NoHo Director’s Blog – From the Top Down

I was reminiscing with a colleague of mine about a movie that she and I acted in a couple of years ago and that conversation brought me to the subject of this article.

The film was called “Instant Family” and the director was Sean Andres (“Daddy’s Home” I & II, “Hot Tub Time Machine,” “Horrible Bosses”).

My experience working on that film as an actor informed me and reenforced in me that notion that the quality of every production begins at the top. Besides being a Paramount Pictures film with a sizable budget that included me getting picked up by a private car to take me to and from the airport and flown first class from L.A. to Atlanta and then being put up at the Four Seasons Hotel for 21 days. This experience was not only a dream come true, it also was the first indication of the very high regard the producers had for the role I was to play in the film.

From the moment I arrived at the studio for a wardrobe fitting and then on set being introduced to the cast and crew, I was treated just as well as the big stars in the film as an equal and I knew that something special was happening.  As a director, I have always considered myself as an actor’s director, actor friendly. On the set of “Instant Family,” the atmosphere was of professionalism, kindness, fun and of respect for everyone, from the PAs to the stars, Mark Wahlberg, Rose Bryne, Octavia Spencer, Margo Martindale and Tig Notaro. I commented to the 1st AD (one of the nicest assistant directors I have ever worked with) how happy everyone seemed as they were working. And when I mean everyone, I mean from the production assistants, craft services, the camera department, production design, hair and makeup, the producers, all were happy, friendly people. The 1st AD looked at me and said, “It all starts at the top.” He looked over at Sean working a scene with the two child actors on the set. From that moment forward,  I understood that the tone of the shoot, the atmosphere in which hundreds of people were giving their all, was totally dependant on how the set was run. Our director Sean is a prince of a man and he had surrounded himself with talented, brilliant, and lovely people. No wonder everyone was smiling, laughing and having a ball making this film and I really think that shines through when you watch the film.

I guess the point I am trying to make is that no matter the budget or the genre of the film, a productive and successful set ultimately thrives on energy that comes from the top. In this case it was not only Sean, but his production staff that kept this well-oiled machine running. Being an actor on this set, made me remember that if I am the captain of my ship, then I want to be able to make it to my destination on time, on budget, and with a cast and crew that is just as happy reaching our destination as they were when they boarded the ship at the dock.

For over 31 years, I have worked on may sets, both big and small, and I can say that on some of those occasions, the atmosphere was perhaps not as pleasant as it could have been.  But those troubles may have been avoided if the director and producers remember that its takes a village to make a film and it is incumbent of the folks at the top remember that the only way you can be on the top is because of all the people below you that make it possible for you to make your film. “Instant Family” had the added bonus of highlighting the incredible need to find homes for foster kids…and doing it with heart and a whole lot of humor.  Our world is crazy at the moment and what we all need is kindness and support and a lot of love and respect.  Those values are true everywhere, not just on set.

I wish you all a happy holiday and I would like to thank those of you that take the time and read these articles. May 2021 bring all of you closer to your dreams. And one last note, if you have the desire to watch a film that was just as much fun to work on then it is to watch, I invite you to check out, “Instant Family.” It’s a wonderful holiday movie with an excellent cast and it’s was just as much fun to make as it is to watch.  Enjoy!!