Recently, I volunteered to be a Production Assistant on a feature film shooting here in the Flour/Flower City. I arrived 7 minutes before my call time of 6:45am at Young Lion Studios, stage 1. There was only one other car in the parking lot and I realized it was the caterer. I helped her load a hot box into her car and it was this transaction that gave me the courage to open the studio door and venture inside. Now, I have been on a number of sets, from short films to major motion pictures - though I will admit that the majority of the sets I have been on were my own productions. Being a PA, or "Pee-on" as the position is sometimes referred to was a new experience for me. Over the last 15 years I have always been above the line, or at least balancing on it. That being said I went into the experience with no expectations whatsoever, I was simply excited to be on a film set, at Young Lion Studios and taking a short break from Disingenuous post production and my life at the Digital Diaper.
James Moore, the Unit Production Manager (UPM) was my contact. He was my Assistant Director on Disingenuous and has become a trusted friend in this crazy world of film making. Some people claim, "It all about who you know." Well, that is true, but if you know the right people but don't know what you are doing they will forget you very quickly. Thankfully, I went into this with a head-ful of somewhat useful knowledge and a desire to be around free coffee and Chewy Granola Bars. I was impressed with everything immediately. The Art Department had great stuff around everywhere. The 'studio' itself is a labyrinth of offices and industrial chasms once the thriving soul of the now downsized Eastman Kodak dynasty. What I was expecting and what I witnessed were two different things. I know they have sound stages and the works, but this film was being shot in old development labs and the desolate former cubicle-fields of corporate USA. It was great because it was called for in the script! The sets were decked out with wonderful vintage medical equipment, beakers, test-tubes and other original creations.
Joe Brecker, the Key Production Assistant, was my boss on the set. A good guy who knows what needs to be done. He was also very respectful of my experience and knew I was 'slumming' it for the day. Others were not privy to my experience, but were respectful nonetheless. The G&E (grip and electric) guys were plentiful. These are the guys who plug in lights, move lights, fix things, move things and wear clever T-Shirts. Most of them seem to like to wear a beard and the fun part about this crew was the interesting styles in which they shaved said beards. One gentleman I overheard what going to fashion a lightning bolt in his. That is just a good time had by all. So at least I know these are fun people to be around. Most of them were from NYC and introduced themselves to me when they noticed me skulking around.
Jennifer Snowdon, The Key Makeup/Hair brought with her the experience and talent one would expect from an industry veteran. She introduced herself to me and was very sweet. Her team was on the ball, always quick with a comb or standing by with a brush. I've always had a certain opinion of hair and makeup ladies on professional sets. This goes back to my days working in Corporate America and dealing with Advertising Agencies. I would wager that most of the Starbuck's in the USA is consumed by Ad-folks. Those ladies were usually beautiful and almost always stuck-up unless you were above the line or extraordinarily attractive. At the time I was neither and so developed a negative attitude toward that coven. This experience started out exactly as I expected, however I decided that one bad apple didn't necessarily make all of the apple-boxes on set tainted. (An apple box is something used to prop up a camera or something - looks exactly what it sounds like) While trying to be the best PA I could be, I was ready with cold water. I stood by waiting to see someone looking thirsty. One of the makeup mistresses mentioned, "I am thirsty". I was quick to retaliate with my icy wand of quench. Not to be mistaken with other wands of quench, I am referring to a bottle of water. She looked at me as though I were a puddle of something you would make a nasty face at but not make direct eye-contact with. Her response, breathy and contemptuous: "NO, I'll go get a water that isn't freezing cold!" Well! Excuse me for being awesome.
Max Finneran, the Writer/Director was exactly how I thought he would be. He was a director and directed his actors. I didn't speak with him, knowing my place on the pecking order, but it was cool to see a seasoned director do his thing.
So, this day on set was pretty much in one location. Simple lighting: existing fluorescents and a few Kino Flos - on wheels. There were other connected rooms with more lights and gels and cool things. They had a green screen, but I didn't stick around to see it used. I left at about 4:00. I walked about 5 miles that day and did a lot of standing and watching. I know that on other days there was more for my PA brethren to do, but this day was slow for the likes of me. Considering I had a family waiting at home and aching knees, I enjoyed another piece of free chicken cordon-bleu and departed.
I am probably being unfair to the makeup girl, maybe she had TMJ issues and could not deal with cold water. It was very hot in there, and I have gained a little weight since I became a home-daddy. I cannot really complain, I probably looked like that old guy in college - you know the one. You've seen him.
Thanks to the cast and crew of The Shells for making me feel useful and being part of what looks to be a great film.