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The West Wing
Starring: Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, Taye Diggs, Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly, Dominic West, Christine Baranski, Jayne Eastwood, Colm Feore, Lucy Liu
Murderesses Velma Kelly (a chanteuse and tease who killed her husband and sister after finding them in bed together) and Roxie Hart (who killed her boyfriend when she discovered he wasn't going to make her a star) find themselves on death row together and fight for the fame that will keep them from the gallows in 1920s Chicago.
I have a soft spot for this film. And it's very personal.
I used to work as a Production Assistant Assistant (the lowest on the chain on a film set) for 17 months in Toronto. It was the most education experience of my entire life as I not only learned the assembly line system of how Hollywood makes a film, but I also learned the all important skills of hard work, discipline and how street smart practical learning experiences are a lot more important that educational learning experiences.
Chicago was my last film I worked on for Hollywood. I did 5 days when they went out on location to shoot some scenes. Most of Chicago was filmed in the comforts of a studio because 80% of the film is dancing and singing, so production assistants really aren't needed.
It was January 2002 and my life was at a cross-roads. I knew I needed to get out of this job, because if I stayed a while longer, I would of become part of their system. What I mean by that is that when you begin working for any corporation, you begin because you need the experience. Then after about a year, you begin to make some real money and you can see that within a few years you'll be making A LOT of money. That's when they got you. And if you don't get out early, then you'll stuck with them for life because you have a mortgage to pay, kids to feed, marriage to grow etc.... And then your dreams/idealisms of when you were 20, vanish!
I didn't want that to happen and I swore that I would quick in November 2001. But it was two months later and I was still here. I guess I was saving the best film for last. In those 17 months, I worked on 22 feature films, 18 TV shows, and 5 commercials. And Chicago was by far the most positive set experience I ever witnessed in my life.
Many times on Hollywood productions, people are working on the film for a paycheck. They know the movie is probably going to stink, so they do just the right amount of effort on their job position that they need. You get jaded very quickly in this world, like many other fields in capitalism. But there was a different energy on the set of Chicago. People seemed to really want to be there and attempt to make the best movie possible. The motivation of working for your paycheck was there, but there seemed to be more motivation coming from everyone that I never experienced before.
One day, I was helping the head of the Picture Cars organizing where each of the vintage automobiles where to go in each shot set up. I remember sitting in his car and him during a transition setup and him telling me how much fun he was having and how he really thought that this was going to be "that film". "That film" is the reason why almost everyone gets into this crazy business in the first place. Everyone starts out in the film industry with those idealistic eyes wanting to be a part of a great film. Why else would you want to work 14-16 hours a day! But after awhile (it took me only 3 months), you realize that most of what you're doing on is junk and you begin to settle into your job without really caring about it. Then Chicago came along in Toronto and everyone working on it knew that this could be it.
Of course hindsight is hindsight and it's easy for me to say this because CHICAGO did go onto win the best picture OSCAR for 2002. But I really believe that is turned out to be such a great film was because the crew went that extra mile to make it a great film.
Years later, I spent the afternoon with the GAFFER of Chicago and he talked about how it was his most creative experience on set. "It was very stressful", he said. "Because we were doing many different techniques with light and shadow that I've never done before or since." "But it was good stress and I felt that I was accountable to make sure the DP got exactly what we wanted. And I mean EXACTLY!. That's easy to say but extremely hard to do. And if you don't care, then you won't do it. But if you care, then that's the biggest thing that matters."
It does start at the top and director Rob Marshall really did things differently than most directors. He seemed more concerned with working out the rhythms of the script and not the plot point emotional beats that most directors did. Of course Marshall was directing a film for the first time in his life. Usually that is a nightmare, at least for the first 3-5 weeks, but Marshall seemed completely confident with his ability and that dominoed all the way down to me - the guy at the bottom end of Marshall.
And the entire time (at least the 5 days I was there), executive producer Harvey Weinstein sat in his chair about 20 feet away from Marshall. I don't remember seeing him say a thing to Marshall, or anyone for that matter, the entire time, but everyone knew his presence. He was like the Godfather. He didn't have to say or do a thing, but you knew that you better do your job and do it well. From the girl passing the subs around, to the camera loader, to little old me.
It's a great film. And I enjoyed it even more the 2nd time around.