You trip over another grip who mumbles apologies without looking up. Is that dynamite? No... this is show business. Science fiction extravaganza! Nothing is quite as it seems.
This vehicle is too structured for your taste. You prefer a project in a more abstract form. A visual poem. You're an artist. Studied avant-garde in film school. This linear grind the studio imposes is stifling... but you're broke so you do what you gotta do. Beats another month of dinner theatre; community improve... or even street performance. Maybe you should have been a musician instead. So tired of living at scale in this theatre of the absurd. Even comedians get paid better than you...
"There are no small parts only small actors." - George on Showmanship, Seinfeld
...for now. Every filmmaker's journey is a cautionary tale seeking the catharsis of a satisfying climax yet often becomes a character study in failure. Oscar doesn't float down from the Academy for just anybody. It must be earned. This is only your first act with several plot points yet to be revealed. While there's certain to be an intermission soon the foresee-able future is all action because you're more than just a director... you're a thespian.
Apply your craft to this screenplay adaptation and bring something true to the audience. You've been encouraged to ad-lib against type, the studio wants something different, but keep time with the establishing shot. It takes several minutes to reset the camera sequence and actors are easily distracted by actresses.
The dailies aren't doing it for the executives. They saw a boom mic in the shot. Too many flubs and Alan Smithee may take over direction. You aren't an A-lister so no-one expects a hit. However, maybe you can save the vision with a little re-write. A director's cut with an alternate ending to win back the fans... a "leaked bootleg" for the Internet when producers are off chasing another angel. They won't mind if you introduce a few anachronistic elements. Besides you've got a piece of the back end. That's like an owner or something.
You tell your personal assistant to reserve craft services for the location shoots next week. Where's the art director? Have they finalized the animated introduction for the investor presentation this afternoon? Are they going with CGI, stop-motion or claymation? Where's that PA!?! Call out the talent. The film's heavy is contractually obliged to mingle with guests... in costume, and the secondary camera operator will hang behind the scenes just in case the picture gets picked up. If it's popular enough this could become an anthology... a trilogy or even a franchise and fans love a blooper reel full of funny out-takes.
It's you're vision after all and betraying it would be the anti-climax of your early career. Cashing that cheque on a cheater cut makes you feel like hiding in the aperture of a dirty lens as it is. Spun senseless by an arc over-shot across your artistic sensibilities. You feel like a whore with a heart of gold surrounded by moody art-house motif. Stepping to the left of some props you barely dodge a thrown dummy in time. Arret! Stop! But it's too late, you've walked through the frame. The cinematographer has her face in her hands... sweat dripping from her brow.
A small aside, you look through the closest camera at the audience. "It's good to be the King!" echos across the 4th wall. Returning your attention. "We'll fix it in post!" Bracketing with as many f-stops as it takes... but you're over budget, out of time, and the editor hasn't even started assembly yet.
Though confident in the established decoupage there are more deleted scenes than found footage. Shots are incomplete. The script isn't finished! Everyone's been working from spec and story boards. At least the coda is on point with appropriate atmosphere. If nothing else the audience will feel your intention.
The director of audiography is a true auteur, the 11th member of the Hollywood Ten, inhabiting the axis of action with an epic lightning mix. Riding a cascade of available light transitioning to artificial. The scene pulses in the background like a music video. This sequence is way below the line featuring that hit song from last year so the trailer pops. Barney keeps the camera quiet when the crew moves to the back lot. The barn doors are pre-configured for the next shot diffused across white foam and poster board.
Your PA hands you a copy of the latest call sheet. Where's the best boy? The next scene includes a cameo from one of the lead's musical collaborators. Some big shot musician you don't recognize, but all your kids love more than you. You'll hear it all during capsule review. If only you could match cut your ambitions with your financiers; pull off a lyrical bridge shot.
What do they know about building a scene, anyway? Left to executives they'd just make another fish-out-of-water picture with an asynchronous buzz track then shift the losses to the insurance companies. There's a good reason why they compile the bumper last even though we see it first.
This isn't a cast of thousands so focus on getting the change-over-cues just right, elevate the supporting roles and become a celluloid hero. For-shadowing your inevitable success. A master of the dutch tilt. Resisting censorship... inventing timeless catchphrases. Expanding your filmography.
