About mid-morning on Tuesday, August 30, the invasion started. By late Wednesday afternoon, the occupation was complete.
Trinity Hall had been transformed into a dining room, complete with check-in stations, a row of make-up tables with mirrors and lights, and the stage held individual dressing rooms. Blue tents with rounded tops.
The parking lots had security guards, an air conditioned tent for overflow diners, food trucks, portable grills, tractor trailers, box trucks, port-a-johns, at least ten trailers used as offices and rehearsal rooms, trucks for fuel and maintenance, and vans for shuttling personnel.
The most impressive vehicle was the eighteen wheeler that held a noiseless generator. One of the technicians asked me if I could hear it running, and I didn’t hear a peep coming from this beast.
So, why this encampment?
Our church was one of the logistical sites hosting the second season of filming the AppleTV show—Swagger. This series is about Kevin Durant, a professional basketball player in the National Basketball Association(NBA).
For three days, August 31- September 2, our grounds and Trinity Hall would hold all this equipment and at assorted times lots of people. This would allow the production staff and the actresses and actors to complete night filming for a party scene at a house off Ridge Road a few blocks away from the church.
During my eleven years of working at the church, location scouts had come by to see our facilities, take photographs, and ask about available dates. But, with the Swagger production, this is the first time that we have actually been a part of a show.
This time it happened that our calendar and our facilities matched their needs.
My initial contact and work was with two young guys, Wolfgang, key assistant location manager, and Matt, location scout. They both coordinate getting everything in place. Their work is non-stop. Night filming made their work even more rigorous.
Matt told me he clocks in about ten miles of footwork everyday, with eighteen miles being his one day record.
They both will be with Swagger until the filming ends in late November. Then they will rest up, and use their industry contacts to secure a job with a new television or movie production company.
Late on Wednesday afternoon, I was walking the grounds checking noise levels. We had hand delivered a letter to the homeowners on Stuart Hall and Rock Creek roads letting them know what was taking place.
As I approached a security check point, I heard one of the security guards say out loud: “I see a familiar face, I know this guy.”
Turns out the security guard had been a parent at Lakeside Elementary School where I had served as principal. Mr. Casey quickly pulled me over, and he started to tell me about his boys who are now grown men. He shared some pictures, and I could not believe how old I suddenly felt.
During the three days, I kept my eyes open for the son of one of our college friends. Jeffrey has been in the production business a long time. He was worked on an assortment of television shows and movies in the mid-Atlantic as a grip. Jeffrey and the team he works with are responsible for all of the rigging and set up for the camera crew, and this includes working with the electrical department in coordinating the lighting of the set.
I knew it would be a long shot to see Jeffrey because his night filming did not match up with my church work hours. But on Saturday morning just before seven, as I was pulling into the parking lot, Jeffrey was exiting the parking lot.
Drained from three nights of filming, Jeffrey was heading to the hotel to sleep before driving back home near Frederick, Maryland to be with his wife and two young children. We chatted for a few minutes, and I commented to Jeffrey how I couldn’t believe all the trucks and equipment. His response to me—“this is a small production.”
After saying goodbye, I walked into Trinity Hall to assess the cleanup. I was amazed at how quickly Trinity Hall and our parking lots had been cleared of everything that had been here since Wednesday.
I wiped down the table tops to prep them for cart loading. One of the extras for the show, a young man named John was waiting for a ride to arrive. So, John pitched in to help with putting the folding chairs back on the carts.
We talked quite a bit. In a short period of time, I learned a lot about John. When he was growing up, his parents were both in the military. John spent quite a bit of his early life overseas. He is a young father with two children in elementary school, and another child on the way.
John is stringing together jobs related to two of his passions boxing and dancing. In talking with him, I learned the importance of footwork to boxing and dancing. John described how a foot injury—the dislocation of one of his big toes, taught him about balance. He has never forgotten how critical our toes are in providing us balance.
Once the chairs were finished, John used his travel bag as a pillow, and the next thing I knew he was asleep. Being an extra for three days will throw off your normal sleep routines. The instant sleep meant John was exhausted.
As promised, around ten the tent crew returned to take down the tent. That went well, but they were not the same vendor for the portable air conditioning unit. From Saturday morning until late Tuesday afternoon, a schedule was developed by the security company to post a security guard to watch the air conditioning unit. They guarded that portable unit like it was Fort Knox.
On Sunday morning, that’s when I met Emerson. He had been there all night watching over the air conditioning unit. We had a good talk, and Emerson shared with me that it had been a rough week for him and his car. He misjudged a turn and caused significant damage to his car. With this car bill looming over him, Emerson had asked for extra hours of work.
In 1977, singer/songwriter Jackson Browne released a live album, Running On Empty. The set of songs captures what life is like on the road for the musicians and everyone who supports them in the production of a concert.
During the three days that the extra actors and actresses and all of the production crew were at Trinity, we caught a glimpse of what it takes to make a successful television show or movie. There are lots of moving pieces in the background that we never see or think about as we watch the show or movie.
When my wife and I go to see a movie, I have a bad habit. I stay until the last credit for the film is cast on to the screen. To me, all those people who worked behind the scenes are just as important as the actors and actresses who are in the spotlight.
Wolfgang, Matt, Mr. Casey, Jeffrey, John, and Emerson might be buried in those scrolling credits, but here is what I can’t forget—these are real human beings, with real stories, and who are working to keep their balance in the ups and downs of life too.
Sometimes, in our daily walk through life we are also buried in the credits.
But, we never know in that scrolling of life when we might be called upon to help someone regain their footing and balance.
In those unexpected moments, I hope I will not remain buried in the credits.
I hope reluctance will not seize me.
I hope I will offer assistance. How about you?
Author’s note, all photos by Bill Pike