What one of us doesn’t love the movies? They transport us, empower us, excite us. We laugh, we cry, we love, we hate. As an audience, we come together in that space of two hours plus to embrace the glamour and adventure, the heartbreak and triumph, as one. We’re moved, changed, and the stories become a part of us.
How about our favorite television shows? We don’t miss an episode, we love and hate the characters, happily become part of cult followings, eagerly await the start of new seasons, and freely share our opinions on social media.
Maybe you’ve even dreamed about being in the movies, or on television. And if you’re an author or a playwright, perhaps you’ve longed to see your story come to life on the silver screen—or maybe, Netflix.
Recently I had the opportunity to get the perspective from the other side of the lens—literally—when I spoke with seasoned camera assistant Wade Ferrari. He kindly shared his insights about the movie and television industry, as well as his wide variety of experiences.
Specifically, Wade is a Union Camera Loader at ICG: International Cinematographers Guild (IATSE Local 600). In layman’s terms, that means he works in the camera department for productions across the film and television industry, acting as assistant camera, or ‘AC’, camera operator and cinematographer, to name a few.
“The movie and television industry is changing so quickly,” Wade explained. “I’d describe it more as the ‘entertainment industry’ versus the movie industry. It feels like there’s a giant crossover among the different mediums brought on by the huge role Social Media plays in society now. Movies aren’t necessarily the focus anymore. There’s web series, docu-series, or documentary series, reality television. Even commercials, Youtube and Snapchat are part of what I’d include in those ‘crossover’ mediums.”
Currently, he’s working on the set of popular television series Outsiders, which is currently filming it’s second consecutive season in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Per WGN America’s website, Outsiders is “…the story of the Farrells, a family clan living off the grid on a Kentucky mountaintop since before anyone can remember.”
“This is a big budget show,” Wade explained. “One of the perks? Breakfast is always catered,” he said with a laugh. “We watch the rehearsals so we can get a feel for what we need, but I don’t get to play any kind of creative role in deciding how to photograph the scene or light it. That comes from the Cinematographer.”
So, what’s a typical day like for Wade? The day before a shoot, he, along with everyone else on the crew, is emailed a call sheet, which details all of the vital information for the day. This comes from the assistant director, and includes a breakdown of scenes, lighting, special effects, wardrobe, actors and more.
“We use a 24 foot truck to house all of our cameras and gear,” Wade explained. “We have five camera carts which we use to move around the sets all day. Often, we’ll work between twelve and eighteen hours a day.” He laughed. “A lot of people have such a romanticized version of Hollywood. A lot of it is physically demanding blue collar work. Just a bunch of sweaty people getting it done.”
“Every day is busy, and we’re always operating at least two cameras. Sometimes it’ll be a three camera day, which is busy, and when it’s a four camera day, it gets crazy. We’ll have four primary cameras, and sometimes, two additional ‘stunt’ or ‘crash’ cameras, which are used in scenes with special effects, just in case anything goes wrong.”
Wade explained there’s myriad gear that goes along with the cameras, including lenses, filters, monitors, batteries, transmitters, and cabling. “But that’s nothing compared to the grip or electric departments. They both run with two trucks, and they do all kinds of cool things for us, including building cranes, giant flags to block and shape light, and building all kinds of structures to help everyone out.”
Wade has worked behind the scenes on both large and small scale productions, and for industry giants including the Discovery, Weather and Travel Channels on series including Booze Traveler, Natural Born Monsters and Shark Week. He’s also worked on a wide variety of movies, including The Fault in Our Stars, The Avengers, Won’t Back Down, and The Taking of Deborah Logan.
“On the set of Outsiders, there’s a crew of about 300 people. On smaller scale productions, like the docu-series I worked on, we had a crew of only six people.” For Wade, that means the opportunity to make more decisions, which he enjoys. When the producer for the series, Natural Born Monsters, was delayed on their journey from Thailand to South Africa because of a luggage snafu, Wade even had the opportunity to produce an episode, though he was uncredited for it.
What’s the most memorable project he’s worked on? “I’d have to say, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. It was many firsts for me. My first job. The first time I’d traveled alone. The first time I’d been on any movie set. I got to live in Australia. It was the biggest budget for a movie being filmed in the world at that time. I’ll probably never work on something like that again.” On that film, Wade worked the entry-level position of production assistant for the camera department.
Traveling is definitely something Wade enjoys about his job, and he does a lot of it! For the series Booze Traveler and Natural Born Monsters, he traveled for over four months for each, and visited seven different countries. What did he enjoy the most? “It gave me an opportunity to see the world, to experience so many different cultures. It humbles me, and I’m thankful for the life experience. I got to see things a lot of people don’t ever get to see.”
