Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Smile To Go Before I Sleep

"Rivers know this: There is no hurry. We shall get there some day."
-A.A. Milne. Winnie-the-Pooh

First, my apologies for not following up on the series based on the film I just line produced, which I called, "The Unattainable." As it is for all production people, especially my hard working fellow producer (who is never afraid to drive a vehicle herself, help lug equipment or remember to thank people for their work), the days seem to never end, and the weariness persists even once the shooting stops, as there is the dizzying process of wrapping.

Though I knew that there was not going to be the time to do my full posts, which I like to make as thoughtful as possible, it was my intention to do short missives as we went along.

Even this proved to be difficult, as if I had a moment to write such a short note, I felt guilt at the idea of using that time to write an indulgent blog post, as others on the team were working hard to keep us going and get work done.

We have wrapped principal photography on that project, and I will now look back at it with a little perspective and try to relate the experience while it is certainly much fresher in my mind than the other projects from my past.

Before I get into that process, I will offer this lesson that good things, indeed, do sometimes come to those who wait.

There was a period around 1994 where I almost worked on three seminal indie films of the 1990s - Welcome to the Dollhouse, Spanking the Monkey, and Mall Rats (not a seminal movie, but Kevin Smith is certainly one of those filmmakers who define that era).

One post discusses my disappointment in not getting to work with Todd Solendz, who I consider a genius.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine - the actress from my play and short film - asked me to First AD a trailer for a short film.

She had done the play and the film for free, and I felt it only fair to return the favor, even if it meant working the day after we wrapped our film office on the feature. I was intrigued when she mentioned that one of the actresses was Heather Matarazzo, the lead in Welcome to the Dollhouse.

As my previous post on the subject tells, I felt there would be two difficulties shooting Dollhouse: finding a school that would agree to be represented in the movie, and finding a young actress at that delicate stage in our development when our egos are fragile enough to begin with who could handle the psychological abuse the lead character experiences.

When I saw the movie, I knew that the second problem proved no problem at all. Heather Matarazzo was brilliant in that movie, as good as any teen actress in any movie ever. As her career continued, she proved that this was not freak luck, that she was not only talented but willing to keep taking on challenges as an actress.

As with anyone who has been around as long as I have in this business, I've worked with many name performers, and names don't impress me. My Facebook page does not have the all-too-forced photos of me with these actors. This may not be true, but I always found it a little unprofessional to treat a fellow worker the way a fan might. Again, many of my co-workers do this, indeed, it is the norm, and this is probably just another one of my many personal quirks.

What does impress me is talent, and Heather is a unique talent. One fear of meeting someone whose work you admire is that they disappoint your higher expectations, that they are difficult to work with and not the special person you think they might be.

Luckily, this was not the case with Heather. She proved to not only be a wonderful actress, but a real trooper, dealing with the difficulties of working with a super-micro budgeted trailer and a very small crew in a very tight space.

After doing a feature where we had a big crew and a lot of equipment, working with one grip/gaffer/AC, one person who line produced and 2nd AD'd, one PA, and everyone else doubling and tripling up actually felt like a relief. Furthermore, having to not worry about the budget and just making the day proved, if not relaxing, a pressure that seemed less stressful.

Meeting and working with Heather made it all the better, and I did relate to her the story of almost working on that project many years ago. I did so very late in the day, so as not to take away from her focus on the work in front of us.  At this point. she had volunteered to discuss other acting projects, so I felt it would not be inappropriate.

In a nice surprise, I found that we were both touched in the same way by a film that was ostensibly made for children, but touched every adult I know who has seen it: The Last Unicorn.

All day, she agreed to do things like stand-in for lighting or do things herself that would be done by others on a bigger set, and her input into the scenes was always spot on.

The day before, I had spent a day in my office doing Purchase Orders and getting out last minute checks as well as managing money, a line producer's biggest responsibility. Last night, I got on a LIRR train home, exhausted not from the day but from the collective work and hours of the last two months, but it was a good tired. The producer (the friend previously mentioned) and the director (a new friend) could not have been more appreciative, the crew worked well together with nary a complaint (something I cannot always say on bigger crews) and the experience made me feel good about what film-making, on a very small level, can be.

When I agreed to do the gig yesterday, it seemed crazy, and as I rode out on the train after closing the office, going over the shot list, planning the shooting order, what sort of masochist was I? Wouldn't resting be a better use of my time?

Today, as I head out to my Zendo to return to a little bit of normal life, I realize that there will be time for rest, that we who work in an field we choose and get to keep working in a field we chose are blessed, that every project, even if it is only for a day, presents an opportunity to experience something new and wonderful.

I am reminded that on every project. whether it goes well or not so well, good things happen, good people are met, there are reasons for smiles. Yesterday, on a shoot that was over for me in less than 10 hours, meeting the the talented Heather Matarazzo and working with some truly selfless, easy-going people brought me a relaxed smile as I drifted off into sleep on a Penn Station-bound Long Island Railroad car.

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