ewhightower

Posts Tagged ‘Film’

Integrity

In Directing, Film on December 29, 2016 at 11:37 am

I recently allowed my frustration at the outcome of a past project to direct my writing about that project. The result was a major dick move on my part: mocking another professional’s work without explanation or justification. The project was Hercules Saves Christmas (HSC), and the professional in question was Chad Caines, the editor of the film.

I’d like to rephrase and redirect my criticism, because it wasn’t really Chad’s work I was criticizing: Chad is an experienced editor. He certainly knows more about it than I do. We may disagree on some aesthetic points, but he — like the rest of us — did the best he could with the given material. The fact is that, ultimately, all flaws in this film are my responsibility: as director, I should have been a bastion of artistic integrity.

I was not.

The why of that is an interesting story, but too long and dangerous to relate here. Suffice to say that, while directing HSC, I was also directing a production of [a classic musical] with [a youth theatre company] at [a Northern California Community College]. It was an extremely stressful process for a variety of reasons, chief among which was that I was given little or no actual directorial input on the production as a whole. Originally, I was not the director of [the musical]. I was asked to step in after the original director had already been in talks with costume and set designer, details which were not shared with me in advance. Add to the mix a music director who was actively fighting me on my staging (wtf?) and a producer whose behavior made every moment of the process viscerally unpleasant. Even writing that sentence fills me with dread, as that producer’s behavior is unlikely to have improved in the intervening years.

As a result, no amount of stress or difficulty on the set of HSC could surpass what I was experiencing while directing [the musical]. By the time both projects were complete, however, I was in a strange place of uncertainty and exhaustion. So, at precisely the time when I should have been standing up for my deeply-held beliefs regarding directorial input on the finished product of a film, I said, “Meh.”

To be clear, there was nothing in my contract about my having any part of the editorial process. In fact, I didn’t see a contract until right before we were about to start on the first day of filming. To my eternal regret, I signed it without taking the time to scrutinize. The result was that I made less than the writer of the film, less than the Director of Photography, less than the 1st AD. I felt useless and undervalued. It was very difficult to fight for this project.

However, I wanted the final product to be good. Particularly the CGI. My brother-in-law worked at Pixar at the time; he also taught at ExPressions College in Emeryville. He was willing to do our CGI with his students for free. Alas, the producers already had a guy and the film had already been edited. My viewing of the film with Chad (the editor) was, to the best of my knowledge, an afterthought — only happening because I asked the producers if I could see it. And because Animal Planet needed the film asap, it was too late to make any changes.

I didn’t fight for it.

I’m not proud of my work on HSC. I feel it is a directorial failure from start to finish. As stated earlier, any aesthetic flaws in any project are the director’s responsibility. Sure, the producers may make things tricky, but a savvy director finds a way to make it work. So, from now until forever, all criticism I direct at Hercules Saves Christmas is truly directed at myself. Any problems I have with any aspect of the film are problems I have with my own work.

Everyone else who worked on the project did their level best. It was a delight to work with each an every cast and crew and production team member. It is my sincere wish that I had honored their work by being a better director.

Perhaps next time.

Until then, all I can say is: shame, perdition and narwhals.

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The Kind of Work I Want to Do

In Employment, Intent, Theatre on February 2, 2014 at 8:56 pm

It’s a sad day. Philip Seymour Hoffman has apparently died. I say apparently because there is a large part of me — my entire soul — which wishes for this to be a massive hoax. Until I hear otherwise, I am going with the news sources (WSJ, CNN, PBS) reporting that he is, in fact, dead from an apparent drug overdose.

The first thing I feel is great sadness: Hoffman had a quality about him that made me feel as though he and I were great friends who simply hadn’t met, yet. I have, in my mind, this unwritten agenda of things to do in life, and one of the items I’ve only today realized was high on the list was to thank Philip Seymour Hoffman for the amazing breadth and depth of his work. Simplicity is central to everything he does, and seems to be the path to honesty in acting.

