Set Diary [Henry's Daughters]

Below is a recap from day four on the set of an industrial (non-broadcast) shoot. The film is about a business-ethics dilemma within a family of engineers; I played the younger daughter, Julie.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

6:00 – Alarm goes off and I curse myself for staying up until midnight watching Sex & the City and Will & Grace reruns. Makeup will be provided on-set, so all I have to do is wash my face and try to give my hair a little attention. I then load up the two wardrobe bags full of clothes that I spent most of the previous night laying out. (Since this was a SAG ultra-low budget film, we had to provide the clothes, accessories, shoes, etc., which meant putting together a dozen options to present to Tiffany, our vivacious Assistant Producer, for approval. The styling had to be done on set, so I had to pack up almost everything that could possibly pull the outfits together–shoes, belts, earrings, scarves–to be prepared for what the scene called for, what my counterparts on screen would be wearing, and what my character would likely chose.) With just enough time to make my espresso and leave Mom a note, I was out the door, on my way to Fort Worth.

9:00 – Call time. I arrive at the plant in Fort Worth where we would be shooting all day. (I will not mention the name of the facility nor company because they have many government defense contracts and therefore should be kept secure in terms of layout and operations.) This place was incredible and I still cannot believe that we were able to secure this location! First of all, we had to turn over our cell phone upon arrival because of the camera features on them. I don’t think I have to explain how difficult this was. We had to wear closed-toe shoes, so this was probably the first time in two years I’ve shown up to set in anything other than flip-flops. Then we had to wear name badges with a security card to get through the initial turnstyle. We are escorted (by the Chief Engineer!) through the plant to the hanger in which we would be shooting all day; along the way I saw a myriad of contraptions that sent my imagination into overload. Transformers have nothing on this place! We walk into the shoot location, and I am immediately blown away by the giant Bradley IFV with which we are sharing the space. (Google it if you don’t know what this thing is. It’s incredible and I couldn’t stop staring at it.) Quick wardrobe change, makeup and hair (by Shannon Knox, who–in the grand tradition of MUAs–is awesome and wonderful!), and then it’s time to start shooting.

10:00 – Shot our first scene in an adjacent warehouse on the property, never unaware of the fact that the entire plant is held within a giant fence topped with wire. We began with B-roll shots of me working on our autonomous car software, which basically means I got to play with the interface that the company uses to test the driving capabilities of the Bradley. It….was….awesome!! I got to wear headphones and basically play the most expensive Play Station ever invented. All the while, Joe Cantu, our fantastic DP, is asking me to keep the vehicle on the runway as I bulldoze nearby buildings. I’m still not sure letting me operate that equipment was a great idea on their part, but it was probably the highlight of my day.

11:30 – Break for lunch. I don’t know how many of y’all have shared a lunch room with about 50 lab-coat-wearing engineers, but it’s a treat. You instantly feel about 80 IQ points stupider. The food was great, and then we were escorted back to the hanger by our insanely over-qualified babysitter. After another escort to the restroom for a third wardrobe change (and yes, I had my very own labcoat for the shoot), we resumed shooting the rest of the technical scenes…

13:00 – …And so begins the infamous “arse shots.” In this film, I play a young, spunky engineer who happens to have a tattoo on her lower back, which is ogled (a word I apparently never pronounced correctly before this shoot) by her fellow engineers as she bends down to work underneath their prototype vehicle. We also got to incorporate some pyrotechnics into this sequence, which served as the impetus for me grabbing a wrench and diving under the car, thus exposing the true star (no pun intended) of the film. In shooting terms, this meant I spent the better part of the afternoon on all fours, bent over and listening to an array of comments and jokes that made me feel oh-so-proud of my backside. I can now say that this tattoo of mine (yes, I have a real tramp stamp, a fact at which most of the cast and crew balked given my apparently innocent facade) was finally put to good use. Great times.

14:30-ish – Moving on to the scene in which my smarmy boss, played by the king of deadpan, John Athas, comes on to me. It was all I could do not to crack up since my natural reaction when I’m uncomfortable is to laugh (which creates obvious confusion in such circumstances), but once I pulled it together and got into character, John really had the tougher gig. Next we shot some improv B-roll scenes with my fellow engineers (the incomparable Dell Johnson and David Lugo), proving that I break when faced with witty, hilarious actors worse than Jimmy Fallon. But what was I supposed to do when David suggested (camera rolling, mind you) adding hydraulics and a better sound system to the prototype to make it more user-friendly? Seriously?!

16:00- That’s a wrap (for me, at least)! I was so bummed to leave and can’t express enough what a joy the cast and crew were. I always hear horror stories about SAG directors and producers, but this experience couldn’t have been better. Executive Producer Ken Mandel and Director Paul Martin’s New York sense of humor kept me on my toes and reminded me why I love those damn Yankees.

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