Just Add Water

I took a photography trip to Yosemite, CA last week.  Its one of my favorite places to escape to.  It really helps to balance me out against the demands and trials of work.  It 'cleanses my palette' - if you will.

We had beautiful weather - a mix of sun, clouds, and sprinkles of rain.  Temperatures in the 50s during the day.  And at this time of year, the park is less populated with people, so its easy to get around, and park pretty much wherever you'd like.  Some fall color still clung to the trees, but winter's effect was beginning to show itself in the browning of trees and grasses.  Though most things appeared normal in the park - one thing was sorely missing - water.  Both Yosemite and Bridalveil Falls were but a trickle - barely visible against the rock, and Mirror Lake had no mirror.  No water at all.  We stayed at the Inn at the Falls - where you can usually hear the constant pounding sound of Yosemite Falls in the background.  But not this time.  Only the Merced still had some slow running water, but even there you could walk out onto sandbars that are usually covered in deep rushing water.

Affirmation of California's drought was in clear evidence.  There is also what looked like indications of the bark beetle moving in - brown pine trees dotting the area.  Tree crews were removing some trees along the roadways in the valley, but it was unclear if the trees were dead, or  interfering with the roadways somehow.

I pray for rain to come to California in normal amounts this winter.  Though it will take quite a bit to fill our languishing reserves and rivers, I hope it doesn't come all at once - we don't want mudslides.  But snow - snow would be good.  The cold is coming.  Then - just add water.


Discarded Art

Just got word that much of what we had designed for the film may now either be repurposed for the action in the new script, or is no is longer needed.  Sounds like only one of the sets I worked on may still make it into the movie.  This is very sad for me, but its not an unusual circumstance.  We often joke that we could make a whole other movie with the set designs we've created that never got built - or never made it into the final cut.  

The Production Designer I was working with has joked that we could make a book called Discarded Art.  Could make a good book, indeed.  Even showing how the sets we did build evolved - from conception to completion - could be an interesting read.  Most of what we create evolves as the script and action are refined, the build schedules and costs are estimated, and debated, and the meetings with the Director and other department heads progress.  It seems rare that the first thing conceived is actually what is built and shot, but the heart of it is there.

That latter idea of a book on the evolution of sets would be a much more likely project, as we tend to hold on to all those unused designs - we might be able to use them in some form on another project...!  A good idea, is a good idea, after all - and should not be wasted.

Cut Shorter

Only a day after my last post we were informed that the show was going on a hiatus, as studio execs felt the script needed "work".  The official word is that its only for a couple weeks, and then it'll be back up and running.  My colleagues that left for Vancouver just a week ago (packed up their lives and moved up there) now must return home - but can leave their things if they wish - production will maintain the offices and their living spaces - which is very nice of them, as that is not always the case.  Non-union personnel in LA were laid-off immediately.  Union members get a one week notice before being let go, as per our contract.

I'm not happy about leaving even earlier - I could use the pay - but at least I'm only out a week's work.  I hope the others are not kept hanging for too long.  If the hiatus lingers on, people could decide to leave for other projects.

It just got a lot quieter around here, and there are a lot of sad faces.  As we don't know if anything we've worked on so far will still be in the movie, we'll just tidy up what we have, and put it on our server.  Hopefully all the work we've done isn't for naught.

Always an adventure in the film biz.  We'll see what happens.

Cut short

The opportunity to work on large feature films in Los Angeles has become much more rare - tax incentives (dare I say kickbacks?) from competing states have lured that work away.  Some of the work on those films does remain here.  Producing and development, script writing, etc.  still mostly happens here.  For the art department its the pre-production phase for those films.  Developing the look of the film, generating some illustrations, set plans, and models, to sell producers and investors on the idea that this film is a good idea and will make money, and so then - green light the project.  The main production talent typically involved with these films still resides in Los Angeles, though some have decided to pick up and move to places like New Orleans, or Atlanta, where the work is booming.  Those of us who remain in LA get plenty of calls for work out of state, but are more than excited to jump onto something when its in town - for however long that might be. 

I am involved in pre-production on a large feature right now - a sequel to one I'd done before.  I can't tell you how happy we all are to be working in town, reunited with our peers from the last film, at a real movie studio lot, and we can also go home to our families at night.  Bliss.  We know that the film will be made out of the country, but when offered the chance to at least work in our home town for up to 5 months we'll take it.  Its when production announces that, instead, the move to the distant location will happen earlier in order to save money - we feel even more robbed of our livelihood, and that we are waving goodbye to our careers.  Hollywood has never been a stable place to work - ever - but its now reached new proportions.  In the old days - and not all that long ago - you were called to work on a film, and were given the when, where, and how long of it all.  It was spelled-out, and you could take it, or pass on it, and plan accordingly.  Now they tell you about the project (maybe - if its not too much of a secret!), and that yes, its probably going to be filmed elsewhere, but they don't know where yet - or when you'd leave, but you'll probably be there for 6-8-10 months - if you're asked to go at all.  I personally, am steering away from signing on to anything that's still so vague - or extended.  But the story can change so quickly, its really not much protection.  I know many people who have started on a film, been told they'd be on for a number of months, only to have it go away as soon as the same week they started!  Its nuts! 

