What I learned my first day in showbiz
by Jenny Yerrick Martin
Even though I studied Broadcasting & Film and was aiming for a career in entertainment, I kind of stumbled into the industry in what, at the time, was an unlikely place: Minneapolis. But my first day in showbiz, I learned something important, something that would serve me well every day from then on.
The story starts with me not moving to Los Angeles to start my career. Though I knew I wanted to get away from the East Coast where I’d grown up and gone to college, Los Angeles might as well have been an alien planet. Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous, Farrah Fawcett swimsuit posters, and Crips vs. Bloods were some of the images I had of L.A. at the time, the very late 1980s. No way, José. Not for me.
So instead of heading west, I headed northwest. I packed up all of my belongings and moved to Minneapolis, a place I had visited just once, but which had seemed to be very laid back, cultured, and livable. No gangs. No swimsuit pinups. And certainly no “Champagne wishes and caviar dreams” of the kind portrayed by the makers of Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous.
Since this was before the Internet provided an easy way to research career opportunities available in various locations, as far as I knew there was also no entertainment industry in Minneapolis. But I was not deterred. This was a lifestyle choice not a career choice and I was sure something good would come of it, if not in entertainment, something related.
However, as luck would have it, there was a film industry in Minneapolis then. It was a small, budding community, but it was there and some of the friends of the high school friend I knew when I moved there were connected to it.
I wasted no time in securing a job as a production assistant on the next project that was shooting there, an HBO original movie on location from Los Angeles called Hometown Boy Makes Good, starring a pre-ER Anthony Edwards.
My first day on the job, I was a little in awe of being on an actual professional movie set. There were trailers, people wearing headsets and a call sheet listing all of the actors and the scenes they would shoot that day. There was a craft service snack area, a catering truck, and a lot of guys wearing tool belts and carrying lights, bounce cards, and other equipment.
That afternoon, we shot inside a local bar. Well, everyone else shot inside a local bar. I was tasked with standing outside the locked door to the bar on a mostly vacant street. I was given a walkie talkie so I could monitor the AD’s “Rolling!” and “Cut!” bookending each shot being filmed, and told to make sure nobody went in the door to the bar.
Yes, I did say the door was locked. And yes, I did feel like an idiot guarding a locked door and I might’ve even mumbled “I went to college for this?” under my breath about a half hour into the long few hours at my post. I know I thought it.
But by doing the “locked door” assignment and a few others well, I was quickly moved to being the prop department PA, helping pick out sunglasses options for the main characters and driving around town finding perfect coffee mugs for the next day’s shoot. Working as a prop assistant would a few months later get me out to Los Angeles as the next step in my entertainment career, but I always look back fondly on my original PA assignment.
Here’s what I learned on my first day in the entertainment industry: Though you may not know what it is, each person on a film shoot is usually performing an important job. From the ADs who keep order on the set, to the gaffers and grips who implement the lighting design and camera set up, to the caterers and craft services people who fuel the other crew members throughout the long days to, yes, the PAs doing the lowliest assignments.
Because sometimes the preoccupied AD coming back from a coffee break at craft services or the busy grips and gaffers carrying equipment to the set will knock on the locked door or jiggle the handle, not realizing that filming is going on inside at that time and they will ruin the shot. Unless someone is standing by to make sure that doesn’t happen. Sometimes someone just like me.Tags: Breaking into Hollywood, Film and television production, Hollywood, Hometown Boy Makes Good, Jenny Yerrick Martin, Minneapolis, On location, Production assistant