The Prepared One

This is the director’s director. This director knows exactly where everyone is at all times. They have met with all their key people and trust that those positions can handle their work. They know that they can delegate and whatever needs to be done will be accomplished. While they may not be completely chill, they are confident. And we all know that there is nothing better than confidence especially in a high stress environment.

The Prepared One can gracefully let the Line Producer know that they know they are going over time but they also know where they can make it up. They are dedicated to keeping the project on time and on budget. They have also made it clear how the chain of command works. They have protected themselves in a bubble of dedicated professionals but they can still make themselves available if someone is being mistreated by their higher ups. They don’t put up with hijinks or the “mean girl” attitude. They respect everyone on their set. After all, everyone’s safety is in their hands.

You will learn something everyday you work with the Prepared One. You will notice how they talk to an actor to bring out the performance of a life time. You’ll believe them when they say “One take, one shot” and they only make a single take. You’ll know that single take is simply amazing and when you take your mother to see it, you’ll beam with pride saying “I helped with that. WE did it one take.”

When the Prepared One gives you a compliment, simply say thank you. Don’t defer, don’t self deprecate. Accept it because you have earned it. If you have screwed up, the Prepared One will privately chew your ass out. Stand at parade rest, accept it, and then if you’re like me, cry in the car whether its 5 mins or 8 hours later. The Prepared One will never chew you out in front of others. They give everyone respect until you’ve shown that you aren’t worthy of respect. They believe in private discipline but public admiration.

You will learn more from them than you can from film school. If you are as lucky as I am, you even become friends with them. You break bread with them, and you talk. You will be on their short list which is always the best place to be. They inspire and I’m thankful I have one in my life.

The Chill One

The Chill Director comes in two varieties: Ones that are genuinely relaxed, and ones that are relaxed through alcohol, and/or horse tranquilizers. Needless to say, the ones that are naturally relaxed are much easier to deal with.

They will have a few meetings with key people. They will have a good idea of where they want to get by the end of the day but as for the actual map to get there… Well, they threw it out when they received their film degree. They actually know a lot about film, but they know more about how to inspire people to work. They always have the right thing to say. When an actor goes off track, The Chill Director will know exactly when to call for a line from the script supervisor. When the actor pauses greatly in order to ensure more screen time, they’ll allow it to a certain point and then have a rather frank and simple discussion where the actor knocks it off. If the actor doesn’t stop that crap, the Chill Director will make sure they have plenty B-roll so they can properly edit it.

These are the directors that can make or break an actor/actress. They speak their language and can put up with an amazing amount of bull shit. They also don’t let anyone’s bad attitude reflect upon the film. They are the real life equivalent of “Alright, alright, alright”.

The time to worry is when The Chill One loses their shit. When they do, it will be because something has gone wrong that no one can control. It can be a city bus that keeps driving by in front of a plate glass window, it will be the unexpected freak storm on a summer day. It will be something that they couldn’t possibly have imagined and they will lose it. And we aren’t talking about a few angry words: Full on stepping off set and cussing at everything in their path. Do NOT take it personally if you end up on the fuzzy end of the lollipop. The Chill One will quickly realize that they are acting irresponsibly, apologize quickly and wholeheartedly.

Now, if you find yourself working with an artificially Chill one, as soon as you see them artificializing themselves: Quit. It is directors like this that are highly irresponsible. These are the directors that make mistakes that get people killed. It may not be you, but it will be someone, someday. Remember rule number one: Safety first.

The Checker

Ahh, finally, we start to head towards the middle of the group of directors. The checker is neither good nor bad–just slow. Unbelievably slow. They check every take as soon as its done. They recheck it. And recheck. And recheck it. They ask the cinematographer to look it over. They ask the script supervisor to look at it. They ask the first, second and third ADs to look it over.

They also take multiple takes from multiple angles. They are unsure which is the best, so they get them all. Actors get annoyed, the script supervisor inevitably falls asleep while standing up, and the camera operators all look at the cinematographer with a “is this for reals?” look after scene 1A take 57.

