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I want to set the record straight. The above screenshot is from msn.com, taken on April 13, 2014. Recently, tragically, a young man was gunned down by police in what is being cited as a case of mistaken identity. It’s really a shame, as it was a senseless accident, and that young man was apparently eager and excited to get his professional life started.

I empathize for his family and friends, but I have grown weary of the sensationalist crap put forth by the media. Facts are facts, and they can’t be changed by a headline. Below is from the LA Times, and is a more accurate representation of the truth. In other words, if you are in search of “news,” don’t trust MSN. A Production Assistant typically has a long road ahead to become a Producer.

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Another example of the Hollywood sensationalism took place when Gabriel Ben-Meir, a Production Coordinator, was killed execution-style and then was cited as an “MTV exec.” Below is from the UK’s “Daily Mail”:

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When this happened three years ago, I was constantly interested in story updates. After all, that took place in my neighborhood, and Ben-Meir and I both worked on “Dudesons in America.” I met him once but wouldn’t say I knew him personally. And what I couldn’t get, aside from another senseless death of an “aspiring” anyone/anything, was the association I saw on “Daily Mail” and other sites that promoted a “Coordinator” to an “Executive.” Based on the media’s logic, which is basically “Are you a Production Assistant? A Coordinator? Anything? Okay! Then you’re a TV Executive!” then I’ve been an Executive for seven years now. The only problem is that, as a Coordinator, I don’t make Executive decisions. I sometimes do make decisions that affect what a viewer at home sees on the screen, but the more crucial decisions I have to run up the chain – to my bosses, who are… well… you guessed it… Producers.

Every wondered why movies and TV show are so expensive to make? Or maybe you are considering pitching/producing a project and need a breakdown of what costs you might incur. For either of those scenarios, the following is a partial list of the many costs incurred on scripted television shows:
 

PRE-PRODUCTION

LOCATION SCOUTS:
TRANSPORTATION (PASSENGER VAN RENTAL, FUEL, DRIVER)
MEALS

SET EXPENSES:
CONSTRUCTION CREW AND SUPPLIES
CONSTRUCTION SUPPLY TRANSPORTATION (BOX TRUCK, FUEL)
FACILITY RENTAL
SET DRESSING (FURNITURE, FIXTURES, PROPS) AND CREW

BUSINESS PERMITS

OFFICE SUPPLIES (DESKS & CHAIRS, PRINTERS, PHONES, PENS, PAPERCLIPS, FRIDGE AND SNACKS, PAPER, FIRST AID KIT, NOTEPADS, ETC., ETC., ETC.)

 

PRODUCTION

WARDROBE:
COSTUMES
COSTUME LABOR
ALTERATIONS
CLEANING / DYEING
LOSS, DAMAGE, REPAIR
BOX RENTALS
RENTALS
PURCHASES

MAKEUP AND HAIRDRESSING:
KEY MAKEUP ARTIST
ADDITIONAL MAKEUP ARTISTS
SPECIAL EFFECTS MAKEUP (PROSTHETICS)
KEY HAIRSTYLIST
ADDITIONAL HAIRSTYLISTS
WIG AND HAIR PURCHASES
WIG AND HAIR RENTAL
BOX RENTALS
RENTALS
PURCHASES

CAMERA DEPARTMENT:
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY
CAMERA OPERATOR(S)
CAMERA LOADER
CAMERAS, LENSES, MEDIA (FILM/MEMORY CARDS), CABLE RENTALS, TRIPODS, ETC., ETC., ETC.

