Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Goodbye 2017 - Or, How 2017 Didn't Kill Me (But It Tried)

Every time you go to the park, you have a chance to see something you've never seen before.

-Ernie Harwell, Detroit Tigers Longtime announcer*

If I were to tell you that this was a year that started with me producing a short that I really loved with some of my best people, that I would get hired to line produce a well-funded project with a great director, and also be hired to direct my first feature, you'd think it was a really good year.

You'd be wrong, though those were all true.

In preparing this post, I looked over my end-of-year post from 2016. At the end of 2016, I was looking forward to a clever short with a talented SVA student as director to begin the year, and "right after" a movie with acclaimed long-time Director/Producer friend, John Gallagher. John and I had known each other for many years, but had never worked together.

The short with that talented student got done in February, and I must say it took a lot out of me. Shorts are difficult from a producing standpoint. You don't have the budget for extended prep time with the crew. You don't have the budget for the proper support staff, such as a POC. Yet, many of the same things need to be prepped and get done.

Then, there was the added pressure I put on myself. This director could not have been nicer, and had all the talent to get the project done. I was able to work with many of my best crew, who came on for a fraction of their rates. While all of that was great, I put extra pressure on myself to really make this something special. I was producer and line producer, and I sometimes led a little more with my producer heart than my line producer head, and that was stressful.

In the end, we made a very good movie, but it took a toll.

The picture with John Gallagher did not get completely funded until mid-December. That's the nature of projects and funding. It's like that elusive prize that someone dangles just out of your reach, and as it gets closer, they pull it away.

However, at least it did get funded. More on that project in future posts.

The same could not be said for another project that took up almost three months of my time. It is the project that inspired the Ernie Harwell quote below the title.

Another line producer referred a project to me, as it conflicted with one she was already on. I was hired the first week of July, a deal memo was signed, and they immediately sent me a first payment. The project was being funded through an EP from Australia, and the actual money was coming from an international, multi-billion dollar source. The producer was from L.A., and both he and his entertainment attorney had seen proof of funds. All that was left was the draw down, or so we thought.

After many fits and starts and delays, which included a "pop the champagne" conference call with the EP, the draw down kept getting pushed back, finally to the point where we would not be able to get it done before Thanksgiving. After attaching two of my key crew, including one who would have been flying in from Sweden, it was postponed until 2018.

At least one more post on that one, with more of what that journey was like. In 2016, I did a post about a webseries that we spent weeks prepping but never shot, so it just had prep and wrap. I had never had that happen. Now, a feature that had a "green light," proof of funds, and money spent didn't get the draw-down in time to shoot before the end of they year.

No matter who long you do this, you experience things you've never seen, and usually, that is not a good thing.

When that got pushed back, it was like a gut punch, in part because, again, it hit not just me (And my wallet), but two cherished members of my crew who had put time aside for it. Hopefully, it happens this year, especially for the producer, who is a great, sharp, guy; and the director, who is an exceptional talent and team player.

My production manager, who was very upset as she had switched plans to come here from Sweden to work on it, said, "I don't know how you have survived this all these years." That would not be the end of it.

Between then and the funds coming through for John's film, Sarah Q, which happened on Christmas week, the following happened:

I did a short with one of my dearest friends directing. She is so wonderful and so talented, but we were trying to work with less money than we really needed, and under time pressure to submit it to a specific contest. I kept trying to keep her from finding herself in debt. It was hard emotionally, and if out friendship were not as strong as it definitely is, it would have been strained.

I was hired to line produce an micro-budget feature, which I was then asked to direct. I went over the funds needed with the EP, and he agreed. I rewrote a melodrama to a suspenseful and tough noir. I was very proud of the rewrite.

Three days before the shoot, the EP got cold feet, and though he had paid me and paid the producer, he decided not to do the project.

This was over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Meanwhile, about two weeks before Thanksgiving, a producer asked me to come on and save a SAG Ultra Low project that was a mess. I soon realized it was a mess of her making. I had budgeted it back in the Spring for $50K more than she had. She had gone through three line producer/PM/AD teams, and was about to split from her British producing partners. She had no experience in the business, but kept trying to tell me what we did and did not need to shoot. As an example, one of the previous LPs left out payroll fringes, gas, tolls, enough vehicles and other essentials, but she kept referring to his budget as "proof" it could be done for less.

