Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Hard at Work

Labor Day got me thinking about hard work- something I try to avoid at all costs. Aren't p.a.s and t.a.s supposed to do the hard stuff while directors and "professors" do the "Big Picture" work?

One of those cliches (if I knew how to do one of those accent things over the e in cliche I would do it, so you grammar police leave me alone) every bad football coach likes to trot out is "Failing to prepare is preparing to fail." Yuck! As bad sports cliches go I much prefer "There is no 'I' in team,"but that is for another post.

But those bad coaches are on to something and I have seen first hand truly great performers bust their butts rehearsing when other mere mortals (or dumb filmmakers) would have been off doing something more fun. I am going to share a few of those stories here and you can infer what you want.

1) In 2001 I was making a TV show for kids called Rainbow Soup about art and world culture and got to observe a lot of different artists in their process. As part of this I had the chance to see and interview Peter Gabriel (pictured here) as he played his first concert in eight years. It was a rather sudden appearance- he was going to headline the Womad Festival in Seattle after Robert Plant had to back out. Originally Peter was going to place a simple acoustic set, but two days before the show he decided to go all out with a band. At 7am on a Sunday morning, twelve hours before he was to go on stage, there is Gabriel and band in a park in Seattle working their assess off rehearsing for the show. At 7 that night he walked on stage and 30,000 people went crazy. He proceeded to play, by his own admission, a very mediocre set. As part of our arrangement I spoke with him on camera just after he walked off stage. He shook his head and looked into the camera and said, "That's what you get when you only rehearse for two days." I'll never forget it, or him really working hard when he didn't have to. The crowd loved him anyway.

2) At the end of our commercial reel there is a spot for MVP.com where Michael Jordan looks into the camera and asks, "Any Questions?" Jim shot him at a Bulls practice, Michael was staying late, by himself shooting free throws. The six-time NBA champ and MVP was in the gym by himself practicing. Did he need to do that? He thought so.

3) Years ago I had to go on a location scout at a local Chicago nightclub. When the manager met us at the door and let us in and in there was loud music playing in the background. It sounded like Elvis Costello to me- he was in the middle of a three or four day stop in Chicago. We round the corner and there on stage was Elvis and the Attractions rehearsing. The manager of the venue asked me if I minded them rehearsing while we were there. What was I going to say, "No! Elvis give it a rest we need to talk here." Of course he could play, however I needed to get on the stage so Elvis stopped what he was doing and invited us up. He was very gentlemanly, asked us what we were about to shoot and if it was OK if he could continue his rehearsal. When I was finished with my work he paused and asked if everything was OK. I said sure and asked if I could watch for a while. He said yes, and proceeded to tear into Pump it Up. My question is this. In the thousands of shows Elvis has played since the mid 1970s how many times has he played Pump it Up? Thousands? Did they really need to rehearse that badly? I guess so.

Practice makes perfect. (Sorry for the cliche.)



Perry Harovas said...

I whole heartedly agree. Great post,
and hopefully dispels the myth that the great ones are:

A) always going to be great

B) Are great because they were born
that way.

It's (thankfully) simply not true. Plus, I think, when you are great at something, you are because, in large part, you absolutely love it. Why else would you have practiced so much to get great, and why else would you KEEP practicing when other people think you don't have to?

A) Because you love it and would do it even if you weren't getting paid insane amounts of money to do so.

B) Without practicing, you won't be as great as you once were.

I am over-complicating something you said much better, here, Peter.
Thanks for another great post!

Why? Because, you guessed, you keep
writing them and practicing...

Sheesh! When will the cliche's
ever stop?


John Murray said...

On a Mac, hold option and press e, then press e again.

Great post...


PeterH said...

Thank you both for the good comments. Now I can continue writing my clich├ęs in style.