PRODUCTION SOUND:
SOUND MIXER
BOOM OPERATOR
CABLEMEN / UTILITY SOUND
PLAYBACK RENTALS – AUDIO/VIDEO
RENTALS
PURCHASES (SUCH AS SOUND STOCK/MEDIA)

TRANSPORTATION:
COORDINATOR
CAPTAIN
CO-CAPTAIN
STANDBY DRIVERS
PARKING
FUEL
TRAILER/PUMPING/VEHICLE WASH
MILEAGE/CAR ALLOWANCE
DRIVERS MEAL MONEY

OTHER PRODUCTION CREW:
PRODUCTION MANAGER AND COORDINATOR
PRODUCTION ASSISTANT
DIRECTOR
ASSISTANT DIRECTOR
SCRIPT SUPERVISOR
MESSENGERS/COURIERS
SET SECURITY

LOCATION EXPENSES:
SITE RENTAL FEES
LOCATION MANAGER
LOCATION STAFF PERSONNEL
LOCATION SECURITY
LOCATION POLICE
LOCATION FIRE SAFETY OFFICER
LOCATION MEDICAL LABOR
LOCATION MEDICAL SUPPLIES

OTHER EXPENSES:
EQUIPMENT LOSS, RENTAL, REPAIR
BOX RENTALS (APPROVED REIMBURSEMENTS FOR PERSONAL EQUIPMENT USED BY EMPLOYEES, LIKE LAPTOPS)
STANDBY VEHICLE RENTALS
PICTURE VEHICLES AND CAR HAULING (IF APPLICABLE)
CAMERA CAR
CATERING EXPENSES

TALENT:
AIRFARES
HOTEL
PER DIEM

 

POST PRODUCTION
CREW:
VIDEO EDITORS
ASSISTANT EDITORS
MUSIC EDITOR/DIALOG EDITOR/SOUND EFFECTS EDITOR
SOUND MIXERS
POST SOUND RECORDIST
SOUND SUPERVISOR
ADR RECORDIST
FOLEY RECORDIST
SOUND LAYBACK OPERATOR
POST PRODUCTION SUPERVISOR
POST PRODUCTION ASSISTANT

POST PRODUCTION EQUIPMENT:
OFFLINE EDITING (EDITING SYSTEMS, OFFICE SPACE AND EQUIPMENT)
TAPE STOCK
DVD STOCK
HARD DRIVES
INSERT STAGE RENTAL

POST PRODUCTION SERVICES:
ONLINE EDITING
TAPE DUPLICATION
DAILIES DISTRIBUTION
FILM DEVELOPING / VIDEO PROCESSING
SOUND AND PICTURE ARCHIVING
COLOR CORRECTION
VISUAL EFFECTS EDITING
CLOSED CAPTIONING

MISC PURCHASES/RENTALS

 

OTHER CHARGES:
LEGAL FEES
PARKING
VIDEO/AUDIO RENTAL CHARGES
COMPUTER RENTALS
INSURANCE PREMIUMS
OFFICE EQUIPMENT RENTAL
OTHER

ADMINISTRATIVE EXPENSES

 

PUBLICITY:
CLIPS
TAPE STOCK

Working on Ghost Hunters has left a sort of lasting legacy on my life. I am far, far away from that work now, but there are frequent reminders of all that time spent on the road in those cold, dark places.

Now working on a scripted show, I watched an actor walk in for a script/table read last week… it was Steve Valentine, who just so happened to host the Ghost Hunters Halloween live show in Delaware in 2008. Imagine that! The last time I saw him was nearly 3,000 miles away, on the opposite coast. I found it bizarre, but that’s actually not the strangest coincidence brought about from my time spent on Ghost Hunters. The absolute weirdest, craziest thing that’s ever happened in my life was during the filming on Ghost Hunters Academy in 2009.

Filming in various towns up and down the east coast, we ended up in St. Augustine, Florida for a couple weeks, to investigate the old lighthouse there. When that wrapped up and we were heading out of town, one of our crew guys had to fly home to care of some personal business.

Our caravan lumbered up the highway to Jacksonville, and we set up camp at a gas station, while one of vehicles continued on up the road to take our crew guy to the airport. While waiting on the driver to return and relaxing in the driver’s seat of the RV (which had the GHA logo on the side), an incredibly fit-looking black man with dreads approached. “Hey, are Jason and Grant around?” he asked (Jason and Grant being the stars of the main Ghost Hunters series.) “Nahhh, they’re not on this show,” I said, “this is a spinoff……. You know, you actually look a lot like the guest investigator on Ghost Hunters Live in Kentucky.” He simply smiled, shrugged his shoulders a bit and said “yeah.” My mind was completely blown – was this the same guy??? While trying to figure it out, he said “Well, if you see them, tell ’em I said ‘hi,'” and he walked away. “Tell ’em I said ‘hi?'” DUDE! NO FREAKIN’ WAY!

