November 16, 2011

Penny Dreadful

I have become well traveled.

For the past week I've been working as a production assistant on a short film, produced as part of the Columbia University MFA program. The director, Shane Atkinson, flew himself, his producer, several actors and a Red One from NYC to Utah where he called on favors from his friends and local crew members.

Some of Utah's best crew helped out with this one. I've never seen people so immersed in the film business from this state but apparently they exist. That's refreshing to know!

The shoot did involve a lot of long distance travel. Let's review...

The first day we were in Genola UT, about 10 miles west of Santaquin. There are a few barns and a few orchards but most of the local economy comes from a rock quarry. Several parts of the quarry are still operational but older buildings are no longer in use but still standing. Immediately as I arrived I was struck with the industrial nature of the building. Being inside with the strange noises and snow out the windows was like living inside Penumbra. Utilitarian showers, big dirty sinks, derelict offices and dormant mining equipment were everywhere. As if I hadn't been scared enough with the "green room" that had been set up, Jake the A.D. asked if I wouldn't mind searching through 3 different rubble processing towers for a suitable camera position. After climbing up 2 different rubble chutes (pictured, you can't tell but that's slanted 45-degrees toward the ground) I finally made it to the top of the highest tower where I startled a Snowy Owl that took flight out the window. That was scary!

After that day I figured our locations couldn't get much more remote but I was very wrong. The next day we were in Goshen UT, which is about 20 miles west of Genola. It's a small ranch town with beautiful scenery and no cell phone reception. The only bathroom near our shooting location was half a mile down a dirt road and although it was very cold in the morning, the sun came out and warmed it up a lot which would have been a good thing if I wasn't wearing 3 pairs of pants and 2 coats. We filmed the whole day inside a 1992 Buick that I got to drive from the dealership and the day also featured some special blood effects. I wish I had pictures but you'll just have to see the film! After seeing what a thriving metropolis Payson, UT is after being in Goshen I thought to myself that we couldn't possibly get more remote than that!

For the next day, I was correct. We were in Provo, UT pretty close to BYU at this wonderful old school building. Just a note, the building was a school at one point, not just an 0ld-school building. We had a lot of young children for extras that day and it was a lot of fun to see kids running around in their "school uniforms," especially when drivers would yield to them. We wrapped the school location around 12:00pm and had a company move to Salt Lake City! On the way I picked up Actor Rick Zahn who's done a ton of TV and Film work including a scene with Richard Gere in the film "Brooklyn's Finest." He was great company on the drive back to Salt Lake. We were shooting in this great historic house near the University that's rented by such friendly personalities as Liza the Law Student and Jimmy the Snowboarder. The room in which we filmed was very small so I didn't get to see a lot of the action that day, but I did take a rather entertaining picture of Craig, the key grip, standing in for an actor during lighting.

After being in Salt Lake for a few hours, I was gravely disappointed where I was headed for the next two days. Vernon UT is about 30 miles south of Tooele, not a bad place. It has one gas station/restaurant/fishing shop and it's surrounded by ranches and BLM owned land. Our location was about 2 miles outside of the town, in a telephone relay building in the process of being converted for living. There was no running water, and therefore the bathroom was designated as "#1 Only." Therefore it was my job to drive people the 2 miles back into town when they needed the bathroom. The first day in Vernon I was pleased with the task of driving Marnie Schulenburg from her hotel. Marnie just wrapped 3 seasons (202 episodes!) of "As the World Turns" in New York City and she's appeared in several more TV and Theatre projects since then. That day of shooting included a scene in which the lead character (played by the only local actor) was drenched with gasoline! We poured water on him a few times and he only had so many costumes so he was forced to dry out his clothing in clever ways.

The final day we were in Springville in the morning but our prop car (a 1995 Geo Prism) broke down forcing us to look for a quick replacement. We did find one but not before we had to push the old one all over the place to make the shots work. We then traveled back to Salt Lake for the last scene. We all crammed into the production designer's house for the last few shots, a pizza dinner from the Pie (as per my request, New Yorkers don't know where the good pizza in Utah is) and shot the Martini sometime around midnight. It was our longest day but probably our most productive as well.

Earlier in the week I had given my orange behind-the-head earmuffs to Oona, the little girl playing the title character as a way to keep her ears warm without messing up her hair. Over the next few days she was hardly seen without them between takes. Her dad gave them back to me the last day but I asked if she wanted to keep them. She shrugged the question off and I told her that she could have them if she told me that she wanted to keep them. After some hesitation she finally said "I'm only telling you this because you told me to, but I want to keep them." That was good enough for me, and now she has a souvenir from me! Plus it was a good excuse to buy some new ones that weren't bright orange.

This was probably the best experience I've ever had on a film set and it was thanks to everyone's passion and professionalism. There were no divas or prima donnas, just hard working people happy to be doing their jobs, even if it wasn't for much money. It's because of that enthusiasm that I believe this film will be great.

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