Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Walt Disney World, Nickelodeon, and the Guinness Book of World Record for Most People Slimed

I learned one thing from working in Walt Disney World attractions: “kill ‘em with kindness”. When dealing with a sun burnt, overweight, frustrated father who has a kid that wanted to hug Mickey, but was denied because Mickey’s 20 minute set ended and the kid was left disappointed with a pen and autograph book in one hand and a frown that lead to tears and then to wailing – that father is inevitably going to take it out on someone. Sometimes, that someone was me. I used to work as a greeter and tour guide at one of the Disney MGM Studios attractions, and when the father in question approached me, I usually got an earful of how much Walt Disney World sucked. Who was I to disagree? It was 100 degrees, there were 50,000 tourists elbowing for space, and Mickey Mouse – as animated as his cartoon alter ego may be – needed water just like every other living thing on the planet. So I stood there, listened to the father’s gripes, apologized, and listened some more. It was in the listening that the change happened. Listening sometimes extinguished the flames. None of it was my fault. I didn’t build the insane marketing machine that caused this father to cough up his Christmas bonus and his credit card to drag his mid-western family to Orlando for a shred of pixie dust and over priced Coke. I didn’t under-design the queue lines to hold hundreds of sweaty, out of shape, underpaid, and annoyed visitors who just wanted a go around on a tram ride so they could look at rotting set pieces in a bone yard no one really cared about. However, I was the man, standing there in a tomato red button down shirt, with a plastic, personalized name tag that read “Constantin”. So it was my problem. And listening, like it was my problem only seemed to make the situation less volatile than if I were to tell this guy to go drop dead on the Tower of Terror. Listening is an act of kindness.

Listening has helped me in production and not listening has only hurt me. A mistake I see some students make in production is: they don’t take the time to listen to each other. Sure, some students are melodramatic. Some students are egotistical. Some students are anxious. Sometimes, some students just want to be heard, taken seriously, and considered knowledgeable about their trade. And sometimes, these traits can be annoying. However, when we allow idiosyncrasies to annoy us, we miss out on the opportunity to hear the root cause of a production related issue and therefore, we miss the chance for collaboration and movement in the right direction. Here is an example of what I am talking about: I was working as the production coordinator on a Nickelodeon job in 2003. Nickelodeon wanted to go down in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the most people slimed at once. (Yes, there is a record for that. It was held by a Japanese company). A new production manager had been brought in to over see the project. I immediately felt like my territory was being invaded. After all, I had coordinated that particular Nickelodeon crew for over 3 years. These were my people and now someone else was coming in to tell them what to do. Hold up. My immediate desire to not listen led to a lack of collaboration. That only caused her to not want to listen to me. Finally, after weeks of pre-production – after hundreds of hours of coordinating the construction of an absurd device made of fountains that would spout slime – we arrived at the big day. I think we invited 1000 people to get slimed. It was summer and the temperature was well past 90 degrees. Flash backs of working at Disney.

In the throws of trying to get everyone under the sprayers and with the clock ticking, this female production manager yelled at me to get inside of the giant slimmer (we only had around 700 people under it). I yelled back that “I can’t do twenty things at once!” Then an angry father grabbed me. He was furious because there was no water, because it was hot, because his kid wasn’t happy, because Nickelodeon didn’t meet his expectations. And in that moment, I thought I was going to knock him out cold…until one of my executives – a guy I had known for years – intervened, told me to move on, and spoke to the guy in a calm, and professional voice. Production gets out of hand sometimes. Production gets unprofessional sometimes. But still, in the worst moments, in the worst heat – cool heads prevail. We all have our horrible days and it’s up to each of us to back each other up, accept each other’s idiosyncrasies, and help each other be the most professional we can be. Perhaps if I have been a better listener and simply nicer to the new production manager, she would have been kinder to me. Then, yelling would probably not have been part of the equation. Then, perhaps I would have seen the angry father coming at me before he grabbed me. Perhaps I would have been able to diffuse the situation. In the end, someone else with a cool head was there to listen, while I got to walk away from the tension and take a moment to breathe. In the end, I got under the giant sprayers, got sprinkled with slime, and made a little history.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Late Nights, Long Hours, and Dead Reckoning

