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

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!

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.

TIME CAPSULE Film Can

message from the past

Hubby working out of town means a chance for some deep cleaning and organizing. While slowly sorting through random stacks and stashes in the office, I came across one of my old films. Like actual film, like in a can.

Finding this is jarring for several reasons. Bound in bubble wrap with a hand written note from a dear friend recently deceased, I haven’t seen this projected for decades. And honestly…I don’t quite remember which film this is, long ago passed to Dave in NOLA to view at a movie theater he managed part time, entrusted to him as a bond between friends moving in different directions.

During that time, at then slightly indulgent, brain expanding, childhood-dream fulfilling graduate school, we scholars watched hundreds of films a week.  Some were shockingly short, some were feature length and beyond, way beyond.

To clarify, this was not like flipping through the internet, or watching on a screen the size of a credit card while multitasking.  This was intentionally sitting in the dark, quietly, viewing each work with respect – extracting anything we could of a message, a tone, an idea, or observing what was stirred up inside of self.

By no means were all the films good. But the process and approach was, creating an environment that encouraged one to stretch and play and strive to express something as only YOU could, on film.

Even though this was not as spontaneous or easy as pulling a phone out to use for camera, editor, screen and distribution method, between friends it wasn’t uncommon to pop off 100 feet, experimenting with lenses or lighting, getting lost in a wee world created in that tiny eyepiece.  For fun. And later, screening those few minutes together was in a sense a celebration.

So many of those faces and places are gone –  passed on or moving in a lifetime that no longer exists for me other than in memory and celluloid.  Almost within the same moment that I reach to tear off the plastic wrapping, I set this film can down, content with a small mystery of my own making.

EDITING : Get It Together

misty water colored memories of the way we were

And now a positive note on technology…

We were cutting a reel for a friend and needed a slug of black between shots. BASIC. I don’t edit every day and forgot some of the shortcuts, not to mention what’s in the hundred drop down menu options and tweaks.

Oh where oh where is a simple slug of black? Help was no help. It could not be found by poking around the program. After scanning through a couple articles and a tutorial it was revealed to be “black video.” What should’ve taken 2 seconds took 20 momentum-breaking minutes!

I grumble, then must remember this is a slight inconvenience. Let’s saunter down memory lane. Cutting a film used to literally be cutting the film – first a work print – like practice – then cutting up the negative (no going back here) to match it – the commitment. Negative cutting, or conforming, is a whole nother specialized process.

Editing was on a flatbed, a big mechanical desk with ‘monitors’ that projected the film frames (like microfishe), with speakers playing the sound from the magnetic audio tape. Motors kept picture and sound tracks in synch as they ran reel to reel, lying flat on platters – think of a DJ with 6 to 8 turntables.

BTW using a fantasy name generator, my DJ names are:

wiggy wiggy wiggy

There were maybe 3 buttons, and a lever for playback. Cut and tape with a splicer. Any effects like fades and dissolves were imagined, and notated on the actual film to mark where to add the effects into the negative cut.  You didn’t see your Fade Up until the cut negative was processed at the lab!

Twas a rare luxury for Independents to cut the negative, make a final print, then recut the negative again. All time and money, Baby, so editing decisions were perhaps taken more seriously back then than today. And perhaps because of the abundance of digital footage and choices for todays Editors, the wise ones utilize the blessing of the Script Supervisor’s notes more than ever, finding it faster to scan through a few pages of detailed notes than a few hours of shots. Everyday.

But I digress.

There was an awkward technology gap for a while. Flatbeds were phased out as film was lumpily forging its digital path, different from typical video. “Ooo now’s my chance,” thought this Silly Rabbit, and heard of a rumored unit for sale in town.

I contacted Steve – Hoop Dreams – James, who decided he was too sentimentally attached to his Steenbeck, but graciously invited me to HQ to edit my short film on it.  He brought me to the flatbed’s dedicated room. It was covered in potted plants! Did I dream this part? We moved the greenery and removed the fitted plastic cover. I began to edit.

And within an hour it froze up. Steve couldn’t figure out why, and to fix it he’d have to wait for the one guy in the country, James Bond, I kid you not, to make his annual repair rounds to the Midwest.

I then moved away to a town which decades ago declared “film is dead.” And did not finish that short. Woe? No! For it caused me to look at writing more seriously, and stretch from experimental short films to feature length screenplays.

And now technology has become accessible, so that we can shoot and edit in the same day, have several projects in the works at once, can store hundreds of hours of footage, play forever with effects, correct many sound and video issues, pull still shots instantly, and let others around the globe view our progress, all with a few keystrokes. On my teeny laptop, sitting on an end table.

There are still final final steps for “prints” like Blu Ray or DCP, but a whole world has opened up literally at the touch of a few buttons.

Use your power for good, technology! And you dear reader? What’s your Dj name?

https://www.fantasynamegenerators.com/dj-names.php

FUTURE/NO FUTURE – A General Rant

How Technology Effects Script Supervising

Bloody Hell Photo by Jeff Peterson

A hammer can be used to build or to destroy; it’s in the application. Technology is a tool. 

The on set kit bag for the Script Supervisor of yore consisted simply of a stopwatch, pencil, perhaps a colored pencil or pen, and a ruler, for notating on a paper script. The notes were quite important, as was being present on set for corrections, suggestions, and touches to flesh out the story, working shoulder to shoulder with Directors, Actors and Crew. Much information was stored in the Script Supervisor’s head, as memory for matching, or formulas to assess if enough film was in the camera for another take. Because every frame of actual film costs money to print, care was put into every shot.

With Polaroid cameras, continuity pictures became part of the toolset as a visual double-check of wardrobe, hair/ make up, and settings. That shifted to digital still cameras and thus added the digital photo printer to our gear (and added the extra time to print pictures out!).  Eventually that drifted into the digital cameras being replaced by phones, and continuity pictures often just taken off the monitor.

As film systems became more digitized so did the Script Supervising workflow, using special software and apps with electronic scripts and forms on our laptops and tablets. Now the formats can be more homogenized (ScriptE or Skarrat anyone?), perhaps more convenient for some who want those notes before the word “wrap” is completely uttered.  Even though they may not look at them once the notes are loaded into the editing system. And don’t forget the charging cables and back up batteries, and stands and tables for the machines.

This kit bag is getting heavy!

But external pop-off screen grabs are passé, with converters and down loaders the actual camera footage can be streamed to the Script Sup’s electronic device, and direct screen shots taken from there, to be folded into the script notes. So Script Sup doesn’t even have to sit by the monitors. Now we can capture whole takes, free flowing series of takes that go on and on to replay for the Director to decide what he wanted to match to.  And all the dailies can be down loaded too. The expectation, or pressure, to use this ability, along with the blurring of DITs obligations to pull up takes, despite Union rules, make the original Video Assist job passé as well.

Wait what’s happening here?  More and different work with the technology, making this feel like a chase rather than a craft.

By now there are 2 to 3 cameras minimum filming simultaneously, perhaps a GoPro or 2 tucked in somewhere for a specific “cool” shot. Oh no! What if the boom dipped into frame, or a camera panned off set into a light, or that prop didn’t land quite where we wanted it too! Don’t reset, just fix it in Post.

And while Post is at it, make that 70 year old Actor look young for a flashback, even if she is now deceased. And with digital mapping who really needs the Actor anyway, and the animated films are no longer cartoons but strive to become photorealistic, so that someday there will be no need for a “set” and no need for on set crew any longer.  Progress. 

Progress?

Rant complete, thank you.