by Brigitta Sanchez-O’Brien
Shooting in Los Angeles during spring break, JPCatholic students joined crew members and a creator of the CBS show Criminal Minds to work on a director’s reel for the shows post-production supervisor.
Over the last two years, production/screenwriting student Aaron McAfee spent many hours networking in Hollywood resulting in production assistant jobs and the chance to forge some valuable connections.
One such connection was meeting Jason Koiter, the supervisor of post-production on Criminal Minds. “I first worked with Jason on a music video he was in,” Aaron said, and from production assistant work to playing the drums in a subsequent video, their work together continued. He was also excited to be involved in Jason’s most recent project. Aaron explained, “Jason came to me saying that he wants to get into directing on the show—but he’s never directed before, so he wanted to build a director’s reel and was looking for production assistants and asked if I could help.” While the students were originally going to be production assistants on Jason’s film, they were instead given the opportunity to fill some very prominent roles.
Aaron recommended another senior at JPCatholic, Ben Escobar, to be the director of photography. Together, they compiled a short list of students to bring on board. According to Aaron, “JPCatholic students ran sound, camera, and lights, and [the crew of] Criminal Minds took care of wardrobe, makeup, set decorations, and script supervising. It was all volunteer work, which included meals and a gas stipend. Although the work was done gratis, freshman JP Poirier, assistant camera on the film, commented, “I’d say this set provided me with my biggest connection into the film industry so far, and I look forward to working on more sets like this in the future.” Camera operator Gabriel Zanoff, also a freshman, remarked that, “The set was super organized, and it was cool to see how it’s really supposed to work.” He went on to say that, “as far as camera opping (operating) goes, we used a lot of equipment that I hadn’t used before, [for example, the] crane & jib, slider, and steadicam with the body mount. This was great, but there was a lot of pressure on me to get the shot, so I had to learn on the fly.” Similar feelings of justified stress were echoed by the Gaffer on set, JPCatholic senior Michael Uyehata. He said, “There were a ton of positives and negatives about the experience. The production itself was pretty rough due to a rush in pre-production. We were also operating on a low budget, so we were pretty limited from an equipment and time standpoint . . .” He also went on to say that despite the negatives, he “learned a lot of valuable lessons on set.”
Reflecting back on the experience, Aaron said “When you have an actual PA (production assistant) job, no one waits up for you or explains how to do things, but this was like a free, educational workshop.” The students interacted directly, not only with production assistants from the set of Criminal Minds, but also with the co-creator of the show, Ed Bernero, as well as the head producer Glenn Kershaw, who directed several episodes himself and currently trains episodic directors for the show. JP remembered meeting Glenn, saying, “I was surprised at the amount of interest he took in our little group from JPCatholic. He remembered all of our names and gave us his contact info in case we ever wanted to get in touch.” Michael noted, “It gave a rare glimpse into the life of the TV production staff; one that I’ve missed in my work on mostly short and commercial film sets.”
Overall, it was a very mutually favorable time on set. Jason Koiter commented that, “Working with this group of JPCU students was terrific. The synergy between them and the crew from Criminal Minds was great. Everyone was so professional and handled all the inevitable hurdles that arise during production with grace and ease. I would definitely work with everyone again on a future project.” For some JPCatholic students, this was their first time being on a professional film set. Aaron admitted “I was a little worried about that at first, but I think the JPCatholic kids did fine. I think there is a lot of potential for a future relationship [referring to the Criminal Minds crew and JPCatholic].” He continued, “I think it should be a case by case situation where if they are short a few hands, they can reach out to us, but I don’t think we should rely on them. I expect most, if not all of us, will be brought on again. This first shoot was really just a demo of what they would like to do. They want to use the show’s gear, crew, maybe even actors for their future shoots. This was just the beginning.”