Saturday, July 31, 2004
Non-Journal, Days Sixteen and Seventeen

You know how I said I might still complain, but not as much? Then forgive me for what I'm about to write... I need to vent.

Lee is turning into a monster. Not an angry monster; that I could probably deal with more easily. What Lee is turning into is a coverage monster.

We had one short scene to shoot today: the main character and his love interest have a brief dialogue -- five short lines -- and kiss. That's it, that's the whole scene.

Admittedly the location was problematic; we were stuck between one construction site and another building that was being repainted, ie, lots of potential for sound problems. We were also on the bluff on the higher riverwalk, with lots of traffic below, another potential source of noise. Also, there was the trolley about seventy feet away, and of course the ubiquitous Memphis daytime sound: trains. Add to that the intermittent presence of walkers and assorted exercisers, and yeah, it was a finicky shoot site. But it was only five lines of dialogue, the construction wasn't continuous, and the rest can be dodged. Ten or twelve takes would have been reasonable; fifteen at the most.

But is that what happened? Hell no. Lee, who is already coverage-mad, routinely taking three or four times the number of angles he can possibly use (I once watched him take seven angles of a shot that won't last more than five seconds on screen... I mean, seriously, what is this, MTV?) took twenty-seven takes from five angles. (Remember, this is five lines of dialogue and one kiss.) Finally he decided he was done and told us to pack up. Hooray!

But wait, no... DeVere asks him, "were you happy with that?" Lee gives him a lukewarm response -- exactly the wrong thing to do with a self-doubting, sensitive actor like DeVere -- and DeVere predictably starts hemming and hawing, asking if we should do it again. This then feeds into Lee's own insecurities, making him further question whether the scene was any good. (It was fine.) After some discussion -- after I'd already gotten everything packed up -- it was decided that they'd go again. Unpack. Set up again. We're re-shooting the whole scene.

In the end, we did nearly fifty takes of the scene; the last few takes had only minor changes from the first few. We spent over forty minutes worth of tape on a scene that will last no more than one minute onscreen. Forty-seven total takes. Five lines of dialogue. Forty-seven, five. Insanity.

I found this especially frustrating (pointing out that I was already tired when we began), because to me it just seems like sloppy directing. How do we get through twenty-seven takes without the director a) discovering and b) addressing the fact that it's not quite working for him? I told him afterwards that only Kubrick got away with that; any professional producer would've been reaming him out after take twenty-five. One starts to get the impression that Lee isn't really sure what he wants when he begins, and isn't sure he's done it right once he gets it. To be an effective director, you have to be decisive, for better or worse... somebody around here has to have a clear vision, somebody's gotta know what's going on. Some days Lee doesn't seem to have that.

Now, don't get me wrong... I'm NOT saying Lee's a bad director. I'm just saying sometimes his actual directing is... well, y'know, not good.

(I'm such a back-seat director... now I have to shoot something soon, just to prove I can do it myself, and to show Lee how it's done. Heh... I flatter myself.)

I'm really dreading this coming weekend... this isn't fun anymore. We've got two days of shooting out in the sun, complicated scenes, lots of extras, lots of floundering around.

And if he should read this: yes, I'm fine; yes, I'll keep going. It's a point of honor for me to see it through. No, I'm not mad, I'm just tired and frustrated and annoyed. Yes, I still like you, although I'd like a few days without having to see you. I'm sorry if I seem disengaged or impatient. I wish I had something more substantial to do. And yes, I should probably say all this to you directly, but after seeing how it upset you when DeVere expressed dissatisfaction, I'm afraid of undermining your confidence even more. I wish I felt I could make this case without it being taken personally, but I don't think I can.

So I stew, and hang on til it's over.

God, I love filmmaking.
2:36 AM ::
Amy :: permalink
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