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YMWW #17-C: Photo Intermezzo, Part III

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

(Originally posted on Facebook)

In music and theater, an intermezzo is a light, short composition between two major bodies of work. It means “intermediate.” I first came across the term during an enormous, multicourse meal courtesy of Ian’s parents in Reno last year (that intermezzo was a tiny glass cup with sorbet and champagne, which arrived after the appetizers and before the main dish). As I saw it, the photo shoot gig was my work intermezzo, nestled between a job at Whole Foods Market and a job at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.

Day Five, February 18th, Hidden Trail on Diamond Head Crater

View of Diamond Head from the parking lot where I picked up the actors

As I biked through the chilly morning air to Amit’s house once again, my mind was not on my task ahead as a production assistant, but rather on my obligation later that afternoon. It was Thursday, and that meant I had an orientation at Bubba Gump. The orientation was originally scheduled for the previous Thursday, meaning I would have had to miss out on most of the photo shoot that followed. As luck would have it, the orientation was postponed and I got to partake in all the wonderful adventures described in my previous notes.

It was another early call time. Maybe too early, as I arrived at a sleeping house. Most of the lights were off and all of the rooms were still. So, I used the side entrance to the kitchen and just read my book until things got going. Slowly but surely, old friends and new faces began filtering in to the kitchen searching for a morning pick-me-up that only coffee can give them. And, like always, I drove to the nearest parking lot to pick up some of the actors. Well, at least I think I did. These days were kind of blurring together.

Thursday’s shoot was on a trail on a fenced off side of Diamond Head Crater. Yes, we were trespassing again, but no one was going to kick us out of this place. It wasn’t a Lost set, so no one would care. The beginning of the shoot, for me, involved a lot of running up and down this trail, transporting equipment and leading the actors to the location. Once everything was in place, though, the crew had little to do. We began playing get-to-know-you games. We guessed each others’ ages, ethnicities, and even middle names. No one guessed “Vanderlipe.” It was another one of those revealing campfire moments that brings people closer together, if not just merely keeping them occupied.

I left the set a bit early to make it to my orientation on time. I could have left several hours earlier as the crew was just sitting around doing nothing, but I didn’t want to miss out on the sitting around. Just because you are doing nothing does not mean nothing is happening.

Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Honolulu, O’ahu, Hawai’i

I got to Bubba Gump on time and met the other newbies. There was another Anthony; he had moved here from St. Louis a few months after me. He was the only one in the group who got a job as a dishwasher. I had met Katie a week earlier when I had gone in for my not-then-aware-it-was-postponed orientation and she was there for her interview. She is a UH student who moved here from San Diego a few months before me. She has a pretty eyes—and equally impressive other parts. Harry was the freshest immigrant, having moved here from somewhere on the East Coast maybe a month or two ago. His last name is Johnson. Yes, that makes him Harry Johnson. “Middle school was awesome,” he informed us with a deadpan stare.

Neither Katie nor other Anthony had the proper forms with them, so only Harry Johnson and I were left to go through the THREE-AND-A-HALF HOUR orientation. We read through the handbook, sampled some food, and got our homework. Yes, homework. Bubba Gump is known for their gruelling, four-stage training program. By Stage One, we were to have the appetizers and non-alcoholic drinks memorized, not just what they are, but their ingredients and garnishes, too. We also had to memorize the “Top Ten” employee creed, the table numbers, and sections. To be honest, I was a bit glad to have homework. Too often I’d come home from work with nothing to do but watch a movie or surf the Internet. Having a goal to accomplish would give me a sense of purpose, no matter how small or temporary. The cherry on top of my sundae of responsibility: my Stage One was scheduled for Saturday evening, meaning I could still work Friday’s and Saturday’s photo shoots.

Day Six, February 19th, Reservoir Clean-up and House Party

Abandoned Reservoir with Diamond Head in the background

I biked to Amit’s place with a backpack full of training materials and empty index cards. My downtime now would consist of menu memorization. Of course, I had to start studying on the biggest production day of the shoot: the house party. Fortunately, the house party would not start until that evening. Unfortunately, I had a major task to do that morning.

