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.
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?
Okay obviously it was because I am here to tell the tale, but it wasn’t enough to keep what should’ve been a healthy adventure from becoming a nightmare.
At the start we found the first layer of winter and freezing pretty, refreshingly a tad more than the occasional kiss of snowfall, and thought the power outage was a mere blip, as had happened for a few hours or even once overnight in the past. That morning The Electric Co-op even said I was the only person to report an outage.
Though aware of a big storm coming, we did not hustle our bustle beyond setting aside several gallons of extra water and making sure we had foodstuff for all of us creatures in the event we were holed up for a bit. We’d finish our chores on the day. In our years here we have been through torrential rains, massive hails and the fringe of a tornado.
By evening we realized this was not about tea and candles and long pajamas.
Though better off than most folks out of power, our normal simple way of living (with a wood stove for heat, a gas cooker, well water and water tanks, rain barrels and an old back-up just-in-case never-tried-out generator), did not prepare us for literally inches of ice quickly coating, encasing, everything. And unrelenting cold that made one’s home feel like an unheated garage. In Canada.
On top of the uncontrollable circumstances were the controllable circumstances – as the consequences of so many choices, of incomplete projects, of every can we kicked down the road – coming back up right in our ruddy, sleet pelted faces.
While submerged in teens to single digit to no digit degree temperatures, in a place not built for extended bouts of such weather, we found ourselves spending precious hours and more precious than gold daylight into the harsh night doing tasks that should have been locked up long before. One ‘incomplete’ caused a chain of floundering events.
We’d be chuckling about how nippy a couple of those nights were IF even only ONE of the following had been done BEFORE the storm and not during.
IF the firewood was cut to fit the stove, thus already dry inside, not coated with unbreakable ice and needing to defrost in tubs and bins all over the house, the chimney top may not have frozen over leaving us with cold inefficient fires those early desperate nights.
IF the horse stall was built all the way we wouldn’t have had to coax jumpy to stampeding horses into a rigged up shed garage spot a after a tree fell on their flimsy temporary roof.
IF my car was parked in the shed garage instead of blocking it. To move it we had to brace up and cut the tree that fell on and buried my car in a mess of thick icy limbs piece by piece.
IF the generator was accessible, not blocked in by immovable equipment and flat-tired sunken in the mud, needing big farm machinery to extract it to the house. It was great until the not fully winterized diesel fuel froze, shutting us down.
He worked to move blocking fallen trees from the road in case we needed to try to 4 wheel it out of here, as well as clear our neighbors’ driveways. Some of them are elderly, some unskilled, and some selfish. All of them left.
Through this we texted and shared photos with friends and family to paint a brighter picture, thank goodness the cell phones worked! But we were, or it felt we were, literally fighting for our lives and animals and everything we have worked so hard for. A primitive lizard brain survival instinct kicked in, and it was ugly. My husband and I had a different set of priorities, each totally correct, which put us at odds against one another.
I focused on helping my husband, but mainly our home and animals, firewood and water. For a couple days we could not bust through the inches of ice to any potential water in the troughs, which meant several daily hauls of warmed water to the coop and horses.
It wasn’t about getting through a night or two. We soon realized we could be out of power for weeks (please not more!) and decisions made in those moments would effect us in that future.
He spent time each day bringing our (in the beginning) limited water to a neighbor’s accidentally abandoned donkey up the hill (she also broke his nose while trying to escape). Some of those days the 4 wheeler would freeze and he’d have a long hike up the hill and back. He also checked on a friend miles down the road, bringing appreciated supplies, and again the 4 wheeler almost shut down, frozen. Each time he left, I had to consider he might not return.
Heavy ice laden log-like branches and trees fell in every direction, near and far, crashing down for days and nights, sounding like gun shots or cannon fire or avalanches.
When that frigid darkness came crushing in on us those first few nights, no amount of candles or flashlights could dispel the stomach churning fear of more deeply understanding vulnerability, mortality, and just writing it now, and even now-now typing what I had written on paper, has it victoriously jogging a couple tight laps around my tummy.
Then it snowed several inches, actually making everything easier to maneuver, without having to struggle 10X more on the ice. The sun’s glare over-lit everything to glowing, with flakes shimmering like diamonds.
At bedtime – those nights brought no relief to our tense and aching and injured bodies, only cold dread, for we knew in a few hours we’d be doing it again, on alert, on our feet, out in the elements til or even into dark. My husband and I could not comfort one another for we, or our inner lower reptile brains, detested each other. One of those mornings in my sleep I ended up next to him for warmth, and upon waking he snarled that I had crossed enemy lines.
There’s more weirdly learned to dos and not to dos, and I hope to write about the positive gleanings at another time. But first is the need to release at least some of this, well, trauma. It’s embarrassing to in any way compare homesteading to such as our Service People go through in battle, yet there’s a shadowy hint of what in the most minor connection of ways, minor like a second cousin, through marriage even, feels like a roaring whisper of PTSD.
This was written on day 11 of no power. I type this on day 15. Who knows when I can wriggle this up online through my phone. However, we’ve figured out a system for the house basics, and are now challenged with keeping the fridge and freezer cold, for over the course of one afternoon, everything has melted into spring.
All of the animals made it (the chickens are champs), and my marriage is stronger for surviving one another, seeing the necessity in each of our efforts, and especially those of my husband who is truly a hero.
We begin the months long work of clearing downed trees and branches, to make structures safe, and he’s patching up the well rutted road with the tractor. My hands are torn up and my feet ache – despite the warm weather they still feel laced with ice. We eat very well, and as part of God’s design, with the aid of sun, the hardships begin to get a touch fuzzy. I try to release more of it here as the true reason for getting words out. If anyone is still reading this rough unedited rant I thank you for your time.
During a job interview, the Show Runner asked how being a writer helped in Script Supervising. Well one of the main ways is seeing when a script is too long. He and the other Producer tripped over each other explaining they were still trimming the scripts, wrestling with the author, etc… I wasn’t even specifically referring to their project!
However, it was true of the episodes I’d read there. Not meaning page count, but more specifically when scenes and sections do not move the story forward or provide meaningful support for any of the layers in the script. Many times I’ve thought “This fluff is n-e-v-e-r going to make it into the movie,” and have often been right. With time or budget limits tis wiser to edit on the page then in the cutting room.
Is the script more icing or more cake?
Script writing, to me, compresses a story that’s bigger than it might read on the page, in a unique format so even literary authors must learn a sort of shorthand to keep within the boundaries. Do chapters equal scenes? Well, a little yes, in separating the story into sections, but a bigger no, because the separation is dictated by locations instead of a shift of ideas.
Screenplays are like skeletons that are then carefully and intentionally dressed in layers with clues in the descriptions or dialogue, then fleshed out by Actors rounding out the characters, by how the sets look, or the costumes, how the pieces are edited together, by the use of sound and music, on and on.
They’re written as to what’s to appear on the screen, not by internal beats meandering through a character’s head or their past, at least not in the same indulgent light a novel may. Writing a screenplay can challenge one to find simple, interesting, and perhaps sneaky, ways to color in the bare spots with meaningful information.
But once you understand the limits there’s a lot of freedom within them. Did your Mama ever send you out to play with a “go in the backyard” or “stay on the block “ or “don’t ride your bike in the street” ? Play within the parameters of what will show on the screen, but play!