HOLLYWOOD APPLE TURNOVER

I’m not speaking of the traditional apple turnovers, which are tender and flaky, with apple pie-like filling and a thin, white glaze.  Nor am I speaking about Gwenyth’s daughter.  I’m speaking of the kinds that are just a bit flaky and work as executives at movie studios in Hollywood.

When I began my film career in the 90s, I met a slew of awesome people who had great jobs with MGM, Miramax, and so forth.  After Harvey Weinstein called me personally to express his interest in my film PEP SQUAD, I became friends with his assistant.  Or, rather, his assistant du jour.  That person was quickly replaced by another assistant, who, shortly after being hired, developed a crush on me.  It was kind of bizarre.  Of course I never met the guy in real life, but to be funny, I sent him an 8×10 glossy of my face as a joke.  He hung it up on the wall by his desk.  And each time I called to visit with Harvey, the assistant thought I was calling to visit with him, not Harvey.  It all became very confusing.  But, just as soon as he was developing some long-distance feelings for me, he was axed as well.  So in came another assistant.  By that point I’d sold my movie to another distributor and I didn’t think Harvey would appreciate me continuing to bother him, so I stopped calling.  I’m not sure who his next assistant was.

My mentor Eric Sherman always suggested it was a really good idea to network and make friends with executives at certain companies because at some point they might be able to help me get a movie made, or whatever.

Besides Harvey Weinstein’s assistant, I met some great people who were VP’s of production, directors of acquisitions, and other higher-ups that, one would think, would be relatively great connections.

One incredible woman, Sara Rose, was an inspiration to me.  After seeing my film at the Cannes Film Market, she came up to me afterwards to introduce herself.  Any time I was in LA I would stop by and see her at MGM.  She always took my meetings and was always a delight to visit with.  She then became VP of Production at MGM and we spoke many times about making my film FIRECRACKER together.  That didn’t happen, but we kept in touch and I always looked forward to working with her in the future.

While I was on track to develop these relationships (some of the people were awesome, like Sara Rose, but some of the other ones were the flaky kind and not so cool), a strange thing kept happening.  They kept losing their jobs.

Some executives moved to other companies on their own free will, some were moved into different jobs within the same company (but not a job that had anything to do with why I was talking to them), and then there were some were fired and were never seen or heard from again.

After several years it became clear to me that most movie executives can’t keep a job for more than about two years.  This Turnover Syndrome is a bizarre fact about the movie business.  Even Penny Marshall mentioned this phenomenon in her memoirs.  If there is someone working with you on your movie when you start the process, they won’t be working at the studio when you finish the movie.  Just as simple as that.

My question is: WHY?  Why can’t most movie executives keep a job for more than a couple years?

TAKE THAT HAT OFF

To exist in The Industry where specialists reign, one must be the best they can be at one thing.  This is how it is in Hollywood, or at least major cities across the globe.  If you want to be a DP, or script supervisor, or line producer, or gaffer, and live in a major city, chances are the only way you’ll be able to do it for a living is by being a specialist.  This means that as you work and learn, you become very good at the one thing you know everything about.  And because of this, you’ll have no idea about anything else.

To exist in the rest of the world, to be an independent filmmaker, one must wear multiple hats and be many different things.  One day the line producer is also the gaffer, and maybe the next day the script supervisor is a camera assistant.  By having your crew wear multiple hats, it can save a lot of time and money.  Unless you’re making a studio movie, no one needs 30 people on their crew.  I don’t see any reason to have more than 10.  I prefer to keep that number under five, but on occasion I can see where eight or nine might be nice.

The trouble happens when you bring a specialist into a project designed for people to wear multiple hats.  The specialist will struggle with this, and the majority of the time will either be horrible to work with, or cause friction on the set.

Of course some specialists out there can do different things, but my advice is to make sure these things are talked about before you start filming.  Once I had a guy from Los Angeles on my crew who refused to do anything except the activities in his job title.  There could be a sudden downpour, people rushing to get the equipment covered or inside, and he’d just stand around and watch everybody.  Why didn’t he help out?  Well, he’d say, I’m a focus puller.  That’s not my job.

Yes, sometimes specialists can come off being total jerks.  Which is why I prefer to hire aspiring filmmakers who have little to no experience.

