Saturday, April 3, 2010

Film School Follies: Part 18 – Dancing into the Fire

By ScottDS
While we were busy with Natural Born Canadians, two other 35mm films were in pre-production. One was Shooting for the Moon, but since the first thing I did after Canadians was go home for a week-long vacation, I can't say what happened on that set one way or another. All I know is, when we finally watched all three films back to back to back, somehow Canadians was no longer "the worst film in our class" anymore. The other film in prep was In the Nude. At the last minute, I had decided to toss my directing hat into the Canadians ring, knowing that Mike (my co-writer) would most likely be given the directing reins on Nude and would do a fine job.

The following consists of iChat conversations Mike and I had over the span of three days in February. And yes, I transcribed all of this!

No Nudity Required: The Application Process
In the Nude tells the story of Scooter (ostensibly based on me) who has a crush on Anna, a girl in his class. Anna has developed some risqué photos and accidentally leaves them in the school photo lab after everyone's forced to evacuate when the fire alarm goes off. Scooter and his two friends, Matt and Ronnie, decide to break into the photo lab after hours to get a look at the photos.

Scott: "I'm sure there were a ton of scripts written that we never heard about but the big thing was that ours just seemed to have this buzz and people were always interested in it and were looking forward to it and everyone thought it would get made."

Mike: "I wouldn't say that. I think, within our circle of friends... people that knew it, there was a buzz. The [big] buzz didn't happen until the script got out." (After Spoon distributed copies of all three 35mm scripts to the class, people started coming up to us and asking questions about it.)

Scott: "Even then I just remember it was nice to be a part of something that people – once it got out, anyway – that people sort of dug. Maybe if it had been something different and not based on something at Full Sail [that] was about us, maybe people would've felt differently but it had a good thing going on."

Mike: "Yeah. People responded pretty well to it."

Scott: "How did you go about putting your portfolio together, if you remember?"

Mike: "I went out and bought a really nice binder and I wanted to do this neat thing where I created this little logo. I was drawing in Windy's [business] class – that's how much fun it was in [her] class – and I drew this little face that I thought kinda looked like me. I [later] did it in Photoshop and used it as a giant watermark on each page, and then I typed all my info over that. And then what I did was, my [ex-] brother-in-law is in advertising and they use a lot of vellum so I turned [all my paperwork] into PDF files and I e-mailed them to him. He printed them out and FedExed them to me. And then I typed this from the heart 'Why I should direct' [cover letter] and it was a little bit aggressive but it really spoke to how I felt. And I guess I got the job. I do remember in hindsight thinking it probably wouldn't have taken much to get the job!"
A Hard Place and a Rock: The Co-Director and the Faculty Producer
One Full Sail policy that most of us didn't like was their policy of assigning films to more than one director. Canadians had three, including myself. Moon had two (I heard it didn't go too well), and Nude also had two: Mike and another guy named Ryan who will now be known as Ryan #2 (as opposed to the Ryan who worked with me on Canadians).

Scott: "I know no one was a big fan of multiple directors but you guys lucked out with only two. Do you recall when Ryan #2 was first announced?"

Mike: "I didn't know Ryan #2 from Adam when he was announced [...] so it was really like meeting someone out of the blue and [saying], 'I need your help to make this dream of mine come true.' It wasn't the best feeling but I wasn't upset about it for the longest time before [the unpleasantness]. Before that, I was very pleased because there were only two of us, which was fantastic and we seemed to be on the same page [and] I have to give him credit [for that]. It was just in certain areas where he was a little inexperienced and was trying to do things he had seen others do but didn't understand why. He just thought those things would be cool but you have to know why you're doing something."

Scott: "I think if I had selected Nude instead of Canadians and if it had been you, me, and Ryan #2... you and I probably would've been okay but I'm not sure how Ryan #2 would've dealt with the two heavyweights [not physically] who wrote the script."

Mike: "It wouldn't have been the best situation. But if it were you and I, I don't think we would've split days. I think we would've directed together. (All of the 35mm directors split days – X on day 1, Y on day 2, etc. – and did not, in fact, direct together.) This isn't to speak highly of myself but I didn't need anyone to direct In the Nude with me and giving it up to Ryan #2 was difficult at times because he wasn't up for it... so it wasn't the easiest thing in the world."

