Best of Times, Worst of Times (while making a movie) by Ginger Keller Gannaway
Tammy Wynette advised me to “Stand by Your Man” and I did my best to follow those words last month. But, girl!, you know it ain’t always easy! You see, my man (at age 70) wanted to produce his own meta/horror/comedy movie (Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains). He had written the script, won an award, found an eager Brazilian director, raised some funds, connected with a co-producer, and began the journey. I had naively offered “to help” feed the folks involved, and during the whirlwind of pre-production I became the entire catering & craft services department. When the cast and crew ballooned into 28 people, the wind became a tornado of planning, shopping, cooking, serving,cleaning, planning,shopping, cooking… for a 15 (but really 18) day shoot made up of 12 hour work days!
I had seen movies about making movies. I knew the process was chaotic and confusing and full of unforeseen problems caused by forces not-to-be-controlled. Yet reality can be a harsh and ungrateful bitch. Even though my husband’s dream movie was low,low budget and those involved were working hard for small paychecks, I did not understand the movie business hierarchy / pecking order on set. The director was revered by the actors; the assistant director really ran the show and had the crew’s respect; the director of photography was held in high esteem by both cast & crew. Next in line came the actors (even if they mostly sat or slept around and waited for their moments to shine) because their faces were the ones up on the big screen. Then came the crew “bosses”: the gaffer or head G&E person, the sound engineer, the set designer, the assistant cameraman , the make-up and special effects people. Behind these folks were their team members and the script supervisor and then the wardrobe person. The various producers moved around acting important and they could move up or down the level of command. Sometimes the owner or manager of a location merited some respect.
BUT the lowest one, the person all of the above people looked down on or bossed around was Food Services. “Is this all you have for breakfast?” “There’s nothing here I can eat?” “Are these muffins gluten-free?” “What you got for us to drink?” “This is lunch?!”
Having to feed cast and crew two meals each day (usually breakfast and lunch with plenty of snacks and drinks in between meals with coffee all day long caused constant stress constantly. Will I have enough food? Will I get through traffic fast enough to arrive on location on time? Don’t forget GF girl. Does today’s location have access to electricity for my crockpots? Get more ice. How to I convince them to recycle? To pick up their own trash? To not waste so much? To not be hoggish? Or impatient? Or SO PICKY? These were the “Worst of Times.”
I went to bed tired from hauling all my catering crap home, cleaning my dishes, finding space in my wreck of a kitchen for leftovers, and fixing the coffee pot for tomorrow. I slept fitfully with endless grocery lists, ice chests, and finicky eaters running amok in my head. I awoke at 2 a.m. and remembered I had forgotten to order tacos for breakfast the next day, but then I realized the next day’s call was at 2 p.m. so I’d have time to place the order OR I suddenly remembered the next day was actually a glorious Saturday and we were not filming on weekends. So I got into the routine of this three and a half week tornado, and it sorta/kinda got better. I figured out a lot of stuff, and I panicked a lot less.
Overall, it was basically better because I connected with some of the people; I learned some of their stories. Actors Evan and Zeke were excited and optimistic about their first feature film roles. Veteran actor Gary shared various tales about doing wild stunts and meeting Hollywood legends. Sound engineer Nick explained how he got involved in movies and gave me ideas for feeding vegetarians. I heard many crazy movie tales mixed in with reasons why our cast and crew members chose the film world’s “road less travelled” despite other people’s judgements. Our movie team started to connect like a weird and wonderful film family, and I even experienced some magical movie moments.
During one of the overnight shoots (we had breakfast at 5 p.m. and lunch at 11 p.m.) a thunderstorm rears its angry head around 3 a.m.while they are shooting chase scenes across the mosquito-infested backyard at the Bloorhouse in Manor. As the storm screams and pushes its way into our movie world, the crew hurriedly hauls sensitive lights and cameras and cables and sound equipment onto the back porch. I try to move drinks & snacks into the kitchen when the wind blows the rain sideways and onto my food service/ back porch domain. Soon everyone is wet and regrouping in the dining room and living room as SX guru Shelly starts to prepare actor Larry Jack for his final scene: “getting electrocuted on the security fence.” My mind is like “WHAT?? Why is he getting all blackened-up? They can’t shoot outside anymore.” But 1st camera guy Jake goes on the front porch to smoke and he’s watching the crazy lightning show and he takes a camera out into the front yard when the rain lets up some and he calls to Matt, the DP, that the Bloorhouse “looks amazing” in the lightning, and so Matt checks it out and soon Matt is running around in the storm towards the backyard exclaiming, “I love the rain, man!” Then the director Paulo and Matt are on the back porch saying, “We’re gonna do this!” And someone finds some boards and a piece of chicken wire and they’re constructing an “electric fence” on the back porch! Some naysayers are complaining about “their” equipment and suggesting that Matt and Paulo and Jake and others are crazy, but the crazies don’t even hear. They continue to move furniture and build the electric fence. Then burned-up-face Larry Jack comes up to me and asks, “You got any Alka Seltzer? I could bite it when I get electrocuted and foam at the mouth.” Next Rebecca, owner of the Bloorhouse, tells us, “I might have some in back of the medicine cabinet.” And the bravest of the crew continue to madly set the scene on the porch. They have make-shift lighting with flashlights and such and some sound effects folks with pieces of tin and wood stand to one side and soon even the negative types are coming on board and the atmosphere is really full of electric energy and soon Paulo calls for Larry Jack and Rebecca hands him an expired Alka Seltzer and Matt and Jake have cameras ready to roll and assistant director Robin is ready to yell, “Quiet on the set!” Several are huddled around the monitors, and I’m sitting at the dining room table off to one side, and even though I can’t see the action on the porch, I hear Paulo’s “Action” and lights are flashing and sounds are crackling. “More! Shake more! More!!” commands Paulo and Larry Jack is getting electrocuted at 4:47 a.m. on a front porch with light rain falling in the yard. And the chickens are close to getting up when everyone breaks into applause for the scene they just created out of chaos. And a rooster crows for the coming morn AND for Larry Jack’s final scene. And I smile and think “best of times” in the making of a movie.