Behind the Scenes of a Hollywood Movie

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Illustration of a movie clapboard with the text "Behind the Scenes of a Hollywood Movie."

Lauren Walker: [00:00:00] You're listening to Rhody Radio, Rhode Island Library Radio Online.

[music]

Lauren: Hi, I'm Lauren Walker, Assistant Director at the Coventry Public Library. I'm here with my husband, Nathan Walker, who works as a Production Assistant and is here to tell us what it's like to work on the set of a Hollywood movie.

Nathan Walker: Hey.

Lauren: All right. Should we just jump into some questions?

Nathan: Let's do it.

Lauren: All right. First, tell us what is your job title on-set, and what do you do?

Nathan: On this film, I am the key PA, or key production assistant. I oversee the other production assistants for the AD department. I work directly underneath the assistant directors. I basically make sure that everything, logistically, is taken care of on-set, to the best of my ability. I do a bunch of much other cool stuff that I can get into detail about, if you'd like.

Lauren: Yes, go for it. [crosstalk] I am sure people are really interested to hear what sorts of things do you do? What's a day in the life?

Nathan: Yes, so I started off as a production assistant. Most people do, and you're a low man on the totem pole at that point. You're doing anything as a regular production assistant, or as a day player, when you first start out.

Lauren: What is day player?

Nathan: A day player is something we also call an additional production assistant, or an additional PA. That's someone who comes on usually for a day, or for a short period of time. Could be a week, it could be a month, but they're not staffed on the project for the duration. They come on, and usually, you start off there, and you work your way up. You're doing anything at that point from getting coffee and breakfast orders, to lock-ups, which are a lot of fun. [00:02:00]

Lauren: What's a lock-up?

Nathan: A lock-up is making sure that no crew or pedestrians, if you're shooting outside, are walking through the shot, that they're not making noise, because the mics that we record with on set are very, very sensitive. They can pick up human voices and even footsteps, and things like that from a really long distance. We have to make sure that there's no one coming in and out of the frame.

Also, that we just don't have any pedestrians who don't know, especially, if we're on the street, they don't know we're filming, they're having loud conversations and walking through and carrying on, then we got to shut that down. That can be a lot of fun if you're in Boston or Providence on a Friday night, near a college campus, which happens very often. I've been there in the middle of January, freezing my tuchus off.

[laughter]

Nathan: Trying to do lock-ups. That's basically how you work your way up. What I do more specifically is, I make sure that all the day's paperwork is passed out. We have things called call sheets, which are the daily schedule. They give a rundown of everyone on-set, what their position is, all the scenes that we're shooting. I distribute those every day. I also make sure that daily time cards and things of a clerical nature, administrative nature are collected and distributed.

Then, I also delegate lock-ups, so I make sure that I pay attention to the shots. I work closely with the director, cinematographer, and the assistant directors to see what the frame is, to see where we need lock-ups, where we can't have people walking through the frame. It's really just about making sure everything runs really smoothly. I'm the catalyst through which all the other departments go through to get things done, without having to bother the other assistant directors, who may have other things that they're [00:04:00] preoccupied with, that are of a more pressing nature.

Lauren: It sounds like you're pretty busy. I know that you work really long hours. It sounds like each one of those hours is action-packed. [laughs]

Nathan: Yes, for sure.

Lauren: How many people work on a production?

Nathan: It really depends on the scale, the scope of what's happening that day, as far as if there's lots of stunts or pyrotechnics, and what the parameters are around the day's scenes, but, generally, there's around 200 people on-set, at least, on this film. On other projects with larger budgets, there'll be more people, but I'd say anywhere from 150 to 200 people is pretty standard for mid to high-budget film.

Lauren: How many of those people are coming from LA, and how many are coming from the local area, like here in Rhode Island?

Nathan: There's actually-- I'd say that there's 75% of people are from LA, and then 25% are from the local area. Whether that means local as in New York, or Rhode Island, or Boston, but a lot of the people are from Los Angeles. That being said, for this particular project, that's the case. For a lot of the other ones I've worked on this year, we've had a ton of local people, because we're starting to build up more of a presence in the filmmaking community.

