Saturday, June 16, 2007

That's a Wrap

On any shoot when "Wrap," is called you want to finish and get out of there as soon as possible. When working on the road or on a longer project and it finally finishes, the urgency to be done is five-fold.

A few years ago we were shooting at Microsoft's England headquarters in Reading, England. We were there for several days, the work was good, but hard and we were staying in what was called a bed and breakfast, but more accurately was a boarding house. There was a glass shower in our rooms that was so narrow you could not wash the bottom of your feet. The bathroom was one big co-ed room with five or six individual stalls next to each other. It was a little awkward, but I guess we could encourage each other along after the mandatory heavy English breakfast we had each morning. Our reward for four days of this work was three nights in London at a nice hotel for some r&r.

When we wrapped we really beat it out of there. Reading is about 60 miles from London, it was rush hour and we had expensive gear we needed to return. Our vehicle was packed to the gills, with just enough room for Jim, me and our driver. As we were about to pull away, our client, who is also a friend and had made possible the London r&r, asked us a favor- could we take her friend and her son to London with us because they have theater tickets. Feeling guilty we re-packed the car and crammed mom and the kid into the car and headed off to London.

For the next two hours, the kid pointed out every, EVERY double decker bus we saw. He complained there was no air conditioning in the car. He sang show tunes (they were going to see Les Mis or some Andrew Lloyd Weber thing.) He felt the need to try to explain to every other car that they were driving on the wrong side of the road. And this is the edited list.

As we approached London and hundreds more double decker busses, "There's another one!" I can still hear him shout, the driver told us that the theater and the equipment rental house were on opposite sides of town and asked where should we go first. Before we could answer the mom spoke up, "We have a 7:30 curtain we can't miss." So we drove through central London to the West End, passing our hotel, so she and the kid could see their damn show. (More double decker buses, add your own sound FX here.)

We dropped them off, beat it back across London, passed our hotel again, and got to the rental house just as they were closing. We turned back around, crossed London once more and got to our hotel, where I crawled into a giant martini.

No lesson here except, when in London I never take the bus and always take the tube. Mind the gap.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Characters-Not so Goodfellas

Yesterday I wrote about some of our favorite good guys we have met during our travels. Today I am going to share some of our favorite not so good guys.

Mr. Air Tran customer service representative. Jim and I were flying from Chicago to Atlanta. When we got to our gate we realized we could jump on an earlier flight. We approached the desk where the customer service man was training two young African-American men. Mr. Customer Service was regaling them with stories of the "good ol' days" of air travel- pre-911, pre-deregulation, bad weather delays, etc.... The trainees could care less. We asked him if we could get on the earlier flight. He sighed, tapped into his computer and said, "You know you are only going to get there about an hour earlier." He wasn't joking. I said,"Yeah, that's why we asked." He sighed again and reluctantly gave us boarding passes- like we were criminals for not wanting to sit around his boarding area for an extra hour. As he was printing the passes he began telling a joke to his two trainees. The joke was about ethnic stereotypes- particularly about African American men. About a third of the way into it Mr. Customer Service realized who he was talking to and made a quick switch, suddenly the character in his joke was a "Pollack." The joke was suddenly worse than before. His two trainees realized their new boss was both an idiot and a bigot.

Philadelphia to me means Ben Franklin, the Liberty Bell and Pukey. We were shooting in a housing project in Philly. A man who was obviously drunk was asking anyone around for money or if he could help. He was a bother, but not really trouble. Right in the middle of a shot we heard this loud retching noise followed by a splat. Pukey deposited his lunch about two feet from me. When he was done he reacted like it was no big deal, "That was as good coming up as it was going down." When we were watching dailies and that scene comes up you hear everything but don't see it. We ended using the shot, minus the natural sound FX, in the film.

