glimpses behind the scenes at what creates the magic we experience of film & tv

DEDICATED TO THOSE WHO HAVE CREATED THE MAGIC THROUGH THE YEARS

"Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Her ongoing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life-forms and new civilizations; to boldly go where no one has gone before."

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San Diego Comic-Con 2014

I’m off to Comic-Con! I have tickets for only 2 days but just seeing what is going on outside the convention center is worth the trip. Here’s clip of something I wandered into last year – a “rehearsal” of a 10 foot high robot!!  Robot

During the demo, they unhooked the robot from its support, making sure it could balance itself.  Then they tested how well it walked. What fascinated me about the robot was how sophisticated its balance was. It didn’t stand like a statue; it stood like a human, with all the little motions and adjustments we do automatically.

You can see a little of that here: Robot

Once they’d tested the basic movements, they rehearsed a brief scene – an interaction with a person.  The robot’s motion and voice were controlled remotely. If you’re a total robot geek like me, you can see all 16 minutes here:  http://youtu.be/LAl5tj0lP84

I have to admit I kept thinking of all the movies in which a robot being tested started attacking the crowd. In this case, me!

 

 

On Filmmaking by Filmmakers

Listening to filmmakers talking about their work gives fascinating insider tidbits. Here are two such talks.

The Business of Filmmaking: Navigating Today’s Entertainment Industry

copa_makingthechair_685On Feb 3 2014, Chris Moore (“Good Will Hunting,” “American Pie” series and “Adjustment Bureau”)  and Corey Moosa (“All is Lost,” “Breakup at a Wedding”,“Margin Call” and “The Banshee Chapter”) discussed the very practical side of making films.

Chris Moore is well established with a number of successes under his belt. In contrast Corey’s company, Before the Door, is a relative “new kid on the block” – and as such can relate to the issues in getting started.

Corey is one of the founders of Before The Door with Zachary Quinto (the young Spock) and Neal Dodson. He heads up their graphic novel side – Lucid and Mr. Murder is Dead so far, both of which got accolades. Corey also was the onsite producer for the horror movie “The Banshee Chapter”. Before the Door has been listed as one of Hollywood’s “new mavericks”, picking projects that push the boundaries of the art in some way. They also choose to work with new directors – such as JC Chandor who got an Oscar nod for his first effort, the brilliant “Margin Call”. Before the Door also likes working with their Carnegie-Mellon classmates and fellow Pittsburgh folk, so their collaboration with Park Point University on “The Chair” is a natural!  For this talk Corey filled in for Zachary Quinto who was scheduled to talk but couldn’t be there (this time! – see below).

For Park Point’s article on the talk – as well as a link to the talk itself, click here.  For just the talk itself, click here .

The Creative Side of Filmmaking: Building a Lasting Career

Corey, Zachary & Neal at the Indie Spirit Awards 2012

Corey, Zachary & Neal at the Indie Spirit Awards 2012

The talk on Feb 17, 2014 was the second part of the series.  Zachary Quinto showed up unexpectedly with another Before The Door founder, Neal Dodson.  Neal is producer for “All is Lost“,  an amazing movie with only Robert Redford – and no dialogue! – and “A Most Violent Year“, both written and directed by JC Chandor. While this talk is titled “Creative Side”, I found they had quite a few business tips as well. Zachary is delightfully articulate about his art and viewpoint. I enjoy hearing him talk from his right-brain & collaborative view about aspects I know from a more left-brain, task view.

For Park Point University’s article on the talk, click here.  For just the talk, click here.

Crowd Funding Is Growing!

Nerd HQ badge

If you’re looking at this blog, you probably have heard of the San Diego Comic Con. And maybe about Nerd HQ – a happening parallel to SDCC that has panels & demos & parties galore! Nerd is a fun alternative for those without an SDCC ticket for a day or for those seeking refuge from the convention hall lines.  Many stars show up at Nerd panels, which are reasonably sized events, the ~$20 ticket proceeds going to a charity.

Nerd HQ however costs money. Money which founder Zach Levy has been fronting. But he needs help. He put together an Indiegogo campaign asking for support – and got enough that there will be a Nerd HQ at SDCC2014!  Here’s the link to find out more: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/i-want-my-nerd-hq-2014/x/641260

I was impressed with Nerd at SDCC 2013 – lots of gaming computers, neat robots & virtual reality demos – and a darn good party!  I’m also fascinated to see how crowd funding is growing in popularity and in the amount of $ it can raise.  Look at the Kickstarter-funded movie “Laura Mars” which quickly reached its goal and went on to raise over $5 million!

Personally I prefer to back Kickstarter projects -   if the organizers can’t get it together enough to reach their goal, I get my money back.  Producers and directors I’ve talked to prefer Indiegogo – they don’t have to reach the goal in order to get whatever dollars are contributed.

Secrets of Crowdfunding

Useful guide to getting projects funded – the new way!

If you or anyone you know is considering a crowd-funding effort, I strongly recommend reading The Secrets of Crowdfunding by Sean Akers.  It is packed full of useful information about what to consider when seeking funding – and some very good project management tips. Sound weighty?  Delightfully it is an easy book to read – an hour, maybe? – a plus in the entertainment world where many confess to low attention spans!  You can find this on Amazon: http://amzn.com/B00AF3LBDC

Animation Tidbits from Oscar Nominee

Jonathan LeadersWandering around Reddit uncovered some interesting snippets from Jonathan Leaders, who has worked on many animated 3D films and who’s recent film “The Croods” just got nominated for an Oscar [at the time of this Reddit event]:

“I must say, it’s not actually the oscar nomination that interests me. It’s the environment that surrounds it. The people. It’s absolutely inspiring to be part of a group that is banding together to make something big that will echo throughout almost every country in the world. But this group of people doesn’t really focus on the distribution (the fame of it- for that is all fame is, distribution). They focus on the perfection of their individual craft. And how they use their time and efforts to help others outside of work. And what sorts of large projects can also be contributed to.

