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

Production

Somebody at MAC Sure Loves Star Trek!

huge MAC display at STLV50

Costumes and makeup have been big in Star Trek since the beginning – how else to get all those alien and futuristic looks pre-CGI?  Fans chime in, having a glorious time with cosplay (costume play).  STLV50 teamed up this year with cosmetic giant, MAC Cosmetics, both at the Star Trek Beyond premiere at the San Diego Comic Con and at the 50th Anniversary celebration at Star Trek Las Vegas.  Their  exhibit re-booted the whole vendor area with an Enterprise feel.

huge MAC display at STLV50

I posed with Seven of Nine - and can swear that her form fitting suit didn't have a wrinkle in it!Look that this huge display! You’re only seeing a third of it here – the engineering section, complete with “warp core” – and with “Seven of Nine”, an actor wearing the original hideously uncomfortable costume. She posed with us fans and surprised us with scenes from Star Trek Next Generation. She’s a good actress! Stayed in character the whole time. When I posed with her, I asked if the suit was hotter than H…. Seven replied, “It is very efficient” in those unmistakable Seven tones.

Engineering was one of the make-over sections, with artists giving free make-overs to feature the new Star Trek theme line. Yeah, I know. The blue light is hideous for doing make up.  But Nicole did a great job on me. But before I tell about that, look at the rest of their “ship”!

 

Data & Deanna on the MAC bridge

Another third was like the bridge of the Enterprise, complete with Data and Deanna, actors made up with MAC cosmetics who posed with fans and periodically enacted scenes from STNG. In the main hall – The Leonard Nimoy Theater – MAC demo’d make up for their new looks, based on Uhura, Deanna Troi, and Seven of Nine. They also showed the layering that created Data’s and Gaila’s skin, how it followed the contour of the muscles with shadows and highlights. Let’s face it, Star Trek fans aren’t generally looking for personal make up tips, but wiggle cosplay tips under their noses and they’ll sit up and listen!

MAC's bridge at STLV50

The third section was the transporter.  You could pose on the transporter pad for photos.    And pick up any makeup you bought.

MAC's Transporter, where cosplay teams can strike poses as they teleport in and out.

MAC’s Transporter, where cosplay teams can strike poses as they “teleport” in and out.

Gaila dancing in the transporter room

Gaila dancing in the transporter room

Actors playing Uhuru & Spock in the transporter room

Actors playing Uhura & Spock in the transporter room

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course I had to try their transporter effect myself! Cool, eh?

MAC has a new line of makeup with a Star Trek theme

I’m not so much into cosplay myself, but I’m vain as a peacock. I wanted to see what MAC’s new Star Trek line of cosmetics would look like on me.  The make over’s were free – and the lines weren’t overwhelming so I bellied up.

 

Starting the make over...

Starting the make over…

It was fun! Being in the Star Trek worldDay 2 make-over for a few days I threw restraint to the winds, telling artist Nicole to “go for it!” I’m no spring chicken so I held my breath. The starting me is here on the left – and behold! Nicole created magic! Day 2, she went for a dramatic look. Wow, those eyes! Great fun! Thanks, Nicole!

The colors are inspired by Uhura, Deanna Troi, and Seven of Nine. By the end of the convention they had sold almost everything they brought. Sorry folks, these won’t be available to the public until fall 2016.

Speaking of make-up – but totally unrelated to STLV –  I found this interesting tidbit about the history of Spock’s hair and brows:  http://www.vogue.com/13461690/star-trek-beyond-spock-hair-eyebrows-history/

Live Long and Prosper!


“a TINY taste of Beyond”

Michael Giacchino seems to having so much fun scoring Star Trek and other blockbusters! I love how he shares tidbits with his followers.

 

Did that leave a grin on your face?

Here’s another.

Adding the final touches on our last day of recording for Star Trek Beyond…

A post shared by Michael Giacchino (@m_giacchino) on

 

It was a delight of watch him with the San Diego Symphony at an outdoor showing of Star Trek at San Diego Comic Con in 2014.   IMG_20140726_225215325

 


The Pendulum Swinging on CGI?

mechanical effects

King Kong with “Practical effects”

CGI 13kong.3.650

                 King Kong with CGI

 

 

 

 

 

A recent article in The New Yorker, “Hollywood’s Turn Against Digital Effects”, claims Hollywood is extolling “practical effects” over CGI. “You could hear boasting about “real” sets and practical effects in the hype around nearly every one of last year’s non-Marvel blockbusters.”  Fury Road led the pack with its stunts by real people swinging on real poles mounted in real cars.

