Behind the Scenes: Hollywood East

by Sarah Andrew, Marimar McNaughton and D.J. Bernard
July 2013

Behind the Scenes: HOLLYWOOD EAST

By Sarah Andrew

Its late afternoon at the Blue Post, a billiards hall and watering hole in downtown Wilmington, and the floor is crowded with cowboy-booted extras. Beneath a ceiling strewn with paper lanterns and colored lights, the dancers box-step and twirl each other for a scene in the upcoming film Tammy, everyone smiling and trying not to look sweaty. Meanwhile, crew members with walkie-talkies edge the perimeter, camera operators man their 
stations, and line producer/unit production manager Chris Bromley keeps a close eye on the action.

What you see on screen is just the end result, he says. When you turn around and look the other way, you see the 200 people working to make that happen.

If anyone understands the mechanics of the movie industry, its Bromley. In his 26 years in the business, hes filled the roles we dont see on screen from location manager to assistant director and now, as a unit production manager, hes responsible for everything from scouting locations to making sure the film stays on budget. Hes also one of the first people who comes aboard a new movie during pre-production. Once a studio has greenlit the project and hired its director and producers, the producers bring in Bromley and a location manager to choose the right spots to film.

Most scripts describe a certain setting, Bromley explains. You have to look at the locations that are scripted, and whether or not you can place the story in a certain locale. On some films you can say, this story takes place in New York City, but were gonna shoot it in Wilmington because we only have a few exteriors.

Once the producers and a production designer have deemed those places feasible, the team requests permission from the city to film. If they receive approval, they hire more members of the crew: the costume designer, production designer, director of photography, department heads. Working closely with the director and assistant director, Bromley breaks the script down into a production schedule allowing the crew to know where specific scenes will be shot, on which days, and how long they should take to complete and creates a preliminary budget. These, he says, are anything but set in stone.

We start with an estimate. It evolves from there, based on how the filming goes, he says.

Studio projects like this one could cost from $100,000 to $350,000 per day.

Before production can begin, there is still more crew to hire: electric and grip, construction, props, wardrobe, hair and makeup. When Bromley says there are 200 people on set, hes not exaggerating.

The day-to-day life of a production manager requires him to be constantly on set, the go-to guy for any problem that might need solving. He looks over the shooting schedule and makes any necessary changes. He examines the storyboards, keeps an eye on the payroll, takes calls from agents.

He consults with the director and assistant director throughout the day or middle of the night, if thats what the shooting schedule calls for. Though production time can vary based on the size of the project and the budget, he estimates it at eight to ten weeks, with the cameras rolling anywhere from 30 to 80 days.

Bromley is a Wilmingtonian. 
He moved to town in 1990, and has lived in Wrightsville Beach for the last two and a half years. His job has taken him out of North Carolina, and out of the United States, for long stretches with films like Hidalgo and The Bourne Supremacy, but his three most recent films, The Conjuring, Bolden! and Tammy have had him working locally. His next project could take him anywhere and could materialize between one day and six months after he wraps on Tammy.

The next afternoon, the crew films a scene in the gravel lot outside the Blue Post which has been transformed from a bar into a BBQ joint using a rustic, pig-adorned sign. Bromley stands beneath a tarp, walkie-talkie in hand, beside director Ben Falcone, whom he describes as 
fantastic. When the call of Rolling! echoes along Water Street, people pause on the sidewalk to watch the filmmakers prepare the scene. Its a reminder, maybe, that although one may be used to having movies and TV shows produced here residents often who saw Iron Man 3s Robert Downey Jr. walking downtown, or met the cast of Eastbound & Down on the UNCW campus theres a sort of intrigue in seeing the crew at work. These, after all, are the faces behind the names that will roll in the credits.

Suiting Himself

By Marimar McNaughton

When a costume designer casts his crew, he may hire an assistant designer.

It depends on whether I need one or theres someone worthy of that title to help me through the process, says Alonzo Wilson, a Wilmington native with 28 years of film and television costuming credits.

