How to Produce and not be an Asshole…

Producing requires some imagination.  We needed to shoot in an opera house. Can't afford Lincoln Center. How about Rev. Ike's former movie palace church in Harlem. The Rev makes a lot of location fees for his church because he kept a lot of the old theater, including the lobby almost intact.

Producing requires some imagination. We needed to shoot in an opera house. Can’t afford Lincoln Center. How about Rev. Ike’s former movie palace church in Harlem. The Rev makes a lot of location fees for his church because he kept a lot of the old theater, including the lobby almost intact.

‘Across America, assholes abound’

Wm.C. Roman 1971

Especially in show business…’

John L., 2015

Recently, I heard a fellow DGA brother tell film students a great insight into our business.  When he was a young 2nd Assistant Director he was talking with his 1st AD about another AD they would hire for the production staff. The 1st made it clear who they should hire—but noted– they are not the best person available for the job, they are the best person for the job who can work well with us. Continue reading “How to Produce and not be an Asshole…”

Stevie Spielberg, Bo and Me…

Part 3 — 1983-94

By now, I had a very good freelance career going in Chicago. I had also been working steadily with a local Director named Jack T. ‘Bo’ May on commercials. At that same time, I got an interview to be Key 2nd Assistant Director on a feature film. My first feature. Whoa. I wanted it.

Although my 3 other buddies who were qualified to be the Key 2nd AD were busy on other shows, the 1st AD decided he wanted to get laid by his cute, brand new PA who he would get in the Guild instead of hiring me. Early lesson that just because you’re the man for the job, doesn’t mean you’re the guy.

At this same time, Bo called me and told me he’d been unhappy with the production company he was directing commercials for and was starting his own company. Did I want to be his Producer/Partner? Continue reading “Stevie Spielberg, Bo and Me…”

Hit the Ground Running in Chicago…

Shooting on the rooftops of Chicago

Above, the crew prepares to shoot on a Chicago rooftop with that fabulous skyline.

At the Director’s Elbow series continues. 

Part 2–1981

Working on the TV series Chicago Story was a complete eye opener for me. Now I would be prepping with Directors, and my 1st AD on an actual TV series script. The crew was huge. 150 people or more. And because of the airdate schedule, there will be 2 crews shooting simultaneously.  The AD’s of both crews must share locations, and actors over an 11 day schedule for each episode. Meaning lots of coordination for AD’s.  Unusual for TV, this would be a 90 minute show of Doctors, Lawyers and Cops working and living in Chicago.

The cast was something spectacular—Dennis Franz, John Mahoney, Craig T. Nelson, Kris Tabori to name a few. John Malkovich is a day player in this crowd. Seriously. Kim and I (Yup. Got her to Chicago. Another story for another day…)  were going to local theater and seeing Steppenwolf shows in a storefront on benches. Joe Morton’s daughter, Amy Morton is well on her way to becoming an amazing theater actress. The 2 Tony nominations are yet to come, but by then she was in a little theater group we used to go see that included some guys named Gary Cole and Billy Peterson. They’re pretty good too. The town was exploding with acting talent. Continue reading “Hit the Ground Running in Chicago…”

At the Director’s Elbow…

On the set

The Director always has their chair. It’s a sign of their authority as well as their comfort. The AD never sits during the production day. Their position is standing next to the Director and running the set.  At the Director’s elbow.

On set, Backdraft 2nd Unit

On set, Backdraft. Standing next to 2nd Unit Director and Executive Producer, Todd Holland.

As fate and luck would have it, I got an education in the field from many different Directors who taught me in different ways. You could not buy the experience today at any cost.

By 1978, American movies were rocking the world and film schools like USC and NYU had already earned their impressive reputations. Their graduates went directly into the film and TV industry.  I was just about to graduate from Oakland University in Detroit’s northern suburbs with a minor in film history (film history and aesthetics, no less. Woo-hoo). I had done student movies and 2 real docs and was willing to do anything on a film crew. I wanted in the business. What would be the way forward? Continue reading “At the Director’s Elbow…”

Yes, We are on a Frozen Lake and No, We’re not Happy about it…

Yes, We are on a Frozen Lake and No, We're not Happy about it...

On the ice just before nightfall, still high and dry…
That’s Alicia Accardo, script supervisor and Art Seidel, our lovely UPM, with Director Vern Gillum, DP Robert Hudecek and me. Totally forgot who the guy on the left was.

When you shoot in Chicago winters, you do have to accept that you will be shooting outside and you will be cold. But being Chicago, even stranger things can happen when you are shooting on a frozen lake. And as we discovered on the Untouchables TV series, it usually did…

So, in the middle of winter we get a script for an episode that we might actually be able to accomplish (not always the case–see below). The story includes a meeting at the Canadian border on a frozen lake of the gangsters and bootleggers. They’ll pull up in cars, meet and get  interrupted by the arrival of the Untouchables and shoot it out. Continue reading “Yes, We are on a Frozen Lake and No, We’re not Happy about it…”

Make Me a Church & Burn It, Please…

Law and Order: Criminal Intent

Photo from Law & Order Criminal Intent. Vincent D’Onofrio as Det. Robert Goren and Katherine Erbe as Det. Alexandra Eames.

During my years in NY producing Law & Order Criminal Intent, I had many a hairy and stressful episode, but a few do stand out.  You should always be wary of episode titles, like ‘On Fire’…

Criminal Intent was basically Sherlock Holmes of the NYPD. Our lead actor played a very strange, very smart and very entertaining detective who always (almost) got his man. The structure of the show moved to an extensive final, climactic scene; we always called it the ‘aria’ –a last scene that ran 7-10 pages with our hero and the suspects leading to the reveal of the killer. The brilliant Rene’ Balcer, L&OCI’s original Showrunner, always created a structure that used one main set, or world we would inhabit, and that would be the same place we would stage the aria.

So, for the producer, this is an excellent way to produce TV. Continue reading “Make Me a Church & Burn It, Please…”