Like so many of us in this industry, I don’t think I’m alone in sometimes looking at my resume of work and reflecting on what it took to accomplish some of those achievements. Just this past week I reposted my first TV interview from The Montel Williams Show in 1994. Those early days when I was launching my figure skating magazine. I remember the flight they booked for me the day before was cancelled because it was snowing. So what did I do? I drove to New York City.
When the PBS documentary I filmed last August broadcast this week I marked it as another milestone in my career. Shot entirely on green screen, we were all animated in post-production. The results were impressive and seamless. I highly recommend Reconstruction: American After the Civil War. Putting aside my involvement, the documentary chronicles a time in history that most don’t know enough about. If you think we live in trying times now, you’ll think differently after you watch this documentary.
My first experience with green screen came when I was cast in a Star Trek fan film back in 2007. I have to say that experience helped when I was cast on the PBS project. When you work on an actual set it’s pretty easy to get your bearings, but when you are in a green environment it’s all about imagination and staying focused.
When I was standing in the theatre of MS Queen Elizabeth liner in 2014 getting ready for the international premiere of Justice Is Mind, I reminded myself what it took to get to this point – determination and sacrifice.
Great projects require great sacrifice. Nothing in this industry comes easy or quick. If you aren’t willing to put the time in, you need to find another vocation or avocation that doesn’t require anyone to count on you. Professionalism has nothing to do with union status, it has to do with integrity and character.
Last Sunday night an actor decided it was OK to withdraw four weeks before principal photography was going to start on First Signal. As I had to be on set at 5 AM in Boston for another project, I decided to continue with the day and report for my call time. Although I was only cast as background on the set I was reporting to, people were counting on me. I wasn’t going to withdraw because I was having a bad day. Instead, I used the day as a reflection point.
When you do background work you have time to observe. But when you’re standing outside in the cold and rain for over 10 hours things suddenly become all the more real. When one of the assistant directors asked me to walk in a certain diagonal direction when “camera” was called, it was that moment when I was glad I was cast in this part. You see, in this business, there are no small parts. I believe everything is cumulative and simply leads to the next opportunity.
As a director we learn to continuously brush things off. We know making a film is an arduous task. We know we are going to receive endless requests for this and asks for that. We know that writing a script, raising the capital, securing locations, interviewing crew and auditioning actors are the responsibilities we assume. It is the commitment that we make to ourselves and others. But the one thing that none of us have a tolerance for is unprofessionalism. Why should we? Why should we give pardon to one at the sacrifice of all?
I have always endeavored to be the eternal optimist and believe everything happens for a reason. Sometimes great projects take greater time.
It was sometime in the 1970s when I first saw Gone with the Wind. It must have been on TV as we didn’t have a VCR. The moment I saw this film it quickly became my favorite movie. The story, the actors, the sets, the music, it all worked on so many levels. Since that first viewing, I’ve watched it on laserdisc, DVD and streamed it. This afternoon I’ll see Gone with the Wind as it was intended – in a theatre.
What I always liked about the Gone with the Wind story was the sheer ambition of how it was made. From the “Search for Scarlett” to endless script rewrites to changes in directors, the production was fraught with issues. But in the end a masterpiece was created winning 8 Academy Awards including Best Picture. If you want to learn more about this epic film, I highly recommend the book Scarlett, Rhett, and a cast of thousands: The filming of Gone with the Wind.
There’s no question in my mind that Gone with the Wind inspired my interest in this industry. What I’ve always been particularly drawn to are the “movers and shakers” behind the camera. In the case of Gone with the Wind, it was producer David O. Selznick. For every film made there’s one person you can point to that is responsible for its existence. Oh sure, the actors and crew are vital, but they wouldn’t have anything if it wasn’t for the producer—that one person who sees the vision and takes the risk.
Selznick International Pictures produced another one of my favorite films, Rebecca. It was Selznick who brought director Alfred Hitchcock over from England. That one decision that Selznick made led to films such as North by Northwest and Psycho.
While the opening sequence references “A Civilization gone with the wind,” another civilization that is long gone is the studio system that made it. Yes, Selznick International Pictures was somewhat independent, but it was the studio system that made Gone with the Wind possible (MGM provided half the budget).
As we celebrate the 80th anniversary of this iconic picture, I look at the modern world of filmmaking. Although Selznick’s company disbanded decades ago, MGM is still around along with a literal handful of the legacy studios (sadly 20th Century Fox has been acquired by Disney). But the one thing that now prevails is the independent filmmaker. We chart our own course against a sea of seemingly endless possibilities and to destinations sometimes unknown.
When I attended the American Film Market this past November presenting First Signal and my other projects, I couldn’t help but think of the ambitions of so many under one roof striving to present their “motion picture” to new civilizations.
Tomorrow, is today.