Tuesday, Apr. 08, 2003
I was at The Station loading the equipment when Greg told me over the phone that Alice wasn't feeling up to letting us shoot Patti's interview in her house.
Another good reason to cancel The Show as this was happening every time we scheduled a shoot. No place to do it.
It was one of my rules back in the beginning that we would not shoot a cable access show that looked like cable access. We would not shoot in someone's house, no matter how convenient the scheduling. Convenient looks like shit. If we wanted a reputation for a good show, we would have to always shoot in a public place. Of course that rule went out the fucking window before we even shot our first episode.
I told Greg that I could probably get Sean to let us shoot Patti's interview in his place. Greg couldn't believe that Sean would let us. "Do you think he'd do that?"
As long as Greg, Patti and I were of minimal disturbance I had a hunch Sean would go for it. Sean is real big on favors and even though I've never given him anything that could be commodified, I was to be his right hand this summer when he got around to shooting his film.
Sean called me up a week or so after the Marquee shoot at Cinema 21 fumbling all over himself with questions about production equipment. I guess his being at the center of a full-blown production, however amateurishly organized, put a big up his ass.
The Show had been on hiatus for thirteen weeks before I took over as producer. People on the street were stopping Greg and Sean and asking when it would be back on the air. That gave me the idea that we should shoot a series of vignettes that would run through December teasing the return of The Show.
Through their connections with the theater I'd arranged for The Show to be put up on the marquee inbetween the usual changing of weekly titles. What a rush. There I was, playing producer while the title of the show I was producing was up on an art house marquee.
In an hour Greg, Sean, Roxi and I shot a minute's worth of footage on the busy Thursday night street that became our first and only vignette. Greg and Sean did their usual banter down the sidewalk while I followed them with the camera geurilla-style.
After we'd all watched the finished piece, that bug up Sean's ass bit him hard.
"Can we use the wireless mics?" Sure, anytime.
"But could we use them with the cable access cameras while we shoot with mine?" Uuuh, yeah. What do you mean?
"Well, I want to shoot with my camera while the cable access cameras pick up the wireless mics."
I thought he didn't realize we could use the wireless mics with either camera. "They make adapters, so it's really no problem which camera we use."
"Yeah, but..." he started, then he ran out of words. I listened to the faint croaking in his throat as his brain spun ideas faster than his speech center could process. "I was thinking we'd use my camera because it's small and we'd use the wireless mics to pick up the sound outside."
Wha...the...fuh...? I'm trying to connect the dots. Small means concealable. Outside means a geurilla operation on a location he doesn't have permission to use. Aw, fer fuckssake, man....
"That's just not going to work," I said.
"Why?" I could hear in his voice that I was pissing on his fantasy.
"Because," I explained, "in the first place cable access wireless microphones are some of the cheapest pieces of shit we can get our hands on, and are fifty-fifty at picking up useable audio."
Then I asked, "Are you talking about going into someone's place of business and trying to shoot a scene geurilla-style?"
"Yeah, I want to do the whole film that way."
Let me translate that: All I want to do is shoot my screenplay without getting bogged down with the logistical realities of actually producing a film.
A pro's pro keeps his mouth shut as long as the paycheck doesn't bounce. I'd learned this in meetings of another failed production for which stunt coordinators, cinematographers, special F/X artists and production designers had either volunteered their services or cut their rates. A professional doesn't ask why or how. The why is a given. The how is his job. Here I was in a delicate situation with Sean. I was fully ready, willing and able to help him make his film, but the deeper his thoughts and fantasies, the more I realized he wanted me to set everything up for him regardless of how many times he emphasized "we". Make the cold calls. Lock in the locations. I suspected he would even want me to round up a handfull of actors and present them for his approval. Otherwise he'd tap is friends and neighbors and get some seriously shitty work out of them. As this pit in my stomach grew I became more and more certain that I would be hauling his ass through the entire project, forcing him to take some initiative as director, the supposed leader of the project. And I just am not interested in babysitting someone else's masterbatory self indulgence - until my fee is at least $1 million.
