DEAR MR. BOGDANOVICH

Gear Head Peter

Dear Mr. Bogdanovich,

Over 20 years ago you spoke at the SXSW festival in a smallish room that held 100 or so people. Though familiar with a couple of your more comic films from my childhood television viewing, I was not familiar with you. Upon seeing your initially dour expression and that neckerchief, well, who knew what to expect.

But then you painted the room with fascinating stories and loving observations of films and filmmakers of yore. Though just a festival volunteer, I was placed in the front row with Albert Maysles, who gently punched me in the arm with unfettered laughter during your talk.  He punched me a lot.

Since then I’ve caught up with most of your films, and learned more of your personal story with the theater, acting, critiquing, as well as the triumphs and heartbreaking trials both in film production and in romance.

As innovative and enjoyable as most everyone’s favorites Paper Moon and The Last Picture Show were, it is your early film Targets that brought me to tears.  It wasn’t over the ending of the Old Horror type genre, nor the beginning of the new horror of real life violence, shootings and mass murder portrayed with the sniper in your film.

While tension builds towards the climax, car loads of innocent families and couples pull up to the drive-in for a night at the movies, unaware that a shooter lurks behind the giant screen, waiting for the right moment to unleash further bloodshed and bullets.

While waiting there is a quick camera shot of one of the sedans, of a little boy in the backseat, bouncing up and down, anxious and excited for the movie to begin.

And I wept. Not from concern of this little character getting caught up in the coming slaughter.  I wept because that is how I used to feel about going to the movies. And that delicious, sweet anticipation tingling through my body dried up after too many years of disappointment and downright disgust at what more often than not junk was being presented to us from the movie making leaders. Profit at the expense of story, in the mainstream. 

My final fizzle was in 1999 with Star Wars IV or Star Wars I or whatever it’s called.  I was actually excited to reconnect and further explore that world that had enchanted and moved me so as a child. After the heart pounding thrill of that famous opening theme music blasting through the darkness, and the familiar prelogue scrolling away into the sky, the movie began. And I did not know what I was looking at, with so much modern CG, using animated effects instead of a compelling story to try to whisk me away. Then Jar Jar Binx came out and I knew I, and millions of others, had been had. All the way to the bank.

This wariness of commercial films is not a rejection of all. I have still gone out of my way to see intriguing work, and have a few contemporary directors that I keep up with. My love and appreciation of film is not less, just my expectation of what it could be/ has become.

I believe you felt the same way, and that this dejection from the general lowering of the bar actually inspired you to keep telling those personal stories of the great films and filmmakers, to spread a little of that fire, that creative passion that used to light up the screen, reminding us of the rich cinematic history and lineage waiting to be rediscovered and explored.

Thank you! Bon voyage,

loveb

WANTED: SCRIPT SUPERVISOR ASSISTANCE

Once In A While

The very first time back on set was also the very first time wearing a mask – hours and hours in the humid Texas swelter.  Add a Bizarro world hotel room of anti-slumber (next to a highway literally being demolished), and I was soon sleep deprived, heat exhausted and oxygen starved, with long stretches of heart palpitations.

By only Day 3, I barely made it to our distant location, a rough ranch. If staying on the road was a challenge by day, how would navigating the dark hills by night be any safer?

Extra coffee was not going to cut it. Despite multiple other situations of near incapacity, in 2 decades of movie making I have never called in to the office or opted out. Until now.  Sitting in crew parking, “I don’t think I can make it through the day.”

Covid pre-testing protocol means it’s near impossible to be replaced.  What could Production do?  They sent over TM, an AD, to quickly and crudely train so I could go home. OMG.

Well, an AD knows filming protocol, and the basic slating system.  An AD knows the Actors and the story.  An AD has their own long term career goal which doesn’t threaten the Script Supervisor position.  TM was glad to get to be in the middle of filming instead of at the periphery or at base camp.  

This was actually a good choice.

We started slow, with noting takes and lining pages, but it still seemed like too much. So I asked TM to stay with rehearsals down in the ravine, to follow the dialogue and learn what the shots were going to be.  Then as we rolled he followed lines while I took notes.  It was a relief to not tightly track dialogue and call out lines.

I kept still, in shade, hydrating. With lots of breathing breaks.  And started feeling a little better. They put me a trailer for lunchtime, to cool off and rest.  With TM’s help and a bit of care from my film fam (they know I am not normally needy), I made it to wrap. And Universe presented a room at a friend’s near by, saving a lengthy bumpy dark drive.