“I’ve never met a group of people with so wide a reach, that you can see the culture and shape of the world changing as they move. And I don’t mean just that I have seen girls tattoo Megamind on their bodies (which I have). I mean this: The tech groups volunteer with NASA after work to mentor kids in robotics at local high schools. Or we have a toastmasters on campus where we face our fears of public speaking so we can reach out to more people. Or when we have great mentors from competing company’s, such as Pixar’s Pete Doctor who come and share their story and freely give advice. To us! their competitor! It’s that kind of open attitude and collaboration in the larger things that makes me inspired and my world gets just that much bigger. I wrote an article on more of the details of inspiring innovation for a magazine (I don’t have the link since I’m on my phone but see jonathanleaders.com for a link to the article of you’re interested in innovation-creating from the campus.)

Oscar Nominee

Oscar Nominee

- from the business side animated films are hard because their cost is so high. $30 million isn’t a bad budget for a non SFX based film. But 3D animated films now are in the $160,000,000 range. That means we have to nail it. Also there’s a lot of mid-to-high level math involved in programming the 3D world. It’s emulating real world physics and how light bounces and that is based on the real math behind their respective sciences. Plus the tech changes every film! Contrast that to traditional media, where it still changes but slower.

Q What do you think of online script writing competitions? Are they legit?

-The best competitions in general are the ones showcasing the whole process. In other words, your local film festival. Find or build a team and work your way through the circuit to sundance! There’s a few steps between here and there, but just take one step. Then the next.

- Script writing in general is difficult because remember that scripts are, in effect, business plans. They should get a return on a $20m to $120m investment. (That’s not including marketing/distribution) I did not write the script but I have friends who have done script writing. What I suggest is that new script writers go to live events where they can perform short monologues and get recorded and noticed that way. Also to try to publish books and get a following because that has a lower barrier to entry. I have not heard of online competitions getting noticed out here but, again this is not my exact specialty :)”

http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/1vfvyr/my_film_just_got_nominated_for_an_oscar_ama/

You can follow Jonathan Leaders on twitter: @JonathanLeaders.

Harsh Realities of VFX Business

Spock into volcanoWe all know that our favorite Vulcan wasn’t really lowered into a volcano in Star Trek Into Darkness. We know it was a visual special effect – VFX.  If you’ve seen a movie in the last 20 years, you know that VFX have played an increasing role in movies.  What you may not know is that the business model in VFX and in studios has driven an appalling number of VFX companies out of business.

 

VFX Life of PiOne of the most bizarre examples is the brilliant company Rhythm & Hues,  creator of VFX since 1987, including such beloved movies as Babe and Life of Pi.  As Life of Pi was winning an Oscar, Rhythm & Hues was entering bankruptcy.  How could this happen??

This video, Life After Pi, talks about what happened: http://youtu.be/9lcB9u-9mVE

If you’ve ever run a business, you know that being held to a fixed price while the scope grows will give you nightmares. Early in my training career, I made my mark as a project manager by refusing to expand scope without more pay.  Too often people feel they can’t do that, especially if their client is the “only game in town” or can blackball them.

timeline

Typical Movie Timeline

Adding to the problem is that in spite of the long time it takes to develop VFX, directors hesitate to define what they need until the last minute. If some new effect captures the public’s attention, they want to be able to include it in their movie.

As the video mentioned, no longer do directors do the detailed planning up front that used to be required. I’ve found that many people in the business recoil in horror if I suggest project planning – “Oh my god, it would stifle our creativity!!” Hmm, research scientists in weapons and pharmaceutical organizations have said the same thing when their unlimited expenditures were curtailed.  Instead they got more creative AND learned to plan their work.  But right now we have enormous amounts being spent on studio tentpoles – and their suppliers being forced out of business. Hmm.

ContractWhile we’re on the subject of strange business practices, I asked a Hollywood contact about accountability – wouldn’t the studio be held accountable if they used deceptive business practices on a movie? No!! Each movie is done as its own corporation – which is disbanded at the end of the movie project.  Sure you could sue, but by the time anything happens in the judicial system, the work is done and that company no longer exists. Good luck on getting any judgment that has teeth, no matter how flagrant the violation!

Seems change is overdue and inevitable.

 

Casting Directors: The Keepers of the Gate

Hemsworth George_Kirk

Hemsworth as Kirk

hyde_kim 2007
Hemsworth in 2007

Suppose you were considering casting Thor and the Avengers – and Chris Hemsworth walked in the door!  Would you have seen his Star Power?

Casting Director Randi Hiller says “Chris is 6ft 5in and ridiculously handsome. You look at him and think ‘Thor’,” but Randi says that at first he just didn’t have “The Strut”.  Clearly Chris was clearly someone to keep an eye on. So how did he end up as Thor?

Thor has "The Strut"!

Thor has “The Strut”!

He got cast as Kirk’s father in the 2009 Star Trek reboot – and that changed things. Randi said that after that “his skin fit”.  Now he was ready for Thor!

Star Trek 2009 had me hooked from the beginning with George Kirk. He WAS our Capt. Kirk’s father without doubt.  Later in Thor, Chris was perfect. It never occurred to me that long before, someone had to see that potential in the actor to cast him – until I had an opportunity to learn more about casting.

