It's Tepid!

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It's Tepid!

This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

In the summer, all of the big media moguls gather in Sun Valley for a conference put on by investment banker Herb Allen. I couldn't make it this year. But I did see pictures of them, marching around in their awkward leisurewear and when I did, I thought of this story.

A few years back, I had a friend working on a huge, big-budget movie. I mean, it started as a big-budget movie, but as production dragged on, it became a mega-budget movie. Certain things that were supposed to explode didn't explode when they were supposed to, and so had to be built again. And exploded again. Certain actors who were supposed to be... healthy... weren't entirely so when production commenced. You know, the usual things. The budget got bloated. The whole thing was starting to spin out of control. The movie was starting to sink.

If you can, think of a movie production unit as an enormous barge -- you know, like you see in the distance from your beach house, right? -- just this huge, slow bathtub that can only really go in one direction. It's hard to turn. It's hard to sink. It's filled with useless stuff from China. So when word got back from the production unit to the studio lot in the form of studio dailies and, more importantly, studio gossip, someone had to step in and make sure the barge was heading to the right place. Like San Pedro. What was necessary was a visit to the location. The studio president -- or, I can't really remember, one of the studio presidents, someone, anyway, who reports directly to one of those guys wandering around Sun Valley last week, pretending to fly fish -- the studio president needed to visit the set and see for himself where the money was going.

But, see, the movie was on location in Malibu. The studio was about 20 miles away, but about 10 of those miles were PCH miles, so each one of them counts for double. Let's just say that the studio was 30 practical miles away from the location. Now, you and I may think, okay, 30 miles, take about 45 minutes to an hour, leave late morning, head back early afternoon, stop off at the Malibu Kitchen for one of those huge cupcakes, no problem.

But what this guy thought was, 30 miles away? I'm not going to drive that. Get me a chopper.

So he helicoptered in. To Malibu. From his office. Because the movie was over-budget.

The people on location knew he was coming. His assistant had faxed over his lunch order the day before. So they cleared a space for the helicopter to land. But the morning had been productive and efficient, and they had zoomed through the pages they thought might take them all morning, so they had time to set up the next shot -- what was supposed to be the final shot of the location. So they set it up. And waited. Because, of course, they couldn't start shooting -- they might be done before the guy arrived, and since he was coming to see them do something on the location, not simply break down the location, they waited. For him to arrive. So they could film something in front of him. So he could see how efficient and under control the production was.

So the studio president thundered in, blowing away the craft services table, scattering Doritos on the Malibu hillside. He greeted the director and the producer, smiles all around, have a seat, just about to start, can we get you anything, oh, yes, a Fiji water please, can we get him a Fiji water?, okay just about to start, places, places, he gets his Fiji water, pictures up!, he twists open his water, sound speed, action, he takes a sip of his water as the actors race over to the hill to look for the dead body and Oh! I'm sorry!


It's tepid. The water. It's tepid.

Can we get him some cold water?

Not too cold.

Cool water? Some cool water?

They get some cool Fiji water. Pictures up. Speed. Action. They do the scene. Cut. Looks good. Moving on. The studio president looks pleased. This really is an efficient set. The budget overruns -- the time delays, these things happen. He thunders away, in a cloud of dirt and sand, his lunch uneaten, his cool Fiji water unopened. He choppers back to his office, reports the good news, and then later that day, maybe, as he drives home, he thinks about the helicopter trip and the expense of it all, the wasted morning on the location where instead of gaining a day on the schedule, they lost a day on the schedule waiting for him, and he thinks about this, maybe, as he's pulling into his garage because, of course, he lives in Malibu.

Memo to the guys who own these companies: while you're having fun in Sun Valley, do you know what your studio president is doing?

That's it for this week. Next week, we'll get more chairs. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.



Rob Long