There are a number of problems with CGI, aside from showing unrealistic events.  The economics are deadly – the CGI company that so brilliantly created Life of Pi went bankrupt even as the movie got an Oscar. (See my article on this.)  It’s hard on actors who have to react to empty blue screens as though something profound is happening.

Don’t get me wrong – I love the magic of CGI!  It engages my imagination in a way that’s hard for physical effects to do, although 2001:  A Space Odyssey (1968) certainly managed.  But the emphasis on CGI has gone overboard.  I’ll be glad to see some balance.

For the New Yorker article, click here.

I was also fascinated by the history of physical vs CGI effects in a two part article about how accustomed we get to the spectacular. Check it out:  CGI and the Banality of the Incredible by Bill Mesce and Ricky Frenandes.

GoT: Prop dragon vs CGI

GoT: Prop dragon vs CGI

UPDATE:  A friend just posted this link which lets you swipe to see the difference between what was shot and the image with CGI – fascinating! http://brightside.me/article/17-favorite-movies-before-and-after-visual-effects-64705/


#SpockDoc Kickstarter

Spock & Spock - Quinto & Nimoy

Spock & Spock – Quinto & Nimoy

I love Kickstarter projects! They’ve been a way that folks like me can participate in creating the magic – and here’s one I can’t pass up!
For the Love of Spock – a documentary film!  By son Adam Nimoy. With Zachary Quinto narrating!

I’m on board – how about you? Spread the word on twitter with the hashtag #SpockDoc.


Leonard Nimoy – a good man leaves us.

http://startrek.com/article/remembering-leonard-nimoy-1931-2015LV Fri pm 025


Trek Inspired Actor

Joe doubling as Walter White in "Breaking Bad"
Joseph Griffenberg doubled as Walter White in “Breaking Bad”. He can look scary!

 When I took a voice class last summer, I found that one of my classmates was a trekkie – a dedicated trekkie, with a huge collection of trekkie memorabilia! As we chatted I found that Joe has been an extra on a lot of movies & TV shows – and was a double for Bryan Cranston, the star of the acclaimed “Breaking Bad”.  Wow! I know folks who dream of getting on a set in any capacity!  How’d he get there? So I asked him.

 

Joe played Kirk

Young Joe played scenes with friends

When the original Star Trek aired, young Joseph Griffenberg stayed up late to watch.  He’d stage Star Trek scenes using a local cemetery as exotic set locations, with him playing Capt. Kirk (of course).  He’d use lines he remembered from the series, already showing a love for acting.

 

red-dawn

        Joe was an extra!

After a tour in the Navy, he returned to his family in Las Vegas, New Mexico.  American Playhouse’s “The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez” was shooting nearby and Joe got work as an extra.  That led to work on the original Red Dawn, with then unknowns Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen.  Meanwhile Joe had gotten a camera and went around filming everything – even a praying mantis eating its mate! Yuck! He found he wanted more control of a film than he’d have as an actor.  Actors play out the role of the writer/director’s story. Joe wanted to be telling his own stories, so he enrolled in the University of New Mexico, focusing his Fine Arts degree on television production.

Joe's Star Trek collection

Some of Joe’s Star Trek collection

Joe was still a trekkie, starting in the ’80’s a notable collection of action figures and Star Trek ornaments.  Star Trek Next Generation came along. Like me, Joe resisted but got hooked. He’s also followed each of the Trek shows since – Deep Space 9, Voyager, Enterprise. And included them in his collection, filling a whole room! Thankfully, his wife colludes in this “hobby”.

How To Get Picked as an Extra

I asked Joe what advice he’d give to someone who wants to get picked as an extra.

“Persistence! I put in a picture for every call.”  Joe said he follows social media, joining facebook groups that pass the word about calls coming up.  He reminded me that in New Mexico the film industry has a website where casting calls are posted: http://www.nmfilm.com/Casting_Calls.aspx. Joe points out that extras don’t need any special qualifications.  The casting director is simply looking for “a look”.  When Joe hears of a production coming up, he finds who the casting director is and checks out their website. Most will say what look they need.

