Saturday, February 20, 2010

Film School Follies: Part 15 – The Worst of Times III

By ScottDS

Science fiction author Jerry Pournelle’s "Iron Law of Bureaucracy" states: "In any bureaucracy, the people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself always get in control and those dedicated to the goals the bureaucracy is supposed to accomplish have less and less influence, and sometimes are eliminated entirely." Judging from my experience on this film, I would have to say Mr. Pournelle’s logic is sound.

Field Trip

At no point during pre-production did anyone say, "Well, it’s a good thing the script is finished! Now we can move on to more important things!" The script that we (Ryan, Jerrod, and myself) worked on would have to do – even though no one was ever 100% satisfied with it, including us – and the script that was revised behind our backs would be forgotten (though it was included in the wrap book). Unfortunately, while it was nice to have this debacle behind us (almost), it definitely made me paranoid, knowing that: a.) people worked on it behind our backs and what would stop them from doing something similar in the future (?), and b.) other people knew what was going on and didn’t tell us: "What did you know and when did you know it?" But we couldn’t rest, not on our tight schedule. One of the perks of shooting in 35mm was that we could go on location.

June 7th, 2004. This wasn’t an official [location] scout, just a preliminary scout to get some ideas. The usual suspects were in: Gema, Ryan, Jerrod, Will, Jeremy, Matt, and me. Dennis and Chris couldn’t make it. We went to Siemens first. They had a very nice building [seen in the film D.A.R.Y.L.]. The parking area was even rounded off with a little hill. I figured if we could shoot there, we could use the crane to get a nice Spielberg-style reveal, starting at ground level and booming up to reveal the building in all its form and splendor. However, it wasn’t meant to be. The frumpy Rent-a-Cop at the front desk said photography was prohibited so I wisely snuck my camera into my pocket. They did have a nice office – it looked like a big atrium, almost. Will did the talking. He asked the guy if we could speak to anybody about either: a.) taking some photos, or b.) shooting the exterior. We were denied. Will pressed the guy further. [The guy] called someone but I doubt he even rang an extension – he asked and was given a prompt "no" so we thanked the little troll for his help and left.

We drove a little further down the road to the next building. It was quite a sight seeing all these American flags at half-mast, what with the death of Reagan and all. We went inside the second building. Same thing: we asked, they said no. This time they gave us a business card but when we got in the car, Will realized there was no actual contact info on the card itself, just some hiring info. How disappointing. We passed by a third building of similar design, but we skipped it. We arrived at Kroger Center, a small industrial park on the northwest corner of Alafaya and University. Nice looking buildings, but with two caveats: palm trees and glass surfaces. We couldn’t shoot in front of a building with palm trees [for obvious reasons] and we couldn’t risk seeing our reflections in the building itself.
We also went to downtown Orlando. I was still more or less miserable but I think everyone enjoyed the day. I remember we spent a lot of time at the intersection of Orange Ave. and South St. just across from City Hall. I took reference photos and Chris and Jeremy no doubt tried to determine where we’d park the grip truck, set up craft services, etc. Shooting on location can be fun but there is a lot of work involved: city permits, county permits, parking, cooperation from law enforcement, etc. Every major city has a film commission but, given that we were students working on a non-profit short film, we may have been able to skip over much of this bureaucratic nightmare. The lone bright spot of our June 9th pre-pro meeting (in which we were to "vote" on scripts) was Will informing us that he may have secured an empty office location to shoot in! But like so many other things on this film, it was all for naught.
June 17th, 2004. I feel bad for Will after all he did in securing that building downtown. Ryan comes up to me a few days ago and says he doesn’t like it. Jerrod and I are okay with it. Matt thinks it’s a waste of time. I’d like the camera guys who want the experience to do second unit [shooting exteriors while we shoot interiors on the soundstage] but I’m not sure if we can do second unit and I’m hearing that we’re better off shooting at Full Sail [outside the building itself] since it’s closer, easier, and still counts for a location. Jerrod and I went to Bealls [a department store that Full Sail annexed] to check out their facilities. Jeremy told us it’d never work. The air conditioning would wreak havoc with the audio, there is only one bathroom, it takes forever to turn off the plumbing so we’d hear every toilet flush, we’d never be able to get in after hours to dress and decorate the set. The list goes on and on and on and on.