I'd cast him in a heartbeat!

I’d cast him in a heartbeat!

2013 was my first San Diego Comic Con. I loved the costumes and characters and huge halls with panels of movie and TV celebrities. I was just as delighted to find that one of the events was a panel of casting directors. Aha!  The guys and gals who see the hopeful actors and pick the ones that might be matches for the leading roles. How do they spot the magical potential in the actors?

I found that it’s more involved than I thought. It isn’t just matching Looks X to Role Y. As one panel member said, “Our job is to have ‘actor fluency’.”

2013-07-19 14.23.52

The Panel

The moderator of the panel was Lora Kennedy (Warner Brothers, EVP, Features Casting. CD, Man of Steel). Panelists were Roger Mussenden (X-Men: Days of Future Past), Sharon Bialy (The Walking Dead), David Rapaport (Arrow) and Randi Hiller (of Walt Disney Studios, VP Casting. CD, The Avengers). Our current superheroes started here!

So what are Casting Directors looking for?

Quinto got his name in TV as Sylar

Quinto got his name in TV as Sylar

- For a lead in a multi-million picture, they need a known actor, someone with experience. “The Studio wants someone famous – at least someone who won’t FU their project!”  TV is a good place to get known because an actor doesn’t need a name to become a TV star.  I thought of Zachary Quinto, cast as Spock for Star Trek 2009. He was the first role cast, even though he had no movie experience. But he did have TV experience, getting star status as Sylar in Heroes. Zachary has also said that he spent his early years in Hollywood getting to know the Casting Directors.  What about smaller roles? The panel said that for those the actor can have less experience.

- Actors with representatives get looked at first. Un-repped actors get looked at, but not first. It is very rare to pull someone off the street, as was claimed to happen in the early days of Hollywood. If the actor picked drops out, will they go to the #2 choice. Almost never, alas. They are more likely to start over.

- Casting means going through tons of headshots. I knew that every actor had them. The few I’ve seen looked very glamorous. But the panel said not to send a glamor shot, but something that captures the actor’s personality. Sharen said that first they look for the given age & type range. Then for the training.  If someone doesn’t fit the current project but has potential – an “It” factor – they’ll note him or her in their “black books” for later roles.

- Tapes act as a pre-audition. Tip: check the tape! Casting gets many tapes with no sound or other glitches. Not good!  Casting Directors have to go through a lot of material, so they favor something where they can click a button and look at a short clip quickly. Randi said, “Long montages don’t get you anywhere. Put your best foot forward. I don’t want to see a scene from your acting class.”

- Whether headshots or tapes, they are looking for someone unique. The panel said that actors shouldn’t try to be who they think the casting director wants.

tetherball-the-movie-casting-call-006jpg-e733492cffe447a9

Lots compete to be cast!

- They look for someone who acts professional and looks proud of what they do. Casting Directors prefer actors who show up and are on time. An actor in the audience said, “These days if you want a job in Hollywood, you need a British passport!” Randi replied that it wasn’t a matter of nationality, but of work ethic.  She gave an example of a project with 5 Brits, 5 Australians  and 10 Americans.  The Brits and Aussies showed up on time and were fully prepared. Half of the Americans often didn’t show up – car trouble, sick – lots of excuses. Those that did weren’t prepared. Wow! The American work ethic has deteriorated even in this highly competitive field!Buscemi

- A killer audition is what got many current stars remembered. Several on the panel said it’s important to play the character that is presented. If auditioning for someone with super powers, to play the person – not the power.  Sharon said, “Your job is to make the story move forward. It is not about you!”

OK, even if an actor meets all the criteria, is that it? Who makes the real casting decision?  Sure, the casting director presents his or her choice but who makes the casting decision? The director? The studio producer? The show runner (the person responsible for the day to day operation of a TV series)?  Turns out that it varies.

Sharon said that for her series the show runner has the final say, but usually all are on the same page. Being cable, they don’t have a committee decision. David said that with Arrow on The CW it is similar. But for the networks and movies, it’s like forty-five (!) people have to sign-off on a co-star. They end up going back to the drawing board a lot. One panel member told of a meeting with twenty-five people, each of whom wanted to say something about each decision – agonizing!!

Sometimes there are union issues or things outside the actor’s control that means he or she can’t be cast for a role. For example, if the shooting is in another country, they may not be able to get the actor accepted in the role or get them there in time.

What a fascinating job!  Not all is just looking at gorgeous actors. It sounds like Casting Directors need a lot of patience.

Are you an actor?  There’s more you may find helpful on the full panel discussion here.

Do you have any experience with casting actors? Or being cast yourself? What was it like for you? I’d love to hear your comment.

Editing Awards Predict Best Picture!

Earlier I interviewed noted editor, Terry Kelley, about what editors do. (click to read). Recently Variety posted an article reinforcing how important editing is: “Why Editing Nominations Predict the Best Picture Oscar”.  Interesting! (click to read)

CosPlay & Demons at SDCC!!

The convention center - main site for the San Diego Comic Con

The convention center – main site for the San Diego Comic Con

The Mecca for Sci Fi geeks – Trekkies & others – is the San Diego Comic Con.  Over 130,000 people gather annually to celebrate graphic novels,  TV shows, movies, cosplay, video games, Dungeon & Dragons – and heavens know what else!  My very first San Diego Comic Con was overwhelmingly a blast! The people! The costumes! The panels! The exhibits!

