Lights. Camera. Action.
GCC’s Media Arts Department and Film Club is the first take leading to a career in the entertainment industry. TNT’s “Southland” could be considered the final shot.
Whether under the direction of media arts associate professor Mike Petros, film club president Nick Weber or television series director Christopher Chulack, the production of a show is the same.
Scene one- From the sandy beaches of Malibu to the noisy streets of east Los Angeles, “Southland” is a fast-pace action-filled drama that travels deep within the lives of cops, criminals, victims and their families, starring Michael Cudlitz (LA cop John Cooper), Ben McKenzie (rookie Ben Sherman) and Regina King (detective Lydia Adams). With three seasons, the series successfully finished its season finale on March 8.
On an average, the show filmed seven to eight pages of script and covered three different locations per day by 5 p.m. With a tense schedule, the cast and crew cooperated to meet the 9 p.m. deadline every Tuesday.
After having the opportunity to journey behind the scenes, members of the crew revealed the show’s cinematic magic.
The departments consisted of producer, assistant director, cinematography, film editing, casting, production design, art, art direction, transportation, production management, special and visual effects, costume design, makeup, costume and wardrobe, stunts, camera and electrical, editorial, music, sounds, and set decoration.
With the lack of time, it was difficult to interview every department and despite the busybody of a hot set, crewmembers were eager to converse.
A typical production day began at 5 a.m. with the arrival of numerous trailers. Stationed in Chinatown, the transportation department was the first of the many to dock its wheels at base camp.
Always five steps ahead of the game, transportation captain Jim Petti along with coordinator Vic Cuccia operated as if they were kings. Communicating with the assistant director and each department, they organized all drivers’ functions such as distributing maps and signaling where to park.
Scene two – A “Southland” moment occurred when first assistant director Derek Johansen came through the door of the craft services bungalow and yelled, “Dead man needed on set.” A male actor, draped in freshly dead makeup, sat up and replied, “I’m gonna go die now.”
Following the living-dead actor to the set was an assembly of police officers, every single one dressed in uniform.
Clearly, they were all actors or so it was assumed. Later proven incorrect, set costumer Suzy Magnin explained that each cop, coroner and detective were real down to the very last button.
“[The show] is all about reality,” said Magnin.
In constant collaboration with makeup, hair and props, she worked in a very detailed and organized manner.
Magnin sorted through 40 to 50 pieces of clothing a day and was responsible for composing outfits suitable for each character, while matching the writers’ and director’s vision as well as maintaining continuity.
With a range of 25 stunts per day, she explained that if John’s blue tailored shirt was bloody in scene six then it most definitely should have been drenched and splattered with red stains in scene five. The end of a show is usually filmed on the first day of shooting.
“We don’t do fashion, we create characters. Costuming is not about knowing what they wore but why. If you’re going to do TV or movies, know your craft and Hollywood history,” said Magnin.
On the set, the previously mentioned actor lay face down on the tile floor of a thrift store. Police officers, detectives and corners surrounded the crime scene as the lights flashed and cameras rolled. The hair and makeup teams stood patiently off to the side waiting for its next move.
In mid-sentence, department head hair stylist Carla Farmer was interrupted when she was called on to set for “last looks.”
Finishing her sentence, Farmer explained that she was responsible for managing continuity and how a character ends a particular scene.
In addition to the television series, Farmer has worked on “Scary Movie,” “Dance Flick,” and “Dinner Party,” each with diverse hairstyles. Although the cuts of east LA are simple and natural, there is not a single due she can’t do.
“Your talent finds you. I feel blessed to work in this industry and do what I love. Do not be scared to do things for free even if you’re the best hair stylist in the class,” said Farmer.
Returning from the final touches of powder, blush and a dash of fake oozy blood, department head make-up artist Mark Bautista couldn’t stress enough how exciting his career was.
Inspired by Lon Chaney, “man of a thousand faces,” Bautista has never stopped painting, one face after the other.
