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Frank Poole

Biggest curveball you were thrown and How you recovered?

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It's said that filmmaking and directing in particular are about "managing chaos" or "orchestrating accidents". What are the things that simply can't be planned or counted on? Do you have a story to share that is indicative of this aspect of filmmaking?

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Plenty of "acts of God" happen on a shoot, you can't plan in advance for those but you can have a general plan for these situations, which is why you often have cover sets listed on the call sheet in case of bad weather. Some things just paralyze a shoot and there's not much to do until things are up and running again, and then you find ways to make up for lost time. A number of times shooting in Miami in June 2019, we were shut down due to lightning strikes near the location.

Of course, there are happy accidents as well.

We had a week of bald, clear skies in New Mexico for "The Astronaut Farmer" during a month-long period we were shooting on a ranch and the ending of the movie was scheduled during this time, a place that was a half-hour drive south. The director kept putting off shooting that scene because the skies were so boring and we had enough flexibility to do that because we were based on one spot for a couple of weeks. But we had reached the end of the time on the ranch and luckily the last day had some clouds in the sky, nothing spectacular, just sort of a haze, semi-overcast.  So we went for it, not having any choice at this point, and made the move to the field south of us. The sunset was spectacular and it's the last shot in the movie. But often you can't plan for that.

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When we did "Northfork", we had two days scheduled to shoot our cemetery scenes. One day involved a boy meeting an angel, the other day involved a bunch of men digging up a coffin. We had a hailstorm hit us when we did the coffin digging scene but the next day with the boy was sunny and clear. The two types of skies matched the scenes perfectly but it wasn't scheduled for the weather, we just got lucky!
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I mean as David pointed out, weather is probably #1 in terms of managing chaos. Bad crews can also be a big problem. Producers looking at the monitor the whole time complaining to the director why things take the time they do and why a certain scene was written that way. I mean people are pretty stupid in the grand scheme of things, so even if a good proficient crew is capable of producing the show, that doesn't mean the producer/director are. Heck, I've been on shows where the UPM was a total dipshit and things have fallen apart. I've been on shows where the sound guy was an asshole and you're fighting them the entire show. I've been on shows where the grip team have been jerks and you're always fighting them. Sometimes it's the 1st assistant director or even an actor as well. I think the #1 thing to avoid chaos is having a tight crew. It's why there are so few big union jobs available, it seems the same 10 crews shoot nearly all the big shows. 

As someone who mostly shoots documentary work, I'd say most of the time I'm looking for happy accidents. I'm always looking for those special moments that follow through. Don't get me wrong, sometimes they don't. Sometimes you've got an idea in your head and when you execute it, the whole thing falls apart and you're dragged through the mud like a fool, going back to the drawing board. I've failed quite a bit, but everyone has, its the nature of the beast. It's picking yourself back up again and realizing you failed, is the important part. Then you can try again and do something different. As someone who also directs most of their own work, on top of shooting on film, it's always a challenge. Ya get back and some stuff didn't come out good and its your own damn fault, but ya know what... it wasn't meant to be then. It's just the nature of the beast sometimes. 

In the long run, there are very few "perfect" days on shows. Most days are full of problems to solve. Most days are a struggle to get through, just to turn around and do it the next day. When you do get a perfect day, it's a lot of fun. But most of the time it's more challenging than straight out fun. I feel the tighter the crew, the more fun you have honestly. 

 

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I shot a super low budget short once that the director tried to make without permits in Death Valley National Park. It was a sci-fi 'Mad Max' meets 'Stargate' kinda project.

We staged a fight a scene in the dunes with an 18' jib as curious tourists walked by every few minutes. We got thru all of our coverage looking in one direction and were about to turn around when a Park Ranger walked up behind us and shut us down. Apparently they had been looking for us for days, as the director had tipped them off to our production dates when he had initially inquired about permits. Needless to say, that's all we got in the can for that scene.

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We shot several more scenic scenes in a few other isolated locations and drove back to LA with our tail between our legs.

As we got back to base camp (i.e. producer's apartment), we started brainstorming how to finish the scene. One dumb idea I had was to drive to Santa Monica, fill up buckets with sand, and dump them in an empty lot to shoot our reverse coverage. In the end, we ended up on the horse trails in Griffith Park (without a permit again):

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We had just about wrapped up our four MOS shots when a cop showed up and shut us down. This continued on in similar fashion for about a week... Surprisingly, the footage all turned out quite good, though I don't know if the final film ever got delivered.

On another short that I co-produced, the director and I held a casting call for two comedic roles - the main character was a young woman who is at the movies alone, thinks she's being propositioned by the handsome man sitting behind her and eventually agrees to go home with him, only to realize the man was on the phone with his girlfriend the whole time. The male character was almost entirely off-screen except for his last line, a relatively small part. This was a PSA contest for a local single screen movie theater, 'don't talk on your phone during the movie.'

