It’s hard to know where to start with this adventure… maybe I should just start at the beginning. The beginning of how a newbie ended up working on a film set. So what follows is a little peek at what an everyday girl experienced from introduction to wrap on the set of All Sorts, an Independent Feature Film.
So… the beginning… back in June of 2014 I did a Feature for At a Glance with Rick Castañeda discussing his Indie Feature Film, Cement Suitcase. Rick is a local boy to my hometown area and although he now calls Los Angeles home, he chose to film his project here locally in our valley where he grew up. After agreeing to do the Q&A with me, he was kind and generous with his time to answer my questions and the Feature turned out quite nicely (you can catch up on the previous Feature here.)
Then in early February of 2018, I ran across some adverts for a casting call for another film that Rick would be doing here in Yakima, WA. Initially I wasn’t too sure I wanted to audition for a background role, as I have no real experience in acting… but I did know that I really wanted to be involved in some way with this production. I decided it couldn’t hurt to at least email and offer up my time, even if it was just getting coffee. Soon after emailing, I received a reply from Co-Producer Sophia Perez stating that they were currently filling volunteer crew positions and what area would I be interested in? After some back and forth emails discussing my strengths and experience, Sophia re-iterated that the hours would be long (12+ hour days, 6 days a week for three weeks) and did I really understand that, LOL! She also wanted to verify that I really could work the entire shoot. I was in a position to be able to do this, so I wholeheartedly agreed! She then offered me a position of Script Supervisor.
Now, I’ll be honest… I had no idea what a Script Supervisor did, but Sophia seemed confident that I would be able to pick up and handle what they would like for me to do. So I agreed (actually I squealed on my end of the email, but that wasn’t audible in what was transmitted back to her, thank goodness.) Apparently, I would be working close by Rick during filming… keeping track of the scene numbers and takes, making notes as to scene description, and indicating which takes the Director liked best when a series of takes were filmed of the same shot. Piece of cake. Haha. I came to understand that all of these notes were not only for reference during filming, but actually used most by the editor in post-production.
Sophia indicated that our schedules would be delivered by email, and the day before our first shooting day, I received my first call sheet. To say I was a little excited was probably an understatement. I’ve seen call sheets, in fact I have a couple as mementos I’ve collected from productions that I have followed in a fandom sort of way. But to have one with my name listed on it wasn’t something I ever expected to see! Call sheets are documents that list all the details for that filming day. All cast and crew are listed with their arrival time and location, scenes listed in filming order with set up description and notes, and all pertinent contact information. Reviewing that day’s sheet, I was thrilled to realize that our home base for filming would be an astonishing five minute drive from my house! Somehow it continued to seem like this experience was just meant to be!
The next day I reported to a large office building which would do double duty as our set and home base. Everyone I encountered was casual and friendly, some bustling and some milling around. Maybe because I was a volunteer, or maybe because I assumed that they all knew I didn’t know anything upfront, I was somewhat surprised I wasn’t too nervous. And for those who know me personally, you know I would normally be very nervous. After breakfast (yes, they feed you! More on that later!) and a quick run-through of my responsibilities with Sophia, things happened rather quickly. Sides of the script were made available. These are half page sized copies of the call sheet along with a print out of the day’s scenes of the script to be shot. They are your agenda so to speak, for the day. We then met as a group of approximately 20 crew and one cast member for that morning’s scenes, Rick shared a few words, and then straight to places!
My specific working location was to be in front of the monitor which displays the camera’s view. The monitor is usually located somewhere just outside of camera range, and not necessarily in eye view of the set. Along with myself, I was accompanied by Rick and Austin Puckett, the 1st AC (First Assistant Camera or Focus Puller.) Occasionally we would have others join us as they looked on to see the take through the eye of the camera. This mobile area is affectionately known as Video Village.
