The Hobbit Blog Part 5: The trouble with logistics

I’ve spent enough time recently on the small ideas by the small minds of school levy advocates and socialist leaning politics. As I’ve described in previous articles about the topic of the making of The Hobbit by Peter Jackson, (seen by clicking here,) I enjoy paying special attention to large-scale projects that are successful. Films like those created by Jackson are modern examples of the best in their profession and worth examination. And for me the movie translation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic work is a wonderful place to study the quality of a forward thinker.

You can track my previous comments back through the links in sequential order. This particular episode deals specifically with location shooting in New Zealand. I’ve had the opportunity on a few occasions to work with similar productions, but nothing on a scale such as what’s shown in this clip. Check it out:

When you’ve seen this kind of production up close from behind the camera it’s amazing that anything ever comes out looking right. It’s always a challenge to get the small army of trailers and restrooms transported to a location shoot which is enormously expensive, since everything has to be brought in, as shown in that clip. To gain the ability to set up a village essentially that can cater the needs of the hundreds if not thousands of employees moving around the set is a tremendous undertaking.

I have always been fascinated with the film making process because of its demand that a production be lean and mean. People who work on such film crews do not have the luxury of becoming entrenched in their jobs because they are always in a state of constant adaptation. This also lends to an efficiency that is difficult to recreate in the private sector where workers fall in love with their offices, or their cubicles and can devolve in to a daily routine that gradually numbs their minds. In the film business, the people tend to be more intellectual because they are constantly required to adapt to their circumstances. However, this is also why they tend to be more liberal, because they lack grounding in their lives. They instead are like nomads always moving from one place to the next, and such a life is hard on relationships.

I will never forget my experience with a producer who was tasked to put together the clip I was working on with Real D 3D to develop a new 3D camera system. The production was a pitch trailer intended to show off the new technology. So I was called out to Hollywood to allow my fire whips to show off the cool new 3D technology. In the movie business, if you have a unique talent, there’s almost always a part to play for a business that is always looking for new ideas. The producer for this endeavor picked me up at LAX airport holding a sign at the baggage claim and proceeded to personally drive me through LA to the east end of town to the hotel the production put me in on Brand Blvd, which is extremely well-known for being a popular television shooting street.

Our film shoot was at night so I had the day to kill plenty of time and explore the area in and around Burbank. What is most distinguished in this particular area as opposed to any city in the United States is the amount of city corner lots that are completely dedicated to setting up an on location film set, mostly for television productions. Those lots encompass entire city blocks to make room for the army of trailers that move in and out of that spot within a couple of days. Most of these scenes are for television shows that need exterior shots. This is why most television shows choose Los Angeles to film anything, because the infrastructure is there to support that business.

The producer of my project sent a car to pick me up at 5 PM for a 6 PM set arrival established in a department store parking lot in Burbank. When I arrived, I was able to see one of these small cities set up and functioning up close. I was shown to my trailer amidst the chaos of the producer and several assistants talking on walkie talkies at a frantic pace. I was impressed even with a relatively small production like the one I was on, at the efficiency of everyone involved. The makeup woman working on me spoke with the makeup person working on another actor in the next trailer through adjoining doors effortlessly as though they were simply cutting hair in a saloon and not working on a movie, and outside the open door as the sun was setting the lighting people were setting up their sophisticated system and the camera crew was laying tracks for their dolly runs. Once my makeup was complete I had to go through walk-thrus with the stunt coordinator and begin to block shots with the director.

Upon seeing the whips in action the director decided he wanted me to perform a trick I had never done before—he wanted me to hit a cigarette on the ground with a backward crack. And he wanted me to use my 12 foot bullwhip so the camera shooting at 24 frames per second could see the whip uncoiling and making the strike. We discovered that my usual whips of 6’ moved too fast for the camera system, so we had to use my bigger ones so the camera could see them.

I practiced the trick for about two hours in front of the stunt coordinator so we could get repeatability as I met about a 100 actors, agents, and production house people who came over to watch. It took about 4 hours to get everyone in makeup to begin filming the first scene at approximately 10 PM. We shot for exactly 8 hours then broke at 6 AM as the sky was starting to turn blue from the first sign of a sunrise.

A car took me back to my hotel for some sleep in the middle of the day. At 4 PM the car came for me again to pick me up for call on the set where we went through the whole process again the next night. My requirements were only for two nights of shooting, which the production team put me up in a hotel for four nights and covered all my expenses including travel to and from California. On that particular production there were probably 350 employees behind the scenes and about 6 primary actors and 40 extras. Every person on that set was set-up and arranged by the producer. If some members of the production were from out-of-town like I was, the producer had to do for each of them what he did for me, which was quite a task that impressed me greatly.

So I have great respect for what Peter Jackson is trying to pull off in his production and the work shows. His production is probably 5 times larger than the project I worked on described above, so my heart goes out to him. It’s a fascinating business that contains many lessons that can easily be translated over into the private sector. These productions force the mind to be innovative, and to be at its absolute best.

Most people only get to experience the movie business from what is seen on the movie screen or on Entertainment Tonight, or through the press. Because I have a unique talent that occasionally is in need for the film business, I have had the opportunity to peak behind the scenes and breathe the world that makes a film possible. And a movie is a product just like anything else, just like a car, or a company who makes basketballs. But unlike a company that is grounded in one place, a movie production dismantles itself and is reborn again and again where most companies find themselves bogged down with employees who get bored and complacent. And there are lessons to be learned from these nomads of the film business that could help us all in our daily lives—not to let boredom and complacency lead to ruin and unproductive behavior. That most of the time, the value of the final product is more important than the security of the employees who work on the task.

If only people could get their minds around that concept, they would find their lives would be greatly enriched.

Rich Hoffman

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