It’s Sunday night and I’ve canceled a first date to do yoga and start my “Diary,” such is the glamorous life we movie producers live. I find that I schedule my off days so obsessively, because I am so simultaneously self-nurturing and terrified of free time that I am compulsively late for my relaxation treatments. 1) Brunch; 2) see son off to college again; 3) haircut; 4) facial; 5) yoga. I must have been so afraid of potential separation anxiety that I scheduled my way past it. When the lists finally cease, I turn on the Weather Channel, a producer’s best friend, and try to get to sleep.
Mondays are always early calls: Tomorrow is 6:30 for crew, 8ish for me, not as early as some Mondays. I am actually one of those producers who live on set, but I time my arrival for two things: My maximum newspaper/coffee time and the most effective time to subtly get the cameras rolling. Too early and the pressure of my presence is wasted; too late is, of course, too late.
We were meant to be going to New Jersey tomorrow to shoot bulls mating with cows but for the third time, rain or overcast skies have forced us to postpone. The movie, Animal Husbandry, is about a wronged woman, Ashley Judd, who attempts to recover her emotional stability by inventing a theory about male behavior based on animal behavior—the first socio-biological romantic comedy. (I have endured more conversations about bovine ovulation during prep on this show than any human movie producer can possibly need to know.)
Weather has bedeviled us on this picture. (In my younger producing days, I felt responsible for the weather: I would light candles and do incantations thinking I could reverse weather fronts, and then feel like a failure when it didn’t work. I am well over that delusion, thank God.) If the summer has been cruel to weekend renters, it has been doubly cruel to those intrepid souls who fought to shoot in New York instead of cashing in on the dollar exchange rate by shooting in Canada. Just to prove my efforts silly, every time we are supposed to be outside for summer it rains. And when we must play for winter where overcast skies would be a blessing (a necessity if you talk to the cinematographer) you can bet it’s 93 and sunny. We’ve shot Ashley Judd and Marisa Tomei roasting in winter coats in the heat, with New York Post reporters chasing them as they sweated through their wardrobe; we’ve shot them in sundresses through driving rain in Chinatown as we watched from a monitor in a fish store. This falls under the category of smells we’ll never forget.
Ah, the joys of shooting in the city. I boned myself early by telling everyone that this would be an easy picture, and true to circus form, I have been walking the constant tightrope over unimaginable potholes and dizzying drops from expensive heights, with terrified movie executives holding and withholding a net. It’s the acrobatic Peter Principle at work: Everything that can go wrong, will—from lights on the Brooklyn Bridge going out in the middle of a crucial night scene to paparazzi harassment of the movie stars. These are good problems. I could be not shooting.
We’re a studio movie trying to run and gun like an indie. We work in indie land, right near my Slate cohort Christine Vachon’s office (or so I hear) and within walking distance of the TriBeCa screening room, restaurant, and everything else Robert De Niro owns downtown. (Everything there is, it seems. Unless it’s about to be bought by Harvey for Gwyneth.) In the past, on Sleepless, Fisher King, One Fine Day, and The Siege, all unabashedly studio movies, our offices were in midtown. Now we’re hipsters, competing with dot-commers for space. We work in a hole. I knew the neighborhood of my production office on Laight Street was the real thing when descending from the freight elevator (right next to the entrance to the Holland Tunnel, a source of pure hell for our soundman and teamsters), I walked into a gaggle of drag queens being shot by Abel Ferrara. There’s guerrilla filmmaking and then there’s us, the poseur: studio movie not given quite enough movie to get comfortable, but with suits conducting oversight visits, all too regularly. (But on the upside, we won’t run out of money if we get into real trouble.) Our Fox benefactors like to act as if we are their impoverished indie stepchild. If, for example, there is something that we want—an extra day of shooting, fair rates for our crew, a built set—it is poor Rupert time. No more money. But should it be on their agenda—an actor they want to pay for, a new scene they want to shoot—suddenly Rupert is rich again. Fortunately this is an old song for me, I know the tune, and my studio guys know I know it. So, they cage-rattle, and I don’t scare, and then everything goes on as it would, until the lights on the bridge go out! Every day a new surprise. I always say that every movie teaches you something you didn’t know. And I had the infinite hubris to think I knew everything about making chix flix by now. (Let’s hear it from the guys on the Net who hate chix flix.) But so far on this movie—we’re over halfway through—I have learned something much more powerful than blowing up buses (the many pleasures of which I discovered on my last one). A little late, I have come to realize the ultimate movie truth: There is no such thing as an easy movie. That’s life under the big top. Let’s see what fresh hell Monday brings. It better not be sunny. Or producer’s jail for Lynda.