UPM on my First Feature
Not actually my first feature but I was actually getting paid. In working with budgeting and scheduling, and Sean I became pretty good at it, or at least it could do it quickly. Now I had this old comrade Jim who was a decent guy in small doses. He was an actor who was always playing some angle. He was pretty good too.
This is Jimmy playing A dishwasher in a short I made called I 'm Only Human. More on that another time.
Anyway I was starting to get more work and had my sights on getting into the Directors Guild. I was researching all this when Jim called me up asking what the job responsibilities of a 2nd AD were. He had been hired as such on this feature that was going to be shot out in Sequim. So I explained to him the basic career path and job responsibilities. A film is broken down by distinct departments. The Art Department, The camera Department, The Grip and Electric Departments, and managing all this is Production.
At the top you have the Producer then the Director. Then you have the Unit Production Manager, The First Assistant Director, Second Assistant Director and finally Production Assistants. This is the management org chart at its most basic.
Producer and Director aside, these are the responsibilities as best I recall them.
The UPM Creates the Schedule and Budget. She manages the expenditures and makes sure contracts and deal memos are signed and in place. The 1st AD is responsible for making sure the set is running smoothly. He is the go to guy from crew for issues. If a second unit is created He becomes the director of the second unit. He also is responsible for directing Extras and bit players in the first unit.
Second AD is the First Ad's minion and is responsible for most of the scut paperwork and gets to direct background and atmosphere extras. In a second unit they are 1st AD. The PAs are everyone’s bitches. All can be identified by the radio that is constantly attached to them.
Of course there is a lot more to it then that and Jim had a lot of questions. I tried to answer them but for the life of me he really was over thinking it.
So they call me and ask if I could come out and put together a production board and a schedule for them. They start shooting in a week. So off tot the Olympic Peninsula to see what was up.
Lessie’s Rainbow was a family movie that takes place just after the civil war in the west. The cast was Lessie Played by Sondra West, two kids a boy and a girl played by Heather Tomand her brother, David. This was when they were kiddies. Granny played by some local actress. This was the family being harassed by some bad guys. Along Comes Santone, played by Tony Romano traveling home from the war with his Indian companion played by Don Shanks (who also directed). Oh yes there are animals everywhere in the script. Including bears and snakes and racoons and wolves and...... See Don and Tony were both alumni from the old Grizzly Adams series. We shot at this place called The Olympic Game Farm and Old Ben the bear from the old TV show lives there.
So here we have it folks the Trifecta of what you do not want to involve yourself in in a low budget Independent film, A period Piece with Kids and Animals. We had an investor who owned an bunch of real estate here in Seattle who put up about 250 grand to make the movie so I really had no say in budgeting issues.
I showed up and met the producer, a guy named Bob who was a local and the writer, Tony. We agreed on a rate for my time and I proceeded to read and break down the script and in about two days I had a 24-day Schedule for them to begin shooting. See the above link for Production Schedules.
They were pleased and asked me if I could stay on for the shoot to manage the production. I agreed and so we went over into production.
I learned a LOT on this show about what to do and what not to do. I made a few tactical mistakes and though production was completed, on schedule, plus about 4 days the movie was never finished.
1 - I did not stand up and squawk loudly when they were spending about 10 K a day on bullshit.
We had hired all locals for non-technical crewmembers. The props dept had neither practical experience nor a bag of tricks to do their jobs. Production paid for it.
A lot of the crew and cast were acting like this was big budget city. We coddled Sondra and delivered her every whim.
The crew blind-sided us with demands for per diem, fair and standard but not in the budget.
I was doling out Petty cash like it was candy and we were hemorrhaging.
This was mostly due to my inexperience and general naiveté. I should have stood up and pressed my displeasure at how we were throwing money around but did not. We never at the beginning had a “Remember people this is a LOW budget movie”, conversation. There were a lot of people running around with an overwhelming sense of entitlement.
2 - The DP was this guy named Zorba. His deal was Day rate plus camera rental. After we looked at the first day’s dailies and saw that the gate was scratching the film, we still paid him for the camera even though we had to rent others to cover for it. Seems no matter what camera we used there was a problem. We eventually had film from A-F cameras. We should have fired him and his assistant then and there. He eventually ran off to Mexico with the negative after production was complete. Run across a cameraman named Zorba, Flee far and fast.
3 – I asked about negative insurance and was told that it was a waste of money by the Producer, Tony. Negative insurance pays out if the lab fucks up and covers the cost of re-shooting. We shot all of our night stuff towards the end of the schedule. There was a lot too. We sent the film to the lab with clear instructions on the camera report to Push the processing one stop as they lit it dark and pushing it a stop would brighten it up in post. Oops, the fucking lab did not bother reading the report. We had to re-shoot two days worth of work and had no money to pay for it. We talked the cast into accepting deferred payment but the grip and electric still needed payment. And when we were shooting there was no food or crafty services, which pissed off the crew even more. I should have stood up to the producers and insisted on coverage or fled.
4 – there is finesse to scheduling a day’s work. I was so focused on getting the 24-day schedule that they wanted that I lost sight of that and I planned for about 4 pages of script on the first day. We only got 1/8th a page shot that day. So we started out behind schedule and never really got caught up.
So we spent our stake on production and there was nothing left over for post. Nothing. The film was never finished and since it was my responsibility, my name was mud around town for some time. I own up to my inexperience at the time and this was where I began to loose interest in the DGA and production department. Would I do it again? Sure. It was a helluva great opportunity to apply and learn. And like I said I learned a lot.
So in closing, for anyone that reads this from some of the filmmaking boards that I post on. This is why I am so cynical and negative about your dreams. If you do not know what your doing and don’t have a shit load of money to cover the total cost to theater for your feature that you think is a great idea you will fail. I know from experience.