I have gained a great deal of knowledge of the film industry over the years by keeping my ears and eyes open. Questions will all answer themselves, given enough time.
While in my twenties, I was part of the peripheral local support crew of a very major motion picture. I was the service manager of Thomas Sales, a recreational vehicle dealership, the largest between Dallas, Texas and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, at that time, as such we usually secured all the service contracts for any music or film productions that required temporary on set housing in the same area (motorhomes for dressing rooms).
I was assigned as the 24 hour on call for service/repairs of the vehicles we rented to the production company that was filming, ‘Texasville’, the sequel to ‘The Last Picture Show’, both of which were written by Larry McMurtry and directed by Peter Bogdanovich. More specifically, I was the personal technician for Cybil Shepherd’s private coach and I spent many dozens of hours in the unit both on the set and off.
The behavior of people not involved with the film was much more bizarre than anything the film’s stars were doing. The most frequent request I got from people who knew I had access to this group of people and that I worked on the support crew, with 24 hour set access, was ‘To steal some of Cybil’s underwear’ for them.
Really?!? I was the service manager of a company that had access to all sorts of personal effects of all of our customers, yet, people still thought somehow it was okay to steal a ‘rich actresses underwear’!
“They will never notice one pair missing!” was the one thing I heard most often. Well, I happen to know something about that statement and it’s total invalidity.
The company that did the laundry for the film, I can’t recall their name and wouldn’t post it even if I remembered, had employees that used our services as private citizens, getting their personal RV’s serviced and repaired. One of the laundry supervisors told me that he had received notice from Miss Shepherd’s people, stating that, “None of her panties are making it back from the cleaners and this must stop.”
I never stole any of Cybil’s belongings, it just isn’t me and I had a job that someone as young as I was rarely managed to aspire to, so it was out of the question for me anyway.
I became sort of tight with Miss Shepherd’s driver Sandie Blackwood, I saw her all the time. I even rode with her to Miami, Oklahoma once when she was picking up a new Prevost motor coach for another star in the film to look at.
Cybil wound up having me install a super capacity refrigerator in her coach and she GAVE ME the refrigerator that came out of it. She even autographed one of the doors for me.
Lesson 1 Fans are much more bizarre than celebrities sometimes.
Fast forward 24 years to the feature film, ‘The Trees’.
I worked on the crew of this film after seeing a Meetup post stating that the film was looking for crew help. It was an indie production which meant nobody on the crew was about to get rich, but I had recently decided to change my employment from a career in manufacturing and craftsman work, to acting, film making. That in itself is a wonder to may people who feel that after you have done something for 25 years you can not do anything different. I will admit that it is a bit unsettling to go from being an expert at one thing to a novice at something else, but I am blessed with some pretty significant genetic contributions that make me able to do just about anything I want to do. So while people were saying,”Hey, you can’t just do that”, I just went ahead and did it.
This was a film written and directed by a brilliant young director/actor, David Arthur Clark, who is also the lead in the piece. Working closely with him proved valuable in many ways to my own career. While he was a very busy man with the production of this piece, he was also reachable and offered advice based on his experience. My contact list grew as a result of this film to a level where I began to actually have options. Nothing was ‘handed to me’ but I had reached a level where I was not afraid to knock on doors.
I gained 2nd Camera, dolly grip and key grip credits for the feature film. I told people during the filming of this piece that someday I was going to be acting in films and wanted to be in a film with Michael Madsen, in particular. While they all respected my skills on set and my ‘always ready and on time’ work ethic, I could see the ‘disbelief and humor’ in their eyes when I would mention it. So I shut up about it.
Lesson 2 not everyone will be able to see your vision with you, even if you can see theirs.
Two things you gain in any film industry position, if you apply yourself, are contacts and experience. I value the contacts above everything else. Even over the money. I have been in a student film because I wanted to help a group of film students make their grades, knowing it was going to be of virtually no value to my own career. I have written and directed pieces for ‘fun more than profit’ because I wanted to make a statement. I wanted to add value to my own resume.
