Healing through story

Tag: Steadicam

shortfiction24 – just another movie shoot

Have you ever blundered into an awkward situation? Casey Romero found herself in the middle of a film shoot, on camera in a classroom scene. An imposter syndrome magnified!

Enjoy the short read. I’m back from a month’s hiatus and will post a fresh story every week. Stay tuned.

Just Another Movie Shoot

Bob Gillen

“Monty, I have to get a notebook out of my locker!” Casey Romero pleaded with the school security guard.

“No can do, kiddo. The campus is closed for the entire three-day weekend.” He gestured over his shoulder. “This film shoot is paying the school to use the campus. I can’t screw that up.”

“I have to write a paper. Can’t you get my notebook? I’ll give you my locker combination.”

Monty shook his head.

A passenger van pulled up to the gate. Monty checked the driver’s name against his list. “Good to go. Let me give you your passes.”

Monty swung a box full of lanyards towards the van. One fell to the asphalt. Casey stepped behind Monty, keeping him between her and the driver. She scooped up the lanyard pass, stuffed it in her jeans pocket.

Without a word, she mounted her bike and rode away. Over her shoulder, she could see that Monty was back inside his doghouse-sized guard shack. She made a quick turn and headed for the back gate. No one around. She shoved her bike into the shrubs and climbed over the fence. Texted her study partner Martin. Might be a few minutes late.

With the lanyard hanging prominently around her neck, she weaved through the parking lot and headed for the classroom building that housed her locker.


The film production swarmed over that building. Large scrims on aluminum frames stood outside one of the classroom windows, blocking the direct sunlight. Cables snaked from an enormous generator in the parking lot, through the doors and down the hallway. Crew scurried everywhere. 

Casey held back to observe, trying to find a clear path to her locker. She straightened her shoulders, put on a false face of confidence, and walked into the hallway. She spied a big aluminum cart right in front of her locker. A guy sat on a stool, fingers working sliders on a sound mixer. Now what?

From down the hall she heard someone yell, Cut! The sound guy stood, stretching his legs. Casey approached him. “Can I just get to that locker?” she asked, pointing over his shoulder.

As the sound guy looked at her, she felt a hand on her shoulder. “You’re early. We don’t need background till this afternoon.”

Casey turned to see a tall young man with a clipboard and a tablet. The sound guy said to Casey, “This is our 1st AD. I can’t move this cart until this scene is done.” He pointed at the young man. “1st AD…First assistant director. His name is Rod.”

“Rod!” a voice bellowed from down the hall. Rod ran to the voice. 

“I just need a notebook from my locker.” Casey said.

The sound guy winked. “You’re not an extra, are you?”

Casey shook her head.

The sound guy edged his cart and stool away from Casey’s locker. She quickly spun the combination, yanked out the notebook, closed up the locker.

“Thank you,” she smiled at the sound guy.

He nodded, “Now get out of here before someone catches on.”

“You!” Rod came back, pointing at Casey.

“Too late,” the sound guy whispered.

Rod motioned to Casey. “Over here. The director wants to see you.”

Oh shit!

Rod steered Casey to a man wearing a baseball cap and sitting in a chair marked “Director.” An array of video monitors sat in front of him

The director said to Casey, “As long as you’re early, we’ll put you in this scene.”

A woman seated next to the director, a tablet and a clipboard on her lap, said, “It’s not in the script.”

“It is now,” the director said. The woman’s fingers flew over her tablet keyboard.

Rod ushered Casey into the classroom. Two actresses stood at the teacher’s desk. Towels covered the shoulders on their pants suits while makeup people fussed over their faces and hair.

“Sit there,” Rod said, pointing to a desk near the window. He looked around to make sure she would be in the camera shot.

Casey slipped into the seat, her notebook in front of her.

“Remember, you’re background. Ignore everything going on. Sit still and look at your notebook.”

Casey nodded. This isn’t happening.

Rod called to makeup. “Touch up this kid, will you?”

A woman blotted Casey’s face, brushed a bit of powder on her cheeks. “Take off the lanyard before I do your hair.” She ran a brush through Casey’s hair.

Moments later two men came in, one with a Steadicam camera strapped to his torso. The second man had his hands on the camera operator’s waist, ready to steer him. Another sound guy stood near the two actresses with a long boom holding a mic. From the corner, out of the camera frame, Rod yelled, “Roll sound.” Everyone went silent. Then he yelled “Roll camera.”

That’s me. Look invisible.

“And action!” Rod said. 

Casey froze, her eyes rigid on the notebook in front of her. In a few moments, Rod yelled, “Cut!”

The director stepped into the room. “Background,” he said, pointing at Casey. “You’re not a statue. I want you invisible, but I want you to look like you’re alive. Turn a page in that book. Run your finger over a page…got it?”

Casey felt her face turn red. She nodded.

“Okay, let’s go again.” The director left the room.

“Roll camera.” Rod yelled. Silence fell. “And action.”

The actresses engaged in a conversation, something about another teacher being incompetent. Casey turned a page. She moved the notebook slightly. 

