Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Location Scout Series: An Early Report

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked my opinion about Jeffrey Deaver's "Location Scout" series. I think it was Janiece who asked how near they came to reflecting reality. I wasn't familiar with the books, but said I'd check them out and report back. The series, as far as I can tell, follows John Pellam as he solves crimes. Pellam, also as far as I can tell, was at one time a Hollywood stuntman who became a Location Scout (or manager; I don't know yet.) which put him in situations where he'd encounter said crimes to solve. (Sidenote: I've scouted and managed locations all over the U.S. and in Canada for almost 20 years and I've yet to encounter a crime that needed my intervention but that's a minor quibble. I did once notice a small town about to burn to the ground and helped prevent it, but that's another story for another day. Neener Neener.)

So, anyway in my usual ass-backwards manner, this is what I did.

1. Go to Amazon.com
2. Do enough research to find out that Shallow Graves is book 1 in the series.
3. Order Shallow Graves.
4. Look for something else to order so my purchase will qualify for free shipping.
5. Pre-order Elizabeth Moon's Victory Conditions (Vatta's War #5) due out Feburary 19th.
6. Figure, 'Oh, I can wait'.
7. Stop into a bookstore a week later.
8. Buy Jeffrey Deaver's Hell's Kitchen, the most recent book in the Location Scout series.
9. Figure, 'What the hell', I'll read the last one first and figure it all out later.

I have problems with delayed gratification. I want it now.

So, anyway, I started Hell's Kitchen last night. I'm 53 pages into the thing and I've got a few problems. I'll start by saying that apparently, the hero, Mr. Pellam has now graduated from being a Location Scout or Manager to being a documentary filmmaker. (It could happen.) (Sidenote #2: I've also never met a stuntman who moved into locations, but since I haven't read the first book I'll withhold judgment.)

Mr. Deaver's bio says he was born in Chicago, attended the University of Missouri, and received a law degree from Fordham University (which is in The Bronx). He now maintains residences in California and Virginia. Reading this makes me think he should have a glancing familiarity with NYC since 1.) he went to school here and 2.) he can probably afford airline tickets.

I'd be wrong. Here are the things I've found annoying so far.

1. The story is set in Hell's Kitchen and centers around a documentary he's shooting about the lives of several people who live in a particular building on West 36th Street. Now, I'll admit that NYC neighborhoods don't have distinct boundaries. The edges are a little blurry. That being said, (and regardless of what Wikipedia says), I think most New Yorkers would agree that the southern boundary of Hell's Kitchen is around 40th Street, 38th if you want to be generous. I certainly don't think of 36th Street as part of Hell's Kitchen. So, O.K. I'm starting by being annoyed about stretching a boundary that isn't really drawn on any map, but why didn't he play it safe and base his story on a building on, say, 44th Street and remove any doubt about the neighborhood.

2. In the first chapter, he's in the building when an arsonist strikes. So, the Fire Department becomes part of the story. C'mon Jeffery. Everyone knows its FDNY, not NYFD. That's just fucking lazy.

3. He has his character walking through Hell's Kitchen taking in the local color. He refers to various stores, bodegas and delis in the neighborhood. He refers to "Managro's Deli". I don't know if he was making this up as a completely fictional place or talking about a place he vaguely remembers. The fact is, there's a famous inter-family feud that's gone on since the 60's over whether Manganaro's Heroboy or its next-door neighbor Manganaro's Grosseria Italiano, owns the rights to the "Heroboy" name. (Scroll down to item 28 on the link for the story.) If he was referring to the real place, he blew it. If he was making it up off the top of his head, he was too close to a real place-name for comfort.

4. At one point, he has a character explaining how you stay safe in NYC. He says, "You stay away from alleys". How many times must I tell you, there are six fucking alleys in Manhattan. We don't have alleys here. How about I rephrase that. Alleys, pretty much don't exist in Manhattan. (Yeah! I'm talking to you, you idiots who produced Look Who's Talking, in which John Travolta drives Kirstie Alley through a series of alleys to get to the hospital.) Get a clue. No alleys.