I have 2.5 weeks left on my project, and am already starting to hand-over files, concepts, and models to my counterparts up north.  I had such fun on the last one.  To see it leave the country is just heartbreaking.  If the film had stayed in the US, I'd be traveling with it, but its not - its going up to Canada - and there's too many unemployed Canadian art directors who are more than willing to have my job.  So I'll be unemployed instead.  (Though hopefully not for too long).  Another great American tale leaving the country to be made.  Another job - cut short.  

Stay tuned...

Poker Face

There can be occasions (very happy ones, indeed) when I receive multiple job offers to choose from - this can be very reassuring and uplifting.  Its nice to be wanted, and to have options!  But we are not always the one who gets to make the final decision in the matter.  There are many players and circumstances involved, and the old adage "Don't put all your eggs in one basket" often comes to mind.  

Right now, a designer whom I adore, and have worked for a number of times, is up for another big film - and I would very much like to work with him on it.  While we're talking I've also begun to get more calls and offers.  I can either turn these other offers down, or "let them ride" - tell them I have one project pending already, but allow for the possibility that it could fold, and then have something in reserve, and be available for that.  The one thing I DON'T want to do is simply turn everything else down.  In addition, what I want to be honest with those I speak to about joining a show - its just not that big a business - and we all talk.  Yes, we do.  And the truth always finds its way out.  Play it straight.

What I most often find, is that, in the end, its all up to fate.  For no matter how excited I am about a show, or how hard I lobby to get on it, fate will decide FOR ME, not always because of me.  One by one, the options can disappear (for a variety of reasons), and I can be left with a single show to "choose from".  I like to think of this circumstance as being the one I was supposed to do anyway.  And most often I find out at some later date that it was also the best one for me.  I find out only some time later why it was the best one.  Often it ends up teaching me something I needed to know for the next one!

This past month emails have been flying, phones have been ringing, and the rumor mill is churning.  As each film gets crewed-up, the rest get more frantic to find qualified people.  This can certainly work in your favor, maybe even allow for you to get that bit of a raise you've been hoping for, but if you don't act fast, and definitively, you can lose it all.  Its kind of like playing a hand of poker.  So, I've got one good face card right now, I've thrown a few others away, and am now being dealt my final hand.  I'll be betting on (and hoping for) that initial face card to pay off - we'll see. In the meantime, I'll keep my poker face on.  

Unemployment - Get Used to the Idea

Part of life working in the film business is accepting that there will be times when you will NOT be working in the film business.  Film jobs only last so long, and most often there will be down-time in between shows.  So there are two things you must do: 1) save some of your hard-earned money, and 2) relax, and consider this time your "vacation".

I am on such a vacation now, and have been for 3 months, so this seemed the most likely topic to begin my blog with.  Am I stressed-out?  Not too much, but we always stress a little when the phone hasn't rung for a while...  The first week off is always blissful - its like that feeling of the last day of school when you get released for the summer - "I'm FREE!!" - it also helps when you know you have one more paycheck coming.  Its a good idea to have at least 6 months worth of savings for just these times.  I definitely do not like seeing my savings disappear, and certainly hope that I won't be off-work for THAT long, but I accept that that's what its for - my peace of mind when I'm unemployed.

Film work can be such a pleasure, and such a pain.  It is often stressful, and unfolds at an unrelenting pace.  The unfortunate trend these days is that we are given less time, less money, and less personnel to accomplish our tasks (as it is in many fields).  And we teach production the wrong lesson every time - that we can do it.  No one wants to fail - to not have a set ready, or present something that doesn't look good.  So we do what it takes, and it can be quite a trial for all involved.  There's a saying we often use: You can have your sets cheap, quick, or fabulous - pick any two.   

So after another long show I will enjoy my unemployment - I will sleep-in, see family and friends, get back to hobbies and projects halted mid-stream, get things done around the house that have been sorely neglected, pamper myself with good food and a few spa treatments, and maybe take a trip.  BTW - that phone will usually wait to ring with a job offer until you've bought tickets to go somewhere...  So you might as well do it - the call will come.  Get used to the idea.