Tyler. We get more mileage out of Tyler stories than anything else. We were shooting in Denver and wrapped after a long day at about 8:30. Our client recommended a nearby Italian restaurant so we called some friends and had them meet us there. We get to the nearly empty restaurant and the host, Tyler, greats us. We ask for a table for four and he tells us that it is policy that we cannot be seated until our entire party is there. I said,"Are you expecting a big 9pm Tuesday night rush? We promise if 18 other tables fill up before our friends get here we will move." Sorry, policy is policy. So we ask to sit at the bar. No bar, but he could bring us a bottle of wine. We said sure. He brings us an opened bottle. We sent it back- to his credit he knew he made a mistake. He returns, opens the new bottle and then asks for our credit card. I said, "Do you really think we are going to run off with an open bottle of wine before our friends get here?" Policy again. We give him the credit card. So Jim and I are standing, no seats, in the doorway of a small restaurant with our coats and an open bottle of wine on the floor as 16 tables are wide open. After about 20 minutes our friends join us and ask, "Why didn't you get a table?"

"Policy," we reply.

Tyler comes takes our order, gives us our dinner, it was surprisingly good. As we are nearing the end of the meal I ask for some more bread to sop up the pasta sauce. He looks at me, sighs and rolls his eyes. "About how much bread would you like?" he asks. I point to my plate, annoyed, "I don't know, that much? I promise I won't waste your bread." He comes back with about two inches from a baguette and asks me if it is enough. I was tired of fighting him, but I asked if the kitchen was suffering from a bread shortage.

He wasn't amused.


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Characters- Good Fellas

One of the best parts of this job is getting to travel and meet people. I have already reported about some of our encounters with celebrities, but today I want to talk about a few of our favorite regular people from our journeys.

Jim Richter is a long time client of ours. He is one of these people who is too smart for his own good. He is an inventor and tinkerer and a great person to hang out with. In a long car ride in a rainstorm from Washington D.C. to Philadelphia he told us about how he recently met Walter Cronkite. When asked how he met him, Richter (we always refer to him as Richter, probably because we already have a Jim) said he met Cronkite at the Broadway premier of The Producers. When asked why he was at the premier, he very modestly admitted he was an investor in the show. (There was a pretty good R.O.I. with The Producers.)

Jerry Weiss is a carwash operator in a major southwestern U.S. city. Jim and I made a film for the 50th Anniversary of the International Carwash Association and in the process met a lot of "old timers," in the carwash business. To a person they are just hardworking average guys- who happen to be millionaires. We were sitting around Jerry's office in a featureless strip mall. We hear a garage door open and Jerry ushers us into his money room. There a van pulled up and two men unloaded five-gallon buckets filled with quarters. This was their haul from a three-day weekend. They had so many quarters I asked how they counted them. Jerry said they don't, they weigh them. That day he brought in about $10,000 in quarters. (Note to self, start a carwash.)

Jack Janney was the president and founder of Wiss ,Janney Elstner and Associates an engineering and architecture firm. Jack was voted one of the 100 greatest engineers in history. He shares this honor with among others Leonardo Da Vinci and Gustave Eiffel. Jack died last October at the age of 80. We were interviewing him at his house outside of Denver a few years ago and were in a real hurry, but Jack made us sit, have a donut and coffee and take our time. When we were shooting we used a grip clip to raise a light in his living room. In our rush to get out of there and make our flight, we left the clip and the light raised. Jack and his wife Peg both had poor eyesight and Jim and I have always imagined that the light and clip are just where we left them and poor Jack and Peg couldn't figure out why their living room light is two feet higher than it used to be.

Tomorrow some of the not so good fellas.


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Cooking with Gas

One of my all time favorite film jobs was for Weber Grills. Weber hired us to make two "how to grill" films that they included with each new charcoal and gas grill purchased. When the project was finished the footage was edited into a 30-second TV spot.

For a week on a stage we grilled and cooked food. We had five or six food stylists and home economists working full time. We made the obvious foods, burgers, steaks, chops, fish, etc.... And the not so obvious- a pineapple upside down cake. (If anyone has ever used their grill to bake a cake, please let me know.)

Shooting food is a trick. It is cooked just enough and then stylists make it look right. They applied perfect grill marks with irons. They roasted standing rib until just browned, shellacked it and then stuck it on the grill, adding "juices" to make it seem like it was cooked entirely on the grill. The centerpiece of the films was a long shot over a table crammed with about 50 items that- you, the proud new Weber Grill owner could make at home."

At the end of the shoot we divided the left over uncooked food. I walked away with about $100 worth of a standing rib roast. Jim, I know, got one or maybe two new grills out of the deal. Jobs like these come along once every five years. We are due for another. I have included a still from the spot above.

Bon Appetit.