Actress Laura Stephens getting ready as Lolita Capt. America

Actress Laura Stephens getting ready as Lolita Capt. America

If you don’t know about SDCC, a big part of the fun is that people dress up – “cosplay” – costumed role playing – and others take pictures of them and with them. One of my roomies, actress Laura Stephens, got nationwide coverage for her Lolita Capt. America costume.  Costumes and SDCC go together!

I had to ask what "steampunk" meant.

I had to ask what “steampunk” meant.

 

A very hunky Wolverine

A very hunky Wolverine

Demon on the loose in the Exhibit Hall! Photo from Heavy.com

Demon on the loose in the Exhibit Hall! Photo from Heavy.com

In the exhibit hall I got to get a close-up view of an awesome and huge demon, complete with wings and horns.  Whew!  He was at the booth for the Cinema Makeup School. For a closer look, click this: http://youtu.be/4FTtCq2IQrw

I talked to Katie from the school about who they were and why they were here.  Katie said the school is based in Los Angeles and teaches everything from beauty makeup through airbrushing, photo hairstyling, character makeup, prosthetic and more. Classes run from one week to 4 ½ months. Their website is www.cinemamakeup.com.   Oh man, I wish I could go hang out in LA long enough to take their full course! So far my own makeup specialty is bullet holes and blood, small potatoes to this crew.

Makeup students were at the booth applying bruises and small injuries for people who stopped by. Apparently each day they demonstrated a major effect, like this demon and on another day, an arachnid femme fatale.

This demon is the creation of Wayne Anderson, a graduate of the school who was featured on SyFy’s Face Off. To get the actor into the makeup this time took only about 2 to 2 ½ hours, but it took a couple of months to put the whole effect together. The horns were made of resin. Each piece was molded.  I must admit I was a little scared to talk to this otherworldly fellow directly, but I bet it was hot in there. He literally had a wing man, who made sure passersby didn’t impale themselves on the wings tips. I wonder how much the whole thing weighed!

Lots & lots of people in the SDCC exhibit hall!

Lots & lots of people in the SDCC exhibit hall!

 

Adventures of A Production Assistant con’t.: Beyond Trek to – Ellen!!

This is the third and last part of my interview with Kerry who worked as a Production Assistant in Hollywood. In Parts 1 & 2, I asked Kerry about how she got her job and what it was like working on Star Trek, both TV and movie.   You can read Parts 1 & 2 here: http://www.startrekmagic.com/2013/07/06/adventures-of-a-production-assistant

I asked Kerry about working on productions other than Star Trek. You’d think that would be a hard act to follow, but she ended up on a project that helped change our world! Here’s what happened in Kerry’s own words:

Ellen Comes Out

Ellen Comes Out

“After the Star Treks, I did a one day gig over at Disney as a Production Assistant.  I got the job through a friend of a friend, which is how you usually find work. It was working with Ellen DeGeneres on her sitcom, Ellen.  I arrived at a time when the atmosphere was very hush-hush and full of fear, because the very next episode was ‘The Puppy Episode’, in which Ellen’s character came out as a lesbian.  In 1997 that was a very scary and brave thing to do.

“They liked my work so I got a call a few months later offering me a job.  They offered me an Office PA job, but I told them I wanted the Set PA job – I KNEW what the next season was going to be like!  I myself had just come out about six months before that, and I wanted in on it all.

“What a season! It was a media circus.  The Disney Studio was freaking out.  The industry magazines made dire proclamations: ‘Ellen DeGeneres Will Never Work In This Town Again!’  ‘Anne Heche Has Thrown Her Career Away!’  ‘Look Out For The Queers Invading Hollywood!’  We had to evacuate the stage twice for bomb threats.  Anne was mysteriously presented with a live scorpion instead of fakes while making Six Days And Seven Nights with Harrison Ford in Hawaii.  Ellen and Anne had to replace the picture window on the front of their house a half dozen times because some homophobes threw bricks with hate mail through their window.  It was crazy, the atmosphere of hate and fear that swirled around us all.  But supporting Ellen just felt right and honest.  As Ellen’s girlfriend at the time, Anne Heche, said,  ‘It’s not what’s between your legs that matters when you fall in love, but what’s between your ears’.

Ian McKellan called!!

Ian McKellan called!!

“My job as a Set PA on Ellen wasn’t complicated.  I delivered scripts and pages to the cast and crew on set. I escorted guest cast around. I did some of Ellen’s personal errands.  My most important job was to babysit the stage phone. One day I answered the phone while everyone was at lunch.  It was a lovely sounding British gent who asked to speak with Ellen.  I’m a sucker for Brits, so I humored him – people and fans occasionally found out the Set phone number and called because they were ‘close personal friends of Ellen’.  Well, around the stage you have to prove it to the doorkeeper, me!  So, I put him on hold after asking who was calling and went to find Ellen.  I knew she was on the patio smoking, so I walked out and asked her, ‘Hey, El, do you know some guy named Ian McKellen?’  Ellen leapt out of her chair and said, ‘Oh my god!  Do you KNOW who that is???’   Bewildered at her alarming behavior, I answered no.  Rolling her eyes, she proclaimed I was the worst lesbian EVER, and dragged me by the front of my shirt back with her to the stage phone.  ‘Hello, sir.’ ‘Yes, sir’, ‘Thank you, sir,’ followed.  Who the heck was ELLEN ‘yes, sir-ing?’  Hanging up the phone and looking a bit boggled, she again shook her head at my ignorance and demanded I go find out who he is.  I did.  My son is named Ian in his honor.