They are usually very nice and polite. Sometimes they can be seen downing bottles of Pepto instead of anything from the craft table. Other times, they are drinking from a flask hidden in their patched elbow suit jacket which is worn with designer jeans, some obscure band name, and a baseball cap from the first film that they ever worked. Under no circumstances do you ask them to take off that cap? The brim is stained with sweat and grime and the inside looks like it survived a mudslide, fire, and tornado. It smells like it has as well.

The only problem with The Checker is that by the end of the first day, they are already behind schedule. They listen to everyone except the cinematographer who has already assured them that they got the shot in the first five take, the line producer who has to keep signaling the First Asst Director by pointing at their wrist, more forcefully with each take. The First Assistant Director can do nothing but shrug and gently tap on the director’s shoulder which is received with a wave of a hand as the director looks at another take.

The Checker is friends with everyone. They desperately do not want to disappoint the leads, the supporting or the extras. They’ll make sure everyone has screen time; including their parents who will be brought on set at some point. They know everyone’s name including the guy who drops off the mail in the office (which will not be near the set at all, but somehow they know the mailperson.

They are really nice but they should have stuck with writing. This is what they really want to do but their mother told them, “If you’re going to go to film school instead of medical school, be a director. Be a director of something big so I can point at Mrs. Schwartz and say that you made the Madame Bovary film” Their Madame Bovary film never gets made because they had to make a film about cats, with cats, and kids.

Director: The Dreamer

This director will have zero idea of what to do. They know they want to make a movie, they know they cannot do it alone. They also know that they can’t pay a living wage so they just ask for an endless run of meetings. They want to talk about a script that may or may not be written. If it is written, it will be impossible to produced and a seasoned unit production manager will try to convince them that it cannot be physically done for pizza and maybe some soda (if you’re lucky, there will caffeine of some sort).

Every meeting will be at a restaurant of mediocre quality and producers, assistant directors, etc, whoever is unlucky enough to go will be paying their own way. This is considered a faux pas in the film industry. If its your project, you pay for the food for meetings.

The idea for the script will be some obscure idea and usually conspiracy theorist. They will actually believe this hokum and attempt to sway you into believing this poppycock. They will ask you odd questions and question whether YOU have an experience. In my experiences, the dreamer is usually a male with a very misogynistic, casting couch sort of attitude. They will ask a man at the table if the woman speaking is actually factually correct. The next time the woman speaks, the cycle will repeat. Yet even after the meeting is over, he will call the female producer again and again to ensure that he heard everything right.

He will usually boast about how much funding is available. It will sound like a reasonable number for an indie production but then after a meeting or two, he will start asking you to do favors in order to raise more money. It is quickly reasoned that he doesn’t actually have the money but they REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY want to make this movie. Its so important. It will be life changing. PLEASE!!!!!

RUN!

That is the only advice I have for you. Don’t take that meeting, even if your mother asks you to go; even if your mother is hosting the meeting.

Director: The Yeller

This director has only two volume levels: Screaming and/or yelling or absolutely silent. If things don’t go their way, out comes the yelling. And not just a simple swear word, or a generic yelling. They go for the jugular and everything you’ve done wrong since missing the word success in the third grade spelling bee. Otherwise, they depend on everyone else doing the job s/he should be doing.

Much like the Micromanager, this particular director suffers from an overinflated sense of self. They also truly believe that they are not actually yelling or being mean. They think they can talk to people like that and it will be okay outside of the set. They do not realize that people can actually be insulted by this treatment. They are also film school drop outs because the school won’t put up with this attitude and its taken as a personal affront which it should be.

They usually end up working with new people for every project because crew simply do not want to put up with the abuse. Very few people can actually separate the yeller’s attitude on set from his attitude outside of set. Usually only family are willing to put up with it, but occasionally someone else can for an extended period of time. These people are what as known as gluttons for punishment.

