Burn Notice – On-Set and Production Assisting

Posted on October 30, 2008

At the beginning of the summer I had mentioned how I stumbled on the set of Confessions of a Shopaholic and through a couple degrees of someone who knows someone, I was put in touch with the Location Manager of the show Burn Notice and invited to come out to the set. This is what happened.

Burn Notice - On-Set and Production Assisting 3I showed up to the Burn Notice set, which is in a convention center they’ve converted to a soundstage (Marley & Me was filming in the other half). The building looked normal until I rounded the corner to find a huge sea of production trailers, along with random fragments of sets I recognized from the show.

I met Melanie, the Location Manager, and she brought me inside. The first hall was filled with department trucks and a giant set building workshop.

Going through to the other side was the sets – Michael’s mom’s house and his apartment, complete with a giant cyclorama of Miami.

Melanie introduced me to the Assistant Directors (ADs), who then asked if I wanted to be a Production Assistant for the day. Um, sure.

Unlike Film School where we’re lucky if we have four working walkies, wireless communication was so abundant on set even I got a walkie with a head piece, along with a few sides.

In fact, there’s so many walkies out that each department has their own channel (production team, art team, grip and electric, etc.).

I was stationed near a side door and basically had to yell out whatever the first AD said – the usual cadence stuff. “We’re going for picture! Quiet on set! Rolling!”

Between setups I could roam around, observe, and talk to people.

Burn Notice - On-Set and Production Assisting 4Honestly, I felt like I was right back on a film school set. It felt so familiar. The only difference is more people and larger production.

The set was run the same, the process was the same, the equipment was better but still the same. They even fell behind schedule, just like us. Okay, there is one major difference. Craft services is amazing and even has a waffle making station.

While the crew was setting up for a shot, I started talking to the First Assistant Director. She asked what I wanted to do, but answered it before I could get a chance. “Direct, of course.” Well don’t I feel like the typical film school guy. I said yes, but I also like producing, which seemed to be a different reply than she’s used to.

With each department I did notice something very interesting. As the positions got higher, so did the age. With the camera team, the Second Assistant Camera was young but still in his thirties. The First Assistant Camera was older, followed by an even older Camera Operator and then a graying Director of Photography.

This can be seen in the Art and Production departments as well. Of course the writer/producer for the episode, who was pretty much chilling near video village on his Blackberry all day, was in his 20s. I want that job.

Another interesting dynamic was how each person only cared about their department and nothing else. One of the ADs caught me looking at the lighting set-up for a scene, and asked what I was looking at. When I told him the lighting, he responded, “So now you want to be a cinematographer?”

The few times any of the Assistant Directors asked for something over the walkie, I was pretty quick to respond – something I thought that went with the job. But apparently this was above average performance, because by the end of the day they asked me to stay on for the production of the entire season at $125 a day.

Tempting, yes, but returning to broken equipment and scarce walkies, along with the occasional making of movies, won out.

More pictures here.
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