Visiting Mark on Movie Set

June 26, 2015

I went down to one of Mark's former shops off Sylvan Road and he drove me over to the set he has been working on for several weeks as carpentry foreman. This is part of what they have built.

What kind of hints can you see that this is not a real barber shop on a street in Chicago? Even though this was all inside one of the large movie "stages", the street looked really realistic, with realistic dirt and imperfections in the sidewalk - you really felt like it was a real street. The only obvious clue to me that this is a movie set are the round white drapes over the street out of camera range which serve to give diffuse lighting on the street.

Walking inside, you were immediately struck with the realism of an old, comfortable barbershop with worn chairs and all the clutter you would associate with a real barbershop. One unrealistic thing here is my reflection in the mirror as I took the picture. There is also the shadow of a stepladder and a reflection of a bit of that ladder.

Mark filled in some of the story of the challenges of construction. One of his first tasks had been to build the large wooden platform that the barbershop sat on. That platform extended to the outside where it was covered with cement to make the sidewalk and curb to the street. The blocked vinyl tile floor had been a challenge. They had put down a plastic sheet over the wooden platform and glued the tile to the plastic. But the seal of the plastic had inhibited the drying of the glue, so they had problems of the tiles sliding and separating. The mirrors had also given them grief because they would show the cameras and all sorts of things that they didn't want in the finished film. So Mark and the coordinator had worked out rotating and translating supports for the mirrors from behind (see outside wall shots below) so they could be moved and tilted to get undesirable things out of the camera view.

As seen at left, they had a big stepladder on the set for adjusting the complicated lights above the shop. The large shop had five barber chairs and a comparable number of cosmetic stations on the other side of the room.

From the front of the barber shop you could see the shops across the street.

This is the view of the shops across the street. Note all the details that make it look like a real city street. That is, if you don't lift your eyes to the lights above and all the rigging that holds up the walls.

This is the other side of the row of shops across the street. Those apparently solid concrete walls are actually 1/4" luan stapled to 1x3" studs. Mark commented that this reduction to 1x3" from their previous 1x4" had created enough demand that the lumber companies had started making the 1x3" stock.

These super-light walls were supported by chains from the superstructure above the set.

The wall views below show the boxes that they designed and built to handle the mirror reflection problems mentioned above. They used TV mounts that would tilt and rotate for attaching the mirrors.

Then the structure was mounted on a box-within-a-box that would slide forward and backward. With that and the tilt and rotation capability, they could move undesirable reflections out of camera range.

Lighting is one of the complicated tasks of movie making. To handle the multitude of lights they had a wide river of what appeared to be 3/4" to 1" cables running to an outside trailer for power and control for the lights. It was so heavy that they had to build a scaffold to hold up the cable array.

Mark said that the operator of the lights was positioned in that outside trailer because there was so much noise associated with the light power supplies that they couldn't keep it inside the studio. The operator had to be informed by radio about what changes to make in the lighting.

Moving all the way outside, there were trailers and stand-alone units everywhere to handle the noisy jobs of powering all the lighting and air conditioning.

All of the above sets were inside this one large building, which was one of several on the site. All of them were humming with activity, making it clear that the movie-making business is thriving. And I was certainly impressed with the creativity and quality of the sets and support apparatus.

Headed for Pearl River

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