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Compromises of Life

I’m currently watching a bunch of USC undergrads lying on the ground, twisting themselves do they look like a huge U-S-C on the ground. The organizers take photos. Two weeks ago I assumed I would be writing scripts right now and getting extra prep work in for the semester. Things aren’t going as planned.

So I was offered a chance to be a “Faculty Master Assistant”, a position which gives me free room and free food at USC. I currently live across from The Vintage theater and The Dresden in Los Feliz. I have my own room. No roommate. I only pay $725 a month which is insanely low for the location and my own place. It’s the perfect deal.

However reality comes in like a freight train. The loan repayment I will have to pay is extensive and the cost for starting filmmakers is low. To walk out of USC and be expecting to make hundreds of thousands of dollars isn’t realistic. By moving to USC, I’ll be saving 12,000-15,000 a year in expenses for 5-10 hours of work a week. That means less film projects to work on and things I’ll be missing out on.

It’s the big filmmaker question. When to compromise on the things you’re trying to accomplish to meet you goals. Everyone will have that question asked of them at one point or another. When do we take that waiter job or that non-filmmaking desk job? We can always work on our projects at home, but when is the point that we compromise so much that before long 7 years have gone by and you haven’t moved closer to your goals?

For myself, being able to cut my bills in half for a minimum contribution is an amazing deal. To be able to be in thesis mode a year from now and be free from major bills is also a huge deal. So while I am “taking a step back” now on the work I can take on, if all goes well then I’ll be sitting pretty for the next two years.

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The Genius of Breaking Bad

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Wow, going out on a limb here. Saying “Breaking Bad” is a genius show is as risky as saying the sky is blue. I’ve already taken a position that leaves nothing controversial about it. Unless, we actually have to define what “genius” means.

BB works because of it’s characters. As Andy Greenwald said in his Grantland.com article, Breaking Bad is a chain reaction that makes it so interesting. These characters don’t have moments or reflection where they decide their fate. It’s been pre-determined by circumstance, a circumstance that drives all of it’s characters to their chaotic and destructive results. After watching “51” just now, I realize that I’m not watching a show about humans anymore, but about elements in a periodic table that are reacting to each other until there are no elements left to react with. It’s humanity in it’s completely basic outlook. We were created from atoms and molecules and we behave like them. We may seem more complex today but at the end of the day, for Vince Gilligan, humanity is not something that can decide it’s future but just be a result of a predetermined past.

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Shows like that, where humanity is unable to decide it’s future and are the result of more powerful forces have been very successful. “The Wire” is considered the greatest TV show ever because it’s characters are not people of free will, but people who are the result of insitututions. Institutions of the police force, government, the school system, the media, unions, the economy, etc. The a specific and vocal group of American viewers have been drawn like magnets to this type of world outlook with a cult like frenzy. We don’t decide out futures, more powerful forces do. And the shows that fit that world view are the ones that resonate the most with us. It’s an unnerving strain of thought that many people are following. Free will doesn’t exist. Powerful forces are controlling us, even simple people like Walter White who is just a mild mannered guy and is now a drug lord with an unholy ambition. Walter never had a choice about what he was to become. The viewers of BB feel there is something to that, because if not they would dismiss the show’s premises and it wouldn’t carry the same level of engagement that it does now.

The old adage has been, in movies people change but in TV they don’t. Walter White and his change will be the subject of scholarly debate for many years. Has he changed, or has his true nature always been there, just revealed by the circumstances. It’s a questions I don’t 100% know the answer to. But I deep down believe in change because my motion picture passion lives in the film realm. I have always loved the spectacle nature of film superficially and I have always enjoyed the transformations of the characters in film. It’s two completely different ideologies from an industry that sometimes doesn’t seem to have a diverse selections of ideologies to offer.

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But if you put a gun to my head, I would pick a 3rd option. Walter White has changed…he’s Heisenburg now. Walter’s detachment from of whatever moral code has has stuck to has opened up the monster inside of himself. And this is why this show will remain a landmark show until the end of time. You can make an argument that people don’t “change” per say, they just choose a different version of themselves to show to the world. For Walter White, he has now chosen Heisenburg. And for everyone in his hemisphere, the chain reaction not stopping there. Has anyone changed by their won free will, or has the environment changed them? That is the questions we’ll all be asking ourselves when the credits roll to black on the last episode.

So while we have a little bit of this season and all of the 2nd half of the season next summer, what we do know is that some major changes are going to happen. What exactly, I don’t know. But what I do know is that the elements floating together cannot last together for long. Before we know it, Walt, Jesse, Mike, Sklyer, Hank, and Marie are going to once and for us show us the destructive mix they are. And there will be nothing anyone can do to stop it.

