Industry Pro: Production Supervisor Michelle Brattson
Most Recent Positions: Production Supervisor on ANGELS & DEMONS and FROST/NIXON.
College and degree: B.A. in English from Dartmouth College, M.F.A. in Motion Picture Producing from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts’ Peter Stark Program
Internship: Several! In college, I interned in NYC at Farrar, Straus & Giroux (book publishers), and later at “Good Morning America.” During grad school, I had a summer internship in Universal’s marketing department, and then I worked a (very slightly) paid internship at Lobell/Bergman Prods on the Universal lot, which was my first real eye-opening experience with development. The people I met there tipped me off to my first real job.
First job in the entertainment industry: Executive Assistant to the Senior Vice President of Production at New Regency. I landed this job a few months after grad school graduation, after several job applications! Although I ultimately left development and New Regency to pursue freelance work in physical production, I consider my 2+ years at New Regency as valuable as a second graduate degree. I learned everything there about pitching, selling and buying material, and working with agents and producers.
Big Break: I’ve been pretty fortunate in my freelance career to have been often recognized and given promotion opportunities for my hard work. This is all about timing and working for the right people (not something you have any control over in the beginning).
However, my biggest break so far was my job as Production Supervisor on FROST/NIXON, which reunited me with one of the best producing teams I’ve ever worked with, and gave me the opportunity to graduate from production coordinating to production management. Instead of just helping to expedite the production plan for the film, I’m now an integral part of creating that plan and hiring the crew who make the film.
Eureka moment: The closest I’ve had to a eureka moment was probably 2-3 years ago when I was production coordinating CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR. I knew throughout the film that, as rewarding as parts of the show were, I was coasting through my job and needed to do more. I knew I could do what my bosses were doing, and really enjoy it. That’s when you decide that you’re going to change your path, and sometimes say no to a potential gig for “security” in lieu of the unknown, and hopefully a better challenge.
Worst job (or day) in the entertainment industry: There are many highs and lows, but one particularly bad day that stands out for me was on my first freelance feature film, HIGH CRIMES. I was the production secretary, and we were in our dingy basement Presidio offices in San Francisco. It was “D-Day” for a feature film: one of the last days before principal photography begins; the day of the big “Production Meeting.” This is when all the film’s department heads convene to review the shooting schedule, which is presented by the 1st Assistant Director. The nightmare for any production office is that we have to schedule this meeting, make sure everyone is there on time, copy a million schedules and crew lists, and provide refreshments. It was my first really awful experience with how last-minute things happen in production. For example, 99 times out of 100, you will receive the “final” schedule to copy moments before the meeting, and of course – the copier will jam.
The gist of my personal nightmare is that upon receiving this document, and having a PA make me a million copies, I had to spread them all out on the floor to collate in the middle of the office, as one by one, each and every department head walked in, interrupted my work, and asked me something about where the meeting was, where the bathroom was, etc. I watched the seconds tick by and started losing control. I knew I couldn’t possibly collate all the copies on time, and everyone was stressing me out! I began crying right in the middle of the floor, and had to excuse myself to the ladies room, which was a long walk down the hallway where everyone had lined up for the meeting. As I passed, they stared at me with that condescending look that said, “poor girl, must be one of her first movies.”
Crying on the job is definitely a worst day scenario: I don’t recommend it, and given some time and experience, you will learn that nothing that happens on a film is worth crying over unless someone dies. Having said that, one of my other worst days occurred when a SpFX technicians on another film of mine was critically wounded. (He survived.)
Best job (or day) in entertainment industry: This is kind of a “trick” answer, but also a really great true story that cannot compare to any day of shooting. Ironically, several days after the horrible accident mentioned above, I experienced one of the happiest days of my life. One morning, I was asked by my boss to fly to Santa Fe, New Mexico to hand-deliver some Visa documents (for upcoming filming in the US) to a Moroccan official attending a conference there. It was 8am and my flight was at 11. The boss said I’d have no time to go home and pack, but to take some petty cash for a nice dinner at the hotel.
In typical fly-by-the-seat of your pants production style, I grabbed a warm coat and never thought twice about my duty! It made perfect sense because I had negotiated all of the Visas for our production, and was aware of the delicacies of that process. Several hours and one long towncar ride later, I showed up at Geronimo, a first-class restaurant in Santa Fe, to deliver an envelope to Mr. Karim Najib. The hostess, a little confused by my determination not to be seated, but just to find Mr. Najib and deliver the envelope, led me back to a cocktail table by the bar, where my nervous boyfriend, now husband, sat waiting for my arrival with a little black velvet box.
That’s right: I was flown out of town by my own boss on a movie to get proposed to by my boyfriend. They had engineered the whole plan, and I fell for it! I was so dedicated to my job that I didn’t consider it an odd coincidence that I had also MET my boyfriend on a movie in Santa Fe. There are really too many other great days to count (usually the last day of shooting on any film is one of them!), but this one takes the cake.
Best thing about your current job: The best thing about my job as production supervisor is that I have the opportunity to work with every crew member and department on a film. I love meeting all of the different types of people, in departments ranging from business and accounting, to creative and artistic, through to craftsmen and “blue collar” workers. In the process, I am constantly solving problems, every day is unique, and I get to make a movie.
Worst thing about your current job: The hours. 12-16/day at the peak. Enough said.
Brush with greatness: Getting to the place where you participate in meetings, and help solve problems, with your director and producer mentors is better than meeting your favorite movie star (well, maybe…Colin Farrell was pretty great).
Secret of your success/advice to the newbie: Work hard at every job you do, big and small. We always recognize dedication and a job well done, because frankly, many people will not make it because they don’t have the stamina or passion. From making copies and coffee to writing memos and building sets, every job on a movie counts and people will recognize excellent work. No job is really beneath anyone, so keep plugging away, meet as many people in as many different jobs as possible, and learn from your mistakes. Respect the many different parts of the process and all of the people who take part in it.
Next Move: My current path could lead to line producing feature films, and then possibly to an executive position at a studio or production company. But there’s nothing set about this path – every time a film ends, new possibilities begin. I’m still very eager to creatively produce my own films, armed with both my development and physical production backgrounds.