Don't Stop Us PAs Now

One can reasonably expect a dead campus on a Friday at 5 p.m., but two weeks ago, students of all majors, but particularly Film and Media Studies students, were found racing back and forth between Humanities and the Arts section of campus. In a course of three wonderfully exhausting days, a student-run musical short film called “Don’t Stop Us Now”, inspired by Bohemian Rhapsody, would be completed. Film production can a whiplash-like experience with things changing in seconds. Here to tell the tale are two Film and Media Studies students, Jenna and Ingrid, that started off as lowly PAs to somehow become a bigger-than-expected part of production.

So a little background information: the purpose of “Don’t Stop Us Now” was to promote and support Zotfest, the annual student film festival at UCI, which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year in the Barclay! So if you didn’t know that UCI has a student film festival (organized by the Film-Arts-Drama Alliance) that is open to all majors, now you know.

 

Ingrid

As the story goes, Jenna and I signed up to be the production assistants to help the major roles of production. For me, it was a relatively last minute sign-up. Days before production, I was contacted by my friend Yanit, someone that everyone knows in FADA and was the unflagging assistant director of DSUN.

I started off as a production assistant in the costume department, tagging costumes with lovingly made index cards of actors’ names. With a large ensemble cast of at least thirty dancers costumed in eighties and seventies-inspired outfits, we had some work cut out for us. By Day Two of production, things had slowed down as the dancers were dressed and ready to go. I was really enjoying being a PA, observing other aspects of production and practicing taking instruction (because I do think that’s important when you like to be in charge, like me tbh). But my place in the background did not last very long.

Coming back from a very typical coffee run on Day Three, I was immediately summoned by the head of costume, Gary in the backstage of Robert Cohen Theatre. I gestured to the iced caramel macchiato in my other hand, as if to communicate what I had been up to, in case he had forgotten in the midst of the production chaos. Gary looked me up and down and asked me if I wanted to act. Confused but intuiting what was about to happen, I replied, “I’d prefer not to. There’s a bunch of good actors over there.” I pointed down the hall to the group of excitable drama students, cheerfully waiting for their call time by playing games.

Instead, Gary handed me a black t-shirt and a denim jacket and told me to change. I was going to be playing the guitarist of the faux-Queen stand-in. Changing into my costume didn’t take long and I spent downtime with the rest of the crew members that were recruited into being the drummer, bassist and keyboardist. We called our Queen cover band “Feudal Lords”—pretty good name, no? Stream our single “A Little Bit of Rust” on Spotify and Apple Music.

Fast forward three hours later, I was gussied up in my rocker outfit with my face was covered in black eye make-up meant to resemble a cheetah pattern, holding an electric guitar. Completely out of my element, I told myself that a little bit of acting was a good experience considering that I want to become a director. When Yanit called out on-set commands and the director Sophie, yelled “Action”, I was doing my best to head bop and pretend to rock out with my fellow band members. Under the hot set lights and between takes, I mainly joked around with the “band” and tried not to get too much in the way of the crew.

Courtesy of Zotfest​

Soon after, we wrapped and I was back to my PA duties, storing away the ensemble’s costumes and organizing accessories. Experiencing both onstage and offstage duties definitely strengthened my filmmaking experience and has made me look forward to next year’s production. My little acting experience reminded me why I love being on set: you never know what’s going to happen but you can bet it’s going to be interesting.

Follow FADA UCI’s YouTube page to check out the full production of “Don’t Stop Us Now” when it drops and years past.

 

Jenna

As Ingrid said we both came into Zotfest starting as PA’s however my introduction was a little bit different. As a returnee to the Zotfest production I knew the general life of a PA on a big set like this. I came in as a tech and post production PA so my job would entail logging footage and making what we call proxies. Basically sitting behind a computer the entire time. I tried to volunteer myself as much as possible for other positions as I wanted to be on the floor doing more production based activities. Before I knew it I was helping Ingrid and our Costume director Gary with organizing costumes and checking in actresses and actors.

Day two was when my experience went from 0 to 100 really fast. Beginning with helping our Production Design Director Bria with moving around tables and then falling asleep in the theater dressing room you could say that my day was at a plateau. It was after a hectic day of set for everyone that I got a huge and very unexpected promotion. I was helping check in costumes with Gary when Bria came up to me and asked if I would be the Production Design director for Day three of set because she wouldn’t be able to. It came as quite a shock, but I immediately said yes.

Preparing for my now new set of responsibilities I was rushed into a directors meeting where everyone sat down and we all tried to solve the problem of what to do with the new oncoming rainy weather. With a plan set for an indoor concert scene I now knew what tasks needed to be done! Me and my co director Hunter and another Production Design intern Noel got to work painting flats and outlining our anteater backdrop.

Day three started early and was spent with lucky occurrences of escaping the oncoming rain. Between delegating jobs of painting 6 9ft flats and stapling fabric to them, I was making sure safety was a priority as tech and production design PA’s set up risers to create the dimensions and levels of the set. Up until we started filming on the finished set I really didn’t believe it was going to come together well, and then I saw the final product on the monitor, and I was stunned at the visual we had created out of nothing but some scrappy flats, and very last minute as well. The set looked amazing and it fit the mood of the narrative amazingly and I would never have been able to accomplish it without all the help I had.

By the end of the night we sadly had to tear everything down. Thus began the nonsense of all the boys punching through the flats and ripping them apart, but thankfully I got that last photo of everyone in front of the anteater. I knew this year was going to be a good experience but I never thought it would end up like this. I think both Ingrid and I are going into the next school year of film with some new connections and even higher expectations for what is to come!

The “Don’t Stop Us Now” production truly was something to remember.