Once we had taken our places, then the work began. I quickly realized that when things started to roll, I was independent of anyone else, meaning that everyone went about doing their stuff and it was up to me to get what I needed to get, and things just kept moving along at a fairly swift rate. A short while after starting that first morning, I soon discovered there was another part that my position required. I was to help with continuity (taking photos for reference.) The Art Director, Mihiri Weerasinghe, came over and asked if I would take a photo of a certain set up and could use my phone. Sure, no problem. I quickly realized that I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to achieve getting the photo though. I finally turned and asked Austin what was the best way to get in the middle of everything and take the photo? He told me that I could probably just use the monitor screen and take a photo that way. Why didn’t I think of that?! It wasn’t long before I realized that I wasn’t just to take photos of certain setups when I was asked, I was to take photos of each take. Now I had to balance my phone photo skills along with viewing the slate to verify my numbers on my sheet with the take number. Oh, and then after a bit I realized it would help if I tagged the photos I took with the scene and take numbers as well. I also eventually discovered that I should be keeping track of the film roll numbers (which is of course, logical, but not something I had picked up on!) and if possible, I should mark down whenever a lens was changed out and indicate what it was switched to. This meant sharpening my listening skills to hear the discussion between the Director and the DP (or Director of Photography, DOP or Cinematographer), as well as when it was requested to whoever might be changing the lens out. Ok, so now we are talking about some real concentration needed. The full extent of all of this was a work in progress and developed over the three weeks. But as you might expect, there were moments when I found myself a little lost.
My one saving grace quickly became evident as I found that the 2nd AC (Second Assistant Camera), Jesse Prado, and I worked with some of the same info. Jesse had some experience, but was still relatively new to the position he filled here, so we were kind of on the same footing. We began to rely on each other to make sure we each stayed on track. If discrepancies were noticed/found between the slate and my info, then that info needed to be contained in my log so as to help the editor. One thing I learned that pertained to Jesse’s job was Second Sticks. If the first time the slate was used, and the visual or the sound wasn’t captured when it was clapped (yes, there is a reason for the clap/noise), they would call for Second Sticks to do it again, and that was something worth noting for the editor and his cues. Also, occasionally there would be need for an End Slate to be used at the end of the take, and the 2nd AC would hold the clapper upside down as an additional visual aid to the editor. And then occasionally, they would film and indicate MOS. This meant that the take would not contain any audio. Even with all of these things, I eventually began to feel a little more comfortable those first few days knowing that I had Jesse to help verify some of my notated data.
I also made notes of external sounds (such as airplane noise, as we were filming next to an airport!) whenever indicated by Kevin Middleton, the Sound Mixer, after we had cut the scene. It might not ruin the take, but the Sound Editor would need to be alerted that the take did contain noise. I began to feel even more settled in when I would notice the sounds myself and be able to acknowledge to Kevin while the scene was still rolling, usually via some type of eye contact and hand signal. I liked that we had our own little language.
Speaking of languages, I also found that there was a great use of lingo for many things on set. One of the first things that was shared with me (I have a lot of firsts!), was the “apple”. An apple is simply a modified apple box which is used for crew to sit on during takes. They are small enough to fit into cramped spaces with multiple people, and easy to carry with a built in hand-hold. The boxes can also be used to stack to give height to a Camera Operator or Sound Mixer or anyone or thing that needs a lift. I was given an apple my very first day by our Key Grip (head of camera equipment) Matthew Rush, and told it was mine and to hang on to it. He joked that I should use a sharpie and mark it with my name. Of course, by the end of that first 12 hour day and many moves for new shot set ups, I had no idea where it had gotten off to as they appeared to have legs and would indeed disappear. Thank goodness I soon discovered the stash of apples and would retrieve one whenever it was needed. The common call of “apple” being shouted out and reiterated through the crew during the process of setting up a shot leaves its mark as a common soundtrack to my experience. I must also make mention at this point, and give kudos to Matt, for his discovery of using gardening pads. The pads are normally used to kneel on when working in a garden, but they were the perfect dimension of our apples and provided cushion for those long shoots when apple seating was needed. They even had built in handles as well!
