Behind the Scenes

How'd You Get That Gig?

Ah... Life on the set on a Hollywood movie. The glitz, the glam—the sixteen-hour days, the freezing cold, the 3 a.m. call times. Making movies might be the toughest job a person could ever love, and these five Portlanders should know.

By Stacey Wilson May 19, 2009 Published in the February 2009 issue of Portland Monthly

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Image: Leah Nash

The Production Assistant

Who I am: Chris Parkhurst, thirty-seven

Where I live: Southeast Portland

What I do: “The production assistant, or PA, is an entry-level job in the film industry. We are the first to arrive, last to leave, and generally do whatever is necessary on set: help the grips set up equipment, assist the art department in painting a set, get coffee for the director, or stand out in the pouring rain for fifteen hours making sure passersby don’t walk where filming is taking place.”

My first big gig: “I worked on a World War II period feature in 2006 called Everyman’s War. There were armored vehicles, live pyrotechnics, and I’m pretty sure the people of Scappoose, Oregon, thought they were under siege on a few of those nights.”

How much I make: About $200 to $250 per day

How hard I work: “PAs are some of the hardest-working people I know. Sadly, our pay does not necessarily reflect this.”

Job perks: “There’s always something to learn on the set. And the great thing is that no one ever stays a PA. We’re all budding directors, cinematographers, and producers. I’m actually headed to Nepal this fall to direct my first feature documentary, Journey to Kathmandu, about Nepalese goat herders trekking through the Himalayas. There’s a common saying: ‘Don’t fuck with a PA too much. Tomorrow they could be your boss.’”

Job bummers: “We’re at everyone’s disposal, so we often feel like we’re everyone’s bitches. It can be frustrating to work your ass off yet have virtually no creative input. But that’s just how it works. You gotta get through boot camp. It’s a rite of passage.”

Worst on-set snafu: “No way, not gonna tell. Never gonna tell. It’s something no one ever knew about. And we’re all the better for it.”

Brush with greatness: “I was working on Management in the fall of 2007, and Steve Zahn and I were in the bathroom. He was wearing a monk’s outfit and came up to the urinal next to mine. He couldn’t quite get ‘it’ out at the right angle to properly hit the urinal. He said, ‘Dude, I wonder how monks do it.’”

The Transporter

Who I am: Marvin LaRoy Sanders, forty-eight

Where I live: North Portland

What I do: “I am an executive transportation specialist. I take care of actors and directors and see that they have safe, expedient, and comfortable travel from point A to point B. This can be to and from their homes, hotels, studios, the set, and other locations.”

How I got my first gig: “My initial work in the industry was as an actor and stuntman. I went to a production office here in Portland to see if anyone was hiring; one of the producers suggested I check in with another department to see if they were looking for crew members. The first door I came to was the transportation department. I told the coordinator that I knew Portland like the back of my hand and that I had a good driving record. I left my number, and two weeks later he hired me. Twenty years later, I’m still going strong.”

My first big show: Men of Honor, starring Robert De Niro and Cuba Gooding Jr., which was filmed in Portland in 1999.

How much I make: “It’s a union job. I make $31.75 per hour, with an eight-hour-a-day guarantee.”

How hard I work: “The average movie day is 14 hours long. Workweeks are five or six days. The average week is 84 hours. My longest week was 136 hours.”

Job perks: “Food! Every feature provides free breakfast, lunch, and dinner to the crew. There is also craft service, but that’s more like a 7-Eleven on wheels, though the latte machine is usually in high demand. Also, hanging out with Hollywood’s A-listers as if they are friends and neighbors is great.”

I was in LA and drove Penelope Allen around on the film Hurlyburly. At the end of the day she introduced me to her friend: ‘Al, this is Marvin. He’s from Portland.’ It was Al Pacino!

Worst on-set snafu: “I was driving Academy Award–winning director Barry Levinson on Bandits, part of which was filmed in Oregon. One day in Beverly Hills, I had to pick him up from the Regent Beverly Wilshire hotel from Pretty Woman, and I see Mr. Levinson come out the front door. I back up the SUV, hop out, and accidentally lock my keys in the car. I’ve never been more embarrassed in my life.”

Brush with greatness: “There are so many. I was Robert De Niro’s personal driver on Men of Honor. Another great one was when I was in LA and drove Penelope Allen around on the film Hurlyburly. At the end of the day she introduced me to her friend: ‘Al, this is Marvin. He’s from Portland.’ It was Al Pacino! It was one of those moments.”

