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Student Film, part two

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  • Student Film, part two

    Before I go on. You will notice that my stories are very egocentric. That is deliberate, for the most part, I try to stay away from talking about actors and their motives or who they are and how they act away from work. I only know what my experiences and motives were.

    So, as I was saying, it turns out that there are 7,400,000,000 people in the world and 7,399,999, 835 of them have less money than the Director. Of course on the other hand 164 of them have more. So, there you go. What does a guy like this drive? A 6-year-old Volvo. What does a guy like this wear? V neck Tee shirts and croc shoes. How does a guy like this act? He always holds doors open for you, he listens intently to whatever you are saying to him without interruption, he owns charter schools in the poorest neighborhoods in America and charges the barest minimum to attend, one minute you can be walking along with him only to discover that he has disappeared and is now sitting with some homeless person trying to see if there is any way he help them sort out their lives. So, just like people think rich people act. Selfless, kind, smart, fun to be around.

    Germaine to HTguide he loves music. And can hold a conversation with the most knowledgeable person about any genre of music. Same with philosophy but, he never speaks down at you he always keeps the conversation right at your level where you are comfortable. Of the many things he owns one of them is Vee-Jay Records. This label first brought the Beatles to America and use to exclusively own their rights. I got very excited when he told me this because I like many of the R&B and Blues Musicians that recorded on Vee-Jay. I really came alive when he told me that his record collection was 20,000 strong!!! Now, I don’t know about you but first thing that came to my mind is “What turntable do you own and can I come over to your house to have a listen?” “Well,” he said, “Actually I don’t have a turntable at the moment. Mine broke and my wife won’t let me spend the money to buy a new one.” There you go, even the boss has a boss.

    Back to making the student film. It has been a while so my memory has failed me as to how long we had to prep and scout. What I do remember was I would sit in the nice office they gave me pretty much just hanging out and wondering when someone was going to tell me that I was off the payroll until we got closer to filming. That is normal. Never happened. Weeks went by. At one point the cameraman and I flew to Hungary so that he could attend a ceremony at their equivalent of the White House. Some kind of medal that I guess was like becoming a knight if you were British. And also a ceremony at this beautiful old movie theater that they were renaming after him. Me, I got the Tee shirt. All the time we were still getting paid to prep the movie.

    Finally the casting was finished and we began the normal shooting of tests. For those not familiar you shoot the various actors with different make-ups and hairstyles. Wardrobe fits them with possible costumes and you film that to see how the material looks on film, etc. But, more importantly for myself and the cameraman, it is our chance to test our ideas for looks and to see what odd facial problems we are going to encounter with the actors and especially the actresses. I don’t care if they are as ugly as Barbra Streisand or Shirley MacLaine you had better have a way to make them look beautiful. Anyways, we decided we wanted to completely go against what has become modern film cinematography and reach back to the days of hard lighting. Not the natural soft look that everybody else was doing. So, we had construction throw together a 3-wall set, had the set decorators put in some furniture and then started playing around with lighting techniques. With film you never know what you have until it has gone back to the lab and then is shipped back to you to project. I don’t care how experienced you are there is anticipation while waiting the couple of days to see how it all turned out.

    A couple of days after our first experiments I go walking by the Directors office and he looks up and calls me in. “Bob, look at this. Look what you have done.” He is practically screaming while holding up an 8x10 film grab. My first thought was, “Oh no, he hates it.” I start to tell him, “Look these are just rough set ups. When we are doing it for real everything will be smoothed out and look perfect.” “Are you kidding,” he says. “This is so beautiful I almost cried. Can you believe this, you did this!” I’m thinking, “This guy needs to chill out. I would fire myself if that was the best I could do.”

    Eventually we get down to the work of making a movie. Now normally each morning the 1st AD gives you the breakdown of the pages for the day. And if there are storyboards you have studied those. Looking at the pages in the morning gives you a pretty good idea what time you are going home that night. General rule of thumb, lots of pages, lots of hours. Sometimes there are other factors though. For instance maybe you see you only have 4 pages that day. But, and this is a huge but, there are 8 characters and every single one of them talks. And, maybe it is multiple scenes. So, you say what’s the problem? It goes like this, for every scene you have to set up and shoot a master. Then for every person talking you have to shoot a medium shot and a close up, that is bare minimum. Then you have to shoot an over the shoulder of every person talking or being talked to. Pretty soon you are talking about a lot of work and set ups. And you never go home until the work is done. That is unless, you are not accountable to anyone and when you want to go home you go home. Well, while the rest of us were used to working a minimum of 12 hours and never complain when that goes to 20 hours or more, our Director has never done any kind of physical work. By lunchtime (6 hours) he is ready to smoke some dope and relax and he sure isn’t up to a real workday of filmmaking. So, we compromised and worked until it wasn’t fun each day then went home. How many days did we complete our work? Zero, nada, never, ever. But this is nothing wait until you find out how we spent each day. That will be in the next chapter.
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