On the day I was supposed to begin directing my first feature, I quit her project, with an email that, essentially, said, 'You've been through numerous producers and line producers. Look in the mirror."

That isn't even the entire year, but will serve to let those of you who say you really want to produce what you may have in store.

To paraphrase Bette Davis, producing ain't for sissies.

There is a numbing effect, though. After my experience with the project that did not get the draw-down, I was emotionally drained. When I quit the LP job and the directing job went away, I just took a deep breath and thought, "Ok. Next?"

There was a time that it would have left me emotionally devastated, but I wasn't.  You take enough punches, getting up is just an instinct. It's not determination, or grit, or any of those things motivational speakers offer. It's just the reality that this is your life, and you just keep moving forward, a little worse for wear, but with a little more confidence that you can handle the worst, because you already have.

You are no hero, that's for sure. It is, to borrow the overused Hyman Roth quote from The Godfather II, the business we've chosen. Live with it.

I have given some interesting experiences short shrift. I may seek to expand on some of them in future posts, though I really don't want to dwell on difficult things past, and some details that might make the telling more interesting might step over the proprietary line I draw in this blog. It's one thing to do into detail about projects long past, but these are projects with good people who still have stake in them, so I do not feel as comfortable divulging too much.

OK, 2018, you're next!

* The Harwell quote is from a book called Cubs Forever: Memories from the Men Who Lived Them by Bob Varwald. Other baseball men have been cited as saying similar things, but I'll go with the Harwell.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Hello, Sixty, My Old Friend

“Live! Live the wonderful life that is in you! Let nothing be lost upon you. Be always searching for new sensations. Be afraid of nothing.”
― Oscar WildeThe Picture of Dorian Gray

The hope was that the search for a good quote for turning sixty would offer something unique and clever, so imagine my horror when most that I found online were dull and uninspiring. 

Bad enough that the fear of any artist is that not only is the "spark" gone, but that it will never come again. Never. No spark.

"You are not turning 60. You're just turning 20 for the third time." (Pretty random. Why not 10 for the 6th time? 30 for the 2nd time?)

"Celebrating he 39th anniversary of my 29th Birthday" (More fun with numbers. And, if we want to carry the Jack Benny joke, why not the 21st anniversary of my 39th birthday."

And, the dreaded....

"Keep Calm You're Only Turning 60."

Nothing is more like nails on a chalkboard to me than the misuse of the British Government's poster at the outset of World War II. This one doesn't even rhyme!

Neil's Young's "Old Man"? Not exactly on point.

"You can't be 60 on Sugar Mountain." Switching 60 for 20 doesn't make any more sense than those bad "Keep Calm" quotes.

I could have gone with Neil's "Better to Burn Out than to Fade Away," except I've been there and done that - five years ago when I turned 55! (Neil seems obsessed with age, doesn't he?)

And that's the point.

As my AD of many years once said to me in a cab after a long day, "JB, it's a young man's game." He's in his forties, and I met him when I was in my forties, and I felt old then.

The exuberance of youth is visible everywhere in film, from the emergence of ideas that come from developing minds, to the strength that comes with youth that helps move all that gear and keep you going on long days, to the beauty of youth that is so sought after in front of the camera.

Especially on low budget indies, where budgets do not always allow you to hire seasoned professionals in every position, there are constantly young people coming taking on jobs for the first time.

I've been one of the "old guys" for about the last twenty years now, so sixty is not likely to be much different than they have been.

Yes, the long days feel longer, and the early calls seem to come earlier, but the process is gradual. Monday -the day after my birthday - will not be a Dorian Gray moment. I don't expect to look in the mirror and be shocked that I look older. That happens already on those early mornings.

The blend of young people on set and those of us with a few more years is exciting. It's part of the magic, at least for me.

I try not to be that "get off my lawn" guy, or the guy who keeps telling you how we did it in the old days.

I'm not always successful at those two above, but I like to think I have enough mindfulness to at least see that I'm doing it when it comes up. The most important thing is that I keep on listening. That's important for all of us. Zen mind is Beginner's Mind. Always be the student.

