If You Build It, They Will Come.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

He's going the distance... he's going for speed...

So yesterday we got to meet the new camera instructor, for the 35mm cameras. He may quite possibly be the most angry fellow I've ever come across. Yesterday's class consisted of him saying that actors are nothing more than props that eat food, that steadycam ops are sick masochists, that people who film in animorphic deserve all the punishment and torture that this world can possibly provide, and that studio agents are people he'd just as soon murder as look at. It was quite the happy class.

The highlight was sitting next to John throughout the entire class, as I'm becoming more and more convinced the two of us should never be alowed to sit together. This camera teacher, named Rick, was entirely out of it all day, and the two of us kept laughing that "trying to be quiet, yet entirely contagious" laugh. At one point, He wrote the name "Mitchell" on the board, talked for two minutes, looked back at the board, erased the "ell" at the end of Mitchell, picked up a marker, and in the exact same place wrote "ell" again, then went back to talking. He held up a lens and said, "This looks to be about three inches across, or about five millimeters." I quietly mention to him, "Don't you mean 'centimeters'" knowing that three inches is actually more like seven centimeters. He looks right back at me like I'm the idiot and says, "No, millimeters are larger than centimeters." I sat there for a moment, felling that my duty of attempting to correct the teacher had been completed, there was nothing more I could do, when John cracked up just a tiny bit, making me laugh, then he laughed more, then I choked on my own spit and had to leave the room.

We got this new retarded kid too (not really retarded). I don't know his name, but he came to class wearing his "Star Wars Episode III" hat, so already he's pretty cool. At one point, Rick the instructor, asked if anyone was good at judging distances, because to be a camera op like he's been for the last 22 years, you need to be good at that. (At this point John and I laughed again, thinking that if he's been good at judging distances for 22 years, he should know the difference between centimeters and millimeters). So Obi-Wan raises his hand and Rick asks him to judge the distance between the two of them. I guessed in my mind eight or nine feet. (After measuring it was 8'3", so I guess I'm pretty good at judging distances.) This kid sits there thinking it over like he's doing long division in his head. He stares at Rick, shifting his head a few times as if he really needed to gain a third dimension perspective.

"I'd say like two feet." he says, completely serious.

Again, John quietly cracks up, as do I. This guy is second year. Seriously.

So they unveil the 35mm cams. These things look sooooo cool. They're the Panavisions that damn near everybody uses to make real movies. Rick goes over all the parts, and we're supposed to put it together. Before that though, he also goes over all the costs of the parts. The camera body alone, no lenses, no mag, no sticks, no eye piece, just the basic gut of the camera, $250,000. The lenses, he's touching them and naming their cost. $35,000, $25,000, $80,000... etc. So by the end, when it's all assembled, were standing in the room with a fairly fragile piece of machinery worth over a half a million dollars. He asked for volunteers to put it together, no one moved, no one even breathed.

No one, but our new friend Darth Moron.

Imagine you're a babysitter. It's your first night in a new house for a new family, and they're loaded. This is a $10 million dollar home in Beverly Hills. They leave you alone, and immediately you lose track of the kid. You find him later in the garage. He's locked you out and he's juggling open paint cans while standing on top of the dad's brand new Porsche, and all you can do is sit there and watch and hold your breath and hope to god he doesn't drop one. That's about how we all felt watching this kid fuddle with this camera. It was like sitting in front of a bomb while the guy diffusing it chooses between the red wire or the green wire. I found myself in the back of the room talking to Dave, who was scared enough to stand next to him. I was like, "Oh Dave, please take that from him. Dave help him, he's gonna drop it. Dave, please." So he sets the body on the tripod, can't figure out how it places on there and lets go of it trying to look. I'll repeat that while you try to picture it in your mind. He sets the $250,000 body on the tripod, can't figure out how it places on there and lets go of it trying to look. Granted he lost his grip on it for a half a second, but it was the most frightening half of a second I've experienced in quite some time.

At any rate, class yesterday was definately a wonderful experience. That being said I've realized something.

People say that this is a hard business to get into. The entertainment business, that is. It's hard, it's difficult, it's so unstable, whatever. As again, two of my readers are actresses, and a few of them are musicians, I want to dispell a little bit of advice down your way. This is a conclusion I came to last night. There are only three reasons people fail in entertainment. Only three.

