Wednesday, May 15, 2013

I Was A Teenage Production Assistant: Mafia Marriage!

I hadn’t worked for a while ending out 1992. I was living very frugally though and made the money from the summer’s work last a good long time. I discovered something about Wilmington film production that was pretty much true for me throughout the 90’s – if a show didn’t start in October – and last through December or January you were kind of out of luck – because it seemed NOTHING would come and start up in November, December, or January.

A good friend to those in between film jobs.

Usually something might trickle in for pre-production in February – but it was really March when things geared back up in a big way. So you planned on working March-October – and hoped there might be something big shooting in the fall that might last into the new year – and you had to budget your money accordingly. There were, thankfully, unemployment benefits when you came off a show – because you worked as a freelance “for hire” – and when the production wrapped you were in the eyes of the state of North Carolina “layed off” your job – or unemployed through no fault of your own – so we film people did qualify for unemployment. The trick was though that you had to have been working for 30 calendar days – and sometimes the production simply didn’t run that long. Nonetheless – unemployment benefits certainly helped through a couple of lean periods – especially those around the end of the year and beginning of the next.

Can you tell I'm padding the pictures in this one? Here's
where you go for unemployment benefits.

As 1993 started I got recommended to a location guy named David H – and he hired me to be a low level locations assistant for a TV miniseries called To Love, Honor and Obey: The Last Mafia Marriage. Quite a title, eh? Well, that was the title when it aired - we just called it Mafia Marriage around the set. I had never done locations work before – so I felt like I was playing catch-up through a lot of this show – in the end – the job consisted of showing up before the crew – unlocking the set (in this case a house) then hanging around all day to facilitate locations questions – where things are, etc. I also dealt with some neighbors – but more on that in a bit. I would then wait for the crew to arrive and start their day.

Film equipment being set up.

Mafia Marriage (as I like to shorten it) was a CBS miniseries about the Bonnanno crime family and their travails in the 60’s. The project had started shooting out west – I’m thinking in Utah or Colorado – for a couple of weeks before coming to Wilmington for a few weeks shooting. I joined them as they shot at what had once been the governor’s mansion here in downtown Wilmington.

Two views of the Governor Dudley Mansion in downtown Wilmington NC

The project starred some interesting people – Eric Roberts (The Expendables) and Nancy McKeon (The Facts of Life) starred – but in support there were Ben Gazzara (method actor and movie star of the 60’s) Alex Rocco (The Godfather), Tomas Milian (big Italian star of the 70’s) and Peter Jurasik (Babylon 5 and Hill Street Blues).

Tomas Milian back in the day.

Peter Jurasik

At the governor mansion location it was a lot of work with Roberts, McKeon, Milian, and Jurasik. As a locations guy I was a little removed from direct interaction for the first part of the shoot. I was intimidated by Milian’s stern presence and never even spoke to him – but I did meet Jurasik who turned out to be a great guy – and he loved the area so much he moved here!

McKeon and Roberts

After shooting at that location for three days or so we moved over to a neighborhood in town that had houses built in the 50s – and stayed there for a week and a half. Once we’d settled in there there wasn’t much for me to do hour to hour, so with my boss’s permission I started helping out the production assistants on the show – a lady named Stephanie and a guy also named Craig. They really showed me the ropes of being a production assistant, so this was an invaluable show for me education wise.

The two Craigs. This is from a later show, though, so expect to see
this picture again in a later IWATPA post.

Same thing here - different show - but that's Stephanie on the left. Between me and Stephanie
is Stefania Girolami Goodwin - daughter of Enzo G. Castellari, and on the right is a hot new
director for Fox TV's Raising Hope series! 