Long story short – having an extra person to take on just a couple of the duties made the biggest difference.  These scenes had several characters, stunts, 3 cameras panning all over.  Wide Shot, Medium Shot and Close Up of the same Character is a timesaver.  And doing Over The Shoulders at the same time saves all that matching. But 3 cameras doing their own thing is 3 times the work. Which is now rather standard.

Sometimes  – if we are pooped, if the dialogue’s pages long, if they add additional additional cameras , it can be a little much, tracking all and supporting the Actors, the Director, the Editor.  As THE Script Supervisor there is no one to support us, not even for a bathroom break.

On a few occasions I have been called in to cover the extra cameras for big filming days- like football games etc… But I have also tracked 5-6 cameras simaltaneously, not sprinkled throughout the day, solo, several times on two nightmare shows, and was too beaten down to pipe up when I realized what was happening.

So as our job has taken on more  – more cameras, less cutting during multiple takes, capturing screen shots and video, not alternating Script Sups for episodic (which means breakdowns and prep on the weekends), sending batches of notes ASAP at lunch and wrap to a growing list of people, and now with the CV excuse for more walking lunches where you don’t get that chance to catch up, I feel we trade quite a bit of the actual craft of Script Supervising for the data entry chase.

Is there a win/win way to have, on big days, some assistance and flexibility to help make even better work, that Production sees as beneficial? Or can nothing change the more work less pay steamroller crusade for content quantity as king?

COVID PROTOCOL ON SET, AND GETTING THIS BLOG POST OVER WITH

Help I’m stepping into the TWILIGHT ZONE

Hello.  How are you?

Pardon I’ve not been blogging. All the writing was more film history, or Covid-in-film venting. Frustration.  Frankly, not uplifting.  But the show (and the blog) must go on!  Projects started and stopped, based on mandates and such, but since Texas has been “open” productions been consistent for months. 

After a year on standby, avoiding some of the learning hiccups of the evolving CV protocol, I jumped on a TV show this spring.  Once an online CV safety tutorial and a clear pre-start test were completed, I was back on set.

The actual work is the same, but the routine is different, with daily health questionnaire, temperature check and tri-weekly CV tests before starting our actual day. This does cut into our unpaid time. Crew positions are categorized into zones (closer to actors, more testing, more access etc…), which early on caused division and a new layer of elitism in our film family. “I’m in zone A, could you step back a few feet from me while trying to do your job?  And use your allotted toilet, lunch line and drinking fountain?”

Wearing masks all day (in the Texas heat and humidity), limited capacity in the socially distanced transportation vans, and distancing at catering, with spaced out lunch seating looking like a ping-pong tournament, slows everything down (we even had some walking lunches to save time). No-touch craft service, not even allowed to grab water out of the cooler, slows everything down.

And all of this protective separation zaps those pleasant impromptu moments of the past in talking with someone you happen to be next to for a van ride, or at a lunch table, or in the craft trailer.  This Script Sup can get a little lonely. This Script Sup enjoys hugs hello, and likes to catch up with fellow crew without meters between mask muffling. Those were the days. Bah. 

On top of the masks, some Directors and Ads wear a “mandated” face shield when approaching actors, but some do not.  Interesting.  Paper is limited as a potential contaminant, so no paychecks brought to set, but sides (script pages) are still passed out. Hmmm. And the ‘convenient’ paperless camera reports transform a quick handful of circling good takes on set into an extra 15 minutes at wrap to go through separate excel sheets for 3 cameras, not to mention a Camera AC having to type in info for every take. 

Surely each department has undergone some tweaks.  May swabbing, masks and these limitations soon be a thing of the past! What I DO hope remains forever and ever is the cleaning – the hand washing stations, the sterilized bathrooms and doorknobs! And the shorter (normal length) days to accommodate the extra clean up.  Some productions are aiming for mostly 12-hour days and under. Some kinda blew past that early on.

Overall, thankful Texas film is back up and running. Now, to make better stories!

CONTINUITY CHILDSPLAY

I got chillllls, but I dont got trees, the background guys gee-gawking with their arms up and the same hue of seafoam green

My parents didn’t take us to the movies as much as I would’ve liked, but a couple of those early screenings have stuck with me as filmic comfort food.  After the daily stress of the world on hold and nightly chores on the farm, 2020 has been the year of classic cinema. Not meaning highbrow, just old!