“Ellen DeGeneres is one of the smartest actresses I’ve had the pleasure of working with.  People always ask me if she is really as nice and personable as she seems to be. She is.

emma-thompson

Emma Thompson

“Another dream come true to work with was Emma Thompson, who guest-starred in the episode conveniently titled ‘Emma’.  Again, it’s the accent… or maybe that Emma is wickedly intelligent, emphatically professional, remarkably down-to-earth and prodigiously talented.  She is also unusually supportive of her friends, and jumped at the chance to be able to support Ellen in that difficult year by being on her show.  Also supporting Ellen were Sarah McLaughlin and the Indigo Girls in the episode ‘Womyn Fest’ and talented actress Lisa Darr, who bravely played the character Ellen’s girlfriend.  Not to mention Laura Dern, who co-starred in ‘The Puppy Episode’.

www.mckellen.com-A surprise party with Ian McKellen, Ellen Degenes, Anne Hecht, Emma Thompson & others

www.mckellen.com-A surprise party with Ian McKellen, Ellen Degenes, Anne Hecht, Emma Thompson & others

“By the end of the season, many more Hollywood names were on that same wavelength of support after seeing how the media and our own Studio treated her.  Our final episode featured a plethora of Hollywood talent who came out in support of Ellen – Linda Ellerbee, Bea Arthur, Orson Bean, Glenn Close, Tim Conway (OMG, this was funny http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7nn0bgJuYk ), Cindy Crawford, Helen Hunt, Christine Lahti, Julianna Margulies, Jada Pinkett Smith, Ted Danson, Mary Steenbergen, Diahann Carroll, Phil Donahue, Kathy Najimy and Woody Harrelson.  It was an amazing two weeks shooting that mockumentary final episode.

“It was an interesting experience for so many reasons.  One, it was the first time I worked at another Studio.  They moved the Ellen show from its original stage to a stage far away in the corner… we joked that if we blew up, we wouldn’t interrupt the filming of Home Improvement with Tim Allen, Disney’s darling at the time.  Second, it gave me the opportunity to work with a whole new group of people.  Ellen was amazing – we’d get the scripts out on Friday night and she’d have them memorized by the time she came in on Monday morning for the Table Read.  The rest of the cast struggled to keep up with her.  Filming our show Friday nights was fast… it usually took only a few hours to shoot because Ellen and our two Directors, Gil Junger and Gail Mancuso, ran a tight ship and everyone knew exactly what they were supposed to be doing.  It was also my first audience live show.  I also got screen credit on every-other episode… yeah, me!  I am actually in two episodes – once as an audience member at the music festival and then in the final episode – I’m – wait for it – the Set P.A. on the telephone!  Do not ask me why I chose to wear OVERALLS that day. Look here  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4t_mF0qv5vYand weep for me – I’m at :58 – 1:12 – is that 15 seconds of fame?  Close!  I do actually get a real call while I’m on camera – I’m  talking to Anne Heche, and had to explain to her why I couldn’t go get Ellen for her at that very moment.  I told her ‘I don’t know how the hell you do this all day long.  This ‘in front of the camera’ thing is nerve-wracking!’ She thought that was the funniest thing she’d heard.

ellens2-cov“Even funnier was the episode that had Ellen in a chicken costume.  The crew on stage was in tears laughing so hard, we could hardly see.  I just couldn’t look at her for more than two seconds. When she walked, the duck costume butt swished from side to side and she couldn’t walk straight.  Every time I did look at her, she’d turn around really fast and glare at me and I’d collapse laughing.  That episode took longer to shoot than most.

Did the Lucy episode on "Ellen" inspire JC Penny's ad?

Did the Lucy episode on Ellen inspire JC Penney’s ad?

“The final scene we shot was a scene where the characters Ellen, Paige, Spence are grinding coffee by foot in an I Love Lucy spoof.  Check out this from 2:54 until 3:58 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4t_mF0qv5vY – after we wrapped, Ellen walked around giving each of us hugs… big pregnant belly and all.  We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry actually, so I’m sure we all did both.  It was an amazing experience.

“The pay at Disney was dismal.  Since I was the Set P.A., I only got paid when we shot – which was two weeks out of every three.  So, some months I only worked 2 weeks on Ellen. So like many in the entertainment business I had to find other work. When I wasn’t working at Disney, I worked full time weeks at a book store and back at Paramount in the Estimating Department, doing file work for the Accountants on Frasier and Jenny McCarthy to pay the bills.  In ten months, I had three entire days off.  It was tough, it was worth it and it – barely – paid the bills.  Such is the life of a Production Assistant!

“From Disney, I had a couple quiet years working as a P.A. back at Paramount Pictures, which I consider home.  I worked in Network Television and on a sitcom called ‘DiResta’ as a Producer’s Assistant to Line Producer Mark Ovitz.  From there, I got my break into the administrative end of film making, and began working as an Executive Assistant to a Production Executive in the Feature Production Department at Paramount.

“I worked in the Paramount’s Feature Production Administration Department for nearly five years.  At Paramount, there were around 25 movies made each year – large and small budget films.  There were four Production Executives and a Vice President, and all those movies were divided between them.  My boss was the newest Exec, so we got the ‘not so important’ movies!  Oh, well.  It was educational and I loved working for my boss; he is a great guy.  Now, he’s also the President of Feature Production at Paramount and was the Exec on the new Trek movies, the Indiana Jones movies and Transformers.  Some days it kills me that I left.

