A Day In the Life

 

My alarm goes off at 5:45am. I shoot out of bed because although I was super tired after cooking Indian cuisine Sunday night with friends, this Monday morning is going to be busy. I’m producing a sci-fi short film for a friend at 7:00am on top of my normal daily work at a production company.

It’s pretty cool now in the mornings, so I shiver through quick morning prayers. Kettle of water goes to boiling on the stove, sausage cooked yesterday into the oven to heat up, and I dive into a precisely ten minute shower.

Three batches of French pressed coffee later, I have also packed my backpack for the work day (laptop, work binder, work lists, my own breakfast) and Bible study in the evening. The clock reads 6:23 am. So far so good. Then as I take craft services out to the Camry I realize I didn’t account for having to make three trips with all the food, water, coffee, and eating utensils. Whoops! Meanwhile, I’m texting and calling with the director and AD as we make sure everything is good to go and that crew are arriving at our transportation location.

I’m laughing at myself now because I didn’t know when I picked this day to write about that it was going to be such a hectic one. Then again, days like this will be my life for the next few weeks until I fly home for Christmas since our production company is headlong in production for a documentary.

Now it’s 6:35am. I’m pulling out of my apartment complex. I’ll be getting to our pickup location exactly on time to leave for the first shooting location, Mike’s BBQ. En route, the director lets me know the main crew and cast have already headed out to get setting up early. I’ll be picking up five crew/cast members and a load of equipment.

Gemma lets me in at the gate, Phil and Clare direct me around the corner to where Matt waits with the gear, and we load up. Delighted to learn that c-stands actually fit in my trunk, I supervise not spilling the coffee while I field calls from the AD and try to get in touch with our VFX set designer who has not shown up or communicated. From knowing his normal schedule habits, we’re confident he probably stayed up late and is fast asleep. We might need to take a second trip to get him, but in the end we decide we can’t wait for him and don’t have time to come back and get him. Thank goodness this is a forgiving student set, but hopefully in the future he’ll communicate professionally. Otherwise it will harm his reputation in the industry.

We’re off now! After arriving and unloading gear, I supervise breakfast, release forms, and any last minute items the production needs. Since we are on a tight schedule, everyone moves like busy bees and we start shooting at 7:20am. The set lighting looks amazing, cast and crew are delighted with the fresh coffee, and b-roll is confidently interviewing random crew. I watch the first few shots, proud that I am producing this set and working with this team.

8:15am comes all too quickly. As I’m grabbing my backpack, I run into an interview with b-roll. I laugh and reply to his questioning: “Hello, I’m the producer on this set. We’re off to a great start this morning and I’d like to stay, but I’m actually going directly from this set to work in a production office in La Jolla.”

As I drive away, get gas, and head to work, I can’t help but smile. This is a good life. I’m leaving one set in production to go work on another in pre-production. It almost sounds funny to call that work because I’m doing what I want to do, and I know I’m enormously blessed by God so soon out of college. (Three months out of college to be exact.) My daily Rosary en route to work is infused with so much gratitude.

I walk in the office door at precisely 9:34am (I’m still learning to plan ahead for the extra couple minutes it takes on the old, slow elevator). The office is already hopping. It’s our main producer and production manager’s first day back from a shoot in New York City, and we are already moving completely on to pre-production for the international leg of this film. I walk past our financial producer already thirty minutes into a call with the Czech Film Commission, say hi to the two other office assistants, smile at our travel planner Lauren, and ask our production manager how his shoot went. Lauren knows I’ve been up since 5:45am on a shoot of my own and is eager to hear how it went. I whisper the gist to her and then slip into the back office where our main producer is already on a call.

His office is “where it all happens” as the saying goes. I am his producer’s assistant, so I have a desk adjacent to and facing his. That way I can take notes on his calls, organize his papers, look over documents with him, and see his computer when he needs to show me something on it. I open the laptop and start taking notes on the call. He winks at me and I grin back, glad to have him in the office again.

I’m no stenographer, but apparently I take killer notes. All those pages of philosophy and screenwriting notes in school paid off I guess, and now everyone in the office counts on my notes to be forwarded by email after a call. “Not to put extra pressure on you,” says our financial producer as she laughs, “but yes, to put pressure on you. I read those notes and I don’t have to take any myself!”