Grease is the word! Or it was last night, streaming into our living room.  Way back, when movies stayed in the theater for months, I did get to see this film projected a couple times.  That year a friend and I danced and sang our little girl heads off to the soundtrack. And when it later came out on VHS, and when my family eventually (better late than never) got a VCR, teenage me maybe might’ve rented it once, or twice, until someone down the road gave me a tape of my own. Never got around to a DVD copy.

So my hub and I watched, in HD on a decent sized flat screen. And during the climactic final duet, some childhood cinematic memory urged, “was I right?” There was something that I remembered feeling off about that part of the song where Sandy and Danny move their way up the zig zaggy stairs of a carnival attraction.

And there it was. The close ups didn’t match in continuity, the backdrop didn’t quite match, and were (now quite obviously) filmed on stage. I felt that as a kid!  But I’ve seen this on tape several times since then, and thus knew this already no? No. Poking around versions of the scene on Youtube it became clear. After seeing it in the 1970’s theater, the other viewings were on a squarish TV, the image severely cropped (unless there’s a letterbox version out there), with the softer focus and drained color saturation of a film on tape.

Good grief, who knew then that seemingly useless observational sense would apply to decades of work as a script supervisor!

As an aside, in mentioning this to a friend, she brings up the cringiness of some of the sexist dialogue and lyrics in my beloved Grease. Well, I look at it as a film about the 50’s made during the 70’s. Context people! BTW what kind of example are today’s big name musical artists promoting? I will take my hand jive and pussy wagon all day long over a degraded twerking Cardi B or Miley Cyrus.

the wideshot

LISTENING TO YOUR GUT, EVEN IN FILMMAKING

Guest Blog by the Fabulous Michelle Cohen

enlightened gut

After years of questioning my instincts, fighting them and not following through (usually to my own detriment), I have finally been handed enough proof in my life that it is usually wiser to trust those feelings.

Here is a tale of what happened when, despite my doubts and fears, I listened to my inner guidance and found myself swiftly whisked across the country to LA – with meetings at CAA, UTA and ICM for my movie…

Emails kept popping up about a film networking opportunity in downtown NYC. Being from the theater, new to film, and not a comfortable partygoer…I promptly deleted all three of them. When the 4th message came in, I finally realized I HAD to go.  By then I had at least learned how messages are not that insistent unless there is a reason. So I replied with a sigh, ‘yes.’

But a few days before the event, I came down with such a horrible cold that during a coughing fit I burst a blood vessel in my eye. Aye yai yai! Now I sounded and looked like Quasimodo and figured, cool, don’t have to go.

And what came was such a loud, resounding, YOU ARE GOING NO MATTER WHAT message in my gut, I became more nervous to ignore the advice than to attend the event. So, resisting the temptation to don a pirate’s eye patch, I made my way to the party and hoped for the best.

In moments I was approached by a woman who introduced herself as “Tequila” (not kidding). She was so taken by me that, without my knowledge, she went around the room telling everyone about my screenplay. I found myself at the center of attention without having to say or do anything. Without even moving –  everybody came to me. Including the “suit” which is really the one person you want seeking you out. 

Not only was he intrigued, he asked if I was going to AFM in Santa Monica. Again, theatre person, no clue what he was talking about. He explained that it’s a huge film market event. Next week. Next week? I needed to get on a plane and be there and he would personally introduce me to everyone I needed to get my movie made.

What?!!

Back home I checked him out and sure enough he was legit. Wise advisors in my circle said that it was nearly impossible to get into this organization without that kind of support so I should absolutely find my way there.

No, impossible for this to happen! But my instincts continued to reassure me that this could be easy if I let it be. Sure enough, my parents had frequent flyer miles they kindly shared, and my sister and brother-in-law, living in LA at the time, offered to put me up.  In spite of my apprehension, next thing I knew I was in Santa Monica. The “suit” was true to his word, already waiting with people prepped to meet me. It was a whirlwind experience but within the week I had lined up a distributer, producer and investor interest!!!!! 

And within the month, I found myself in the offices of the highest agencies in Hollywood, each of them trying to get me to choose to work with them!

Now I am very aware, this is not the norm. But what if we truly listen to our instincts even when they seem highly improbable, could it be more commonplace? For while I certainly resisted from my personal comfort level, when I followed through – it brought me to an inconceivable amount of opportunities.