O.K. so far, I'm complaining about Mr. Deaver's lack of familiarity with NYC, not his familiarity with the business of scouting locations for a living. But I do think its relevant that his lead character doesn't know what neighborhood he's in. Anyway, on to the first doesn't know the business quibble. On page 33, Mr. Deaver writes:

"In his years doing location work Pellam had scouted in Manhattan only a few times. The local companies (my emphasis) largely had the business locked up and, besides, because of the high cost of shooting here the Manhattan you saw in most movies was usually Toronto, Cleveland or a set. The films actually shot in the city had little appeal to him - wierd little Jim Jarmusch student-quality independents and dull mainstreams. EXT. PLAZA HOTEL - DAY, EXT WALL STREET - NIGHT. The scouting assignments had less to do with being the director's third eye than filling out the proper forms in the Mayor's Film Office and making sure cash went where it was supposed to go, both above and below the table. (BTW, the punctuation is copied directly from the text. I could be wrong, but it seems a little weird in places.)

Fuck you, Mr. Deaver. First of all, the local companies never get any feature work. They do commercials that are too lazy or hurried to hire a scout. Features are handled almost exclusively by freelance independent Location Managers and the scouts we hire. Feature directors don't want to shoot the same place that was in somebody else's movie. They want you to go out, start from scratch and find them new stuff. They don't want to see any fucking files. Second, yes, as I've mentioned, some pictures shoot in Toronto (or Cleveland?) and then come to NY for a week of exteriors. More often than not, however, the whole fucking movie shoots here. Ever heard of Law and Order (all of them), Midnight Cowboy, Vanilla Sky, Serpico, French Connection, or Spiderman, just to mention a few student - quality independents?

So far, I'm not blown away. I'll file a final report when I've finished it and assuming I'm not too pissed off, I'll read Shallow Graves and report back on that, too.

18 comments:

Tania said...

What a disappointment. Grrr.

This is why I try to not watch films that take place in Alaska. The little details like daylight in various times of year, what is or isn't on the road system, how long it takes to get from one place to another (I'm looking at you, Stephen Seagal), etc.

Do you want me to send him a note that says "Dude, write what you KNOW, not what you presume to have knowledge about do to some spurious association"? I'd do that for you.

Tania said...

Due not do. Urrgle. It's not quite 10 AM here, the coffee is still kicking in.

Jeff Hentosz said...

Good stuff, Nathan.

Regarding Cleveland as NY: Yes, most recently part of Spiderman 3 was filmed in Cleveland. A few others, but can't recall titles off the top of my head. I think film crews go there for the alleys.

Nathan said...

Tania,

I'll take care of Deaver by venting here. It, you want to give Jeff a little kick in the ass, that'd be okay, though.

Jeff Hentosz said...

WHADID I DO!?

*o.O*

Janiece Murphy said...

Sorry, Nathan. Didn't mean to get you wrapped around the axle. I thoroughly enjoy Mr. Deaver's books, probably because I'm woefully ignorant about the settings in which he writes. And he's, you know, a good storyteller.

But I won't read books about the Navy, either. The Hunt for Red October is one that actually got SOME things right, but usually they're just stupid.

Nathan said...

I'm sure I'll finish it, and like I said, I should read the first one in the series before passing final judgment. Besides, only 50 pages in and it gave me a perfectly usable blog post.

And if we say Deaver enough and he's googling himself, maybe he'll show up and we can have a "face to face".

Deaver.
Deaver, Deaver.
Deaver, Deaver, Deaver!

Anne C. said...

That's like the urban legend where you say the ghost's name (Bloody Mary?) three times to a mirror at midnight, or whatever it is, trying to evoke the ghost.

Deaver Deaver Deaver!

