Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sets Smooth as Silk

On "A Promise Kept", in the production office, everything was running smooth.  The captain of that ship was Susan Kirr, and she had a solid crew.  Locations were found and signed.  Contracts were covered and taken care.  Cast medicals were all done.  Sure, there were some hiccups,but each one was faced and a solution was found.  And for the most part, everyone got along.

On the set, things were equally smooth.  1st AD Joey Stewart did his "white" schedule, and for the first time in his career and anyone else he knew, the strip board didn't change.  We did our scenes and made our days.  Again, there were some problems, but we met the challenges head on.  I heard several crew people say they've never been on such a smooth running set.

The people-pleaser in me has gotten caught up in seeking a smooth and harmonious set above all else.  But I have learned that a set of people holding pinkies and sinking Barney songs doesn't always transfer over to the actual movie.  And likewise, sets where directors and actors are throwing stuff at each other, yelling expletives at every intense moment, sometimes come forth with masterpieces.

I've been reading a book about Dreamworks SKG and what went on behind the scenes and several stories popped out.  First, on Sam Mendes first big movie as a director, Spielberg himself pulled Mendes aside after seeing the first couple days dailies to find out what was wrong.  Spielberg gave Mendes some real help-- but other executives were ready to can him and quick.  For Dreamworks, this little movie Mendes was directing was way on the bottom of the attention scale for their production slate at the time.  They had much, much bigger fish to fry.  And maybe because of that, the executives were willing to allow Mendes to continue-- I think if it had any bigger profile, they'd have canned him.  The movie?  Academy Award Winning "American Beauty."

Also in the same book, the script was being re-written daily on Dreamwork's tentpole, big budget action movie.  The star, Russell Crowe, was problematic.  It was a struggle to find any harmony on that set, from director Ridley Scott to Crowe.  And then one of the chief supporting actors died halfway through shooting.  Do you reshoot?  Rewrite to reflect the character's demise as well?  This time, the stakes were incredibly high and tensions were bursting.  Many people thought this movie would bomb.  Daily rewrites speak to a production that greenlighted before a solid script was ready-- this is Trouble with a big t.  The movie?  "Gladiator."  And in my opinion, a very solid, well done movie.

There is a solid track record of great movies having tension, trouble-filled sets.  "Casablanca" was famous for it's trouble, especially with the script.

Now, my tendency is to use this as an excuse.  For instance, I caught myself thinking, "see?  I can rush into production with "72" before the script is ready!"  No.  No.  No.  Shooting a movie is warfare.  But that doesn't mean you go into the fight without the best weapons.  You can't always count on finding a loaded tank on the battlefield that you can jump into and save the day.

Anyway, interesting thoughts.

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