What did he enjoy the least? “On one documentary in particular, all of the crew went into the project knowing it was a dangerous concept for the show,” Wade explained. “We knew we’d be around dangerous animals in the field, up close and personal, conveying how they’d been affected by climate change over the centuries.” However, he explained there were times when poor communication and botched logistics led to frightening and dangerous situations. “There were a number of times I felt my life was in danger.”
Wade told me of one such instance. “We were shooting footage at a crocodile farm in South Africa. Originally, we were told the shoot would take place during the day. Instead, it was at night. Big difference in being able to see the crocs! Basically, there were six cages, which consisted of wooden posts and chicken wire, housing twelve crocodiles, between eight and sixteen feet long. We were shooting inside the cages, and it ended up with me sitting on top of a ladder, shining a spotlight over the area, so we could see them to avoid attack.”
And despite that? Wade laughed. “You know, it’s like ‘Type 3’ fun. You would have to pay me a lot more to do that again. All of the crew agreed they’d never do the show again. It was miserable going through it, but looking back on it, it was cool.”
Just as the movies are often filled with adventure, so are, it turns out, the everyday goings on of camera assistants. Wade told me about an experience he and his crew had while in South Africa working on Booze Traveler. “We were shooting what we call a ‘B roll’ day, meaning we go around shooting pretty stuff, like trees, leaves blowing in the wind, flowers. Filler stuff to include. We got the idea that we should hike to the top of this hill to get a sunset shot of the African landscape. So, me and two other camera operators did just that, while one guy stayed back with the van. We got some great footage. Then, we looked around and saw what we thought were little monkeys. Just a few at first. Then a few more. Cute, right? Wrong.” Wade laughed soberly. “There’s one rule in The Bush. Don’t go out at night. The sun was starting to go down, we were loaded down with equipment, and the guy who’d stayed at the van was calling us frantically on our walkie talkie, but the reception sucked. When he finally got a hold of us, he was screaming, ‘You have to get down here! They’re flanking you from both sides!’ Those monkeys? Were, in fact, baboons. There were probably 20 to 30 of them, about 40 to 50 feet away, arming themselves with rocks and branches. We hauled ass out of there. That,” Wade admits, “was just stupid on our part, and could’ve ended badly.”
Whew. Aside from harrowing misadventures with crocs and baboons, what does Wade enjoy most about the industry? “Every project is different,” he said. “I genuinely enjoy the collaboration and the unknown variables. I’m a small part of a great big cog. There’s so many different minds collaborating and working together to get the job done, to create something bigger.”
“Also, I’ve made a lot of close friends, some of them I never would’ve expected. And that’s really special to me. I’ve heard friendships described in the industry are like being at summer camp. You might be with them for only a few months, but you’re working with them for sometimes 12 to 18 hours a day. That time you spend with them is unique and intense. You get really close with them, but at the same time, you might never see them again. But if you do, it’s like not a day has gone by.”
And perhaps this is where the real magic lies, in both the creative process and the enduring friendships—at least for people in the industry. For, as Wade explained, “I’ve heard it said, the longer you do this job, the more the magic fades. Now, when I watch a movie, I’m thinking more about how they accomplished the shot instead of the content of the scene.”
Of course, I had to ask, any cool stories to share about celebrities? Wade laughed. “Well, I do have a story, but I can’t tell it.” He thought for a minute. “Okay, I’ve got one,” he said. “I was working on the set of Won’t Back Down. I walked onto my camera truck, and there was this guy standing in the aisle, drinking a beer out of the mini fridge. I was like, who’s this dude, and why is he drinking my beer? Having a nice cold beer at the end of long shoot day is an absolute priority in my department. I asked him who he was, and he told me, ‘I’m Jake. My sister, Maggie, is working on this film and I just flew in for the weekend to see her.’ I was like, okay, ‘What department does she work in?’ He said, ‘No, she’s acting in it.’ Then it hit me. Maggie Gyllenhaal was starring in the movie. This was her brother. Jake Gyllenhaal. I felt so stupid. I never in a million years would have recognized him. I shook his hand and just told him how nice it was to meet him.”
Just another day at the office. <grin> No matter where Wade ends up, for as he says, “different opportunities come up all the time”, I’ve no doubt there’s plenty of magic left for this adventurous, brave and creative camera assistant—from any angle.
More about Wade: Wade grew up loving video games and computers. He graduated from Ithaca College’s Roy H. Park School of Communications with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Cinema and Photography. In addition to the many projects and productions Wade has worked on, he was a co-producer and cinematographer on a piece entitled Crosses. It’s a post-apocalyptic war film he shot on an almost zero dollar budget. He received the “Best Cinematography in Show” award for this piece at the Utica Film Festival in the city where the film was shot. For more information about Wade and his other projects and credits, visit his IMDB page, or follow him on Instagam, @WadeFerrari.
Rebecca E. Neely is a blogger, storyteller, writer & author. Visit her at www.rebeccaneely.com
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