Monday, November 11, 2019

Musings on film & television production... plus gratitude and good manners!

I recently chatted with industry friends who have been in the business for years and we compared notes on film and television production and how things have changed during the course of our careers.

The business, particularly in television and streaming content has grown exponentially here in NYC. It's a great thing. As in most fields, advances in technology have had a major effect on production. A far larger community of local film crews have grown.

In my father's time doing films and television in NY (and when my friends and I were starting out), you knew pretty much everyone on your crew and that of whatever other shows were shooting in town. Now, we find there are always new folks, new names to learn. A mixed bag of terrific additions and some who are rather green who lack the skill sets that were once baseline standards. The technology helps, but is not a replacement for smarts and ability, alas!

While almost everyone who designs or wardrobe supervises has used programs to do our breakdowns of scenes, changes, etc. for years, there are programs that have become standard and all info that is input onset can be accessible to those who are invited in to a particular production.

With the likes of Sync on Set, your crew can upload a photo and information on set which you can plug into from wherever you are. Their website:
It is one great way to bring new crew members up to speed on the look of a character and of your particular show.

We all rely on cell phones, iPads, Google and other search engines to get addresses, phone numbers, check on files stored in "the cloud". It is no longer necessary to haul note books around while hunting and gathering for costumes, props, etc... With shops going out of business on a daily basis in NYC, it's good to know if the shop you are headed to still exists.

At the production end, over the years, as information could be distributed later and later, it has had the unfortunate side effect of very last minute decision making becoming a matter of course.

At the costume end, previous to all the great technological innovations, you would make a shopping list with pretty much all your sizes and casting compiled before you left the studio in the morning. Casting was done enough ahead of time so that you could really nail a look without fear of being late for a fitting- you had some time to assemble the best choices for both the character and the available budget.

Nowadays, we all find ourselves looking for a decent hot spot to check e-mails or ever changing size charts online to see if casting has happened, what the actor looks like, what size he/she is. A big chunk of time is spent checking on information where the actual work at hand stops as you look for updates. It is a mixed bad of dealing with the pros and cons of an ever changing technology and its effects.

While sorting through old family file boxes at my studio yesterday, I came across a letter my father had received from Aaron Russo, who produced a Brian De Palma film dad was the scenic artist on.

It is an item I will treasure which shows the absolute class and personal touch that existed in the film industry and particularly of Mr. Russo. Although not every producer may have hand signed a thank you note and mailed it to a crew member, this stands as a testament to the fact that the good guys and gals exist. Sadly, Aaron Russo died far too young, but I am so glad to find this lovely note in these days where basic good manners sometimes go out the window.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

2019: Life in Budapest on "Harry Haft"

From early January to the first part of May, I was on an adventure, working with my old friend- the wonderful artist and designer, Marina Draghici, on a Barry Levinson film called "Harry Haft" in Budapest, Hungary.

Sometimes the universe becomes incredibly small and there are coincidences that are extraordinary.

Marina and I were chatting on the phone in December of 2018 and she told me the basic storyline of this film she was going off to do. It is the life story of the real Harry Haft, a fellow who survived the Nazi prison/death camps by boxing other prisoners for the entertainment of the guards and higher ups. Harry was literally fighting for his life and that of his brother, also a prisoner. Not to give too much away, the story continues to portions of his life as the years go by and his fighting career continues while he tries to find a girl he adored in his younger years.

Hearing the story, I remarked that this era and the subject matter made me think of a fellow my father knew and had done a portrait of, Charley Goldman. I explained that Charley had been famous for being the boxing coach of Rocky Marciano and that a portrait dad did of Charley hung in my family's studio as a guardian angel of sorts for years. I had a postcard Charley sent dad thanking him for photos he'd sent. I even found while scanning a box full of old, undeveloped negatives of dad's a handful of shots he'd taken of Charley, as he chatted and coached at his gym.

Marina sounded nonplussed for a minute. It seems that Charley and Rocky were to be characters in the movie! Charley ended up being played by Danny DeVito. When Marina asked if I'd like to go to Budapest to work on the film, it seemed fated that I should go, since my old guardian angel was to be featured in it. Of course, there was also the thought of tasting Chicken Paprikash prepared in Hungary, where it originated!

While I cannot post pictures related to the film, I was utterly taken with the beauty of the architecture in Budapest. There was great food to be had (if you had free time!), I met lovely people on our crew which included not only Hungarians but folks from England and Scotland. Side trips to rental houses in other countries had to happen, so our gang scattered hither and yon to find costumes. This was not like going to L.A. and hitting a handful of rental houses to get what you need!

The IMDB link for Harry Haft:

Some pictures from this adventure:

Flying in: Lot Airlines Business Class was a pleasure. Great food and legroom!

My first glimpse of our future neighborhood. One lovely old building after another...

The "New York Residences". We lived around the block in their corporate apartments.
Perfect for a New Yorker!

A gorgeous hotel across the street...

A little snow in our first week there...

Our baseline crew, who were kind enough to come to say hello before the job started for them.

A trip to one of the many scenic outlooks, lots of selfies and group shots with the Danube in the background...

Another day at the office!

Erzsebet is the Hungarian version of Elizabeth, it was pretty funny that I was an Elizabeth staying in the Erzsebet neighborhood, near Erzsebet street, staying in the "New York Residences" a.k.a. the Boscolo.

Hook up for an electric car...

Driving into Budapest. One great building after another...

Minouschka making friends with the doorman from the Boscolo.

Restaurants and food.
Kehli Vendeglo: A traditional restaurant that has been around since 1899:

A restaurant with the most delicious, traditional Hungarian fare.
They will cook for vegetarians, but being repeatedly unsuccessful at maintaining that way of eating myself, I got to enjoy their Marrow Bone with toast and garlic spread on it along with a "hot pot" of soup. One of the most delicious things I've ever eaten...

There is decor up front which celebrates a novelist, photos to follow. Seems I'm not alone in my love of their Marrow Bone with toast!: 

The soup...

 Toast smeared with garlic and marrow...

A friend's dish (fish?)

On their menu, there is something fun for those of us who grew up watching "Dracula" movies: They serve Transylvanian Steak.

One of the great things in Hungary is their lemonade. Most restaurants have some version which is chock full of fruit: seasoned, sometimes there may be a base with a little seltzer in it. 

We dined in an area that formerly was an outdoor passageway between their two buildings. Great light, great cobblestone floors.

Their entryway decor... 

The New York Cafe. 
Sure, this may be a tourist trap, but the food was great, and talk about architectural detail...

 A dessert I got hooked on: Somloi Galuska. Spongecake, pastry cream, chocolate sauce, etc...
Not slimming but available at the local grocer's freezer!

 Across the street from where we lived: a restaurant/pub called "Piszkos Fred". It is filled with delightful, funny murals based on that character, written by Jeno Rejto. Rejto sadly met a tragic end, but his character lives on in this restaurant with its murals. There is also a mannequin of Fred, belly up to the bar. A favorite spot!

About Jeno Rejto:

Piszkos Fred belly up to the bar...

One evening, a friend from work and I inadvertently wore shirts to match up with Piszkos Fred. Photo op ensued...