Journey Behind the Big Screen
In my pursuit of becoming a writer and director, I moved to Orlando in May; to attend the University of Central Florida. I was accepted into the university’s masters level film program. On June 4th I accomplished the first of many goals, that was the first day on my first film production. Jason Gregory, a film graduate student at the University of Central Florida, created a TV show titled Waking Up White. The production for the TV pilot took place from June 4th to June 11th in Orlando and several of surrounding cities. Waking Up White is the story of a Black family feeling unsure about their recent move to suburbia. After several setbacks, they wake up in a new house and as a white family. They now must decide; do they continue with their new lives as a white family or return to their lives as the black family they’ve always known. I may not be real fan of the show’s premise; It could easily turn into a show meant to fuel white peoples love to consume or “be black,” but knowing Jason I have faith in him.
The first day of production was filled with joy, excitement, and anxiety; but on that day I learned a very important lesson about group morale and performance. After meeting many members of the crew for the first time my anxiety disappeared. Everyone was nice and easy to get along with. Which is a great quality to have for a crew. Life on set can be chaotic sometimes due to the various departments having to accomplish their individual goals, all within a small window of time and limited space. As an Art Production Assistant, I mainly handled set design and reconstruction. There were several times during production where I was performing by task at the same time as the lighting and camera teams. Those departments handle various equipment and they routinely bring in or remove large pieces of equipment to create the best shot for the scene. The crew’s disposition helped us avoid disaster on set. Jason himself attributed this to the crew enjoying working alongside one another.
By the third day of production, the 8 am call time started to take its toll on some members of the crew. Jason and the other producers wisely did not schedule any filming on Thursday June 7th. This gave the crew a much-needed rest day before the toughest part of our filming schedule. A Friday with two filming locations; a Saturday where we are filming outside in 94-degree temperature; and a Sunday featuring a 3 am call time. The final day was Monday June 11th, which was a relatively light day of shooting. It featured three beautiful houses, including one that was in the movie Rosewood (1997). It was difficult because the crew was slightly fatigued and the somber realization that this was the last time we would see each other all together, loomed over us all day.
I learned many things from my experience: set terminology, many set procedures, scheduling to account for workload and weather, and maximizing time and lighting available. The biggest lesson I learned from working on set however is that department heads are extremely valuable. As a director your main job is to monitor what is being captured by the camera. Focusing on how the story is progressing and what is being communicated through the lens. Having knowledge of different lighting, sound, grip, set design, and camera tricks is helpful; but you will not have time to monitor those areas and do your job all at once. That is why having competent department heads is important. Being able to hire effective and competent department heads helps keep a director focused on the actors and the story. In fact, it is a sign of good leadership if you can delegate and communicate to those department heads. Proper communication will keep everyone on the same page, so that your vision has the best chance of being translated seamlessly from paper to screen.
Working on Jason’s TV Pilot was a truly eye-opening experience. I am thankful for the opportunity and all the great people I met on set. I would like to give a special thanks to First Assistant Director and my friend Alejandro Watson, she helped me learn so much and was always available to talk if I had questions. Just another example of having great people in leadership positions on set. I will take every lesson I learned and use them in my future projects and films.