Raising awareness about being a valuable newcomer to the biz
An article in Filmmaker Magazine recently reminded me of the importance of understanding your role on set as a newbie in the biz. You can read it here,(The Seven Arts of Working in Film: A Necessary Guide to On-Set Protocol) and I advise any newcomer to the filmmaking world to read it. And I mean REALLY read it. Take notes, practice these tips and try to abide by these rules the next time you crew on a film set. In this day and age where every young person is totally engrossed in their smart phones, these rules become even tougher to follow. But it's absolutely necessary to ween yourself from your phone when working on set and know when it's appropriate to pull it out to use it. You will find that by simply putting your phone away for the day, that most of the tips that are listed in the Filmmaker Magazine article are much easier to do! All of a sudden, you'll find yourself listening, paying attention to what's happening, and multi-tasking on projects that will have your superiors taking notice and getting you hired on that next job.
So, this brings me to a story that I've told before and that many get a kick out of. It's a story about my first PA job on a little film titled Rustin when I was 19 years old that was shooting in my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. Every summer since my freshman year at Vanderbilt, I did something film related to try to get a handle on whether it was the profession I wanted to go into. At 18, I was a Universal Studios Tram Tour Guide. (No, I don't remember my script, so don't ask me to recite it!) The following year, I had plans to return to Los Angeles, but couldn't find a decent internship that would justify the travel. So, I stayed in Alabama. And out of the blue, a movie came through my home town, DP'd by none other than Oscar award winner, Wally Pfister. This was before he had made it big, but he still had an unbelievable presence on set and he truly inspired me to seek out being a cinematographer myself. But back to the importance
of the article. As a newbie, I didn't know much in terms of set protocol. (ABOVE: Meatloaf and I)
Granted, there were no cell phones to distract me from learning. And I had a fantastic, but brutal 1st AD that demanded the absolute best from his PAs. That meant, no sitting, headset always on (even at lunch), and a constant awareness of what is being asked for and the willingness to jump in wherever needed. Once we were into the first couple of weeks of production, I had a pretty solid handle of my duties. I was standing by the back door, holding my lock up, when on my channel my 1st AD called for a "half apple" to be flown into set for Wally. Trying to answer my own question as to what a "half apple" was without flooding the walkie channel with unnecessary talking, I figured it had something to do with craft service, which I was standing the closest to out of all the PAs. I made a beeline to crafty, ready to find a knife and slice an apple in half, to run in to Wally. But as I approached crafty, I heard on the walkie channel, "Flying in." I was so confused. How had someone made it to crafty before me? Or maybe, a half apple wasn't what I thought it was? In the corner of my eye, I saw one of our grips running in with a wooden box. So, when I had the appropriate moment, I asked one of the grips that wasn't busy, "What is a half apple?" And he kindly explained the family of apple boxes to me. Although this story could have ended with the utter embarrassment of me running onto a full set holding an apple cut in half, I do believe that even if this had happened, Wally and the higher ups would have appreciated my hustle to get the task done. I just have to say, thank goodness a grip overheard the call on channel one and saved me the embarrassment! Phew! (Of course now, I'd say this could one of those times to pull out one's smart phone and google "Half Apple.")