Film Jobs in Hollywood – Riding dragons, flying through the air

Today we’re doing a commercial for a video game. I want to give you an idea of what it’s like doing film  jobs when you’re doing special effects.  It’s really like any other day, except there are green screens and other cool film equipment.

We’re shooting on a quiet residential street and we’ve taken over the whole street with enormous lights, props, carts and stands. As you look down the street you see a long line of cube trucks which belong to the art department, props, camera, grip, electric.  Further down the road there’s 2 motor homes.   One houses the production offices, the hair, make up and wardrobe rooms. And the 2nd motor home is made up of little rooms for the talent to relax and rehearse their lines.

The call time is 7 am.   People are unloading the equipment, props, cases, and camera from the trucks. You see people milling around still eating breakfast.   Tents are starting to be set up, chairs being set up around the monitors, the craft service table is putting out the snacks, the coolers put out with water and sodas.

The police have blocked off both sides of the street so that we can freely work in the street. We’ve got a huge crane and rented a city bus for one of the scenes.

The art department is unloading props from their truck. There’s a city bench, tree branches, a newspaper selling bin, street signs, and a city waste basket.

Real looking props can fool you in many ways.  Today, we’re shooting a street scene, and the make up gal almost threw her unwanted coffee in the street corner waste bin.    She stopped just before doing it and asked me, ‘Do you think that’s a prop?’  I replied ‘I think so’.  The bin was filled with paper and boxes – the contents looked a little ‘too perfect’.

We have to be careful with all props, eve garbage. That ‘garbage’ may be used again and again. Kind of a funny tip huh?!

I see the camera being placed on the dolly and getting rolled into position on one side of the street pointing towards the green screen.

The 2nd assistant director brings me the shot list. The storyboard looks like a woman is going to fly into the air on a bicycle. And a little boy is going to ride a dragon.

That’s why we’re using the green screen. The actors will be riding those weird welded green pipes with seats. Everything that is green will disappear and you’ll only see the actors doing their action. Then anything can be painted into the shot

In this case, the dragon and bicycle will be painted in and it will look like the actors are riding a bicycle and a dragon through the air.

This is a Saturday – today is going to be a mellow laid back day.  The Director is very nice and we have a short shooting schedule.

It’s going to get hot, around 90 degrees today. The Production Assistants set up 6 large pop up tents, so everyone has shade.

As it gets hot, the medic will pass out hand towels soaked in ice, to put around your neck and stay cool. He’ll also pass out pre-mixed electrolyte drinks.  After lunch he passes out gum, toothpicks, and dental floss.

We’ve got 3 principle actors, a woman (playing the mom), a teenage boy and a 7 year old boy. The 7 year old boy gets to ride the green tubes with a seat and it will look like he’s riding a dragon.  This is the little boy’s 2nd commercial. He did a Target commercial earlier in the year and played a mischievous boy. He said it was fun and the director told him to do a lot of fun things, like make faces and untie shoe laces.

At 10 am, the little boy is up. That means his scene is up. We shoot him riding the green tubes. We’ve got a big fan that blows his hair and clothing. The director tells him to laugh, to scream, to say ‘yee ha!’. He has a great time;  what a cute kid.

The next shot is a ‘point of view’ shot. It is what the person would see if they were lifting off the ground, riding a dragon.

This is accomplished with a huge crane that takes the camera from street level to high above the trees, so the camera sees right down the street. We have movie extras that walk down the street, on cell phones, talking, to make the shot look real.

What a cool shot. Kinda Forrest Gump-ish in that the shot looks like you are flying above the trees, above the street. They probably went up 40-50 feet.

Steve, a Production Assistant, also comes over to hang out. Steve is into motorcycles. He is looking at pictures of motorcycles all day on the computer with the video guy Andy.

Steve is cool but one thing that I think could hurt his progress is, he’s got a wad of tobacco in his lip. On the set, you can be yourself, but I think the wad of tobacco could give a negative impression. I’ve never seen a producer with a wad of tobacco. I think it makes it harder to move into higher paying positions when you do things like that. Just make sure to keep in mind the impression you give off. Make others comfortable so they want to see you again and don’t give it a second thought!

I’m not sure what Steve wants to do. I think he just loves working on the set. Maybe that’s why he’s not thinking about moving up right now. He’s just having fun. That’s fine, why not? In your 20s, making $200-250/day, drinking cokes all day, putting up some tents, getting waters for people, taking talent to their trailer, dropping off film – it’s not bad.

We finished our shots by 5 pm. Right on time. The AD (Assistant Director) did a good job.  It’s his job to keep the shots on schedule.

Everyone loads their department’s stuff back into their trucks or cars. Time to go home. Tomorrow will be a whole new job with new scenes, new actors, new location. This is why doing film jobs is always exciting.

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