Look for local announcements of casting calls, e.g. Backstage.com

Look for announcements of local casting calls, e.g. Backstage.com

Joe also recommends building your own network of contacts and your own experience by volunteering to work with school groups and with small indie efforts. “You meet more people that way – and they remember you.” Joe says that half the things he’s done have been through word of mouth.

Joe's imdb pgJoe also maintains a page on IMDb, a site where people in the movie and tv business post their resumes and contact information.  Joe includes on his page pictures showing that he can adapt to several different looks. With all his experience and training, Joe’s page is very impressive!  http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2445713/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1   “I’ve been on set 50 times. Every time I learn something new.” For example, he watches the actors and how they adapt to different directors.  “Some directors let actors do what they want, allow them to improvise. Others control everything, like Alfred Hitchcock did. Like James Cameron does.” Joe also continues to take classes, on the different aspects of film making.  “Even if you know you want to direct, it will help you to know how to act.”

Do you need to have professional headshots?  No! Joe points out that local film oriented organizations usually have a yearly general casting call. Also there will be open casting calls for each show or film, advertised on the local news or local film website. At a casting call, you stand in line, an hour or more. When you get to the front, they have you fill in a card with your name, contact number, type of vehicle (if you’re willing to have it used), your sizes. They’ll take a picture that will go into a file.  They keep it forever!  When a shoot comes up that needs extras, the casting director will scan the file for people who match the need.  Aha! I did this once – and got called a couple of years later! Unfortunately at a time when I couldn’t go.

During our chat, Joe has mentioned several terms: background, stand-ins, doubles. I ask him what each means.

The people in the background are "extras" or "background"

The people in the background are “extras” or “background”

Background is another word for extras. They are part of the background of shots – people walking by on the street, people in shops or restaurants, the crowd.  They don’t speak and don’t need any qualifications other than fitting in with the scene. Let’s say you’re shooting a scene set in Manhattan.  You need people who have the typical clean-cut look to be in the background, just as there are always people around on the street there.  If you’re shooting a scene set in Eqypt, your background people need the darker skin tone you’d see there. If the people have particular clothing, casting will look for extras who can fit the costumes they have.”

So what is a “stand-in“? “A stand-in substitutes for a leading actor for setting up lights and camera angles.  A stand-in doesn’t have to look like the actor, but needs to have the same height and build.  The director or actor may first demonstrate the action needed – ‘walk from there to here”.  Then the stand-in mimics that action over and over while the crew arranges the lights and angles.”

Cranston & Griffenberg as Walter White in "Breaking Bad"

Cranston & Griffenberg as Walter White in “Breaking Bad”

“A double has to look like the actor – same height, weight, hair style, general face type. A double is used in place of the actor for distance shots for shots from behind.”  Joe ran in a Walter White look-alike contest Bryan Cranston held in Albuquerque, adapting his appearance even to shaving his head.  He looked enough like Cranston’s Walter White that he was hired as his photo double.  Having a double is a great relief to an actor since a 20 second scene may take 4 hours to shoot! Makeup and costume tried their effects on Joe first to get them finalized before replicating them on Cranston. So Joe got to hang out with Cranston a lot more than an extra or stand-in would.

Can you be an extra and still hold down a regular job? How much notice do you get? “The amount of notice depends on the situation.  One casting agent called me for the next day. I couldn’t work it out that quickly with my day job. For ‘Night Shift’ I got several days notice.  When they contact you, they’ll tell you when to be there and how many days they’ll need you. Maybe if you turn them down a few times, they’ll stop calling – I just make sure to send in my picture again.”

Make-up may want you dirty!

Make-up may want you dirty!

What’s It like as an Extra On Set?

Let’s say someone has done what you suggested and has gotten a call to be an extra on a picture.  What’s it like on location? Joe laughed, “It’s a lot of ‘hurry up and wait’.  You might arrive at 5am and sit for 13 hours without ever being called. At least you still get paid. Bring a book and your cell phone – just don’t take them on the set!”  The tone of the location varies. Joe’s experience was that on Night Shift they were pleasant, knew his name. Others may treat extras like cattle.  I ask about makeup. Joe says that usually background people need to come “hair and make-up ready” – looking acceptably generic. If it’s a western, someone from make-up may make you look dirtier.