While this is going on, I am also checking our Christmas book orders. Goodness, we’ve gotten thirty orders of the Christmas packages from the weekend. Sometime today I will be prepping each order to be personalized and signed by the author on Thursday. This involves logging the order info, printing screenshots of the order to rubberband to each set so they don’t get mixed, putting a sticky note in each front cover with the personalization, and keeping track of each set. I also notice that we’ve sold out of one set. That involves a scramble to let our web guy know to stop those orders and make a new set with the inventory we have left.

Today I pass off the daily orders to Tyler to package and mail because as soon as this first call is done, the main producer and I are headlong into another foreign call with our line producer in Prague. Different versions of budgets, contracts, and communication print outs lie in organized chaos around the desk as they hash out the details for making this shoot happen. After that it’s a call with the director and then the writer and director. There are two Skype interviews with potential locations managers in Munich, but the first one is a no hire and the second one gets moved to Tuesday because we have a sudden call with our other director. The production manager and I have to share a laugh because our producer dislikes the no hire so much, and then we join with him in hoping that Christian tomorrow will be better.

Suddenly, we realize that it is already one o’clock and we haven’t ordered lunch yet. Dani goes to pick it up and we eat with 15 minutes to spare before another call with the Czech bank and our US bank rep.

After that, the main producer and I finally sit back to two minutes and laugh at how fast the day is moving. “Are you scared of me yet?” he asks and I shake my head. “I love this,” I tell him. “I love being busy and I’m learning so much amazing stuff.” He gets excited. “Just wait until we get to the information gold.” He geeks out for a minute as we explore the database that all major film companies use to track what’s coming out when. (We’re in the middle of locking a release date for our current film.)

Later in the afternoon there comes a point when I am taking notes, printing order slips, writing things on his to do list, and following his brainstorming arc when he stops, looks at me, and laughs. In that exact instant my brain is momentarily overwhelmed from firing so hard on all cylinders and I can tell from the look on his face that my expression must be a priceless mix of intensity, enjoyment, challenge, and rush. “Are you okay?” he asks. I grin, “Yes, just give me 30 seconds to catch up on all that.” It is amazing working with him.

At some point, Lauren slips in to tell me she just accepted another job at a financial company where she will be moving up. I am sad that she is going to leave because we connect so well, but I am also happy for her because this job at DML Films has prepared her to move up in the world. Our main producer says pretty much the same thing, although he also says, “Lauren, you’re going to make dad cry. We’re going to miss you a lot.” We have this thing at work that the main producer and the financial producer are our “work parents” and we are all their kids. They watch out for us like that too which makes it even better.

Also in the afternoon we have an office meeting where the main producer and production manager catch us up on the New York shoot. We dive into the logistics of wrapping up that shoot, managing Christmas orders, locking down budgets and insurance for Europe, prepping for another set of interviews early December, and a sudden huge meeting with a major studio in LA that our main producer has at the end of the week. Dani and Tyler are put to scouting location options and wrapping New York stuff with our financial producer who is also working on all the accounts as well and doing the million other things that only she knows how to do. The Christmas orders are my arena. That leaves the production manager and I to prep with our main producer for his studio meeting. Before we split we also make a list of everything that we need to do for travel arrangements for November/December. Since she is leaving, Lauren will also be training Dani and Tyler on how to handle travel. I’ll be stepping in as well since she already showed it to me, but I’ll be doing more on our main producer’s end and getting them info since I’ll be mainly needed in his office.

Our main producer and I begin to wrap up the day by catching a call with an important person we will be interviewing soon. We leave messages for a couple others on the east coast that they will get tomorrow. Then it is 5:29pm. We’ve already figured out that I will stay until 7:30pm on Tuesday and Thursday to help prep for the huge meeting coming up, so today I’m out the door in a rush for Bible study with my group at JPCU. Our main producers bumps fists with me and tells me its a good thing I’m going to Bible Study to pray for everything going on. I leave happily on a burst of energy.

On my way to campus, I stop by the student housing at Latitude to pick up craft services from the morning shoot. I pop open the gate with my hand (yes, the student complex is that secure) and wait on Gemma’s brother to unlock her townhouse so we can grab the stuff. Then I’m off to the Student Life Center.

