A question of scale.

So the other morning I hear all this rumbling out my window. It wasn’t the trash guys, but a giant movie crew shooting the next remake of War of the Worlds.

See there, from my window – that’s Tom Cruise going up the stairs, and to his right, Steven Spielberg watching the take. So much Hollywood power, right in my hood. Beautiful Park Slope is historic, so I guess it makes a good movie set. Of course, it’s not my 10-story ‘old lady’ building they’re shooting – but all those expensive little brownstones down the street. Still, I get to look at all the beautiful brownstones, while they have to look out at my hulking old building. Who has the better deal?

I have to admit, I started out feeling a little sad as the tremendous crew went about their business. I used to be in the film business, after all. I went to CalArts and worked with Sandy MacKendrick, then got yet another graduate degree – in film – from American Film Institute. I even got a Directing Grant from the Academy to be an “apprentice director.”

But my assignment was to work with Brian DePalma on Bonfire of the Vanities. And whatever you might think of Carrie and Scarface, Bonfires was something of a disaster. What got me so upset during the making of that movie was the waste. Hundreds of thousands of dollars a day moving things around for giant, ego-filled shots that didn’t particularly tell the story. In some cases, they seemed to have nothing to do with the story at all.

It was a disillusioning experience, particularly for a theater kid. I was used to working with living actors, on moments that would be strung together into larger beats that became whole plays. This film stuff – as Hollywood did it, anyway – was more like modeling. Actors mugged for five or ten seconds, and then the crew moved their trucks and cranes around for another hour. Then they did it again. And again.

Still, watching them work from the window, I felt I knew more about what was going on down there then most of my neighbors. When I saw a guy in a yellow raincoat walk by, looking up at the sun emerging from behind a cloud, I told my wife “He’s the gaffer. He’ll pull out a light meter in a second, then order a bunch of guys to put up a giant silk.” Which he did.

Wasted knowledge? Maybe. But as the day wore on, my longing to be back in the film biz was replaced by memories of the utter boredom I experienced on sets of this size. I’d rather be an architect making a building if I’m going to have that many workers moving around that much equipment at my behest.

My experience on Bonfires was what turned me into a writer. I walked off the set one day, and just never came back. I took a part-time gig at now-defunct Exposure Magazine, and started my first column on politics and media.

If I do go back to film, someday, it’ll have to be on a different scale than this. I can’t see spending 182 million dollars on any 2-hour film. I just can’t imagine producing $182 million worth of transformation with it. I’d rather help make 182 one-million dollar films. Or even just 60 3-million dollar films. How much could Wings of Desire have cost?

Or, better yet, when I get this next book done I’ll hunker down and write something for the theater.

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