This month of September 2011 I was hired to work as 2nd 2nd AD in a feature film called April Apocalypse. I can start by saying that it was one of my best production experiences since I am here in Hollywood. I work most of the time as 1st AD for gigs that I get, but usually they don’t have what this gig had: a full production department.
My experience working on low budget independent films is based on the reality that I have to do everything and a little bit more. I never had a 2nd AD, nor production coordinator, nor line producer, working with me. So my biggest challenge in this production was actually figuring out what to do, because the production department had everything pretty much figured it out (like the TV productions I worked back in Brazil).
I didn’t know what a 2nd 2nd AD job was. I learned that one of the responsibilities of a 2nd 2nd is for the most part getting the first team (main actors and directors) ready to set, paperwork related to cast, and handling and placing the extras/background actors in the picture. My “doing-everything-possible” attitude during the first days of production made me take care of a bunch of stuff except what a 2nd 2nd should take care. But as the days went on, I started to get the hang of it and by the end I was doing pretty damn good.
Another big challenge was set etiquette. My do-it-all attitude sometimes put me in bad situations. There were moments where instead of facilitating the job, I was getting in the way of people. Another difficult task was talking on walkies. I mean, it is hard for me to understand people when they speak English fast, but it is almost impossible to understand people talking fast on a walkie talkie (specially when they are screaming the walkie lingo). I was nurturing a good attitude even with stumbles, working hard and not getting caught up on little things. My tough skin, that I built during my prior working experiences, helped me endure the low and not over cheer the high moments.
There were a lot of good things that I will always remember. One of them was that in the very first day we had to separate the production in 2 units. While one was shooting with the main actors in one set, the other was shooting with the supporting actors in another set. I stayed with the main actors and I was able to do part of the 1st AD job, calling the rolls, getting everyone to their positions, and getting the shots done. Another thing that was pretty nice was that on the last day of shoot, I was relaying the messages from the director in the video village to the 1st AD inside the set, and for that reason I was able to call the picture wrap right after the director. I was really happy with my path during this show.
The person who brought me to this production was Sazzy Lee Calhoun. She was the best first AD I ever had the pleasure to work with. She saw on my resume that I worked with Damian Chapa and she knew that I could handle pressure. To me was important to see how a good 1st AD takes care of the production. Bernie Gewissler was the line producer, but in my opinion he was a magician. The way he stretched the budget in order to make this picture a reality was OFF THE HOOK. ML Wills was the second AD. He had the most accurate and well thought out call sheet I’ve ever seen. Also he had a very good spirit during the whole shoot. By his side was Trina DeMattei, our production coordinator. She is just a sweet heart. Everything they taught me left a positive mark for the rest of my life, and I will always be grateful for it. Also in the production department there were a couple of PAs who were not only good workers, but real friends. Jack Brungardt, Andrew Higgins, Sarah Burt, and Rose Luther.
The film shooting
The film was scheduled to shoot in 15 days, with 4 major locations: The ranch, church, mansion, and dinner. The ranch was where we stayed for most of production and at that place we could shoot at least 20 different sets. The good thing about that location was that we had everything we need in one spot, we didn’t have to keep wrapping and setting up every day, and the place was very beautiful. The bad thing is that the ranch was too far north from LA, it was remote from important facilities (groceries store, equipment stores, rental houses, etc), and it was too big making it difficult to move fast from one set to another.
After the ranch we went to a church that was farther north and then we came back to LA at a mansion in Encino. We stayed at that Encino Mansion for 4 days and our last day was at a Dinner in San Fernando.
The crew was exceptionally knowledgeable about their craft even being a very young group of people. The DP Kyle Hartman impressed me with the quality of his cinematography. He respected his crew members and he knew what he could get from every person. I asked him a few questions to figure out what was his process of creating the visual of a picture and I was impressed not only with his answer but with the fact that he took his time to talk about it. There were 5 people in his department who backed him up: Ron Wilson (Key Grip), Wesley VonTracy and Jeff Siljenberg (gaffers), Jerry Franck and Gevorg Sarkisian (camera op). All of them were young, polite, talented, patient, and creative artists. They had a group of good professionals working with them. Mario Contini and Matt Claudillo were the 1st ACs, Nick Novotny was the 2nd AC, Steve Mangurten was the DIT. Big Mike was one of the grips together with Stephen Chan. Edwin Kim and Shane Moore were the electricians. There were a lot of day players, and I wish I could remember the name of all of them, because everybody did a great work.
