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There's Something About "The Mary Project:" Working On My First Film Set
So what is The Mary Project?
Hello there, hypothetical reader! I recently finished working on my very first film set for a nice group of USC students' short film project and I thought I'd write about the experience in case you were interested.
You aren't interested?
Well, I'm here now, so I might as well write it anyway.
Deal with it.
As I was saying, the project is a student short called, "The Mary Project," and it's about a woman named Mary trapped in an abusive marriage to a real bag of dicks named Trevor.
I was the film's boom mic operator (the guy who holds the long microphone pole thingy) and it was the very first time I had done anything involving filmmaking, so I was very excited and very determined not to dip the boom into the shot.
So how did you get involved?
A few months ago, I attempted to recruit a crew of hilarious writers and actors in hopes of forming a sketch comedy group and making the funniest videos you have ever seen.
It didn't work out.
Trying to meet and corral people into seeing and executing your vision without paying them anything is a real daunting task and I realized I was not having any fun, so I cancelled the project. I'll give you a minute to wipe your tears away and collect yourself. Go ahead, it's okay to feel bad for me.
Anyway, the silver lining was that one of the recruits gave my information to a nice young USC student name Sandra, who then contacted me out of the blue. Naturally, I was afraid of this random lady I had never met and initially assumed she was a terrorist or worse, a telemarketer. Eventually, fear broke down to curiosity and I replied to her email. We met on USC campus and she told me about the project and a little about boom mic operating, which is slightly more complicated than "just holding a pole up." I was then treated to a tour of the facilities and, holy crap!, USC has a fancy pants film studies center. Sandra explained that Steven Spielberg, George Lucas (who I feel is a destroyer of all things "my childhood"), and a few others donated what seems to be roughly the GNP of several third world nations to the university to build the illustrious center.
How was your first day?
My first day was an optional "pre-shoot" where Sandra and a few others (more on them in a bit) did a test run of a couple scenes to see how it would look with lighting, sound, actor positioning, etc. I elected to go because I am an information junkie and wanted to soak up as much of this opportunity as possible like a sponge (preferably one who lives in a pineapple under the sea).
It was on this day that I met the following future filmmaking rockstars:
Armando: The baddest PA this side of the Mississippi.
Josh: The dreadlocked, hip hop, muthaf%&@in' Director of Photography
Marissa: Our director, and future director of Oscar-winning feature films (or pornos if she wants to do that, I didn't ask and I never assume).
Stephanie: The observant and quiet Sound Mixer and my "boss" on this endeavor.
George: The funny and vocal Assistant Director (AD)
Our first official day of shooting started at noon and wrapped by 9, but the time flew by incredibly fast. We shot at Sandra's pimp bachelorette pad, a large townhouse-like loft with large white archways and a nice kitchen with a white-tiled counter top, which was piled high with free bagels, free granola bars, free apples, and free soda and coffee. Did I mention it was free? I am a huge fan of free food, but I digress.
The first shot, like any shot I learned, required a sizable amount of time to set up for lighting and getting camera movements and angles just right. Luckily, Josh seems to know what he's doing ("Woof!") and so did our gaffer (lighting and electric specialist), Shin, who drove up from Irvine to west Los Angeles at the last second as a replacement for a missing gaffer. Why the original gaffer wasn't present that day remains a mystery to me since I didn't ask, so I choose to believe she was suddenly embroiled in a massive ninja attack and she had to deal with that shit all day. Damn ninjas, always attacking when it's the most inconvenient, if I had a nickel for every time I had to miss work or help a friend move due to sudden ninja-related violence, I'd be rich, but I digress. Again.
I spent the time in between takes getting to know the cast and other crew members in a shameless attempt to schmooze and make a name for myself and hopefully solicit friendships and future employment opportunities. I talked a bit to a man named Zach, who was to play the abusive husband, Trevor, which I found hilarious, because it turns out Zach is a very nice and friendly guy. He told me he moved from Boston about 9 years prior and has found some success in other short films.
I then spoke to Lisa, who plays the title character, Mary, briefly as she was getting her bruises and cut lip applied by the talented make-up artist, Julia. Next on my "Schmooze list" was Armando, the PA. He actually works for a major studio as a paid PA and is attending Santa Monica College, where he was majoring in film before changing it to psychology....then right back to film.
Finally I spoke to Catia, an actress who plays Mary's friend/Trevor's brother, Jane. Catia is married with no children and came here from Dallas.
Dallas, Texas, not Dallas the TV show because that would be impossible unless she got her hands on the magic ticket from Last Action Hero.
