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PICKIN' ON FILM: Dreams come true in New Orleans

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I got to fulfill a decade-long dream of mine.

I worked on a movie production in New Orleans. Post Katrina, this city has rebounded due to NOLA’s dutiful and faithful. Unemployment is at a small 5 percent and crazily enough, the film industry has taken over.

Currently, New Orleans is in the No. 3 spot for current films to be made. As I type, there are 10 major studio productions filming with five on the docket, including Quentin Tarantino and Leonardo DiCaprio filming the much-buzzed Django Unchained.

My friend Dodd Loomis, a New Orleans native but New York City transplant, posted on Facebook he needed people to help work on a short, low-budget, film from some of the actors from HBO’s Treme.

Dodd has produced Broadway hits but truly loves to work on productions in his hometown and does so on a regular basis.

The shoot was for an eight-minute short film without talking but set to music and Dodd was the production manager. The executive producer is Alexander Payne, who directed George Clooney in The Descendants.

So, I happily replied I was available and devised a road trip.

My first day on set was short.

After meeting some of the primary cast members, including the beautiful director, writer, and main actor Yolonda Ross, I helped point a light at a photo shoot for a family photo for the movie, worked with Dodd on some normal production issues, and arranged to pick up a $35,000, 128-pound camera, which was used to shoot one of the "Spider Man" films.

Yolonda has worked on more than 30 projects, from Treme to Antwon Fisher. This is her first effort at directing.
After picking the camera up the next morning I went to the production office where we completed the dizzying task of organizing flight schedules and typing out call sheets, which give the workers on the production exact knowledge on where and when to be at a location.

Then I measured a doorframe and attempted to match said digits to literally more than 300 doors at a local salvage shop.

If you’ve ever been to New Orleans, you might have noticed that literally no two doors are the same. It’s a delightful paradox unless you’re matching doors.

The biggest task of the day was calling the Sheriff’s Office in St. Charles Parish, where we were shooting a scene.

We had heard from the people who were allowing us on their private property that a young couple had gone necking somewhere close and had been arrested by numerous officers and held in jail for 48 hours.

We checked and it was no joke.

In my best political voice I called the local deputy, told her that I was a production assistant on a film we were shooting locally and asked her if we needed to do anything to avoid stepping on their toes.

After some chatting we found out we were in the clear.

Then I went with the Ben, our gaffer, to test the cameras and the lenses we were using. The gaffer is the on site electrician for a film production.

After checking the various lenses from three different shot lengths, we declared the tests a success and moved on.

My last job before the shoot was to take the actors and the director of production to all of our shooting sights around the area.

Our shoot will take us through the Treme neighborhood, the Lower 9th Ward, as well as the West Bank across the Mississippi River. We wrapped at 1 a.m. after 11 hours of work.

I was constantly chauffeuring people all over New Orleans throughout the production.

For the next four days we would be going all out, working 12-14 hour days in the Crescent City heat. I couldn’t have been happier except I missed my family back home tremendously.

I sent an e-mail home talking about everything we were doing and my father, Tommy Bragg, wrote back “Know you are in Heaven, so enjoy the journey.” Thank you, Dad.  

Will I make it through the 14-hour days of the shoot?

Will I pass out from heat exhaustion?

Will I ever get the po-boy sandwich I’ve always dreamed of?

You’ll have to tune in next Thursday.

Tagged under  Entertainment, John Bragg III, Movie, New Orleans, Voices

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