The faculty producer of In the Nude was a no-nonsense woman named Debbie. A professional script supervisor who was listed in local film guides, Debbie had taught Steve and me the finer points of script supervision in 16mm and was seen in a previous class' making-of documentary, Missing Something, where she was portrayed in a less than flattering light.

Mike: "I was happy, to be honest with you, because even though I saw her be a hard-ass [in the documentary], I was familiar with her, whereas just by looking at Katie, I didn't feel like she was going to be of much use. With Debbie, at least there was a familiarity and what I saw in that [documentary] was not someone who was being abusive or anything. I just saw someone who was like, 'Hey, you weren't getting the job done' and I'm fine with that."
Below, Above, and Straddling the Line: Meet the Crew
The unit production manager on Nude was a guy named Laz (for short). I didn't know him that well and I still don't.

Mike: "There were bad moments and there were good moments. Laz was really unnecessary because Paul [1st A.D. and Sanguinity veteran] and I had it but what Laz ended up doing was kind of what a TV producer does. He did a lot of the dirty work. He just interfered sometimes with scheduling... our dealings with the actors... and with the catering and stuff like that. There was one night where he was interfering with our schedule so Steve [script supervisor and Sanguinity veteran], Paul, and I talked about it and we were ready to have him removed. It was Paul who convinced me to let him handle it because I was like, 'I can't go forward with Laz interfering like this.' My big thing wasn't, 'It's my movie! You can't mess with it!' My big thing was, 'We're trying to learn to be professionals. We have to stay in our roles.' The thing is Laz did [his job] well but he interfered because he didn't see the point to certain things we were doing. I didn't particularly want to work with him again [after 16mm]. [But] in the end it worked and he was game to do the things we asked him to do."

Scott: "Dave was announced as your production coordinator and that lasted for many minutes." (Dave left Nude to serve as script supervisor on Canadians.)

Mike: "I think he went to our first production meeting. I [later] said, 'Screw him. We don't need him.' But I do remember thinking that I would've liked to have someone there as a buffer for Laz. Had there been an extra person between Laz and us, some of those [bad] moments may have been avoided."

Just like they did with Canadians, they announced the crew roster for In the Nude in Rob's class. I already knew Mike would keep the VTR/playback operator position open for me and that's what I did after coming back from my vacation.

Mike: "There was a great crew at the top because... Paul was our 1st A.D. but then we had Seth and Phil... they were fantastic. (Phil was the casting director and later served as an additional 1st A.D. with Seth serving as his 2nd A.D.) Seth was like, 'Whatever I have to do, I'll do it' and he did it well. And Phil wasn't from [our] group of friends but he was somebody who was very serious: 'What needs to get done gets done.' Those two A.D.s were fantastic. They did their job well, they did what they had to do, and they never stepped out of line. They handled the talent, they worked in casting... I could not have made the movie as well as I did without them."

Scott: "And Justin as your director of photography?"

Mike: "Justin, as we've come to know him over the years, is a great guy. He really knew his stuff. He knew the film stocks, he understood everything, and so he was a great person to have there. But Justin has his moments [and] if he doesn't agree with what you're doing, he can get a little bitchy. He's kind of grown out of that [and] there were very few moments where Justin and I had any issues. Mainly it was that one day on the set when we were doing the reshoots at the end of my second day to cover stuff that Ryan #2 hadn't covered. I just overruled him there in front of everybody and he had a little bit of a tantrum in front of the crew but everything was fine. We did it, we got it done, the shots worked – end of story. But never did I think, 'Oh, I wish I had someone else.' I was very happy with Justin."

Scott: "And if you were happy with Justin, then you must've been very happy with Chris (the genius) as production designer."

Mike: "There was a point where Chris went from, 'Oh my God. What am I doing here? I want to be on Canadians' to 'This is kind of cool' to 'I'm so glad I was on In the Nude!' I think at first he was not happy at all that he was there, in the sense that all of his friends were on the other film. I don't think he knew what to make of me at first but that being said, we made a fantastic team and he is awesome. He was probably the most gifted person in our whole class – I think we all kind of conceded that. I kind of pushed him a little bit and let's not forget that even though he's medicated, he suffers from severe ADD and there were times where I had to rein that in. But we had a lot of fun and I love Chris and it was a pleasure seeing him recently."