Michelle Cohen is a producer, writer, director, performer & intuitive coach moving seamlessly from the entertainment industry to the written word to the invisible world. Her many talents have been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, MTV, NPR’s “All Things Considered”, and in People Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, and The Washington Post.

For more info visit her website: www.michellecohen1.com

A WRINKLE IN TIME PERCEPTION

Lockdown to Slowdown

Woke up…no alarm…sunrise…. Did not know what day of the week it was.

This sentiment pops up on the Internet, seeing others comment that in lockdown they are losing their bearings. Basic patterns disrupted, unsure as to when things will get back to normal, a certain monotony of days blending together…

This is not uncharted territory for folks in the film industry! After completing a job you might just float around til the next one. But when in production, crew becomes initiated in to a sort of club where the framework of time is lifted, or shifted, in a ‘through sleet or snow or any hour’ kind of way. If not clocking in at a sound stage, and instead doing location work, more than likely schedules will shift, with no natural day of the week or weekend.  Circadian rhythms be damned, if we need to shoot all overnights, we shoot all overnights. If we need to shoot 6 days a week, well by golly that’s what we do.  If we need to film Wednesday through Sunday, then that’s that. And say goodbye to the 40-hour work week.

Friends and family don’t automatically understand that you can’t meet up after work or for Sunday dinner, or that you can’t plan too far ahead without the caveat “if I’m not working.”  They may be shocked that you miss a little calendar marker, or that your bills might be late, or that you aren’t caught up on the news.  

They may not understand how with odd and shifting work schedules you can get turned around as to the day of the week, and even if you are off on Sunday you must do laundry, wash dishes, look at mail and paperwork and try to sleep for that 6 a.m. start time on the next day.

They may not understand… until now. At least some folks. Depending on the level of lockdown, some people have been home in a loose loop. Saturday night may not differ much from Monday morning.  Home bored, or home busy – cleaning out closets and cabinets, learning an instrument or writing that novel. Working from home in half the time. But missing haircuts, no concerts or shows, nor eating out, no conference room meetings. Sweatpants, and keeping those brassieres in the drawers (this, actually, is pretty good) – all are big adjustments to a whole world’s habits and rituals and normal operations. 

For those on the sidelines that didn’t experience any sickness, maybe this was a strange gift, a moment to slow down, catch up, to look inward, to intuitively appreciate simple moments and small things.

It’s almost summer. Businesses begin to open. Production is officially allowed to shake the dust off its shoulders in Texas, but projects have yet to ride over the horizon.  People have had to live in the slipperiness of an expanded view of time, and maybe that has changed us in a good way.

MEDIA CIRCUS, FILM INDUSTRY?

balancing act

The tension of not knowing what the film production future will look like, as in jobs, as in when, as in being decades invested in such a niche industry, and the thought of trying to make a living at something available and new, deep into middle age, finally got to us. Fighting over planting the green beans. At one point the words “breaking up” were uttered, and not by me.

That night I did not want to hear another word, no syllable nor peep, and stumbled upon a silent film from 1928, Charlie Chaplin’s The Circus. CC can be a little syrupy for my taste, but after reading that he had pulled this movie out of circulation for nearly 50 years, rereleasing it in 1969 (to an audience both sophisticated enough to appreciate a master in film history, and perhaps exhausted from the hippy beads of culture shock confusion mixed with a deepening march of war), I hit play.

In an exaggerated way the Tramp lives out our primal fears – homeless, jobless, alone and hungry. But he holds his head up. Given a chance to work at the circus, stumbling through various jobs and actual circus acts, one could cynically say he is taken advantage of, used, and placed in danger.

But it doesn’t actually feel this way to watch. Despite his misadventures the Tramp can love, share, protect and sacrifice, maintain more dignity and grace than those who have a flush wallet and a full belly. And now, here on Earth 2020, our circumstance may change but it needn’t change who we are. It can’t.  What makes us “us” are internal qualities, not possessions or positions, no matter how entrenched we seem to have become with such. In trying times we see what we are made of.

By the film’s climax my husband and I were laughing out loud, tears running down my face (and I am a hard nut to crack), as the Tramp fills in for the Tightrope walker. I wont describe it for hoping someone here will actually watch the WHOLE film, but lets say its an allegory for how some of us may feel a this time – safety line snapped, a monkey on our back, being out of balance, caught with our pants down.  Tears of laughter are better than tears of fears.