Film process“On each movie there is an Executive Producer who oversees production.  My boss at the Studio is that guy’s boss. A movie gets its start – at the Studio level – with a script and the Exec cracks out a rough budget – what the movie is estimated to cost to make – and it goes to The Powers That Be who decide if they want to make it or not.  If they decide to green light it, the search is on for people to attach to the project – cast, Director, Producer, Director of Photography, Costume Designer, Editor etc.  Then you have to find a location – so you send out location scouts, who send back pictures – and decision is made as to where the movie will be shot.  Then you send out a partial crew on a Location Scout adventure with a Location Manager. They pave the way to get permission for the production company to shoot at that location.  They make deals and contracts and generally get it all ready for the production to come in and shoot.  My job in the Pre-Production phase of a movie was to make all those travel and hotel arrangements and type up the deals as my Exec and the agents representing the important crew members negotiated their wages and perks.  Once the location is secured and everyone is happy, then a true budget is hammered out and the hiring begins. Once the Production Coordinator is hired and she’s completed her paperwork with me, she (and it’s usually a ‘she’) takes over the start-paperwork and on-boarding process.  Then the cast, casting directors, crew, caterers, and everyone else is hired and a preliminary shooting schedule is published – this will be what shoots where and when, basically, followed by a cast list and a first draft script.  When the start date is determined, that is the start of production.

Template_Call_Sheet_small“There’s so much involved in physical production I can’t even describe it, except that it HAS to run like a well-oiled machine or it’s torture.  Hopefully the crew and cast and execs all know what they are doing.  Call sheets tell everyone what is happening and Production Reports reflect what actually happened.  Schedules are to be maintained and budgets are to be met and not exceeded – in a perfect world.  When I was at Paramount, none of the movies we were in charge of actually shot in LA. They all shot elsewhere. It made for a nice office job – only 9 -10 hours a day or so instead of 12 to 16 hours a day on a film crew. I worked on Hardball, Rat Race, Against the Ropes, Down to Earth, the Perfect Score, the Fighting Temptations, Manchurian Candidate and Paycheck. But I was also becoming increasingly frustrated with what I was doing.  I needed to feel like I was making a difference. While working on Star Trek and Ellen, I did feel I was contributing to making the world a better place in a small way by doing my part to the best of my ability.  Things I did, mattered. But the films I was working on now were not making the world a better place. So I left film and television production.

“I never meant to get into film and television production, it just happened and I fell in love with the process. It was a wonderful experience that I was blessed to fall into. But when it was done, I wanted to have a baby – so I did. Eventually I left L.A. and Hollywood – hard to live there as a single mother with a special needs child! My life now is a far cry from my days as a single Paramount Pictures employee making good money and living the dream.  But as my son’s mother and an advocate for families with special needs children, I still seek to make a difference in that special Star Trek kind of way, and make the world a better place.”

Wow! Thanks, Kerry. You certainly worked on some iconic productions. Rich – and exhausting – experiences.  

Kerry’s interest in Things Trek continues. This interview has inspired her to launch her own blog at http://startrekintorelevance.blogspot.com/. Her plan is to showcase thoughtful and enlightening articles, interviews and other media by actors associated with all the various Star Treks and give fans a place to discuss profound, philosophical topics infrequently covered elsewhere online. Check it out!

How about you, fellow enthusiast?  Have you yearned to work behind the scenes or in front of the camera? Or have you done so? I’d love to hear from you!

Adventures of a Production Assistant con’t.: Working On Star Trek

16 hr day darkWe’re continuing our interview with Kerry who worked as a Production Assistant in Hollywood, including working on Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and the First Contact movie – and some other productions as well.  You can read Part 1 here: http://www.startrekmagic.com/2013/07/06/adventures-of-a-production-assistant

We asked Kerry what it was like to work on a Star Trek set. Here’s what she said:

“My time on Star Trek:Deep Space 9 was wonderful.  The cast and crew were some of the most enjoyable people I have had the pleasure of working with, and this show was one of the best working experiences I had while in
“Hollywood”.  We had very long hours and I loved that… film and television production is one of the few jobs I’ve held that is challenging enough for me.  DS9 Production Assistants were allowed by our Unit Production Manager Bobby della Santina to work up to 16-hours per day, but the Voyager PA’s were limited by their UPM Brad Yacobian to 12 hours, which meant I also ended up very familiar with all the Voyager cast and crew and sets.  That was a nice perk… especially since the Voyager craft service table (free food!) was MUCH better than the DS9 one!  As someone with A.D.D., I enjoyed the physical work of the long days, but I especially liked that the energy of my life was going towards something that mattered to people.  When I work, I want my
contribution to make a difference in the world.

There were two PA’s at a time on each Trek (two on DS9 and two on Voyager) and our responsibilities were varied.  As the “bottom of the food chain”, we did all the “go-fer” work.  The two Treks were large productions and our various departments were all over the Paramount Studio lot, so we did a lot of running and bike riding.  The production office and the sets were on opposite ends of the Studio, so it was nice… I could eat ANYTHING I wanted and not gain a pound!  Some days I wore a pedometer and was running/biking 15 miles per day easily.  It was fun!

We divided the Studio lot into a North Half and a South Half and we switched with our partners every episode, so we covered the entire lot.  Each half had about 15 – 20 stations where we 04_23_10_TSAP_Lot_Maphad to deliver scripts, dailies, deliveries, mail, production reports, call sheets, and whatnot.  We stayed late many nights to wait for scripts to deliver from Graphic Services (the on-lot copy shop basically) and then sent them to cast member houses by delivery drivers.  We ordered, picked up and delivered lunches and dinners to crew and production people, and we stocked the office with drinks and snacks.  We also gave tours of our sets to special guests – and it took a lot to get onto our sets!  I have given set tours to dying children, Secret Service and CIA agents, and astronauts.  That was one of the more fun aspects of the job, especially since we did DS9 AND Voyager tours.  We also did cast errands occasionally and did basically whatever the production needed.