Stephen

Moral and Economic Struggle of Low-Budget Filmmaking

The Camera, Grip and Electric guys were nowhere to be found and we had only a few hours to turn two hotel rooms from a post-shoot apocalypse to as if nothing ever happened. Guys who are getting paid are showing up late while the guy who isn’t getting paid, ME, is half an hour early. The night before, we had done such a good job that we canceled our last day of shooting to save money we didn’t have and so had to be out by noon the next day. They all eventually rolled in at 9am, an hour late. What a producer does from set to set varies wildly, but as our 2nd AD Jake Ortega posted on Facebook, “Producers = Mama”. And mama always has to clean up after the mess of the kids.

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1st AC Ben Salvetti

The budget for “Venus” is tight and while it looks like a lot for a film that takes place in one location, it’s never enough. In this case it was though and we were fortunate to have people working for really cheap and people willing to work for free. It was their hard work and sacrifice that made this movie possible. While in the top paragraph I make it seem like it was a mess, the reality was that was the only hiccup in an otherwise totally clean and just about perfect production. What student film gets done a day early because they shot everything? As our mentor John Watson texted us, he’s never heard of that happening on a USC thesis. Bryce got everything he wanted, we got good performances, no L&D, we were under budget, and the crew all had beers together after to celebrate. A perfect game.

But it gets harder to do this the way we did. I wish I could pay everyone and pay them living wages. The absolutely back breaking work our Grips and Electrics do is amazing. Our costume designer just has an eye for nailing what someone should wear. Our Production Designer was a force of nature and was on her shit the whole way. Our AD Alexis, for her first time, was 100% on her game the entire time and I could never do as well as she did. I could go on forever but every shoot I get off of, I get sicker that these people have to work for free. It’s one thing for me to work for free, I’m the boss. It’s another if the people who make up the production don’t. As it always seems to be in the real world these days, the guys at the top get all the power and wealth, and everyone at the bottom gets screwed.

How can they afford to pay the bills on $100 a day? I’m legitimately curious. Are all the people I’m working with secretly rich? I know some people are and probably a 1/3 of my classmates would be considered rich. It’s a rich person’s game to be a filmmaker. You see all these awesome documentaries come out to Sundance every year and the people who make these probably put in $300,000 in cash or lost work hours to do it. Not the average American here… And don’t get me started how these mega-docs are making stories about the average American when the people who make them as a whole have never felt the fear of not having much and potentially losing everything.

These people who work for free. Is this a never ending cycle of undergrads with summer breaks and big dreams who spend the summer working for free and never come back? I’ve seen those people all the time. Coming to LA with dreams to work in the film industry and they work for free a bunch of times and then they go back home and try and stay in contact with you. I’ve had people try and do that with me and I have almost 400 USC and Industry people I’m involved with in my daily life and I don’t know how to continue that conversation. I know they are looking for paid work or any work but unless they have rich family members, it just isn’t happening. How will they pay the bills and also work on productions unless they have an ungodly spending discipline, no character flaws, a job that lets them take huge breaks and then come back, and that doesn’t even factor in luck. It’s really insane and unless you stand out at the highest 1%-10% level, it’s not happening.

Maybe these people rigging the unemployment system? This is the most likely answer. Work at some 9-5 job for a while, make your 50k, then get yourself fired and spend the next year collecting unemployment while working on film sets. A devious and genius strategy that absolutely works, especially if you dive in head first and keep working on productions until you find people with money who can soon start paying you to do this stuff. And much of the money is under the table, and you’re working for free. Hell, if you’re collecting $400 a week in unemployment (a joke), and you make about $1k a month from working on film sets (aim for 20 days to make that. It’s so low in the beginning), and you’re working with $2,400 a month. Add in the about $15 a day you save in food from being on set and the $10 a day in discretionary spending you save from working so much, you’re looking at $500 saved. Not bad, you can work with that. Maybe that $500 saved can cover for your $400 a month loan bill. Isn’t hope great!

When I finally get the money, it won’t be like this. The world of producers make millions while the people at the bottom get minimum wage or below middle-class wages is just not going to happen. But for now, that’s all I have. That’s why I work on these things for free.

The Dark Knight Rises, Guns, and The Culture of Violence

The night sets on a cool Monday in Los Angeles. “The Dark Knight Rises” has made over 230 million worldwide, safely on it’s way to turning a major profit for Warner Brothers. Most of LA settled into their beds, but a few remain awake, unable to sleep. It’s the people who have all been affected by the massacre at Aurora Colorado, personally or peripherally.