David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross may have offered us the ABCs - Always Be Closing - but, our lesson is to Always Be Listening. Always Be Learning. Somehow, ABLs is not as alliterative.

I've just started prep on a movie where the director/producer is about a year older than me. We have a lot of years between us, but as it's an Ultra Low Budget movie, we will be relying on a lot of younger people to keep it going. He is also a teacher, and a mentor, and I'm really excited and looking forward to the experience. A fire a number of years ago has limited his mobility some, but certainly not his ability. I'll be proud to walk along side him with my cane (which I've used since in my thirties - so that's nothing new).

When John Huston was directing The Dead, his health had deteriorated, and he was in a wheelchair and had the aid of an oxygen tank. Asked if he was embarrassed, given the reputation he had gained as an adventurer in his rugged youth, he said that only vanity would have kept him hidden in his current state.

"I don't like the part of being bound. But I've never discovered an answer to that question of what does freedom really consist (of). If you aren't fettered by one thing, you're fettered by another."
"I'm not hungry or thirsty. I'm not lovelorn. I'm just at the end of a piece of plastic tubing. And we're all hostages in one way or another." 

As for the spark, I had the opportunity to do a page-one rewrite of a script that I was set to direct, until it got postponed.  That was only a month or so ago, and it's some of the best writing I've done in a while. It was done in a short time, and that came with the craft, the experience.

I was on the phone the other day with "The Ex," who regular readers know is a lot wiser than I am. "Well, I turn 60 on Sunday," I told her.

She passed that mark in August.

"Yeah. The thing about turning sixty is it's better once it's over. You spend all this time thinking about it leading up to it, and, then, when it comes, it's not a big deal."

Seems the spark isn't gone with her, either. Many bows, Maureen, for offering me the quote I was looking for.

Wondering what this post will look like when I turn seventy!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

I Am Harvey Weinstein

"We all have that Barton Fink feeling but since you're Barton Fink, I'm assuming you have it in spades."
-Jack Lipnick, Barton Fink

I don't know about you, but I've gotten pretty tired of seeing Harvey Weinstein's picture on my news feeds. This is a man who seemed, even before this latest news, to have an ego as bloated as his physical presence.

So, instead of subjecting you to the image once again, I used this image of the wonderful Michael Lerner as studio head Jack Lipnick from Barton Fink.

While I have a feeling that he sees himself as something of the Jack Lipnick, dapper studio head, above, what he really should have understood is that young women likely saw him as the image of Jack Lipnick, below.

Weinstein is sixty-five. I will be sixty next week. With all the time he spent around great scripts and great writers and great thought, he seems surprisingly lacking in some basic understanding of the laws of attraction, not to mention basic laws of decency.

I love the movie Atlantic City. For those who don't remember it, an elder Burt Lancaster plays a former mob guy who meets up with a young Susan Sarandon. While I wouldn't say they fall in love, they definitely have a relationship.

I remember discussing the film with a young actress friend. I told her how I could definitely see it, despite their age difference. After all, he was so charming. So dashing.

"Ew," she said. "And so old." She wasn't buying it.

Hollywood didn't start having a woman problem with Harvey Weinstein. Older actors regularly were paired with young starlets in movies, and we were all made to believe that was normal.

It's not.

Right after the scandal broke, Lisa Bloom, an  attorney who was representing him, said, in defending him, that he was "an old dinosaur learning new ways." Translation: everyone used to do this. Translation: this used to be the norm.

While that may certainly be true, it is not an excuse. Not even close.

From everything I've ever read, and from the experiences of some people I know who have met him, he was far from a decent person in the rest of his life, even if you don't consider his treatment of women.

The accounts of what Weinstein did were appalling, from sexual harassment all the way to rape. It's easy for anyone with any decency to see how wrong he was.

One of his accusers, Lauren O'Conner described sexual harassment succinctly:

"I am a 28-year old woman trying to make a living and a career. Harvey Weinstein is a 64 year old, world famous man, and this is his company. The balance of power is me: 0, Harvey Weinstein 10."
This blog is not about people who's power-ranking is 10. Mine is certainly not. We all know enough about Harvey. Let's talk about us. Let's talk about low budget indies.