For the man, we pretty much cast the first actor who responded. He was a total pro, showed up early to the shoot and hung out patiently until his scene was ready. The female character had two auditions - one actress who was prompt, professional, and played exactly what was written, and another who was late, didn't have much experience, but was more interesting on screen. We hired the latter actress, figuring she would give the film a little more quirky humor. Well, guess who didn't show up on the shoot day! In desperation, we asked the male actor to play the female on-screen role and had one of our male crew members play the 'propositioner.' It played so much better, it was the best thing that could have happened to us. We premiered it at the theater to a packed crowd before a screening of 'Harold and Maude' and brought down the house. It actually would have been problematic if we had shot it as intended, punching down rather than up.

 

 

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I’ve come to realize that filmmaking is a lot like independent wrestling, there’s no money in it, only the 1% who manage to become professionals are able to make a living from it. It’s an elusive pursuit if you don’t have the connections to land more assignments. And I’m not really chasing after money, even though we all kind of need it to buy food and rent out a room to sleep in, but I feel cursed with this caged up passion that has been eating me alive for the past several years.
 

It feels like I’m chasing a unicorn! And indie filmmaking is really just a free for all, something you do on the weekends after working a 9-5 job. This is why I despise this mirage that Hollywood creates. It doesn’t work that way. I like guys like George A. Romero who were real, he just found a way to make iconic horror films on his own, I don’t think he ever set foot in Los Angeles, but sadly not everyone can be as clever or talented as a George Romero. To be a filmmaker you need to be a presence, like George who started out filming commercials in Pittsburgh, he managed to get the entire city to help him make Night of the Living Dead. You have to be something of an entrepreneur, which is why Orson Welles said something that filmmaking is really just a hustle, because you need to know how to raise the money to make a movie.

im not saying it’s impossible, but I was too delusional to realize that filmmaking is a mt. Everest !

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I feel it’s degrading and humiliating work, in the beginning you’re most likely laughed at and it feels like you’re going nowhere in life, but it’s really just about that satisfaction of having created something that makes the pain worthwhile. At least that’s how it’s beginning to feel like to me, there’s just nothing fancy about indie filmmaking, and I’m not knocking it or anything, it’s just the truth that no one cares to tell you.

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On 10/17/2020 at 6:28 PM, Josh Gallegos said:

I’ve come to realize that filmmaking is a lot like independent wrestling, there’s no money in it, only the 1% who manage to become professionals are able to make a living from it. It’s an elusive pursuit if you don’t have the connections to land more assignments. And I’m not really chasing after money, even though we all kind of need it to buy food and rent out a room to sleep in, but I feel cursed with this caged up passion that has been eating me alive for the past several years.

 

On 10/17/2020 at 7:19 PM, Josh Gallegos said:

I feel it’s degrading and humiliating work, in the beginning you’re most likely laughed at and it feels like you’re going nowhere in life, but it’s really just about that satisfaction of having created something that makes the pain worthwhile. At least that’s how it’s beginning to feel like to me, there’s just nothing fancy about indie filmmaking, and I’m not knocking it or anything, it’s just the truth that no one cares to tell you.

Well, the idea is to tell the kind of stories which are really worth telling.  It can indeed be pretty depressing if the filmmaking process is painful and incredibly difficult and the end product is also bad and worth nothing. So don't do any painful projects if it is not really worth it and if the movie itself is not great and unique. 

Making a good movie should still be fun or at least tolerable though. There is so many indie productions out there which have too unrealistic plans and way too little time and budget for making any of it the right way. That easily leads to 20+ hour days, accidents etc when trying to get every last bit out of the already tired crew. 

So the best thing you can do is to make projects which you really really want to do and to try to only work on projects which are worth it. Don't risk your life or your physical and mental health, no movie is never worth that no matter how good the director thinks the movie is.

Like Tyler said, you will fall down countless times and your most important skill is to be able to pick yourself up again and again no matter how many times you have failed. Learn from your mistakes, correct them if you can and then try again until you succeed

Edited by aapo lettinen

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This happened in the late 90s. Our large crew and hired gear arrived at a London city location where we had permission to film and arranged with the film office to have a bus stop removed for one weekend. When we got there, the bus stop was still standing and there was no way we could have removed it ourselves. The shoot involved a car that we were going to blow up the following weekend which was already booked with a stunt crew and five cameras. When we contacted the film office the Monday after the lost weekend, the woman in charge refused to accept responsibility and we had to promise her to not tell her boss, other wise she wouldn't remove the bus sign in two weeks time. We blew up the car the following weekend and then had to buy an identical model for the catching up the missed shoot. Very costly third party mistake we had no control over.

 

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Edited by Uli Meyer

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