Katie showed us a small office in Full Sail 3. I think it could work but, on second thought, it’s too damn small. Matt said we’d never be able to put all our lights in there even though [the other] Scott said it’d work out okay. It was just about five feet too small on all sides. We’re going to build everything on stage. We might as well build an office that’s small. That way we can use wild walls [walls that can be moved] and we’d be able to light it the way we want. Claudia wants us to come up with a company name and perhaps an idea of what the company actually does. Ryan is insistent on calling it "The Company." I’d rather use a name. Jerrod, too. Ryan’s opinion is that the name/business isn’t important and he’s basically right but a name would add realism to the proceedings. I love that Claudia wants to design corporate logos, paperwork, etc. but I hate having her do it for "The Company."
Just like that, we went from possibly shooting in a real office downtown to shooting on stage in an office of our own design. Both had pros and cons but at this point, it just seemed like one disappointment after another. I never had an in-depth conversation with Will but he couldn’t have been happy. Besides, shooting downtown in a major city on a weekday – it would’ve been a logistical nightmare. I could just imagine a multi-car pile-up on the highway or someone parking the grip truck in the wrong spot and getting fined.
June 20th, 2004. We had our last pre-pro meeting a few days ago and I think it went reasonably well. Claudia pitched us an idea that we already thought was set in stone: the idea of shooting in a real bathroom. The bathroom in FS4 was mentioned and Bill told the three of us to take a look. I didn’t want to leave the meeting with Ryan and Jerrod, lest the others decide to turn our momentary absence into an all-out bitch session, but that’s just my paranoia again. Anyway, we went to check out the bathroom. Dennis came along with his video camera. We agreed that it was just a tad too small. We came back and told Claudia that we had every intention to build it. The only problem was that a couple of shots (ones I had planned) called for four walls. I decided, spur of the moment, to nix the offending shots. The rest of the meeting went fine. Claudia told us that she’d be quite busy this weekend. I offered to help; she politely declined.
We had to share the soundstage with the other two films and my first reaction after the guys outlined the available floor space was, "This’ll never work."

Perpetuum Mobile

After the meeting with Disco (discussed in the last blog), we agreed to another meeting at my place to iron out any and all remaining issues with the film. Bill didn’t show up but Will and several others did. It wouldn’t be our last meeting, either.
June 14th, 2004. After I compromise and agree to a meeting (mostly to avoid Disco’s wrath), [Bill] has the nerve not to even show up! Ryan showed up early. That was a little awkward. Jerrod showed up after that. Then Dennis with his video camera. He wanted to shoot some behind-the-scenes footage and interviews. I told him I’d love to be interviewed at a later time when I wasn’t expecting company. I didn’t want to be babbling about all the bulls--- in front of everyone. Will comes. He tells us Bill won’t be attending. Jeremy, Chris, Andrea, Matt, and Billy all show up in due course.