Tonight its only four of us with the campus ministry leader Chase. Half of us are so tired we keep dying from spontaneous laughter, but reading through the Gospel of Mark settles us a bit. We’re at the discourse of the end times right before the Passion narrative. Yours truly suddenly wonders at the fact that the discourse focuses a lot on natural events while nowadays the culture seems to focus on man-made apocalypses. We discuss how the end times also refer to our personal end times and what will happen at the end of our own lives. In that light, we realize the importance of making sure we ourselves don’t slide little by little into dangerous ways as the various sects of Pharisees did until we don’t know the bad choices we are making.

The sci-fi short film shoot went well, except for that fact that the restaurant manager needed everyone out an hour earlier than planned to mop the floors. That has an easy fix though—we shoot two hours of pickups on a third Monday. The director Joseph and I have already been messaging about it and have it under our control.

I head home with a full heart, a tired mind, and a peaceful feeling of blessedness. Obstacles come and go, some harder to surmount than others. However, if I rise up to take them in step I realize that as long as I am working hard and walking one step at a time in the path that shows before me, I will be exactly where God needs me to be when He opens enormous doors.

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It’s Not My Place to Question

I didn’t know today would be our last

Or that I’d have to say goodbye to you so fast

I’m so numb, I can’t feel anymore

Prayin’ you’d just walk back through that door

And tell me that I was only dreamin’

You’re not really gone as long as I believe.

“Jealous of the Angels” by Jenn Bostic is a song on my list that I play on loop every so often as a cathartic way of breathing out the emotions in my heart. It is a song of loss, particularly from death, but I’ve found it relatable in another way.

My mom had always told us when we were homeschooled that our sisters would always be our best friends. I was never sure I believed that all the way, but it was written as a thick leaf in my book of life as Michaeline, my younger sister nearest in age, became my confidante, my guide, my champion, and my fellow conspirator. And then she was gone. And I could not understand why the one girl I actually looked up to and trusted with all my heart was taken away.

My heart numbed when half of it broke off and ran away after her as she entered the Carmelite cloister. That was two years ago, and it hasn’t gotten easier. Maybe I don’t sit in the quiet darkness of my room and sob my heart out nearly as often as I did the first six months when I missed sharing everything with my sister so much. Maybe now I can see my sister for an hour or two three times a year and enjoy those moments no matter how hard I take it afterwards. But deep down, my heart has become very vulnerable to loss.

In the couple ensuing years, I seem to have a knack for forming deep bonds with the most amazing souls who are then suddenly asked to put out into the deep again and journey far away. Usually they happen to be the dear friends that I clicked with immediately and deeply in vulnerability, caring, laughter, spirituality, nurturing, and the other more goofy things that good friends can do together. Every time it’s the ones I look up to. Every time it opens my heart up again a little more at the throbbing incision inflicted when I gave up my first best friend.

And once more this week this is the point I stand at. Another sweetheart is leaving. The loss is for everyone at school because this particular girl is widely thought of as the kindest, purest person at our small university. In a special way, however, it brings out a deeper hurt in me. Of all last fall’s incoming class, she was the one that I completely bonded with within the first week on our kitchen floor, and from there we only grew closer in an older/little sister bond that had the familiar sweetness of the one with Michaeline. I love and esteem this friend so much. In her I find a comfort and a call to be a better version of myself while she also looks up to me and finds the good things I don’t know about myself. Together we have a treasure. I know that we’ll be visiting each other and keeping in touch, but there’s still a hurt in the separation. That’s when I think of the second verse of Jenn Bostic’s song:

“You always made my troubles feel so small

And you were always there to catch me when I’d fall

In a world where heroes come and go

Well, God just took the only one I know

So I’ll hold you as close as I can

Longing for the day, when I see your face again

But until then…”

Somewhere in the communion of saints and the Church Militant, the ties of our souls are working together for a deeper purpose than chance meetings and fleeting bonds.

I said it never gets easier to not question in the pain. The heart passes through a link of seasons though, and in those seasons I go through different moments of realizing the pain as new ways of growing in a different relationship with the dear, little souls I’ve lost.

“It’s not my place to question, only God knows why…” Sometimes I do ask why we formed such a deep bond. Why yet again a true friendship is taking new directions away from the dynamic of living near each other and into the more spiritual and emotional aspect of long-distance. Why all these moments?

