I was not kidding when I told the cast months before that, “Film is war.” This is not a matter of perspective or death-wish thinking. It’s the reality. This is why you have a bunch of people who are like colonels and lieutenants help keep things in order. They help make executive last minute decisions to make sure everything is working smoothly—and they expect problems. My way of producing is quite the opposite: I don’t “expect” problems. I say, “There are no problems.” What this does is it prepares me to deal with the problems that come up. I go into it knowing that everything will go right: so that I can identify when things go wrong. I expect things to be right.
What happens when people “expect” problems is that they become apathetic. When the problem does occur, they throw their hands up and say, “Well, that’s part of the business” and swallow it. It happened on my set and I will never forget that: I will never forget certain people who would abandon everything at that crucial hour. And that is why Film is like war, because you need “good men” behind you. You need people who are able to jump into the fire and save the entire project.
I have also been thinking a lot about my friend Frank Berrera. He’s a pal and DP during my film school days. He was very gifted—even then. I think about Frank because he was more professional as a student than many pros working in the industry. He had a great maturity level and a natural intuition for peacefully accommodating and fulfilling the director’s vision; and it was a very natural experience for me—to tell him my vision and he would make it happen: exactly. And technically, his focus was impeccable and the film always turned out perfectly exposed when returned from the lab. Even though he was a student, he was so technically advanced that there was no learning curve that cost you money. This explains why he is so successful today.
I’ve been thinking of him to compare notes and to also feel grateful for my early training. When you work with the best, you expect the best. So I am grateful to have had those experiences. If you work with inefficient or untalented people you don’t know any better. You have no way to benchmark. By the time you meet talented people—you have no way of recognizing or respecting them. So they won’t work with you.
When I was in cooking school, I was taught a very valuable thing. I was told that if you go out and extern or intern, you work with the best. So I was in NY and went after Jean-George, Eric Rippert and I worked for a celebrity chef at the Mandarin Oriental and James Beard Foundation every Friday night. I met chefs that were masters of chemistry, food art, and the were the top in their craft. But I didn’t pursue cooking because filmmaking was calling me back. I had job to do for the world and I couldn’t achieve it by being a chef.
I will never forget the day I was in the chef locker room at Eric’s restaurant and an Asian girl about 20-years old undressed and her arms were filled with burned marks. I laughed to myself because I felt like I was a sailor on some Irish ship. Chefs earn their “war stories” based on how many times they get burned on the hot line. And then the girl bragged about how she was going clubbing later, I thought, “Good luck in that dress.” The running joke in cooking school is that when you explain to people that your burn marks are from “cooking,” everyone think it’s an alibi for being a victim of domestic violence. LOL.
The reason why you go for the best is because bad habits die hard, so to be professional—you start with the best and gain the most astringent habits. This way, your strong discipline of knowing between “right and wrong” cannot be killed.
When I started crewing up for NUNE, I had a lot of amateurs try to control me. They sold me on “this and that” and what they could do for me; but most of them were con artists. Their way of working was totally unprofessional and would have cost me a lot of collateral damage for this inexperience and cheap ass way of doing things. I took my cooking school experience to the level I was taught where I decided that I won’t work amateurs who might bring my discipline down. I didn’t care if my budget was small: I was going to get the best—or at least try. And because of that, NUNE is very “tight.” On a production-quality level, it’s tight.
This is why I think about Frank, because working with him in film school established what I expected from a DP.
But the best thing Frank ever did for me was to pull up to my apartment with his girlfriend early in the morning to take me to school because my motorcycle was down. Or when he helped move a gigantic sectional couch up nine flights of stairs to find out that it wouldn’t fit through my doorway. After all the sweat and exhaustion, Frank had an idea on how to take the couch back down. They wouldn’t carry it—they would throw it down each flight. It was like a bomb and I laughed all the way through. I wish I videotaped it. And all the boys wanted that day was a six-pack of beer. Kids. Good kids. Those things matter to me.
These are the people who are part of my journey. We are all journeymen traveling together. We leave without arguments. We carry this into infinity.