Tales From the Bottom of the Film Business

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Space-Time-Control Continuum

One of the first things that strikes you when you return to New York after a long absence is that New Yorkers truly are insane. You can try justifying it by saying we live at a different pace to accommodate our three jobs – the one we get paid to do, the one we do because we like it more even though we get paid less, and the one we do for free because we want it to be the one we get paid to do - and 20 recreational pass-times/hobbies/
compulsions that absorb the rest of our time. You can claim that stress is a constant when you never know if the local train is suddenly going to start running express or the express train is going to start running local, destroying any small chance you had of arriving on time to your 15 important, back-to-back appointments. Or you can say it's a chemical byproduct of being in a city of 8.1 million people, all of whom, on bad days, seem to be in your way.

But there is no excuse for behavior like this:

Last Tuesday, I was in Hale and Hearty Soups at the tail end of lunch hour (I know, right there, I'm asking for trouble), and I saw someone put her petite black Kenneth Cole shopping bag on a table while she got her food. So I figured, okay, clearly that's a local custom here on the Upper East Side, and I did the same. When I returned with my hale and hearty soup (it was a salad, actually), I found a woman eating at my table. This would, of course, be normal in the third world, where people fill any available millimeter of free space, particularly when there's a biological need –- food, sleep, transport –- involved. So I was about to sit with her when I saw another table open up. And then the New Yorker in me kicked in/reared its ugly head, or, since it's New York, perhaps kicked in its ugly head. Even though I saw the Table Hawk waiting, I was not going to be denied my inalienable right to have my food not share a surface with anyone else's, dammit.

(Note: today's conversations have been color-coded for your viewing pleasure)

Me: I was supposed to have the other table, but she sat there –-
Table Hawk: Well, maybe you shouldn't have put your stuff there before you got your food!
Table Thief, staring fixedly into her soup and shoveling it in as quickly as possible so as to avoid the conversation directly above her head: Slurp.
Woman Exiting Table Under Contention: I JUST WANT TO GET OUT OF HERE!!!

Clearly, we all had some issues.

Meanwhile, I have returned to work, where everyone is also certifiable in the way people can only be a in a crucible of stress where every minute costs upwards of $500-$1000, depending on how much you're paying to rent that soundstage at Silvercup, whether the clients are staying at the Mercer or the Soho Grand, and whether you're working with James Earl Jones or Paul, the Verizon guy who they don't even let say, "Can you hear me now?" any more, so they must be paying him less. (Both very nice men, incidentally, as you can afford to be when you know corporate America has set you up for life). And of course, there are so many factors that are completely beyond your control: weather, equipment malfunction, which van got stuck in traffic that morning, whether the client is taking out his/her problems with lack of control at home on set. The funny-in-a-sad-way part is that this business draws control freaks like moths to a kerosene lamp, where they are just waiting to explode into flame.

DP-directors are among the worst. Anyone who feels they must take on the dual tasks of both deciding what to shoot and actually shooting it, only leaving set to discuss with the client how they're fucking up the shots they're directing and shooting and pee, really has a not-so-hidden sado-masochistic side. Take, for instance, the guy I worked with this week. He started off sporting the façade of a normal person, being social and cracking jokes. But when he got the camera on his shoulder I thought his head was going to spin around.

Producer: Well, they're not sure this shot is working.
DP-Director: Fine! Whatever! What do they want me to do?
Producer: Well, what do you think?
DP-Director: I
don't want to think, I just want to do what I'm told! Let's just roll!
AD: Roll sound!
Me: Speed!
AD: Action!
DP-Director: Now say the line…
Child Actor: Mommy, why do we drink orange juice?
AD: Roll out. That's a cut!
DP-Director (turning to me with a smile): Sorry for yelling, you're doing a great job, thank you so much!

Then there is well-known English DP-Director Tony Kaye
(American History X, not to mention lots of commercials and music videos). Kaye's technique for controlling the set is to only pay attention to himself and be uncommunicative, so that everyone really really has to pay attention to him to catch some small sense of what's going on. He doesn't tell anyone when he's going to roll, and then when he's done shooting, he'll just let go of the camera, and the right person had better be there to catch it or they're in deep doo doo. It also doesn't help that he slouches around set in the persona of hip-hop street punk, which he probably genuinely was once, but now that he's in his mid-50s and getting paid at least $25K/day, it just makes him impossible to understand.

Kaye: Wot I fink is, we do it more like 'es groovin', make it more free, like, 'cause 'at ofer fing, 'ats just not wot I'm sayin', right? Yeh.

Then he'll disappear for a couple of hours, only to be found later in a corner somewhere, strumming his guitar.

And sound guys? Foggetaboutit. Because they have the least amount of control of virtually anyone on set accompanied by a high degree of responsibility (whereas PAs: no control, no responsibility, no problem), they tend to be wound as tightly as a giant ball of rubber bands. Nobody wants to hear it if you've got an issue, but you can't fuck up, so you have to always be prepared but laid back to the point of comatose, which is a tough act for most people, let alone the techno-geeks attracted to sound. Actually, I take that back. Of the sound people I know, there are a few techno-geeks, a handful of professional shmoozes, one frustrated surfer, one frustrated artist (and I do mean frustrated) and a few people who, in the pursuit of decent sound,
have just completely lost their minds.

So we have either this scenario:

Me: So, do you want to mic them?
Sound guy: No, I'll do it. Where have you been?
Me: I was running the --
Sound guy: Wait, don't go anywhere. Hand me a piece of tape. Hold this. Stick this to her bra. No, not like that! Run the video cable. Wait, where are you going? Did you test the Comteks yet? Do that first…WHY ISN'T THAT CABLE RUN??

Or this scenario:

Me: So, do you want me to mic them?
Sound guy: Oh, is it time to do that already? I think I have some moleskin somewhere in one of those drawers. I'm going to go get some more coffee.

If there's one thing that being far, far away gives you, it's perspective. That's both good and bad. On the one hand, being the sick person I am, I find it kind of amusing to watch people unable to let go of their obsessions with the things they can't control. And it's a relief to see it from the outside and know that it's really not worth letting it obscure the enjoyment of how green the air smells on a spring day like today was, or having a good conversation about nothing important. On the other hand, if you're already nuts, you probably don't wonder if living in the asylum is going to drive you crazy.


Post a Comment

<< Home