We talked about the title of the script. Some are concerned that we might be perceived as a Natural Born Killers spoof when that isn’t the case at all. I said to everyone: "We’ll keep the title for now. If anyone comes up with a better one before we’re done with the film, we’ll use it." [Another] thing was the ceiling tile gag, an idea from the infamous "behind our backs" script. Jerrod actually liked the idea when coupled with a line about "free healthcare." I did too, as long as the tile didn’t fall on anyone. I guess Ryan decided to do it just so everyone would be happy and forget about it. Kit did a rough count of our script the other night and we came down to about a 1.5:1 shot-take ratio. [For every one and a half shots, we’d only be allowed one take!] We wouldn’t be able to reshoot the ceiling tile gag if it didn’t work the first time. Billy said he wanted to use the car rig, which would allow us to film someone driving a car. We said thanks but no-thanks and Chris backed us up on this. It would be unwise to start throwing random shots in the movie just to play with new toys. If the camera crew wants to work on it during labs, that’s their thing.
This is what filmmaking is: lots of meetings. Between the camera crew not being able to play with the gear, the difficulties with the script, Ryan nixing Will’s location... it was always a question of, "What’s next?"
June 17th, 2004. [...] I think I feel a tiny bit better about last night’s meeting at Ryan’s place. Barely. At times, it seems Bill is almost too comfortable just a few feet away from the limelight. He doesn’t have as many responsibilities as he did in 16mm. Will thinks we’re on track just fine, I just hope he isn’t in denial. Dave doesn’t seem as open with me as he did just a month and a half ago. The rest (I think) are doing okay. Tomorrow I have my observation with Gema and Claudia of the [current class’] 35mm shoot. I just hope they don’t make me a door P.A. like they did to Andrea. Then, at 3:00, we have another pre-pro meeting with Katie. I hope all goes well and why shouldn’t it? We know what we have to do. Claudia needs to draft a final floor plan so we can do character blocking so Matt can decide where to put the camera so Jeremy and Chris can schedule the shoot so Demitris can tell the actors when to show up so we can make a movie!!
One of our pre-production assignments was to observe the making of a 35mm student film. Gema, Claudia, and I were assigned one particular timeslot in which to do so and we ended up helping the production assistants. This film (I don’t remember the title) was shooting on a set made to look like an old bookstore and I remember the assistant director telling us all the books needed to be piled in a cart and wheeled away so the art director could turn the set into something else for the next shot. So that’s what I did – I cleared bookshelves for thirty minutes before sneaking away and going home!
June 17th, 2004. The 1st assistant directors, Will, and Bill stayed along with Katie to have a little chat [while we went to check out the bathroom]. I stuck around the office [afterwards] so I could talk to her. At one point, Disco entered the room, then called for Matt a few minutes later. I just sat at Katie’s desk and worked on one of Spoon’s bulls--- assignments. An eternity later, Matt came out of the room. I tried to ask what it was all about. Matt said that some of the crew have been having some problems with him. I told him that, despite our previous difficulties, I have enjoyed the collaboration. I guess Matt has stepped on a few toes or gotten into some arguments. I really have no idea and it’s probably not my place to ask. I thought the little meeting was a "Which director should we fire?" meeting but Gema told me not to worry.

I did some rudimentary character blocking diagrams with a pizza in one hand and my trusty mechanical pencil in the other. I handed the sketches to Matt and he’s working on camera blocking diagrams as we speak. I also revised the shot list to reflect changes we’ve made, mostly deleting shots and relabeling others since one scene is actually two scenes. I wonder how that one managed to slip by.

June 23rd, 2004. I don’t know who told me this (Gema or Andrea) but I think we might have reached our peak with Sanguinity. After business class, I think everyone has graduation and careers on the mind. I think we’re all not as eager to impress as we once were. I’m also starting to think we made a mistake by not shooting either the office floor or bathroom on location especially since our sets are smaller than the already-miniscule office and bathroom they have elsewhere in the building. However, we [simply] wanted the extra control. Matt didn’t like the idea and I trust his judgment as DP. Or maybe I’m using his judgment to justify my own insecurities and worries. Jerrod and Ryan seem very lackadaisical on the subject, at least that’s the way I perceive it. Bill also got a little pissed off today, since we’re the biggest group and we have the least amount of work done. We are behind!! Thankfully, he managed to have four people stay for two hours after class to build. I would have stayed but I had to go home and eat.
"All the world’s a stage..."