The art department had Susannah Lowber as the production designer. I liked that she was always in a good mood with me. We laugh together a couple of times and she made my days easier. She had the help of propmaster Jeremy Trimbach, who was one of my best friends on set. He always mentioned about the good work that I was doing. Nick Harrison and Ashley Prikryl were the set decorators and all of them were great artists. I even let them use one of my tents and sleeping bags for one of the scenes.
The wardrobe department was led by Victor Sandoval. He was a good spirit also and very easy going person. He had under his command Vaiya Simmons and Mishka Trachenberg. They worked really close to the make up department that had Adam Beesley as the commander in chief. Dan Gilbert and Brittany Dummit were also inside the most efficient make up department I’ve ever work with. Imagine had to create more than 15 zombies in one day to shoot a scene. Well they not only did that in one morning, but also were able to make themselves up and jump on front of the camera for a couple of occasions. They had always treat me nice even when I was trying to get talents out of their chairs.
There was a guy who was a department by himself. His name is John Barret. He was the script supervisor and a very interesting human being to say the least. He worked by the side of the directors Jarret Tarnol and Brent Tarnol. These two young and talented directors work very well together. Brent is the creative brain behind the script and Jarret is the one who brings the words to the screen. What I liked about their partnership is their mutual respect. I liked to see how Jarret runs the show, and how well he puts himself in every situation. Brent had a lot on his plate, because he not only wrote the film, but was one of the main characters. He was very funny and very polite. He even came one day and apologized for being rude with me, but to be honest, I didn’t remember when he was ever rude. They have a company called Tarnol Group Pictures
April Apocalypse had heavy set of talented actors. The films stars Reece Thompson, Rebekah Brandes, and Brent Tarnol. In the supporting roles there are Stephanie Hunt, Todd Stashwick, Roger Bart, and Matt Shively. We also had a set of special guest talents like: George Lopez, Mark Rolston, Marguerite MacIntyre, and William Morgan Sheppard. The film also had a set of young upcoming talents like: Sarah Hyland, Randy Wayne, Matt Prokop, Elizabeth Small, Olivia Waldriff, and Charlie Lea.
I was amazed by how well Reece Thompson played his character Artie. Reece is an awesome guy, who loves to play ukelele, esteemed and confident of his abilities, nothing like his character Artie who starts as a fragile and unappreciated person. Reece had to dig deep into his emotional memory to come up with the exceptional acting he delivered in every take. Since the beginning I had a feeling that I knew him from somewhere and I was surprised to discover that he was in one of my top ten films: Rocket Science. Unfortunately I never had the opportunity to tell him how much I loved his work in Rocket Science because I just discovered that after we wrapped the film. If you want to see the full potential of a rising star, please watch Rocket Science and April Apocalypse.
Rebekah Brandes is a sweet heart. She was always committed to her character. I even remember when I was talking to her in between takes and she was answering me as April (the character she plays). It caught me off guard and I had to adapt to her reality in order to make sense of our conversation, and most important, keep her focus. Another actress who caught my attention was Stephanie Hunt, who plays Regan. She is that kind of person who looks you in the eyes when having a conversation. Her character Regan had the obstacle of seeing her family die on front of her and had to find reasons to keep living after the fact. None of the actors were divas or had a bad attitude. I believe that one of the reasons was the fact that the production was really organized, not leaving space for complaints.
This film will be going places for sure because it has everything on it. It is a romantic/action picture, where the main character is chasing after the love of his life in the middle of a zombie outbreak. It has astonishing cinematography (we shot with two red ones, and one epic), A list casting, lots of blood, gore, drama, romance, and the most important fact of all, it was made by true filmmakers. It is set to release in 2012.