Thomas McKenzie
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Things I Learned On Set

Blue Like Jazz in Redeemer's Sanctuary

Over the weekend, I had the privilege of being on a movie set for two days.  My friend Steve Taylor is directing the big screen adaptation of the book "Blue Like Jazz."  Some of the scenes were shot at our church, and my elder daughter got to be an extra. 

I have been rooting for this to happen for a long time.  I can't even remember how long ago it was that Steve brought me an early copy of the script and asked me to give him some feedback.  I honestly loved the script, and was also happy go give him my contrary opinions.  He was gracious to hear me out. 

Now, years later, Blue Like Jazz is finally happening (thanks in no small part to a Kickstarter miracle!).  I have been on movie sets before, but only briefly.  Spending hours on these shoots was a totally different deal.  As a movie-loving guy, this was an eye-opening experience for me.  I feel like I learned a few things I'd like to pass on.

  1. These people work their butts off.  For hours and hours each day, for days and days at a time, the people making this film have worked like slaves on Red Bull.  Sometimes some of them complained, and sometimes one or two acted out.  But, generally speaking, they were true professionals.  I was amazed by their sustained intensity.
  2. These people plan like generals going to war.   Every little detail seemed to have been worked out beforehand, from the smallest item (the candy in a bowl at a junior high lock-in) to the largest (the pulpit that turned our Anglican church into a Baptist sanctuary), these guys and gals are on the ball.
  3. Movie acting and stage acting are radically different.  As a guy who watches movies but has acted on stage, I know that this is true intellectually.  But seeing it up close really struck me.  In stage acting, enunciating and projecting your voice are critical.  In movie acting, these guys can mumble and whisper.  In stage acting, only large movements can be seen.  In movie acting, a great deal of the action is on the face.  
  4. Things Grow on Screen.  The scenes are saw were shot in fairly small spaces, and sometimes with fairly small actors.  On the big screen, though, I know that every person will look large and every room look spacious.  It is odd to watch a group of actors crammed into a tiny space, surrounded by a large crew, and know that what happens in that small space will look huge at the Regal 27 in just a few months. 
  5. Being the Assistant Director sucks.  Steve seems to have a great assistant director.  He's the guy who actually runs around, moving people and yelling things like "rolling" and "cut," all that stuff I imagine the director does.  The director can stand and watch everything on a screen, and then talk to the Assistant Director person to person.  The Assistant Director is they guy who has to obey the Director, yell at people and heard them like cats.  I pity that guy.  He gets all the work and none of the credit.
  6. I'm a jerk.  What do I mean by that?  As you might know, I do movie reviews. I tell you what I think about movies in quick, broad brush strokes.  Essentially, I am taking the hard labor of countless men and women who put in hundreds and thousands of hours on a project that (I hope) was meaningful to them and I judge that work in two to three minutes.  I am sometimes adversely affecting people's livelihood, if even by a tiny amount.  If they heard what I said, I might hurt their feelings.  This made me feel pretty guilty.  Until I came to point seven.
  7. Do it right.  I'm talking to you, directors, producers, lead actors and screen writers.  If you are going to make people put this much effort into a film, you might as well do it right.  The crew is going to work their tails off for you, so the least you can do is let them mine gold rather than manure.  You are going to sacrifice your own time and energy, so choose your projects wisely.

From now on, when I say a movie isn't worth watching it will go with this internal caveat.  If a movie sucks, it isn't the fault of the crew. It is all on the director, along with the producer, the lead actors, and the writers.  These are the people who are truly to blame.  The folks underneath them may not be perfect, but they have my respect.  And if the movie is great, then the director (etc.) only get some of the credit.  Yes, they succeeded,  but they have a whole lot of people to thank for making them look good.


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