I kept my mouth shut while Sean blathered on about his vision of shooting his fictional narrative with a documentary style. I love the idea, actually. It's what I'd always wanted to do in college, but couldn't break in with the snooty art fucks, the only ones who understood what it meant. (They'd shoot my script, but wouldn't bring me onto their crew. Probably because I call them snooty art fucks. And because college girls don't like guys who, even when prompted, declare thier preference for masculinity over irrationality and unaccountability. But I digress...)
Sean is a great disappointment. Nevertheless, I didn't say No.
Not that I imagine myself a paternal figure to him, but I'm trying my best to quash my hereditary instincts and to not say to him what my dad would say to me. "You can't get anything done without drawing out a plan and sticking to it." This is true. But how do you know what kind of a plan to make before you know what kind mess you're in? I've been around a few sets and have seen where other people's plans have taken them. Most films end up in a shoe box in the attic. Some get 4am air time on Argentinian cable. Nothing I've ever worked on went as far as Park City, but I've seen it happen to people I know. No matter how good the ideas, the photgraphy, the writing or the acting, if there's a certain audience you're looking for, you have to tell them what they want to hear before they pay you any attention. And to do that takes an incredible amount of planning.
As much as the artist's hands shape any given piece, so do the realities of life, commercialism, technology and cultural relevance. For better or for worse art suffers or thrives depending on whether the artist embraces or rejects those influences. As water is wet, as the sky is blue, so is the creation of art influenced by the world we live in. While Sean burried his face in the pages of his screenplay, ignoring those realities by indulging his ego, "tinkering" with his words and ideas, I was watching the whole project slowly but steadily heading for that inevitable brick wall.
What my dad never understood about raising children is that parents are only neccessary in providing food, shelter and clothing - the basics of survival, which he provided very well. After that, a parent's advice is about as practicle as tits on a bull. I could not - can not - simply explain to Sean what it takes to get a film made. He has to learn that for himself. And for as long as he refuses to learn, there's nothing I can do to help him. As every child learns his own lessons, this is one Sean needs to learn from before he can move forward.
Patti and Greg sat on Sean's living room couch chatting on camera about her short documentary "Collector's At Large". I stood over the camera at a slightly awkward angle watching her through the monitor instead of the eye piece. It took every ounce of self control not to scream out as that fucking nail again drove through the joint of my second-to-littlest toe on my left foot. The mysteriously attacking and vanishing 1.21 gigawatts of pain lasted about a minute while I uneasily rocked back and forth on my heels, trying not to lose frame on Patti. Muthafocking shitbags.
Sean had come home from work before we wrapped up the shoot. Something to do with the riot of war protesters making it difficult to get home, so he left work early. I'm not sure I followed his logic. He left work early and arrived home early. Where was the problem?
Patti and Greg had gone to the Aalto for drinks while he and I packed the gear into my car. I don't remember how the conversation came about, but he told me that he felt like his script just wasn't ready to shoot yet. For an instant I was suprised that he'd voluntarily call it off. He explained that he'd been reading it aloud with his girlfriend at the kitchen table, and he thought that his dialogue sounded "tinny".
"The more I listened to it," he said, "the more it sounded..."
"Yeah, like the rambling words a twenty-two year-old would use to say something profound." I remember telling him something to that effect when we were twenty-two.
Before Sean had come home, Greg discovered the script lying open on the kitchen table and began reading it out loud. He invited Patti to read along with him, and the two pulverized Sean's writing with mocking, over-exagerated character voices. Greg put on a stutter and Patti couldn't stop laughing as they read through a scene. Sean probably would have cried.
I kept all this to myself, of course, because I couldn't have looked him in the eye if I'd told him I thought Greg and Patti were right. Cruel, but right. I kept all my thoughts to myself as I nodded and quietly, gently agreed that his decision not to shoot this year was probably a sound one. I'd already endured vicariously the humiliation of Greg and Patti's critique, and I felt that would somehow be compounded if I'd told him at that moment that even if his writing was Pulitzer caliber, he wasn't going to make a film this summer. This is the third or fourth time he's lost his hard-on for this script. He won't get it again.
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