I don’t know if this is true for you, but it is for me: when I lose someone I admire, a strict stock-taking is prompted in my mind and soul. What have I done with my life? How come I never met them / didn’t know them better? Why is my life bogged down with the kind of mediocrity against which I rail when holding petty court at a rehearsal or on break while filming, and to which I return to rest at the end of the day? Why is my nest cluttered with shit, and why is my work gathering dust while I frantically try to get all the dishes done or sweep the floors before V gets home?

Ridiculous bullshit, all.

So I’m focusing on the kind of work I want to do. And it’s pretty simple to sum up: I want to do the kind of work Philip Seymour Hoffman did. Does, in all extant samples of his work. Simplicity. Honesty. Bullseye.

I’m not pleased with my career — or lack thereof — and its effects on the rest of my life. Such a big mistake coming back to California from NYC. So foolish. I do not know if I will ever feel otherwise. The idiocy of that decision hangs over everything I do like a vast, deadly avalanche that has fallen, is about to fall, will fall.

Maybe I can find a way out of it. Maybe if I approach everything with honesty and simplicity, I can find the path away from the nest I’ve cluttered together under the threat of impending disaster.

So here’s the kind of work I want to do:

In Film, I want to work on well-written projects, only. No more impassioned note sessions with writer/directors who can’t understand how to use an apostrophe or comma. If they don’t know how to do that shit, I’m not in their project. I want to work with brilliant writers, brilliant directors and brilliant cinematographers. People who do work like this:

In Theatre, Regional Theatre is as low as I’ll go from now on. The next project I’m in is THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE at Berkeley Playhouse, a venue that appears to be Community Theatre (I’ll know more as rehearsals progress; if you’re interested, ask for updates). Here’s some honesty for you: the only reason I took the job is because it’s directed by Kimberly Dooley. She’s one of the founders of Shotgun Players, which, for my money, is the best (most daring, most potentially powerful, most impassioned) theatre company in the East Bay — possibly in the Bay Area.Working with Kimberly will be, I hope, a helpful lubricant to penetrating Shotgun. Zing.

There are other places I’d like to work in the Bay Area: Aurora Theatre Company, Berkeley Rep (I’ve understudied there, once), TheatreWorks, possibly ACT and definitely Marin Theatre Company. But the reason I love Shotgun Players so much is simple: they have that lithe, quick, spare quality that keeps theatrical art vibrant. The larger a theatre company gets, the more slowly it moves, until it becomes bogged down in political struggles between the Artistic Director, the Managing Director, the Board of Trustees, the Designers, the Donors … What was once a powerful, dynamic space in which miracles were possible becomes a behemoth wallowing in its own inability to create without upsetting the myriad apple carts others have built on its haunches.

The problem area that lies between the work I want to do and the work I’m doing is simple: nobody knows my work. I’d allowed myself to get trapped working at Solano College Theatre, which, while itself a once-vibrant Regional Theatre in Fairfield, CA, reached its high-water mark with The Producers in 2009 and has receded ever since. The college gutted the company in 2011/2012, and it’s now nothing more than a community college theatre department. Sad, sad days. So, while some of my best work was being done at SCT 2008 – 2013 (as both actor and, eventually, director), nobody came to see it.

The result is that, in many ways, I have to start over. While my resume is impressive, I was spending so much time at Solano that nobody in the greater Bay Area had any idea what I was doing. It’s basically impossible to get anyone to come see your show if they have to drive more than 30 minutes and/or cross a bridge. I actually offered to buy some people a tank of gas and dinner if they would come see The Producers. They never responded to that ridiculous plea, rightly turned off by its sheer desperation. That could easily be a contributing factor to my not having worked at any of the biggies in a while.

So I’m starting over. At 40, soon to be 41, years of age, I am doing Community Theatre for less-than-minimum-wage, all in the hopes that the simplicity of my own work will lead to more jobs at better theatres that pay a living wage and are creative springboards to wider, deeper ponds.

Cross your fingers, gentle readers, and comment if you have any thoughts you’d like to share.