For those of you taking score at home, that’s three directors almost fired, one director of photography almost fired, and one location nixed. We didn’t have time to think about it because we had a set to build. Ryan’s script called for an office bullpen, a manager’s private office, and a bathroom with stalls and a connecting janitorial closet. The area we had to work with measured 28’ by 20’. By this time, my heart just wasn’t in it anymore and I spent many days during set construction either sulking or out in the hallway talking to my mother on the phone. Unlike 16mm, here we actually had a budget and if we went over, then it would be money out of our pockets. No one knew who was in charge during this phase. Was it Claudia? Was it the 1st assistant directors? Was it us? Each film had a set design lab assistant but Bill wasn’t too fond of our guy and would often come up to us and say, "Ignore everything he just said." At times it seemed like no one was on the same page.
June 23rd, 2004. Set design was a little hectic, or not hectic enough depending on whom you talk to. We didn’t have enough materials to work with until after lunch. Josh disappeared halfway through. Claudia and Jor’El worked on blueprints. I spent most of the time helping Gema and Dennis with a very annoying door. Dennis is cool but I think he got a little out of it by the end when the door wouldn’t open. He punched it, thus rendering the door useless. We had a new one in no time at all. Andrea helped out but because of an arm injury she received a couple months ago, she really couldn’t do any heavy lifting. We did manage to put up the paneling in Stanley’s office. It looks good – just the right amount of tackiness. It’s one of the few things we all like. I still think the office floor set is too small. I know most of the crew thinks it’s fine but this all goes back to us. Ryan, Jerrod, and I could have decided to shoot on location but it would’ve meant losing five hours a day for lighting and wrap and an extra hour on the last day. I didn’t want that and I don’t think [they] did either.
Sadly, sometime during set construction, Jerrod and Matt decided to nix our only crane shot – something the camera crew was looking forward to working on. Neither of them told anyone else so when Jerrod said, "The crane shot is out" during one of our meetings, Ryan and I could only look at each other and wonder what happened.
June 24th, 2004. Set design was hectic but productive. Jeremy and Dave went through hell trying to get lumber and paint. Claudia had a whole plan for the windows that Todd [our lab assistant] basically threw out the window (no pun intended). Camera lab was almost a joke. Jeremy chewed us out for not having our s--- together. I just sent him and Chris an e-mail explaining things. I feel awful about it. I know Jeremy’s a quick temper at times [but] I feel for the man. I think [Jerrod] took the crane shot out without telling us. Maybe he thought we knew. I don’t know. I hate to see the camera team disappointed, especially Billy who had mentioned using the car mount. He wants to learn the gear and, through our sheer incompetence, we’re not letting him. There’s always lab but I’m sure he’d like nothing more than to bring home the class DVD and show his family his handiwork.

Things have just been dour from the beginning. I don’t regret my decision to work on this film instead of In the Nude but I’m getting there. I felt awful at the meeting today. Jeremy threatened to quit. I know Bill wouldn’t bat an eye but I’d never be able to forgive myself. Am I placing too much blame on myself? Yes. Will Ryan and Jerrod admit their mistakes? Maybe. I told Andrea that I hate to think what the situation would be if it was just Ryan and Jerrod directing. I know it sounds egotistical but I couldn’t see it happening. She said they’d get walked all over. I want us to make the best movie we can but there is too much negativity.

There are [small] triumphs. Nick [from the Nude crew] helped us get the old cubicles from the DC soundstage. I hope tomorrow’s better. Having said that, I know it won’t be. It’s one step forward, three steps back. [Ryan and Jerrod] might think I’m too controlling but it’s only to compensate for their occasional lack of decisiveness. Ryan is so soft-spoken... hell, if he were directing solo, it’d never work out. Jerrod is somewhere in the middle. I don’t know if he’s still trying to make an impression on the Sanguinity vets but I think everyone likes him. I just couldn’t see him being very vocal. And worst of all, I lost a bag of Skittles!
Claudia was able to obtain a Canadian flag and had Kinko’s print a large banner that stated, "If it goes south, it’s food out of our mouth." She had to have them print it twice after they made a typo (and refused to acknowledge it, if I recall correctly). We had all the usual office tchotchkes, which were found in storage. The bathroom set turned out nicely, with authentic fixtures and stalls with hinged doors, though I don’t remember approving the color scheme. The bathroom ceiling had to be connected to a pulley system so it could be retracted when not in use (per the fire code). The janitorial closet was painted black (we had to steal the black paint) and, per the script, was supposed to be vandalized with anti-Canadian graffiti. At first, I used spray paint and later had to stop when it became apparent I was almost high. We decided to use chalk instead. (Bummer!) The closet scene required us to shoot the actors looking into it and from the point of view within the closet itself looking back at the actors. Claudia ingeniously had two separate sets constructed – a three-walled closet with a doorway for the actors, and another three-walled set with no doorway in front of which the actors would stand.
June 27th, 2004. Claudia is slowly going crazy, I felt like the captain of the Titanic post-iceberg when I was walking around the sets. I did smile for the first time during set design when I saw Chris and a few others corner Kit with paint rollers. The Paint Wars it was called. Fun stuff. I’m just sick of, "Scott, we need to have a talk." It’s not worth the trouble for me right now. If this means I’m not fit to be a director, then so be it. I’m dreading getting phone calls, hoping for the best but thinking the worst.
In my next blog, I’ll talk about casting. In my journal, I wrote: "...I fear that our initial trepidation which lead to a s---y set will translate to the screen and it’s bad news for a Full Sail film when, so far, the acting is the lone saving grace. I’M NOT HAPPY!!" And I will also talk about the tragedy that finally woke us all up.