Boston's becoming a huge hotspot because of the tax incentive. Rhode Island has had its fair share of activity as well with The Gilded Age and NOS4A2, which I also worked on. It seems like, this area, New England, in general, is taking off in a big [00:06:00] way, which is really exciting.

Lauren: What is it about Rhode Island do you think that makes it a good filming location?

Nathan: I just think that it's more affordable, in general, than filming out in Los Angeles or New York, where it's so expensive to film there. They're outsourcing to places like little old New England.

Lauren: [chuckles] How would someone from Rhode Island get involved in the film industry? If someone is listening to this thinking, "Oh, I didn't realize that I could be working on a movie set." How would they get involved?

Nathan: It's really funny. There's no one way to do it. One thing that I've learned, is that every person I've talked to has taken a different path into the film industry. You've got your classic cases of, "My dad, my uncle, my brother did it, so then I did an internship, and they got me on-set." Nepotism. That's always nice. Then, you've got people like me, who got-- It was a even split between getting lucky, and working really hard.

I just happened to make a film just because I felt I needed to do something while I was in school, and then one of the people who worked on my film, went on to work on Little Women, The Greta Gerwig film, and that got me on to Knives Out, and then on to the next film, and the next film. If you're competent and hard-working, and you can take the hours and the crazy egos, then you can work your way up pretty quickly, but you have to get your foot in the door, and that's the hardest part.

I'd say, if you want to be in this industry, it would for sure behoove you to learn as much as you can about the filmmaking process, because you can go to film school like I did, and they'll teach you [00:08:00] a lot of film theory, and maybe some useful things about, in my case, I came from a digital cinematography background, so a lot of it was geared towards lighting, and like I said, film theory, and you watch a lot of great movies.

You should know how a set runs, in a practical sense, because it is a business. There is certain vernacular, and ways of doing things that are unique to the film industry that I haven't experienced in any other type of business or a industry. I would say, you can go online these days and just read a blog, or watch YouTube videos, and learn a lot that way. You don't necessarily have to go to film school.

Then, I'd say the other equally essential component of that whole thing is, to watch movies constantly, all the time. Watch lots of movies, be well-versed in film history, know which films you like, so that, if you want to be a director or a cinematographer, or whoever, you can decide what your stylistic choices are going to be throughout your career. You want to be unique and hone your craft. Yes, I'd say, go online, talk to people, and watch movies.

Lauren: That sounds like great advice.

Nathan: Thank you.

Lauren: [laughs] Back to the locations. What is the process, and I don't know if you're involved in this process at all, but what is the process for deciding on specific locations? How do people decide on where to film?

Nathan: It comes down to a few critical factors. First off, the location manager is the person who goes out and scouts locations, location manager, or location scout. They'll go with the producers, [00:10:00] the director, the assistant directors, and they'll all go look at the locations, the cinematographer as well. They'll try and find a place that matches their budget, matches the production's timeframe, so we need it by this time, for this amount of time. Then, also, it's got to suit the scene.

You have to be able to think of where the camera is going to go, how limited you're going to be as far as equipment, if you're bringing in a Technocrane, or a dolly equipment, or Steadicam. That's all going to determine the availability of space, because if you need to maneuver around, and you're trying to film in a one-bedroom apartment, that might be difficult to do with a Technocrane.

It's going to be impossible because Technocranes are huge. Yes, those are the main things you're thinking of. Then, also, suitability as far as the story, obviously. Then, little things that you don't think of, initially, like, is the filming location near an airport? That's going to be a nightmare for sound.

Lauren: We know that, living near the airport. [chuckles]

Nathan: Yes, exactly, or are we shooting outside on a Saturday night near a college campus, or active bars? Do we have security? You know what I mean? That's a problem I've run into many times. I can't tell you how many times I've had to ask someone to be escorted off set by a security officer.

Lauren: Wow. [chuckles]

Nathan: Get a little bit rowdy, these kids, but it's all good. You have to be pretty resilient to be in the industry anyways.