“Cut!” Rod said. “Moving on.”

Casey sat still. The director came in. “Background, you’re released.” He grabbed her notebook off the desk, handed it to Rod. “Let the teacher hold this in the next scene.”

He and Rod left the room with Casey’s notebook.


Casey put her lanyard back on, stayed in the seat as the room cleared and the crew moved on to a different location down the hall. One of the two actresses approached her. “Honey, be a dear and go over to Crafty and get me a bag of chips. I have to stay close.” The actress peered at Casey. “You look pale. Get something for yourself, too.”

Casey left the room, looked around for craft services. She spotted tables outside the building at the edge of the parking lot. She walked over, got a bag of chips and a bottle of water, and headed back to the classroom. 

The actress thanked her. “Listen, hon, help me out here. If I get crumbs on this outfit, Wardrobe will kill me.” She handed the bag back to Casey. “Open this and put a few chips in your hand.”

Casey tore open the bag, set chips in the palm of her hand. The actress picked one and nibbled on it, leaning forward to keep food bits from falling on her clothes.

“I need that notebook the director took away,” Casey said.

“It’s a prop, isn’t it?”

“No, it’s mine. I need it for a paper I have to write.”

The actress stared hard at Casey. “You’re not an extra, are you?”

Casey shook her head no.

“You’re a student here, right?”

Again Casey nodded.

“You got guts, girl. I’ll hand you that.”

“Thanks, but guts aren’t doing me any good right now.”

The actress finished a few chips. “Thanks. Listen…wait, what’s your name?”


“Okay, Casey. I’m Nora.” She glanced around the room. A bookcase full of books sat in one corner of the room. Nora grabbed a book. “Here’s what we’ll do. I’m in the next scene with the actress who has your notebook. Let me go hover in the background. I’ll swap this book for yours when they’re done. You stay here. Keep your head down, I’ll be back. Okay?”

Casey nodded. “Thanks.”

Casey’s phone chirped. “Shut that off!” Nora said. “If the director hears it, you’ll be out on your ass.” Casey silenced the phone. Nora left. Casey glanced at the screen. Martin. Where are you? Aren’t we studying together?

Casey shoved the phone in her pocket. Later, dude.

An eternity later, Nora slipped into the classroom. She smiled, handed the notebook to Casey. “Get your ass out of here before we both get caught. The script supervisor will have a fit when she realizes the notebook is missing.”

Casey opened her mouth to say thank you. The actress grabbed her by the shoulders, turned her towards the door. She held up a hand. “Shh.”

The actress peeked out the door. All the crew clustered down the hall. She stepped out to block for Casey. “Go!”

Casey dashed for the door at the end of the hall, broke out into daylight. 

She had gone just a few steps into the parking lot when a voice called out. “You. The extra. Come here.”

Aah, no! 

Casey turned to see a woman standing next to a rack of clothes, pointing straight at her.

“You. Here.”

Casey stepped over, holding her notebook behind her back.

The woman held up a phone. “I need a picture of your outfit. For continuity. In case we have to shoot your scene again. Stand still.”

Casey held one arm down, the other behind her back with the notebook.

The woman took a few shots. “You dressed from your own closet, right?” she asked.

“I usually do.”

“Not bad. You look like a student.”

I am a student.

“Can I go now?”

“Yeah. They won’t need you till after lunch.”

Casey flew to the rear gate, climbed the fence again, and grabbed her bike.

She texted Martin. On my way. My film shoot ran late. Added a smiley face emoji.


Using the Steadicam in Camera Work

In my new novel Off-Road teen Tessa Warren has a mentor in her filmmaking. Kelsey Graf was a friend and classmate of Tessa’s deceased brother Ryder. Together they made it through film school at NYU, and were about to start off on film careers when Ryder died in a tragic accident a few months after graduation.

Kelsey has promised to take Tessa under her wing in Ryder’s absence. Kelsey herself has been working in Los Angeles on several film shoots. Her primary function is PA (production assistant). She is also exploring learning to use the Steadicam rig in the hope of becoming a camera operator. Someone on set has been willing to mentor Kelsey. We’ll see down the road if she continues on this path.

The Steadicam rig can best be described as a camera stabilizer mount for motion picture cameras. The Steadicam was invented by Garrett Brown in 1975. The rig allows for an operator to maintain a smooth shot over all sorts of surfaces and terrain.

One of the most well-known Steadicam shots is a full five-minute continuous shot in the film Atonement, when the soldiers arrive at Dunkirk beach during an evacuation of Allied forces. The shot is a Steadicam operator’s dream. It requires physical strength, coordination, choreography, and much rehearsal.

I have been fortunate to interview two Steadicam operators in recent years for my filmmaking website. One was Will Demeritt. Here’s a link to the interview: http://www.thefilmmakerlifestyle.com/conversations-with-filmmakers/will-demerritt/

Steadicam operator Will Demeritt

A year later I interviewed Jessica Lopez. Here’s her link: http://www.thefilmmakerlifestyle.com/conversations-with-filmmakers/jessica-lopez/

Steadicam operator Jessica Lopez

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