Catherine Bisley at Killer Films NYC Blog #4

FEATURE: 2 JULY 2012


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Kill Your Darlings is done, and so begins the twilight of my internship. I am fulltime at Killer’s Union Square office; it may be a shift back to normal hours, but nothing’s winding down. This is the strategy bunker, but battles are also fought within these windowless walls. Bullets are dodged, alliances are forged, and days still need to be made. It seems filmmaking is never straightforward, not even for tame, more commercial projects. Lucky Killer’s got sass; as their production history shows, they win in ways Charlie Sheen would struggle to articulate.

In May, Screen Daily reported that Killer was in the middle of their biggest production cycle ever. The office is humming. On a normal weekday, there are two to three interns, David, Christine, Pam, and the previously-unmentioned-in-blog-yet-supremely-excellent Julia Oh (Christine and Pam’s assistant). Before my departure from New Zealand, important people encouraged me to be a sponge. On top of my regime of listening-in Chux Wonder Cloth style (complete transparency in a small space during a production boom is eye-opening), my main duties are writing coverage on the scripts and treatments David sends my way, and watching and reporting on the work of talent Killer are tracking. Visual artists, fashion gurus, and musicians are in the field of focus. A diverse array of projects are in development.

It’s good to see how the company tracks talent, what festivals rank high on the Killer radar, their view on which production houses are on the rise, and their take on what’s waning. When Pam, Christine, and David are all in the office things can get intense. Phone calls come in flurries, there’s a hectic schedule of meetings with talent, of conferences with co-producers, financiers, and agents. It’s fascinating to observe the mediation between important interest groups. At times the process can be delicate, at others blunt. Under Julia’s watch, we interns are also responsible for the small tasks that are part of a smooth operation. We pick up coffees and juices, answer phones, and purchase thank-you champagne.  I can now boast depositing experience at Chase, Bank of America, and Citibank.

You can’t go out on an office run without striking some new experience, be it the sweaty crush of May Day protestors, an impressive building, an arguing couple (dirty laundry constantly gets aired on the sidewalks of NYC), or a dog so small and spindly it seems to defy the laws of physics. Tough dudes with such dogs never cease to amuse me. Then there are the random conversations struck up in queues. These are much like conversations in queues in New Zealand but with different accents and cultural references. Phone action, another feature of intern life, provides a contrast; the calls to agents in LA are brief and to the point. I can now include jargon such as “running point” and “tech avail” in my everyday talk. Then there are the technical glitches that plague all of us. On a scale of computer geek to Luddite, I sit somewhere in the middle; troubleshooting port forwarding problems is a stretch for me. Pity Justin Lee, enthusiast intern, who deals with the Blackberry! Sometimes all this action means that there is barely time to grab a nourishing cheese stick –my favourite American snack—from the goodies refrigerator upstairs.

(Killer is in temptingly close proximity to Num Pang, which specialises in Cambodian sandwiches. I order prawn and coconut like wow. East 12th St and University Place, if you are ever in NYC and short of lunch ideas.)

During my time in the office, Dealin’ with Idiots, a Jeff Garlin improvised film about little league baseball parents, shoots in LA. I proof letters of agreement with actors such as J. B. Smoove and Richard Kind. Julia, who has been playing a key production role, heads west as the Killer vanguard. Christine and David soon join her. With Pam spending a lot of time at the Innocence production office, the day-to-day office tasks diminish, and I get lot of reading done (and reorganize David’s ever expanding screener collection). Tommy, a former intern, stands in as office manager, but there are still shades of Home Alone.

Meanwhile, the first grainy photo that comes back from set in LA is of a sex swing. Jeff Garlin + sex swing = boggling of the mind. Dealin’ had a very different process to KYD. It’s good to hear stories and get a different perspective on production. (The dailies we later see in the office are great.) An actor’s agent comes in to watch a cut of his client’s latest film with Killer, Ramin Bahrani’s At Any Price. Exclusive Media has acquired the international rights to the film and there is a buzz at the market in Cannes.

We watch the sales trailer for AAP. Zach Efron stars. I avoided High School Musical like the plague (with the one notably traumatic exception involving the soundtrack while on a roller skating jaunt in Upper Hutt) but boy does Efron have a pair of eyes on him! Speaking of striking looks, Kelly Reilly comes in for an Innocence meeting. She’s statuesque. I take her lunch order. Deep Powder continues to be edited in the adjacent room. Mo, the director, is testing some ideas for the opening credits. My photograph librarian alter-ego is brought into play. I trawl online archives for possible material. I become visually acquainted with American prep-schools and New England ski resorts.

Things were wintery early on in my stay, but now New York is far from snow. The city is rich with film references, and, with the abrupt shift to heat, Do the Right Thing comes to mind. I ride the lift with Randy Poster one stinker of a day. He asks if it is my first summer in New York and looks sympathetic when I say yes. I probably should congratulate him on the work he did as music supervisor on Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, which I saw the night before, but I refrain from being an excitable fan. Instead, I praise the office’s air conditioning.

I also have time for normal everyday activities. I eat excellent challa French toast at my local, Café Mila, and dine on burgers at City Diner, the 24-hour joint two blocks away from my apartment. This also proves good place to write over a hot chocolate (free mock cream refills!) if the urge takes me at 1am. I also break the bad on-set lifestyle and start exercising again. Running around the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir works off the diner fare and it’s a route that offers iconic city views. El Dorado apartments, home of Ron Howard! Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim! I hit the galleries and museums. MOMA rates highest and I return four times. I’m particularly struck with how good the video art is. Mark Boulos’s installation All that Is Solid Melts into Air (2008) places the viewer between the Niger Delta and Wall Street. The video, a new take on commodities and colonization in a mad bad world, immerses you literally. It packs poetic and political punch. At the Guggenheim there are a number of excellent works in Being Singular Plural, an exhibition of contemporary East Asian art; Desire Machine Collective’s Nishan I a four-channel work created in an abandoned Kashmiri apartment is both beautiful and frightening. The apartment is eerie, secluded from an outside world that is visible in dense detail through tiny windows. This work plays with the viewer’s perception of space, sound, and light, while threading through distinctive elements of unease and a history of violence. The audio and visual chutzpah of Jewel, a dance based work by Hassan Khan at New Museum is energising. Hearsay of the Soul, an installation by Werner Herzog (who else!) shows at the Whitney. The rumor of ‘overrated’ is sadly true.

I am inundated at the Met, and get a solid dose of French Impressionism.  A Mets game at CitiField involves pre-game tailgating, a free baseball cap, all sorts of salty, fried, mustard slathered food, and lots of Bud Lite.  Coney Island is last on my list. Dejected, seedy, enchanting. Here I ride the Cyclone roller coaster (it’s compact and wooden, and Woody Allen references it in Annie Hall) and the Wonder Wheel, a rusty ferris with no film reference as far as I know. The swinging baskets are terrifying, running as they do on little rusty wheels. Zoltar, the fortuneteller from Big, is also there, but I got the moral of that story and don’t approach him. Instead I find a hole in a wall that dishes up banana soft serve and funnel cake.

At Coney Island I also see the sea for the first time in months. The sea is the sea despite the trash-covered beach. The surging Atlantic reminds me of Cook Strait at Lyall Bay. I’m looking forward to returning home.

Catherine Bisley

This internship is made possible with the support of the Film Investment Corporation Foundation and the New Zealand Film Commission.