A realization I shared a couple weeks ago with another close friend still here at school comes back to hearten me. These bonds, experiences, and friendships are not like rocks we carry for a bit and then tumble down the trail of life as useless; they are like rocks we build houses or roads with. They are foundations for what comes next, and we will often come back to them in new light or revisit these old haunts throughout life—when we are meant to.

And in that realization, I know that the dear, little, gone souls who have a piece of my heart forever with them are not truly lost. We won’t have a physically close proximity together anymore, but in our bond friendship finds new ways of union and different methods of keeping in touch. The threads that tie us together from so far away were fastened for a reason that only God knows. Their love “lives on inside of me” and I can’t help but “hold on tight.”

Amidst the bittersweetness of the love and loss, hope says that the interweaving of our lives is not over yet. But in the meantime I’ve learned it is okay to find relief and solace in the tears of a strengthening vulnerability to the pain.

La La Land: The Artist’s Struggle

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La La Land—last week spur of the moment with a couple friends I saw Hollywood’s newest musical film starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. We laughed and then cried. From a filmmaker’s standpoint, La La Land sports phenomenal art direction, acting, color, costume, and choreography design in my opinion. It’s 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and 8.9/10 on IMDb seems to agree. Continue reading “La La Land: The Artist’s Struggle”

Advent Mysteries

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My airplane touched down in Milwaukee for Christmas break during a gorgeous and dangerous snowstorm. I spent the last twenty minutes of the flight staring breathlessly out the window as crystals of snow streaked off the plane wings and glittered in the white lights. I was praying the Rosary, but every so often the wintery sight distracted me. For some reason the snowflakes stretching in icy veins off from the wings reminded me of Hans Christian Anderson’s tale of the Snow Queen. Then inexplicably wandering as minds often do, a new thought popped into my head: Advent is such a strange time for college students. Continue reading “Advent Mysteries”

Blessed Darkness

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“If it weren’t for the darkness, we wouldn’t see the stars.”

This is one of a collection of random quotes I sticky-noted to my work computer. This past week, it suddenly dawned on me while wrestling with wanting to know everything (meaning particularly The Future, particularly my control over The Future) that maybe that very wanting is why I have to be kept in the dark. Maybe it is so that I learn I don’t need to know everything, and yet it still works out.

Perhaps also though the darkness is a gift. Continue reading “Blessed Darkness”

The Hidden Powers of Merlin

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“All of my friends in our group are so smart, and I’m not.”

“You are an artist!”

“But no one can see that,” she pointed out matter-of-factly. “It doesn’t matter.”

“Yes, it does,” I said. “That is your Gift.”

My friend was on the couch and I was washing dishes when our conversation about grades, report cards, and scholarships evolved into that exchange. I plopped on the table to dangle my legs and continued, “It matters because—”

Because I’ve been wrestling with the same experiences myself the past few weeks. The frequent realization of being the friend who starts others out on their journeys and then steps back to freely let them fly, or who steps into someone’s life for a period of time when they need it most and then shifts again to the background as paths race on.

Or the idea of certain film roles—script supervising, storyboard artist, craft services, scoring, production assistant, assistant director—that every film professional knows are obviously not as glamorous or professionally appealing as directing or writing or acting or even as mentionable as producing. Roles that even though they are hidden are indispensable.

That hiddenness, I’ve realized, is the catch. Continue reading “The Hidden Powers of Merlin”

A Skirted Journey

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I love dresses! As my friends can attest, I wear skirts or dresses most of the time. In fact, I often get passively irked by friends who make shocked faces and comment loudly, “Maria, you’re wearing jeans today!” (Disclaimer: I do wear jeans often enough on film sets or hikes or camping trips—its more practical—and I wear shorts every time I play sports.)

Maybe I think skirts are more feminine or more modest—I do—but I mainly wear skirts because I love them. I like the way they feel, the way they look, their classiness. Somehow skirts make me feel so much more womanly. I can spin and dance gorgeously in them, I can look fluid and graceful. (I also feel very adventurous and beautiful climbing a rock wall and leaping nimbly off the other end in a dress that flows along with me!) Looking back on how skirts became an almost daily part of my life makes me laugh, too, because it was in a rather unexpected way.

Continue reading “A Skirted Journey”