To Be Continued...


AndrewPrice said...

Scott, This sounds worse and worse all the time. Sounds like total chaos. I'm surprised someone didn't line people up and start shooting.

So you could carry around a 35mm but not a 16mm? Am I missing something or shouldn't a 16mm camera be smaller?

Anonymous said...

You are correct: the 16mm cameras were smaller than the 35mm cameras. However, we were not allowed to shoot on location in 16mm, not because of the equipment - it was just a class rule. We were all looking forward to shooting on location for our 35mm films but, as you read, it didn't quite work out for us.

In the Nude shot on location at the University of Central Florida (you'll read about that next month) and Shooting for the Moon shot in a residential neighborhood but they shot at night on someone's porch and it looks like a bad sitcom set! They somehow managed to make reality look fake!

Next week's blog is basically rock bottom (for obvious reasons) but we're all redeemed in two weeks!

And there were people who didn't think we'd get a frame of footage shot but, after watching the film recently, it edits together surprisingly well.

AndrewPrice said...

They made reality look fake! LOL! I actually saw that happen on the Pitchmen show -- with Billy Mays. They were filming him doing something in a car, and he was being towed while the camera-crew drove alongside the van. But when you saw the finished product, it looked like the world's worst blue screen!

How big were these cameras? When I think of Hollywood cameras, i think of these person-sized monsters that sit on cranes. How big were the ones you had?

MegaTroll said...

Did you not have to get permits or did someone else already get those for you?

Anonymous said...

Mega -

We never even got that far because we decided not to shoot on location. We ended up shooting in the parking lot five feet out the door! If we needed permits, I'm sure the faculty would've helped us. Professional films and TV shows have a location manager who handles such tasks.

From a glance at the In the Nude wrap book, it looks like they had a certificate of liability insurance and a limited purpose location agreement signed by the faculty producer and a rep from the location.

Anonymous said...

Andrew - I don't have exact measurements but to give you an idea:

This was the camera used on Canadians, an ARRICAM, on its tripod ("sticks"):

Blogger will cut off the address so type in:

after the backslash, type in: ScottDS/IMG_3634.jpg

This is the camera on the crane during the lab: ScottDS/IMG_2876.jpg

AndrewPrice said...

Ok. So they are about the size I was expecting. I take it you guys had a van or something to move them if they had to travel?

Anonymous said...

Full Sail did have a truck but I never got to ride in it. I do have photos of the truck parked outside the UCF building where we shot part of In the Nude. I believe it was referred to as the "grip truck" and I drove a few in LA (never having driven a truck before but, of course, I couldn't tell anyone, lest I be fired).

Anonymous said...

This script they wrote behind your backs, was it your job to write the script or could anyone? You say you had a vote on scripts, was that before or after they started writing an alternative script?

Anonymous said...

Anon -

It was the director(s)' job to revise the script and later distribute copies to everyone. We did ask for suggestions but no one was ever that vocal about it. One of my fellow directors gave the script to someone on the crew for a second opinion and before we knew it, he was with a few others, adding their own material without telling us. (I talk about this in the last blog.)

