Friday, 30 May 2014

Lawyers,scripts and missed chances.

Some years ago Mary Lou, who runs the ReelshowInt sites, and myself submitted a number of script story lines to a well known USA Production company, we went to their very luxurious offices in London and talked with a Producer.
To our wild excitement the company liked three of the stories and wanted to go with one of them immediately…amazing.
We subsequently worked our way through a deal, they would develop the story and we would receive a big fat cheque for that, then they offered a “Back end deal” this meant we would get a percentage payment from the producers should the completed movie go into profit…again, fantastic.
It was all going swimmingly until the contract arrived, not from the office in London or LA, but from the new lawyers representing the company, the lawyers were based in NY.
Beware NY Lawyers
Their revamped offer took out the “back end deal” completely, reduced the cheque size and would ask us to pay for all development work, including producers expenses including 1st class airfares across the Atlantic or elsewhere, if the movie was not made.
Not so fantastic.
We took a good look at the new deal, along with an industry adviser, and pulled out.
The Production company returned the synopsis and promised not to make a movie that was remotely near to our story line, believe that if you will..
The story now sits in a file with a number of other projects and we are considering putting it and others out into the market place again.
Good question, the usual answer is…. Money, then Kudos, Prestige, Fame, Champagne, Yachts, Private Jets to Premieres, Oscars….whoops… got carried away for a moment.
The real reason, along side those already mentioned is this..
During our negotiations with the LA Company they asked me a very intriguing question…”Did I want to direct the movie?”
They opined that as a D.O.P I would be interested in moving into the director’s chair.
It happens.
Have you ever had one of those moments when you look back at something you have done in life and just want to kick your own butt for being stupid..
I said..”No thank you..the movie needs the best talent to give it a good chance”
What a fool…This was my butt kicking moment..I should have grabbed the baton and run for the line.
What will I do if I am offered the opportunity again, and I will certainly push for it..I will say YES.
In my career I have worked with literally hundreds of directors, some were OK..some were amazingly bad, some were inept, some I just refused to work with after a couple of days. But one or two were quite good.
What they all had in common was an approach to a script that meant the written word could be conveyed convincingly to the screen using the best skills available to them.
This usually means The Designer and D.O.P, principally, everyone else associated with the production, but mainly the actors…
So many Directors fail because they actually think they can tell an actor how to portray a character, how to use body language, timing, looks, spaces in dialogue…Those Directors always produce a crap movie.
Actors at a certain level are paid a lot of dosh, its because they do exactly what you pay them to do. .Act.
When I am directing I will employ the best talent available and let the actors act..
No more self butt kicking for me, I will make so much money I will pay someone else to do it.
In my arrogance I cannot wait..
Now where shall I build the cabinet to take all of those Oscars..

Sunday, 18 May 2014

American Lines...the ones you stand in, not sniff.

Ok let me set the scene here. I have been a frequent and long term vistior to the USA since 1970. I have had the enormous pleasure and privelege iof visiting every single State,inc Hawaii, except Alaks, which is on the list.

It's a wonderful country and one in which I could happily settle in, but it does have some amusing and sometimes irritating little peculiarities.

Entering America as a foreigner is not easy, there are some notorious blocking points to entry,most of these are at the major "Gateway" airports.

Here is a small sample of how the average traveller is treated, in this case it was me.

Arriving at LAX international after a 13 hour flight from the UK I joined the inevitable queue for the two hour trudge to the passport control desk my line was designated to. Ah, blessed relief, I thought as at long last I fronted the desk.

The unsmiling passport officer, a lady, who appeared to be a five foot cube with attitude, a uniform that she must have sprayed on and a  massive chest ful of medals that would have driven a North Korean Field Marshall wild with envy (It is a tough posting,checking Passports).

Woithout a word she took my passport, scowled at the paperwork, and kept it.Then she spoke "Business or pleasure?"
She repeated he question , two words "Business or pleasure?"
Easy I thought, I beamed as I answered "Both."

Wrong answer.

She repeated the qustion again.
I gave the same answer.
It was still wrong.

She seemed to examine every steel support beam in the cavernous reception hall before she returned to me, she leaned forward..."Is there something you do not understand about my question ...SIR?...Business or pleasure?"

At this point I realised I might soon be heading back to my homeland so I tried to expand my answer "I am here to make a documentary film for a month, you have the paperwork and the visa clearnces, and then I plan to take a vacation for three weeks touring California, both business and pleasure."
Not once did she make eye contact and she looked at the ever growing line of weary passengers which now numbered several hundred, all behind me and from every nation in the world."Do you see that queue SIR.?"

I looked and answered in the affirmative "Yes."

"Would you mind going to the rear of that queue and consider your reply to my question for when you eventually make it back here."