In the costume shop, costumes are designed, patterns made, templates stitched, fittings held and the final products fabricated and tailored.

On set the crew includes a costume supervisor, a set costumer, a second or a third costumer and beyond that, additional costumers as needed to manage the wardrobe trailer.

The set costumers are looking for continuity; Wilson explains continuity as a replication of the way the costume appeared on first arrival.

Im on the set occasionally when the new costume is established. When an actor wears a costume for the first time, my assistant [or I], or the assistant designer will be there to make sure it looks the way we want it to be established on film. Then its up to the set costumer to keep the continuity of what that look is, he says.

The set costumer takes a still photo of the actor in costume taking detailed notes about the costumes continuity in that scene. The photograph and the notes become one page in a book that goes with the scene.

Its like a huge process, Wilson says.

Another costumer may not be on the set but may be in the costume trailer pulling the clothes for the next scene or dressing the background artists, he says.

And then there are the shoppers, the ones who find contemporary clothing of the period that the costume designer and his team do not have time to design and make.

We create the racks of clothes for the next scene, or the next day, or the next week. On Treme theres about 500 costumes per episode. We have racks and racks of clothes with the labels what all the pieces are, how theyre supposed to wear it, Wilson says.

Wilson was in Wilmington this spring to launch a retrospective of the lavish Mardi Gras Indian costumes he designed for Treme, HBOs post Katrina series that will wrap during season four this fall.

On a show like Treme, sourcing 500 costumes per episode every 10 days, Wilson would have as many as 25 costume staffers in his department says Mar Calderon, a Treme accountant. She says the accountants are the productions avant-garde, arriving on location two or three months in advance to establish the financial base of operations.

Nothing happens without a check, she says. Now in Charlotte working on Cinemaxs Banshee, Calderon made the four-hour trip last month to see her old Treme friend Wilson during his gallery talk at the Cameron Art Museum, which showcases his Indian costumes now through November 3.

Among them is Wilsons yellow feathered, Swarovski crystal beaded Mardi Gras Indian chiefs costume, for the television pilot rumored to be the costliest in HBO history.

Wilson ballparked its value between $80,000 and $100,000. The feathers were hand dyed, the beads hand-stitched.

Even though Treme is thematically based in New Orleans, Wilson says there is enough talent in Wilmington to have sustained a production of its caliber.

The crew base in Wilmington could rival anywhere. It could rival New York; it can rival Hollywood any day. IronMan being filmed here and all the other things too, which coincide with incentives but the bottom line if were talking about the crew? Totally talented enough to do that, he says. The crew in Wilmington is top of the line. A lot of these people have been doing it the same number of years I have.

Wilson, a graduate of John T. Hoggard High School, in Wilmington, North Carolina, turned 20 when he picked up a job at DEG, Dino De Laurentiis production company on 23rd Street in Wilmington, North Carolina, now the home of EUE/Screen Gems.

The wannabe writers first gig was chauffeuring costume designer Clifford Capone. Wilson would later go on to design costumes for Dawsons Creek and The Wire.

Now his one-man show at the Cameron Art Museum has created a reunion for Wilson who reconnected to his Wilmington show biz roots through Well Suited.

If this was here and I wasnt from Wilmington, I seriously doubt the film community would have time, or have come to see a costume exhibit. But because Im from Wilmington and I started here and I know a lot of people I havent seen in years, I think that sparked an interest about a reunion of sorts, he says.

About 50 from the local film industry showed up the night of his exhibit opening in May and a dozen more for his gallery talk in June.

Theyre not costume designers, theyre just people that knew me. Theyre supporting the fact that Im one of them that started here. In a strange way I started here, Ive been away, and Im bringing something back home, he says.

With local documentary filmmaker Francine DeCoursey, Wilson says he talked about the importance of film in his life, film as an art form in the community now connected to the museum.

