Friday, September 4, 2015

The Indonesian Job - The Inspirational Email

"Director: [in Japanese] Mr. Bob-san, you are relaxing in your study. On the table is a bottle of Suntory whiskey. Got it? Look slowly, with feeling, at the camera, and say it gently - say it as if you were speaking to an old friend. Just like Bogie in Casablanca, "Here's looking at you, kid" - Suntory time.
Translator: Umm. He want you to turn, looking at camera. OK?
Bob: That's all he said?"
     - Lost in Translation

When I was working on an odd film in Miami, I wrote a series of emails for a friend back home. That became my first blog.

I am now line producing the US portion of a film that was shot in Indonesia. Both sides are dealing with translation and visa issues.

In order to keep my key creative and production folks in the loop, I wrote an email that was both brutally honest but also meant to say that while it is not the way any of us want to do it, we can make it work. As a matter of fact, because these people are so talented, they are in an even better position to make it work.

Over the years, I find that rumor can be much worse than even the scariest truth. It is why I am trying to keep the people who need to know not only in the loop, but provided with all the facts. If any were to say they did not want to do this (which I do not expect), I would understand and respect their decision. Staying, they can do so with all of the facts in front of them.

I will try to do more real time posts like this as we move forward. As much of the information is proprietary, I have gone to using the same method of protecting information as when sensitive documents are released - but without the black marks. Readers of this blog well know that since the folks who work with me deserve their privacy, I rarely use real names unless it is to praise, so I have not here, though they all deserve praise.


Welcome to the world of international co-productions.

First, the great news. We are on with a slight adjustment. The office will open next Wednesday, September 9th, at [REDACTED}. Will give you all more specifics on that and schedule soon.

As you probably know, my company, [REDACTED}, will be the production services company for [REDACTED} which is the Indonesian company. That means all funds will be sent to my company, and all deal memos and payments will be through me. I have secured this, and a cash flow that has all funds secured weeks before production, so as to assure that I control getting you all paid and on time, and neither you nor I have to chase a company from overseas for payment. Pay will be as I usually do it - at the end of each week with no wait. All contracts will be independent contractor with you being responsible for your own taxes.

I will have deal memos available by next Wednesday, and will be bringing each of you in to sign them, either that day or the day after. You are all people who are important to me and to this project.

Because of the visa situation the dates have changed.

The new shoot dates are 

Day 1 - September 30
Day 2 - October 1
Day 3 - October 2
Day 4 - October 4
Day Off - October 5
Day 5- October 6
Day 6 - October 7
Day 7 - October 8
Day 8 - October 9
Day 9 - October 10
Day10 - October 11
Day Off - October 12
Day 11 - October 13
Day 12 - October 14

Needless to say, this means the schedule and strips will change. We need to take into consideration things like turnaround, when certain locations are available, etc. The shoot cannot go past October 14th because the star, Raisa, needs to leave the next day.

Again, because of the Visa situation, the key creatives (Director, DP, etc) may arrive AS LATE as September 27th.

That is not a typo.

I have explained to the US-based Indonesian producer as well as the producer and director in Jakarta what this means. 

It means that they will have to sign off on everything - from locations to wardrobe right down to props - by photo, skype, etc. We can't be scouting locations 2 days before a shoot (though we will do a tech scout and production meeting).

I will be meeting the US-based Indonesian producer in DC on Tuesday for a long meeting to discuss logistics. Jakarta is 11 hours ahead of us, and we will be doing a lot of Skype meetings at some odd hours. Some will be from production office, but, depending on the hour, will certainly be good with some including my keys from wherever they are (like the comfort of their home). Likewise, there will be meetings during our business hours that will be inconvenient for them.

This is clearly not the textbook way to do a movie, especially when you consider that beyond that the Indonesian producer speaks conversational English, the director enough to get by, and the others not much at all.

I assume none of you speaks Indonesian.

We will be scheduling skype meetings individually with your counterparts there; [REDACTED}, with the DP; [REDACTED}, with their AD [REDACTED} and the director [REDACTED}[REDACTED} and [REDACTED} with their production designer and costume designer, respectively, as well as their director. 

[REDACTED} will be part of all of those meetings. She is fluent in both language and has a production background in the US. She understands how we work, so she will not only be translating, but helping both sides with  understanding how the other works, as she has worked there as well.

Additionally, a recent negative exchange rate of their currency vs the US dollar has forced a cap on their budget, while their entire point in coming to NY was to show iconic (and, unintentionally, expensive) landmarks like Grand Central, an Amusement park (currently Luna Park), Times Sqaure, JFK, etc.

This means that budgets will be tight in all departments.

I have to do a new budget. It will force them to make hard choices, and likely cuts to things the director wants to do, some likely painful for them. Similarly, I have explained to them that while you are all wonderful, you are not magicians nor do you have the ability to turn water into wine or feed 5000 people (or extras, who are similar to people) with five loaves and two fish. Neither do I. 

On Wednesday, when we meet, I will have a set budget. With all of you, that will include flexibility with how many and what type of support crew you need and working out salaries for the people who are important to you.

The budget is similar to an Ultra Low[REDACTED}.

I will need your feedback in helping me convince them of what we can do and what we can't do, as well as creative solutions to problems.

The above email is as upfront as I can possibly be about the project. I truly believe we can make it work, and those of you who have seen the trailer know they can produce a professional product. The director has won awards in Indonesia, as have some of the actors. The director has done 15 movies, so he is not a novice, nor are the DP or design people. We have all been on directors' first features, so we can be thankful that we are working with people who understand the art and the craft.

I think together, we can help finish a film that we can all be proud of. I don't doubt we will have a few stories along the way.

IMPORTANT - In replying to this, PLEASE reply only to me. I don't want a long chain of woe. I will gladly address your concerns (and I can imagine some of them and await others).

I hope this addresses the big picture questions, and am available to answer your questions individually. You are my IMF . At the beginning of the old show, Phelps picked the people he most trusted. 

You all would get picked every time. And, remember, they ALWAYS got it done :)*

*However, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your action in the event.......

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