There’s a 3 pm crew call, but don’t let that fool you – it’s gonna be a long, long day (night actually). For Rhode Island film warriors Anthony Ambrosino, Nicholas Delmenico, and Mark Greene, it’s par for the course. These guys from Pawtucket’s The 989 Project production company know what it’s like to roll up their sleeves, get in the filmmaking trenches, and go, go, go all day!
Today, an unusual Saturday shoot, they’re working on a SAG ultra low budget (under $200K) independent feature titled Mary Loss of Soul (MLoS), a supernatural thriller about a young girl who loses part of her soul while vacationing at her family’s lake house. Years later, the entire family is haunted by a malevolent spirit – none more so than the unbecoming 15-year-old Mary (played by Disney XD actress Kaylee Bryant). Her family races against time and the supernatural to restore her soul before they lose Mary forever.
With a Hollywood cast, Secret Service-like radio walkie-talkies, and all the trappings of a major motion picture, from racks of equipment and props to trailers and craft services, you would think you’ve stepped onto the set of a Mark Wahlberg film.
Writer/Director/Producer of MLoS, Jennifer B. White, is helming this project. She’s a remarkable artist with a solid-steel resolve and a gregarious nature (ideally suited for this line of work). This is her baby and she’s going for broke making this film worthy of Hollywood and beyond. She’s even using her own house as one of the main sets!
The film is slated for an August 2013 release with an eye on Sundance.
Backing her is her business partner and MLoS producer Stewart Huey – a man she couldn’t live without on this project. You can see the respect and loyalty they have for each other when they’re in the room together. And together, they’re making a great movie that the studios had better stand up and take notice.
“I’m living in the chaos [literally] and filming in the chaos!” she tells me while reminding the crew to be careful as they haul heavy movie-making equipment from room to room. Her house is virtually covered in Ramboard sheets and movers’ blankets – it looks like a Hollywood set meets Home Depot.
There is so much more to say about this remarkable artist and I invite the reader to check out Rosemary Pacheco’s exhilarating profile on her as part of her Women Behind the Camera series!
White will be the first one to tell you that she couldn’t do what she does without her amazing crew and wonderful cast. This extends to Anthony, Nick and Mark, most assuredly. Anthony is the 1st AD (Assistant Director), Nick is the 2nd AD and Mark is the 2nd, 2nd AD (that’s not a typo!).
Here’s what these guys do day in and day out …
While White focuses on directing the actors and camera people, getting those precious shots that make a great film, Anthony directs everybody else. He runs the set, which includes the crew, PAs and anything else you can think of. It is the job of an AD to make sure the job of the director is unfettered by all the crazy logistics that have to happen while she is doing her job.
In fact, the whole reason they’re shooting on a Saturday is because the fickle New England weather rained them out on a lot of important outdoor shots, so Anthony had to call a Saturday shoot in order to get them back on schedule. “When you’re on a tight budget production like this, every second counts. You can’t let rain stop you from getting the shots. And if that means we have to add another day, then so be it. At the end of the day, all that matters is getting the film done on time and on budget,” he tells me as he and Nick go over the call sheet for the day’s scenes.
Walking around the set, I got a chance to actually see Kaylee Bryant getting into her apparition makeup as Mary’s disembodied soul – an eerie, spectral all-white motif from wig and body suit to dance shoes. She’s a talented and committed young actress, “Getting her soul on,” as she jokes before the camera starts rolling. Visiting with her mother, Kristina, in the green room, she tells me what it’s like to have a child star, “She’s a driven artist, but it’s a bit weird. However, she’s a great kid!”
Rain that day wasn’t the only issue the AD had to deal with. From the creative side, Anthony also sometimes has to serve as a mediator in order to settle differences of opinion and keep everyone on the same page.
Here’s one example. A fight scene was shot early on during principle photography; however, the DP (Director of Photography), Matthew Boyd, felt that what they had wasn’t good enough. So he made his case to both White and Anthony and they all agreed that it should be reshot.
The problem is with less than a week to go before principle photography wraps, they have to somehow reschedule this complicated shot – a logistical nightmare in the film business.
And that’s where Nick comes in. As 2nd AD, he prepares for what’s to come tomorrow. And down in the production office in the basement of White’s home, this is his domain. Nick, along with the UPMs (Unit Production Managers), Ellen Vander Wyden and Jil Sacco, are the behind-the-behind-the-scenes people making what happens upstairs in front and behind the camera possible. They handle the money, travel arrangements for the actors, a million other logistics and of course, scheduling. With this new wrinkle to an already super crowded schedule on the day’s call sheet, Nick now has to figure out when and where to add time and resources for the fight scene reshoot.
When I asked him what it takes to keep a production like this going he tells me, “It takes Jill and Ellyn!” They all laugh but it is true. He also added, “A lot of planning and re-planning, and then a ton of improvising. Thinking on your feet is a job requirement in this business.”
He and Anthony should know. They co-wrote and produced an award-winning indie film back in 2010 called Sleather, with Anthony directing. That was no rinky-dink amateur production; it was a seven-year project with two years of shoots and reshoots (mostly on the weekends); a ton of negotiating with local business for props, sets and resources; and a ridiculous amount of improvising in order to make it work – like getting the whole damn crew to literally hand-lift an unattended car out of the way in order to get the shot!