Scott: "In retrospect, he was much better off with you guys because of the amount of design and creativity involved, not just in the sets but matching locations and that [custom-built] camera rig to shoot inside the ducts [which is how our heroes sneak into the photo lab]. I don't know how he would've reacted to our bull---- on Canadians and our sets wouldn't have required as much. Maybe Chris would've pressed Ryan to shoot on location. At graduation when I won that bull---- set design award, I told Chris afterwards, 'This is yours!' But considering Hitchcock never won an Oscar, that works! Moving on... Steve as script supervisor?"

Mike: "I can't say I relied on him too much but he was my friend on the crew and he was... as kooky and nutty as Steve is, I always found him to be the calm voice of reason in our productions and I consulted with him as much as I could. He was always for what we were doing [and] he may have had some input here and there. I always tried to include him in everything. I invited him to every meeting, as I did [with] Justin. I don't think that happened on every other production.

Scott: "I'm pretty sure that Matt, maybe by virtue of just being Ryan's roommate… I'm pretty sure Matt tagged along to most of our meetings [on Canadians], not when we were working on the script but Matt was usually always a constant and by the time the s--- hit the fan, Matt was one of the few where it was like, 'Okay, Matt's good! We know he's okay and he won't do this or that!' And the fact that other people on the crew [maybe] didn't like [working with] him sort of solidified that for us."

Mike: "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."

Scott: "Exactly! Audio... who cares? Eliezer and Carlo."

Mike: "Audio was a big problem. I trusted Eliezer and thought that he was into what he was doing. And no, they screwed up our whole movie. And they taught me a valuable lesson if I ever direct anything in the future which is: I'm gonna wear headphones the whole f---ing time. I'm gonna be hearing everything [the sound guys] are hearing the whole f---ing time. You can quote that."

Scott: "Don't mince words, Bones. What do you really think? Diane as art director?"

Mike: "Everything I told her to get, she got. She was kind of Laz' lackey... I don't know why that ended up happening. I think Laz got very hands on and if we needed to look for clothes and costumes, he went and looked for them but Diane was kind of Laz and Chris' lackey and she did her job well. I told her I wanted a trucker hat [emblazoned with a non sequitur phrase: "kaboontang"] and she got it for me."

Scott: "I don't know how closely you worked with any of the camera guys individually: Ed, [another] Ryan, Tony, Nick, and Ricky."

Mike: "The camera guys were great. There wasn't a lot of communication with them during pre-pro. Nick was one of the ones who suggested a couple of changes in that first script meeting where I said, 'Does anyone have any ideas? I'll listen to them now' and [his suggestions] actually made it in. But during production, I worked very closely with them. Every shot we got, I was always like, 'Good job. You guys are awesome.' I felt like they were all very happy to be on the shoot, they liked working with Justin, and I think they liked working with me.

Scott: "At least you all had that relationship. By the time we started shooting [on NBC], I couldn't trust half of our camera crew! And it's not like you found out Tony was rewriting the script behind your back with Laz. [...] What about Mike #2 as gaffer?"

Mike: "That was [a case of] 'We care about him; let's give him something to do.' He relied a lot on others. Mike #2's that guy... you want him around and he's got all the smarts in the world but… did he really do anything? No. But he tried."

Next week: pre-production, script revisions, Chris goes to work, and a Canadians camera operator is cast in the lead role with mixed results.

To Be Continued...

11 comments:

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I get more and more amazed that you guys managed to complete a movie.

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

It's funny. One of the lab assistants recently posted on Facebook a picture of the Canadians poster hanging in one of the school's hallways (standard procedure for every film poster).

Several (presumably) recent graduates have left comments for the photo and they are full of nothing but bitching and whining... all the same problems we had. Dennis (our class' elder statesman) chimed in with this:

TO SCOTT AND RYAN, folks who actually had something to do with this, is the above set of Posts, not absolutely hilarious ???!!. Just shows how right you guys were, and how insanely wrong the rest of us were. This is why positions are earned....take em, do your role, and shut the Fudge up. Which we finally did and you guys did a great job, along with Jerrod. I think that as time passes our class gets tighter, not on here, bickering like A-Holes. And to the Gal who said she would never be hired as an Editor because of this post.....not true, your work will or wont get you hired, not this assinine thread, this I assure you. But I would not link anyone to this thread...LOL

ScottDS said...