Yellers do not change. They change the people they work with. Much like working fast food as a teenager, this is just a coming of age ritual that all set people must participate in. It teaches one to thicken skin and learn how to imagine killing someone slowly by drowning them in a river with rocks tied to all limbs.

One experience is enough to show you again, what not to do.

 

 

The Micromanager

The Micromanager director cannot be talked to. They have everything in line even if there is barely a script. They know exactly what is needed, and they will be the ones to provide it. They have an award winning script (in their head), and they already know who is going to act in it, how its going to look, how its going to sound, how its going to be edited because they are going to do all those jobs.

They are usually film school drop outs and they change their “I couldn’t do this without you” on a regular basis. They act nice and then they toss competent people away when those people start learning the trade. They thrive on yes men even if those yes men have no idea what they are saying yes to.

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The Good, The Bad, and the Worst: Directors

The reason that directors are so often interviewed or seen as the God of the project is because they are the top guy or gal. They make the ultimate decisions on where the project is heading, who is working on it, and everything you see and hear on whatever screen you are watching it. This week, I’m dedicating to talking about directors because they deserve the accolades or criticism that they get. They have to trust the people working for them but in the case of most indie films, they don’t.

  1. The Micromanager:  When the credits roll, they wrote it, they directed it. They were the cinematographer, and the editor. They also frequently play parts in their films. They love to see their name spilling across the screen.
  2. The Yeller:  He has two volumes: Screaming or silence. He is never happy.
  3. The Dreamer:  Always has a script, always wants to have a meeting, has no idea what he is doing.
  4. The Checker: He has to review every single frame. Every. Single. Frame. Spends more time looking at the camera than talking to the actors.
  5. The Chill One:  Never gets ruffled. Never sweats. Always looks like everything is going perfectly even when the lead actress is crying in a bathroom and refuses to come out.
  6. The Prepared One: Has had several meetings with key positions. Has spoken with the cinematographer, first AD, and UPM/Line Producer with an almost minute to minute schedule. Speaks to the actors like they are people, as well as the lowest craft person. If found on indie set, stay with them even if they can’t pay you. They will be able to someday.

Yes, it is difficult to be the top dog. At the same time, you have to be able to carry your end of the log if you want to be a lumberjack.

 

Overview of people in the industry

A brief little overview of those who work in the moving picture industry.

The director aka the head honcho on set. They are the God of the movie. Their whims shall be followed to the letter. Sometimes this works out for the best and sometimes it leads to a napoleon complex.

The cinematographer aka s/he who decides what the movie actually looks like. They run the lighting and camera departments. They are usually concerned with making sure that every frame is a painting.

Editor: Takes every frame and attempts to make a story out of it. They see the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Compositors/Colorists: In the age of digital information, they turn day into night. They create creatures that would have taken weeks before. They blow shit up without harming a single soul. They can also take four people and turn them into a raucous crowd.

Producers: No one but producers actually know what they do. Some raise money for films, some are translators between creatives and business people. Some keep the business people away when needed. Some are just full of attitude and think that no film can be done without them.  Some do the dirty jobs and as I said about the indie world: producers do everything from wiping asses, kissing up, and whatever needs to be done even if it isn’t their specialty.  Associate producers are first cousins of the director and are probably owed a favor from the director for beating up the playground bully in fourth grade.

Production Assistants: Helpers who may or may not be film school drop outs or a second cousin of the producer whose mom begged hard enough for the job.

There are three rules of filmmaking.

Leave your ego at the door, safety first, and only worry about what is inside the box.

Too bad the indie rules say to throw those out and do the opposite.

 

 

Hello from Not Hollywood

Everyone thinks that the film industry is this glam life. I’m here to be honest with you. It is anything but beautiful and glamourous. 20 hour days followed by 4 hours of prep for the next shoot just a few hours later, not having anything to eat on set (No Craft Table for you industry types), bitchy bitchy bitchy people who think you are either the greatest thing since sliced bread one minute or the devil incarnate the next.

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