VANITY ON THE CLOCK

If you’ve worked on a film set, you know how important it is to remain on schedule.  The art of scheduling a movie accurately is really one of the most important parts of the filmmaking process.

In order to schedule a movie, clear communication needs to take place between the crew and cast who will shape it.  Some DP’s will want to spend hours lighting “that shot” while some actors want another hour to prep for the scene – and soon you’re behind schedule.

The first thing I do is limit the DP set up time.  If he or she has truly given it some thought, there will be an easy way to light nearly any scene in less than 15-30 minutes.  On any given budget.  But, it takes the self-discipline to be able to sit down and plan it.  If you wait to decide what to do until you show up on the set, you won’t know what you’re doing until you get there.  In that case, you will not be prepared and it could take a long time before the camera team is ready to get the shot.

Another thing I do is tell my actors to show up Make-Up and Hair ready.  In some cases I have hired a hair and make-up person, but I tell them to be in charge of their own schedule.  And if Hillary needs to be camera ready at 3pm, she should be on set at 3pm.  It’s the responsibility of the make-up artist and Hillary to make sure this happens.

Preferably there won’t be any make-up or hair person, and each actor can just be responsible for doing it themselves.  If my actor isn’t comfortable doing it on their own,  they can hire their own make-up artist.  I’m happy to give the artist credit in the movie, but they most likely won’t be a part of our overall schedule and planning process.

I understand that everyone wants to look his or her best whether it’s in front of or behind the camera.  The DP wants the best lighting, the actors want to look their best, the props, costumes, all of it.  Each person wants to achieve their best.  And I think that’s great!  When I’m directing something, I want it to be the best possible experience for the viewer.  So I totally get everyone wanting to be and do his or her best.

What I don’t understand is how few people are really willing to take responsibility for themselves to make sure they achieve their goals.  I sketch storyboards before showing up on the set.  There’s no reason the DP can’t look at them and design his lighting plan in advance.  There’s no reason the actors can’t look at them and know which side of their face will be seen.

I made my storyboards available to the cast and crew of FIRECRACKER and I believe only about four people (out of 42) looked at them.  Karen Black was one of them.  There was only one moment Karen didn’t like where I was putting the camera.  But, I told her that now wasn’t the time for that discussion.  The time for conversation was all those weeks earlier when we went through each storyboard together.

Since I filmed FIRECRACKER, I’ve never had an unorganized shooting day.  And I’ve never been behind schedule.  Even if I’ve experienced a scene running over the pre-planned time, I average about an hour ahead of the scheduled wrap time each day.

Yes, it is possible to make a feature film wherein you don’t have to work 12-14 hours a day.  The trick is to check vanity at the door, really communicate with clarity and focus, and work with people who love taking responsibility for managing themselves realistically.

WE SEE WHAT WE KNOW

But, do we know what we see?  I don’t think we do.  The other day I received a stunning photograph of my nephew.  Maryann Bates, an award-winning photographer and nominee of the Pulitzer Prize in Photographic Journalism, had taken it.  When I sent it to my family, my brother responded with “I’ll fix the glare so it’ll be ready for print.”

I laughed, because this is a trait amongst our family.  My grandfather was this way; my parents are this way, my siblings, cousins, and myself to some degree.  We could watch the greatest performance on earth by any given artist and know deep down how it could’ve been done better.

But then I started to think about it.  Backlighting (the process by which a light source is placed behind someone’s head, to give a glow around the edges, almost like they have a halo) is a classic trick in romantic photography.  The practice of backlighting has been used endless times by the world’s greatest cinematographers, portrait photographers, and painted by the Renaissance masters.

Yet, in this instance, the art of backlighting had been misunderstood and somehow defined as something needing to be corrected.  Was it possible that my brother hadn’t learned of backlighting?  Perhaps he’s never seen backlighting used in any photographs or artwork before.  This is hard to fathom but it does make sense, and brings me to wonder about how I see things.

When I look at something, I know what I see.  I take it in, and if it’s new to me, sometimes I’m excited, sometimes I’m sickened, but overall I take it in.  I try and learn about it so that I KNOW what I’m looking at.

I believe that the majority of the world does the opposite: they see what they know.  They see what they ALREADY know.  If they see something that they’ve never seen before, they define it as ‘bad’ or a ‘mistake’ or something that needs correcting.  By correcting the thing, they change what they see into something familiar to them, something they already know about.  And, once that thing has been changed into something they feel comfortable with, then they know what it is.

If someone has never been to an authentic Italian restaurant it is understandable that they believe Olive Garden is good Italian food.  If someone has never learned about different religions, or traveled abroad, or witnessed cultural diversity, it is totally understandable that they could believe that the entire world is exactly as their own city or town.  It isn’t their fault their perspective of the world is more narrow than others.  But, it does bring into question what are they teaching in schools, or in church?

Think about this, and tell me if you’ve ever been guilty of seeing what you know, instead of knowing what you see.