One might think that gory make-up is the most exhilarating aspect of an artist’s job. However, according to Bautista, old-age prosthetic make-up was much more intricate, relatable and appealing to the eye.
“Follow your dreams and be aware of anything and everything you see. Be conscious of all the different facial structures,” he said and in order to become a make-up artist, one has to “make yourself needed and have what people need,” added key make-up artist Kim Collee.
The department that doesn’t get the most credit is the camera and electrical department. David Howard is a grip, also known as a “teamster.”
The duties consisted of colonizing the scripts, sculpting and shaping lighting, controlling the dollies and providing sand bags and set lighting.
“Basically, we are the rolling hardware store.lumber, screws and all. It’s been a grind, said Howard.
Another artist per say was lighting technician Jonathan Cushing, who said he “painted with light.”
Aside from providing power, he used the open spaces as his blank canvas to emit natural illumination.
“You pick and choose where you want the light and what you want the viewer to see,” said Cushing.
Moving closer to the set, sound mixer Harrison Marsh, also known as “Duke” had his headphones on taking sound snap shots on as he eagerly struggled to answer questions. Actors were body miced on set so he had to tune in as much as possible.
Like a fly on a wall, Marsh recorded sounds ranging from an actor’s lines to the sirens of a fire truck.
“It’s as live as you can get. Its raw sound,” said Marsh.
The cast and crew were undeniably dedicated. Like a team, the shot had to be perfect the first time and all of the players, including one of the point guards, second assistant director Katie Wheelhouse was in the game.
For Wheelhouse, organization was crucial. From making call sheets, contacting actors to booking background extras, she was at all times on the go and prepping for the next day.
Among members of the cast and crew, there is mutual respect, trust and communication, making “Southland” a smash.
Scene three-On the opposite side of the film screen, GCC is but a friendly neighbor to the studios.
And the media arts department and film club is reaching for the stars.
The film club was established a year ago and serves as a social gathering for students interested in film production.
The club provides seminars on green screens, lighting, editing, make-up tutorials, writing workshops and “literally everything it takes to make a film,” said Weber. In addition, students are able to bring in work and receive feedback from other film makers.
During the winter intersession, Weber took the club to a higher level. His company, Rabble House Productions, filmed a one-hour feature titled, “Hidden behind the Mask,” a comedic action flick with a cast and crew of 45 students.
In relation to Wheelhouse, Weber said, “A film maker has to be able to do everything on set and then you can talk to different departments in their [own] language.”
The whole shoot took twenty days to film a 60-page script that had 20 fight scenes. The cast fearlessly executed all of their own stunts.
With a $200 budget, “[each member] wore more than five different hats at least,” said Weber, describing how each crew member had numerous responsibilities above and beyond their job title.
The cast and crew built a lot of its own equipment such as camera stabilizers, fig rigs, dollies and camera sliders. A set, lights, cameras and audio and make-up artists were donated as well. Crew members were like kids in a candy store.
Although the production was blessed to have extra support, optimizing time was the most difficult challenge but that did not slow it down. In fact, the team handled each test professionally.
“It’s a love and a passion and to be able to do it with your friends makes it all the better.”
After the company has finished its final touches on the feature film, Rabble House productions will shoot a paid viral commercial for Diamond Crossword Puzzles on March 26 to 27.
If one aspires to be in “the biz,” the media arts department is a great tool to prepare while the club serves as a supplement.
“The students are getting the best training so that when an offer comes up, they can jump right in,” said Petros.
This semester, the department offers seven classes. Operating as if a director himself, Petros has made the newest software in the industry accessible to students.
With Mac computers, Final Cut Pro 8 and 3 Canon 7Ds, the students aren’t anything but up-to-date and are set to hit the silver screen.
“Film making is the most fun you’ll ever have being stressed,” a floating quote among the cast and crew of “Hidden behind the Mask.”
For more information about “Southland,” visit www.tnt.tv/series/southland/.
Also, meetings for the film club are held every Thursday from 12:30 to 1:30 in SG324.
Now, that’s a wrap.