Now we actually have a connection from the industry to the art world. Which I hope will help people see that what we all do in film whether youre the electrician or the driver or the craft service were all part of this huge art form. That is something thats important because I have been reluctant to call myself an artist until this exhibit. Im a costume designer. Yes you can consider it an art, but when you say what artists really do they actually paint or they do something and it ends up in a museum this doesnt always happen in costume. Its rare. I think it is art. Everybody in the film business, theyre artists theyre lighting artists, theyre set dressing, set decorators, set designers everybody is an artist. This is the end of my career here. Thats the plan, he says.

Wilson says hes no longer going to be a cos­tume designer, he wants to produce a few films and a series he has written.

The thing about trying to end something, youre driving along and it takes so many feet to stop if youre going 55 miles per hour. I think now at the end of Treme Im going like 100 miles per hour and I want to stop doing costumes but the braking distance takes a little while so in between that time I may get a call and I may do something, he says.

To create his series in Wilmington, all Wilson needs is somebody to buy it.

I would so push for it to be in Wilmington, he says. Theres no reason it couldnt be filmed in Wilmington.

As for his concept, he was hush-hush.

Its been a very guarded idea for the last seven years, he says. Obviously hes told some people about it. If they mention it theyre no longer with us, he laughs. Let me just say this, for entertainment purposes: Theyre all kinds of elements that are in a series. But the bottom line here is that we are going to touch on different things in peoples lives, like mental illness, autism, things like that are part of the story, so were trying to make it important on so many different levels that shows dont actually do.

Broadcast

By D.J. Bernard

Beth Crookham is a Wilmington-based film producer who loves to make peoples dreams come true whether as a casting or production assistant on One Tree Hill, 
as producer of Home Again, (see story on p. 37) or on her latest project, the documentary Broadcast, about North Carolina-based radio pioneer Ralph Epperson.

Crookham teamed up with Reidsville, North Carolina, native Jordan Nance to make Broadcast after the two met on the set of One Tree Hill eight years ago.

Nance, who is 30 years old and has cerebral palsy, was visiting the set. His trip was arranged and funded by the Philadelphia-based Sunshine Foundation, an organization that answers the dreams of chronically ill and physically challenged young people. Nance has limited use of his vocal chords, so he gravitated toward television and 
radio as important pastimes to compensate for his lack 
of vocal ability.

While on the set, Nance told Crookham about his dream of making a documentary about Ralph Epperson, the man behind WPAQ bluegrass radio in Mt. Airy, North Carolina. Epperson, born in 1922, came from a long line of tobacco farmers but hed always had a thing for radio. In 1948 he launched WPAQ, which then led to other stations, and ultimately a family radio dynasty that still broadcasts today.

Heres a story about a man who transformed his life and everyone around him by making his dream come true, just like Jordan was trying to do, Crookham says. I told Jordan to go for it and start filming.

Nance and his mom werent sure how to get his documentary started. Crookham gave them the guidance they needed to get a camera and begin filming interviews.

Thirty interviews later, Crookham is now working in the edit room with Nance, trying to cut an hour-long piece that could air on PBS. Their goal is to have it 
completed by this fall, which would make Nances 
dream come true and Crookhams mission complete.

In the meantime, the Iowa native, who has a theater background, remains ensconced in the Wilmington film community.

Theres a plaque Ive seen that sums up being in Wilmington for me, Crookham says. It says, I wasnt born southern but I got here as quick as I could.

Home Again

By D.J. Bernard

Amy Tipton is the kind of art department coordinator who can find or build anything. Shes been working on Wilmington TV and film productions for almost ten years, and during that time she has honed her skills as an expert prop scavenger. Need a vintage tin ceiling for a 1940s episode of One Tree Hill? Check. Need an Army Abrams tank for a film set? Check. But now here she is, on a cold rainy Friday in May, putting the finishing touches on her own TV show pilot, her first ever, and she cant find a square of sod in the entire city of Wilmington.

Why is the sod so important? Because its the last piece of the renovation project Tipton and her crew are doing for Wilmington-based United States Marine Captain Murphy and his family for the first episode of her television show, Home Again.