It was a very informative and entertaining day, and I don't think I messed up too badly, I mean, I didn't poke anyone's eye out with the mic pole or anything, so that's a good day in my book. Marissa, Josh and Shin are incredibly focused and smart, while Sandra and Stephanie have a very keen sense of detail and Armando and George are very innovative and good at solving problems. I was working with a very well-oiled machine of a team.
What the hell am I doing here?!?
Day 2: fake birthdays and more free food
This was a big day for shooting as it was a birthday party scene so there were quite a few new actors and extras on set. I was tapped to be an extra (Party Guest #9 is what I affectionately named my character), and once I was fitted into wardrobe, I sat on an outdoor patio bench and met a lovely young Middle-Eastern lady named Jasmine, and a hilarious Korean guy named Simon, who proclaimed himself to be a "professional extra."
In between takes, the three of us would talk and get to know each other, but when the cameras rolled we were meant to simply act like we were talking and hanging out without making a sound. Simon used this opportunity to showcase his comedic talents by miming out bizarre dance moves or silently (and in a comedic fashion) hitting on Jasmine, who could barely contain her laughter at his hijinks. Truth be told, I could barely contain mine either, as this dude is damn funny.
He says he is working on a campy sci-fi zombie flick, and I am really looking forward to seeing that one day.
Talking with Jasmine and Simon was the highlight of my day and I really hope I cross any one of their paths again someday.
At some point we broke for lunch and I was once again treated to the overwhelming joy of food that I did not have to pay for.
Another key actor in the short made his debut on day 2, a man named Andy, who plays the best friend of Trevor. His key scene called for him to make a toast at the party, a speech in which he improvised heavily to great effect. Other Andy had to repeat the speech many times for different angled shots and it seemed exhausting, but he made it look both fun and easy.
Another key player in the scene was the screen door that had to be opened many times for blocking, rehearsals, takes, and just general entering and exiting. I mention this because the door was in full diva-mode and would often squeak loudly, messing up the quality of the recorded sounds of the scene, or it would just plain refuse to open sometimes.
What a bitch.
All that free food must have caught up with me, because I got sick with an ulcer flare-up and did not make it to set this day.
Day 4: My final day
Day 4 began very early and I did not get much sleep the night before, so I was more or less a zombie on the set. A damn handsome zombie, but a zombie nonetheless.
I started by digging into craft services, AKA free food. There was a nice spread consisting of fruit, granola bars, soda, and a vegan fudge pie that Lisa, our lead actress, made.
The table that the food was on became a running gag throughout the day because there was a giant metal umbrella covering the whole thing at an angle that everyone smacked their heads on at least once. It was so very strange how everyone, including myself, seemed to forget that it was there until they bashed their craniums into it. After the third occurrence of this, I think I may have suffered some mental damage and now I think 2+2=red and I can't remember my mom's name.
I think it's Steve.
Damn you, metal umbrella!!
Today was the day we filmed the assault scene, wherein Trevor rape/beats his wife in a jealous rage. Everyone on set was noticeably uncomfortable as it was being filmed, but we all understood the necessity of displaying Trevor's cruelty to the audience. Zach and Lisa were amazing during the scene and it was a treat to watch these actors turn their characters on and right back off again once Marissa yelled, "cut."
Halfway through the day, we wrapped on Zach for the rest of the film. He received a warm goodbye that was well deserved and I hope to meet him again someday as well.
We filmed a while longer and then had a cast/crew meeting before wrapping for the day. Our DP, Josh treated us to his sick dance moves and I learned I was to finish my stint on the film this day as well because there had been several complaints about my overindulgence in craft services. Well, to hell with them, it's free, you bastards!!!
No, I'm joking, it's because the next shooting day was outdoors (or exterior, if you're film savvy) and also including characters jogging, so a boom mic wouldn't be used much.
I have always been interested in filmmaking and was very excited to learn anything I could by working on this project. The experience was unforgettable, the people involved were amazing and talented individuals and I hope I made a good enough impression on them to be considered for future gigs, and the food was absolutely free, in case I haven't mentioned that.
My thanks to Sandra for giving me the opportunity, Stephanie for teaching me the ropes, Josh, Marissa, and George for being both great people and highly entertaining, Zach and Lisa for your friendliness and stories, Simon and Jasmine for my hugely enjoyable on-screen debut, and finally; the Wizard, who pointed out the courage I had all along.
There is going to be a cast and crew screening in either September or October, and I can't wait to see how it all turned out and see everyone again if I haven't already.
I just hope they can edit out any boom mic dips I may have made.