1.) It's hard. Of course it's hard. Nothing worth doing is ever easy. But don't let that discourage you. I've heard it from so many people, "Oh it's hard, it's so hard, being an actor, a director, a musician, it's so hard, it's so backstabbing, it's so difficult." It ain't easy, but the people who tell you this are people who have never even tried. They're the people who thought about it for a week, then someone told THEM it was hard, and they gave up. Now they live in central Kentucky pumping gas, and they're going to tell you all about the entertainment industry. See, it looks like a blast, doesn't it. It looks like all glitz and glamour, and red carpets, and beautiful gowns and suits, and awards and million dollar mansions, and living off residuals. Being in the NFL looks the same way. Someone can make $10 million a year for what basically comes down to working 16-20 days a year, and those "work" days are three hours long and all you do is play a game. Then you get a check for $10 million on top of any endorsement deals you got. But what people don't see is all the real work. The practices, the travel, the time away from family and friends, the workouts, the diets, the injuries, the surgeries. Not only that, but to get to the NFL, you had to deal with it all for free in college, and still be the best. And to deal with it all in college, you had to deal with it in high school, and still be the best. And to deal with it in varsity, you had to be a freshman in JV, and so on. The same goes for the entertainment industry. Look at John Travolta. The man is a millionaire. He owns his own 737, he parks it in his driveway. He's a cool cool guy. He wasn't always. What you don't see is all the time after Saturday Night Fever, but before Pulp Fiction, where the man was lucky not to starve. All the Look Who's Talking movies though sucky, were a gift to the man. It's necessary, to be in this business takes an acceptable degree of unreasonability, (as Kevin Smith so eloquently put it). There are times when you starve, there are times you live off credit cards, there are times you can't afford to pay your rent, there are times that you are unemployed for a long amount of time, and there's no guarentee that those times will ever end. The point is that you have to know that going in, and all the people who "never made it" because they never tried, the ones giving you advice, they didn't know that. They thought they get to Hollywood, and someone would see them and they'd ge a job and be on Friends and make millions. Nothing ever works that way. Being in the NFL looks like fun, but it's a lot of work, being an astronaut looks like fun, but there's a LOT of schooling, being an actor, or a director looks like fun, and it is, but it's also a lot of work. It's a lot of coordination, it's a lot of practice, and if you do it right, it's extremely rewarding.

2.) The Primadonna Rookie Syndrome. You've seen this guy in every movie. He's on every sports team, in every garage band from coast to coast. The guy who is absolutely convinced he's brilliant. The guy who will "be in his trailer until you get him 1000 green M&Ms." The guy who has the best script in the world, the guy who is the best bass player to ever hold a bass, the guy who writes the deepest most powerful lyrics, the guy who knows he's better than you, in my experience that guy will always, ALWAYS fail. Lack of humility is a killer. I sit here and rip on George Lucas a lot saying he's a terrible director. Fact is, he's a lot better than me, and I say that he sucks because I liked the original Star Wars movies, but the newer ones are aimed at a younger demographic. If I ever met Mr. Lucas, you can be sure I'd shake his hand and treat him coordially and kiss his ass and like clean his pool if he asked. I consider myself a good writer. I know that I have talent there. I would never claim to have written the best thing ever, and that you're an idiot if you don't think so. I will never claim that I'm going to win an Oscar someday and you'll all tell your friends that you know me. I will never tear apart a film and say it was complete and total crap without a grain of salt, because if it got made and distributed, it did better than anything I've ever done. I'll never rip on Ben Affleck saying he's a terrible actor, because he's made millions doing it, and I've made nothing. (And personally I disagree, and think Ben Affleck is totally cool). I was in a garage band with a guy named Sam, who constantly ripped on Hanson, saying "They suck" or "They're the worst band ever." To which I'd respond, "They're doing better than us." Then he'd get all pissy and storm out. You aren't the greatest, and even if you are, you still need to respect who came before you, and work your way up. Which leads me to the third reason...

3.) Disrespect. This comes close to going hand in hand with the last one, but it's different enough. If you've ever seen "Return of the King" the extended cut, you may have noticed that the end credits of the film last thirty minutes. That's a whole hell of a lot of people who worked on the movie. That's how this works. Making a movie, being an actor in said movie, or a camera op, or a gaffer, or a grip, it's all one big team project. That camera instructor who said that "Actors are props that eat." There's a big reason he's got to be a camera teacher to live, and not a full time operator. I've seen directors who don't give a shit about the DP, I've seen DP's who don't give a shit about the actors, I've seen actors that don't give a shit about the writers, and I've seen writers who don't give a shit about the producers. No one thinks about how talented the makeup artists or the costuming department are, no one gives out respect to the lighting department or the location scout. The Production Designer is never thanked, and the grips all hate their job because no one is paying any attention to them. If you want to get in good, you have to realize that every job performed is performed by extremely talented people, and is entirely necessary to preserve the quality of your piece. You can't be the director and come with the attitude that your actors are subclass to the picture, because they most certainly are not. You cannot paint the Mona Lisa if you have only the color blue and no brush. You need everyone, and they are all doing their best. And they start to slack when they start to realize you don't care about them. There's a guy in my class I worked with whos actors absolutely hated him by the end of production, and he didn't care. He had no consideration for them whatsoever, and kept them around long after they needed to be there. These people are volunteering, and to their credit, of which I give them a lot, they didn't walk off. Not only that, but they did an outstanding job. The film still looked like crap though. I can say that, because we're on the same level. That and he was also disrespectful to the crew, which was me.

Those actors though, have the perseverence it takes to do this job. At least they did that day. They say a lot of this business is being in the right place at the right time. That's entirely true. But the other part to that is that you have to make sure to place yourself in the right place at the right time. Luck has something to do with it, but not everything.

So if you stay positive, stay focused, stay humble, and keep moving, you should do just fine. You need patience. A lot of patience. But I'm sure that parking your 737 in your multimillion dollar homes gigantic driveway is entirely worth the wait.

Sorry this post was so freakin long. It says I started at 4:54pm. It's now 6:25pm.



  • Oh Joe, there are just some posts that make me want to kiss you full on the mouth or bake you a pie, I'm not sure which you'd prefer, though the sentiment is the same. This is one of those posts.

    Somehow you always manage to say the wisest and most realistic things that perk me right up, out of any funk I may be experiencing.

    Now I'm off to work on my play about a fat fetishist and his woman. (Yeah, this is why I'm in theatre right now. ;)

    By Blogger Johanna Marie, at Wed Mar 02, 01:07:00 AM EST  

Post a Comment

<< Home