Wednesday, March 31, 2010

H&H Part 7 - Preproduction

The big day arrives. We began pre-production. We're using the big room, as now every department from props to camera to make-up is here. It's where everyone gets to throw their in their two cents worth and to remind every other department how indispensable they are. It's here where they tell the others they can't possibly do what is required...

... But because they're so brilliant, they will find a way.

It's a meeting I prefer to avoid.

As my cameraman friend said;  "It really takes 3 people to make a film, a writer, a cameraman and an actor."

And he is right to an extent. But right now we've got about 30 people in the room and each one gets a chance to say their piece. Things are accomplished thru power and intimidation. And Mahon's favorite expression here is "it'll be what it'll be". In other words,  don't start getting big ideas.

And Writers are known for creating the most problems, after all they write the scripts with imagination and creativity and thus don't really know how hard it is to actually re-create some things on the set.  And to some extent they are right. Especially if the writers are amateurs like Kaplan.

But most of the writers I know are perfectly capable of writing something that can be done, so I'm not too worried.

And again, the crew doesn't really like the writers, nobody sees us work, we float in and out, maybe step onto the set now and then, and have to be consulted about many things like "what did you have in mind for a late model sportscar?"

Writers don't really have many friends on a shoot, although we tend to hang our more with "above the line" people rather than below the line. There's a joke from a Woody Allan movie wherein an office exec asks if it's legal for someone above the line to marry someone below the line.

What it is is this; above the line refers to the creative people, writers, actors, directors and the producer. Everyone else is below the line. There is an unwritten law that these different classes do not mix all that well. After all I can talk about writing while a gaffer talks about his HMI lighting kit. Not all that much in common.

I have a bit more empathy to the crew as I have worked at almost every job on a film set and can do many of them so I tend to make friends amongst the crew and certainly on this show, stay away from the above the lines, because so far all they've done is betray my trust.

Mahon excels at these meetings, there is noticeable conflict between her and Kaplan and somehow I sense Kaplan has the upper hand despite his lack of talent and inexperience. I wonder if this is because he's male and she's not. It occurs more often than not on movie and TV productions.

I know the DP, the Director of Photography, Jorn Olsen, we worked together on a previous series and he's a good cameraman and a good friend. He confirms my feelings that this show will not be as much fun as the one we worked on.

As they all go over the first script, big things get smaller. The star's grand lodge is now a modest dining room, our Ranger cabin is not as elaborate as we had written because "we couldn't get that big cabin". And it continues getting smaller. But this is normal on all shows although there's less of the good stuff here mostly because of the lack of work on the producer's part.

I also meet Ben Cooper, a production designer who has mutual friends. A big, bearded man, Ben sits quietly through-out the meeting although he doesn't miss a beat. Later we talk about our mutual friends and he confirms my feelings once again,  he seems to take to Kaplan andMahon like a root canal.

I now have Beth, the accountant, Jorn, the cameraman and Ben the production designer on my side. It makes me feel a little more confident.

I'm asked if I can change a few things and they're mostly cosmetic although I don't give in easily just to establish my position.

By the end of the meeting, all departments have established their power in the room, although there is a definite arrangement. The below-the-line food chain goes like this;

The production manager is the sergeant major of the production. Their job is to keep the show moving, to make sure everything is where it's supposed to be from actors to caterers. They plan the shooting schedule and push the director when needed to hurry up.

The Camera department is next; after all they create the look of the show visually. A good example is the X Files show, it's style was dark and wet (due to being shot in Vancover) but it suited the stories which were dark and twisted and eerie. My friend John Bartley was the DP for the first 4 years and did a remarkable job that is still copied to this day.

I put the Production Design department after the Camera department, which some would dispute. I go back to my friend's idea that 3 people can make a movie. And you need a camera more than you need someone to build the inside of a house. But production design is important if you have the money. I shot Ghostkeeper in an old hotel and we didn't add one single item to the set, it was all there. We didn't even hire a production designer.

Sound comes next, usually a Soundperson and a boom person. The boom person holds an extendable pole with a microphone at the end for some scenes. Other scenes use wireless mikes. Sound is as important as picture to me and they can be as creative as the DP and the writer and director.

Next come the various technical departments, the gaffers, essentially electricians, the grips, who operate cranes and dollies, the makeup and hair, script supervisor, transportation, location managers, caterers and others I can't think of right now.

And either they or their head people are at this meeting. And they all have at least one complaint.

Finally the meeting is over and I head out for a beer at the Peak, a bar within a hotel which has slowly become our hangout place. I sit to a husky bearded man who is slightly drunk and who tells me he has a 3/4 wolfdog. This is like having a Porsche in LA, something to be proud of. But the Rangers have told me these half wolf/half dog mutations often have to be shot by rangers after they suddenly "go wild" and rip a kid's hand off.

Rangers would prefer people not breed these types of dogs but right now, this guy thinks it's great. Then he changes to talk of grizzlies including a stuffed one in this hotel, which was killed by a train while sitting on the track.

And if that wasn't enough, he also tells me of a woman ranger who got killed by a "griz" because she was having her period and the bear smelled the blood. I've heard this before but wasn't sure if that was just an urban myth.

But just in case, I'll be careful who I walk out in the woods with.

Later in my little suite, I call a friend in L.A. who tells me two cops were shot execution style nine times when they pulled over a car. He followed up with a bomb going off in a San Bernardino police station and a cop coming out of another station was shot by a 10-year old kid.

Here in Jackson, it's snowing and the town is quiet.

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