New Orleans It turned out that we “hadn’t seen nothing yet!” We may have thought a half-dozen people running around setting the scenes, moving furniture, painting, putting up wallpaper, replacing the pictures of our children on the mantle with pictures of fake children on the mantle, was all right at the edge of way too much, but when the camera rolls in, it’s like being overtaken by the hordes. I thought I knew a lot from watching documentarians over the last number of years. I knew nothing!
Some folks showed up at 930 AM hoping to gain entry into our collapsing fort early to finish some things from the night before, but having already seen the time move up an hour on us ahead of the schedule, it just brought out the cowboy in me, and I was darned if they were coming in a minute before time. All of which made the always friendly crew, even more solicitous. They know they are an occupying army, but fortunately they don’t try and act all colonial and stereotypically Hollywood about it.
By the 10 AM starting time, the trucks were rolling in to the spaces the neighbors and I had cleared. They had the small vans I had seen before, but the big boys were here now with big wheeled carts, generators, full-sized cameras, white and black light screens, lights of all kinds, and lenses, tools, telescoping poles, and clamps of all sizes.
The director, Abi Varghese, and I chatted on the front porch, as he surveyed the swarm, a general calmly reviewing his troops. Originally from south India, he had come to the States at 12 and still lived in Chicago. Last year, he lived half of his time in Kerala due to his burgeoning success as a writer and director there. He was quiet and circumspect, but in firm control of the chaos it seemed, and couldn’t have been nicer.
Or younger. The movie crew in the main was the children’s crusade, heavily populated by seemingly very competent young men and women in their twenties and perhaps early thirties. You know, a lot like organizers. Only the actors from India were older. I was an obstacle in the way, painting bookshelves before they would be repatriated into our living room, but it gave me a unique vantage point. Taking a break on a gorgeous day, I talked to young man, perhaps thirty, who was the “line producer,” which he defined as the person on the screen keeping the affair within budget, sort of a mobile bookkeeper with power. He was from Kansas City, but actually also had a house now in New Orleans because there is so much work here. Abi Varghese had told me there were about 30 in the crew. Kansas City told me about 17 were from the New Orleans area, though many might be transplants of a sort as he was from New York and beyond. One equipment toting roustabout I talked to told me he was from Algiers and still finishing at the University of New Orleans, so learning the ropes with his muscles.
It definitely takes a village. At one point I walked into the living room where the director and the sternly, gruff cinematographer were watching the monitors of the cameras shooting in the kitchen. I counted sixteen people crammed into the room.
In the same way organizing has its own language no matter in what tongue it is translated, clearly that is true on a shoot as well. Talking to the location manager on the phone the night before, he kept saying “copy that,” which seems a harmless tic the first time, but can’t be missed the eighth time, unless I was thinking about volunteering for the army at this late stage in my journey, but embedded in the scene, as one of the cinematographer’s chief assistants was scurrying about getting various lenses so that they could shoot from the top of the air conditioning unit in through the kitchen window at the actors, it was one “copy” this after another “copy” that.
So, if you want to be a film-ista and seem in the know, that’s today’s tip: “copy that!”