Thursday, December 14, 2006

Control And the "Fuck It" School of Film

The other night I went out to work on a new script. Sometimes I find writing alone in my apartment too onerous - I need to be around people even if I'm not interacting with them, just to feel like I've got some connection to the rest of the world. And sometimes there's too many distractions at home - television, the cat, my bed (which looks very attractive right now), etc.

Anyway, so I wander out to this cafe/bar I'd passed by before, went in and settled down to work - and I saw that a musical act was setting up shop. Oh well, I thought, maybe I should try somewhere else. But I had my iced cappucino in my hand already, and they were a few minutes away from starting, so I decided to keep going.

Anyway, the act started - and they were terrific. Nothing complicated: a singer, a bassist (fretless electric, wow!) and a pianist. The bassist also played violin on some numbers. Mostly covers ("Love For Sale," "Us and Them", "You Give Me Fever") and a couple of original tunes.

Great stuff. And I still got some writing done after they were finished.

If I'd tried to control the situation by going somewhere else, I would have missed out on something really wonderful. This brings up the issue:

Is control such a great goal? Is it possible, even?

I ask myself these things because my job requires me to stay on top of a lot of things at once: money, people, equipment, scheduling, locations etc. If I lose control of something, bad things happen - we don't get done on time and/or on budget.

At least, that's the theory. The dirty truth is, I don't really have control over very much at all, except when I show up for work (unless the subway decides to fuck me, in which case even that goes out the window). Everything else is held in place by a kind of contract or agreement. Even so, bad things happen all the time. Equipment breaks on the weekend. It rains out while we're trying to shoot a sunny park scene. The sun just WON'T stay up for another goddamn minute (the worst thing to hear is "We're losing the light!") And maybe someone on the crew got a day-play gig for tomorrow that pays triple what you're paying, and hasn't been able to find a replacement for himself yet. And on and on.

But out of these accidents and "bad things" have come some great moments, the "fuck it" moments. Like when I said "fuck it" and decided to stay and see the band.

When it rained cats and dogs on the last shoot I was on we kept shooting because it actually worked for the story better. No one was terribly happy (it was also cold out) but it worked. On my own film I used a couple of outtakes because the actors were more relaxed, more real, than when we were officially "rolling." Once or twice the lead actor dropped something and, because he's supposed to be tired and a little clumsy in the story, his reaction worked better.

This leads me to wonder how many of those brilliant moments in the movies we love came out of the "fuck it" experience. In the original Star Wars (Episode IV for the geeks out here) there are some scenes where the wind on Tattooine (actually, Tunisia) picks up in the middle of a take, blowing Luke's hair and Obi-Wan's robe around. I'm sure it wasn't planned, but at those moments you feel like you're in the desert with them. There's nothing like that in the last three movies to make you feel like you're in a real environment.

Anyway, your homework assignment is to walk around the city and take a minute from your busy schedule to see what happens. Get off on a subway stop you've never gotten off of before. Walk into a restaurant you've never eaten at. Surfing the internet sort-of counts, but I think the problem is that you're still taking in information solely through your eyes - there's no physical activity involved. One of my favorites is to buy a magazine at Hudson News that I've never read before.

Good luck! Report back.


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