Production is blue collar work. There are no set hours. It’s currently 8:30 pm on a Thursday night and I consider this an early evening. Nine to fivers have been home for a few hours already and their wives, husbands, kids, and pets are probably happy to see them. Sometimes, I don’t know why I – or anyone – do what I do for a living. There is no glamour in production. It’s hard work and – after working days, nights, weekends, and holidays; after my back aches, my eyes fog, and the muscles in my finger tips swell, it becomes difficult to remember why, as a child, I thought this would be a great career. It took 10 years to start making good money. It took 10 years to become the series producer of a show. It took 10 years to make it near the top, and the hours I kept as a PA are similar to the hours I keep at a producer. I wonder if it’s ever going to get easier and I highly doubt it will. However, there is still drive to create and this industry allows me to combine multiple skills including thinking, writing, collaborating, and producing. Somewhere, in the back of my cluttered head, the long hours, the frustration, the deadlines, and the dead reckoning are all worth it. As I often think, “this is the job…and I agreed to do it.”

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Letter from One of My Students in Response to "School of Golf and the Worst Industry Advice I've Gotten"

A special thanks to Clay for sending me this letter.


I read your blog. I liked the part where you mentioned that people have told you to focus on one thing, but you didn't and that diversity of experience has brought you to the place in time that you hold now. Pretty deep and true. I edit, shoot, write, you name it. I also compose music on a regular basis with a guy that used to play bass for Evanescence, the rock band. I feel that it is just as important to be open to taking a PA job as it is to accept the right AD or Directing job at times. Every situation offers an experience of a different kind that can lead to being really good at something later in life.

My opinion was that often people who aren't really creative themselves, haven't got the inner strength to stretch themselves far enough across the board to learn as much as they can to climb the creative mountain. In my opinion, you have to know a little about a lot in order to be good at any or all positions that you try to grasp for a future in TV, Film, or any type of creative outlet. In order to become one of the best at what you want to do, open all the doors, read all the books, learn a lot about a lot of different things and you have a nice start.

Then one day when you figure out exactly where you fit in the big picture, you find who you consider to be the best at what you want to do. You make a list of the best of the best and figure out what makes them as good as they are, pool their best habits together and practice them. You already know this though. Glad to see someone who is making a life for himself has this same opinion.

I personally have a damn long ways to go...but I'll keep trying until I get there.

I want to own a nice company that eventually makes TV shows, movies, write scripts (I do that often ), and get my hands on any and all ideas of creation I can possibly wrap my mind around.

Oh and by the way, if I have never told you so, thanks for being an inspiring teacher. You, Jason, and Carl were by far my three favorites -- although our lighting teacher (Grover) had such the David Lynch / Mad Scientist feel. Haha --

Have a good day, I'll see you around. Maybe we'll do a good horror film together one day. Not one of these movies you see now days that doesn't really scare anyone. Speaking of which, we made a horror themed talk show while I was there at Full Sail called The Grinder that Steven Shea was a guest on. I am trying to recast here in NY and want to continue trying to make the show. The show was my idea and I cast for it there, and found the band, and wrote the questions, etc. If I were to get a show together that was shot in HD and looked good enough, what should I do with it from there? Shop it around to networks for channels like MTV or G4?

Just Curious. --- Too bad the Horror Channel isn't a real TV station; there is a target audience for that kind of thing.