Up near the trail of the previous day’s shoot was an abandoned reservoir, which has been taken over by graffiti artists for some time. This huge concrete bunker is set in the side of Diamond Head Crater, an industrial ruin hidden by natural beauty. The walls are covered with graffiti pieces and the ground is carpeted with empty beer bottles and spray cans, rusty tin roof panels and rotting wood. The threat of tetanus lurked near every step. Our major task was to clear that ground for the following day’s shoot.

The clean-up crew consisted of me, Simran, and Bean Dip—the only Mexican I’ve met in Hawai’i. Despite our small group size, we got the middle of that ground cleared in no time, and we had fun doing it. Nothing is more gratifying than physical labor, especially the kind that involves chucking huge pieces of metal, jumping on wooden beams, and smashing glass bottles against concrete walls. We returned to the house by late morning, grinning through dirt and sweat.

Close-up of one of my favorite pieces

The hours between the reservoir clean-up and the house party were spent studying. Well, at least, that was my aim. It’s hard to study in a house filled with over a hundred interesting people. I got to talking with some of the newer people, as well as with some returning ones. Fortunately, a lot of the conversations included a discussion of my new job and the homework that went along with it. Several people even quizzed me, which was nice. Remember Lauren with the nice smile? She came back, and we started talking again. We discovered we both like to travel and started discussing where we’ve been and where we’d like to go. I told her about my study abroad trip in Mexico. She told me about her long-distance relationship with her boyfriend. I went back to studying.

As the sun sunk lower in the sky and the energy of the house rose, I studied less and less frequently. I eventually packed up all my material and switched to full production assistant mode. Once everyone was dressed and all the shots were more or less planned out, Amit gathered everyone around—roughly 120 people—and gave a breakdown of the evening. Once again, he asked the crew to raise their hands. Once again, I smiled proudly on the inside.

By now, I was a trusted member of the crew, and all night long I was right in the action. Granted, I was only carrying one of the four lights they needed, but that meant I was right behind the photographer the entire time. The actors mingled, sang, danced, and carried on as though it were a real party. The crew moved through the crowd, taking pictures of this group doing one thing, then another group doing something else. We kept working after most of the crowd was allowed to leave and all that was left were a couple actors and a skeleton crew, of which I was a part. It was definitely the longest day, but also the most interesting. I got home pretty late that night, but continued to study until I passed out with a pen in my hand and my head on the desk.

Day Seven, February 20th, Abandoned Reservoir

View from the top of the ladder

Saturday was my final day on the set, as was most people’s. I felt as though I had come full circle, starting off as an inconsequential lackey to and evolving into a top crew member. It took a few hours to get all the equipment and actors into the reservoir. Though, because of all the time and hard work I put into that place, I almost felt like it was my reservoir.

On top of the ridiculously revealing clothing and sharp edges everywhere, the set was made even more dangerous with the presence of kids and animals. Some of the kids had trouble climbing into the reservoir, but once they were in, they were running and jumping around. The animals we had on set, colorful birds of every size, were squawking and pooping everywhere. Add a blazing sun and little water and you have yourself the most difficult production day. Well, if you were an actor. We crew members were off to the side, in the shade, out of the shot. I eventually got into the mix holding the giant reflector or supporting a leaning photographer. Once I ran back to the house to fetch Daeja her memory cards, returning with some food and water for her. She said I could be her assistant on any project. I am going to hold her to that.

Though the day was nearly done by early afternoon, I left the set early to get ready for my first day of training. Nearly everybody on the set was aware that I was studying to be a Bubba Gump server, so they wished me luck as I climbed out of the reservoir. I paused halfway up the ladder to look out at the people I was leaving behind, the good friends I had made during the week. I stood there reflecting on my wonderful experience on the set of unique photo shoot.

“Run, Forrest, run!” yelled Amit to me, “You’re in the shot!”

