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Working with Vincent Gallo...

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I'm a boom op and I recently wrapped a feature with Actor / Director Vincent Gallo called "The Funeral Director." We actually wrapped in early in February but I had to spend a while just unraveling my head from the experience and taking stock in what I learned as well as physically recuperating. I've been involved in alot of different production situations from student shoots to big budget studio features and I must say that I have never seen the production process play out in this way as it did on "The Funeral Director.". Without going into too much boring detail, the shoot started out normally with Vincent just playing the lead role. He was a little intense but it was clear he wanted to fully understand his characters motivations and give a performance that was of a very high caliber. On day 2, the buzz around the set was that Vincent was now going to edit the movie. This changed his approach to everything. He was no longer the passive actor just doing what he was told and interpreting his character. Now he was thinking on a much deeper creative and technical level. He was thinking about framing issues and coverage and it was very clear the Director, who happened to write the script, didn't possess the technical knowledge in order to keep up with Vincent. This is where Vince started to get frustrated. Most of the technical issues could be solved with the help of the DP, Masanobu Takayanagi and the script supervisor. They were both very talented and spoke with enough authority that Vincent would pay attention to them. That was the trick. I figured out that as long as you can give Vincent a strait answer then he would listen to any ideas you have. He encouraged that even.

Vincent was also prone to spontaneously addressing the entire crew. One of his first addresses was in response to a couple of background actors in a restaurant scene who, thinking they were off camera, started making some erratic gestures to each other (as a joke to themselves) which distracted Vince during his close up. Instead of criticizing the background actors, he chose to make the point that, it doesn't matter how small you think your role is in this movie. It's not about the lights or the camera or the microphone or even who is in front of the camera. These are just tools in order to tell a story and that is what's most important. The movie is the real star and is what will be around longer than all of us. We are all lucky enough to be able to be apart of this process and tell this story and we have a chance to be apart of something that will hopefully bigger than all of us. So it doesn't matter if your the Gaffer, the DP, PA or a BACKGROUND ACTOR. EVERYONE involved will have a profound effect on the vibe of the set and that energy will find it's way into the film. It was a little touchy feely but, at that moment, everyone on set from the intern PA to the DP felt more included and involved and they also felt like what they did mattered and had an affect of the film. It was a brilliant and effective way to inspire the crew.

We all incurred his wrath at one point or another. He was even disgusted with me when I asked for wild lines for a scene. He pounded the table and wondered why we spent the time working the boom and the frame around all this recessed lighting if we were just going to get wild lines anyway. At that moment, It didn't seem to matter to him that I was just the messenger and it was the mixer that requested the wild lines. While the mixer was yelling in my ear (on the PL) about why we needed the lines, I, very calmly, explained that we just want to get the lines as a precaution so he's covered when he gets to Post. Vince was still pretty hot about it but he relented. Later he apologized and asked me how we could avoid that situation in the future. He listened to my take on the situation and thanked me. I felt alot better knowing that even though his initial reaction was so loud and demonstrative, deep down he really did care about making the situation better for everyone.

This post barley scratched the surface of what I learned on this shoot but I would love to know if anyone else on this board has worked with Vinnie Gallo and I would love to see if your experience was anything like mine. Through the temper tantrums, the frayed nerves and the verbal bullets whizzing past my head and the 12 minute takes, (Yes, there were many instances when a single take would run for a full 400 foot mag) I walked away feeling like I had mad it through a situation unlike any other I had experienced. I not only made it through but, with the help of a very personable and capable Sound Utility Pyxz (Pixie), we managed to win the respect and admiration of Vincent and the rest of the crew. So, that's one for the home team!

Chris Howland

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Hi Chris,

I did a Toyota commercial for Japan a few years ago which was in no

uncertain terms;

buy the car, lay the girl. Lots of unusual scenes where they were

eating In & Out Double doubles mouths full of food making out w/ crap

running down their faces. Kind of a predecessor to Carls Jrs lame ads.

This was done prior to him doing ""Brown Bunny" which he kept talking

about and we were possibly going to work on but ultimately didn't.

Working w/ Vincent is a real challenge as he points a very bright

beacon at everyone at various times but it's w/ good intent and he

always apologized when it was uncalled for on his part. I love doing

projects w/ folks like him and they are the ones I look back on as the

most challenging to me personally as well as push me technically to

move beyond accomplishing the task at hand.

