Friday, August 21, 2009

Third World Girl & the Jay-Z Shoot

A couple Fridays ago found Third World Girl in front of Jay-Z's 40/40 Club meeting a potential DP for the Little Movie I Want to Direct. He's interested in the script, has solid credits and a healthy cynicism for the pitfalls between excited newbie director and the money in hand that a director needs in place to shoot a feature.

Anyway, he was just back from Europe and because we hadn't got a chance to meet up all summer, he suggested I swing by the set of Jay-Z's video shoot for Rocawear and say hi.

My first instinct was to pass on the offer...I'm not sure why, apart from the fear of seeming like a fraud. In the current issue of Moviemaker magazine, Lynn Shelton ("Humpday") talks about feeling like you're living someone else's life after she got a standing ovation at Cannes. I know this is on a way smaller scale but I had a similar reaction to the DP's invite: I do not live the life where I swing onto video sets and say hi, looking all fabulous and pulled together and artist-like.

But in my quest to grow, I'm challenging myself to do the things I would not usually. That means putting my shy, hermit writer self in front of people I wouldn't usually and getting over the fame factor. So yes, dammit...I was swinging by the Jay-Z set and saying hi...if I could find it.

I didn't know where 40/40 was which shows you how sad and unglamorous my life is, but I eventually found it right by Madison Square Park with a couple teamsters and grips hanging out by a truckload of equipment. They seemed to be talking about California vs. New York, the benefits of being in the union, and the cost of the production. Which cost more: a $20,000 light or the line of video girls in front of the club whose job it was to whoop it up when Jay emerged from a yellow cab.

It was all so ordinary and dull that I instantly felt at home. I remembered that at heart, a shoot is just a shoot. Nothing was more shocking to me than my first one as a freshman at film school... up at 5 a.m. on a cold winter morning, for some grad students, bored stiff and deciding what I really wanted to excel at was pre-production.

Anyway, a wonderfully polite P.A. helped me find the DP who was shooting a rehearsal alongside director, Spike Lee (yes Spike Lee!) so I had to wait it out with the teamsters and P.A.s. who all seemed to have Caribbean roots. I almost wanted to take out a piece of paper and start taking e-mails to add to crazy Bollywood movie's fanbase.

When the DP finally got a break we had an extended conversation about the problems of film back home, the competitiveness, the cut throat nature, the fact that the gate keepers for content often don't have a coherent criteria or the level of discernment to judge projects submitted to them for funding. He stressed the importance of moxie and hustle...and not rushing.

"What's the difference between shooting this movie in 2009 and 2010?" he said. "Is the story going to be any less relevant?"

It's exactly what I needed to hear. For weeks it's been nagging me that I've been splitting focus between crazy Bollywood project that we have a tight window in which to shoot next year and this other supposedly "small movie" that was supposed to be a quickie shoot early in '09. Production companies have several movies on a slate, was the argument. But production companies have infrastructures. Third World Girl is essentially a girl with a cell phone, a laptop and a home office.

So Little Movie I Want to Direct gets pushed back to 2010 and I can really focus on making crazy Bollywood movie happen. And what you realize standing watching a crew of twenty folks light a scene for a thirty second commercial is that you better get the prep right cause you're responsible for a whole army.

I didn't stick around long after the DP went away to shoot yet another rehearsal. Jay-Z was nearly there, on the turnpike, but it was late and I'd had enough of the monotony, the awful slowness that production can be...when it's not your baby. Plus, I didn't want it to look like I had nothing to do. I had to go home and work on making a movie. Hanging with the Jiggaman, that's jello.