Some of the equipment needed for this afternoon is missing. You call a gaffer who informs you the key grip is busy arguing with the producers over who gets top and secondary billing on the film's credits. One prefers the antagonist because he used to be a big star and the other wants to promote the fresh talent because she sings the theme song, features in the musical trailer, and is more recognizable in the coveted 15–25 demographic. One of these musical acts making the jump to the big screen.
It's your call and you make it. The show must go on. While biographical on paper this project feels more like a dark comedy of blacklisted bit parts. Sometimes you wish you could hide in a camera protected from the noise of the circus you're conducting by its trusty blimp. However, even now a new fire is starting which requires your attention to put out. There are no body-double's for the director. Nowhere to hide while the studio threatens to bowdlerize your masterpiece.
Though hoping for a cash cow in the can they may end up with a campy cartoon; rather than satisfying denouement their impatience might produce an expositional caricature.
The chiaroscuro is off on every fast-cutting shot today, too much white and not enough black, which means adjustments to lights during reset tomorrow. Burning more daylight.
A standard roll of 16mm film is 400 ft long and runs for 11 mins at 24 frames per second. Typical cost is $200 per roll. Rolls are NOT reusable.
The lead is ready for her close-up so work the cutaway and pan to the left. The whistleman hushes the set. Play your cards right and you might raise a dark horse during awards season. Predicated on double exposure with suggestive ellipses almost certain to transform you into an enfant terrible at the film festivals... but hey you earned it without a casting couch! You pleased fans the old fashioned way with a strong understanding of film aesthetics as developed by those who've come before you. Feuillade, Hitchcock, Baz Luhrmann, Buster Keaton.
Who's handling the F/X on this picture? Practical or digital... thinking the obvious... can we get Tom Savini? Maybe this'd work better in the horror genre anyway. A grand guignol steeped in Gothic sensationalism. High concept zombie hoofers are a guilty pleasure for most cinephiles. Or will they slap you across the face with the Hays code...
The little red devil on your shoulder says teach those producers a lesson. Hand them a grind house flop shot entirely from a helicopter. Of course you'll never be a helmer, again. Not with this studio anyway, but you can always go the independent route. It's not like you've reached the "It List" yet. Your career is still just a jump shot juxtaposed with a kudocast fixation.
Another week goes by. The line director stares expectantly waiting to kick off principal photography. Nodding acknowledgment, you scribble a note requesting a hold over on the antagonist. The lead is weak; time for the heavy to bring the gravitas for an extra day. A respectful homage reminding the audience who we have here should hit the mark.
Gotta give em a McGuffin to chase in the megaplexes. Try not to speak in euphemism, leave that to the producers when they praise your "bold story choices". As the Klieglight illuminates the set you can't help but wonder if your ingenue is too timid for the juvenile. Both are new players, but show promise. Maybe some well timed in- camera editing will balance the forces. Perhaps an L-cut to build suspense...you call the grip and inquire if there are enough lavalieres for each actor in the scene.
Hopefully, everyone remembers their lines this time. Action! Cut! The leitmotif is redundant. You call over the screenwriter. Demand adjustments from his writers group. Here... and here... and there.... strike this... extend that. The afternoon passes. Eventually, everyone is ready again. Action!
You can feel the magic at long last. This is a landmark film. It's gonna have legs. A few library shots to fill in gaps wouldn't hurt, though. Along with extra location sound. Lap dissolve to credits with a distant, low angle taken during the magic hour while looping the master shot. You can practically smell the pop corn at the premiere.
It's not until you see your starlet in the full light of your mise en scène that you realize just how miscast she really is. Unfortunately, funding is contingent on her participation both on screen and on the sound track. If only her role were pantomime, or animated, but she insists on method acting. They call it meta.
Persona driven plot. Is lip sync a possibility? You call the gaffer to discuss. Adjustments are made. A vocal booth is scheduled. She can record her theme track and spoken lines at the same time. This is feeling more like a midnight movie by the minute, yet with this budget the moguls are expecting a blockbuster. Stay focused.
You check the monitors. Cameras are good. Lights are good. Sound is good. Players are in position. The line director points. You shake your head negative. Wait for it... the montage begins. It's working... it's working! Here it comes! Wait for it... THE MONEY SHOT! You got it! We did it! You saved the picture!