There shouldn't have been any voting at all. The only reason that came up was our egotistical production manager who wanted everyone's voices heard. We never refused to hear anything; it's just that no one told us anything. That was after this other script was written.

The other crews didn't have this problem. On In the Nude, the directors said, "Anyone have any ideas? We're open." And that was it. They didn't have anyone from their crew revising the script behind their backs.

Needless to say, it's ancient history and all is forgiven. But there's one person on the crew I can't mention without adding "F---!" to his name. :-)

Anonymous said...

Also were you trying to make the movie a certain time length? How did you know you had enough script? Is there some guideline for how many pages equals about how many minutes of film?

Anonymous said...

Anon -

The rough guideline is "1 page of script = 1 page of screen time" but this is not always accurate. A one sentence action line like "The battle begins" can be ten minutes on screen!

We were limited not so much on time but in the amount of film we could use. I don't remember the amount of film but 1000 feet roughly equals 11 minutes so we must've been provided with only a few thousand feet.

During screenwriting class, the instructors would tell us if our scripts were too short or too long. The final script for this film was 14 pages long - just right.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, 1 page equals 1 page? How does that translate into minutes?

Anonymous said...

Oh, son of a --

It should've been: "1 page of script = 1 minute of screen time."

Yeah, that makes more sense. :-)

DoctorWhoa said...

I have a son who is looking to go to film school.. Do you think this was a worthwhile experience or would you say he would be better off just going to Hollywood and getting a job?

Anonymous said...

Well, Doc, that's the big question. At film school, he'll get hands-on experience with the equipment but, most importantly, he'll meet people.

On the other hand, many filmmakers would say that the best way to learn how to make a movie is to simply make a movie.

No one ever got a job in Hollywood by presenting their film school degree but I'm sure it looked good on my resume when I was applying for production assistant jobs in LA. A good attitude and enthusiasm are just as important as experience, if not more important, when just starting out.

Does he want to do anything in particular?

DoctorWhoa said...

I don't think he knows. He's talked about being a director or a producer but I think he would be just as happy working as a cameraman.

Anonymous said...

If he wants to be a cameraman, he can buy or rent a camera (film or digital - digital might be easier) and learn first hand, or he can go to film school and try to shoot other students' films. He'd have to build up some kind or portfolio or reel to show prospective employers. He should also learn photography.

Re: being a director - I just don't want him to do the same thing I did... I was so hellbent on directing at film school that I blinded myself to other, more marketable skills, like camera, sound, etc. If he really wants to direct, he should get some like-minded friends together, buy a camera and a computer with iMovie or Final Cut Pro and have fun!

If he wants to be a producer, business classes might be helpful, or perhaps the Peter Stark Producing Program at USC. Many producers are often involved more in the business end instead of the creative end. Many but not all.

AndrewPrice said...

DoctorWhoa, Just wanted to say, welcome!

DoctorWhoa said...

Thanks you for the advice Scott.

Thank you Andrew.

FilmGuy said...

Cool articles LOL! Sounds like a disaster. I've worked on some films as an assistant grip and I've seen some films got this chaotic but not many.

Anonymous said...

FilmGuy -

Thanks! It was just a student film so we had the excuse. And we had lab assistants and teachers to guide us along the way, though some were more helpful than others.

Unfortunately, this film will be remembered for something else that occurred but you'll have to wait till next week to find out. :-)

Writer X said...

Why do I get the sense that someone has a nervous breakdown in the next blog? (Seriously, I hope not!)

Love the opening quote from Pournelle. That could apply to a lot of things.

StanH said...

Well Scott it sounds like a mess. Look forward to your next installment.

Anonymous said...

Writer X -

By this time in our story, I've pretty much had a nervous breakdown already, or at least as close as you can get without calling it a "breakdown." :-)

Re: the quote - I saw that years ago on Wikipedia and never forgot it.

Anonymous said...

Stan -

Thanks. It was a mess. Sadly, the next blog chronicles our darkest hour but in the one after that (in two weeks), we're all vindicated. :-)

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