back row, left to right: Ashley (actress), Allison Kelly (equipment manager), Jon Pham (cinematographer), Joey Livingston (actor: Jonah), Sandy Valles (actress: Faye), Amy Suto (me, the co-creator), Eric Casalini (actor: Jonathan), Irina (supervising producer). Front Row, left: Avi Kaye (director) and Noah Suarez-Sikes (producer)
ON SET OF CON
Every week we have a quote of the day on our call sheet. My favorite was written by Irina, our Russian supervising producer: “We wrap by 5pm or else I’m sending you all to Siberia.”
On set today, we’re shooting in the TV station on campus — Trojan Vision — and we’re pretending it’s a radio station. Our Assistant Director/Associate Producer Noah walks with me through the double doors and into master control, talking about the poster he made for set design with the name of the fictional radio show “THE MILES HOUR” and how he designed it like a Russian propaganda poster as a joke, and how he can’t wait for Irina to see it. I anticipate her sending him to Siberia.
As I get to set, our cinematographer is dragging in C-stands and positioning diffusers over the two bright lights he has shining down like spotlights as our sound operator acts as a stand-in. Our crew arranges knickknacks — classical CDs, books about Soviet Cooking, and other Miles-appropriate props that he would have on his desk — and of course, the microphone we convinced Annenberg to let us borrow.
Our crew is running around, adjusting lights, making jokes, and talking about classes and film. Here, everyone is a team, brought together over a renegade radio host whom no one listens to but is the voice of our TV series.
When we are ready for the take, Noah positions the slate in front of the camera, calling out for sound (which is rolling) camera (also rolling) and says the scene and take number. He claps the slate — an iconic filmmaking device that everyone on our set has taken multiple selfies with.
Our director Avi, sitting in the corner, yells action as he watches through the camera’s viewfinder as our cinematographer Jack Hackett operates the dolly and slides the camera smoothly forward. Our actor Derrick Denicola, sitting below the lights and the boom pole and seemingly unaware of the dozen people in this tiny room keeping the set running, spins around in his chair and begins the first line of his monologue: “Why is nobody listening?”
THE SHOWRUNNER EXPERIENCE
A showrunner is a term coined for the person who decides not only to do right-brain things like write the show, but also wants to take on left-brain tasks like scheduling, selecting the team, casting, pre-production, and far more.
It’s an insane job where you have to make hundreds of decisions and you often hear the phrase, “you’re the showrunner, what do you think?” and somehow have to have an answer.
Me: “I think we should take the golf cart and go get ice cream sandwiches!”
The worst part about the job is dealing with the politics and an abominable amount of red tape associated with seemingly simple tasks, like getting parking passes for the station that we are making this show for.
I have never been a confrontational person, and that’s an advantage and disadvantage: this job requires me to be incredibly diplomatic even when I want to run around in circles ranting, but other times I have to know when I need to draw the line, no matter the consequences. I’ve still got a lot to learn.
Difficult meetings and challenging political maneuvering aside, this has been one of the most defining experiences of my time here at USC.
There’s a kind of camaraderie on our set that sets us apart: everyone does everything, and no job is too small. Producers sometimes double as stand-ins when we’re shortstaffed, our production assistants have learned how to do every job on set because we’re constantly rotating and making due with what we have and who is on set, and having a great time while doing it.
There is no room for egos, because everyone is working for free for the sake of the art with no promise of anything other than experience, a credit on the show, and sandwiches.
I’ve got a few different projects lined up for this summer: one of my short films is getting made in Miami in July, I’m working on a novel set in the LA indie rock scene, and I’m also writing a play about child prodigies.
For CON, we’ve got post-production and marketing projects, such as our cast photoshoot, putting together our content calendar and marketing strategy, and launching our social media campaign.
Playing pretend has never been so much work — or so much fun.