Saturday, June 9, 2007

Atlanta is Burning

Yesterday I wrote about what it is like dealing with an out of town producer, today I am going to tell the other side of that story and what it is like to be an out of town producer coming into a new city for production. Most of the times there is no problem. You find a local production coordinator and things fall into place. The more production done in a city the better and easier things go; so we were surprised when we shot a commercial in Atlanta and were treated like General Sherman marching to the ocean.

We needed to rent some production gear so we called one of the two big rental houses. We placed an order, they gave us a quote- it seemed high to us, but we accepted it and put the gear on hold. A little later the other rental house called us back and gave us a much better deal on the same gear, but when we told them our shooting dates they said, with genuine shock, "We just booked that same gear for those same dates to the other production house in town." (It's not uncommon for vendors to sub-contract with each other, you just don't mark up the price.) Vendor #1, seeing us Yankees march into town jacked up the price just to screw us. We canceled that order and went with vendor # 2.

Then at 9pm night before the first of our three-day shoot our gaffer called to cancel. "I got a better job- five days instead of three, but I found a replacement for you." Where we come from you stick to your word. You get booked for three days you don't cancel 12 hours before call time even if a better job comes calling. So without any options we took his replacement.

The next morning, the good ol' boy gaffer drives up in his five-ton truck, chaw of tobacco in his cheek, ready to go to work. For our purposes we will call him Cracker. The first thing he does is ask where he can park his truck. We said we don't need a truck we need about 4 lights and accessories. Cracker insisted we have the truck, "Gotta have the truck (spit) you never know what you'll need. (Evil laugh, more spitting.) After a little debate we settled on the truck for day one, but not the other days. He wasn't happy, those trucks rent for a lot and he gets gas and mileage on it, but we didn't need it, the first gaffer knew that and it was his job to start with. After we wrapped the job Cracker came to fill out his time card and get paid. He announced to us that his normal rate is $650 a day but for out of town producers it's $850 a day (laugh, spit.) He wasn't kidding. After some more negotiating we settled on a number that worked for us.

All in all we ended up saving several thousand dollars on gear and crew costs, but we had to fight for every penny. The job wasn't exactly like Sherman's march, but it wasn't Gone with the Wind, either. In another post I will share some specific production details. We learned a lot on this job and had a lot of fun and a little adventure as well.


Friday, June 8, 2007

Film Business, Business

Earlier this week Jim took a call from a producer in California who wants to shoot here in Chicago for three days in July. He began the conversation by saying how easy the job will be and his tale grew from there.

He wants to shoot a conference at the Sheraton Hotel those three days. Then he wants to do a series of interviews with people in their 80s and 90s, but not at the hotel at another location- an older location to match the older people. Then he wants to go shoot five and six year old kids on a playground and interview them. That's all.

So as we started to break down the job we discovered very quickly that while the producer is in California we would in fact be producing his job for him. We needed to find locations, wrangle kids, etc.... So we called him back for this discussion and about the costs associated and he told us how much money he had. I won't give an exact figure, but consider it about half what we would typically get with an existing client. AND he didn't want to pay for any of the pre-production work.

When he heard our number he said he would call back with Plan B. An hour later he called, magically, he was able to double the money he first offered us- still less than our normal rate and gone was the location scouting work. This time he said we would shoot the interviews with the 80 and 90 year old people outdoors, perhaps at the same playground where we shoot kids. (At this point Jim turned to me and said,"Let's shoot animals too so we've got it all covered." Kids and animals being notorious as the hardest things to shoot.)

Evidently the producer has not A)been to Chicago in July when it could be 95 degrees with 90 percent humidity-ideal conditions to interview elderly people, B) Never shot kids outdoors on a playground- let's just give them a bottomless cup of coffee and some candy bars and have them officially lose their minds before we interview them (right after shooting the 90 year olds in the 90 degree heat.) and C) done any production of this sort ever.

We explained why this new plan might save him some money it still wouldn't work. (Weather, sound issues, lighting, wrangling kids and seniors, etc....) Finally he asked us again why we couldn't do it for the original price. We told him the truth, that it is unfair to our clients who pay us our regular fees to undercut ourselves to an outside producer just to get a job.

So the producer went his way and we went ours, but not before asking us if we had any recommendations for him. We didn't. My guess is the producer will probably find someone willing to do the job for the money he has and they will make a series of compromises and end up with a bunch of sweaty seniors and hyper kids.

Next time the reverse story, when we are the out of town producers coming in to a city to shoot.


Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Grading Creativity-part 2

Yesterday, I got an e-mail from a student of mine from this past spring semester. He is one of the most creative students I have ever had. He spends his free time, when he is not working on someone else's film, building elaborate sets in his apartment. He is curious, hard working and talented. What more can you want in a student?

He wrote wondering if I could help him out because he is in danger of failing a summer advanced camera class because he missed two class meetings because he had a paying job on a film. He has aced the camera tests and done all the work and is arguably one of the best students in the class, yet he is in danger of failing because of policy.

I told him there was not much I could do since I can't (and shouldn't) convince another teacher to change their rules mid-semester. I told him he needed to plead his own case. To me this is another example of a disconnect between what we are teaching and how we are teaching it. Who wins by failing him?


Sunday, June 3, 2007

Modern Times

"Nostalgia is death," I think Bob Dylan said that. If not it sounds like he could have said it. If none of the above then I said it first, so give me the credit. Where is the line between reminiscing and living in the past? I don't know, but it is somewhere between "back then" and today.

As a teacher I often tell stories to illustrate a point and if you have read more than one of these posts you know what I mean. However, I am always concerned about reliving the past rather than creating a new future. In this business, in this world, things are changing so quickly we must adapt or we will become obsolete. I hope when I tell a story about the "old film" days (1999 and before) I don't come across like Dana Carvey's old man character. "We used to wait two days to get back synced rushes, and we liked it that way! We didn't have any of this High Definition or 24p."

All this brings me back to Dylan. One of his first famous records was of course, The Times They Are A-Changin'. His last album, brilliant I think, is called Modern Times. I hope, like him, I can be both of the past and of the times. If I am just nostalgic, I think I'd rather be dead.