I have dragged around and operated sound and camera equipment on multiple unpaid documentary projects because they were ‘community positive’ or ‘youth positive’ projects and I believed in the director’s vision. Wearing out shoe leather and my old bones for little more than lunch and an IMDb credit.
In so doing, I have come under fire from people I don’t even know, for stepping one toes, I didn’t even know existed. I am only trying to exist in a large field with plenty of resources and material for everyone, but if you graze in someone else’s pastures, you will find out soon enough. Then you have decisions to make. Back down, stay the course or compromise. I have chosen ‘stay the course’ most of my life, and this will be no different. No intentions of stepping on toes, but also no intentions of ‘pussing-out’ every time someone gets a knot in their panties.
Lesson 3 no matter what you do in life, you will make enemies. Since my motivation is to make and star in some meaningful film projects and not to get rich, this works fine for me. I want to direct meaningful documentaries and have 3 different ones in my mind right now, I want to act in some great films by other great writers and directors, and have been fortunate to be involved in some really great projects, and to write for some substantial drama/comedy works. All of those are happening in my life right now.
About that Michael Madsen thing… Less than 6 months after wrapping on the feature film, ‘The Trees’, I was cast in a sci-fi time travel series, opposite Michael Madsen, in which most of his lines are with me and all of my lines are with him. Dystopia is due to air in early 2016 and I am listed in multiple episodes of the series.
The series is currently planning a second season and I hope to be part of that as well. Since we wrapped season one, I have learned another thing about film/television.
Lesson 4 Never promise what you can’t deliver and always over deliver and under promise. Your reputation will shimmer as a result.
Since as stated, my goal was never to get rich, and I am lucky to have a life partner who believes in me and my skills, I have chosen to behave like a big famous star, in one respect. I will not do any projects I do not personally believe in. I won’t do anything just for the money. It is my get rich slow scheme, and IT IS WORKING!
But as a result, I have been cast in two more awesome projects, one which films next month, and another which shoots sometime after that TBA.
In my picking and choosing, I decided I wouldn’t do what I call, “Pain Hurt Films”, slashing just for the sake of grossing people out. Depicting people being hurt for no reason other than to show it can be done. “Human Centipede” is such a film. The borderlines are very blurry. Hellraiser series inflicts serious torture and pain, and while I wouldn’t be in one of those films, I don’t consider it a ‘Pain Hurt Film’.
Anyway, I went looking for a western and some gangster prison films. I like being a bad guy. Maybe because in real life I am a nice guy, who has been a bad guy in the past.
I got home from the last day of shooting Dystopia and the same day, six hours later was talking to a brilliant young director about being in a 5 part western series he is shooting in Montana. The Big Muddy is his project and an awesome series in the vein of the old time westerns with incredible cinematography to it’s credit. Chris Hoffert is the young director’s name and he has been given the golden kiss by industry heavyweights for his vision and skill at getting an idea onto the screen and indelibly burned into the minds of the viewers.
Working in this film project was an experience I will never forget. The cast was awesome and the director and crew were always right on cue. An incredible amount of great work was done quickly, allowing time for extensive shot set-ups and blocking. Bannack is a perfectly kept old ghost mining-town set in the rolling hills of Montana.
The Big Muddy will be a project I am always proud of having on my resume.
Lesson 5 You are your own best spokesperson. Your work speaks louder than a resume. Film people are some of the busiest professionals I have ever known and they don’t have time to bullshit around. Show them something before you waste their time with talk of how much you can bring to their production. Be willing to do more for less, if the art is your passion. Some of the finest actors in the business have worked for virtually nothing (or literally nothing) because they believe in a project that much. If you are not willing to do this, this may not be what you really want to do for a living. From my observations, nobody is getting rich in the film industry except those who already were rich. Some of the most spectacular productions are low budget films by relatively unknown filmmakers who had vision without riches.
I see no end in sight for my efforts or continued projects.