Joe emphasizes that observing good location etiquette is key to getting more work. “How well you get along is more important that how good an actor you are. Make sure never to burn your bridges.”  The rules of set etiquette include:

Worse than this will happen if you disrupt a set!

Worse than this will happen if you disrupt a set! (Pugh appears courtesy of the Daily Mail)

  •    Whenever you hear “Camera rolling!”, shut up. Don’t wait for the “Action call”.
  •    Never go up to the star and talk to them. Never ask for an autograph or photo. Some stars will chat with the crew,  but let them initiate it. Not you!
  •    Listen and follow directions.  For example, when you arrive you have to fill out paper work – W2 info, proof of residency. They’ll write on the form when you arrived. At the end of the day, you have to return the form or you won’t get paid.  If you get props or a costume, they will take the form until you bring them back.
  •    Never look at the camera when on set!  If the scene shows someone making eye contact with the camera, they’ll have to cut the whole scene.  Be careful you don’t introduce any unplanned elements into the set – no whispering, even when you’re to look like you’re chatting in the background; no smoking; no ringtones!
  • Don’t touch anything on set unless directed to. Don’t move anything. It’s probably a carefully placed prop.

 

So are you ready to go out and fulfill your dream of being an extra, just as Joe did?  If you are, let me know how it goes – and where to look for a glimpse of you in the background! And if you hear of any Star Trek shoots in New Mexico, let Joseph Griffenberg know. He’s ready!Joe BeABorgPhotoApp


Fascinating Behind-the-Scenes of Directing a Movie

The ChairIf you’re interested in Behind-the-Scenes movie making, tune into “The Chair” on Starz, starting Sept. 6.  Two novice directors compete with each other in creating a movie.  The directors are Shane Dawson, a prolific YouTube personality, and Anna Martemucci, writer/actress in “Breakup at a Wedding” and other vids by Periods Films.  Both were given a starting script and a budget to go forth and create.  Their process was captured – that’s what the Starz series shows – their actions and anxieties as well as the coaching they get from the more experienced producers.  Their resulting films will be judged by the audience.

Chris Moore, Shane Dawson, Anna Martemucci, Zachary Quinto

Chris Moore, Shane Dawson, Anna Martemucci, Zachary Quinto

Both had available high-class coaching.  Chris Moore (“Goodwill Hunting“, “Project Greenlight“, etc) brings his experience of a lot of hits under his belt.  In contrast, the Before The Door coaches are newer to the scene, yet have already created two Oscar nominations – “Margin Call” and “All Is Lost”!   Before The Door is the production company of  Star Trek’s Spock, Zachary Quinto, and  his business partners Neal Dodson,  Corey Moosa, and Sean Akers.  I’m as interested in their coaching as I am in the directors’ processes.

Martemucci & Dawson

The competing directors

I attended a panel for “The Chair” at the San Diego Comic Con 2014, where we compared how the directors addressed the same scene.  Zachary Quinto and an actress read the scene as originally written by Dan Schoffer. Then Chris Moore showed Dawson’s  and Martemucci’s versions of the same scene. I was amazed at how different they were!  For example, Dawson’s focused more on him – he played the character and most of the camera was on him. Martemucci’s focused more on the story, on getting across the situation and relationships. My guess is that Dawson will only be able to “do his own thing”, which is probably just fine to his many followers. Martemucci is my bet for a more versatile future as a director. She appears to have the discipline to be able to give form to someone else’s idea. We’ll see, eh?

You can see the entire SDCC panel here.  There’s an interesting review of the series here.

Tune in – and let me know your impressions!


San Diego Comic-Con 2014

Zennie

Zennie

UPDATE: At SDCC2014, I found out there really was a man inside of the 10 foot high robot!  I hadn’t though so, but at a demo of another big active model, I met Zennie Abraham, who had watched the robot setup last year. Zennie is a prolific blogger and did a great interview with the man behind the robot. It shows how the man & machine come together:  http://youtu.be/ScNIWqiOv5Q

Check out Zennie’s blog at http://www.zennie62blog.com.