You account of Vincent was dead on and I was glad to see it here. I

can see where someone would really dislike that kind of working

atmosphere but I rather like it. After doing this for a few years I'd

have to say the most memorable projects I've done involved, VIncent,

Andy Dick, and Sacha Baron Cohen who all make things really difficult

w/ improvisation, and question why things are the way they are and are

definitely the most talented folks in the room. As far as I can tell,

my job is then to facilitate them (to an extent) and capture their

talents for others to see and hear.

Scott Harber

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What was the budget on this film ?

It seems like it was maybe an independent film and the budget was small. There is one way looking at the show like you did as a learning situation . However if I could play devils advocate for a second.....

I think some actors, and in your case a guy who is a control freak,  making these comments to you and banging his fist on a table when you asked to get wild lines.-  Your doing your job !!!!!  He has no reason to question you ( at least in the way he did ) , . If the budget was small he should of be thanking everybody for there help. Sometimes I have learned when you get you paycheck on thursday's it sometimes ain't worth it !. - PS I worked with the sound mixer you did the film with about 13yrs ago...that probablly didn't help the situation either.

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Posted by: Chrisboom

{What was the budget on this film ? }

This film, according to the mixer, was working with a $500,000 budget and from the looks of the shoot I'd say he was about right. It was a non-union indie film by a production company called Blue Cactus Pictures. 

{However if I could play devils advocate for a second.....

I think some actors, and in your case a guy who is a control freak,  making these comments to you and banging his fist on a table when you asked to get wild lines.-  Your doing your job !!!!!  He has no reason to question you ( at least in the way he did ) , . If the budget was small he should of be thanking everybody for there help. Sometimes I have learned when you get you paycheck on thursday's it sometimes ain't worth it !.}

Occasionally, he had some very animated reactions to things but I didn't take it personally. To me it was same kind of reaction I have when Tiger Woods misses the long putt by just a few inches or when Kobe misses the 3 pointer at the buzzer. You get the idea. Some people just wear it all on there sleeve like that and, whether it's wrong or right, it's part of what makes them unique. I just had to be patient in the midst of that. There is a big difference between being part of the crazy and just existing next to the crazy. Alot of me being on set is existing next to the crazy and always being ready to exude calm or help relieve the tension with a quick joke.

{ - PS I worked with the sound mixer you did the film with about 13yrs ago...that probablly didn't help the situation either.}

I did 2 movies with this Mixer and I was really thankful for the opportunities he gave me. I always had his back while we were in the trenches and I never made him look bad but he was a very big test to my patients and diplomacy skills. I'm sure he does really well on big budget feature when your only shooting 2 pages a day but it was hard to adapt his style of mixing to the faster paced indie shoots where we would have 3 company moves in a day and we had to shoot 8 or 9 pages a day. Moving his 3 large carts around with what was essentially a 2 man crew was a logistical challenge. In the end, his sound was very sweet when the conditions were right but it took alot of work to get it there.

Thanks,

Chris

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The mixer should have had your back, not been trying to talk to you while the director/lead etc was talking to you, and come out and explained that the wild lines were his idea and not yours.  That said, people really feel the heat during the making of a movie--that intensity is one of the things that attracts people to the profession, but it can get the better of almost anyone from time to time.  Another thing I know is that the personalities of the people at the top of any organization really determine how things will be for those farther down the ladder.  Middle management--good producers, ADs, your dept. head if you aren't one yourself--can mitigate some of that but they can't change it.  So if you know that a certain above-the-liner is a "certain way", then you have to ask yourself if you can put up with it for the length of a shoot.  Sort of basic and probably half-baked advice, I will admit, but something I have learned the hard way over many years.

Philip Perkins

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You account of Vincent was dead on and I was glad to see it here. I

can see where someone would really dislike that kind of working

atmosphere but I rather like it.

As far as I can tell, my job is then to facilitate them (to an extent) and capture their

talents for others to see and hear.

Scott Harber

Hey Scott, I couldn't agree with you more. I discovered that I had fun trying to figure out his M.O. in certain situations. During those single 400 foot mag takes (Which, thankfully, was usually a tighter single shot) it was entertaining for me to watch him go off script just to try a provoke certain reactions out of the actors that were on camera. One instance was during a scene with Vinnie and Sage Stallone. Vincent line to Sage was something like... "I don't want to take this job, I want to drop out of the business." Vincent wanted Sage's reaction to be one of shock and confusion as if to say "What are you talking about? I can't believe my ears! Are you crazy?" So, when we were shooting Sage's 80mm close up single, Vince (who was off camera) would read down to that part of the scene and after 3 or 4 times he still felt like they weren't there yet with the performance. So, with the camera still rolling, Vinnie said we should start over from the top and Sage should just "stop acting" and answer this question... There is silence and Vincent asks in a very quick east coast kinda way......

