OK, I had 2 shoots this last week. One was an industrial for Bank of America. The production company was out of Chicago, super nice guys. And they had a good budget and paid people well. AND they did a Starbucks run every afternoon and we ordered whatever we wanted. Nice.
Then, on Wednesday, I get a call from Andrew, VTR, telling me about the technical challenges of the shoot coming up on Friday and Saturday. I got the first hint that Friday and Saturday weren't going to be so straightforward.
So I ask the production team to email me the storyboards. They emailed over the pre-production book right away. I see some crazy shots and moving around and start to get into 'I better get to work on this' mode.
I call the production manager and ask to speak to the 1st AD. She warns me, "This guy's bark is worse than his bite." Hmmm, great. We speak on the phone, he gives me the low down on what's going to happen and it's going to be some long and hard days. He says "Just be ready."
The thing is that production is never a cookie cutter formula. Basically, there's the shots that the Director has come up with and how we're going to get those shots… the logistics of actually shooting all those shots in a day….well, that's what makes some shoot days like miracles that everything gets shot and shot well so it can be used.
Now this production company is a very high end one. They do BIG superbowl spots and they have huge budgets. And the owner of the company is the one directing. I've never worked with him and I want the day to go well obviously because I'd like to pick up a new client.
So now it's Friday, I get up at 3 am and drive 2 hours to the desert where we're shooting for the day. I arrive in the dark at Base camp and people are having breakfast in the dark and starting to set up for the day. We're all working in the dark as fast as we can, because when the sun comes up, we're going to take off on the road on this process trailer and we may not come back to base camp for awhile.
I can feel a nervous energy as people are very focused and working fast and then I know why…. The 1st AD starts screaming 'WTF!!! This is BULL-xxxx! You tell Wardrobe that we NEED to see the actors FIRST!!!"
Wow, you just don't hear people talking like that much in this business. Usually, people are polite and focused about getting the job done…and understand that people can work better without the screaming. In fact, people like this are usually weeded out of the business…. or found on lower budget shoots.
But you have to work with this guy, he's the 1st AD! 1st Assistant Director. And he's in charge of running the set, keeping people on schedule and giving out information so everyone can do their job and are prepared.
So the day continues. There are little problems that crop up, in all departments, and he screams and yells every time. Big booming voice. The Director however is nice and polite and very focused on directing the actors.
While we're out on the road, I have a technical problem that comes up. He's breathing down my back. IS IT FIXED YET? IS IT FIXED? I'm like "no we're working on it." He glares at me. I am calm and in control.
Lesson #1: You must remain calm even though the situation is putting you under intense pressure. Don't show your stress. Keep your focus. The worse thing you can do is look like you're nervous or the situation is too much for you… because then people think that it IS too much for you and they won't hire you again.
We fix the problem and the shoot continues. I'm like 'Whew! Glad that's over' and start to beat myself up a little, then I stop and realize, 'hey, these things happened. it's fixed and everyone has moved on.'
Lesson #2: When shit hits the fan…and you're directly involved, LET IT GO. Everyone else has. It happens to everybody. The most important thing is how you handled the situation. YOUR ATTITUDE and outward appearance… Stay positive and in control.
Well, we shoot until 7 pm. 6 am to 7 pm. Long day. We have so much to shoot, we work right through lunch. That NEVER happens! The PAs take our lunch orders and we get our lunches delivered to us as we're working. It's cold filet mignon and potatoes and asparagus. Still tastes good.
After we're wrapped, I go into the production motor home to talk to the 1st AD to be prepared for the next day. There are like 10 people standing in there…talking, discussing the next day. "Let's discuss what's going to happen tomorrow." He says, "OK". I ask the production manager for tomorrow's shot list and we look at the shots. Basically, he just says "Here are the shots, just be ready." But I need more information, "Where is the Director going to be during this shot? Where is VTR? Are we shooting this shot on the process trailer? On the camera car? Where will the camera be?" He tries to answer some of the questions, but honestly I think he doesn't know many of the answers to these questions. He just keeps say 'Just be ready."
I think but do not say, "I'd love to be ready… but I need to know FOR WHAT."
Now the Producer hears me asking these questions. They are good questions. I didn't know it at the time, but the Producer is impressed with my diligence.
The next day we're shooting in downtown LA. A huge crowd of tourists watch and take pictures of us all day long. Lots of questions, "What are you guys shooting?"
So this day is equally difficult. We're shooting on this street with talent in a car on the process trailer, driving down the street in LA with 15 precision car drivers racing by. Lots of cars moving around us on the street. This can be dangerous if you're not paying attention!
All this and still not much information from the 1st AD. Nothing has changed in that department!
It's not just me, ALL the departments are not able to find out what is going on. People set up equipment and stand by. Many people are disgusted.
This is a tough day, but it's so much harder because the 1st AD is not giving us the information we need. This forces me to go to the Director himself and the script supervisor to find out about upcoming shots, so I can be prepared.
And the problem with this.. is that I am probably pissing off the 1st AD.
Lesson #3: You MUST maintain a good working relationship with the people around you. Not only for this shoot but for future shoots because you never know when you will work with them again!
I have several mistakes that occur and I take care of them. When a problem occurs, I say "I'm on it!" and take care of it.
Sure, there's stress, but that's to be expected. Look, we're shooting a $1 million dollar commercial, we're trying to fit a TON of shots into a short period of time, 6 am to 6 pm…. you lose the light at 5:30 pm. And the day gets more hectic as the possiblity of not getting all the shots is a huge concern.
We end up getting all the shots, and the day is over. Did it go perfectly? No. But did they get what they needed in the can? Yes.
In the motorhome at the end of the day, the Producer comes up to me and says "Thank you very much. We're definitely going to call you again."
The Director tells me "Good job!" and smiles.
Lesson #4: Things won't always go perfectly… but if you are trying hard and have a good attitude… people will notice and you will get hired again. I believe the Producer liked that I worked very hard to be prepared. He saw me fixing problems calmly. We got what they needed for the shots.
So, that was the shoot. I was exhausted…but felt good that I pulled it off and may have picked up a new client.
This situation of a difficult 1st AD isn't the norm. In 15 years, I haven't seen anything like this. So that's less than 1% chance of working with someone like this. But I wanted to relay the shoot to you, so you can learn from it and stay calm.
The great thing is this company does BIG and high profile shoots. They are great to work with. Love the Director and Producer. They are the ones who hire me. And the next shoot probably won't be as hard.
Lesson # 5: Always stay positive!
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