To the guy sitting in 7A

Here’s the thing: When you arrive at the gate two minutes before the plane is supposed take off, you give up your right to complain. I don’t care what it says on your ticket. You take any available open seat.

That’s the deal. Maybe it’s not printed in all of the legalese, but it’s part of the social contract between all flyers: sit down, shut up, and let us push back from the gate.

What’s worse, it wasn’t even your seat. You claimed to have switched with some woman at the back of the plane, yet here you were at row seven, complaining that people weren’t in their assigned seats. J’accuse, my friend, j’accuse.

I wasn’t directly involved in the Great Seating Controversy of Flight 215. I was one row back, biting my tongue and proffering Cheerios to my daughter. Anything I might have said, any way I might have intervened, would have no doubt greater delayed our departure.

So instead, I spent a few minutes memorizing every detail of your face, so that at some point in the future when it won’t inconvenience 200 air travelers I might have the opportunity to let you know: You, sir, are a dick.


Additional photography

filmmingIn Hollywood parlance, “additional photography” is the polite term for what used to be called reshoots. It’s a rare case where the new word is better. Most of the time, you’re not reshooting anything. You’re getting new things you didn’t know you needed the first time around.

Woody Allen is famous for requiring additional days in his schedule (and budget) to allow for a different performance, a new scene, a funnier joke. Given how expensive a day of shooting is, that seems like a luxury, but as screenwriters it really shouldn’t. We’re accustomed to going through multiple drafts, trying things that might be Really Bad Ideas.

The chance to fuck up and fix it can be the difference between a so-so and solid.

I can speak from first-hand experience. For Go, we went back and shot several new scenes, including the resolution of the Simon-Gaines-Claire-Vics plotline. On paper, the new version wasn’t any better — in fact, it made considerably less sense. But as shot, it just worked better, condensing several scenes down to one, and wrapping up the movie faster.

For the first Charlie’s Angels, our additional photography was much more limited, basically just new establishing shots. But having seen the test scores for both the Before and After versions, I can testify to how much difference a few seconds of film can make. In most cases, it’s not that you’re adding something great, but rather that you’re replacing something sucky.

Last week, I was back in the director’s chair for additional photography on The Movie. It was only two days of shooting, but we added two new scenes, and got needed bits for three other sequences.

After seven weeks of editing, the strange thing about going back into production is that, well, it’s production. It means re-opening the production office, and hiring a crew of 45. If you’re lucky, you can hire the same crew who worked on the film the first time around. More likely, however, those people will have moved on to other productions, so you end up hiring a largely new crew. In our case, almost half of the crew who worked on these two days had no idea what The Movie was even about. That’s the remarkable thing about the below-the-line trades in Hollywood: because of how specifically the jobs are defined, they’re largely plug-and-play. The gaffer and key grip may have never met, but together they can light your scene. They don’t need to know why the scene is happening, just where the Chimera is supposed to be.

accebit posterThe bulk of our art department came from Veronica Mars, which has been back in production for over a month. Since the original crew wasn’t available, I got to rock my inner design geek and handle the printed graphics myself, something I haven’t done since college.

The “accebit” poster hangs at a Metro bus stop on Wilshire Blvd. Yes, it means something, so you classics majors can get to work.

This was our first time shooting night exterior, which meant new decisions about how we wanted things to look. Personally, I’m a big fan of very black skies — think high school football movies — so we aimed for that. We also aimed at finishing before 3 a.m. We came close.

Next step? Test screening, picture lock, then sound-a-palooza.


Monovision [update]

In George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the newly-empowered critters proclaim “four legs good, two legs bad,” only to later betray their entire belief system with the new wisdom that “four legs good, two legs better.”

I can relate. After extolling the virtues of wearing one contact lens (i.e. monovision), I took the bold step of putting the second lens in. Guess what?

One lens good, two lens better.

Sorry, monovision. I am fully committed to binocular vision.

And contact lenses aren’t bad at all. I had tried them a few years ago, and hated them. But the new lenses are comfortable enough that I genuinely forget that I’m wearing them. I’m a person who’s always had bad touching-my-eye squeamishness, but it’s been cake.

So my advice to my glasses-wearing brethren: give contacts a shot, even if you’re convinced you could never handle it.

The only reason I was trying contacts at all was as a trial-run for LASIK monovision. Now I’m just a guy who wears contacts. It’s really good, and doesn’t involve slicing my cornea.


Test screening The Movie

Last Monday was the first time I put The Movie in front of an audience: thirty friends and colleagues recruited to help figure out whether the film was appropriately funny, dramatic, and comprehensible. (Answers: Yes, Yes, and Not So Much. We’re working on that last part.)

Screening a work-in-progress is just as nerve-wracking as it sounds. Going in, you know the film isn’t perfect. You’re projecting low-resolution video, with temp music, temp visual effects, and bad sound. But it’s a crucial step, because it’s impossible for filmmakers to see their movie with fresh eyes. You need an audience to laugh, gasp or murmur in confusion.

