25 June Log: Gnashing My Teeth (Updated 6:12 PM)

6:01 PM

This isn’t supposed to be just a cheery ‘life is wonderful’ account of the joy of making a movie.  I’m trying to make it real.  So I’m going to admit that this has been a day from absolute hell.  Not because of things here … but rather because of things back in LA, where I have to allocate a certain percentage of my attention.  Some of the issues were little ones that were just irritating.  A couple hit a lot deeper and I just have to say that my entire afternoon was spent fighting brushfires in Los Angeles that had nothing to do with the actual making of the movie. I accept the fact that this will happen from time to time. I’m essentially a CEO trying to take a 7 week sabbatical to make a movie…and I can’t completely escape.  But I guess I can complain — not expecting anyone to particularly sympathize.  Still…I’m gnashing my teeth.  I’m not going to go into details…some is confidential and although I want to make this real, I can’t just share everything in the open.  But some situations got my goat today and I’m pretty seriously cranky at the moment.

One thing I will mention and that is SAG. One of the things you have to do when you’re shooting a movie under SAG (i.e. using SAG actors) is you have to abide by their rules and regulations which are quite stringent, and you have to go through a pretty serious ordeal of submissions of personal and corporate data prior to being given “clearance to film”…..We’ve been going through that over the last week and have almost completed the process…just a few stray pieces of documentation (or I should say, documentation of documentation already sent)…..but the thing that set me off is — there is the matter of the SAG bond.  SAG, in order to protect it’s actors, requires that independent producers supply a “bond” which is basically designed to minimize the risk that their actors will not get paid.  

However … when shooting overseas like this — we end up having to escrow the entire amount of the actor’s salaries  before filming anyway … so there is no risk whatsoever to the actors.   But the deal is – that should result in a small bond — $5,000 to $20,000.  So you can imagine my thrilled reaction when SAG came forward today with a very brusquely stated requirement that we put forward a bond of $169,000!  That’s right.  Now I want to be clear — I’m not just trying to trash SAG.  I understand their desire to protect their actors.  But I also question whether making it hard for independent producers to hire their actors is really serving the best interest of the members.  In this case .. it turned out it may not be as bad as it seems since the bond will be reduced by an unspecified amount if and as they confirm our escrows.  Will it go all the way back down to something reasonable?  Or will it still end up being much higher than we expect and have budgeted?

I really debated whether or not to put that in here.  There will be some stakeholders out there who will e upset by the info and worry about it … worry that we will somehow crash and burn over this….and therefor ethre will be others who say I shouldn’t have disclosed it. On the other hand … I believe in my heart that a little straight talk is generally appreciated by the kind of people who, for whatever personal reasons, support an endeavor like this.   Look — we’ll get through this.  The SAG bond issue will not derail the project.  But it may increase the stress in the system…it may consume contingency that is better allocated for “real” costs, not something like this.  And IMHO — SAG should really take a strong look at its policies and manner of interacting with producers who are out there in the trenches trying, against rather overwhelming odds, to provide employment in good faith for SAG members.

Okay.  End of rant.

Other than that — I did manage to get some useful stuff done during the regular part of the day (as opposed to the 5:30-8:30AM shift).

Marine Coordinator Meeting

We had our first production meeting with the Marine coordinators.  Looked at proposed picture boats — some good, some just okay, some not quite there yet.  Talked about work boats…discovered that when shooting the big finale scene (which involves multiple boats, jet-skis, and other vessels) I will have my own jetski to scoot around and do my thing as director.  Kind of like having a horse to ride when directing a battle scene…..that will be okay.  Also came up with some solutions to some of our “Navy Boat” issues.  One happy moment … we found a Navy Patrol Boat which we can replicate with a little help from the Art Department.  Here’s a pic: (Click to see larger version).

Meeting With Doctor Alan Bater

This is a meeting which under normal circumstances I would have absolutely enjoyed had I not been getting phone calls from LA every 5 minutes about those “brush fires” referred to earlier.  I feel like I probably came off as an LA jerk to Dr. Bater … who is a wonderfully intelligent and charming individual who has been here since 1972 and who played a critical role in the dolphin/whale strandings of 2000 that inspired certain aspects of the script.   Dr. Bater (a veterinarian) was the first medical professional on the scene when beaked whales and dolphins were stranded in Grand Bahama.  He conducted autopsies on the beach, then cut off the heads and took them back to his facility where he did cranial work and cut off the ears and sent to Woods Hole for further analysis.  This event was the one which precipitated the debate over Navy Sonar and Bater was a key member of the group who eventually brought the US Navy to the point where it acknowledged, for the first time, that Navy Sonar (the new Active Sonar) does in fact cause marine mammal deaths.  

I want to mention something here.  The “Navy Sonar is killing marine mammals” storyline in our movie is what is usually called a “B” storyline…it’s not the main story.  But it’s important.  Beyond that — I want to make clear that we are not taking a hysterical view of this.  It’s a legitimate issue …that’s why the Supreme Court is hearing the California case.  How do you reconcile National Security needs on the one hand, with respect for the environment on the other?  Our treatment attempts to present both sides of the argument.  

Here are some photos of the on-beach work that Dr. Bater did.  Some of these may be a bit disturbing but I think it’s worth putting them here:

Further reading:  There is a ton of stuff out there to read about this stranding.  Here are some keywords which, if you search, will turn up articles and so on.  “bahamas whale strandings”, “ken balcombe whale strandings bahamas”, “navy sonar whale strandings bahamas 2000″….and variations on all of that. If I had more time I’d pull up the links and list them but I don’t.  Here’s one pretty good overview–an interview with Ken Balcombe:

http://www.earthwatch.org/aboutus/research/voices_of_science/findings_link_sonar

7:54 AM

It’s starting to happen … I can’t sleep very well and I’m dreaming about directing–in this case, director prep, the shot  diagrams.  In the past when I’ve been in the midst of directing it seems like this happens, although then the dreams are about the actual on-set part of directing and they almost always involve being caught in the middle of an um-makeable day.   

Anyway … I’ve always been an early riser but it’s getting worse.  Can’t make it past about 5:15 the last day or two.  The good news this morning was that this gave me almost three good hours of work on the shooting diagrams and shot plan. It’s slow going in part because I have to figure out how to maximize doing everything we can without the dolphins — then when the dolphins come, we have to shoot ‘all dolphin all the time’ while we have them — then after they leave, back to the ‘no-dolphin’ stuff.  This is counter-intuitive and not the way you normally do a shooting plan, but for the open water scenes, the dolphins can only stay on set for one hour at a time and we’re out there shooting for 12 hours.    What makes it even worse or more complicated anyway are the wet-to-dry and dry-to-wet issues for the actors, particularly Caitlin.  If, for example, we need to shoot two different scenes of her diving into the water with Rasca during one dolphin session — it’s impossible because we can’t turn her around from wet back to dry in less than 45 minutes.  Anyway, my brain has been somewhat turned into a pretzle over this kind of calculation for the last couple of hours.

Now it’s 8…emails are starting to come in and so it’ll be herky jerky from here on.  I have a phone meeting with David Keith at 9:15 and a marine meeting at 10. 

logoff 8:03 am

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