Nothing can prepare you for your first time working on a film. It’s like jumping from a second floor window to evade police. You have to hit the ground running. I have worked for law firms, congressmen, senators, and county governments; but, not once have I ever truly been as happy to wake up early and go to work as I was working on John Kilker’s “The Paragon Cortex.” The 14 to 16 hour days and genuine lack of sleep was an easy trade off for enjoying the work I was doing. Even when the sun was rising in the horizon and we still had work to do our entire cast and crew were nothing but a joy to be around. I can honestly say that the people I worked with on this film, who started as total strangers, are now close friends. Should any opportunities present themselves, I would work with any or all of them again in an instant. Every crew has its little idiosyncrasies. Our crew was prone saying “we’re making a movie” whenever times got tough. It was a saying that kept us all going.
I was lucky enough to be introduced to Joe Van Wie, the film’s line producer and unit production manager, through a friend who then subsequently recommended me for the position of Script Supervisor. Once offered, I immediately accepted the position and got to work. My pre-production duties included reading the script I don’t even know how many times and working in unison with the assistant director, Michael Belardi, to make sure all our ducks were in a row.
March 11, 2012 was not a scheduled shooting day but as we had our villainess, the lovely Ms. Ginger Kroll, ready and willing we shot some B-Roll and I got my first taste of the process that I would be involved in for the next 4 weeks. The next day we truly began principal photography. I have been a cinephile for as long back as I can remember; but, I cannot say I have done all that much research into the actual on set production process. As a writer I tend to focus on story. I learned that when putting a story on film, rather than paper, there is one, all important, thing to be aware of: light.
Over the course of the next couple weeks I learned how important the light set up for film truly is. Our gaffer, Max Tsui, and Key Grip, Ben Wentzel, were amazing to watch. They were both clearly masters of their respective crafts and worked extremely well with the production assistants whom they had to educate on the fly.
While Max, Ben, and the P.A.’s worked on the light set ups I was working with our venerable wardrobe and makeup artist, Susie Prisk, and our actors to make sure we maintained continuity. At the start of everyday Susie and I would quickly make sure that not only were our actors in the correct outfits for specific scenes but also double and triple checking the wardrobe changes for the upcoming scenes and days. Most of my time spent in-between shoots was doing this, working with Michael to make sure we were getting everything we needed to get done for the day, or running lines with our actors. At the same time our sound department, Sonam Gray and Rissy Von Laibach, could usually be found placing microphones on the actors while Susie and I were looking at pictures of the wardrobe from scenes we had already shot but were linked to what we were shooting. The camera crew: Alex Jentz, Lief Thomas, Karsten Jäger and Vadim Mayor came all the way from Germany – as did Max, our gaffer. These guys were true professionals. They could always be found around the cameras and the sets working with John to get the best shot possible. Watching Karsten roam about the sets gracefully with his steady cam was a sight to behold; as are the shots he got.
The sets, by the way, were expertly crafted and designed by Jimmy Kilker and Dave Corigliano. I got to smash a wall with a hammer, very cathartic; I highly recommend it.
As awesome as our crew was, and it was a magnificent crew, our cast was just exceptional. Nick Coleman, James Kautz, Garret Hendricks, Ginger, and Melissa Navia all gave stellar performances. We’ve all heard horror stories about prima donna performers; but, the entire cast was genuine, professional and approachable.
One of the most enjoyable locations of the entire production was our night shoot at Comics on the Green. This was probably the night that really brought everyone together, because we all realized we were giant nerds. Nick Coleman and Garret Hendricks, our lead and supporting actors, were like kids in a candy store, shooting the shit with local actor Conor McGuigan. Hell, we were all like kids in a candy store: grips, P.A.’s, sound department, cast, producers, John, camera department, the young extras, Michael, myself and even the store’s owners all at one point or another talked comics when they could. This day let everyone really get to know each other in an atmosphere that we all felt comfortable in, and I think it may have had something to do with how well we all worked together from that day on.
The night we shot the climactic battle at Global Trucking was long and crazy. It was a perfect example of why we had the mantra “we’re making a movie.” On that day, I’m sure the phrase was tossed around more times than I can count. Despite the hectic shooting schedule, we got everything we needed, even if some early morning trucks had to be rerouted and truckers bought breakfast. I could honestly go on and on about specific days I remember throughout the 20 day shoot but I think it will suffice to say that working on this film was easily one of the most fun and grueling experiences of my life. I can’t wait to do it again. Because, when all was said and done, we made a movie.
Only a few weeks after accepting the position and getting to work on my pre-production duties I was informed that I had been accepted to University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts to pursue my Master of Fine Arts in Writing for the Screen and Television. This kind of blew my mind. A barrage of expletives flew forth from my mouth in a constant stream when I found out. There may or may not have been children present. It was confirmation that making movies would be a part of my professional life for the foreseeable future, and after my experience working on “The Paragon Cortex” I don’t really see any other future.
Once our director John and producer Christian “Kiki” Hünnebeck, both USC alums themselves, heard I too would be joining their alma mater they were a wealth of advice and encouragement. I cannot thank either of them enough for everything from allowing me to work on their project to their sage-like advice on what to do and whom to talk to upon heading west. John, Kiki, if you are reading this, thank you; seriously. Come August I’ll be leaving Northeastern Pennsylvania for Southern California.
Thanks to Water Gap Pictures in association with JVW, Inc. and the entire cast and crew of “The Paragon Cortex” I’ll be doing so with more experience than most. If I am lucky enough to continue working in this industry I’ll remember where I started was also where I came from. And I’ll be keen to remind those I work with, whenever things get tense, to relax and remember that “we’re making a movie.”
– Kevin Regan