As regular readers know, I got my start as a stage manager, with a wonderful woman named Nancy. She was a short powerhouse, and no one ever doubted who was in charge when she was around.

I also worked for a political research firm with a boss named Barbara K (name withheld because she is a big exec now). When we were going to a meeting one day, I opened the door for her as we got into a cab.

"You first," she said. "Men only open doors so women have to slide over."

When a co-worker and I were in her office being called out on mistakes we had made, my co-worker, a young woman began to cry. Barbara's reaction?

"I can cry, too, Maria." It seemed harsh to me at the time. I later looked back at it as a lesson to a younger woman. Don't play the "girl" card unless you want to be treated as one.

Both these women were strong, and as kind and as good a friend and a boss as anyone could hope to find.

So, when I got into the film business, I had no problem respecting the women who worked for me. That, and my dad was a true gentleman. You just did not mistreat women.

I remember being 1st AD on a show in the late 80s. My second was a woman. One day, she came up to me and told me of a male PA who had disrespected her.

I could fire him, I told her, or tell him to shut up and listen to you. All that would do would be to reinforce that I, a male, was in charge. Another option would be for you to put him in his place. Then, he has to respect you, and if comes to me complaining, I will have your back 100%. She did, and it worked.

Over the years I have seen so many forms of disrespect on set. Some of it, honestly, is just the basic disrespect that goes on with a crew, the jokes, the ribbing. Intent means a lot. Some of it is outright disrespect, and, sadly, some of it falls somewhere in between.

In the 35MM days, the ACs would carry heavy mag cases. I mean, mag cases I could not carry very far. I watched on one particular exterior as a diminutive female AC I knew carried two cases at a time up and down hill. Still, producers would question me as to whether a female could be a grip, or an electric. This, from men who often not much stronger than me.

I can honestly say that I've never failed to hire a woman because she was a woman - for any position on a film. I once had an (almost) all-female G&E crew. (The gaffer on that shoot - now a very talented and very successful DP, always reminds me when I tell this story that one of our Best Boys was male).

I had a male First AD on a shoot I was producing constantly comment on his 2nd AD's breasts. That one, I had to deal with myself.

Film crews on features over a long-haul are like family - for better or worse. You don't see anyone else, at least not while you're fully awake. Flirting is natural. Dates? All the time. Hookups? Absolutely. I can name a number of G&E guys who regularly dated female crew, often, as it worked out, Hair or Makeup. If that sounds cliche, it's what I saw.

We are all, hopefully, adults. We should know when flirting is mutual, and when it is not appreciated. That does not mean we always do.

I have dated crew people over years. I have dated assistants, but they were my assistants before we were on the shoot, and they were always good at their job.

There were times that I also went out of my way not to be social with women on set, such as actresses. There was a stunning young actress on set who had to do many difficult partial nude scenes, and with a director who was incredibly disrespectful and flirty with her. When she first came up to me at lunch just to chat, I avoided anything but professional conversation. Man, I thought, anything else, and I will look just like the jerk director and his co-producer, who were like over-sexed teenagers.

I mentioned age before, and that is also a factor. At that time, I was about twenty years older than her. I continue to be much older than many of the women I work with, and like to be mentor to both male and female co-workers. It's really hard to do that when your relationship is "complicated."

There was one production person who I worked with who I was attracted to. She was much younger. We had done some things socially - a show, dinner, etc. After one lunch, I told her honestly: I am attracted to you, but I'd like to work with you, and given our age difference, I think that would not only get awkward but reflect badly on her. People would get the wrong impression. After that, we remained friends but there was no more dating.

The answers are difficult, and the answers are easy. There are lines, and, again, as adults, we should know what they are.

I titled this article "I am Harvey Weinstein," so if you thought I was going to leave it with me as a hero of some sort, well, you haven't read many of my posts.

There are habits I have that I inherited from that very respectful father that I need to work harder to change. One is language. My Dad would often refer to a woman in talking with her as "dear" or other terms of endearment. Now, I should point out that while my dad could be a flirt, he would use these terms with a 5-year old girl or a 90 year old woman. They were meant to flatter, and was not about hitting on them.

