A look at how two film majors got their first experience on a big-budget production
By Nick Hawks
In recent years, mega film stars like Matthew McConaughey and Liam Neeson have been to Cleveland to film major Hollywood movies. You can now add Spiderman star Tom Holland to that list, who swung by the city for a shoot that went from November to December of 2019. The film, “Cherry,” reunites Holland with “Avengers: Endgame” directors Joe and Anthony Russo, who are both from Cleveland and went to Benedictine High School.
The movie is about an Army medic (Holland) suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and he becomes a serial bank robber after an addiction to drugs puts him in debt.
A couple of Cleveland State University students who were among the cast and crew of the production shared some of their experience with The Cauldron, including Avery Lenz, a sophomore majoring in film on the writing/producing track.
“My production title was Additional Set Production Assistant (PA). My job was essentially an assistant to the assistant director,” Lenz said. “The assistant director would tell me to perform a task. Many of these tasks were very manual, such as directing traffic or blocking off areas to make sure no random person walked on set. I would also help move equipment, but since most of the equipment fell under highly specialized departments, the only things the PA’s were allowed to touch were sandbags and tents.”
It may sound like difficult work, but Lenz was grateful for the opportunity.
“The experience was a good one,” Lenz said. “I can’t say it was fun because it was hard work with 12+ hour days. I experienced and learned the hierarchy of a set, meaning how to interact with different people in their positions. Also, almost everyone in the production was nice and professional. Many of the people were ‘chill’ and the people in the higher positions, exceptionally good at communicating.”
As for the vibe on set, Lenz said it ran seamlessly.
“This was a truly professional production, so it was run smoothly just as in Hollywood,” he said. “Any problems were solved quickly and professionally. The vibe was hard to describe. It was relaxed but also very hardworking and professional. This was not a production where people messed around. This was my first time working in a Hollywood film. I had professional experience before, but not on this level. In some ways, it was like a really big student film because it’s about getting shots, the acting and organization but on a completely different level. There was a specialized department with every piece of equipment and task which needed to get done. Everyone had a walkie-talkie, so everyone was always communicating.”
Lenz feels like the experience gave him a good idea of what he wanted to do in the film industry.
“I believe the production helped encourage me,” Lenz said. “It helped me decide what jobs in the film industry I’m pursuing. It showed me what movie making really is like.”
Don Mann, a freshman majoring in film on the cinematography track, shared his experience as well.
“I was an extra on ‘Cherry,'” Mann said. “It was a great experience. Seeing all the different aspects of production working together, at such a large scale, amazed me. One of the scenes I was in, everyone was right next to each other. The Russo brothers were only a couple feet from me, and at times, Tom Holland would be no more than a foot away. It blew my mind seeing such high-status people within such a small vicinity of me. When the camera cut, he asked the extras how everyone was doing and if they were having fun.”
As for the day-to-day duties, Mann said it could get quite hectic.
“A typical day for being an extra involved checking in, getting costumes checked and adjusted, paying attention to directions and being open-minded to whatever you are told to do,” he said. “It is organized, yet chaotic because Cherry is a big production which involved lots of extras and crew. The amount of people was really the only thing that was chaotic.”
Something Mann said echoed what Lenz said, that the production ran similarly to a large-scale student production.
“This was the first time I was on a big production,” he said. “I’ve helped out on senior’s projects at the film school. Honestly, the huge difference is in the size/scale of the production but everything else runs similarly.”
“Cherry,” a true-life adaptation of author Nico Walker‘s semi-autobiographical novel of the same name, has yet to name its official release date, but it’s expected to hit theaters this year.