One more task was babysitting the office phones.  It was usually mundane, but occasionally a “fun” call came in.  I remember one call from a farmer somewhere in a fly-over state who “just wanted to borrow a big mother transporter for a few days to move some machinery from one corner of his large farm to another”.  He’d return it promptly he promised!  Another memorable call was from a guy who insisted quite adamantly upon speaking with Captain Kirk.  We referred him to the Production Offices of “Rescue 911”, who probably didn’t really appreciate the call!

The DS9 cast and the Voyager casts were very different.  Generally speaking, the DS9 actors were more introverted,  retreating to their trailers after shooting, and the Voyager cast were more outgoing.  After dark, when the rest of the Studio who worked more “traditional hours” went home, our little corner of the Studio woke up – we knew there weren’t tour groups going through or fans wandering around.  A lot of time working in production is “hurry up and wait” so I spent a lot of time hours of down time (waiting for scripts or errands) – and I’d play football in the street with the Voyager cast or listen to the DS9 people talk about their projects, books and philosophy.

DS9 castOn DS9, I got along well with Sid and Nana, as you can imagine, since I met them first and they helped get me the job.  Terry Farrell was a fun person to work with; I wish I could have spent more time with her.  One memorable afternoon, we spent sitting on her trailer steps giving away a few dozen roses that her boyfriend had given her because she was mad at him.

The trio of Armin Shimmerman, Rene Auberjonois and Andy Robinson were a blast to work with.  They are so amazingly talented!  And just genuinely NICE.  I loved to watch their transformations from just actors into ALIENS!  Their whole personae changed in the makeup chair.

Mr. Brooks was incredibly intimidating.  I think we PA’s were all a little bit scared of him.  And he was always “Mr. Brooks” – not a first name.  I could have listened to him talk for HOURS… what an amazing voice.  And he sings.  Very occasionally.

Colm Meaney was rarely casual when he was there.  He was usually in his trailer when not filming.  I think he’s just shy and intense.  He was doing work in addition to DS9 at the time, so he was very much in “work mode” when he was filming his episodes or his scenes.

My favorite Director was LeVar Burton.  LeVar taught me how to smoke cigars.  One day he was directing DS9 and we were up on Stage 18 (which held the Defiant and the caves and any sets built specifically for that episode).  He was standing outside the stage smoking and as I went into the stage, I caught a whiff of the smoke and told him I loved that smell.  He told me to come back out after I was done inside and he’d give me one.  So, I did.  He taught me how to clip off the end, light it so it makes a small hot cone on the end and to not inhale.  I sat out there smoking with him very companionably until my boss came riding up on his bike and did a double-take to see his PA out smoking cigars with the Director!  He said incredulously, “What are you doing???”  and I handed the cigar I was smoking back to LeVar, who was collapsed with laughter, and ran away as quickly as I could.  I often wonder how much that cigar cost!  I also loved our 1st Assistant Directors:  Paul Lawrence (who taught me about call sheets and call times/scheduling), and B.C. Cameron, but my favorite was Jerry Fleck over at Voyager.

Michael Westmore at work

Michael Westmore at work

It was really amazing to get to work with the talented Westmore clan of makeup artists. Mike Westmore is a genius!  I loved taking stuff to his office because you never knew what alien you might run into that day! I remember having more than one makeup head of some fantastic alien in my bike basket to take to Rick Berman’s office for approval… oh, the looks we got from folks on the lot!

DS9 and Trek in general has attracted such a talented group of people in every department… it was such a learning experience to work with people like Mike & Denise Okuda, Rick Sternbach, Doug Drexler, Joe Longo, Herman Zimmerman, Jonathan West, Kris Krosskove, Marvin Rush, Bob Blackman, J.P. Farrell, and Judi Brown.  These folks are so talented and taught me so much about television and film production; I owe them a huge debt.  They are true professionals and are wickedly good at what they do.  I can’t imagine a better place to basically apprentice than on DS9 – and I knew absolutely nothing about it when I started.  When I left, I had a very good basic education on how episodic drama television works.  Brilliant!

ds9-promenadeThe sets themselves were another character – it is impossible to talk about DS9 and all Treks without mentioning them.  I firmly believe that the Promenade is one of the most beautiful sets ever built.  Rumor has it that they were bulldozed at the end of the series, and that breaks my heart.  It was an intricate and complicated setGDS9UpperPromenade with pull-apart walls and three stories!  Quarks Bar was simply stunning.  It was easy to imagine that it truly was a station orbiting a distant planet.  You know how Jake and Nog always sat on the second floor dangling their legs and watching all that went on?  Well, the PA’s did that also often enough!

The other set I really liked was Ops.  It’s kind of claustrophobic, but you can believe it’s a real center of Operations.  Maybe it sounds weird, but what I liked about Ops was how it sounded… the sounds of boots/shoes on the steps and the buttons etc.  I also admit I have a blurry picture of myself in Sisko’s captain’s chair on the Defiant (another awesome set) somewhere in my photo boxes!

My favorite moment on the sets was the moment when I was taking a short cut from Wardrobe to the other stages and cut through Stage 4, which held Ops and the Habitat Ring and Corridors.  I came in the south entrance and cut through…. And for a moment, just a moment, I was in the Habitat Ring corridor and all I could see was the station… and I was THERE.  It was suddenly NOT a set, but the actual station.  And then reality intruded and I had to continue to haul butt to deliver my scripts or pages and continued on, but for a split second I was actually on the Station.  Remembering that moment STILL gives me goose bumps.