That's fine to say for a male. However, in the workplace, they are inappropriate, and worse, can denote condescension, even when that is not the meaning. I know I've been guilty of that way too often.

I also realize commenting on this can be a minefield for a male, no less a producer. I've read many, many too many self-righteous columns by men about this problem. That said, this whole business has made me reflect, and should make others do so as well. If that conversation is difficult, it is an important one to have.

My belief in this matter is the same as it is about life. I can only see this from my biased perspective. I am an almost sixty year old straight, White, CIS male. I don't know what it's like to grow up Black, or gay, or trans, or, for that matter, female, and I shouldn't pretend to do so.  I also should not and will not make believe I can speak for them.

We like to think ourselves open-minded, but we need to confront our biases. I think back to my Atlantic City analogy earlier in the post. What I found charming, a woman found creepy. How many other times, that I am not recalling now, have I, unintentionally, given the wrong signal? Handled a situation indelicately? Made a comment that I thought was a compliment that made a woman uncomfortable?

I'm sure the answer is: more often than I would like to admit.

Just the way the death of Sarah Jones made me think even harder about how late I let a PA work without proper turnaround, or if there was any danger in a given situation; all I can say is that I will be more conscious of how I address women; how I deal with them; am I giving them an even chance in hiring.

We are right to condemn. We are right to throw stones when stones need to be thrown, but we also need to tend to those glass houses we live in.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Vowing the Un-vowable

Sentient beings are numberless. I vow to save them.
Desires are inexhaustible. I vow to put an end to them.
The Dharmas are boundless. I vow to master them.
The Buddha Way is unattainable. I vow to attain it.
                               -The Four Great Bodhisattva Vows

Vows are a solemn promise. Solemn. That's pretty serious.

In most spiritual traditions, these solemn promises are not only promises to do something, but promises to stop doing other things. Acknowledgement that we have done something that causes harm, and that we will stop doing that.


Yom Kippur. Ashamnu. Catholics. Confession.

So, here I vow to get back to get back to attending to this blog. To keep telling the story. 

Let's start with old-school (as in my Catholic upbringing) confession.

Forgive me, readers, for I have transgressed. It has been eleven months since my last blog post.

Now, I have made this vow before, and this is the thing about vows. Even most of the world's great spiritual traditions acknowledge that when we make these vows to change, we will, at times, fail. Look at the wording of the the Ashamnu, or the Bodhisattva vows above, and we see they clearly acknowledge the daunting nature of the task at hand.

Writing is one of my great joys, and also, as with most writers, one of my great causes of suffering. Because I respect the written word so much, I find myself overly critical of my own writing. I've addressed this in these pages before, as have countless writers over the years.

It isn't writer's block or, more precisely, it is not a block on writing, or wanting to write, but rather, the ability - the need - to write well.

I can suggest so many reasons for the block. The feeling post-Trump election that nothing mattered. The sense that I was so far behind in the timeline that I'd never catch up; and, if I am truly honest with myself, the dread that no one really cared.

What was missing was the inspiration, to write and craft posts that honor the craft - or at least these pages.

That inspiration came from an unexpected place - the "#me too" movement that came to light in the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein shame. It was an flurry that became an avalanche, and it moved me to start drafting a "I Am Harvey Weinstein" post.

That will come.

Tragedy affects different people differently. As an elder (over 40 would be an elder in this business -and I'm way past that) I get introspective when these things come to light. I did with the #safetyforsarah. It did with the election of a proud bigot. It did again with the Weinstein incident, as it made me look at the issue of treatment of women on a more micro level on the smaller indie films that I and other men are need to investigate.

However, I needed to do this first, and then a few other posts in order to "catch up." Oh, I will get back to the short film where I met my spiritual "kids," but first I need to get things in perspective. I needed to get this post done. Then, one that catches readers up on the last year since my Casey Affleck post. How ironic, that the #metoo movement inspired me to post again, given Casey's reported history of abusing the women he worked along side.

But, so it is.