My good buddy Ben (one of the Academy contestants) was sitting in the passenger seat, watching this whole thing go down, so I put him on the case. “Ben, look up wrestler Elijah Burke and see where he’s from!” He did, and discovered that our Ghost Hunters Live guest is/was from….. you may have guess it: Jacksonville, Florida!

No doubt about it, while working on Ghost Hunters Academy, I ran into the guest investigator of Ghost Hunters Live at a gas station 750 miles away from where the show took place. And that, my friends, is one of the two weirdest things that’s ever happened in my life.

Ghost Hunters Academy RV

The Ghost Hunters Academy RV and Chewie in New Jersey

 

A step back in time…

Buffalo Central Terminal

Oct. 1, 2009

It’s 2:13 AM, and I am trying to make my way through the darkness of the old train concourse with the silence of a ghost. It’s cold and lonely in this place, with the exception of flashlights faintly illuminating walls and pathways at the other end of a span that’s the length of a football field. The investigators are standing in one figurative end zone, and I, in the other. This is a ghost hunt, from the perspective of a non-hunter.

At this point, I have been on the road for 24 days, and our current stop is in Buffalo, New York. This is stop number three on a five-city tour. It’s exhausting, shooting at night, then turning around to capture daytime, b-roll footage of all these towns and cities. Cast interviews are also peppered in the mix when time permits. On nights like these, we sometimes nod off in the shadows, as our duty during filming is to remain quiet and out of sight. At the same time, we are forever on call. A live walkie-talkie feed intermittently buzzes directly in our ears with requests for fresh batteries, new camera tapes, and water.

“Exhausting” in this context means that we put so much time and effort into the work, and have such an inconsistent schedule, that it seems Casper’s evil twin could pick one of us up – and violently twirl the person around overhead – and hardly anyone would take notice. This is the life of TV production. Sometimes it’s fun and sometimes it’s extremely difficult. Sometimes it’s a bit of both. In this case, the big reward comes through getting paid to travel, making new contacts, and working with the hosts of the show again. And when it’s all said and done, it’s great knowing that this production will provide an outlet for some viewers and hopefully enhance their lives in at least a small way.

This is the second of a three-night investigation. I have really become keen at silently gliding through the darkness, despite wearing heavy, steel-toed boots. On a couple occasions now, I have unintentionally startled some co-workers by silently slipping into a room they are in, for them to realize my presence when turning on a flashlight for a moment. “How the hell did you get in here/How long have you been sitting there?” have earned me the nickname “Creeps.” It seems that, in most cases, such a name would be derogatory but, in this case, I take it as a cordial shout-out to my ninja-like attributes.

Investigations normally starting wrapping up around dawn. That should be the case tonight, as this place is surrounded by windows that would reveal a bluish sky and subsequent daylight beginning to peak through. In contrast, a couple weeks ago we were shooting two levels below deck on a battleship. The investigation was going really well and, with no way for the sunlight to make its way in, we continued to film until the team felt it was the right time to wrap things up. THAT was a long night.

The low temperature tonight is 41 degrees. We must have reached that point long ago. When we flip on flashlights, especially our headlamps, the warm air from one’s breath swirls around in the beam. And it’s especially blustery when you can feel wind gusting down the corridors.

There is a certain vibe to this place. It’s easy to imagine its former prominence, beginning in the late 1920s. You imagine these things – the bustling corridors, the vendors, the noise, the smell of food – and you open your eyes and nothing is there. It’s like the part in Forrest Gump where Jenny, dressed in all white, walks across the front lawn and eerily disappears.

It’s obvious that the giant train station has been slowly crumbling for a long time now, but a conservancy is slowly working to restore the massive property. I don’t know what the music scene is like here in Buffalo, but the main concourse would make for a really, really cool music hall.

