Cutting Class to go to the Movies

Destination, Bullshead Tavern, 188 Monroe. I’m not sure exactly where that is, but downtown Grand Rapids isn’t too huge so I leave myself plenty of time and head off in search of this fine establishment.

The flood lights, hydrolic lifts, truckloads of equipment, police tape, and huge crowds are a dead giveaway.

The target of my search immediately switches to parking. No need for a young lady to walk too many blocks by herself at night. Relatively close parking spot secured, I focus on the next task at hand, getting past the crowds, police, and security, into the tavern, my original destination.

Quick re-wind to a couple hours before. I’m at AQ, ready to go to class, when my editor [I’m interning for Gemini Publications] calls and informs me that press were just granted permission to go on set for a shoot for upcoming movie The Steam Experiment. He wants to know if I can go. Let me think about that one.

Okay back to the crowds, police, and security.

The whole block of Monroe in front of the Amway is blocked off and lined with people. Cell phone cameras are out, necks are straining to see, the celebrity search is in full force. Luckily, I have a contact name, the film’s executive producer, and so am escorted through security, across the street, and into the tavern as I hear someone in the crowd ask “Hey, who’s she? Why does she get to go in?” That alone is enough to give anyone a mini ego-trip. ;o)

Inside the tavern is slightly chaotic. The extras have been super-glued to their chairs, the production crew is running around fixing, testing, measuring, setting up, and looking stressed out in general, a lowly PA is carrying somebody’s coffee, make-up is standing to attention, ready for touch-ups, the press is jammed into a corner, and oh look! There’s the mayor! [okay, I’m just kidding about the super-glue thing. It’s a great metaphor though; one of the extras left his seat to talk to somebody half-way through the night and almost lost his head at the hands of a set director.]

There I stand, trying to take it all in and figure out who I should try to interview. More press trickles in including WOOD producer Aaron [I recognized him from my internship last fall; nice to be able to say hi again] as well as the other local news stations, a GR Press writer, an entertainment reporter recently transplanted from London to Detroit, a few other movie website writers, and another GR magazine writer. I’m still figuring out how inter-press relationships work. It’s an interesting crowd, really nice and dynamic people, but the skeptical, abrasive, and competitive vibe is definitely present and accounted for.

I am snapped out my ponderings as Armand Assante walks in. I’ve got to admit, the only way I was able to put the name with the face is because I Googled him before-hand, [hey, whatever works] but still, I recognized him and he’s a pretty big name for GR.

Assante is soon seated at the end of the bar, handed a blackberry, cigar, and drink [props], and seems rather oblivious to the fact that he is now the center of attention. Light meters are thrust in his face, equipment adjusted, photographers snapping away, and extras on full alert.

“Quiet on set!” the command is suddenly shouted. And it begins. The scene is about 30-40 seconds long and involves the lady-bartender making small talk with Assante, him throwing her some cheesy one-liner, her walking away, and him talking to another character on his phone. That’s it. So simple and straightforward, yet requiring about a million takes. Approximately.

About two takes into the shoot, director Philip Martinez stops everything and offers some loud encouragement to the extras. He bellows in a strong Italian accent: “Give me some life! This is Grand Rapids on Friday night; give me some life!”

As the shoot continues on into the night, a few things stick out: (would a post be complete without some sort of list?)
· The mirrored walls of the tavern have been covered with “wood” panels, held there by tape. The tape does not work very well. PA’s scramble to keep the panels from falling in between almost every take.
· Speaking of tape… one of the production crew has the job of taping marks all over the floor for different shots. She has about 10 different colors of tape on her belt and is wearing a bright pink t-shirt. She becomes “cool-tape-girl” in my mind.
· Assante has his own vocal warm-up before most scenes. In between the various production commands being called out, he calls out his own phrases, sometimes mimicking the production (“background!”) sometimes nonsensical sounds (or maybe that was Italian…) and, my favorite, “Fun, fun, fun. Everyone have fun” in the most deadpan/loudest way possible.

Fast forward to about 2:00 am. I emerge from The Chop House with Assante, having spent the last hour or so tag-team “interviewing” him in the House’s cigar lounge with another magazine writer. [A little intimidating at first, but interviewing director Martinez earlier in the evening had loosened me up.] I bid him farewell, get a handshake, hug, and business card, and head off to my car, trying to process what just happened.

One thing is crystal clear. My internship has become approximately 10 times cooler in about 5 hours.

3 thoughts on “Cutting Class to go to the Movies

  1. Cool story. So who (or what) is your internship with? When your interview is printed will it be available on line? I didn’t know the name Armand Asante, but it looks like he’s been in more movies than I’ve seen. I’ve seen one of his.

    Uncle Fred

  2. I am interning for Gemini Publications in Grand Rapids. They publish Grand Rapids Magazine, Grand Rapids Family, and Grand Rapids Business Journal. A little blurb of mine about the bullshead tavern specifically made it into the Business Journal this week, but anything on assante for the other two publications won’t be out for a couple months at least.

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