JULY 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!

 

 


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.


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.


Adventures of a Production Assistant

 (or How to Get into the Film/TV Business)

blogimage112509_productionassistant1If you have a lot of stamina, tons of initiative, and a willingness to be a reliable Go-Fer for what may be 16 hour days, and if you can put aside any ego defensiveness – plus run into a bunch of good luck – you too may be able to get your toe into the entertainment world as a Production Assistant. Hard work, to be sure. But PA’s get to see a lot and learn a lot. A production can’t get along without them.

I wanted to learn more about what a PA really does and was fortunate enough to encounter a former PA, Kerry, who had worked on Star Trek. I was fascinated by her tales of being a PA, a job that while at the bottom of the food chain  in film and television production is nonetheless necessary for the smooth functioning of a set – running errands, making deliveries and generally doing whatever is asked.  Plus meeting a whole lot of actors and others. Wow!!!  My first question was “How’d you do that? How’d you get the job?” Here’s Kerry’s story.

“I fell into film and television production – it wasn’t something on my radar AT ALL while in college. While I was working and going to the university, some friends dragged me to my first Star Trek convention…. nearly 20 years ago.  I remember vividly that the speakers were Jonathan Frakes and Nana Visitor.  Nana was working on the first season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine at the time, and sometime during her talk, she mentioned that she was looking for a new nanny for her baby.  So I went home and sent her my resume and a cover letter care of Paramount and didn’t think much else of it.

Kira mirror“Three weeks later, she called me.  Now I know these things SELDOM  happen, but this is the story of my life. Synchronicity seems to happen  to me a lot. We ended up doing three telephone interviews and I drove to Los Angeles to meet her and her (then) husband Nick Miscusi.  I met Nick and we chatted for a while and then we drove to the Studio at Paramount Pictures.  We met Nana at her trailer… and she was in full “Intendant Kira” in the alternate universe make up and wardrobe!  Talk about intimidating to be interviewed by the Intendant, ha!  Actually, she and Nick had just recently relocated from New York and were enthusiastic about living in LA.  They gave me a list of “things to do and see in LA” and I settled in for a weekend of sight seeing.  And I liked what I saw.

“So, I came back to Reno and started looking for nanny jobs in Los Angeles.  I called a whole bunch of churches to put ads in their bulletins.  One I called was Bel Air Presbyterian Church  and they let me place an ad… and then told me that there was a couple already looking for a nanny.  Again, that synchronicity at work.

“I called them, they called me.  They flew me down, hired me on the spot, I gave my two weeks notice at work and moved to LA two weeks later.  The dad was a movie producer (ABC Family Movies) and his wife was a film accountant.  I had the care of their two little boys for nearly a year.  It was fun, but very lonely… so I joined Nana’s fan club, and then Sid’s (Alexander Siddig) in order to meet people in LA.
“Then the Northridge earthquake struck.  My nanny family decided to move to Florida, and invited me to go with them.  NO way!  I hated Florida… so the producer dad got me an interview with a friend of his who had a new show… at Paramount.
Paramount Studios

Paramount Studios

“Off to Paramount I went.  Again, the amazing lining up of the stars… the production office for the sitcom “Platypus Man” was in the Cooper Building… and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was in the office right next door.  Over the couple of months that we filmed the sitcom, I made sure I met every person coming up and down those stairs.  I also let Nana and Sid know I was there, and we kept in touch distantly.  I worked my BUTT off.  We had horrible hours.  Our writers were night owls, so we ended up having two shifts – a daytime shift and an overnight shift – which swapped every week.  It really sucked coming in to work at 6pm and leaving at 8am, let me tell you!  The show didn’t last long and we got cancelled by UPN, but I’d been seriously bitten by the production bug.  The biz was in my blood.  I LOVED working 12 – 16 hour days and being on the go much of the time.  I have Attention Deficit Disorder and I simply thrive in this environment.  It was wonderful in a way that working as an early childhood educator was not.  I loved the creativity and the magic.  I was hooked. I was in my young 20’s, healthy, strong and hungry. When the sitcom was cancelled, a Production Assistant job opened up over at DS9 at the same time.

