When I was in college, if you were majoring in Film, you had to produce a "Final" film and the crew was made up of fellow students. I remember working on one film where Student "X" was working as the Gaffer...and he was really fast. The problem was that he'd light the scene as soon as he knew where the actors would be acting, but not before he found out where the camera would be. So he always set up the lights in the shot. The third or fourth time this happened, he screamed at the Director of Photography, "The lighting is beautiful! How about if you 'adjust' your shot to avoid the lights for once ‽"
You may find this ludicrous -- and at the time, so did I -- but I'm beginning to sympathize with the poor deluded schmuck. It's true; everyone who works on movies has, at one time or another, felt like their contribution wasn't getting the respect it deserved. (They've also all felt they deserved a really cool leather crew jacket or even a shiny new BMW instead of some crappy T-shirt as a wrap gift, but that's another story altogether.)
It's a good news/bad news situation.
For the filmmaker, it's good that someone is obsessing about what time shows up on that clock at the beginning of every take of Scene 87B. It's good that someone is obsessing about the lead character always wearing that bracelet during the third day of the story, but not on the fourth day of the story. It's good that someone is obsessing about getting a clean recording of that mournful train whistle in the distance. It's good that someone is obsessing over there always being plenty of peanut butter & cheese crackers on hand; even if most of the crew thinks they're disgusting, they keep disappearing at an impressive rate, so they must be making somebody happy.
For the obsessed, though, here's the bad news. No matter how dedicated you are to carrying out the narrow focus of your job description, it's never going to be a movie about a clock that says 9:42 A.M. at just the right moment of screen time; it'll never be a movie about that adorable tennis bracelet; it's never going to be a movie about moody train whistles and if it's ever a movie about peanut butter and cheese crackers, there had better be a fairly engrossing subplot.
So yeah...I get it. the movie is about the people and what they do and say in the locations you pay me to find, but would it be asking too much to actually let the audience get a look at the places sometimes? Huh?
You want an example? On one movie, I was sitting down for a meeting with the Director and the D.P. to discuss the look of the film before I got heavily into scouting. The D.P. said he intended to shoot most of the movie "kinda long-lensey, in your face, really intimate". "Great", I said, "We can shoot the whole movie in your office." (I swear this is an accurate transcript.)
Here's the opening scene of the movie and here's just a screenshot since embedding is disabled.
One of the first movies I had any real Locations responsibilities on was True Believer. The opening sequence of the movie is a murder in Chinatown that sets up the rest of the plot. Here's the trailer for the movie and you can see a snippet of the Chinatown sequence in the first few seconds.
The scene takes up a couple of minutes of actual screen time and it took two full nights to shoot. It took me two solid weeks to make all of the arrangements necessary to shoot there ... stores/restaurants keeping their lights and signs on all night, access to a bunch of roofs and fire escapes for lighting and camera positions, etc.**
Once again...it's a terrific scene, but Chinatown is really fuzzy and out of focus for most of it. Does a little part of me resent the fact that two weeks of my hard work is barely visible on the screen? Nooooooo! That would be petty and stupidly self-centered of me. (Feh.)
This Post Will Be Continued with more petty, self-centered whining...
*For the record, that scene was shot at O'Neal's on Grand Street.
**The director wanted the street to "suggest" that there was some sort of street festival going on and he wanted a bunch of banners strung across the street to add color and texture, so I had to get permission to string those between buildings. Nobody really cared what the banners would say, since most of the audience wouldn't be able to read Chinese, so the Art Department hired some Chinese sign-writer to make them and told him to just make them say innocuous stuff -- "Venerable Honored Ladies' Club Flower Sale" -- stuff like that. The sign writer decided it would be really funny to sell the movie a bunch of banners filled with rabid Communist slogans -- which we discovered when the Art Department started hanging them up and the street was suddenly filled with people screaming at us and threatening all sorts of dire consequences if we didn't pull them down immediately.