My First Real Film Experience

This week, most of our work has been with keyframing and things that wouldn’t necessarily be the most interesting to talk about, so instead, I thought I’d tell you about my first experience on a major Hollywood film.

I spent all of high school trying to make a feature film, and shooting video with my friends, and when it came time for college, I knew I wanted to go to film school. I am a big Star Wars fan, and at that point was still a George Lucas fanboy, and I thought that USC was the way to go. I got to tour USC, and I have to say that it was an amazing campus, and the program obviously is one of the best, but ultimately, I ended up going to Worcester State College (now Worcester State University), and I was in the communications department. I was so close to living the dream.

My third (and final semester) at WSC brought about a really interesting opportunity. During one of the TV Production Club meetings, someone mentioned that there was a casting call for a feature film, and that it was going to be the Farrelly Brothers directing. Me and a friend drove into Boston, and went to the casting call, and stood in line for a couple of hours.When the time came for our section to be brought in and looked at, I was picked. My hair was shaggy and my beard full, and they thought I would look good as an extra in an eighties flashback scene.

A couple days later, I drove into Boston again, and went to be fitted for wardrobe, this time skipping class because it was on a weekday. A couple of days later, I showed up for the first of two days on set.

I had to arrive early in the morning, at the Boston Casting office, which was where I had been fitted, and was right across the street from Fenway Park. I went in, and this wasn’t a flashback scene, so I didn’t need to change into costume. I walked with a crowd of people over to the park, where we were going to be filming for the day. We packed into a single section of the park, not quite enough to fill every seat of the section, but enough to make it look like an early season crowd (and this was prior to breaking the curse, so they weren’t necessarily filling the seats in real life either way.

We would get moved around into different configurations, some of us kept off to the side in another section, and then rotated in. We could text but were told to keep our phones on silent or “pleasure mode” as the PA’s called it, and this was the September 17th 2004, long before smart phones, so we had very limited access too much information.

I had brought a couple of books to do homework, and would tuck them under the seat when I was in shots, but mostly I ignored my school work and watched the crew change the set ups, and all of the work going on around me. They were using cranes, and what looked like modified cherry picker trucks, and while the whole process fascinated me. Prior to that, I’d seen camcorders, and the cameras that concert venues use, but I hadn’t seen real cinema film cameras in person. For a young film nerd, it was hypnotizing, and even though I was doing very little, I was hooked on the feeling of being on a film set.

When cameras weren’t rolling, the Fenway cleanup crew was hosing down the floors and bathrooms, and I can still smell the rising stink of old beer getting washed off the floor.

The first big exciting moment of the day came in the late afternoon, we were moved over to the bleachers across the park, told to throw on our jackets, or spin our hats around anything to not look like the same crowd, and we were spread across a small bleacher section, and we were told that we were going to be intently watching the game, and that when Drew Barrymore came pushed her way through we were to act as if she was just anyone else. Of course, they brought her out to kind of let us all cheer for a second and get it out of our system. We did a few takes watching her push her way through, and then a couple where she tried to climb over the wall to run across the field.

That was about all we saw of Drew Barrymore that day. I will say, I was several rows back, but between takes she seemed to be really nice to the extras that were closer to her. I know that everyone has good days and bad days, and that we hear a lot about those moments when celebrities are feeling bad and act like jerks, so the fact that she seemed really nice should be mentioned.

Finally, to finish the day off, we went back to the original section, and were joined by Jimmy Fallon. He had just finished on Saturday Night Live, and his first leading role in Taxi wouldn’t come out for a few more weeks, so he wasn’t an unknown, but he certainly wasn’t at The Tonight Show host level yet either.

We worked for about an hour, getting different shots, and we’d all been there almost 12 hours, and many of the extras were fans who were having a hard time keeping up (like I said before no smart phones, and we weren’t allowed to have portable radios, and the Red Sox were playing in Yankee Stadium while we were shooting. At that point, his personal assistant would run up between takes and tell him what the score was, and what was going on in the game, and he would stand and tell the crowd. At that point, the Red Sox were losing.