Ok, gloves off, I decided to take on this first line of defence for America, regardless of the personal cost. "No." she went pale 'I would like to see your supervisor though." she went even paler.

For the first time she stared at me, grabbed a phone, mumbled into it and with seconds a man appeared, no medals, just a plain suit and collar and tie.

"What is the problem officer?
This passenger refuses to answer my question." she told him what the question was. He looked at me and I gave him my answer.He snatched the passport from her,stamped it, gave it to me and between gritted teeth he  said 'Welcome to the Land of the Free sir, enjoy your trip."

I quickly made good my escape but got some satisfaction when I looked behingd me to see my cube getting a serious finger wag from her boss, I bet the next passenger got through quicker than I did.

Lines...I know you thought I meant the white powder ones but I did mean the ones you have to stand in...even when there is no-one else there and the people who derive power from making you actuallty stand in them.

A couple or three anecdotes: 

I was in New York..very nice hotel belonging to a famous Hotel chain on Fifth Avenue.To reach the reception are you had to catch an elevator at street level and ride up to the third floor.

 was there for a month intotal, the staff knew me.One afternoon I needed to cash some travellers cheques..remember them...I went to the usual long reception desk.The usual attendants,Concierge,Check In,Check Out,  and there at the very end The Cashier.

The area had the usual velvet rope line that ran on little poles up and down the space in front of the desk. There was only me in the entire foyer I walked in front of the rope and went straight to the Cashier.

She eventually looked up at me."Yes Sir?"

I presented my cheques.She looked at me as if I had just arrived from Mars."Can you go into the line sir and I will call you forward when  your turn comes and I am free."

Another one who got the finger wag from her boss.

Washington Airport, can't remeber which one. My crew and myself were booked on a flifht to San Fran..we arrived with bags and three hundred kilos of bright shiny metal camera cases.

The check in desk for our airline had six check ins, all going to other parts of the USA..But only one line, which was crammed with passengers waiting to check in.
We joined the line and waited...and waited..we were not moving forward..our departure time was roaring round on us..It takes a time to load all of our kit boxes, we were rapidly running out of it.
The problem..  There was a large group of passengers at the head of the line who all wanted to go to one destination.None of the other passengers could get past them and they were getting a little was I.
I spotted a man in a suit loitering at the side, he had an airline logo pin in his lapel.I went to him and asked why did they not have a seperate line for each of the destinations...then there would not be a hold up.
His jaw dropped, a flicker of something flashed into his eyes, he shouted something like "Eureka" and dashed off to do just that.
We caught the flight,..just...but this is definitely rocket science fellas..get it right.

Getting it right,  particularly for paying customers is an old fashioned concept, it seems to be quite rare...some brief examples.

When I travel I always try to stay in upper class hotels, for a number of reasons..Nice room,24 hour room service Wi Fi , comms, laundry etc .. and always a good restaurant.

I dont have big breakfasts, this is difficultb for most restaurants to grasp and in one I went  to, in my hotel I just wanted two plain fried eggs on toast...easy yeh?
"We dont do fried eggs on toast sir"
I was in a hurry and accepted defeat immediately.."OK, can I just have some toast?"
"Yes sir"
"Can I have a side order of two fried eggs?"
"Yes sir."
It all arrived, two plates, one with toast and one with the eggs, I slipped the eggs onto the toast.

The waiter nearly died, he dashed off and brought the Head Honcho whom informed me that the restaurant and world renowned chef did not do fried eggs on toast.

In my travels in the States I have filmed in a nmber of state prisons..not nice places.

I could feel the hair rise on the back of my neck..not a good sign..and suddenly realised that what I was about to do would probably commit me to one of these fine penal institutes for anything from 25 years to life.
The prospect of never going  to the shower room for that length of time sobered me up and I meekly slid the eggs off the toast..and then checked out.

America is not alone in this customer prevention scheme...more examples.

In one of my favourite pubs in Chelsea London, a pub that was so popular it was standing room only on most evenings, the management suddenl began to charge 12.5% service charge on a pulled pint of was empty within a week.
Another popular watering hole in the same area refused to give a glass when a bottle of beer was ordered..they "didn't do glasses"..they almost went bankrupt..I hate drinking from do most females

In the  UK Lake district a great pub in a tourist hot spot informed ne that they would not walk to my end of the bar to take my order. no one got served at that end of the was a tradition..My tradition is to get served when I walk in  at any end otf the bar. The pub across the road got my custm..

And lastly..back in the States, Californisa to be crew, the youngest must have been 45 years old were refused a drink by a barman because we had noo ID to prove we were iver 21..crazy.

I may return to this theme.

These are my personal musings, you may disagree, please leave any comments in the comment box,