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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
“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.”
“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.”
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:
- 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!
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:
“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’.
“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.
“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’.
“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?
“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?
“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.
“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?
“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.
“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.
“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!
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.
(or How to Get into the Film/TV Business)
If 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.
“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.
“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.
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.”
Just in case you haven’t seen it yet, here’s a fascinating look at the movie process: http://youtu.be/EQutDk1yecI
As a Trek fan, I get caught up in the story and in the characters. I loved the mythos of TOS and TNG, the world that Kirk and Spock, that Capt. Pickard and Riker lived in. Spock and Data were practically real people to me. To tell the truth, I cared more about the characters than about the actors who gave them life.
Going to ST conventions, I was surprised to realize that the actors weren’t talking about their characters or how they approached the role as much as they were talking about jokes they played on each other. They didn’t seem as fascinated with the Star Trek mythos. Brent Spiner, when asked a question about Data, admitted “I don’t know. I don’t remember.” After working on a set, I realized why. [to continue click here]
–thanks to Katie Douthit, Make-up artist and teacher in New Mexico, for the following tips-
As a fledgling make up person, I get my experience from working freebies on small efforts. Even there you can see the magic coming together. The tone is often informal, with friends and neighbors roaming around and watching. When I took make-up classes with Katie Douthit, she emphasized that in order to be part of the magic of professional filming, you needed to know how to behave on set, to know what could kill your chances. Below are some of the tips from Katie.
The movie world is a very competitive world with lots of people lined up to get their foot in the door. Developing people in their jobs is not part of the culture. The least little thing can get you fired, without knowing what you did wrong. To get your foot in the door, when they say jump, you say “how high”. Never argue. Never get in a huff that something they want isn’t your job or they didn’t give you enough notice.
According to the union contract, you must be given 8 hours notice before a job, but the reality is that if you stick to that you won’t get the job. If anything happens to the person scheduled for work, there is a list of other people anxious to take their place. Whoever answers “yes!” first, gets the job. That’s why it’s important to have a cell phone at all times, preferably one with email- the way most prefer to be contacted. It’s also very important when you get a call, to acknowledge it ASAP. Never assume the caller will know you got the message.
(TO CONTINUE, click here)