Entry #28: Be Nice to Everyone on Set

I wrote this for another blog as a guest blogger, then they changed what they wanted me to write for them (frustrating).  I felt this was valuable so I decided to post it on here instead:

My name is Jason Michael Brescia and at the moment of writing this I’m the writer and director of two feature films. My most recent film, Bridge and Tunnel has toured the country throughout 2014 on the regional film festival circuit, and in September we had a theatrical run in Los Angeles. Our soundtrack will be released digitally on October 21st, on vinyl December 30th, and the movie itself will go on sale on Election Day. It’s been an incredible run thus far, but none of it would have been possible without the lessons that I learned while constructing my first feature film, The Newest Pledge.
The Newest Pledge is a comedy about a fraternity that pledges a baby they find on their doorstep. It’s pretty easy to track down and watch if you ever get the thirst for something that conceptually absurd. I’m really proud of it, I’m proud of the team that helped me make it, and proud of how it all came to be.
Now before I dive deeper into my story, let me give you some background on the feudal culture of film sets; On most sets, actors, directors, and producers are treated like royalty, while the key crew can range anywhere from nobles to knights (if you’re the latter don’t you dare talk to the “royalty”), and the production assistants and background talent, otherwise known as “extras,” are your peasants and serfs (and don’t you dare look at the royalty). In some cases there are union rules that prohibit higher-up crew members from associating with those who would file under the “peasant” umbrella.
Here’s something you should know about me: I’ve never given a hoot about social hierarchies. Not in high school, not in college, not in my professional life. I don’t care who you think is uncool and I don’t care who you think is cool. I’ll acquaint myself with the company I choose because I’m a better judge of who I like to be around than you are.
Moving on…
The first day of shooting The Newest Pledge was March 18th, 2010. We shot two scenes at Orange Coast College in Orange County, California and neither ended up making the final cut of the movie. The reason that the scenes didn’t make it into the movie vary, I put that on myself, but my producers did a prodigious job setting that day up, and one tasks they excelled at was getting enough extras to make the campus seem full of life.
The first scene we shot took place at an outdoor cafeteria and the premise was that four of the fraternity brothers were eating lunch while discussing what life after college would be like (though the scene got cut, the notion of the dialogue would become the premise for Bridge and Tunnel). We had lots of background talent on set filling up shots, the scene looked great, the cast and crew were fluid for a first day, and despite a few imperfections, I was feeling pretty good about what we were doing.
For those of you who aren’t aware, Orange Coast College is minutes away from John Wayne Airport. This created sound nightmares every half hour or so, and during one “hold for plane” break, despite all taboos, I walked up to one of the background actors and started talking. The background extra told me he had been doing background work here and there, that he was pretty much just looking for something do that day, and that he aspired to be an actor. He introduced himself as Renato and I asked if he wanted to come back to set on Saturday. He said “sure” and I told myself that if he actually showed up I’d write-in a roll for him.
Saturday rolled around; we were once again on campus at Orange Coast College, and ten minutes before call time Renato showed up. Similar to the first day of set, the scene we shot that day didn’t make the final cut, this time it had more to do with an erratic performance by the baby, but on set that day Renato began to bond with the other cast members and he began to carve a place for himself within the culture of our set.
As time progressed, Renato became an indispensable figure on The Newest Pledge set; as his role grew my producers and I began to notice that he strengthened every scene he participated in, often adding humor to moments that needed it and enhancing scenes just by being in the room. There are even a few moments in the film where he stole the show. His most memorable moment comes towards the end of the film when he breaks into a dance, another great moment he had was in a scene with President Dumerville, played by Mindy Sterling of Austin Powers franchise fame.
Renato also lead by example amongst his fellow cast members. Things weren’t always as smooth as they could have been on The Newest Pledge set, I wasn’t the most experienced director and much of our crew was still in college, but Renato always served as a calming presence for his fellow cast members, and at times even the crew. He was always willing to lend a hand, he was never at the center of any tension, and he was constantly prepared. Had I not foreseen the devotion that Renato would bring to set, perhaps other cast members may have lost impetus during some of the more exasperating moments in producing the movie.
I passionately believe that Renato’s addition to the cast made The Newest Pledge a better movie, and that is because in my professional life, which emulates my personal life, I’m always willing to modify the script and write in new characters, and I never fear going off-page if I believe the consequences of doing so will lead to a stronger product. Our lives are always an interaction away from being more complete, and the background talent we cross paths with everyday are just the principle cast members we’ve yet to audition.

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About jasonmichaelbrescia

Filmmaker. Writer, director. Comedy.
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