I quickly scuttled up the ladder and ran off to my next great adventure.

THE END

Here is the last photo I’ll be sharing from my friend Daeja. You can see more at www.daejafallas.com

Roxy models will return next week.


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YMWW #17-B: Photo Intermezzo, Part II

Thursday, March 11, 2010

(Originally posted on Facebook)

Day Three, February 16, Waimanalo Horse Ranch

Waimanalo Horse Ranch

I had a later call time for Day Three because they didn’t need a full crew for their morning shoot. Although being able to sleep in was a nice treat, the fact that they didn’t need me in the morning just added to the drop in importance I felt after the previous day’s equipment guarding session. No worries, each day is a new day, and as it turned out, the experience I gained on the Waimanalo horse ranch would lead to a positive shift of my gopher status.

The shoot called for only four actors and slightly more crew, so it was a more intimate set. It was also another beautiful location, the lush ranch tucked beneath the gaze of the iconic green hills of Hawai’i. Only one of the three actors scheduled to ride the horse had ever done it before, and his task was to fall off it in slow motion. The other two—Blaze and female lead, Chante—took a crash course in horseback riding—bareback, nonetheless. And while Blaze was responsible for steering the horse, Chante had to sit behind him while playing a harp with no pants on. Modelling ain’t as simple as it seems.

While the cast didn’t have it easy, neither did some of the crew, e.g. me. My task was to stand in the meadow holding the lights. Simple task, save for the fact that I was wearing shorts in an insect-infested field. My bare lower legs were soon covered with so many bug bites that if one were to connect the dots, the resulting picture would be a spider web design. Or maybe shattered glass. Standing still was never so hard.

The shoot progressed and I was able to move around a bit, lessening only slightly the frequency by which my legs were attacked. Nonetheless, it was enough relief for my mind to focus on something else, namely, how to assemble and operate the lights. It wasn’t difficult at all; open a tripod, attach the head, flip some switches. However, the fact that I was one of maybe three or four people on set who could do this with confidence elevated me to a higher gopher status. Maybe even, dare I say, some sort of “assistant” status. I’m sure my ability to fold a spring-open reflector solidified this ascension.

The best part of the day, however, came in the late afternoon when we waited around an hour or so for the sun to sink behind the hills. During that time, we, the crew, and the principle cast just hung out. We got to know each other a little better. We traded jokes, tried out tongue-twisters, spoke in several languages (okay, that was mostly the stylist, Patrick, who could speak French, German, Italian, Spanish, and a little bit of everything else). I even got to crack a whip! By the time the lighting was just right and we set up for the last shot, I felt to be on equal status with the rest of the crew.

Day Four, February 17th, Paradise Park/Manoa Falls

Manoa Falls

Day Four was a big shot that called for heavy transportation of about twenty cast members (I still cannot decide if I want to call them models or actors). I revived my role as head of the shuttle service, picking up seven people—and a dog—on three separate outings. We had started early again and by 7 AM, had a full house ready to move out. Amit explained to the crowd that we would be caravanning to an abandoned wildlife park known as Paradise Park. It was closed to the public so we would essentially be trespassing. There shouldn’t be any problems, he assured us. Amit then asked the crew members to raise their hand so the cast members could indentify us should they need help. Dispersed amongst the model-actors, we crew members indentified ourselves accordingly. I stood with a proud hand high, my inside smile unknown to the sea of gazes. Yes, I thought, I am special.

My elite status continued as the crew all rode together in one van while the cast was split up in the others. We drove to a parking lot near the park and from there, shuttled people one vanload at a time to the final destination. The reason? Our destination was a loosely-locked chainlink gate off the side of the road. We had to squeeze through the narrow opening, trek through some heavy foliage and uneven ground, and cross a huge ditch by way of a wobbly wooden plank—all while carrying the equipment. I walked toward the clearing on the other side, wondering if the cast knew what they were getting into, when my thoughts were interrupted by sheer elation. In the middle of that clearing was a giant, rusty cage recognizable by some as Kate and Sawyer’s prison during the third season of ABC’s Lost. I was on a hit TV show’s set! Admittedly, I knew beforehand that they had filmed part of Lost in Paradise Park, but I did not expect the set to be instantly recognizable. I mean, the friggin’ Dharma Initiative symbol was plastered on the canvas tent right in front of me! It was going to be a good day. . .

