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…”
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…”
Above, the crew prepares to shoot on a Chicago rooftop with that fabulous skyline.
At the Director’s Elbow series continues.
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…”
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. 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…”
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…”
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…”
Empty stages await their sets on “Chicago Fire”.
The only way to capture the modern audience is to mount TV shows that have detail, texture and tone to engage them, keep them entertained and most importantly—make them want to come back to watch next week. Good scripts given a proper staging, letting actors look their best—these things make a difference in the way the audiences perceive the quality of the show and their desire to continue watching.
I’ve had the great good fortune to produce for Dick Wolf for many years on numerous projects. Luckily, I had worked in the industry for almost 20 years before I met Dick, so I had already made my rookie producer mistakes, like pushing the Director of Photography to make daylight on way too big a shot on my first TV movie. The poor DP did it, but it took 2 hours to light and the dailies were sad. Reshot it anyway. You learn… Continue reading “You are Prepping a Story, not a Budget…”
As any Producer recognizes early in their career, you must choose who you hire very carefully. I learned how important it was to put together crews who could not only function together, but thrive and enjoy the work. As an old AD, I had suffered all I wanted on sets where people mostly just yelled at each other. I knew I would not let that happen when I could hire crew.
The wise, old Director taught me– “Casting is 90% of my job. I get that right, the rest is easy.” He was right. As Producers, we are after the same thing. If we assemble the proper group of technicians and artists, give them a script and set the goal, the rest is just day to day management. Continue reading “Casting the Crew…”
As I speak about working in film and TV, I do try to impart to rookie and pro alike that for us, the filmworker– it’s not the show, but all shows…
Our lives on set are not measured by the projects we work on or the people who send us our checks. It is in the process we live. We love projects that are wonderful and perfect, but we work mostly on projects that need our help to create and bring them to life. An Actor can only effectively do one role at a time and only really concentrate on the immediate work if they want to know the scene intimately. The same is said for the Cinematographer, the focus puller and the dolly grip. Yes, they’ll talk at lunch about the big stunt coming up this weekend, but their day is locked in the day to day creative struggle to film each shot, each scene.
Continue reading “The “Hollywood Life” of the Cast & Crew”