Saturday, March 27, 2010
Friday, March 26, 2010
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Friday, March 12, 2010
I've been talking to a lot of people lately about vision –– that nebulous quality that defines your work, separates you from your competition, and makes you worth vast sums of money –– and I've come to the conclusion that there are two aspects to a director's vision.
The first part is the material.
The easy way to think about this is to ask, "What's the film about?" 'ET', for instance, is about how humankind deals with the discovery of extraterrestrial life. (So are, by the way, 'Avatar' and 'District 9', but we'll get to them down the road.)
The material you're drawn to is a huge part of defining your vision. Back in 1980, Spielberg could have easily been working on a film about –– oh, I don't know, how humankind deals with the discovery of a hugely powerful religious artifact... oh wait. He was. That's 'Raiders of the Lost Ark'.
As long as we're talking about Spielberg, let's see if we can find a pattern. There's 'Jurrasic Park' (how humankind deals with the discovery of prehistoric life'), 'AI' (how humankind deals with the development of artificial intelligence), 'War of the Worlds' and 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' (how humankind deals with the discovery of extraterrestrial life –– again)... Hmm. When you break it down that way, you start to get a pretty good sense of the stuff that floats Spielberg's boat.
I think it's fair to say that Spielberg is attracted to stories about how humankind deals with events that have the potential to change history.
I know, I know, there are a lot of ways to parse what a film is about. Just go with me on this one. And, yes, I'm cherry picking. But you get the point.
Some directors, it's pretty obvious what gets them going.
Mel Gibson is drawn to stories about heroic characters who are utterly destroyed by powerful bad guys ('Braveheart', 'The Passion of the Christ', 'Apocalypto'). Krzysztof Kieslowski rarely veered away from dealing with great cultural themes ('Trois Couleurs', 'The Decalogue'). Ingmar Bergman was hung up on death. Until he, well, died.
Others, well, hey. They have mortgages and ex-wives to support.
Or they have something else that unifies their work. Another aspect of vision I'm going to get to in Part 2.
Monday, March 8, 2010
2) Permitting. There are parts of LA that have a moratorium on shooting. Period. Meaning, no, you can’t shoot there. In Portland, I recently shot for two days downtown. The requirements were A) Inform the film office where and when I’d be shooting, B) Don’t block any businesses’ entries, and C) leave at least six feet on one side of any camera or equipment for handicap access. In Moncton, it was even less onerous.
3) Jaded citizenry. There’s something really wonderful about being welcomed into a community, rather than being given the stink eye everywhere you turn. When I shoot a job in, say, Halifax –– or even Vancouver, Washington –– it’s not unusual for people who own the locations we’re using to go out of their way to accommodate our needs. I’ve even had homeowners make cookies for us when we come to scout their back yards. That doesn’t happen in LA.
4) “Free” extras. Every time I shoot in LA, it becomes a festival of gardeners with leaf blowers, motorcyclists idling and revving, people jumping up and down behind whoever’s in front of the camera, and drivers of passing cars leaning on their horns.
5) Unfunded mandates. Where you can shoot in LA, a lot of rules make it difficult to get permission. Try getting 100% of the neighbors on a block to sign an agreement allowing you to film there.
6) Unions. SAG, IATSE, the Teamsters, and the DGA aren’t inherently bad, but they do have their own agendas which make shooting in LA or New York a bit more complicated than shooting elsewhere. You either follow their rules or run the risk that they’ll shut you down.
7) Overexposure. I once shot a car commercial in LA and thought I’d discovered a great location. As I was lining up a shot, I looked down and saw I was standing on tape marks from a previous production. Believe me, if it’s worth shooting in LA, somebody’s already shot it.
8) The Boondoggle Factor. Let's face it, it's more exciting to say you got to shoot in Bulgaria than on the backlot at Paramount. And for people who want to travel, but don't want to spend their own money doing it, taking a production overseas is perfect.
9) Being unavailable. An amazing thing happened when I shot a job hundreds of miles from the nearest cell tower in Namibia –– nobody could "check in" with some higher up to validate their decisions. Everything we did, we did without help. It was one of the most pleasant production experiences I've ever had. Of course, that's not the kind of thing I'd advertise to the higher-ups...
10) The look. LA looks like, well, LA. Even in the areas that can play for someplace else, you're not going to have snow. And it's going to be hard to avoid seeing palm trees.
Here's the bottom line: you have to choose the correct solution for the project, not just give some knee-jerk reaction. Automatically choosing to shoot in LA is no better than automatically choosing to shoot in Argentina.
Frankly, no place is perfect. The trick is to calculate which place is likely to be the most perfect.