Paradise Park
(you can see Kate and Sawyer’s cage on the left and just barely make out the Dharma Initiative symbol on the canvas tent through the right cage)

. . . Until we got chased off by some park officials. We had just gotten most of the cast to the rendezvous spot (one could not cross the bridge, while several others needed much convincing), when two women caught us and sent us packing. With full equipment on hand we trudged back across the bridge, through the foliage and uneven ground, and back through the gate.

Plan B: Manoa Falls. Right up the road from the chainlink gate was a legitimate entrance to a legitimate park. Manoa Falls is a lush, green forest area snuggled in Manoa Valley, famous for its hiking trails and, of course, the waterfalls. We moved our entire production to the cool, shaded area surrounded by trees. It was perfect for our shoot, better than Paradise Park would have been, claimed Amit. Yet, even though I was surrounded by breathtaking nature, my good mood was due to my increasing feeling of importance. Daeja trusted me enough to instruct me without supervising me. “Set up a light over there,” “Move the head when he crosses that point,” “Can you make sure he sets up that light correctly?” I was needed. I was happy.

By the end of the day, most of the cast and some of the crew took off while a skeleton crew stayed back with two cast members, shooting the last few scenes of the day. I was a part of that skeleton crew. We wrapped up by mid-afternoon and Amit treated us to Boston’s Pizza. We split a large spinach garlic (restaurant’s creation) and a large pineapple jalapeno (Amit’s creation). Both were tremendously delicious. Sitting at the large, round table, we traded more jokes and stories. One of the cast members that stayed with us was a girl named Lauren, a UH student with a nice smile.

We got back to Amit’s house around sunset and I started packing up to head home. “You want to hang out for a while?” Amit asked. “You’re part of the family now.”

So I stayed.

Part III will include the forbidden trail (promised for this part but not included), the house party, the abandoned reservoir, and my attempt at working this gig while studying for my Bubba Gump job.

By Daeja Fallas, from her album “Gen and the daises.” Double exposure of San Francisco and Hawaii. www.daejafallas.com

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YMWW #17-A: Photo Intermezzo, Part I

Sunday, March 7, 2010

(Originally posted on Facebook)

Firstly, apologies for the hiatus. My wireless card had crapped out around the time I became busy with this project, so I had neither the ability nor time to write.

I’ve been lucky as hell with the timing of my work opportunities on this island. Prefacing my old cook job at Whole Foods was only four days of unemployment, and snuggled between that job and the next was an adventure of comic proportions.

Of course, like all great adventures, this one started on Craigslist. After scouring the job listings for an escape from my kitchen job of horrors, I resorted to checking through the “gigs” section for temporary relief. What I found was an ad seeking crewmembers for a ten-day photo shoot production; the photographer wanted to capture a narrative story through digital photographs and publish them in comic-book format. Picture panels and speech bubbles adorning fine art photography. Models, comic books, and a chance to exercise my Production Assistant expertise? This was more than an ad, it was a calling.

I promptly replied to the listing, emphasizing my film set experience. All one of them. I soon got a call from an Elliot, who later interviewed me in a beautifully spacious house imbedded within the side of Diamond Head Crater. It was the photographer’s place, Elliot informed me, and the meeting spot for each day of shooting. It didn’t take long for me to convince Elliot that I belonged on that set.

At the crew meeting the following week, I was initially attached to assist the lighting guy, but I expressed an eagerness to help out with all the physical brunt work and my “gopher” status was born. Amit, the photographer, found my fondness of manual labor “charming.” I was unsure if my inexperience with lighting would have been a help or a hindrance, so I was relieved to become a gopher.

