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The Six Phases of a Big Project

Last night as my Production Designer and I were tooling around Rutherford location scouting some of his old haunts, he mentioned the "Six Phases of a Big Project," a humorous list I only vaguely recalled. He slipped it in, I suppose, as a gesture of solidarity as I enter the final week before the first day of shooting a music video for the band Tigerman.

In case, dear reader, you are unfamiliar, the phases are as follows:

1. Enthusiasm

2. Disillusionment

3. Panic / Hysteria

4. Hunt for the Guilty

5. Punishment of the Innocent

6. Reward for the Uninvolved

Any good system with phases can and must exist within, without, or mutually exclusively to other systems or other sets of phases. The phases of the moon have to do with the rotation of two celestial bodies which exist within the larger rotation of other celestial bodies around the sun, and the sun functions within a larger galaxy of other solar systems, which functions within the larger system of the universe, etc. (Pardon the scope. My need to ground my peanut existence within the larger cosmos and some unknown "grand scheme," much like the universe itself, is ever expanding.)

One can compare two systems to see which overlap, as a bored kid in a school library draws Venn diagrams. Here are the generally accepted phases of the creation of a film, short, feature or otherwise:

1. Development

2. Pre-production

3. Production

4. Post-production

5. Distribution

Forgive my incredibly rushed Photoshoppitry, but here's how I believe these two sets of phases overlap:

Development is the most fun. The project is like a rolling plain stretching out in the dawn before you, and you get to populate that plain with ideas of all sorts. Development is imagining possibilities, hence the enthusiasm.

But give it some time, and reality will set in upon you. Now you have to take those ethereal abstractions and give them definable features. The word "schedule" begins to fall out of your mouth as from a meal consumed for nourishment, not pleasure. "Budget" is another soul-sucker of a word, and it will sound sharply in your ears despite the softness of its vowels.

In the time leading up to the actual days of shooting, PANIC will gallop its prickly fingers up your spine and then ceaselessly poke at your brain like some sinister version of your twin sibling. "Mom, he won't stop touching me!"

Then the shooting begins, and it's like a loudly-uttered scream you only hear the echo of. It's the Doppler Effect, whipping past you so fast you think it must have missed you, but it hit you alright, as you find out when instead of going to sleep that night you just sort of blink out of existence for several hours and are suddenly brought back to life with none of reincarnation's rejuvenating qualities.

And once the shooting is over and you have mentally recovered enough to begin to torture yourself once more, post begins. Now your dream not only has a face, but a wrinkly one. Is that a copy of the script in the shot? How did I never notice the fella playing my leading man has two wildly different sized ears? I could have sworn we got at least one good take here. Did the intern really log the footage with only numbers?!

Some feelings are bound to be hurt, because even if your entire production was touched by an angel, blessed by a shaman or financed and produced by your sweet uncle Marty S., nothing will ever truly manifest that amorphous, ephemeral vision your flawed and lovely brain concocted. That vision got you high, and now you're crashing, hard. Somebody's got to pay, and the ones nearest and dearest who senselessly stuck around are the closest targets. (Sorry in advance, everyone.)

But once it's done (just kidding, it never is) you get to send it, like a sparrow, off into the world. Why did you let it go? Now it will never really feel like yours again. Everyone from the little shit P.A. who got high in the walk-in freezer and was fired immediately to the "producer" whose sole contribution was a ShopRite cheese platter is gabbing on and on about their new project. "The more people talking about it, the better," you console yourself, but does it have to be those assholes? Even thanking your parents feels hollow and cheap. "I didn't ask to be born, Dad. This baby is mine!"

Now, the "Six Phases" do come across as resentful ones. But there's a beautiful side to each sour coin. For disillusionment to exist, there must be pride, belief in one's self and one's mission. Doubt is natural, but can't be permanent.

Panic is just a symptom of caring, of passion. If anxiety is the worst part of giving a damn, I'll take it with no hesitation.

And while I will undoubtedly become a crazy bitch while I'm editing, those that survive the scorching of the earth around me will earn a level of my loyalty so intense that when they eventually do call on me, my very presence will trigger feelings of calming reassurance if not outright tranquility. I will come through so fast and so hard it will make those who don't know me well quite uncomfortable. Where's the Kool-Aid? Give me the whole GALLON! Reciprocity is the real currency of the world. 

As for the freeloaders, the disingenuous who pad their résumés or their wallets unearnedly, I can't speak to that sort. As a creature chronically honest to my own detriment, I can't imagine taking credit for the work of others. So while it may not be true consolation to some, those of us who cloak ourselves in tragic morality can rest on the unkempt laurels of our prideful compasses, shaking our heads at the system-gamers and feeling the sort of smug righteousness we can only earn when we actually do something instead of just talking about how majestically we would do it. Basically, if someone's stealing morsels from your plate, that means you've at least had a worthy meal.

So good luck out there fellow filmmakers, fellow creators, fellow doers. By hanging your asses out in the wind for all the dangers that entails, you are heroes. Whether glory shines upon you or not, a hero is still a hero in the dark.

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