The thirty people who watched the cut were incredibly generous with their time and comments, not only staying afterwards to talk, but also filling out cards and emailing additional thoughts. They made the movie significantly better.

But as great as they were, the fact that they were friends and colleagues was a significant detriment. They had an emotional investment: they wanted to like it. They were also largely film-and-television people, hardly a representative cross-section of the movie-going public.

The obvious next step would be to put The Movie in front of a real recruited audience, i.e. strangers.

But I can’t.

The very same internet that makes this site possible makes a real test screening impossible. Or at the least, a very risky proposition.

Odds are, one or more of those recruited strangers would recognize my name, the producers, or the actors involved and decide it would be a really good idea to write in to Ain’t It Cool News or a site like it. Quite a scoop, after all, reviewing a movie where even the premise has been kept hush-hush.

Reviews of test screenings are frustrating for a big studio like Warner Bros., but they’re potentially ruinous for a little movie like ours. Keep in mind: We don’t have distribution yet. We’re hoping to sell the movie after a festival premiere. So if DrkLOrd79 trashes the movie, that sets a bad tone going in. Almost worse would be if DrkLOrd79 loved it and gushed on for pages. We’ve all experienced the disappointment that follows having our expectations set too high.

The friends and colleagues at last Monday’s screening were chosen for their insight and opinion. But more importantly, they were chosen for their discretion.

With one exception, every movie I’ve written has had a traditional recruited audience screening, with 200 or so demographically-mixed young filmgoers circling numbers with little golf pencils. After every screening, we learned important things which made the film better.

And after every screening, someone posted his thoughts on the Internet. It was annoying, but it was inevitable. For CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, I stayed up until 2 a.m. waiting for the first test screening review to show up. Sure enough, it came.

The one film which didn’t have a traditional test screening was CHARLIE’S ANGELS: FULL THROTTLE. It was fear of internet leaks that kept the studio from bringing in a recruited audience. And let me be clear about the cause and effect: Full Throttle was not untested because it was a bad movie.

Full Throttle was a bad movie because it was not tested.

The premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre was the first time I saw Full Throttle with a full audience. As the lights went down, there was palpable enthusiasm, and some real residual love for the first movie. By the time the lights came back up, it was pretty clear we really should have done a test screening.

Part of me fears the same could happen with The Movie. Our fear of internet leaks may keep us from giving it the test it deserves. Lord knows, I don’t want the first time I see it with a real audience to be at Sundance or some other festival. So I’m trying to figure out some middle ground, an audience of trustworthy strangers.

As always, suggestions are welcome.


Turns out, he was busy reconsidering Tyra Banks

You know how you can go months without seeing someone, then suddenly, they’re everywhere? This morning as I was getting into my little Prius, screenwriter/neighbor/inconstant blogger Josh Friedman rolled up in the Death Star Escalade to discuss our respective children’s nap schedules in anticipation of a playdate.

Yeah, I said playdate. This is how we roll in the Southside.

Of Hancock Park.

I suspect Josh was taking his family to BLD (“Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner”), the new restaurant that took over where Red used to be, and is pretty much exactly like Red but white instead, and without those Mexican Cokes.

In typing that, I realize that I’ve now lived in L.A. long enough that I expect everyone to share my specific geo-cultural references. Or, more bluntly, I’ve now lived here long enough to stop caring when they don’t. It only takes a New Yorker six months to become this jaded. Los Angeles takes a decade.

Later today, I followed a link to the trailer for Josh’s upcoming movie, The Black Dahlia. I don’t know how he got his name in red in the credit block, but from now on I’m putting that in my contract. I want red and a little box around it.

Upon checking the feeds this evening, I see Josh has finally posted something new on the blog. And while I’d like to take credit for this rare occurrence, the more pressing matter is addressing some corrections/clarifications:

  • My assistant does not bring me breakfast, though he often brings lunch. (However, I do not blog about it.)

  • In daily life, my house is light-filled like a Richard Curtis movie. However, to achieve the look of this on film for The Movie required giant lights and hard gels velcro-ed to all the doors and windows.

As Tyra knows, beauty takes work.

That’s all.


Temp Music

Play

This week’s work on the The Movie is largely about music. Our composer, Alex Wurman, has already composed one piece that plays on-camera, but most of the music at this point is temp — stuff grabbed from other soundtracks that roughly approximates what we’re going for.

There’s one piece of temp music that works really well — so well, that we might just want to license it for the movie. Unfortunately, we have no idea what it is. It’s an mp3 the editor had leftover from Oceans 12’s temp music. The track is labeled “Big Fuzz,” but that’s not brought me any luck through Google. So, I’m calling on the power of the hive mind to help me figure out what it is:

Click here to hear it.

Anyone out there recognize it?