Although this place seems so quiet and empty, we all know it’s not. People are around, somewhere…people that aren’t with us. Among the odd rooms downstairs filled with trash and odd, unrecognizable machinery, also strewn about are old clothing and a sleeping bag. The “KISS rules” graffiti adorning one wall makes me believe some parts of this building have been untouched for quite some time.

Eyes are growing heavy. Time to dream another dream, probably yet another about driving. It’s not escapism… rather, it’s just what I have been doing a lot of lately, more than ever. Signing off from the Empire State.

 
Buffalo Central Terminal

Buffalo Central Terminal

Tonight was “game night” at a friends house. Everyone invited was to B.Y.O.B. and a game. Scattergories is always a favorite of mine, so we packed that up and headed out.

Arriving fairly late in the evening, the partygoers were trying to finish up one of those games that just last forever because they aren’t so fun, so everyone gets caught up in conversation instead. Upon our arrival, they decided to put the ongoing game away and move on to something else. One guy knew of this game with the generic title “The Celebrity Game.” Each player is given eight small pieces of paper to write on. You then jot down the name of a celebrity or well-known fictional character on each sheet. Each sheet then gets folded in half and put in a hat.

Next, you form two teams, preferably with each having the same number of participants. Flip a coin or play rock, papers, scissors – do whatever you’ve got to do to decide which team will go first. The team that goes first has 60 seconds to guess as many of the celebrities or characters drawn out of the hat, based solely of verbal descriptions given by one player to the rest of the team. If you are stuck/your descriptions aren’t working out so well, you can put the sheet you are stuck on into a “pass” pile. You may pass a maximum of three times in each 60 second round.

Once the 60 seconds is up, you then count how many celebrities/characters your team was able to name, and that number is your score for that round. The “passed” sheets go back in the hat, and the names successfully answered go into a pile off to the side.

Each team takes turns until all the sheets from the hat are used, and then you figure up the score from round one.

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ROUND TWO:
For round two, start by putting all the sheets back in the hat. This is similar to round one, with the exception that each person pulling the name from the hat is only allowed to give ONE adjective to describe the celebrity or character on the sheet.

Just as in round one, each team is given 60 seconds per turn, and the teams takes turns back and forth until all the sheets have been guessed. Once this round is done, again put ALL the sheets back in the hat.

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ROUND THREE:
In this final round, the player pulling from the hat pantomimes something that represents the person/character on the sheet.

Once the sheets are all gone, the game is then over. Tally up the total scores for each team to determine the winner.

The game may (though I hope not) sound complicated, but it’s really very simple. If you have any questions about playing it or having any suggested revisions to make the rules more clear, please let me know. Otherwise, have FUN!

lull

01/07/2012

It’s been mostly a quiet week, fortunately. The show I work on celebrated its 200th episode being in production, so we all got together – cast, crew, network executives, and the media – and we ate cake and made a toast with some sparkling cider. It was a really cool moment to be a part of this milestone, which has been a culmination of a lot of hard work by a lot of smart people for nine years.

Our hallways are lined with giant collages of photos from every season, with the occasional framed 8×10 of other big events scattered in the mix. I always notice the two photos on the wall from the 100th celebration and imagine how exciting that moment in time must have been. It used to be that 100 episodes was not only an indicator that a show was probably pretty popular, but it also opened the door for syndication. At that rate, a station could play a different rerun every week for almost two years without repeating an episode. And syndicating a popular show is apparently a lot cheaper than creating and producing a new one.

As for my employing show, syndication has been, in part, attributed to its immense success. One network plays our episodes nearly 24 hours a day, every day. There is a certain character-driven appeal, and the subject matter bounces back and forth with ease from being entertaining and serious. We have heard stories of our crew traveling and meeting new people who are fans of the show. When asked what the big draw is, the usual response seems to be that they “just love the characters.” Other shows in the same vein can be difficult to watch when they just take themselves way too seriously, all the time.

My interest in audio post production will likely pull me away from working on and around set one day. But right now, it’s hard to imagine being a part of any other adventure, and it’s been awesome sharing the experience with such a great group of people.