I’d always liked Star Trek… I remember watching the original Star Trek (TOS) as a kid in reruns and occasionally running around with phasers. I have to admit a fondness for a certain captain’s British accent!  I liked the emphasis on a positive future and people working together to make the world/Federation a better place.  I loved the inclusiveness and the diversity of the characters and the morality they portrayed. I was very excited to be a part of this positive vision of the future.

Fans I had made friends with Heidi Smothers, the Production Coordinator, and I immediately took over my resume and staunchly stated I could start immediately.  After a couple of interviews, Heidi told me “it wasn’t looking good” – because the producers had discovered that I was a member of Sid and Nana’s fan clubs.  Production generally has a very love/hate relationship with fans.  They see only the freaks and nutcases, so it definitely colors their views of fandom.  Luckily for me, Sid  and Nana laughed and told the producers to hire me immediately!

“I started on DS9 on an episode called “Through the Looking Glass” (another Intendant episode, conveniently enough!) in Season 3 and ended on an episode called “Broken Link”, at the end of Season 4.  I have always thought that was apropos.  I did indeed go through the looking glass and leaving was definitely a broken link experience.  I had a great time working on DS9, which was a challenging hour-long drama series to work on because of the complexity of the show and the hours.”

Continue with Part 2: http://www.startrekmagic.com/2013/07/25/adventures-of-…g-on-star-trek


Star Trek Into Darkness – behind the scenes

Just in case you haven’t seen it yet, here’s a fascinating look at the movie process:  http://youtu.be/EQutDk1yecI


Star Trek into Darkness: cast & JJ

This is an awesome discussion between many of the cast members of Star Trek – and JJ – brought to you by MTV. Great fun!!!   The part on the cadence of Spock alone is worth listening! http://www.mtv.com/videos/misc/906797/mtv-first-star-trek-into-darkness.jhtml


What Do Directors Do?

Tim Russ

Tim Russ, Director of Star Trek: Renegades

Tim Russ,  who played Tuvoc in Voyager and Deep Space 9, is also a director.  He is now working on the pilot of a Star Trek web series, Star Trek: Renegades. He chatted about this with The G & T show and mentioned some fascinating considerations and constraints about directing Star Trek:  http://www.gandtshow.com/?p=1944

He mentions that it is the director of the pilot who sets the “look” of the series – that each series has it’s own look that instantly conveys which one you’re seeing.  Aha! I have noticed that, but didn’t think about it. In flipping channels, I’d never even briefly mistake a Hawaii Five-O episode for an Star Trek episode.  Tim Russ mentions some factors in creating this look. For example,  in directing “Living Witness” for Voyager, he had to be careful about camera angles – there were angles that the executive producer hated and would not let into the show!

Tuvoc

Tuvoc

Star Trek: Renegades takes place 11 years after Voyager, which lead to some interesting discussions about how things might have changed in those 11 years. Russ said they wanted to look more modern without losing the audience’s understanding of what was happening. You can’t make a weapon look so different that the audience doesn’t realize it essentially is a phaser.

I also wasn’t aware that Paramount, as owner of Star Trek, insists on approving everything using the name or concept.  That includes books, graphic novels, toys and other products, the fan-produced movie Star Trek: Of Gods and Men, and the proposed Renegades web series.  I found that Lucas does the same with Star Wars.   Renegades could have been developed as a separate Sci Fi story line, but as Russ points out, anything Star Trek has such a large built-in fan base.

Wow! It seems directors do a lot more than tell actors where to stand!

 


CGI or Make-up?

Remember the OB nurse in the beginning of Star Trek 2009? The one with the big eyes?

Are her eyes make-up or CGI?

Are her eyes make-up or CGI?

I wondered how they did that. A friend found an interview with the actress in which she talks about it.  Check it out!  http://totalscifionline.com/interviews/3512-sonita-henry-doctor-in-space


Spock’s Ears

Lr in ears 072

Getting my own ears at STLV 2009

I’m a sucker for Spock. And for Spock’s ears. Even got a pair of my own at a Star Trek con.