The Costumer

Who I am: Critter Pierce, thirty-three

Where I live: Southeast Portland

What I do: “I manage all aspects of costumes, from how many buttons the actor fastens to how clean (or dirty) the garment should be. A typical day begins by prepping the costumes to be worn that day (steam, iron, or aging and distressing) and setting the costume in the actor’s trailer. On set, I monitor the clothes: how a collar is turned, how tight the belt is, etc. I never rely on my memory, so continuity photos, along with copious notes, are taken. The day ends by clearing the trailers, restocking closets, and doing laundry, including sweaty, stinky socks.”

How I got my gig: “I had been working at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta and in 1999 got a job working on Remember the Titans, my first feature film, in the tailor’s shop, and then became the set costumer during filming.”

How much I make: “Enough to be comfortable and enjoy my time off between projects.”

Worst on-set snafu: “I was on a shoot at a ranch in Central Oregon and there were spiders everywhere. Thousands of them. Crawling on my legs and into my set bag. On top of that, we had to pee in the bushes because base camp was two miles away.”

Brush with greatness: “Recently I did costumes for Untraceable, but I’m not comfortable sharing stories about celebrities because it breaks trust between costumers and the actors we dress.”

The Location Manager

Who I am: Shaun Gavin, forty-five

Where I live: West Linn

What I do: “I scout locations for movies and show them to the director, who then chooses where he wants to shoot. I make deals with the property owners, and then it’s all logistics from there: permits, police, parking, where to feed the crew, notifying neighborhoods, hauling away the garbage.”

My first big show: “They’re all big when it comes to the amount of work, and Hollywood movies tend to take longer because they can afford it. But one of the first big-budget shows for me was Kevin Costner’s The Postman. I worked on that one all over Oregon for nearly all of 1997.”

How much I make: “Somewhere between rice and beans and filet and lobster. I make a good living when I’m working but have to sock it away for when I’m not.”

How hard I work: “On a feature I usually work sixteen-hour days, six days a week, for about three months at a time. It can be exhausting. I never see my wife, and I spend way too much time in my car.”

Job perks: “Getting paid to look for beautiful scenery isn’t a bad gig. I’ve scouted from airplanes, helicopters, snowmobiles, ATVs, and rubber rafts.”

Worst on-set snafu: “While scouting locations in Astoria for The Ring Two, I was showing the director a forest on the far side of a cow pasture. About halfway across the pasture, my SUV suddenly started sinking into mud. I stepped out, and everyone got a great laugh at seeing me up to my elbows in mud and manure. My rig smelled like a barnyard for about a year.”

Brush with greatness: “I work primarily with the director, so I don’t interact with the actors as much. However, on The Postman Kevin Costner was also the director, so I worked with him extensively. I also met Jennifer Aniston in Management and football great Jerry Rice, who starred in Without a Paddle: Nature’s Calling. Both were genuinely nice and an honor to meet.”

The Casting Director

Who I am: Lana Veenker, forty-one

Where I live: Northeast Portland

What I do: “As a casting director, I select the actors for a project based on the director’s vision for each role. I audition actors, present the top candidates to the production team, and provide input as needed with the final casting choices. The casting director handles troubleshooting that may come up during production—for example, if an actor needs to be replaced. We also cast smaller roles or those created after principal photography has begun.”

How I got my gig: “Toward the end of a ten-year overseas odyssey, during which time I studied acting in Paris and Cambridge, I worked at a casting office in London. In 1999, I returned to Portland and launched my casting company, Lana Veenker Casting, with just a laptop and a cell phone. Most recently we managed local casting for Twilight, Management, Untraceable, The Burning Plain, and Into the Wild.”

My first big show: “A film called Aberdeen, starring [the Swedish actor] Stellan Skarsgård. I was in Glasgow, Scotland, seeking a girl to play the lead actress, Lena Headey, as a child. I ended up meeting the little sister of one of the actresses who was there to audition, and it was she who landed the role.”

How much I make: “It’s feast or famine, so my income is all over the map.”

Job perks: “Playing with actors and getting paid for it. Watching people and projects you believed in become successful. Also, being able to write off cable TV, Netflix, and movie and theater tickets as research is a major perk.”

One time an actress’s vibrator went off in her purse right after her audition. It sounded like a jackhammer.

Job bummers: “‘Sorry to call you past 10 p.m., but the producers now want Latina soccer moms instead of rockers. And they have to speak Puerto Rican Spanish. Can you round a bunch up by morning?’”

Worst on-set snafu: “One time an actress’s vibrator went off in her purse right after her audition. It sounded like a jackhammer. I tried to reassure her that this could happen to anyone, but I don’t think there’s any way to recover from that.”

Brush with greatness: “Walking the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival for Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park was great. But one of my favorite memories is of a Christmas party years ago at Kyle MacLachlan’s house in LA. After learning we were both from the Northwest, he produced a bottle of one of his most beloved pinot noirs and shared it with me.”

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