Aspiring filmmakers or interns tend to work harder and have more passion.  They are also moldable, agreeable, and excited about all the aspects of movie making.  When someone is excited about learning, and thrilled to experience different things, the environment is always enjoyable.

If you do end up hiring an intern or aspiring filmmaker with little experience, be sure to show them how to do different things.  Teach them.  One day they can work in the art department, another day they can work with the camera, and the next day in production sound.  This way, they will leave your shoot a bit more knowledgeable about filmmaking.  It’s also possible they’ll learn more on your shoot than they would have spending thousands of dollars on tuition at a film school.  They may not understand the value of their experience right then, but later on they’ll be very thankful.

Creating a movie’s opening or closing credit sequence is the only bad part about having a small crew that wears multiple hats.  It’s nearly impossible to do traditional rolling credits unless you list each of the jobs and assign names to them.  Problem is, with just a few people on your crew, you’ll end up seeing the same person’s name a dozen times.  And that’s a bit exhausting.  Be proud of your work, but do people really need to see that you directed it and edited it, art directed it, organized costumes, wrote it, produced it, choreographed it, DP-ed it, sketched the storyboards, etc.?  No, they just need to know you directed it.  So keep that in mind.

ACTORS BUYING ROLES

Lately there has become a huge controversy about actors buying roles, thanks to certain perks on Kickstarter and Indiegogo.  I understand the perspective of people who are against this sort of thing, but I can also understand the perspective of people who don’t think it’s a big deal.  Like me.

As an independent filmmaker (Happy INDEPENDENCE day, btw), I need funding in order to make a movie.  The amount of funding is irrelevant.  Even if you plan to shoot a movie for no money, or you aren’t paying anyone, you’ll still have to buy hard drives to store footage, and put gasoline in your car to move from one location to the next.  So when someone comes along and says, “hey, I can give you some money, but will you put me in the movie,” my response is, “Of course!”  If I said, “No, I’m morally against that sort of thing,” chances are I won’t be able to make my movie.  Or it’ll take longer to find the funding needed, and I’ll be wasting time.

I make sense of it by thinking about it as an investment.  Even if the person giving (ie. donating) money on a crowd funding website isn’t “investing” per se, they are investing in their careers.  How it is any different to spend $2,000 on headshots and acting classes when you can skip all that and just buy a role with it?

And in that same thinking, what’s the difference between that activity and someone like Jodie Foster creating a script for herself to star in?  I can’t think of one.

I know that if Stanley Kubrick was still alive and running an Indiegogo campaign, and for a $10,000 donation, I could go and be his script supervisor for two months on his latest movie, without being paid, fed, or housed, I’d jump at the chance.  And if I couldn’t afford it, I’d encourage any other filmmaker who could, to do it.  One would learn more than the best film schools combined, and it would cost a lot less.

If that scenario were true, some would say it’s unfair because all the script supervisors are out of work because I bought the job away from them.  I don’t feel badly about it.  After all, only one of them would’ve been hired to begin with.  A production doesn’t need to hire ALL of them.  So what difference does it make?

Likewise, when an actor buys a role, all the other actors out there who could’ve auditioned are now out an opportunity for work because somebody else bought their part.

I think it was the magnificent Rosanne who said, “Success isn’t something you’re given, it’s something you take.”

Going back to the Jodie Foster scenario.  Same thing.  Was she waiting around for someone else to develop and produce, and then cast herself as, NELL?  Nope.  She took the initiative and did it herself.  There are people out there who blame her because she has “privilege” because she’s a superstar, and all that.  How is her kind of privilege any different than someone who could afford to buy a job as script supervisor, or an actor who can afford to buy a role?  None so far as I can see.  Yet, why is it okay for celebrities to develop and cast themselves in parts, and it’s not okay for an unknown person to buy one as a perk?

Is the backlash directed towards the moral integrity of the person making these crowd funded movies?  Take me, for instance.  If I did a Kickstarter campaign, and offered a perk that for $2,000 you could be my script supervisor, would you call me a villain?  Would you say I’m out to take advantage of people?  I understand I’m not Kubrick, which is why my perk would cost a donation considerably less than his.  But I can assure you that the person who bought that perk would learn more on my set than spending $2,000 on seminars, books, classes, or anything else.  So isn’t that actually fair?  They’re helping me, and I’m helping them.  It’s a mutual arrangement, and one that I think is just fine.