Monday, September 15, 2008

The Moonbabies Music Video for "Take Me To The Ballroom"

Last year, I had the pleasure of being the AD for this music video. It was created using industry professionals, Full Sail University staff, and Full Sail University students. Truly one of the best on set experiences I've had because the producer Jason Blanchard (also a Full Sail instructor in Producing Independent Film) flawlessly managed the entire production. Check it out:

School of Golf and the Worst Industry Advice I've Gotten

Back in January, I was hired to series produce and direct a brand new, true life documentary series about young, high school golfers attending the International Junior Golf Academy in Hilton Head, South Carolina called School of Golf. The students are coached by Hank Haney, who is also coach to the #1 player in the world, Tiger Woods.

The experience has been both rewarding and educational. Even though I've had the opportunity to story produce, story edit, unit production manage, and be a coordinating producer on past TV shows, this is the first time I've helmed a production as a series producer.

All of my past experiences in production have lead to this gig. I've had to rely on the various different skills I've developed over the last decade to manage this show creatively and organizationally. That brings me to this point: some of the worst advice I've gotten when I started as a PA in the film and TV industry was "to focus on one thing and go with that."

I can't think of a faster way to pigeon hole myself and to limit my future than "focusing on one thing" in production. During most of my adult life, I've had dozens of creative interests: film, TV, writing, painting, photography, graphic design, and music. Within production alone, I wanted to write, direct, manage, produce, DP, grip, AD - and because of my desire to learn as much about as many different roles as possible, I think I've only been helped by diversifying my jobs.

It's OK to have a modern day Renaissance approach to anything you want to do. While thinking about that, check out School of Golf on the Golf Channel - Tuesday nights at 11:00PM EST.


Adventures in Teaching the Unreal

From March 9, 2006

Even though there are standards in documentary production, these standards exist on a sliding scale. The concept of cinema verite is nothing more than a false definition to justify documentary film and video as pure and truthful. The fact is all documentary is the opinion of the individual(s) documenting the subject. Even the decision to document a subject is manipulation based on opinion. Once a subject is chosen to be documented, it is of the opinion of the documentary film and video maker(s) that the subject is worthy of documentation. Furthermore, the shots used, the questions asked, the pacing and the editing chosen, the music added, the order in which the story is told, and most importantly, the information left out of the documentary all change reality. Even the concept of closed circuit television such as crime caught on tape by police vehicle cameras and liquor store surveillance equipment capture the event at a certain angle, filtered through certain lenses and the limitation of the surveillance equipment, affecting the final point of view and opinion of the viewer. There is no pure truth in any documentary.

This leads me to my most recent endeavor as an instructor at Full Sail for the Recording Arts in winter Park, Florida. I was honored when I received the call from a good friend of mine at the school to instruct students on reality television production. I've been working in the field for two years and anyone who knows me well, knows that I love teaching. The exchange between the teacher and the student is a fulfilling experience and to know that in the past there were mentors and teachers who shaped my consciousness and education and that I now have the opportunity to return some of that back into the stream of learning, is a rewarding experience.

Since this particular tract of learning is relatively new, I am interested to see how students react to how unreal reality television is. In fact, I've got 4 books on the subject that all contain researched material on the unreality of reality TV. But I will also share that there is nothing wrong with that as long as the viewer is active while watching reality TV and not passive. Simply put, being an active viewer is a viewer aware of reality TV conventions and how they are used to create a program with as much impact as possible. It's the same as documentary film and video, except it has a much wider audience and the manipulation is much greater.

In the end, I am most excited about all of the theory I am learning from my reading. I am also looking forward to sharing my real life experience while working in reality television production. For the first time, I am part of a new educational movement that may open doors for students. They will learn about new career choices in reality television. After all, that's one of the points of attending a film and video production school: to have a full comprehension of all of the opportunities out there. I am still a film purist and wish I could work full time in film production. However, in the meantime, I've been able to carve out a pretty decent career in reality TV production while polishing my story telling skills, improving editing skills, and making important connections with like minded individuals. I'm in a place I never dreamed of being and, although it's got its obstacles, I'm satisfied with where I am, knowing that the future holds even more.