When this was going on, I was sitting only three rows back from him, and I was on the end seat of the row, (at one point Peter Farrelly tripped on my foot, and then apologized to me, which I thought would be the highlight of the experience). I’d sit and watch the empty field as if a game were being played and react according to the directions I’d been given, and then they’d call “cut,” the assistant would run out and I’d watch from about ten feet away as Jimmy Fallon would stand up and announce the strike count, who was on what base, and all of the other baseball stats that meant very little to me. Even though I wasn’t much of a baseball fan, it was an exciting way of hearing about a game.

When the ninth inning came, the Red Sox were down by one run, and most of the crowd was certain they were going to lose, but each of Fallon’s updates sounded more and more encouraging as he mentioned people getting on bases, after one take, the assistant ran out, talked to him for a second, and he told us that the Sox had caught up and pulled ahead by one run. He then proceeded to delay filming, he walked out of his row into the aisle, and stood three inches to my right and very loudly sang “Where it began,” and the whole crowd sang back “I can’t begin to knowing” and lead us all in a sing-a-long of ‘Sweet Caroline-, the entire verse standing inches away from me, before starting to work the crowd.

After ‘Sweet Caroline,’ he lead us all into ‘Dirty Water.’ After two songs, and Jimmy Fallon singing and dancing his way through a hundred or more, tired extras who had been having a hard time keep their enthusiasm going, we were all renewed, and reenergized to finish the last hour or two of shooting.

When I finally left, and went back to my dorm, I slept through the following day of classes, but I called my parents, and my little sister, and told them all about it. My first day on a real Hollywood film had been long, and most people would have considered a lot of it boring, but it had ended on such an exciting note, and I knew that I was going to spend as much of the rest of my life chasing that feeling as I could.

That’s the really exciting part of the story, I did a second day a few days later, and brought my sister and my friend Kevin, and arguably the day had a lot more going on, and less ‘tedium,’ and we got to meet and get autographs from Lenny Clark and Bobby Farrelly, but ultimately there wasn’t anything quite as exciting as doing a sing-a-long with Jimmy Fallon as the Red Sox had taken back a game they seemed certain to lose.

In case you’re even less of a baseball fan than I am, the film was Fever Pitch, and a couple of weeks after the excitement of filming, the Red Sox went to and then won the World Series for the first time in 84 years, and because the plot of the movie had surrounded a fan hopelessly in love with a team that couldn’t go all the way, actually went all the way, they did some reshooting, and reworking to fit the World Series win in. The movie was pretty good, but the experience I had on it, was amazing, and I have chased that feeling on every shoot that I’ve worked on since. I’ll definitely post an update on here if I get to have a day that matches that feeling.

A Call to Action (From the Comfort of Quarantine)

This quarantine is changing everything, for everyone, and we at Chocolate Diamond Media are no different. Prior to this we had a strong plan of action in how we were going to build and start working with clients, and then all of a sudden we’re stuck at home, and I personally am watching my son during the time when I would normally be proactive. A four year-old can be a major productivity killer, even if he’s a ton of fun, but I decided to use his energy, and try to focus on projects that would help me to showcase my filmmaking skills, and entertain him. The first week of quarantine was spent creating a short Instagram video:

We’re going to be spending our time working on mini movies like this to keep ourselves busy, but we’ll likely explore different genres and styles. It will give us the opportunity to really explore creatively, and have fun while continuing to make some samples (although they will be greatly limited by sheer scope because of the limitations that are out of all of our hands right now.

This is going to be a great plan for the day to day during this situation, but we’re always trying to work simultaneously on short term and longer term projects, and so I had an idea, something that would hopefully make us all feel a bit less isolated, without any of the risk that comes with ignoring the current health and safety guidelines.