I was delighted to find out more about them from the SFX person who made them for the Star Trek movie, Sam Neill. On his site,Sam talks about first getting asked to do the ears. “You want to make Spock’s ears?”  http://sneillfx.com/page4

Sam still makes ears from his original mold! You can even buy your own from him! (I may have to do this.) He shows how they are made and how to apply them. http://sneillfx.com/page10


Acting in Different Media

I don’t often hear actors talking publicly about the technicality of their art. But Chris Pine gave some interesting insights in a recent interview. He was particularly talking about the challenges of doing voice work for animated films, in this case his role in Rise of the Guardians. He also mentions how theater work is different from film.

Pine talks acting

New Kirk talks acting

Take a look: http://www.sofeminine.co.uk/understanding-men/chris-pine-interview-rise-of-the-guardians-star-talks-loneliness-and-being-lucky-n212531.html


Film vs stage: Cameras etc

Not only is the shooting schedule out of the sequence of the character arc. You know those deep intense looks from Zach Quinto’s Spock? For example, when he attacks Kirk?

What we as the audience do not see is what is all around Quinto as he does this scene.  Yet as a well trained actor, he seems to ignore it all and lets us only see the furious Spock.

shooting a scene
Try ignoring this!

Zachary Quinto’s Persective on Star Trek 2

Zachary Quinto, the new Spock in Star Trek 2009, is definitely an skilled and well trained artist as an actor.  When he talks about his work, he gives interesting insights. Here he talks about how a film is a collaboration of which an actor is only a part.

 


Spock In Dog Eat Dog

I had an experience that gave me a  fascinating view of Zachary Quinto, the new Spock, in action, – and a behind-the-scenes look at the process of making film magic.  Zachary and Sian Heder, a talented writer/director and Zach’s Carnegie-Mellon classmate, created a short comedy, Dog Eat Dog, about Zachary’s first attempt to adopt a dog from a shelter.

Kickstarter Promotion

An alternative to studio funding

They funded it via Kickstarter,  an increasingly effective way for independent films to get funding – “cloud funding”.  Their presentation of their project was particularly effective and they ended up raising far more than the minimum asked for. (Check out their Kickstarter site here.)  I signed on as one of the three “fan” Executive Producers and went to Hollywood December 2011 to watch the shoot.  You can read my report on that experience here.

Dog Eat Dog premiered at the 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival – a wonderful, hilarious, beautifully put together movie. I went  and was able to interview Sian before the premiere – about her experience with Zachary, Kickstarter and the dogs. Click here to see my interview with Sian.

Then  into the theater and Dog Eat Dog on the screen!  It was amazing to see the scenes I had watched being shot as they appeared through the camera’s eye and how effectively the different shots had been combined into a seamless whole.   For example, in December, one scene I watched was an interaction between Zachary Quinto and Sharon Wilkins, who played the shelter attendant. They shot the several pieces over and over, from different angles – what he said, what she said, what they look at.  After getting the main shots Sian and Cinematographer Paula Huidobro set up the camera on a short track to pan past some bobble-headed dogs on the counter.  Cute, but what were they trying to do?  I found out when Dog Eat Dog opened  – to a view panning from one adorable bobble puppy to another – with background music perfectly mirroring the rhythm of the heads!  Sharon commands “Don’t do that!”. And Zachary pulls back with a pout and a manipulative glance. Right away the whole premise of the film has been brilliantly set up!

Premiere

                                       A gem of a short comedy

Sian already has a reputation for excellent films. Her short “Mother” got awards and she’s working on a full length production. I look forward to seeing it. Zachary lives up to his reputation as one of our most versatile and talented actors.  His compulsive self-centered and touchingly dog-obsessed character seemed as natural as his pointy-eared brilliant and slightly alien Spock. I have seen Zachary in a number of roles now – Sasan in So Notorious, Sylar in Heroes, Spock in Star Trek 2009,  Louis in Angels in America, Chad in American Horror Story – and I’ve seen him chatting with the audience at the Las Vegas Star Trek convention.  For each I think “Ah, that’s what he’s like.”  Then I realize he personally can’t be all of those! I hear that’s one sign of a truly great actor. Working with Sian brought out his own comedic flare more brilliantly than I’ve seen before.

These people really make magic!  To watch the process is magical in itself. I wish you could see Dog Eat Dog, but the distribution has not been decided last I heard. When I hear, I’ll let you know.

Update!!!  It was bought by Petsami and is available on YouTube: https://youtu.be/rWEiQxvg6Jo