Ironies abound. That, in adding Weinstein to the "labels" for this post, I noticed that the name of one of the most powerful and influential figures in indie films had never before come up in a blog about indie film.  While I doubt Harvey would care about me, I like to think that he is in some way disappointed that his influence does not permeate all corners of the indie film industry.

The blog is back I vow to keep it. I offer three bows, in the pictures above, albeit from different spiritual traditions.*

Feel free to hold my feet to the fire.

*Any look at different spiritual traditions around the world will reveal how many more similarities there are than not. Different paths to the same place.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Call Back, Casey. All is Forgiven

"Wait a minute. Haven't I seen you before? I know your face."
-Joe Gillis, Sunset Boulevard

Congrats to my newly dear friend Casey Affleck. I realize you may not remember me as the 1st AD on Floating, where you memorably played Preppie #1 in late 90s. I forgive you for not remembering, because until I went through all my shows while looking up possible cast for a film I'm producing, I had forgotten you were in Floating. I realize in the years since, you may resent that someone as meteorically successful as myself has not reached out to you for those great roles I could have provided. Of course, I never forgot the tears you brought to my eyes (or great laughs?) as Preppie # 1, or our long, special talks together. Or, at least when I made sure there was something still at crafty when your scene was over. If it makes you feel better, I also lost touch with Preppie #2. I hope you will remember those special moments on your next film. No. No. You don't need to thank me for my contribution to your development if you win awards for Manchester by the Sea. Well, it's okay if you do, but you don't have to. After all, I'm sure you remember when the co-star of Floating, Chad Lowe, was forgotten when his then-wife, Hillary Swank, won the Oscar for Boys Don't Cry, after she had thanked everyone else, down to the PA who got her Starbucks order right.*

I am quite busy this year, but if you need me to once again offer my guidance in your next performance on what will undoubtedly be a huge budget studio film, I will, in honor of our special relationship, make time for you
I'm just that sort of guy. Text me, baby.

*Note how the producers of the Academy Awards kept coming back to a shot of Chad, sure that she would mention him. Even better was she shows her paper at the beginning and says she wrote it all down because 'it would be so awful if she forgot anybody.'.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Hello 2017 - Or How 2016 Didn't Kill Anyone

“But Einstein came along and took space and time out of the realm of stationary things and put them in the realm of relativity—giving the onlooker dominion over time and space, because time and space are modes by which we think and not conditions in which we live.” 
― Dimitri MarianoffEinstein: An Intimate Study of a Great Man

Regular readers of this blog know that two of my fascinations, outside of film, are Zen and Quantum Physics. Both suggest that bookmarks such as dates are merely concepts, and not reality.

Even as we are (sometimes) Sentient Beings, we like those bookmarks to make things feel more orderly, when, in fact, all that is real exists is chaos, an all we have is this very instant, which has already passed as you experience it.

If you were to believe your social media pages, 2016 is some dastardly villain that has chosen to take so many of our beloved artists, not to mention heroes; as if 2016 actually had a conscience. All those we love and cherish, especially in the arts, need to do is make it to 12:01AM on January 1, 2017, and they will be good.

Don't think that is going to be the case.

That doesn't mean we cannot take this arbitrary date to look back at the last 365 days, and forward to the next. It's our decision, and it makes it convenient.

So, here is a look back at 2016 for me, and a look forward to 2017; keeping to old-school Irish bartender rules, meaning no discussion of politics or religion Them there Irish bartenders knew what they were doing.

2016 started for me with a UPM job, working for a very good producer. We knew of each other's work, and thought it would be a great fit. It wasn't.  Instead, it was proof that there is more than one way to cook a goose - but you have to choose one. I could have been more magnanimous in conceding to how she wanted things done. It was still a very good project, and I look forward to seeing it. A reminder of why I chose to be a Big Fish in a Small Pond (Low budget indies) instead of the opposite, which would have meant taking orders from others, which has never been my strong suit. There was a small project that I served as AD on in October that would also bring this home.

Hours on the literal cushion (Zazen) and the figurative couch (therapy) leads to a whole lot of introspection. Some, including my ex-wife, would call it over-thinking. I had a therapist once dryly tell me, "Oh, you have introspection down pat."