Tipton says Capt. Murphys first name cant be used because Camp Lejeune officials prohibit active duty Marines from being publicly identified in media projects.

Home Again is a home improvement show with a meaningful twist: It honors deployed military troops like Capt. Murphy by renovating their houses while theyre away. The episodes ending, which will film on the coming Tuesday, will be the ultimate surprise when Capt. Murphy comes back from deployment to a new laundry room, deck, shed and landscaped backyard.

But Tipton says the moment will be diminished if she cant get this important piece of landscaping finished. The first person she calls is her co-producer, Beth Crookham. The two had met on the set of One Tree Hill where Crookham was an assistant to the series executive producer.

This was a passion project for us, Crookham says. We worked on it every weekend for almost five months. Between Tiptons many contacts with vendors from her art department experience and Crookhams film production connections, the two had amassed a sizable group of crew members, volunteers and vendors, including Wilmington contracting company Old School Rebuilders, to bring Home Again from idea to actuality. Together, the crew worked with Murphys wife, whos also a military captain, on the renovation, which even included an art project for 3-year-old daughter Solenne Murphy and 9-month-old son Ronan.

Crookham reassures Tipton that the show would go on, grass or no grass. But Tipton wants things done right. She next calls Chuck Bennett, head of Wilmington firm Morpho Designs, who had designed and landscaped the Murphys backyard.

When Amy said we didnt have grass for the yard, we were frantic, Bennett says. I called all of my suppliers and no one had anything.

Bennett is a good example of the typical volunteer on Home Again, which attracted dozens of people with military backgrounds. Bennett served in the 82nd Airborne and spent a year and a half fighting in the first Gulf War.

I was drawn to work on the show because I could understand the feeling of wanting to come home after being overseas, Bennett says. I lived that life, he adds.

Bennett finally has a breakthrough. He finds a supplier who has sod, but its been set aside for another project. But Tipton will not be daunted and decides to call the supplier herself. I told him what Home Again was all about, and how important this was to the show, Tipton says. Then he said, now whyd you have to tell me that? Im former military, too.

By the end of the conversation, the supplier not only gave the earmarked sod to Tipton but he donated the entire lot.

It was amazing to find that at the last minute, Bennett says. If anyone could pull a rabbit out of a hat, its Amy Tipton.

No one was more relieved at the accomplishment than Tipton, whos lived in Wilmington on and off for the past 10 years. Home Again is more than a new TV project to her. Tipton was inspired to make the program when she reached a crossroads in her life last year. She was working nonstop on a production in Charlotte and couldnt find time for the other outlets in life she enjoys.

I love volunteering for Habitat for Humanity in Wilmington, its a great community here, she says.

Tipton is also a singer who recorded a single called Patiently, which is a tribute to military family members left behind when a spouse is deployed. She and her band, Copper Hill, have played the song in USO benefits in Jacksonville near Camp Lejeune.

I started thinking, what could I do to combine working in TV with volunteering for Habitat with my love for the military? Tipton asked. Then it struck her: She could help the military by making a TV show for them.

And now, here it is, Tuesday. The sod is installed and Tipton and Crookham got the word out to volunteers and military support groups like the Patriot Guard Riders, who are lining the street on the way to the captains house to greet him and take part in a true stars-and-stripes moment for television.

As he pulls up to his home, the look on the captains face is one of utter shock, says Tipton. He gets out of the car and Solenne jumps into his arms. Then his wife comes over with Ronan, who Murphy hasnt seen since he was a month old.

Between the cheering crowd waving American flags and having everyone connected to the renovation there, It was so overwhelming for all of us, Tipton says. It made everyone so happy because he was home safe.

Then Murphy saw the backyard and it gave you goosebumps how thrilled he was, Bennett says.

And it was all captured on film, a living tribute to the idea that when a military family needs help, there are individuals and groups all over the Wilmington area, and the country, 
who are eager to help. Thats the spirit that Tipton has captured for Home Again, the impulse to recognize and celebrate the sacrifices military families make for all of us, and to say thank you.

 


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