Wednesday, March 24, 2010

H&H Part 5- The Lay of the Land

Who's the most important person on a production, be it TV or features?

Easy. The accountant.

Why? Because they are ultimately the ones who pay you with something that's real. A check. Sure, the producer signs the check but the accountant is the one who makes them sign it.  Having the accountant on your side gets you that little piece of paper that translates into real cash.

And they can be nice about it, or they can be not nice about it. They can put it at the bottom of their "to-do" list, or at the top.

I am an accountant whore.

Accountants, aka bean counters, generally are not hip, cool dudes. They are numbers people, not creative types unless you count the ones in the stock market downfall, but that's another movie. They think of us creative types as bitchy, whining, demanding and general pains in the ass.

So the first thing I do is make friends. I have been known to bring flowers and chocolates if the head accountant is a woman, or a bottle of single malt whiskey if it's a man. Or sometimes both.

I am lucky this time. With three people already against me on the show I meet Beth who it turns out is friendly and street-savvy. And she thinks Kaplan is an idiot. I like her better with every hour.

Another reason to befriend the accountant is to gain access to the copy machine. That is worth it's weight in gold. Not to mention internet access.

We get along great and she even tells me she is concerned over the financial areas, there's too many things not worked out and a general lack of experience shooting on locations.

The show is already over budget. 

Filming on location is very expensive normally but this time it's going beyond that. We will have a full film crew and actors and new actors coming in each week to a small town in the mountains 6 hours away from the closest major airport. In good weather. And we still have a good month of winter.

What will cost the production is what we don't have. There is no studio here, not even an empty warehouse that we can make work. There are no film services that include film labs, equipment houses for cameras and lighting gear and hundreds of other things. 

The Executive Producer who wasn't from Vancouver made a deal for motel rooms at $35 a day, thinking that meals were included. They weren't. Whatever respect I  had for the producers seems to be dwindling by the minute.

Normally this kind of show would film in a studio lot in a bigger city and a second-unit crew would come out and film sequences that requires the actors being out among the mountains. Or at least an airport that could bring in what we need.

But not here. Cameras break down, we are screwed. We're shooting film and that has to be taken to a lab in Vancouver by car to the closest major airport, which again, is 6 hours away. Then more hours lost as the film waits to catch a plane to Vancouver.

And then there are the scripts.

We need 12 scripts.  So far we have 4 scripts, each around 50 pages or so, for a 1-hour episode. And they still need some work. But we don't have the remaining 8 scripts. I have two to write, Jonathan has 2 and we will hand 4 more to free-lance writers. Kaplan might get another but both Jonathan and I dread that.

The dream is to have all your scripts ready at the get-g0. This way you have lots of time to rewrite and clean them up. We begin shooting next week with only 4, meaning we will have to work as fast as we can to get the other 8.

And remember each script has to go to the network and production company offices over a thousand miles away. And it takes time for the executives and their flunkies and stooges as Jethro said in the classic Beverly Hillbillies series. And this can take days. And they can tell us to rewrite it again because it may feel "light" or "with no arc" or "soft".

Then there's the conference calls once a week wherein the network tells us what is working and not working -- for them.

Okay, it's not brain surgery. And it's not finding a cure for cancer.

But we're gonna earn our money, regardless.

I leave Beth and she says most of the crew already here usually ends up at the bar near my motel and she'll see me there. I'm glad we get along, for the obvious reasons of getting my money, but more importantly because she's someone I trust. And like.

Downtown Jackson is brisk with locals going about their business. There's a new breed here besides the railroad workers and the tourists. It's dozens of LL Bean dressed men and women who have for reasons of their own, left the cities they lived in behind and chosen God's Country.

They have bought souvenir stores, coffee houses, upscale clothing stores and restaurants. And they add a cosmopolitan air to the staid town. Not Aspen by a long stretch, but certainly a junior relative.

I stop at the local post office to see if any forwarded mail has come through and meet a friendly French girl who's cheerful demeanor is catching. She, like the entire town, knows about the filming to happen and is totally excited.  Outside I  meet a woman Ranger who also is friendly and offers advice on where the best hikes are, the best coffee, the best cafes and much more.

All of this beings a sense of community to me, they like us (so far) and want us to be here as it provides the local economy with more business during the winter slow period.

So for the moment, I'm in a good mood, enjoying the easiness of the life style here, surrounded by 12,000 foot peaks that are spectacular.

And of course, there's always the Chinese fortune cookie I got yesterday...  "could"??

(Friday: Part 7 - They Wait)

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