of the stories they heard made there way ever so slightly in the script, and one or two of the regulars made it into the movie. Paul and Dan found themselves taking time not and day to spend time with these people.

The reason people opened up to them was that they were about more than just what they could "get" out of the place. Many of the stories of hard times they shared did nothing for the movie, but they listened because they cared.

Let me repeat. They listened because they cared.

People can tell the difference between listening just long enough to see what you can get out of them, and actually caring. The harder the times are for people, the more sensitive their BS barometer tend to be.

The same would hold true for another location they found, a diner that had recently been shut down due to code violations in the kitchen. The older couple lived upstairs, and without the place open, had little income. Paul and Dan talked to them and while they got a good deal, they did not use them, paying them a fair price (but less than we would have paid elsewhere).

In a side note, the couple enjoyed the experience and as thank you I got the word out to some scouts, and soon, they had bigger companies paying more money to shoot there.

The directors did the hard work, and they did it while respecting the people they dealt with along the way, and it brought them better places than they would have found elsewhere, and for a better price and with more genuine cooperation.

That did not help them with one location - a seedy motel. That one involved some script flexibility and a little luck.

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