I think the group that had the most lingo was the lighting crew. They had all kinds of names for different types of apparatus, lighting films, gauges, etc. Not far behind them were the camera team with different names for each of the cameras, the Gimbal (personal harness apparatus for a camera), the lenses, different types of shots… so many things. Of course, the most useful code word was one used by all, and shared with me on that inaugural day. The mighty 10-1. The set atmosphere was flexible enough that whenever you were free between takes, you could step away and grab a bite or snag something to drink. And of course, there were always those moments when a trip to the little boys or girls room was needed. This was the moment where this lingo came into play. You might hear someone mention it as they dashed off, or If we all gathered back together and someone was missing, it was most commonly mentioned that they were “10-1” Sometimes I got the feeling that the originator had been a CB radio enthusiast with his call signs. I was also informed that there was a 10-2 code, which meant they might be a little longer… you don’t have to be good at math to figure that one out, haha!
One of the first misconceptions that I carried with me for a while after starting was that the crew all knew each other. For some reason it seemed like they were all well acquainted, and yes, some had worked together before and were even close friends, but others had just hired on. Some had already been here for a few days and were lodging together. It seemed to me like they were all a family of traveling nomads who roamed from job to job working together though, and I loved that. And I loved that for the most part, I was quickly included into their fold. As it turned out, we had crew from the LA area that were friends of Rick’s, some from the western side of the state (Seattle area), and some that were local (either friend’s of Rick’s from school days or just people like me.)
When it came down to the actual filming, I felt privileged to be right in the middle of professional people using their talents to create something really magical. I’ve been on a sound stage before, as well as observing location shooting… but this was different. I was there, day in and day out for three weeks experiencing almost every bit of camera roll. I got to see the actors as they prepped, took direction, and then performed, all the while being side by side the Director for the majority of that time. Yeah, occasionally I got misplaced and was standing or sitting in the way, but hey, it happens, LOL!
Now, about those meals, snacks and drinks! I think most people are familiar with the concept that film/tv sets have Craft Services. Although I never had an official word on it, I assumed that it was more beneficial for production to provide food as to make it easier for everyone to break and be back on set in a short amount of time, as well as relieving everyone of one more thing to be responsible for while working such long hours. The cast and crew were provided each day with breakfast, served 15 minutes before first call time. Then approximately six hours into our day, lunch would be served and we’d have a half hour break. We were fortunate to have a breakroom in the building we were using as our closed set, which served as our food area as well as a smaller meeting room. The great thing about Crafty (slang for Craft Services) is that not only does it provide meals, but also all kinds of snacks and beverages (non-alcoholic, of course!) available throughout the day. Hour 10 and you need a sugar rush? No problem… chocolate or energy drink at your service. Freezing cold on a location night shoot? Not to worry! Hot coffee, cocoa and tea available… have car trunk, will travel! And the special treats like the hour 14/10:00 pm Jimmy John sandwiches were totally awesome! The meals and snacks were wonderful, but I have to admit… by the end of the three weeks, I was getting really tired of being a glutton. If I never saw a mini Snickers, a York Peppermint Pattie, or some beef jerky for a while, I’d be ok. Even the meals, as good as they were, got a little bit much. Funny how things work like that, isn’t it? Too much of a good thing. All in all though, it was a wonderful perk. As for the photo on the right… I didn’t manage to get a pic of our spread of food in the breakroom. Usually too busy eating I suppose, LOL! But, this photo was taken in the cubicles where we were filming. Some extra file folders (very pertinent to the script of our film!), my highlighted sides, and my Coke can, along with a few cups filled with coffee or tea (Rick’s drink of choice), chips, yogurt, energy bar, and miscellaneous wrappers and gaffers tape. As I recall, this was mid-filming day.
Our breakroom had another perk for me, in the loveliness of one of the Production Assistants, Melisa Martinez Pruneda. Melissa helped out with whatever might be needed on set, as well as errands such as shopping for our amazing snacks!! Whenever I had a little down time and Melissa was in the building, I loved sitting and chatting with her in the breakroom. She helped keep me sane, LOL!
Well, this has gotten quite long! I think I’ll stop here and break this into segments. So, stay tuned for more inside info and exclusive photos including some of the cast, actual filming, and other important behind the scenes people!