Friday, July 21, 2006

In the words of the prophet Angelo Moore:

"Am I going crazy...or is it the world around me?"

There's been some weird shit going on lately...I've felt it in the air since about midway through the Closet Space shoot, and it's a vibe I got a whiff of during Witchcraft, as well as something I had to deal with numerous times during my stint as a producer of public access television.

Hubris is a motherfucker.

I guess the best analogy in this case would be to liken low-budget filmmaking to being in a band. You've got all these people ostensibly coming together for the same goal, and you have to work together under pretty strenuous conditions to acheive said goal. Of course, there's all kinds of similar bullshit to deal with as well...you may not have the best gear (or cameras), your rehearsal room (location) is cramped and hot, the drummer (cinematographer) would rather be off doing his own experimental project, and the guitarist (assistant director) keeps showing up drunk and playing in the wrong key.

Just like in a band situation, when things are firing on all cylinders and you're "in the groove"...nothing can stop you. Problem is, most of the time you're operating at half potential because of ego, or lack of focus, or both. Maybe your bassist doesn't like the composition you're working on, and would rather go off on some Return To Forever trip. Or perhaps your keyboardist keeps trying to send text messages on their Blackberry while you're trying to nail down an arrangement. Better yet, maybe the backing band begins to each develop the dreaded "frontman syndrome" - you know..."why is this guy writing the riffs and lyrics, so derivative, sounds too much like Sabbath, I could do so much better on my own". I guess coming together to make a killer sound/movie isn't enough at that point. It seems so easy to just go off and create your own heartbreaking work of staggering genius. Maybe you take the Megadeth route and spit in the face of your percieved "oppressors" by forming a band with a similar sound and logo and showing them how it's REALLY done. Or, you could pull the classic "you know, this material is beneath me, so I'm going to go off and record my concept album of klezmer music". Either way, the point is that egos flare up, and everyone acrimoniously goes their separate ways, and they eventually find new people to jam with. And the cycle begins anew.

Of course, things usually don't work out too well. You generally can't have a band with four frontmen, or it will turn into a fractured, schizoid mess. There needs to be a Hetfield...and maybe even an Ulrich (I'm talking up to and including the Black Album here) to write the arrangements, and set the groundwork for the other guys to add their parts to. It's not an easy thing to do, either. I think people fail to realize how hard being that guy really is. You're called a control freak if you run a tight ship (movies: Kubrick, music: Jeff Tweedy), and you're criticized for lack of focus if you let everyone run roughshod over you in some approximation of "democracy". Not only that, you probably won't ever get anything done (be it a movie or an album), because you're going to be too busy listening to the production assistant's lighting suggestions.

I know that seems pretty black and white, but there really is no middle ground. Trust me on this one. Maybe in the studio system when you bring unions and clearly-defined job-descriptions into the mix, but not in the indie world. And the biggest death wish that you can make would be to get your friends to help you out. In most cases, this is the absolute worst idea you could possibly have. You can't manage to have a "business" rapport with people that you have baggage with. You'll begin to notice that people start to take things way too seriously and get offended as if you're making a personal attack, when really all you're trying to do is get a shot that looks halfway decent in a reasonable amount of time. That's not to say that you won't find people that are able to switch back and forth between "business" and "pleasure" mode...it's just a rarity. The set of Sweet Thing was a great example of that vibe. My wife manages to pull it off pretty well (and she's probably got it the most difficult, because she has to live with me and listen to the fallout of other people fucking up on a regular basis), as do most of my main grips. And one of the hardest workers on the set is our new sound guy, most likely because initially I didn't know him from Adam, so he's approaching the gig with some seriousness.

For the next few projects I have lined up, I'm hiring the crew for sure. Fortunately, I'm past the point of "eager beats pretty", so I can ensure that they have actual on-set experience as well. To bring this back full circle to the music analogies, Dave Mustaine (Megadeth) hired bad-ass session musicians to record The System Has Failed, and then hired bad-ass touring musicians to play the live dates. The result? Megadeth's best album since Rust In Peace, followed by a critically acclaimed word tour. Sure, Mustaine can be a little much at times, but you can't deny the success of his Machiavellian tactics.

But you know, with all that said...the dissidents will always think that they have a better handle on the way things work than "the powers that be"...whoever that might be at any given time...the director, bandleader, etc. The only way to convice them otherwise is to have them try, and most likely fail...a few times over. Trust me, I speak from experience. Granted, my shit-talking egomania kicked in when I was a boom operator in the middle of my college career, so I was able to learn the hard lessons before I really was in a position to screw up someone else's directorial groove. My first feature Fade To Black, was an experiment and learning tool all in one, and I count myself lucky that a few people dug it...because honestly, I knew nothing about anything back then as far as making movies. Oh sure, I thought I knew it all, from criticizing and aping things I picked up on other sets...but that wasn't the case. Not in the least.

Maybe more on this topic later...I just needed to vent, and now I'm falling asleep at the keyboard.

Requisite movie status update: we are getting more pickup shots tomorrow night, and then I believe we are finished shooting at Phobia. Principal photography on Closet Space is about 98% complete.

1 comment:

Stacy said...

Funny, I was just talking to one of our other filmmaker friends tonight and he's going through similar shit x10.

One bizarre truth I'm starting to realize is that, although you would think that with a group of stubborn ass motherfuckers like "Movie Directors", the old addage of too many cooks in the kitchen would apply more than anywhere. Not so, in my experience so far. Every time I have had an accomplished director serving as crew on my set (and there have been quite a few of those times), they have been some of the most flexable, supportive, loyal and easy to work with people I've ever had. It's as if, perhaps because they're totally secure in themselves as directors and have nothing to prove, they're just there to help YOU out and make sure YOU get what you want. And maybe also because, if you have actually made movies, you probably know that there really is no right or wrong way to do things: there's just the director's way. It's his/her vision. I wouldn't know how to begin to tell you what to do, for instance, because I don't know how to make a Mel House movie. Shit, I'm still trying to figure out how to make a Stacy Davidson movie.

Like, when I'm on your set, I'm there as a technician. I'll give you my opinions on how to achieve what you want as long as you want to hear them, but that's all it is for me: how do we achieve what you want to see on screen?

And I always get that same vibe when working with other directors (assuming they're not just an asshole or something). But where I always run into problems is working with people who are sort of aspiring to do their own thing, but haven't really gotten there yet, and maybe they just don't have the patients to worry about my flick, etc. etc. That can be a pain in the ass.

A film set is tough enough to deal with as is, so my philosophy is this: if you have people giving you shit on your own set, cut 'em loose, let 'em go do their own thing. And maybe it'll be great, let 'em go win their fucking oscar so I can finish my damn splatter flick, yo.

-s