JERRY LEWIS, FRIEND OF THE SCRIPT SUPERVISOR

Virus and a Video

The Genius Jerry Lewis – with video camera mounted to film camera

Well our country and world is kind of …closed. Some people have been dealt tragedy, many mere inconvenience, and a few, with good cheer and stocked pantry, hold a winning hand of rest and reconnection with family and home.

Here on the farm it’s just another day after day of spring chore after chore. When it’s finally time for a little lie down before bed, too many news programs bring the fear. So I prefer the comedies of the 60’s, which as a child of the 70’s were like comfort food, safe cozy movies playing on TV in the afternoons or on the weekends.

We started with some Jerry Lewis. The French thought him a genius. And they were right! Not his spasmodic shrilling that first brought him notice, but with Directing and the construction of story – composition, timing, editing, visual transitions, the use of sound, expanding simple moments. Some of his films are downright experimental for their time (like The Bellboy – who else could make a successful modern Hollywood film like that, where the star is silent and there is no story just a bunch of rather unrelated vignettes?!).

Beyond what’s on the screen, Jerry Lewis changed film production technology for the rest of us in advancing the cause of Video Assist.

What?

To be able to truly direct (himself) and best assess his performance as Actor, he worked with the Studio and Sony to develop what we now know as video assist, or having monitors and playback.

Basically at a time when movies were shot literally on rolls of film, he pushed to have a video system capture what the film camera was seeing (by mounting a video camera onto the film camera!). Thus he could adjust his performance take by take, instead of waiting for the film to be developed and a print to come back from the lab, only then deciding whether to reshoot the performance, or live with what he got. All time and money.

The Script Supervisor of yore would often watch takes from as close to the (ONE) camera as possible. Think of Pat Miller, with her binder, on a ladder behind the camera! Now with a faster pace, multiple cameras, location shooting, hand held etc…the video monitor is an essential tool in doing our job.

And this “LAAAAAAAAAAAADY” says thank you Mr. Lewis.

IT TAKES A VILLAGE

Filming on Location

spot the board of boards ( for the production initiated only)

I spent last week in the big city working on a commercial and crossed another production while driving to my set one day.  It’s kind of funny to see the (literal) signs of filming on location that thousands of people are oblivious to.

First there’s the yellow placard at the street corner, rather inconspicuous, telling those in the know to turn “here.” This will never display the show’s title, but perhaps the initials or the production company’s name.

Sometimes everything’s clustered together and sometimes parking, basecamp, work trucks and location are spread apart. In some ordered combination are the white box trucks, lined up just so, and trailers, with a parade of passenger vans making the rounds. A bank of crew cars may display matching parking passes tucked on their dashboards.

Closer to set may be large equipment as lifts or cranes, as well as an array of pop up tents and carts, metal stands and big black or white sheets. Lights and cameras are the big giveaway.  Some passers by may be accustomed to the scene, “ oh another movie,”  some intrigued, “ oo what are you filming?” and some annoyed, “BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!” 

This can be home for weeks or just a couple of hours, when the AD proclaims, “We’re done here, company moves!”

And in a slow motion blink of an eye, hundreds of people, gear, equipment, vehicles and all – POOF – are gone, with the cinematic caravan on to the next location.

Is there a movie or TV show filming near you?

FAKING IT IN FILM

The Magnificent Cheat of the Ill Prepared Actress

Typically a cheat in production world is visual, like faking one location for another, playing with an Actor’s eyeline, or shooting day for night. My favorite cheat happened in secret, long ago.

A very established Actress came to set but forgot her glasses. “I’m blind as a bat.” She and I spent quite some time going over her scene – 2 pages of a phone call, with her character doing most of the talking.  Her version of the lines weren’t close enough. These Writers placed clues (not shared with us) into their scripts and wanted the dialogue delivered as written.

Picture’s up. Props handed me a cell phone so I could read the other side of the conversation to our Actress through the phone instead of screaming them out. I was moved away from set for sound. Our Actress dashed over and asked me to read HER lines instead of the ones she was supposed to respond to.  A couple takes in a couple sizes and we were done. High five! 

This was the only time she wasn’t right on the nose that I saw, and it was kind of fun to sneak through the scene this way. Now a friend comes home from working on a show out of town with a big name Actor, who wore a hidden earpiece and brought his own guy dedicated to feeding him his lines. Is that a cheat? It kinda sounds more like a lie.