Friday, July 11, 2008

Back to My Roots

This blog was set up as a portal, for you, the unassuming reader (and potential screenwriter) to watch a wanna-be screenwriter struggling to reach his dreams and become miserably squashed by the enormous weight of said dreams.

Well, I've been skimping on the dirt. So...

Let's start from the beginning.

  • After some failed attempts at college, I decided film school was the thing for me.
  • I graduated 4 years later than I should have from CHAPMAN UNIVERSITY with a BFA in Film Production. I can tell you without a doubt in my mind, that film school is for all intents and purposes a waste of time and money.
  • The majority of my learning came from the library. Not from classes. Nor from assigned reading.
  • The rest of my learning came from actual experience on sets and from internships in L.A. Not from school, sadly.
Note: John Badham (director of Saturday Night Fever, Short Circuit, War Games) is intimidated by me. This blew my mind. I am shy as all hell.

During one class, he said "I could take any one of you to set and show you how to be a director."

He meant this as hyperbole. But I, of course, went up to him with my friend, Nick Porreca, and asked him to prove it. He laughed. And politely nodded. I said, "No, really. Take me to the set, and show me how to direct."

More polite laughter. But he was uncomfortable. Oops.

This actually resulted in Nick and I ending up on the set of HBO's BIG LOVE. James Glennon (now deceased sadly) was the DP. He had presented an open invitation to students to come to the set. Nick and I bolted at the opportunity.

We got to the set, and nothing was really set up for us. It was basically, roam around and do whatever you wanted. But in a really good way. Just be quiet when the bell rings!

The bell rang. We made our way over to the craft services table. OMG. My first experience with real craft services tables. It was stocked. But before we could stuff our faces, we realized James Glennon was sitting right there.

At the craft services table -- while the cameras were rolling.

To which I simply said, "Aren't you the DP?"
"Yeah, I remember you from Chapman. How are you guys liking it so far?"
"Great!" Nick poured on thick.
I said, "No, I mean... who's shooting the show?"
Glennon shrugged.

This was my first lesson on both television and the nature of the cinematographer. He had two camera ops and a third guy that shot Steady-Cam. He didn't even have to put his eye to the eyepiece. Later, he would pull out this ancient camera and have us try to crank at 24 FPS, but that's neither here, nor there.

James Glennon's claim to fame was that he was fast. Let me tell you, he was more than fast. His father was Bert Glennon. The guy shot a ton of John Ford's movies. Not to mention small little flicks like, Cecil B. DeMille's THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. James Glennon exuded confidence, in such a laid back way, that I have yet to see since. In fact, most cinematographers I have met since, are quite the opposite. But his persona, was a formative one for me.

We met Bill Paxton, Jeanne Tripplehorn, and Chloe Sevigny. The only one I recognized, at the time, was Jeanne Tripplehorn.

BTW -- Jeanne Tripplehorn -- still hot. Doesn't she remind you of Katherine Heigl? Now, I'm a big guy, standing at 6'4" and I just so happened to be in her way. I juked to one side. Unfortunately, she went that way too. Then to the other. Once again she went that way too. So, of course, I froze.

She kept walking. Reached out with both hands one on each side of my hip -- softly said, "Excuse me," and walked to a side. OMG! In a weird way, it was highly erotic.

At least in my mind, it was. In hers, it was probably more or less: "Get out my way jackass!"

Anyway, back to the star -- Bill Paxton --

I didn't really know who Bill Paxton was.

This is the funny thing about the movies. As soon as I looked up his filmography on IMDB, I could picture every character he ever played. Hell, from time to time I had even quoted lines from him, "Game over, man! Game over!" And Simon, from TRUE LIES, is simply a classic. I'm not sure anyone could have played that character any better.

He told us to wait in his trailer. He was almost done for the day and had some cold beers in the fridge. Told us to help ourselves.

Here's a little bit of trivia. Bill Paxton directed FRAILTY. He used a small barber shop across the street from Chapman as the small sheriff's office in the movie. He was a nice guy and just wanted to chat us up. See what was going on.

He was finishing up a scene, in which he wasn't even in the shot, but had lines, and really wanted the other actors to have something to play off of, rather than the script supe.

Between every take Bill would come over to us and just chat us up. It was fun. He was a funny, light-hearted, spirited guy. We were sitting next to the camera department. They were shooting 2 cameras - TV style, so there was 2 cam Ops, 2 ACs, James Glennon, and a dolly grip. Essentially, between every take, it was this little pow-wow, and it was fun.

I didn't know how different this scenario was. I thought it was normal.

He started talking, cracking jokes. Telling us how great it is to be in the film business. I forget the exact setup -- But he had started to talk about the state of film. And how things were on a downhill trend. He started saying that he loved smaller films and the whole independent movement was freeing to him. He went on about how much he liked working smaller scale.

To which I said, "Yeah, then maybe we could get some decent actors in student films."

The obvious insinuation was, that Bill Paxton should be in one of my short films. It was so far out of left field, that he was taken aback. He was visibly shook.

...Oh I forgot to mention. The director, was the same director that had just had HUGE success shooting the pilot of DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES. Charles McDougall. He was British and, I shit you not, wore a suit and tie to direct the actors. Which is even funnier, considering half the time he wasn't even in the same room as they were. He was watching from a monitor on the other side of the set.

Yeah, he was pissed.

The best part, was -- James Glennon cracked up. He started laughing. Immediately. And didn't stop. He literally had to hold his hand over his mouth during takes. For three takes in a row, as soon as the director called "CUT!" Glennon would bust up laughing, just the same intensity as when the words first left my mouth.

The sad part of this story comes when I was too embarrassed to stick around to chat to Bill Paxton. Looking back now, I should have.

Glennon told us to come back anytime we wanted. I believe he meant this in all sincerity. I never took him up on the offer. I was too shy. Still had too much school. And thought a degree was the answer to my dreams.

The irony of all of this -- was Nick and I were the well behaved group. The group that went the next day got kicked off the set and no one was invited back.

From that point on:
  • I actively petitioned the school for classes that I thought were more important to the overall development of a film student, but was repeatedly shot down.
I could simply say, there are things they don't teach you in film school -- but that wouldn't even be the tip of the iceberg. There are real life issues, social, economic, class, and otherwise that college actually shelters the individual from.

There are parts of me that would much rather have had an apprenticeship right out of high school, than to have wasted my time, trying to figure out what I wanted to do, when I really knew all along.

My real problem was, I didn't know HOW to even approach achieving those goals.

I'm still not so sure. But the knowledge I did gain, came from working and not from schooling.


deepstructure said...

i second your opinion of film school. i ended up switching my area of concentration to media criticism and theory for this exact reason (it was fascinating stuff i knew you wouldn't learn on the job). i had made a short film before going to film school - seemed most everyone else was there because they thought it would be a cool way to skate through college. very disappointing.

of course, they say the best things you take from college are the contacts you make with your peers who will presumably end up in the industry. and in at least one way that's true for me; i have the job i have now because my college roommate held it previously and i inquired when i heard he was moving on.

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