The point I was trying to make was that this happens with every student film. Obviously, not all of them include a death but there is always stress and peer-pressure and conflict.

And the instructors drilled it into our heads that every moment counts, every project counts... when I was a PA in Los Angeles, I wouldn't even sit down out of fear that Spielberg would happen to visit that day and hire the PA who was standing up! (I exaggerate... slightly.)

As for the Facebook photo, our 35mm instructor (Rob) also commented with a bit of wisdom:

I'm not sure why students are expecting fu&*^#ing Chinatown every time they try to make a film. The big salamis f&*^em up with 100 times the budget and the crew..

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Yeah, I got your point. It sounds like each of the projects was difficult with a lot of upset people. I guess that's to be expected in that sort of environment.

It makes sense to me that as many people as possible would get a chance to direct, as well as do everything else available on the project. In fact, if only a couple people got to direct the entire semester, then there wouldn't really be a lot of incentive for people to go to the school.

ScottDS said...

I figured you'd get the point... I only added the clarification after reading over my first post. :-)

Not everyone who goes to film school wants to direct. And there are only a limited number of films produced so, inevitably, a few students who want to direct will get the shaft. Such is life.

In 16mm, as I've mentioned before, anyone who wanted to direct could but since each 16mm film only shot for two days, you'd get a situation like we had with Sanguinity where we had 8 or 9 directors and several of them only directed one or two individual shots.

In fact, Full Sail might be unique in this regard. Most film schools don't allow multiple directors, let alone a whole gaggle of them. I think this is Full Sail's way of addressing the very problem you bring up. But the results are mixed to say the least.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I would say while it may seem like a mess, the finished product isn't really as important as everyone getting a chance to do part of it and being able to point to something they did.

It's easy to say "that's life" but with tuitions these days, schools need to be much more responsive to student, not just some of the students.

ScottDS said...

What's the point of being able to point to a film and say, "I did that" if the film is total crap? Students should at least try to make a decent movie. I realize the important thing is simply getting the chance to do it but I remember getting into some heated conflicts with people on Canadians. Some folks wanted to use certain camera equipment even though the movie didn't call for fancy camera moves. A crane shot in the middle of the film would've called attention to itself. While it is a learning experience, there needs to be some thought put into the final product and why certain things are done the way they are.

The instructors are partly to blame (at least in our case) for not encouraging certain people but also not reigning in others, not to mention they were the ones that picked completely mundane scripts to film! And sadly, much like in the real film biz, ego plays a huge part in it.

As for being responsive, I can't really speak to that point. If you ask my friend Mike, he'll say, "I went to film school with the intention of writing and directing a movie, and I did just that." On the other hand, someone like my friend Steve simply wanted to work on films in some capacity and he found his niche as script supervisor/editor. I'm sure there were a couple others who wanted to direct but never got the chance (except for 16mm). To them, I'm not sure what to say. I suppose they could've added another 35mm film to the curriculum but our class size wouldn't allow it.

P.S. Happy Easter, everyone!! :-)

Joel Farnham said...

Scott,

You said that the instructors picked the mundane films to produce. Did you ever ask them why they did that?

ScottDS said...

Joel -

"Mundane" is just my opinion. And I didn't ask anyone anything. It breaks down like this:

In 16mm, we couldn't shoot on location and we only had two shooting days, yet the instructors chose scripts that would've benefited from location shooting and more time (a movie that takes place on a plane, a war movie, a movie set in the future, etc.)

But for 35mm, when we had more time and equipment and we could go on location, the instructors chose scripts that didn't quite take advantage of those "perks." Both Shooting for the Moon and Stepfather took place in living rooms and bedrooms - all of which could be built on stage. Only In the Nude really took advantage of location work and Canadians, which was shoehorned in at the expense of Stepfather, could have but didn't.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I sounds to me like those are all just some of the problems you're going to find in the real world.

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

I don't doubt that at all. I think my problem at the time was that, with the instructors choosing which films were produced, it fell out of our hands and we might've been compelled to pick scripts that challenged us. I mean, a 35mm short film which takes place in one room? What's the point? That was my feeling at the time.

Believe me, I'm not crying over spilled milk. :-) Film school, like anything else, is what you make of it.

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