Me? I like to think it helps you not be that old dog that can't learn new tricks.

That did come home, when I had the opportunity to UPM a one-day commercial with the wonderful producer, Aliki, who was my production supervisor on The Indonesian Project. I was conscious of deferring to her and a really good AD, and neither ego nor stubbornness ever got in the way, and it was a great experience.

New tricks are needed all the time in this business, and in the Spring I was hired to produce a PSA to encourage millennials to vote. We prepped for a few weeks, wrapped for one; and never shot one day. Client never approved talent. Told you about that one.

I line produced a 6-day short at a camp with a lot of students and a longtime DP friend, Lauretta, who I had last worked with as DP and Line Producer on Keep My Brother. It was, well, 6 days at a camp. As I kid, I hatred camp. Give me a soft bed and air conditioning and no bugs. Did not learn to love it more as an adult.

However, I did get to teach a little bit to some bright kids, and that is always rewarding.

There were a number of small jobs, as well as line producing a feature in September where I felt like the guy on the Titanic yelling "Iceberg" but no one (neither the producer nor the director) were listening. They basically decided to ignore almost every cost-saving suggestion I had, from not casting actors with conflicts (which cost them the shoot), to not shooting short days, to trying to cut our losses after we lost the second lead, to - well, you get the point. I had to stand by and watch them throw good dollar after bad. They were talented and very nice people, but, in the end, it's always their money.

Then, there was a regular return to working as First AD which I chronicled in the last post.

So, on to that proverbial flip of the calendar and 2017.

I am producing an SVA Thesis film through a program legendary producer Bob Giraldi initiated to have experienced producers work with thesis directors.  It is spiritual without being proselytizing.

I am attached to a project about a wheelchair-bound boxer, and a feature that would take place on a real battleship in Boston.

It looks like I will be able to work on a TV series with a actress and dear friend, Maria, as director.

Maybe one of the things I most look forward to is line producing a film called Sarah Q in early Spring, directed by John A. Gallagher.  John is as close to a NY Indie legend in NYC as you get, going back to successful movies in the 1990s like The Deli, Blue Moon and The Networker. He and I have had parallel careers, and we have no degrees of separation in terms of people we worked along side. John's first producer had worked as 2nd AD for me, and I have worked with many of the same cast and crew people that work with him. Ironically, the lead actress was the lead from the camp movie I did in June, and she is as talented and as great to work with as can be.

Given my opening to this post, you might imagine I do not make New Years' resolutions, but I am determined to do a few things in the new year, including at least directing a short, and writing a short and a feature and getting a few short stories published - or at least done, Maybe get back to directing more stage, if the opportunity is there. I have no illusion I will walk away from the production side, but I am consciously going to pour out whatever creativity I have. At my age, there isn't anything to save it for.

This year ended with a birthday dinner. Shooting schedules being what they are, none of my "kids" were able to make it, and regulars Brian and Adam found themselves stuck on set. However, one of the brightest stars from the last few years, Leigh, was able to make it, as were my spiritual "brother and sister, "Maria and Lanier. I also got to catch up with an old friend from all the way back in my WNYU days, Lisa (not pictured below).

Let me conclude with two truths. As Einstein said, "Time is an Illusion;" and as someone said, pictures don't lie. Looking forward to more "thank you dinners" in 2017.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Back In the Saddle -- The AD Life

"Is that a real twenty minutes or a makeup twenty minutes"
-JB when he's been given a "twenty minutes" estimate for the last hour

I was riding back from a shoot on Long Island last night talking to the one PA (one other got sick) we had on a short film on which I was the First AD.  The producer who hired him told me he was "great!" Since I had never worked with this producer, it could have either meant he was great, or that she and I had a different idea of great. I had encountered both situations.

Luckily, she turned out to be a very good producer, who put together a talented and friendly team, and she was very right about this PA. As I've taken to doing with talented people coming up in the business in production, I asked him what he wanted to do moving forward. He gave the right answer - he didn't know - but said that next year would be the year of him trying out new positions. Then, he asked about how I liked being an AD, and it continued a thought that has been going for a few months now, where I have found myself working more as First AD than producer, line producer or UPM on web series or shorts.