Let’s make a documentary, about what it is that we are doing during this time, something that will really showcase the human spirit and drive during a time of crisis.

I want to crowdsource this idea and I want you all to help me (you’ll receive credit of course). Whether you’re a filmmaker or not, this will be something that I think we can all participate in and be proud of. Here’s what I’m hoping for from you all:

Make a video (or videos) of you telling what it is that you’re doing during this time, if you’re staying home tell us what you’re doing to stay busy/productive/entertained, if you’re having to go out and work tell us about that. Use your phone’s video camera (horizontal please) and shoot an interview no longer than 5 minutes, and if you want any video of your activities, also if you’re taking walks, or drives, get some footage of what you’re exploring (safely).

For the interview, please answer the following questions:

  • State your name, location (can be city, or state if you prefer to keep it a little less specific), occupation, and whether or not you’re out of work, working from home, or going in to work.
  • Talk about the biggest challenge that this quarantine is posing for you
  • Talk about your feelings, whether it’s fear, annoyance, determination, purpose, whatever.

When you’ve made your video, please send it all (unedited so we can compile it) to chocolatediamondmedia@gmail.com, along with the name that you would like to be credited as, any job title/site/company you want also credited, and if your video is not in English, please include a transcript for subtitling.

Last thing, today is March 25th, and it seems like we’re weeks, or possibly months from the end of this, and so right now, I’d say the deadline for this will be April 25th, and will be extended if this quarantine/lockdown/whatever we’re calling it lasts beyond that. I look forward to see what we’re all doing, and hopefully making something that really can capture our collective human spirit.

How COVID-19 Affects Business

We don’t have any groundbreaking insights into the COVID-19 virus, or public health in general. We’re smart enough to understand that it’s greatly important that we take it seriously, and that we as a people band together and do everything within our control to contain the spread of this virus. Personally, I’ve been working pretty much from home so far in 2020, in trying to build this business up.

We haven’t begun shooting any big videos for clients, still mostly working on spec projects, specifically one that we’ve already filmed, and because of that we’re lucky that so far COVID-19 is not going to have much effect on our day to day. I can continue to edit from the comfort of my home office, and obviously with phones, email, and Skype, the only aspect of this business that is affected so far is that we can’t come to you and film.

My point is this, we here at Chocolate Diamond Media, are lucky. We’re being impacted on the absolute lowest level, and able to fully comply with all of the general guidelines that both NC is instituting, but also some of the expected and potential changes coming in the days/weeks ahead. We’re lucky, and we know that.

Unfortunately, most people are not going to be as lucky as us. This pandemic is going to negatively affect everyone that works almost any type of service industry. Restaurants are largely able to remain open with delivery and take-out options, but this isn’t going to help their waitstaff, and that’s assuming that the public remains confident in eating from restaurants, which is likely to be proportional with the fear and caution that people are practicing.

For a business that has been trying to pitch to restaurants, and hoping to create video for them, the way in which this is likely to hit our business personally, is in the aftermath. It is going to take time for restaurants, and food trucks to bounce back from this, and it will be really important for those businesses to help get their employees bounced back as well, and so investing in video work, will be pushed off.

I’m not writing this in self-pity, but rather to remind myself that while there are a lot of industries in which this going to affect, it’s important to remember that this is going to impact everyone. It’s important that we handle this correctly, and the correct thing to do in order to minimize human impact, unfortunately does increase business impact, but that doesn’t make it any less necessary.

We’re going to get through this together, first taking care of the disease, and hopefully minimizing the spread, as well as loss of life, and THEN we can tend to rebuilding, or in Chocolate Diamond Media’s case, we can resume building in the first place, our businesses.

If your business is looking to reenter the post coronavirus economy with a bang, please feel free to contact us and we can plan a video that we can work on (even if that means editing together a series of previously shot videos), and we’ll get you ready for any reopenings, relaunches, or just reminders.