And they said you'd need a moppet to win over the younger crowd. What do they know about art? The craft? You hate working with kids... they over act and it's just so... reflexive.
It's time for the lead's monologue. Audio was prerecorded earlier so all she has to do is mouth the words while standing on her mark. Just please hold back the melodrama this take. No more tears! This isn't a sad scene. Action! She's horrible. Under-acting. Looks at the camera, looks at the floor, picks lint from her hair while mumbling her lines. If you fail to invoke her best work then you fail in this project. You're the director. It falls to you.
An idea strikes as you ponder the limitations of the studio's choice in lead actor. What are they seeing that you're missing? You make a call to your teen-aged daughter. You ask her what she knows about so and so, but before you can get the whole sentence out your kid is going epileptic! Suddenly you're the coolest dad in the world! You're working with so and so, the most amazing, fabulous, extraordinary, groundbreaking, artist of all time... or at least the last year! Nobody plays the keys like so and so...
The keys... piano?!? That's it! Put her in her comfort zone. Capitalize on what she does best. She needs the music. Without it this production is a morality tale on creative bankruptcy. You whisper to the gaffer, who whispers to the best boy who then runs out of the room. Everyone watches him go, confused, and curious... why is everyone just standing on their mark waiting... then the best boy returns with a couple of riggers pushing a baby grand through the central theatre. Your lead can't take her eyes off it.
You walk over to her with new call sheets. You've had your writers add parentheticals to help her timing. She looks at you for several seconds. Gratitude. She knew she was struggling and was sure she'd be fired. If you could have felt her heart beat as you walked toward her that day you'd think an earthquake was about to shake the building to rubble. Show business is very dramatic.
The wig-wag shines the red eye as those tiny fingers reach the instrument and suddenly the spirit takes her. You snap a meaningful look at your PA who brings you a glass of water. Your throat is dry; she sounds wonderful. Her voice dances across the keys. You've captured five distinct angles, why did you not notice how beautiful she is until now? Two takes! That's all it took... you did it. You're practically a naturalist. You transposed her creative essence upon the emulsion of film. A matte shot backward across the 4th wall. Roman A Clef falls and the crew cheers!
With this kind of innovation you're at the vanguard of a new wave... nitrate to acetate. You're ready to narrate the novelization, but you've got a few obligatory scenes to shoot first. Paid the house nut and now it's time to get your money's worth. An off stage voice introduces the final sequence. This guy's a pro. He can do the whole scene off book. This is gonna play great in the passion pits.
Still needs a few whoop-whoops and the premise needs exposition. Editing can fix most of the problems, but there's no re-shoot contingency... anyone know how to digitize a mustache on the positive prints without risking the package? It took months to refine this hook and those tubthumpers in marketing won't pivot to parody. The trailer's already dropped in several potential markets.The studio bought your pitch last year and expect results not some post-modern, revisionist mess.
You schedule a screening of the rough cut for next week and even set up a red carpet for effect. Can't wait to reveal the scene-stealing tour de force performance by the breakout lead in the 3rd Act. The unexpected topliner that you're sure the producers will claim deserved top billing from the moment the casting department suggested her. She's a tix talker, they said. She puts bums in the seats in other words. Her tone will blend well with the screenwriter... well sort of.
As usual, they underestimate what it takes to make a picture work, but hey that's why they hired you. Don't let them make you feel like some second banana sell-through. Accept that you're an unreliable narrator and enjoy the accolades assuming you aren't snubbed during nominations for your association with... well let's, not talk about it. Time to unspool. Everything slows... you're undercranking.
They clap. They like it! They love it!! Your lead is crying. The heavy looks like a big softy wiping tears from his eyes with a little tissue paper from a hidden pocket. The crew is cheering. The moguls are back slapping. The screenwriter is thanking you for staying true to his vision, but you can barely hear him through the vertigo as the roar spreads across the room.
The credits role. There's your name in the big lights. Applause like this means great word of mouth and you were worried this was gonna be a yawner. The topper's giant mit swallows your hand with an enthusiastic shake.
"This a tentpole, my boy, you're a modern day Zorian Perisic. We got you above the line and you didn't exhaust the nut. Bravo! Consider this your home studio....[you made it] ...and by the way we've got this other vehicle we'd like to discuss with you..."
Now you're a filmmaker.