Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Money Isn't A Substitute For IQ Points, And Neither Is Its Lack

Today's topic is true in any number of fields of endeavor, from warfare to politics to survival, or all of the above, by which I refer to the process of making movies in Hollywood.

I have noted how there's a budget bell-curve, with both low- and high-budget projects coming in at the low end of the IQ axis.

Observe how that works out in practice.

At work on a rather low-budget feature once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, we made the bulk of it out of town, and far enough from the locals that the folks we dealt with weren't hip to Hollywood, i.e. didn't fire up their weed trimmers every time we started to roll, with their palms helpfully out waiting for some cash to go away while we worked.

So it was, after several weeks in the hinterlands of the Golden State that we returned to a soundstage to finish final filming on the technical portion of our project.

Actually, "soundstage" in this case was more of an honorary title.

It was, in fact, a stage for everything but sound, being used, as we later found out, strictly for effects shots,  or music videos (where the entire soundtrack is the audio from the track, and sync sound largely doesn't exist).

But our location manager and the producers got an incredible deal on the use of this stage, so that's where our sets were built, including the big climactic custom-built water tank house-flooding finale. Neither producers nor location manager appears to have had enough sense to question why, when the entire town's sound stages were full up and sold out, they got such a great rate on this stage the weeks we were there, but as I said, lack of money makes you stupid. (Or more probably, the other way around.)

So we had settled into our stage, quite literally a stone's throw from a local muni airport. Which, by and large, meant Cessnas and Pipers mostly, and primarily on the weekend, not M-F while we were working. I settled in near the sound cart, and perused the advance schedule of our final weeks in town at said stage location.

So imagine my surprise, then inner mirth, as I noted that we were to be filming there at both ends of a weekend where an air show was scheduled. Not just any air show, but the premier air show for the greater area, put on free by the city, and one to which literally dozens of airplanes, not to mention a couple of dozen active duty military birds, would arrive. F-14s, F-15s, F-16s, B-1s, B-52s, and usually even an F-117 not least among them all.

Musing out loud, I noted those facts to the sound mixer.

When he dropped everything he was holding, and said "You're s******* me!" I perhaps should have realized the seriousness.

"No, really, F-15s and B-52s coming in all day Friday, and going out all day Monday, and us here filming both days" I repeated, deadpan. "It's really cool to watch, we usually watch on Monday when they take off, at the first aid station we work for the city at the event."

He calls the boom guy over and tells him the news. That guy just starts laughing. Looks at me, sees I'm serious, and laughs even harder.

"Classic! I love this gig! Can't wait to see how this goes over."

Then after lunch, sound guy is talking to producer, and they flag me down as I pass too near.

"Tell her what you told me earlier," he tells me.

So I do.

Producer does her best deer-in-the-headlights look.

"You're s******* me!" she states, hopefully.

I crush her hopes with the same information given the first time. I do try to look a little less amused.

"Well, I'll start making calls. Maybe we can have them drive the planes in on trucks or something."

Of course, that's genius! The military will just humor Pissant Productions, LLC and call Bekins to trundle their fighters and bombers down the interstate and across town!

I'm now trying not to bite through my tongue to keep from laughing in her face at the prospect of getting the Navy and Air Force to put B-1s and F-14s on trucks and drive them down city streets rather than simply flying them to the airport like they've done for 20 years. My tongue still has the impact dents from that effort to this day.

Needless to say, no such change is forthcoming. But it was worth it to see the director, 4 producers, and the sound guys all yank their headsets off during a take about 10:15 Friday morning, when the first pair of F-15s did a pattern fly-by and break coming in from wherever at full military power prior to slowing for the approach and landing. I'm pretty sure several eyeballs nearly popped.

Then the pissing and moaning started. Followed, at random 15-20  minute intervals for the next 6 hours, by all the other military jets zooming in to get spotted and settled in on the aircraft apron for the weekend.

And then the same thing in reverse on Monday.

For two days, the director basically just looked up at the ceiling, waved vaguely at the actors, and told them to do "Whatever...", as he watched his schedule and shooting budget go to crap.

So if you ever, when reading about Hollywood, or watching what issues therefrom, have Charlton Heston moments (as I and many others have had), wherein in your best Heston voice, you observe presciently Planet Of The Apes-like "If this is the best they've got, in six months we could be running the place", rest assured you're absolutely correct.

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