"SO, how's your boyfriend doing? How do you like taking it up the A@@!?!?!?" 

Sage absolutely reels and and is shocked. He immediately reaction was to say something like "What the hell are you talking about?! Are you Crazy!"

It was exactly what Vince was looking for. Vincent kept the scene going and lead Sage back on script where he was doing the same dialogue with this entirely new energy. Everyone in the room felt it and I though it was brilliant. I got so wrapped up in it that I forgot the fact that we were 10 minutes into the take and my arms starting to feel like jello. Afterward Vince asked me if I was OK and he apologized for the long take which made me feel a little better. He has a background as a musician so he has a special connection to us microphone wielding people.

Cheers,

Chris

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The mixer should have had your back, not been trying to talk to you while the director/lead etc was talking to you, and come out and explained that the wild lines were his idea and not yours.  That said, people really feel the heat during the making of a movie--that intensity is one of the things that attracts people to the profession, but it can get the better of almost anyone from time to time.  Another thing I know is that the personalities of the people at the top of any organization really determine how things will be for those farther down the ladder.  Middle management--good producers, ADs, your dept. head if you aren't one yourself--can mitigate some of that but they can't change it.  So if you know that a certain above-the-liner is a "certain way", then you have to ask yourself if you can put up with it for the length of a shoot.  Sort of basic and probably half-baked advice, I will admit, but something I have learned the hard way over many years.

Philip Perkins

Hey Philip,

BTW, I'm a big fan of yours. Nice pics of you booming and mixing on a ladder. I'm not sure I have the Brass Cajones to drag a bag up there but that definitely says alot about what you are willing to go through in the never-ending quest for good sound coverage. I also noticed an unused scissor lift in one of the pics. I would have been on that thing in a heartbeat if they would have let me. Good job though. 

In the mixers defense, He kind of used up his chips early on in the shoot and got yelled at by Vinnie on set in front of everyone, TWICE. Oh yea, and it should be mentioned that it was Vinnie that wanted this particular mixer on the shoot in the first place. I agreed with what the mixer was fighting for and I did my best to back him up but the crew was turned off by his approach and had trouble relating to him. So after day 6 of 18, I was the guy whom the crew would still listen to. From that point on, it was my job to be the face of the Sound Dept (Which I'm fine with) and the conduit of information to and from the mixer. Which is normal for most of us. This is how Mark Ulano and Tom Hartig worked during my internship on Big Momma's House 2 and I thought it was how every sound crew worked until I got to this project. He wanted to come on set and communicate himself but he didn't have the people skills for it and in the process, he made me feel more like an expendable tool for sound coverage rather than a person with a brain. My motivation, at that point, had to be the quality of the coverage itself and to foresee and discreetly preempt any problems that would come up. The last thing I wanted was to have Vinnie distracted by a sound issue. To use Scott Harbers analogy, I wanted to avoid having that "very bright beacon" of light pointed at us! In the end, Vinnie and production were thankful for our efforts and it all ended well. (Hugs for everyone)

Chris

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I have been in this situation a bunch of times. In fact -  it I bet your " director " on this movie was hand-picked to be a " shut up and say nothing " kind of guy.  Who would basically be Vincent's Lap Dog and go along with anything that Vincent did.

I got from your earlier first post chris that Vincent kind of took over the directing job and at some point ran everything. I did a movie 10 yrs ago with another actor like Vincent....It was Jim Belushi - he was in my opinion Charles Manson reincarnated with a SAG card. -

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I have been in this situation a bunch of times. In fact -  it I bet your " director " on this movie was hand-picked to be a " shut up and say nothing " kind of guy.  Who would basically be Vincent's Lap Dog and go along with anything that Vincent did.

I got from your earlier first post chris that Vincent kind of took over the directing job and at some point ran everything. I did a movie 10 yrs ago with another actor like Vincent....It was Jim Belushi - he was in my opinion Charles Manson reincarnated with a SAG card. -

The Director was also the creator of the original story and the screenplay. He was also listed as a producer on the film so I don't think he was meant to be a lap dog. We will never know for sure. What I do know is that when it was became obvious that he didn't the technical chops or the vision to direct, He didn't put a fight with Vinnie at all. Like all of us, He tried to learn from him. He had a great personality and he is a good screenwriter but having him direct was like trying to get Kobe to hit a home run in baseball.

Chris

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