Lauren: Fair enough.

Nathan: Those are all determining factors.

Lauren: How does the production keep things safe COVID-wise?

Nathan: We have different zones. [00:12:00] For instance, I'm in Zone A, or some productions have Zone A+. I've been on productions where, for Zone A+, you have to test every single day. That's a PCR test. Each company has its own criteria and parameters around testing. On this production, I test three times a week. Monday, Wednesday, Friday. That's a PCR test.

We wear masks on-set all day. When the principal actors take their masks off to do lines, and if we're within 10 feet of them, we have to put goggles on, which that's a first for me. I've never been on a production that made us wear goggles. To be honest, I actively try to avoid wearing them.

Lauren: I don't know why. That sounds like it would look really cool, and be very comfortable.

Nathan: It's not just that it looks super cool, but that they fog up constantly-

Lauren: [laughs] Oh, no.

Nathan: -which is great. It's easy to be 10 feet away from someone, and still know what's going on. I'm usually hanging out with the director and the cinematographer, and we're just talking about like, "Hey, where do you think the next shot should be made?" I'm like, "Well, I'm glad you asked." No, that doesn't happen. [chuckles]

Lauren: We can let people think it happened.

[laughter]

Lauren: Here's a random question. What is the food like on-set? Do you get food from local restaurants, or a catering company? How do you get it, and how good is it?

Nathan: I'll tell you what, Lauren. Unequivocally, it is my favorite part of working on-set. The glitz and the glamor, all that, it's overrated. The food is amazing. We have two different types of food on-set.

If you got crafty, which is just like they have it on-set. It's usually a table that's set up, or it's served out of the back of a truck, and it's just snacks, but [00:14:00] any snack you could want, so chips, chocolates, peanuts, coffee, hot chocolate, Gatorade, sodas. I had bags of Buffalo pickles, like bags of them.

Lauren: I've never even heard of that.

Nathan: They have olives.

[laughter]

Nathan: Just a lot of cool stuff. That's the snacky component of it. Then, there's catering. Catering is also there every day, and they serve breakfast. You get there first thing in the morning, you get your breakfast burrito, or your hash browns, or your French toast, waffles, anything you want really. Then, they serve lunch, which can be very late in the day, or it can be normal lunchtime. They serve the big meals. They serve the chicken breast and the steak, and just big entrees and things like that.

Lauren: Wow.

Nathan: They also have lots of vegan options. There's always food. There's always food on-set. I've had lobster, steak, sushi, you name it on-set.

Lauren: Wow.

Nathan: It's great. It's awesome. It makes up for, especially, with the PAs, some of us making minimum wage. [chuckles] It's definitely a consolation for some people on the lower end of the scale, the below-the-line folks, but, yes, it is pretty awesome.

Lauren: Yes, fair enough. Do you know if that's a local catering company that provides that, or is that-- Where does the catering food come from?

Nathan: The catering company will differ. I will say that the crafty company, craft services company that we use on this set, and I've worked with them a lot is Jane's Craft Services. Jane is the name of the key, I guess, she's technically the key craft serve, the craft person, craft lady. I don't know. I don't know the technical titles.

Lauren: Probably, not craft lady.

Nathan: Her name is Jane Willwerth, and she's awesome. She's like an on-set mom to me. She's so sweet. We get along very well. Her [00:16:00] crafty company/catering company is awesome. It's Jane's Craft Services.

Lauren: Very cool. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule, even though you're currently on break, so it's not a busy schedule.

Nathan: Don't tell them what--

Lauren: Thank you for taking time out of my busy schedule to [chuckles] sit down with me.

Nathan: Yes, absolutely. Any time. Thank you. I really appreciate it. I enjoyed talking with you, and I will talk with you more, once the podcast is over, because we live together. Lauren: [laughs]

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Lauren: Rhody Radio is proud to be a resident partner of the Rhode Island Center for the Book, and is brought to you by library staff and community members all around the Ocean State.

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