|"Old Men in tank tops|
Crusin' the Gift Shops,
Checkin' out chiquita's down by the shore"
Jimmy Buffet, Marguaritaville*
Some places are not built for hard work.
Bud was a good friend of mine for many years. He was a published poet, had a PHD and two Masters, and taught for a while at Columbia University. After a short time in Key West, he quit his job at Columbia and took a job teaching writing at a small woman's college in Florida. When I called a bar that I knew he frequented down there, the Green Parrot, they said "oh, it's only 3PM - he doesn't hit here until around 5PM." They then gave me the number of another bar where he could be found at that time.
I suppose you can't find happiness if you don't know what your happiness looks like. Bud knew exactly what his happiness looked like.
Places with palm trees, scantily clad hard-body men and women, more bars and nightclubs than book stores and the word "beach" in their name tend not to be good places for hard work, especially the hard work and long hours of making a movie.
Welcome to South Beach.
After settling in to our offices at the hotel, it was time to staff up. It started with the office staff.
Recently, I spoke about how important the office staff is to me, and how great they were on my last feature.
Whether it is hiring staff or searching the aisles for clothes, I'm not much of a shopper. As most of my co-workers will tell you, in the latter department, it's mostly black or black light, gray.
In terms of staff, I trust my instincts as well as a feel for the little things, the things folks tell me is important to them, the little things between the line. For the most part, my instincts are good.
The same name came up three times for production coordinator, and when I met her, she certainly knew her stuff, knew the locals, and had an assistant (APOC) she was able to bring on. Sounded good,
For this series, I am going to refer to most of the crew by positions, for reasons that regular readers can imagine.
It took me a little longer to find the location manager, a very nice young lady for whom this would be her first time as location manager.
She was definitely smart, and I chalked up the slow start to bad luck, as she certainly was working hard.
It was on Day 1 of prep that I started doubting the production office staff. For the office, meals are usually working meals, meaning production pays for it, and you are still doing some work while you eat. Now, for those who have read my posts over time and have come to think of me as a nice person, here is where you get to put me into the "producer jerk" category.
I have posted here more than once of an unusual quirk of mine; because I like to eat my meals in peace, and there is little of that while on a shoot, I almost never have lunch while working a shoot. I quickly encourage those working around me in the office, who are not restricted by a call time for lunch, to just eat when they get hungry and not go by me.
POC asked if they could have lunch, and I gave her that usual line. At that point, she, the APOC and the office PA got up and headed for the door.
"Where are you going?" I asked. With a confused look, they proclaimed lunch.
Now, on my last shoot, my great office staff got into the habit of taking a work break and eating together. Understand, this staff worked incredibly long hours, often coming before I asked them to get in and staying later. If this time sitting taking a break together made their life better, cool.
My South Beach staff, though, were clock-watchers, and now, were going to leave the office for an hour lunch. I pointed out that we normally ordered in, and that we never took a full hour.
The reaction suggested that I was even meaner than my caricature on the last shoot. After a brief discussion of cultural differences in how we did business, I pointed out that at least one of them needed to stay behind - a film production office doesn't close.
"Well, you're here if anyone calls," the POC said. I pointed out that with three staff people, I should not be expected to answer phone calls or do their jobs for them, and laid down the law that at least one of them would remain behind.
The next issue was a hurricane.
South Beach, as many may know, is separated from Miami proper by a bridge, and we had hurricane warnings. Understand that we had a very shortened prep period, and the staff at that point was not getting through our normal work at any break-neck pace.
Our office was in a hotel, and I told the staff that with a hurricane approaching, if any wanted to stay the next night so there was no danger traveling, production would, of course, take care of that, as well as dinner and any other costs. After all, the office needed to be open, and we had work to do.
Besides, Miami is more accustomed to hurricanes than we are here in New York, and the hotel had a back-up generator and was probably among the safest places to be.
Again, they were aghast. They would go home, they informed me, and if the hurricane hit, come back in a day or two when it had passed and all was well.
"We don't close a production office," I informed them. With recent discussions on safety, I have to make clear that I never did, or would, suggest they drive in such conditions, nor would I have sent crew out. None of them were married, so I was not taking them away from their loved ones.
They all seemed to think it was not a big deal if they closed the office for two days - maybe we could just push the movie back a few days.
Without discussing tone, this may all seem reasonable to many reading this, but the cost of pushing back - not to mention the trouble rescheduling performers who were coming in from out of town - made this problematic. As said earlier, this was a staff that was already seriously behind where we should have been, and it seemed not to bother them one bit.
In the end, because I could not, of course, force them to stay there, we compromised on one day, and they did make it back the next day. This concession did not come without me explaining I expected them to actually put in the time to catch up afterward, and, no, they would not be paid for the day off.
Meanwhile, locations was moving slowly, and my location manager - a very nice person - had the disturbing habit of crying whenever things went wrong. I have seen folks cry under pressure - male and female - on sets. It can happen. Location manager, however, was not under this sort of pressure, and her crying at the drop of a hat had caused me to speak to her in increasingly calming tones, bordering on how one might speak to a frightened child.
It is not how I normally talk to people, and it was frustrating for both of us, but I had no idea what else to do. As we got closer, and she did this one day, I calmly told assured her that we would work everything out, but could she please try not to cry on a regular basis (it should be noted she did not only cry when talking to me, but sometimes when she would get off the phone, or come into the office crying).
That is when she hit me with a line I will forever remember.
"I don't just cry, JB. I cry to get things done."
I could not imagine any career that did not take place in front of a camera on a soap-opera where crying-on-cue- would be considered part of one's skill set, and I was not about to ask her to explain herself. Over time, suggestions came that it made people feel sorry and help her, but I'm not sure it was that cut-and-dried.
The slow pace of prep was getting to me, and I shared that one day with our production designer. Production designer was originally from Brooklyn, and still worked in both cities. By contrast to many of the locals, she was an incredibly resourceful hard worker.
She laughed when I expressed my dismay.
Production designer was of Puerto Rican heritage, and was very much in tune with the vibrant beat of a city that derives much of its cultural richness from a mix of Latin American and Caribbean influences, on everything from cuisine to nightlife to architecture. Indeed, Time Magazine once referred to Miami as "The Capital of Latin America."
All of that can bring with it the slower pace that tropical climates bring out; in part, a concession to the heat, in part, a response to the sun and the beauty that surrounds one.
"JB, it took me some time to get used to it as well," she shared. "Everyone down here is on manana time."
I pointed out that she, and her crew, did not share that slow pace, and she still moved at a New York pace, but had spent enough time in South Beach to appreciate it.
"Stay down here long enough and you will find yourself moving at that pace as well," she offered. I wondered if she was right, as the slow pace crossed the diverse ethnic make-up of my staff and crew.
Wise, she was offering the same advice that Walsh offers Gittes when he admonishes him. In my mind, I heard:
"Forget it, J.B. It's South Beach."
*These evidently are lost lyrics that were cut from original single to make it more radio friendly.