Monday, June 18, 2012

Letter to film school wannabe.

This is an email I sent to a former crew member I used on a feature film who was considering attending film school. My perspective on spending time and money on a degree in filmmaking is pretty well illustrated here and my points should be considered by anyone looking into attending film school:

In regards to that UCLA program, I could see it maybe being of some benefit to already working producers but I can tell you from experience, I've never met a working producer who went to "producer school."

It's not like there are help wanted ads for producers and if you finish at UB and then go to UCLA for another 2 years, you'll still have almost no practical experience in the field of producing and will have to start at the bottom - as a PA most likely. It's not like you'll get hired to produce because you have a masters degree in producing and little work experience.

And, you'll never learn more at a school than you could working in the industry in less time, while getting paid, and making valuable contacts.

I once had the good fortune of working as a coordinator with a friend who was the local PM on a huge Goodyear job in the mid '90's that was about maybe 2 weeks of work total and was easily the best education I ever had in production.

The producer busted balls and put us through a crash course in producing - real world-style.

That's just one example of the education that is possible while working and it's possible to gain all kinds of expertise after working on a few jobs.

I've worked on a LOT of reality TV shows and almost every PM and coordinator and producer in that realm all started out as PAs, except for some upper level types who were already attorneys (who sucked at producing anyway). I've worked as a PA on jobs for Snickers, Wendys, Channellock Tools, Eastman Kodak, HSBC Bank, Servicemaster, etc, etc., and I never had more than a 2 year degree (in an unrelated field) and some minimal prior experience. Now, here I've produced 4 feature length films, a shitload of commercials, and I coordinated on 2 - 1 Million dollar features - and I haven't been even TRYING to get work producing.

School and more school is great if you want to either teach or if you want to be a career student, but in the film/television industry it's essentially still only going to get your foot in the door as a PA anyway. Do you really want to spend 6 years in school and then still start out as a PA and have to pay back student loans while working part time as a PA?

I mean, you can do what you want, but nothing works better than working in the biz if you want to climb the ladder and learn and make money.

©2012 Chris Santucci

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A word on locations...

Some observations and rules I've come to know in the past 20 years regarding working in "practical locations.":

Respect the property

This is the cardinal rule of working at locations. "Practical locations" are those that function as spaces people normally use on a daily basis - like apartments, stores, homes, etc.

Keep in mind, you're there for a relatively short while and you'll be working at an accelerated rate compared to the people who normally live or work there. You are working against the clock and there's much pressure to complete the work in a finite period of time. You'll be getting tired. You'll be moving heavy and sometimes unwieldy equipment around. You'll be distracted. You'll be agitated at times.

Be aware of the condition of the property and act accordingly. If you had a bunch of people over to your place for a party, you wouldn't like it if people dropped stuff on the floor, made a mess, and scratched your furniture. Abusing the goodwill of whomever is allowing you to use their property as a shooting location will close the door for future use by you and any other filmmakers, not to mention damage that comes out of your budget.

Be extra nice and cover your ass

You'd be surprised (I've been - multiple times) at how two-faced people can be who are charged with overseeing the property you're using as a shooting location while you're there. What I mean is, you might think everything is copacetic all the while you're working and then find out later someone there had an issue with you, your crew, or something you or they did or didn't do.

Always, always, always, ASK to move or change anything at the location.

Always make it clear the full extent of what you would like to do with respect to moving, removing, modifying, or altering in any way any architectural element, appliance, piece of furniture, paint finish, foliage, landscaping, etc., preferably before you book the location, but, there certainly will be times when it isn't possible to foretell everything you might end up wanting to do with respect to the location.

Of course you want to be 100% up front about your intentions with the property, but when you have to rely on a lackey (for permission) who's been entrusted to oversee the property on your shoot day, beware, and do not leave garbage there when you leave - even if they say it's ok (trust me.)

And even if you smile like maniac, and ask, and say thank you, and everything is returned to normal before or after you leave, be aware that someone (more likely an employee) may very well complain about something. Some people thrive on drama and will nitpick about something, so the one underlying thing you must stick to is returning the property to it's original condition either before you leave or soon after (depending on your arrangement.)

Don't say anything derogatory about the property

This goes for everyone on the crew. People chit-chat while waiting for other departments to complete work, so make sure nobody comments on the quality of the paint finish, the ugly curtains, the drywall finishing, or the sickly cat that lives in the house.

Pissing off or offending a property owner is not a good idea for obvious reasons. Be sensitive. 

Be aware of noise when loading in/wrapping out

More often than not, you'll be loading into a location early in the day. It may be a weekend day and if that's the case, it means people will most likely be sleeping when you're unloading trucks and moving gear, props, scenery, wardrobe, etc., into a space.

Be considerate and think about other people outside your little world.

Follow up

Make sure any lingering business with respect to the condition of the location is addressed in a timely manner. If something needs to be painted, painted back, repaired, replaced, cleaned, etc., make sure it happens - at least soon after you're done using the location. Leaving a mess at the location is a really bad idea even if you're running behind on your shoot schedule. The property owner/manager doesn't care about your shoot schedule, they just want their property to be returned to normal when you're done.

I've been turned down by property managers without so much as ever having met them based on their experiences with other filmmakers. Don't screw it up for the rest of us. Take care of business and make sure the property manager is satisfied with the condition of the property after you leave.

©2012 Chris Santucci