Saturday, August 24, 2013

Floating: A Swim in the Woods: Why Can't We Be Friends?

"Can't We All Just Get Along?"
-Rodney King
When you're an only child, as I am, being liked is important; sometimes too important. With no siblings who are required to spend time with you, a lack of social skills insures a lonely childhood.

However, as I have observed and discussed with only-children, there is also a fierce sense of independence (not to mention a need for alone time, but that's an issue for another day).

No one is loved by everyone, but this is a business where you are going to work with all types, so if you cannot adjust, cannot let things go, then life is going to be hard. I know producers, ADs, and, for that matter, crew people, for whom every situation is a battle, a test of wills.

It's a rough way to get through a career.

All this by way of trying to understand why Bill, the director on Floating, and I just never got along, not from Day One. The simple answer was that I was always right and he was always wrong; that I was a wonderful, open human being and he was a spoiled kid with a sense of entitlement who had rarely been told "no" in his life. That would not only be simple - it would be a gross oversimplification, and not really the answer.

Part of it may have been the age difference, and the natural tendency of those fresh out of college to have a disdain for authority, on his part, and a lack of patience for explaining why things need to be done a certain way on my part.

The truth is, there are people who rub us wrong. In most situations, you can just avoid that person; as AD and director, that is not an option.

Early on, Bill took a certain delight in defying me on simple procedure. I remember a day when I was getting the keys in motion for one scene when, over the walkie, I hear the wardrobe assistant announce that another scene is coming up next. Yes, the wardrobe assistant.

When I calmly and politely went into HMU (translation: stormed into HMU) to find out why the wardrobe assistant took it upon herself to announce the next scene, and to ask her in a reassuring and loving tone not to do it again (okay, maybe not so loving and reassuring a tone), she quickly pointed out that Bill had just been there, and asked her to announce the next scene he wanted to shoot. When she pointed out that was not what was on the call sheet, he told her that he would correct me later.

Needless to say, Bill and I had a discussion about how things run on set. There are a million reasons why the schedule needs to be the domain of the AD, mostly because he or she knows all the little details about why a specific order works. That is not to say that someone else, say the DP, can't point out to the AD why something else might be good right now, and certainly, if the director really wants to change the order, this is a discussion with the AD, and every attempt should be made to take his needs or concerns into consideration.

The moment I tried to explain this to Bill, it became a "because I said so and I'm the director" moment. Bill had a lot of those, which, when this is the first thing outside of class you have ever directed, is not a good attitude.

From that moment on, we went from a mild dislike to a test of wills. If you have ever been on set where something like this starts happening, it makes things difficult for everyone. I leaned on my professionalism, my experience, and just being older, to try and make it better, but, in retrospect, I'm sure I could have handled it better as well.

One area I was not going to give in on was safety, and Bill (who, BTW, was also an only child) liked to ignore this as well. Being buddies with the three guys playing the locals (Norman, Jonathan and Josh) was really important to him, and so he took every opportunity to show them how cool he was.

There was a scene where Norman's character (Van) rides a motorcycle, and does so quite fast. Norman didn't have a license, which didn't particularly bother me, as we were in the middle of the woods. He also didn't seem to have extensive experience riding, though he insisted he did.

Norman really wanted to do his own motorcycle stunts; he was a hard worker and I respect him going for the reality. So, there was me, and there was Bill and Norman. I chose what I thought was a reasonable middle ground; I would leave it up to our stunt coordinator, who was a seasoned stunt rider.

Our stunt guy told me that he was okay with Norman doing standard stuff, being the guy to ride off, but absolutely not for the stunt. Neither Norman nor Bill was happy with the decision, but I literally stood in front of the bike, legs straddling the front tire, hands on the handle bar, explaining that I would not let Norman start the scene unless he agreed to stop as soon as he cleared frame and to let the stunt rider do it.

He begrudgingly agreed, but, after having clearly discussed it with Bill on the side, took off to do the stunt once he started going as Bill encouraged the DP to keep shooting, making it clear he had planned to ignore me all along.

That night, Bill and the producer (his father) and I met. I was prepared to quit, and was sure he was prepared to fire me, which was fine by me.

However, my 2nd AD, Christine, was instrumental and making it clear to me that it would be a mistake for me to quit, and assured me that I was helping in ways I didn't see. I was fed up, and not the least bit concerned that if I lost the respect of the crew, if it seemed that I was not in control, there was no point in me being there, and it would even be detrimental.

To Bill's dad's credit, he handled it great. He made it clear to Bill that I wasn't going anyplace, and that he (his father) had put a lot of money up to get this done, and he wanted someone with my experience.  Bill was going to learn to work with me.  He also realized that one of the original producers who was trying to do everything was not strong enough, and that without that, Bill and I would always be bucking heads, that I was making too many of the production decisions.

It was at this point that he brought in Mary Feuer, who I had worked with in different capacities on other films. I respected her, and was happy to have her on. That didn't mean she always took my side, or always agreed with me, but the day-to-day got much better, and she was the right person for the job.

Having gotten that pretty much out of the way, we still had an idyllic setting filled with dogs, airplanes, and construction, weather that did not cooperate, too much time in the water and finishing the film on time to get Norman off to his next project. More on those in the next post.

NB: Sorry for the delay in getting this post out - next one should be sooner. Thanks for the patience!

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