The shooting was originally supposed to begin on my 23rd birthday, February 12th, but it was pushed back a day. I then found out that the 13th wasn’t a shooting day, but an optional equipment check and crew meet-up day. I optioned out of it to jump out of a plane. So, the project for me started on the 14th, Valentine’s Day, which was fine because it was not like I had any plans. . .

Day One, February 14th, Makalei Beach Park

Makalei Beach Park

Opposite the beginning of the photographer’s elusive and small street is an equally elusive and small beach park, which served as location #1 of the photo shoot. We started around 5:30 AM in order to capture sunrise lighting, which wasn’t horrible because I was used to rising before the sun to open at Whole Foods. Since I freefell through the skies over North Shore instead of attending the previous day’s crew meeting, this was when I met the rest of the crew. Daeja is a photographer and camera tech extraordinaire; she was responsible for all the equipment and made sure the cameras and lights were set just right. Stephen just got off a plane from Hong Kong, but knew Amit from New York; he was Daeja’s right-hand-man. Simran also knew Amit from New York; he came to Hawai’i to be a gopher, like me. It was great hanging out with Simran because not only was he a good conversationalist (bonus points for a slight New York accent), but also because his being a gopher legitimized my position on the crew.

After helping load and unload the equipment, I was told to help Daeja with whatever she needed. Apparently, she needed me to wear a backpack of camera accessories and stay near her. My task for the day was easy, but surprisingly important. Need a new flash card? I’m there. Need to clean the lens? I have what you need. Need me to stay near you and the bikini-clad models you’re shooting on a Hawaiian beach in gorgeous sunrise lighting? It would be my pleasure.

Given that I did not have a primary job, every task I did felt like an opportunity to show my initiative or eagerness to assist. I was quickly building the status of a dependable guy, which I began to see as a quite empowering position. Glass-half-empty: I’m just some photographer’s lackey; glass-half-full: these top-of-the-hierarchy people are dependent on my actions. They may tell me what to do, but they’d get nowhere without my help. At least, that’s how I saw it.

Day Two, February 15th, China Walls

China Walls

Since the photographer’s house was nowhere near convenient parking, my first task of the day was to drive actors from the closet parking lot up to the house. The previous day I was just legs on a backpack. Today, I was head of the shuttle service. Yay, promotions!

Once everyone was assembled at the house, we caravanned to the southeast side of the island and walked down to the smooth rock cliff ridges known as China Walls. It’s a dangerous yet beautiful natural location unknown to tourists (and even some locals). Again, as a gopher, it was my duty to carry equipment back and forth, this time across the slippery rock edges. The payoff, I thought, was to witness beautiful people photographed in a beautiful setting. Not the case. We couldn’t bring down all the equipment from the entrance of China Walls, so someone had to guard it. Guess who was chosen.

Apart from all the action, I had plenty of time to take a nap, check my e-mail and Facebook, and catch up with a few of my friends over the phone. At one point, the lead male actor, Blaze, came up and joined me because he was no longer needed. He told me about his unbelievable exploits in Seattle, which involved homelessness, long-lost relatives, and crazy landlords. It put my Hawaiian escapade to shame. It was great getting to know Blaze, but for the most part, I was alone up there. And although guarding the equipment gave me the opportunity to connect with friends both old and new, my self-perceived status on the film crew had dropped. The day had started out promising as they needed a responsible and licensed liaison. But as the day progressed, all they needed was a Keep Away sign. I was the next best thing.

Since it turns out I have a lot to write about each day, I will dived this post into three parts. Anyway, I’m sure you guys have more important things to do on that computer than read this right now.

Part II will include a horse ranch, an abandoned wildlife park/Lost set, and a forbidden trail.

I mentioned how photographer Daeja Fallas was working on this project. For the next few posts, I will be concluding with photos from her work instead of Roxy models. I know no one will mind.

This photo and the rest of her work can be found on www.daejafallas.com

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