Sunday, October 4, 2009

Wild Goose Chases.

If the following sounds like an exercise in pointless and futile whining, that's because it is. But I'll defend it on two fronts. 1.) I've conducted an exhaustive survey of the internet and determined that two of the most vital purposes of blogs are as repositories for cat pictures and for pointless futile whining. I'm doing that much right! 2.) If there's nothing else I've taught you about the motion picture industry, it's that those of us who toil in it whine a lot. Whining isn't a privilege for film crews, it's an unwritten obligation. Extras whine about the holding area. Grips whine about stairs. Office people whine about the on-set crew and the on-set crew whines about the office. Everybody whines about catering. (It's totally understandable that everyone will whine about eating something-in-sauce for the fifth day in a row, but even if you hired a rotating cast of celebrity chefs, we'd get tired of it after a week or two. " If we have to eat chilled potato leek soup, endive salad with smoked salmon, cajun stuffed peppers, sizzling prawns, curry pork, or bruschetta al pomodoro one more day, I'm gonna puke! Don't any of these effete assholes know how to make a friggin' grilled-cheese sandwich? Would it kill them to put out some corn dogs?")

So, what, you may ask, has got me all wound up this morning? Everybody wants to help me! The bastards! Sure, I can hear you all boo-hooing sarcastically; Aw, everybody wants to help Nathan get his work done! Well, let me tell you; it sucks.

Let's start by recognizing that nobody ever helpfully walks up to the Director of Photography and says, "Have you seen this filter? You should really try it." Nobody tells the Costume Designer where there's a better deal on 1950's police uniforms. I wouldn't want to be in the shoes of the guy who thinks he it's a good idea to advise the dolly grip about when he ought to be using a dance floor instead of track and bogey-wheels. I think that would turn ugly.

But you know what? Everybody goes places and sees stuff, so they all think they should help their Location Manager find places to shoot. Spoiler Alert: YOU'RE NOT HELPING!

There are two categories of people who want to help. Those I have to listen to and those I don't.

The second category is much easier to deal with. They'll say something like, "Oooh, it'd be great to shoot that scene at The Rainbow Room." And I say, "Oooh, that's a great idea! Can I have your props budget for the first three weeks so I can afford it?" O.K., I'm not usually that snotty about it; a totally insincere "Thanks, I'll look into that" usually does the trick.

The first category, however...those I have to listen to, can really add to my workload. And there's rarely anything to show for it in the end. If a Producer or the Director or the Production Designer suggests I look into something, I'd better put some legwork into it. They're going to ask me about it later and I'd better have investigated their suggestion. Sometimes that's easy.

I've had a designer give me a photo and say, "We should shoot here." I remember saying, "I'll see if we can find something like that", and he said, "No! Not somewhere like that; I want to shoot there!" In that instance, I was able to direct his attention to the caption at the bottom of the page indicating that it was a picture of a place that had been torn down in 1982. Ta-daaaaa! Off the hook!

Some other ideas aren't so easy to dispose of. Let's say you've got a scene in the script that takes place a t a pizza restaurant. And let's say you show the director pictures of...oh...twenty pizza restaurants. And let's say you get into a van one day with the director and the production designer and the D.P. and a couple of producers and the A.D. and you go look at 4 of those 20 pizza restaurants and, for whatever reason, none of them work for the movie. I promise you, you'll get back in the van and someone will say, "Did you look at Pizza Gourmet on First Avenue?" And someone else will go, "What about Chez Nouvelle Pizza in Williamsburg?" Yet another will wonder aloud why you haven't checked out Brick Oven Pizza Universe on Bleeker.

Suddenly, you find yourself realizing that nobody is going to be happy until you have a definitive answer about the availability and appropriateness of every pizza restaurant in NYC. And you're thinking, Jeez, there's a lot of pizza restaurants in NYC.

A quick little search of Superpages reveals 673 pizza restaurants in NYC. And I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that it's an incomplete list. Somebody working on your show will know some hole-in-the-wall pizza joint that isn't on the list.

If you take three location scouts and assign them exclusively to The Great Pizza Restaurant Search and they manage to contact, scout and photograph 5 pizza restaurants each, every day (working a 5-day week), it'll only take seven weeks to scout every listed pizza restaurant in NYC (and still miss God-knows-how-many other pizza restaurants that managed to avoid the notice of If you've got a limited budget (and you know you do) and you've got 50 or more locations to find for the whole movie, this will be a monumental waste of time and money.

And when you've compiled and cross-checked and searched out and contacted and photographed every pizza restaurant in NYC and you somehow convince the powers that be to sit down and look at pictures of every pizza restaurant in NYC, the guy who asked about Pizza Mafia in Bensonhurst will look at the pics and say, "Oooh, is that what that place looks like? That's horrible." And you'll look at him with barely concealed murder in you eyes and he'll say,"We always call for delivery. I had no idea what the place actually looks like". And then, as if it might make any difference to how the place would work as a filming location, he'll add, "Their pizza really tastes good."

Maybe you're looking for a Gym for some scenes. There are the BIG NAME national franchises that may or may not want to be associated with your show. There are the local Mom & Pop gyms that...may or may not want to be associated with your show. (It's pretty rare to be walking into a place and be able to sell yourself in two heartbeats because you're doing locations for the fifth season of Sex & The City and everybody wants to be on your show.) Even if you plan to create a completely fictitious name for the gym in your scenes, there's the fact that people tend to work out at ridiculously early and late hours, so getting into any gym is difficult to schedule. So, when you're coming up dry on places that look good and/or have any wish to get involved with your show, a producer may say something like, "Have you seen that new gym on the corner of "X" Avenue and "Y" Street?" And you...thinking you've got nothing to lose, make a point of going by there even thought it's about as far out of your way as it could possibly get. And you spend 15 minutes finding a parking space. And you walk the four blocks back to the corner of "X" Avenue and "Y" Street. And you stand there, perplexed, looking at the four corners. Three of them have the same old crap you've known was there for the last 15 years or more. The fourth corner has something new...but decidedly not a gym. So you call the Producer and you say, "Did you maybe mean something not exactly on the corner, because, if not, the only new thing at the corner of "X" Avenue and "Y" Street is an Armani Outlet".

I could really go on, but that would be futile and pointless, wouldn't it? People will still ask if I talked to the folks at that church they went to a wedding at 7 years ago that was somewhere on the Upper West may have been Catholic or Episcopal...or something like that. It was in the middle of a block. Somewhere in the West 70's...or maybe 80's. Or maybe it was in East Harlem. They'll still tell you they know a guy who works at this really cool bar and he knows the owner and he can get you in. And it turns out the guy they know delivers beer kegs once a week.

I can whine all I like but it'll never change. Everyone goes places and sees stuff and they just want to be helpful. We, in the locations department, just learn to live with it. There is, however, one situation where we get our revenge. If you're a Production Assistant, you definitely fall into the category of People I don't have to listen to. If you attempt to upgrade your status by offering location suggestions in a van full of People I do have to listen to, I'll be more than happy to arrange a tragic mishap for you.


Carol Elaine said...

Union Station in Los Angeles. Rarely used for film/TV and a definite location winner.


Nathan said...

Union Station? Nope. I've never seen that one on film. I think I'll fly out there and be the first one!

neurondoc said...

How about Union Station in DC? Not that I want you to come and visit or anything... :-)