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Sunday, January 20, 2013
Why Grow Up?
Making movies and television is hard work, involving long days and nights of seemingly endless toil, often in miserable conditions. Still, if there are plenty of bad days -- and each production puts its crew through the wringer one way or another -- we usually manage to have a pretty good time. If that wasn't true, I'm not sure there'd be a compelling reason to do this kind of work.
Although it can be a very serious business involving tons of equipment, complicated logistics, and the steady heat of top-down pressure, it's all essentially make-believe. While cops, firemen, soldiers, and Emergency Room personnel deal with very real danger and people in desperate trouble every day, we create elaborate illusions to portray their dramatically enhanced real-world life on screen. We can even make the working life of a lawyer appear sexy and dynamic -- and from what I've been told by the various lawyers I know, that's a huge stretch of the truth. For all the body-wracking effort and sweat it takes to create these illusions in Hollywood and beyond, working on set can be a fun job.
I was reminded of this when a co-worker gave me a copy of a memo and response saved from her time working on the feature Charlie’s Angels back in 2000. You'll appreciate it more knowing that the term "L&D" stands for "Loss and Damages," and that one of the film's stars, Lucy Liu, experienced a little problem operating the accelerator and brakes of a very expensive picture car during the filming.
Given that thirteen years have passed, the unofficial statute of limitations has probably long since expired, but I'm taking no chances -- names have been redacted or shortened to protect innocent and guilty alike.
So here's a little glimpse of life on a big, expensive movie...
To: All Crew Date: 3/23/00
FYI: Loss and damage to date. We will occasionally update this list as necessary. Read it and we’ll weep.
Construction: $ 2,446.00
Set Operations: $ 238.00
Special Effects: $ 1,870.00
Set Dressing: $ 799.00
Props: $ 1,838.00
Wardrobe: $ 1,916.00
Electric: $ 6,769.00
Camera $ 1,786.00
Transportation: $ 12,044.00
Picture Cars: $ 36,365.00
2nd Unit Camera: $ 396.00
2nd Unit Sound $ 1,407.00
Total: $ 67,874.00
You can imagine the bemused -- and not so bemused -- derision with which this memo was greeted by the crew. Some of the more creative among them wrote and distributed the following unofficial response the next day.
Charlies’s Angels Semi-Annual Loss and Damages Tournament
To: All Below the Liners
Dear Foot Soldiers of BTL;
With the publishing of yesterday’s halftime results in the “CHARLIE’S ANGELS LOSS AND DAMAGES TOURNAMENT,” I would like to take a moment to warn our “Below the Line” teammates against fostering some false sense of security.
Although a midway total of $67,874.00 might sound impressive, you have to be one hamburger short of a Happy Meal to think we have a chance of matching our “Above the Liners” in the Total Funds Wasted Tourney. Facts are, we are being toasted by TEAM ATL. In order to avoid a complete rout, I offer a few simple observations.
First of all, Picture Cars and Transportation... you’ve put more points on the board than anyone else combined, but this is no time for gloating and showing off. By my loose calculations, Lucy “Where’s the Brake” Liu would have to ram at least 20 more Gullwing Mercedes into at least 20 more collector Ferraris to match the $2,000,000 in overruns due to scheduling difficulties incurred by hiring her in the first place. “Above the Liners” have outscored you 40 to 1, so wipe that silly grin off your face!!! Word around the TEAM ATL water cooler is that you guys are strictly bush league.
To the slackers in the Sound Department. What gives? Looking past the big game to the Oscars???? Willie, Marv, Bob... where’s your enthusiasm!!!!! My suggestion... by merely pouring one measly cappuccino over the sound equipment you can up your L&D contributions to $23,000. I know this pales in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of dollars we will willingly spend next week shooting scenes at the Gala that will never even be in the movie, but hey, what the hell. You guys have coughed up nothin’ but goose eggs. I want to see some points on the board... Now, Dammit!!!!!
To the rest of you... what can I say? The truth is never easy, but we may not have the gray matter or guts to start a multi-million dollar production that has no viable third act, thus paying millions of dollars to a small army of “$800,000 a pop” writers to “fix it” while the production paints itself into a corner and stalls daily as scenes get made up “on the fly.” Fact is, we’ve been routed from the field. The 68,000 points we’ve managed to muster is a drop in the ocean to the TEAM ATL juggernaut. We must have been dreaming to take the field against a team whose motto is “GO BIG OR GO HOME.”
Remember, the winners move onto face an imposing opponent in the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 2 production team.
That crew knew how to have some fun while sticking a retaliatory shiv between the ribs of a UPM who saw fit to point out the relative pennies cost by the below-the-line help breaking a few dishes, while conveniently ignoring the truckloads of money squandered by those higher up the food chain.
Very nicely done -- it makes me wish I'd been on that crew...