JEFF PROBST’S INDEPENDENT PURSUIT (part 4)

Because the film was shot in one location, there was always a danger that it might have felt claustrophobic, but that never became the case. Because of the cinematography and clever camera work, Finder’s Fee never feels like a “filmed play.” How did you go about the process of planning shots to maximize the story’s cinematic possibilities? ^ I didn’t want the “look” to drive the story. I hate camera moves that are unmotivated and have no storytelling purpose. Still, I knew we had to be concerned about keeping the story moving and because it was a morality tale, mixed with a “who dunnit” there were plenty of opportunities to use the camera to enhance the storytelling. I had the pleasure of an amazing DP, Francis Kenny who has shot everything from Heathers to New Jack City to Scary Movie. I love Francis and he was simply unbelieveable on this film. Gary Tandreau was our Gaffer and he had done movies like Dick Tracy and Any Given Sunday – huge movies! So we worked out a lighting grid that allowed us to move very fast. We were turning around in 15 minutes, which is very quick. That was the biggest factor was getting this thing finished in 17 days. In addition, we charted places in the story where the lighting would slowly shift as the mood of the piece shifted. We were certainly aware of our shot selection and made sure we went out wide every so often to let the audience breathe, but for the most part, for better or worse, this movie plays more like “theatre” than a huge “cinematic” piece because of the nature of the story and the location. I am a believer in the theory of “ride the horse in the direction it’s going”. We couldn’t shove a square peg in a round hole, so we just went with our strengths. I think the reason the story holds up, if you believe it does, is because of the script and the performances.
Is it true that your original location burned down just before shooting? What happened? ^ We were six days away from our first shoot day. I was with our DP Francis, and our first AD, and we were scouting the one exterior location we had. As we made our way back to downtown Vancouver, we noticed a huge inferno burning. Our AD made a comment about how that was close to the studio we were shooting out of. As we got closer, we realized it was really close. As we turned the corner, our worst fears came were realized – the studio was engulfed in flames. The guys who run Shavick were out front already on the horn to the insurance company. I began to consider the idea that Finder’s Fee was finished. We had come so close. But even if we were reimbursed from the insurance company, we had a hard, fast stop date. Erik Palladino had to be back on the set of ER the day after our shooting was scheduled to wrap. So we couldn’t push anything, not even by a day. It truly didn’t look good. A side note, while everyone else was panicking, Francis had pulled out his digital camera and was busy composing shots of the fire burning down the building. As a gift he gave Katy and me one of the most spectacular shots of four firemen with hoses spraying down the building. It is a great momento. By the end of the night, we had a guarantee of money from the insurance company, so we went to our Production Designer, the aptly named TINK, and asked him, can we rebuild in 6 days what has taken us 3 weeks to build so far. He didn’t hesitate. “No problem. We’ll be ready.” So, our crew began what would become 6 straight 24 hour days. The paint was literally still drying as we began filming. It was one of the coolest things I’d ever seen. How they actually pulled it off, I’m still not quite sure of, but I do believe that at least a small part of it was simply a gift to me. I felt that as it was happening and upon reflection I still feel it. I don’t know why they believed in the project so much, since really when you think about it, this could have easily just been “another gig.” Why go overboard and break their asses when they weren’t even getting their full day rate? As you can see already, many, many people make a movie happen. Anytime I see a movie title on a marquee I pause for just a moment and think, “wow, they did it.” Cause it damn sure ain’t easy.
Many directors talk about having fortunate “accidents” on the set — something unplanned that just “happens” and adds to a scene. Did anything like that happen when shooting Finder’s Fee? ^ There were many discoveries that happened on a daily basis that made their way into the final cut. That’s the “magic” you hope for everyday. An actor turns a line in a way you hadn’t considered and it changes the whole scene. Or your DP says, “what if we shot it this way”. We didn’t have any unplanned “accidents” per se, but honestly, when you look at our cast, James Earl Jones, Robert Forster, Erik Palladino, Ryan Reynolds, Matthew Lillard and Dash Mihoc. Please… things “happened” every day that nobody could have planned.