After the wrap of Season 4 of DS9, I found myself out of work – and extremely tired!  Two years of 12–16 hour days catches up with you when you are running 15 miles each day on average.  After sleeping for a couple of weeks, I was finally ready to start looking for work.  The Next Generation movie “First Contact” was already filming, but they needed a PA who knew tstartrek_unionhe Paramount lot… and that was me!  Jerry Fleck, 1st AD from Voyager, hired me on as a PA for a 3-day shoot in Union Station in downtown LA, shooting a holodeck scene where Captain Picard shoots up a bunch of Borg.  I’d never worked outside the studio lot before, so that was something new!  It was much more challenging, especially since we had a whole bunch of Extras to wrangle.

Apparently I did a good enough job that when the show moved to the sound-stages, they invited me back to PA for the Borg portion of the show. It was to my advantage that I am an incurable morning person.  A large portion of the time I worked on 1st Contact, I was the early person on set – my call time often was 2:42am.  I did a lot of AD-type work, probably more than I was really supposed to, but my AD and the Trainee just could not wake up fully before 6am, so from 3 – 6am I ran the show!  That was early even for me – especially since I lived in Pasadena, a 45-minute commute.  Work a 16-hour day with a 45-minute morning commute and a torturous 1 ½ hour commute in afternoon rush hour traffic and it’s hard.  Still, it was one of my most enjoyable experiences.

Working with the Borg was interesting and gave me different things to do than I had done as a Production Assistant on DS9 and Voyager.  My jobs on this film were to get breakfast for about 35 people – makeup artists, hair stylists, AD’s, Borg, Stuntmen; get lunch for about a dozen (Jonathan, and a dozen or so production crew who viewed dailies at lunch), run scripts and pages around and do general errands.  I also had a large petty cash float – $500.  One day after paying for breakfast and some other things, I was 10 minutes late getting to the film accountant’s office to get the float renewed – and she refused to do it.  I panicked because I had to buy lunch very soon.   I went to the stage to find my 2nd AD David Ticotin, and ask for help.  David didn’t know what to do, so we discussed options.  While we were doing so, Jonathan Frakes, our Director, overheard us taking about it.  He gallantly offered to use his credit card to pay for lunch until I could reimburse him and get my petty cash turned around.  While we three were making these arrangements, the UPM Marty Hornstein overheard us.  He was NOT amused.  I wanted to die right there and then and sink through the floor when he yelled for SILENCE on the set while he called the production accountant assistant who had refused to renew my float.  He must have yelled for 10 minutes at the top of his lungs at this poor woman.  Then, he demanded my petty cash fund be doubled so it never happened again.  I was the first PA at Paramount Pictures to be given a $1,000/day petty cash float.  I was mortified, but it did make things easier!

Michael Dorn & Patrick Steward in "civies"

Michael Dorn & Patrick Stewart in “civies”

Speaking of meals, a meal could have cost me my job my first day at the Studio.  Ooops!  I was required to get the cast breakfast, and had it all taken care of…until I saw Patrick Stewart walk onto set.  I did not have his breakfast!  He had a later call time than the rest and I had clean forgotten, and I had not tracked him down earlier to take his breakfast order.  I sucked it up and walked over to him to introduce myself.  “Hello, Mr. Stewart, my name is Kerry and I am your new Set PA.  I also forgot your breakfast, can I go get you anything?!”  And this charming man said, “Don’t worry about it, darling, I know where the Craft Service table is and will get myself a coffee and croissant.  We’ll try again tomorrow, shall we?”  I could have kissed his feet!  He was such a gentleman – he could have made a big stink about it and gotten me fired then and there, but he didn’t.  Thank you, Patrick!

Another pleasure was working with Jonathan Frakes as a Director.  What a fun set we had!  Even on the longest, most miserable days, it was tolerable because of his levity and compassion for everyone working with him.  He never criticized and always had something positive to say.  His sense of joie de vivre – the joy of living – carries over into the finished film.

Borg QueenI worked part of the time with the Borg, part of the time with Alice Krige the Borg Queen, and the remainder of the time with the other cast members.  I was responsible for basically arriving at the Studio at 2:42am and getting 6 – 12 Borg actors and/or Stuntmen through Hair, Makeup, Wardrobe and Electronics for a 9:00am shooting call.  I also had the pleasure of helping Alice Krige when she was on set.  Poor Alice… I remember her trying to drink one day without getting water all over her makeup and went on a frantic search for a straw. When I found some and brought them back for her, her eyes literally got teary in gratitude!  What a gracious soul.  Besides Borg, I also worked primarily with “the guys” – Patrick, Jonathan, Brent, LeVar and Michael.  I only worked a few days on the Bridge with Gates and Marina, so I really didn’t get to know them at all.  The rest of the work was all the Borg work in the hallways and Engineering, and that was “the guys” nearly entirely.  A group of Marines trained the background extras and our cast how to use the new Starfleet rifles properly, and how to go around doorways with weapons in a realistic manner etc.  We also did a lot of work on that horrible deflector dish… I’m sure it tortured Patrick, Michael and Neal McDonough to be in those suits.   I also remember working with Jamie Cromwell, who played Zefram Cochrane, in the small set of the Phoenix.  He is incredibly tall – I come up about to his bellybutton.  He is a towering presence!

Frakes & B queen laughing“The guys” were really fun to work with.  Watching them work together was seeing a well-oiled machine plow through the day and still laugh at the end of it.  Each is so savvy in his craft, that it was easy to make this movie.  AD Jerry Fleck and the other AD’s also made it a good experience.  How lucky I was!

To be continued. In Part 3, we’ll hear about Kelly’s experience working on Ellen DeGeneres‘ tv show and others.