Are you an actress?
I have been asked this question at least two dozen times since my arrival in Los Angeles. I have answered in a variety of ways, from a flat “No” to hemming and hawing about my experience in theater.
But I’ve learned that it is just best to say: “Yes, I am.”
See, everybody out here is a bit of an actor. Everybody is pretending to be someone their not, especially in regards to the film industry. People will tell you that they’re a producer, when all they have ever worked on is an online web series they made with a couple friends. Coffee shops are packed with “screenwriters” still waiting for their work to be appreciated.
I worked on my first film out here last weekend. I walked onto set and called myself the script supervisor, because the guy who’d connected me with the film had asked me to fill that position. I introduced myself to everyone around, asked the director for the shot list and began calling out the scene and shot numbers to the 1st AC (that’s Assistant Camera).
And I didn’t mention to anyone that I had spent the entire night before googling the term “script supervisor” to figure out what the heck I was supposed to do.
Filming wrapped after twelve hours that first day. I drove home that night, reflecting on the excitement I still felt coursing through my veins. There is an energy, a presence, on a film set that is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I am convinced that a lot of it has to do with the artistic element of such work. Everyone on set was performing a job, whether it was in front of the camera or behind it, which required them to use a specialized skill. I was amazed by the gaffer and grips, who could use boards to light the actors faces in just such a way as to make the entire scene more intimate. The director had a particular vision for the film, and knew how to convey it through the tone of each cut. It was amazing to watch the combination of skills meld together into a singular, enchanting story.
Another factor to add to the mix was that we were all working for little-to-no money. We were all there because we wanted to use our skills and help one another create a successful piece. Twelve hours flew by— because we absolutely loved what we were doing. There were tedious moments, but those were very short-lived, as I was able to fill the tedium with discussions with my crewmates. I learned that our sound guy was recently flown down to Puerto Vallarta to do some recordings for a reality show. I learned that our gaffer was really a talented cinematographer who had recently directed a documentary that had garnered mass media attention (“Takedowns and Falls” is out on Netflix, if you’re interested). I was amazed at the talent I was surrounded by… and even more amazed at their selflessness. There’s this presumption that everybody in Hollywood is “only in it for themselves”, but these people were just the opposite. It was a refreshing realization for me.
The following day was just as much fun. We moved from our indoor set, down to the beach. Jaci, the first assistant cinematographer, was frantically trying to protect the camera equipment from a deadly invasion of sand. I traveled back and forth between the crew (perched on a nearby blanket) and the actors who were conversing with the director.
“What shot are we starting with?” I asked Tosin, the director.
“We’re going to go a little off the books for this scene. I want to shoot it in order so that we can really escalate the mood,” he answered. I shrugged and said okay, “Just let me know what I should tell the crew.
Usually, scenes are shot out of sequence, in order to be more efficient with the use of sets and also to maintain the correct lighting (as the sun moves, so do the shadows!). The fact that we were going out of the order on my sheet rendered me somewhat useless, so I joined the Marco, our sound guy (all the noise at the beach made his job negligible, too). We talked and soaked up some rays, while watching the others scuttle around the shoreline.
I looked at my shot list. There were some scenic elements they wanted caught on camera: the waves lapping the sand, the sailboats in the distance, the birds…
“Look at those seagulls! I bet we could get a pretty cool shot of them flying into the sunset,” I said, as if I had a clue.
Marco mentioned this to the camera guy just as we began to pack up our equipment. He looked in the direction of the birds on the beach and nodded. Squatting down in the sand, he began to adjust his camera lens. The next thing I know, he’s waving at me.
“Hello?” I said, noncommittally.
“Come on! Run!”
Suddenly, it clicked. I took off across the beach, my notebook still in hand, straight into the midst of the flock of seagulls. I ran after them, shooing the birds into the air and laughing until my sides hurt. The camera guy yelled, “Cut!” and told me it was great footage.
It was almost like I was an actress.