You must have been under tremendous pressure to complete the film quickly — did you run into any production problems? ^ The biggest production problem was simply getting through the pages. The script was 156 pages long. Yeah. 156. I had cheated the spacing so it came out to 117, but being so inexperienced, I didn’t realize the AD would discover it once she broke it down. All the sudden, the shit hit the fan. Word came down from the EP. “156 pages, no fucking way are we shooting 156 pages.” They were justly concerned that we wouldn’t finish and therefore wouldn’t have a movie. I had faith in the timing of the script, it timed out at 95 minutes and 94 minutes and 96 minutes in three different timings. So in my head, the page count was a bit misleading because there was a lot of dialogue and a lot of it overlapped. Naïve? Probably. Well, all the sudden we had another timing done and somehow this timing came out at over two hours fifteen minutes. I smelled bullshit. I still believe that one producer in particular on the movie was trying to get the movie shut down. They told me I had to cut 40 pages. There was no way that could happen. So, I went to them and struck a compromise. I asked for three days to prove myself. A probation period. If I’m behind after three days, then we’ll start cutting scenes. They reluctantly agreed. Meanwhile, Francis, who has shot big features, small features and movies of the week, came to me in private and said, “I don’t think we can do it.” THAT made me worry, cause Francis was on my side and he was telling me up front that he was concerned. I didn’t try to bullshit Francis, I just said, “Let’s start and look at things after three days.” Okay… after three days, I was behind. Fuck! I hated that. But again I rationalized my way out of it because I DIDN’T WANT TO CUT PAGES this soon. I sat down that night with Jim Gulian and we went through every scene and found three scenes we could combine. That would eliminate a half a day and catch us up, in theory. The only problem with that scenario was that the three scenes we were cutting all belonged to Robert Forster who only had 6 scenes to begin with. His first shoot day was in the morning and he had just arrived from LA and now I had to go to his hotel and tell him he wasn’t working tomorrow cause I just cut HALF HIS SCENES! Ahhh baby, I was dying. Caught between a rock and a hard place. That next day on the set is when I became a director. I had been pussyfooting around, not really taking charge, but rather letting Francis help guide me and Jim Gulian help guide me. That stopped on day four. I took over. For good or bad, I took the reins. I’ll never forget my buddy Jim looking over to me and giving me a “thumbs up”. He said, “it’s your set”. I never looked back. I am certain I made poor decisions along the way, although I have conveniently blocked them, but what I did right was MAKE decisions. You won’t always be right, but you have to have a plan and execute it. That’s the single biggest lesson I learned. Make a DECISION and move on. The moment the actors or the crew begin to doubt you – you’re finished. One of my favorite moments was James Earl Jones first day on the set. It was coincidentally, day four, the day of dread for me. He arrives and suddenly the mood on the set changed dramatically. This was JAMES EARL JONES. The legend. The actors, Erik, Ryan, Matthew and Dash, who had ten minutes earlier been flitting about as though they were the Marx Brothers, were now suddenly quiet and absolutely intimidated. It was understandable, who wouldn’t be. But from my pov this was a disaster. Story wise, if anyone was to be intimidated it should be James, not the guys. This was their house, their world, he was the outsider. He sat down at the table and everyone politely introduced themselves like it was a wedding or worse yet, a funeral. Before I could even begin to salvage a plan of attack, James took care of everything. As he sat down at the table, he nodded to the fellas, and then as the room became eerily quiet due to the inability of ANYONE to say a damn thing, James quietly and simply, leaned across to Ryan and said in that deep baritone voice, “Luke, I am your father….(slight beat)… motherfucker.” It brought the house down. We all fell out of our chairs. Three minutes in the room and James Earl Jones just said the one line everyone wanted to hear AND he said MOTHERFUCKER! The tone in the room completely changed and we were back in business. James was so damn aware of his presence that he not only sensed what was happening, but took it upon himself to fix the problem. Do I consider him another “angel” in my life – you better fucking believe it.
Get the rest of the interview in part five of JEFF PROBST’S INDEPENDENT PURSUIT>>>




Posted on January 4, 2002 in Interviews by
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