My biggest locations challenge were some neighbors who realized if they made noise we would have to interact with them. So they had their kids outside screaming and running around while we were trying to do some outside shots. When I approached them to see if they would quiet the kids or take them inside - they said they would - if I brought them autographed pictures of the actors. *sigh* I took this request back to the set - but no one would sign off on this - so I called my boss, and he told me to simply pay the neighbors - tell them it was money to get the kids some ice cream. So I did - gave them $40 I think. They took the money, but they weren't really happy about it. They wanted those autographs. The thing is - most actors don't tote 8x10's around, and neither do productions like this (whereas TV series ususally do, by the way). Also, these actors (Roberts and McKeon) would not have been thrilled to interrupt their process to Sharpie a photo. Buthere's a tip - if a production settles in your area - and you want some quick cash - and you don't mind being the villain of the piece - dust off that leaf blower and head out for some yard work. Someone will be over with some long green pretty quick. (They'll ask you to do it for free first. You'll have to work on them a bit before the wallet will open. But it will open.)

Your ticket to some filthy lucre?

I actually met the Bonnanos as well - the wedded couple who had the "last mafia marriage" of the title. Seeing the film later it was pretty wild to have met a real member of that thing of theirs. They were very pleasant people, by the way.

During these shooting days I also met Ben Gazzara – who, perhaps due to his Method acting – called himself Gazzara in the third person – I watched him talking on the old school set phone – one of those long brick-like gray cell phones with the thick black antenna stretching out – and he would refer to himself like that “Tell him Gazzara doesn’t like that! Gazarra is as good as his word!” Stuff like that. Because I knew he was Method, and because he was playing an old school mobster – I barely spoke to him – a couple of greetings, and a word or two at the craft service table.

Ben Gazzara

I did chat with Eric Roberts a bit – he was one of those actors who refers to all male crew members as “brother” - like Desmond on Lost – I later figured out this helps him not have to remember all those names, while at the same time making your interactions with him a little warmer than they would be otherwise. But he was a nice guy. I did have a couple of moments of fear when my negative review of Best of the Best 2 appeared in our local entertainment guide Encore Magazine right during this shoot- but he never mentioned it - I'm sure he never saw it. Or he agreed with me.

Nancy McKeon was pleasant – but also took her job very seriously, and as she was playing a stressed out young mob wife – was not given to walking around joking and chatting.

My favorite meeting was with Alex Rocco – who was at that time a hot property after his well received turn as a Hollywood agent on a briefly hot sitcom called The Famous Teddy Z – starring Jon Cryer and Rocco.

Alex Rocco.

But Alex Rocco had also been in Stanley for William Grefe and Detroit 9000 - one of Tarantino's faves - and earned a solid place in Hollywood history with his performance as the ill-fated Moe Greene in The Godfather. He dies pretty gruesomely for the early 70's - machine gunned on a massage table - right across his glasses as blood pours out. I saw The Godfather in the theater - my parents apparently hated to pay for a babysitter - and I got to tell Alex Rocco how much his death scene had disturbed me in my youth. He was absolutely delighted, I'm happy to say!

That was pretty much it for my actor meetings, and unfortunately this was still in the early period of my career when I was afraid to ask the actors for pictures or autographs so I got nothing from this show except my memories.

I did discover that locations work was not for me - and this was my only time working in that department. I also came to have much less positive feelings for David H later - but that's getting ahead of myself. Or foreshadowing. Take your pick.

And that will wrap this one up. Next time for this department - I jump on board a movie and help the cast and crew desecrate a film legend! Bet you can't wait for that one!

And until the next post - whatever it is - you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!


  1. What a brilliant cast! Too bad about David H. I wait in anticipation.

    1. It was a killer cast for sure! The rest of that other story will come - but it's a ways down the road for now.

  2. I do enjoy these stories of the business!

    1. This was a bit of a lesser light - I think they pick up with the next one, actually. But thanks Count DV!

  3. I watched this! It was a great miniseries. Oh how I miss those big, dramatic productions on network TV. I'm glad Eric was nicer than you thought. He has a rep for being difficult, especially since his sister Julia can't stand him.

    1. I miss these and TV movies - some cool stuff was produced for TV - and that's pretty much gone now. Eric was cool.

  4. Cool and interesting write-up! Love the hilarious anecdote about the neighbours :D
    Unfortunately, I never heard of that movie before. A quick check reveals that this wasn't aired outside of America :/

    1. Well that sucks - it was a decent enough flick - gangster stuff mixed with their domestic drama. Thanks for the kind words Harry!