Sometimes I'm glad that I let a blog post "simmer" for a while. I had draft of two posts; one on the good people I've had the good fortune work with over the past few projects, and one on returning to working more often as an AD, something that was not a plan but for which I'm thankful.

This post allows me to deal with both as well as my conversation with this young man.

One of the things I love about the film industry is its unspoken tradition of mentorship. Just yesterday, watched as the First AC showed a new 2nd AC about slating and coiling cable, among other things. I see it all the time in G&E.

Sure, it happens more often on low budget shoots, but it happens, to some extent, on every shoot. Someone is always stepping up, and there is a first time for that step up for everyone.

One of the things that impressed me about this young man was that he recognized these things even in his time as a PA, from learning walkie lingo to the first time he had to drive a cube truck in the city and more.

As I've been AD more the last few months, I've been ask which I enjoy more, working as First AD or working as producer. The truth is that both have their advantages and disadvantages, but I must say that, while I have a few producing and line producing gigs coming up in 2017 already, I do feel invigorated by working as First AD.

The First AD's first and foremost responsibility is to make the day, though that does not mean it is  the only responsibility.  No two ADs do things exactly the same. While that can make the shooting hours more stressful, there is a certain sense of "resetting the clock" at the end of the day, being able to put that day aside and start (the fight) fresh the next day.

As producer, I don't have that moment-to-moment stress, but even when the AD has called camera wrap, there are all sorts of concerns that remain, mostly tied to the budgets, logistics, and often the politics of multiple producers, and dealing with director and creative staff demands. Art department wants more money, the location manager informs you that a date change has caused a key location to fall through, and the DP is asking again about those anamorphic lenses for a small coming-of-age story; and let's not talk about agents.

This Saturday, Christmas Eve, marks yet another turn around the sun for me (as the vaudevillians would say, and, boy, are my arms tired), and while my soul has developed callouses from the stress of producing and line producing, my body has been reintroduced to the physical grind of long hours on set, sometimes in punishing weather conditions. As producer, I can duck into holding or retreat to the office.

As my longtime AD collaborator, Brian, once said in a cab ride home with me, "JB, it's a young man's (or woman's) game."

At the end of the day on set as AD, I now feel like John Wayne astride his horse in his last picture, The Shootist. Yes, the saddle feels familiar, but a day of fending off bad guys (or less than accurate time estimates from, say makeup, uncooperative light switches, uneven terrain and an annoying lack of daylight) takes more of a toll than in my early days of doing this.

Feels a little more like this.

However, those touches of gray around the temples and lines in your forehead give you a little credit for experience, and on the shoots over the last few months, I have relished working with smart, creative and talented up-coming directors who were anxious to take advice, and the feeling of watching them grow right before your eyes, knowing maybe, that you imparted some small thing that they may take with them; well, it makes it all worthwhile.

Did I mention appreciative? When genuinely offered, hearing "thank you," well, that is something that does not get old.

The nature of producing, and especially line producing, where it seems your vocabulary is often limited to one word, "no," does not lend itself to offering of thanks in the course of a day.

However, from the director and producer (and crew yesterday) back to all the directors I've worked with the past few months, and most of the producers and crew, they have been people willing to put in the hard work and fight right alongside you.

Remember my last post about directors who really were willing to put in the work of directing? The producer on this shoot was up for two days straight prepping it; the director drove the van for all the pickups and drop-offs. On a previous shoot, the producer also was at the front of the line loading the van, the writer outside in the cold fire-watching the truck, the producer's Mom making tasty, authentic Dominican food for the crew with great flavor and a lot of love.

So it was on the hour-plus van ride home yesterday that I shared some stories about working as both an AD and producer for this young man. You've read most of them here, so I won't repeat (yet again). As you might suspect, the name Stan Bickman came up a few times. Who knows what path this young man might take next year, or the year after that one. I'm pretty sure I will be there for some of it, as I plan to hire him again.

A lot of downside and stress and aggravation in this business. Seeing talented people move up the ranks and gain more confidence? Priceless.

Now, off to a birthday celebration, where, as you might imagine, there will be producers and ADs, and some who do both.