I am going to sleep soundly, as no one I know was a victim or had a link to anyone involved. My heart goes out to everyone, but I am engulfed far away in the LA rat race. Right now the proper authorities and families are taking care of everything. My services of any kind aren’t needed. Or are they…

John Stewart: “Guns not problem, crazy is problem.”

These words were spoken by Stewart in a 2006 comedy show and he repeated them on Opera soon after. Yet for a huge section of America, if there was one thing they wanted to speak out first against it was guns. Guns were the problem. The radioactive device that infects the minds of those who posses it. A modern day ring ala “Lord of the Rings”. Another section of America remained strangely muted. The right usually says there is not enough God or morality in our lives which opens us up to this. But they’re both wrong, it’s simply “crazy”.

Society has more and more opted for the path of least resistance and has eschewed the philosophical routes of many issues and gone for the shortest term solution. Now American history has never been perfect and if you really look back you come to realize we’ve always been on the edge in one way or another. But the idea that we need to rid ourselves of guns leads to a dark, even deeper moral turn. The idea that people can’t handle their freedoms so they need to have it taken away for a better society.

It’s a strange decision by most liberal ideologists. To see guns as the enemy. What is almost insane is how many of them fail to point their fingers at themselves. The very film industry I work in powers itself by gun violence, mass destruction, high body counts, and the devaluing of life. The glorification of destruction and the obsession with evil (See: Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, Dexter, etc.) and the awards they’re constantly given. The video game industry’s very core if the military war games of Call of Duty and Modern Warfare.

So what keeps my fellow filmmakers from addressing their own issues? There is some good ideas for rethinking how easy it should be for people to own guns (I’m strongly in favor of responsible gun ownership), how we as families need to help bring context to the violence we’re constantly exposed to, and to most importantly, figure out a comprehensive strategy to mental health in this country. All the good ideas in the world do nothing for the large sections of America who are fighting demons inside every day and have no one to be there for them. We as a society need to instead of tho linking of ways to take away from people, be thinking of ways we can give to people. It would be crazy not to.

Stephen Gibler

Former President of the School of Cinematic Arts Graduate Council.
2012 First Look Producer of the Year.

Danger of Technology

Danger of Technology entry…coming soon.

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The Valley from Aldamisa Entertainment

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The Unconventional Lifestyle

I am standing at LAX at 4:30am with maybe about 2 hours of sleep in me. I was driven to the airport by my buddy Andrew with a couple of pitstops at Public House for beers (on me as payment for driving) and Wendies (Andrew was hungry, wouldn’t take my money at this point). As a current USC graduate student, being able to pay for transportation from Los Feliz to LAX would put me out onto the street. Friendships and mutual favors are the only thing that can keep things afloat for many of us.

The film industry is the embodiment of the unconventional lifestyle and the stereotypes, real or imagined, have ingrained that into the world conscious. Sure National Geographic or Discovery will show you some nightmarish job you’ve never heard of, but someone has to be filming all this and film industry filmmakers are right there with them. Even at the most darkest, deepest and dangerous, some guy or girl is rolling the camera.

However things like that are more on the extremes of our world and the “normal” people’s version of normal is by American standards a whacky life. You spend countless days and hours looking for work, many times you’re unemployed while doing it. And when you do get work you’re busting out 12-16 hour days with few breaks in sight. Americans have this reflex where they talk about how busy they are even when they’re not as a matter of socio-job status, but for the film industry it’s our livelihood to be busy.

The ramifications for this are deep and wide. The foundation of our being, love and partnership, is extremely compromised and changed because of our schedules of intense hot and cold. For people outside the industry, the idea that we work so much so long seems suspicious. No one can be possibly that busy with meetings, conferences, writing, table reads, casting, scouting, fundraising, more meetings, research, and soforth. And then there is actually making the movie! It’s insane but it is infinitely better then the 9-5 (more like 9-6 or 9-7 these days). But once it becomes the time of your life to meet “The One” then it is going to be a long and rocky road and it will take someone truly special, trusting, and unique to understand. I know a lot more divorces then marriage and I’m only at USC!

Since returning from backpacking across Europe and Israel, I haven’t had a normal week. I’ve been either rushing around getting something done, trying to put my life back in gear, or getting something done I’ve had on the back burner for a while. Between my Internship, producing Bryce’s thesis with John, finishing revisions for an industrial video, getting finances back in order, developing a thesis and feature with Josh, meetings, getting 546 ready as the lead SA, and the other various random elements, it never stops. And the back to back weddings of Gil/Steph and now Dave/Kerry have cut into my time in a major way. In the normal world people would have a 9-5, fly in Friday night, and all would be well. But for me, I’ll still be working on the plane and even while there around the wedding. That’s the life we chose. For the conventional filmmaker, everything is now unconventional.

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