Behind-the-scenes with the ABNR PA: Burning Questions edition
by Helen Cho, Production Assistant
Zero Point Zero Production. We are a tight knit crew, a beautifully functioning dysfunctional family even, and I am among the lucky few to have slipped through the cracks and found this home. As a newcomer to the ZPZ crew, I’ve quickly learned that when shit needs to get done around here, you just do it. When two cameras went down in Panama the other week, Unit Manager Dan flew out with two working cameras only to fly back to NY the next day. When your show gets nominated for Emmys and your boss asks you to order 12 bottles of bubbly, you don’t ask questions, you just do it.
Or…like, now, for instance- I’m writing this entry not only because I love this job and would like to cherish its blog-worthy experiences but also because Travel requires it as one of many such things called “deliverables.” I am fortunate that my job description as a production assistant here at ZPZ is pretty loose. The face of my work week changes day-to-day and could look like anything ranging from: sending delectable transcripts, logs, releases or other “deliverables” to Travel Channel on a Monday, rounding out the week accompanying producers on shoots to restaurants I can’t afford, to coming in on a Sunday to shoot Adam, our graphics guy, in a skin tight full suit unitard with attached ping pong balls.
For this special episode Burning Questions, producer Rennik Soholt asked me to assist him in casting, finding locations, props, and other general production endeavors. Rennik hands me a piece of paper and I look down and take a quick glance. It is the list of scenes that need to get shot for this episode. However, at the top, in parenthesis, is a note from Rennik reassuring that these are all indeed from Tony, not a joke on the newbie, and not just his own imagination running wild. With a curiously mischievous look on his face, he walks back to his desk letting me know to ask if I have any questions.
I look back at the sheet and go through the items one by one. Let’s see: An insane looking little boy…a Pet store with exotic animals…a deranged stalker…three dead prostitutes…a rodeo clown with a bong…fan mail…security guards with uniforms and their own weapons…black nail polish…wig…skull rings…stick to poke animals…….do I have any questions?
Okay, first order of business is to find a pet store with exotic animals. It’s place of priority is only so I can get it over with, as I’m pretending I don’t actually turn into a 11-year-old girl in the presence of snakes, not because this is any more important than dead prostitutes or deranged stalkers, obviously… After many phone calls and a few trips to pet stores around the city, one of which included an interesting encounter with an employee who introduced himself as “Smack” and asked if I were looking for illegal monkeys, I ventured off into the exotic land of Yonkers to find animals more interesting than city cat-rats, where I met the kind folks at the Exotic Pet Warehouse who eventually gave us permission to shoot there. Progress.
Next up: Fan mail. To protect the hardcore ABNR fans of their privacy, we could not show any of the real fan mail Tony actually receives. And since you can’t really do a fan show without any fan mail, this, of course, led to a couple of days of full TB fan immersion. Back at the office, our production coordinator Annie, myself and a team of interns found ourselves surrounded in a pool of colorful envelopes, psycho chicken scratch, writing and drawing creepy letters and pictures to Tony. Which, I guess we can say we did a decent job at since when it came time for Tony to read all of them, he asked how we’d gotten into his mail and made it a point to say how he thought it’d be a good idea to push for employee review….
There were still many more people and things yet to find and with our non-existent budget, it was lucky for me, and to my surprise, that there were plenty of actresses who not only were available to play dead prostitutes but willing and excited to play free, unpaid, dead prostitutes (and were also confident that they would be able to provide their own wardrobe…) and this is even after I explained to them that they would not be moving, just straight acting dead on a mattress or sitting lifeless in a chair… I don’t know if that says more about Tony or our economy…
With our morning coffees in hand, we pile into the production van and go over the schedule for the day. In the a.m. we shoot at the exotic pet warehouse with our “insane looking” boy and the afternoon we are set to shoot in a seedy basement in Brooklyn decorated with a rodeo clown holding a bong in a wheelchair, a bare mattress and three dead prostitutes. As Annie cuts a wig on Rennik’s head, we remind ourselves to not mention the prossies around the kid. Tomorrow is the stalker scene and Tony just added that he would like to get a shot of the stalker wrapped in rugs and the disposal of the body in a garbage dump on the street. He’s thinking maybe, a little blood splatter in the elevators for dramatic effect. Not sure it’ll fly with the networks but we’ll find out later.
Don’t want to ruin the magic and spoil all the fun as these few moments capture what only makes up small portions, set ups or interstitials of the show, but I hope that this episode allows for a bit of the antics, the sometimes bizarre but always interesting behind-the-scenes of ABNR.
I guess, I better start looking for rugs and blood now…