Adventures of a Production Assistant con’t.: Working On Star Trek
We’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 had 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.
On 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.
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!
The 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 set 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 the 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!
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.
I 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!
“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.