That’s what it takes!
And the result was a film that they are immeasurably proud of, and that experience gets them here working on another potentially great movie with an incredibly talented director, crew and cast – like Kaylee Bryant (Disney’s Kickin’ It), Nick Mancuso (Under Siege, Wild Palms) José Zúñiga (Twilight), Catherine Black (American Psycho), and many more.
So after a few soirées between the director, DP and Anthony, Nick manages to lock down a working day and time for the reshoot with a back up – and to top it off, the weather looks perfect for those days.
On to the next thing!
As I walked around with unfettered access to the entire production, I occasionally crossed paths with Mark Greene. The job of the 2nd, 2nd AD is to make sure that what’s supposed to happen next actually happens. If Nick is Anthony’s right-hand man, then Mark is his left. I’ve seen Mark grab branches with leaves to bring to the lighting people so they can use to break up the light and make a nighttime shoot look like it’s in the middle of the day. I’ve seen him running interference between departments, making sure the right equipment was in the right place at the right time. And I’ve seen him quietly, but assuredly, wrangling the crew like only he can, freeing Anthony to focus on the director’s needs.
“I do what they tell me,” Mark humbly says to me, but he’s way more valuable to this production than he lets on.
Anthony has such faith and trust in Nick and Mark (and all his crew) that he doesn’t even wear the customary Secret Service-like earpiece to his radio, instead opting to keep the volume down. “I need to focus on what’s going on here at the set, so I leave it up to my army to handle everything else.”
Then he gets back on the radio and quietly announces, “Rolling, rolling,” after White says, “Action.”
Just before lunch at 9 pm – yes, that’s right, 9PM – MloS has another mishap. The cast’s youngest member, Anne Bex (who plays Mary’s little sister, Sophia), slips and falls on the stairs while leaving the set after finishing a scene she was in. She was accompanied by her mother who made it clear that Anne was all right, but needed some food and rest.
Anthony went into full AD mode here, projecting what it might take to have to reschedule the remainder of Anne’s scenes and how that would affect the rest of the shoot. But it’s not just logistics he was concerned with. Being a father, he immediately went to check on Anne and saw to it that her needs were met and her mother felt comfortable with how they were being taken care of.
After a nice catered Chinese food lunch (where I got to sit with the jovial and charming make-up and wardrobe women, Julie Le Shane and Sarah Lynn Bys, respectively), I passed by the green room where Anthony was enjoying Anne’s rendition of “Tomorrow” (from the musical Annie, coincidentally) She was back and ready to go! At 8 years old, this little girl was such a trooper. She even kept telling Anthony how much she wanted to get back to work!
On to the next thing!
As the night progressed (after an even longer week), with the end in sight, it’s only normal that people’s patience can get taxed and frayed.
Jennifer takes me aside for a moment and tells me, “You can’t take the human out of it. We’re all artists – even the most technical people among us. And as an independent filmmaker, you have to wear many hats. It’s not like Iron Man or other big budget Hollywood films with layers and layers of money and layers and layers of people to handle everything. I’m at the top, but I’m also at the bottom.”
And this level of involvement can sometimes really challenge a director’s mettle. That’s when an AD like Anthony is needed most.
Late into the evening, there was to be a dolly shot on Mary (Kaylee) in the bedroom as she is Skyping with one of her off-screen friends. Boyd would ride the dolly running the RED Epic camera all the way into the room getting the shot. It would take two guys to push it with Nick feeding the cables as they go.
On the monitor it looked great, except for one thing: the damn noise. In order to get the dolly track to fit from the hallway into the bedroom, the ACs (Assistant Camera personnel) had to narrow the track somehow. This caused the dolly to squeak like crazy as they were filming the scene.
What was called for was a good old-fashioned can of Pledge to grease up the dolly tracks. But there was none to be found. In fact, the “Pledge Incident” got so heated that White had to take a few moments to chill away from the set while someone ran out and got some.
That’s when Anthony took it upon himself to use his smartphone to get on the Internet and find a Lemon Pledge commercial that he broadcasted over the radio. That lightened things up.
And when White returned to her director’s chair, once the shot got rolling again, Anthony played the commercial in her ear. At first she was surprised, and then she started cracking up. It was all good from there.
Anthony’s job is not only to keep the whole production running smoothly, but also to keep people from losing their minds!
Topping out at around 3:30 am, the crew was exhausted from a long, long night’s work. And even though most of the crew put in a 12-plus hour day (super commendable), Anthony, Nick and Mark’s day started way before and ended way late.
With a, “That’s a wrap people,” Anthony calls it a night.
But they will be back on Monday, bright and ridiculously early, to do it all over again.
For the Rhode Island film warriors, they stay to the bitter end and never say die.
Nicholas Iandolo is a freelance writer from Boston, MA. He is also the author of two books on screenwriting: Cut The Crap and WRITE THAT DAMN SCREENPLAY! and Cut The Crap and PITCH THAT DAMN SCREENPLAY!, as well as the Sci-Fi eBook series NLV (a.k.a. New Las Vegas). He also hosts Motif Magazine’s Take 2 with Rosemary Pacheco on MoTiV. Follow him on Twitter @cutcrapwrite, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.