BTW, the only novel I've tried to read featuring an architect was The Fountainhead and I pretty much threw it across the room 1/3 of the way through.

Nathan said...

Oooh. Book throwing Olympics. Where do I sign up?

Jeff Hentosz said...

Hey, let me know when I can contribute again, without being threatened with a ass-whuppin' for no reason. (I might have something interesting to say regarding a book about a graphic designer. Then again, I might not -- it's a chance you'll have to take).

kthx

Nathan said...

Jeff,

I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. I just thought I detected a slight smirk when you said, I think film crews go there for the alleys.

N'est pas?

Besides, I only asked for a little kick in the ass.

::Nathan wails::

Can't we all just get along?

Now spill with the designery stuff!

Michelle K said...

I just finished an absolutely horrible mystery. I have no expertise in murdering or mysterying or swooning.

I do have experience in being a complete idiot though, so I was more than qualified to speak on that part.

Janiece,

Did you ever try "Blind Man's Bluff" by Sherry Sontag et al? It's non-fiction, so that's obviously different, but I loved it.

John the Scientist said...

So, Mr. Location Manager, I found a good Chinese place in Midtown. Still want to meet on Tuesday?

Give me a shout at perestrelka91-at-yahoo-dot-com.

I think we'll be the first of this merry band to meet off-line.

Nathan said...

email on the way, John.

And I think Janiece and Anne had lunch a few weeks ago. That's alright. We'll represent for the Smart Men. OK, you'll be smart and I'll be smart-alecky

Janiece Murphy said...

Hot Chicks and Smart Men - enjoying ethnic food since 2008.

Anne and I are on again for next week. Mexican. Hmmm...

Jeff Hentosz said...

Frenchy:

Just funnin' you, bub (although I admit my first reaction to your last comment to me was, "Whoa, did I really just make Nathan feel bad on his own blog? Why, I feel positively ... weirdly ... proud.") There definitely needs to be a better way to convey tone of voice online than emoticons. Where's my damn holographic surrogate, already!?

Frankly, I wonder that I don't get threats of beat-downs more often.

Anyway.

Us graphic designers were lucky that the one prominent novel about our field (that I know of) was written by a bona fide rock star among us, one Chip Kidd. It's called The Cheese Monkeys: A Novel in Two Semesters. To be honest, as a story it's not my cup of tea. It's a slight thing -- all wide margins, generous line spacing and small trim size -- really more of a novella, I'd say. It's a tale of coming of age in the early '60s at a small northeastern college of art. Very Paper-Chase-Love-Story-The-Graduate-ish, falling leaves, new loves and self discovery.

Bleh.

But as an object of graphic design (objet d'sign?), and a window into the roots of what we do, it is outstanding. If you're not familiar with Kidd's name, you know his work. It seems like every notable fiction and non-fiction book of the '90s was designed by him: Geek Love and Kafka on the Shore and All the Pretty Horses and The Secret History and on and on. He created the Jurassic Park T-Rex logo. He's friends with cartoonists like Chris Ware and is a huge comics nerd as well, and has designed several coffee-table comic art collections.

Next time you're at your local library, see if they have a copy of The Cheese Monkeys in hardcover and take a look. Kidd has the kind of fun I'd kill for on a project, like goofing with the copyright page and printing on the case and page edges. Within the story there are genuinely interesting lessons on seeing and imagining. Just for those I do recommend the thing.

Nathan said...

Jeff,

I can't respond to this right now. I'm just a little too emotional.

Maybe later.

::sniff::

Tom said...

Oooh, start taking liberties with the City, or with Location Manager-er-ing, and Nathan goes all 'splodey-headed! Good thing to remember for the future (note to self: stay away from that stuff unless you actually, you know, want to make Nathan 'splodey-headed).

Note to Jeff: see, this is how blog post topics get thrown your way. Try something new, then write. I can recommend PB. If you don't know what that is, we have a whole bunch of assignments ready for you.