I got my first job working in the film business in 1980. I was a sophomore at Emerson College and I used to walk by this place on the way to my apartment in the South End. It was an equipment rental company and I'd stop in about 3 times a month and ask if they might need anybody. Usually, they'd just say, 'no', they were fully staffed. Once, one of the guys who worked there asked if I had any 'P.A. experience'. (P.A. I later discovered stands for Production Assistant.) I piped up, quite honestly that I didn't have any experience with public address systems.
They were suitably impressed.
How did I eventually get hired? I had stopped in again and gotten the standard response and was half way down the block when the owner hollered, "Hey kid. C'mere." It turned out that one of his employees had called in sick. He needed someone to drive a truck-mounted camera crane to New Hampshire for a commercial and wanted to know if I knew how to drive a stick shift. Well, I knew the principle behind the idea but had never actually driven a stick. I lied and said yes.
So, I managed to get the thing off the block without stalling and then proceeded to drive 80 miles in second gear. I worked there for 6 years.
This long intro is my way of acknowledging that I've got 28 years in the film business under my belt. With 28 years, I should have a bunch of stories about my experiences. Well, I do have a bunch of stories. I'm just not going to tell you most of them because, I'd like to continue working for a few more years if its all the same to you.
That said, here's a little story I can tell you. In 2002, I worked on a movie called La Leggenda, di Al, John, e Jack (The Legend of Al, John & Jack). Its an Italian movie, shot mostly in Italy, starring people who are really famous in Italy, speaking Italian. The movie is set in New York City in 1959, so they came to shoot the last three weeks in New York.
I'm letting myself talk about this one because 1.) I don't expect to see the Italian Director or Producer ever again, 2.) if I miss out on the 2nd time they show up in the States in 20 years, I can live with that, and 3.) I despised all of the Italians who showed up and refer you back to reason #2.
I've worked with people who's primary language is not English before. I've worked on commercials being shot by Mexican companies, Japanese companies, French companies and German companies. They've always gone out of their way to make sure that one or two of their people spoke English and kept the American crew informed of what was going on. The Italians didn't give a shit if we were up to speed or not. They'd babble away at each other in Italian for 20 minutes and then announce, "We now shoot John falling off the Brooklyn Bridge." They weren't the least bit moved by the fact that this wasn't in the script, had never been mentioned before and even if it had, there was no way I was going to be able to get a permit for the shot with anything less than a month's notice.
So we'd argue about the shot for another 1/2 hour until finally, I'd get one of the cops to tell them they'd be arrested if they went anywhere near the bridge without a permit.
Another fun thing was that they had, of course already shot most of their interior scenes in Italy. We were shooting exterior scenes to match what they had already shot. Now, its not at all uncommon to shoot an interior in one place, either a studio or a real location, and then "cheat" the exterior somewhere else. We do that all the time. When you're doing this, you need to 'match' some architectural features. When you shoot a lobby interior and see two large arched windows on the front wall of the set, you need those two large arched windows on the exterior front of the building. If the door opens 'in' to the room, it needs to do the same thing when you see it from outside. The way we usually do this is to choose the "real" locations first and then build the studio sets to match the features that need to match.
These guys didn't like doing things the usual way. For three weeks I had been sending them photos of building exteriors to stand in for the "Exterior Hotel" where the climactic scene would take place. They rejected everything I sent them without providing any reasons or guidance. Finally, when they arrived in New York, they showed me a photograph of the set they had shot in Italy. They pointed to the wood and glass revolving door in the picture. "Hotel must have this revolving door," they said. Ooookay!
Short resolution to the story? I found an appropriate looking building with a very close match to their 1959 period revolving door 5 days before we needed to shoot the scene. I got the permits to shut down a very busy block on the Upper West Side on a Friday night. I got the permits to make rain on the block and to have 30 1959 period cars driving back and forth in the shots. I got the permits for all of the gunshots that would be going on until 3:00 a.m. in a very residential area. I got the permits to use all of the BFL's (big fucking lights) that would be shining into everyone's windows when they all would rather be sleeping.
On the night of the shoot, while setting up the master shot on the busy NYC street that I'd transformed into a Hollywood backlot for them, the producer informed me that the director wasn't happy with the fact that there was a scaffolding in front of a building half-way down the block. He'd make it work because he was a professional, but he thought I should know how disappointed he was.
Yeah, you're welcome.