Monday, January 30, 2012

(Un)Lucky Stiffs - Part 2 - Location Location Location!

In a perfect world, the assistant director would go into his or her fortress of solitude, where they would prepare the perfect schedule.

They would take every element of their breakdown into consideration, then the projected shot-list or story-board, think about both the creative and logistical elements, and emerge with the perfect schedule.

In fact, the AD can do that.  Then, they wake up.

Once you have the perfect schedule, you start dealing with the other issues.  You try to bring the director on board with the schedule.  Unless they have some major reason why they cannot make it work, you try to show them why it will be the best flow.  Once the DP is aboard, you might work out a few more of the specifics.

You really want a crane?  Hmm, can we schedule both crane shots for the same day so as to not rent it twice?  Is that worth the budget difference of having the crane on two separate days because other factors don't make shooting those two locations on the same day cost or time-effective.

If you are doing a feature, and working with SAG actors who you are, of course, paying, you should not be dealing with actor availability.  On any budget above SAG Modified Low, you are dealing with drop/pick-up days - but that's for another blog.  Assume they are available all through the shoot, and the schedule allows you to shoot them out in the most efficient manner, which usually means the least number of days.

Once you have done all of that, you talk to locations.

In your perfect schedule, you shoot the hospital on Day 3, the deli on Day 5, and the nightclub scene on Day 10.

Locations informs you they have finally found the perfect hospital, the perfect deli (they will shut down for us, the aisles are big enough, and the price is right) and a nightclub the DP has shot before that could have come right out of the script.

The hospital administrator must be there, and Day 3 is a Saturday - they need it to be another day.  The deli is cool - as long as you can shoot at night - you are on a day schedule on Day 5 and turnaround won't work.  The nightclub already has their hottest band booked for your Day 10.

Your perfect schedule just became not-so-perfect.

The two basic schedules that get distributed are the shooting schedule, which is the long breakdown, and the more common one-line schedule, which gives everyone just the basic facts.  Because this paperwork gets revised, and to prevent confusion, the original color for these schedules is White, with subsequent revisions running Blue, Pink, Yellow,Green Goldenrod, Salmon, Buff and Cherry.  Sometimes the colors after Goldenrod can be slightly different based on paper available, preference, etc.

Colors are fun in pre-school.  On a film, it means things are changing, and unlike the 2008 Presidential campaign, Change is not good.  It means logistics have to change, people have to actually read the changes and adjust to them (as an AD, I can't wait until we go digital and can just install chips each of the crew members brains where we can make the change simultaneously. )

On Lucky Stiff, we had a hard-working location manager named Glenn, who had us working in locations in NY and NJ, with the help of the NYC Mayor's Office of Film Theatre and Television (MOFTV) and the NJ Film Commission, which even then had the great Davis Schooner.

The permit system in NY is relatively similar to back then, with some minor differences (some would call them major).  Briefly, you needed to lay out exactly where you were shooting, where you needed to hold parking, what you were shooting, and if you needed NYPD or NYFD assistance.   If your schedule changed, someone had to go to the MOFTV to change it.  Today, some of that can be done with a fax.  Then, it was not allowed.

Suffice to say changes meant lots of work and paperwork.

As an AD, I want to lock the schedule, and that requires locking locations.  That means signed agreements and guarantees.  They came slowly on Lucky Stiff; as such, as we got closer to principal photography, I was juggling to move locations we had to the beginning, regardless of whether it was the best order.  I just didn't want to find myself not knowing if I could shoot the day as scheduled a few days ahead (changing equipment, actors, extras, etc.).

My apologies to veteran crew who know all this - I try to write the blog for both pros and curious others.

Additionally, I had an art department that could not assure me that locations would be dressed for when I needed them.  Certainly, part of this had to do with the location issues.  However, coordinating the logistics of seeing that these locations got cleared and prioritized fell on the production manager.  Nothing was more important, or so one would think.

Rody, as most UPMs when there is no line producer, was responsible for managing the budget, and I certainly know how hard that is.  However, the process of monitoring the budget should never slow the process down - you make decisions and you move on.  Rody was slow in this area, in part because she did not have two key skills for the position; the ability to prioritize and the the skill to delegate responsibility.

A UPM has many responsibilities.  We did not have a huge budget, but we had enough PAs, and there was enough money to have hired a production coordinator, who could have freed Rody up.  That, however, would have required her to a) communicate what was already being done with another person, and b) be able to explain what needed to be done.  Both required trust, and Rody was afraid that any admission that something had not been done was admitting failure.

All of this would have been frustrating enough if she had not decided that, having not done her job, she was going to interfere with mine.  She had never scheduled a feature film, yet would come up with her own ideas on schedule publicly after we were in motion on my schedule.

This requires some clarification.

I've said it before - ADs are possessive of their schedules.  That is because they have to take a ton of elements into account to produce the schedule, and the person who makes suggestions is usually just reacting to one or two elements.  If a move looks obvious, it often means there is some fact you don't know.

When I became a line producer and UPM, I gave prime responsibility for the schedule to the AD.  It didn't matter than I had been an AD - it was their ship now.  If I had suggestions, I made them in private, after hearing why they had it another way.  I did this, mind you, when in at least a few cases, the people who were now 1st AD for me had been 2nd AD for me before.  It didn't matter.  Prime responsibility now fell to them, and I respected it.

Rody never understood this line.  This led to confusion, and tension.

So, now the stage is set.  We are getting close to principle photography, and we have a schedule (revised multiple times before we get to Day 1) that has holes - scenes scheduled for which we do not have the location locked - or, in some cases, even agreed upon.

The first major decision I have to be involved with is whether we push back the starting shoot date.  There was a good reason to push back a day or two (I forget which it was) and we do that.  I do not, however, see how more time will change anything.  We have to start.  Pushing back seems easy, but I know it will bite us.

We know we will be done by, at latest, the second week in October now.  Someone makes a joke about Halloween.  Not funny.

We set sail.  We hope for fair waters, and to return safely to shore soon.

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