Why is this here?

I'm a filmmaker currently touring the DIY Feature A Genesis Found around the campuses of colleges and universities across the Southeast. This is the personal account, for better or worse, of its successes and failures.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Catchin' up part 2 1/2: "The crazy crap you do for movies"

Benjamin Stark, my business partner at Wonder Mill (also the producer of A Genesis Found and the writer/director of The Nocturnal Third) coined the quote in the above title, and it's about the most straight forward assessment of the bizarre experiences endured in varying phases of filmmaking I've ever heard.

The Indomitable Benjamin Stark
For our first two features, Ben and I have done our fair share of "crazy crap" (often with the help of family/friends/cast/crew), including a straight 23-hour drive to Illinois and back to pick up a $400 piece of junk camper; an out-right bizarre festival award show in Anaheim, CA (Joey Buttafucco was one of the presenters!); towing the production van behind an SUV out of the woods and into civilization at 2:30 in the morning, attached only by rigged tethers of rope; while waiting with our wreck-stranded DP, watching the sun come up after a late night of shooting, with the next day's call about 5 hours away (I missed this one, but Ben, Joey and Markus were there!); dealing with SAG after realizing we had unknowingly used a SAG actor -- etc, etc.

Of course, not every great anecdote of "crazy crap" has to involve loss of sleep and awful, off-pitch urban/techno/indie/europop singers with their dancers they met off Craig's List (thank you, Anaheim).  Sometimes the "crazy crap" is simply how you react to two world's you generally keep separate colliding into one, in scenarios of great potential for physical comedy that almost make you feel like a marionette of Buster Keaton.

You said it Buster
I got to experience one of these bizarre events a few weeks ago, in the week prior to my trip to the Carolinas.  For the tour, I've developed a pretty aggressive and all-encompassing promotional strategy for every school I visit, getting word out about screenings as best I can using what humble means I have at my disposal-- mostly passing on fliers, press releases and PSAs, and doing my best to get blogs, podcasts, newspapers, and radio stations interested and willing to pick up and promote the screening with no cost to me.

Unfortunately since most of my promoting can't involve money (I pay to print up and ship fliers, but that's it), this campaign is a bit more hit and miss than I'd prefer, generally depending on how much of a head start prior to the screening I give myself to get promos rolling, how big the town/school is, and if I contacted the right person.

Anyhow, since Columbia is a pretty big town with a nice art culture, my promotions for the screening went pretty well (even if the turnout wasn't overwhelming-- Beat Auburn in the SEC Title game and you're forgiven).  I got a good amount of coverage from numerous local press sources, including the always welcome opportunity of getting interviewed on a local syndicated-radio "community events" show.

The filmmakers are coming!

I work as a projectionist in my day job, and since I spend a lot of time in the projection booth babysitting the projector, I generally have some free time-- or at least time where my job is simply to be present and not actively work.  When I don't waste that time lamenting Alabama's 9-3 season or updating my Netflix que, I can generally use it to the advantage of my filmmaking alter-ego.  So, assuming I'd simply need to give a 15 - 20 minute interview, on tape, I agreed to call the show in the morning during my 11 o'clock show (show duration: 40 min).

So I made the call, and after a brief introduction, my interviewer prepped me:  "You ready?"
- "Yes"
- "All right.  We'll get started and all I need for you to do is tell me a little bit about the film."

Again, assuming this was just a taped PSA of some kind, I, immediately, started into my memorized spiel that pitches the film and screening--

- "Whoa, whoa, hold on, we're not on air yet."

Now, it hits me.  "Oh, sorry."

Fifteen seconds later, I'm on air live in South Carolina.

Generally, I'm not alone in the booth, and when I have to take important calls (I'm assuming being on air live in another state qualifies as important) I do so in the back, but since I was alone, and the projector can't be left alone when it's running, I was left to field interview questions just a few feet away from a very loud projector.

For the first twenty minutes or so, the interview went great-- outside of the fact that it was twenty minutes when I was expecting five to ten.  Not that I minded the extra publicity, but I wasn't counting on it-- and having called the station some 15 minutes after starting the film, the film's ending, and the need to quickly turn it around for another showing on the hour, was becoming paramount.

To further complicate matters, I had other "supervisory" duties still to deal with.  In a nutshell, where I work, when I'm the only projectionist in the booth, I'm also the supervisor of the theater's ushers.  Typically they rarely need any input from me-- they are largely self-sufficient-- but since I had been the only projectionist in all morning (and wasn't initially supposed to, mind you) we had never decided what ushers would leave to go work our other theater (which had it's first show in the following hour as well).  Also, with the other projectionists (my bosses) still not checked in from some extra work that had kept them all morning, we also didn't know if we had a projectionist available to run the show at the other theater.

You know where this is headed
SO, my lead usher informed me of most of this dilemma on scribbled scrap paper while I was still fielding questions-- generally tough, detailed questions-- about the film.  Luckily, when you eat, sleep and breathe a project for three years, you get pretty good at talking about it with half your attention.

And, to further complicate (and not embellish, I swear) matters, my phone, a cheap $20 go-phone that, ever so humble, has a sweet spot in regards to the placement of its mic, and if I angled it mere centimeters incorrectly away from my mouth, it couldn't pick me up at all-- so, as I ran around with no free hands prepping the transition between films, I had to keep the phone pressed quite awkwardly and quite firmly between my arched shoulder and ear.

So, standing by the projector's control panel mere minutes from the transition, my lead usher and I exchanged numerous hand signals, pointed fingers, nods and other forms of silent communication to sort out the mess, while I continued to try and field questions.

Too bad my name's not Barry Allen....

Despite some awkward pauses, and too many "uhs", I got through most of the motioning pretty smoothly, and we had a gameplan.  Now all I had to do was wrap up the interview while turning around the film myself in a nine-minute window.

And then, with my hands in crucial places on the control panel, retracting the projector down from its up-track position, I shifted my shoulder and the phone dipped under my chin.

"Oh, oh, we've lost you.  Are you there?  Hello?"

Jesus.  So, after a few silent seconds, I was able to pull a hand free and readjust the phone.  Now I had seven minutes to thread, a phone call still to make to ensure there was a projectionist at the other theater, a film to turn around (which needs both hands), and an interview, now nearing 45 minutes, with no end in sight.

Fortunately (though rather unfortunately for my story), that was about it.  Once the film was down, aside from having to thread with a pinched nerve because of my neck glued to my shoulder, and looking kinda ridiculous (and unprofessional) to the guests watching me work from our outer glass wall, everything smoothed out.  Luckily, threading is like riding a bicycle or hitting a baseball-- muscle memory-- so I was able to focus on the questions, wrap up the interview in five minutes, and finally give my full attention to make sure both theaters were covered.

The crazy crap you do for movies.  All in a day's work, right?

1 comment:

  1. I knew about all this happening, but it still made me laugh to read it.