Film Production: You Can’t Do That! (Part 2)


Most of my film production career was spent making TV commercials. I was involved in over 1,000 of them – as line producer and/or 1st assistant director – and my specialty was location shooting, mostly (as I’ve said repeatedly) on the greatest “back lot” in the world, New York City. But between 1972 and 2005 there were few states in the continental USA in which I didn’t do some film production.

I’ve also talked before about “the fog of war” as in no matter how well you plan, once the job starts that plan goes out the window and the scramble begins. Much the same is true with location film shooting. The job of the line producer becomes crisis management. This is one of the many things that made the job challenging and therefore fun.

One factor in this state of affairs is often intervention by outsiders who have no actual connection to the production. On two occasions that I can remember these interventions created pretty funny solutions.

Here are two brief, truncated excerpts from Circumstances Beyond My Control:

American Express Jamaica

Next morning (Friday) we got the shot, packed up and went back to the hotel to check out. We had seven rooms in the hotel. Mine was for eight or nine nights, the rest for three or four and the bill was in excess of $7,000. [The director] Kyle’s credit card was rejected. With his assurance that a check would be drawn to cover the amount on Monday, I gave them my American Express card and we came home.

Film Production Ocho Rios

Author Ben Bryant on Location: Ocho Rios

Monday I was in his office at nine to do the wrap up paperwork and my wife called to say that American Express needed to talk to me. By that time I had Kyle’s company check in hand so I called. The woman told me I couldn’t charge that much on my card. I asked what they meant in their ads which said “never a spending limit”? She phum-phered a bit and finally backed off. It had been done, I was no longer in Jamaica and I was sending a check to cover it that day so that was handled. She said thank you and hung up.

Avis Rent-a-Car Reno/LA

While we were shooting [a snow tire spot in Mammoth, CA] the director got another job to shoot the following week in Hawaii. So instead of Mike [camera assistant] returning to Reno [where he’d rented a van] and flying home he (lucky guy) was to accompany Andreas to Paradise. We finished shooting on Saturday and on Sunday Mike and I drove the van and camera gear to the Jenkins Covington office in LA. The next morning I dropped the van at Avis [automated drop-off] and caught my plane to JFK.

Tuesday when I arrived at the office to (I thought) wrap the job [Exec Producer] Steve asked me if I had unpacked. He told me I was flying back to LA that afternoon. There was fresh snow and a fresh director.

Before I left the office to go home and repack a call came in for me from Avis Rent-a-Car. My name was on the paperwork from the return drop off. I picked up the phone and identified myself. The guy started yelling at me. “You can’t pick up a van in Reno and drop it in LA!” “But I already did that,” said I. “That was a passenger van and the seats are in Reno.” The guy was having a fit and behaving as if I had stolen his own, personal van. “So have someone drive it back to Reno and send us the bill.” Steve was listening to all this and laughing so hard he nearly choked on his coffee.

More to come on this subject in future posts. Meanwhile, for more film production and location shooting adventures click here and get Circumstances Beyond My Control.

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