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Risks in Production
Tommy asks Conte about his experience with Luke Scott, a young radio PA he worked with on a few episodes of Supergirl. (A radio PA is the horrible thankless job of tracking walkie talkies on the set.) Conte liked Luke enough to want to hire him for another project, but didn’t get the chance. Luke went to work as a PA on Goliath. He was honored on a recent awards show for his untimely death at the age of 23. (Editor’s note: According to The Hollywood Reporter, cause of death is not known, but suspected to be related to Opioid use. This Luke should not be confused with the other Luke Scott who’s a director and son of the director Ridley Scott.)
Also on the same topic of untimely deaths in the industry Conte talks about a shoot he worked on in New Mexico, where two people died in their sleep during production. Tommy asks if it was due to the heat. It was high elevation and hard work, but Conte never heard the actual reasons for the deaths.
Tommy makes the point that in production, even though many are precautions taken, there are areas of risk due to the nature of the work, especially with stunts. In TV and movies the crews tend to rip-out all of the safety features in a car in order to make it roll for a stunt, although they get lots of safety training and have rules. Tommy and Conte agree that safety is getting better, but is still a concern.
Second AD Work
Tommy admires the fact that Conte continues to work as Second AD, even when he could have shifted to more First AD work. Conte saw so many friends who were big movie First ADs, who were not always working. Conte wants to remain viable. He’s always busy with Second AD work, sometimes works as a First AD, and does some Second Unit work. Conte and Tommy both enjoy Second Unit work, because it involves smaller crews without a lot of politics. Conte shares that he’s able to work half a year and take lots of time off, because he’s living in Oklahoma, and cost of living is low.
Many of the Second ADs out of the DGA trainee program are raised to work in base camp and not so much on the set. But Conte thinks the Second AD should always be on set. Rather than coming up through the DGA Trainee program, Conte got his start working on low budget non-union shows where he had to learn how to do a little bit of everything. He tends to start six weeks before the movie and scouts all locations. Then they schedule the movie, and do rehearsals with actors and training for firearms. Conte also preps call sheets in advance to stay ahead of things. Then they wrap the set, go home and sleep five hours, and do it again the next day.
Tom Cruise, Kurt Russell, and Jeff Bridges
When asked about working with big stars and big personalities, Conte says if he hears stories about big stars, he’ll call around to get the inside scoop on how to deal with them. While there are just a few actors who are extremely difficult, Conte says he works with a lot of great actors.
Conte likes Kurt Russell a lot. Tommy agrees and would pay to sit in the trailer with Kurt to hear stories about all of those Disney movies. Conte thinks Tom Cruise is fantastic to work with and very professional. He’s quick to set, and always has a coffee truck on the set for everyone. Conte was a PA and worked with Tom on Born on the Fourth of July for $50 a day, and also worked with him on Oblivion, which was one of Conte’s longest projects. They had more than eight weeks of prep and 20 weeks of shooting in many locations, including Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Mammoth Lakes, New York City, Iceland, and other places. At that point he got to know Tom so well that Tom would tease him by mispronouncing his name at times.
Tom loves to joke with the crew, but is totally serious and professional when it’s time to shoot. Conte also shares a story of where Tom wished Conte’s son a happy birthday when on the set for a Jack Reacher move. Conte would work with him on any movie.
Conte worked with Jeff Bridges on the cult classic, The Big Lebowski and it was fun film. That year was a weird year, because in the same year he worked on several very different iconic films, including Rushmore and the remake of Psycho. Conte enjoyed working with Jeff on this and another Film. When he worked with Jeff Bridges again, the two reminisced about their time on Lebowski.
Conte says what’s exciting about his line of work is that you never know who you’re going to work with or where you’re going to be on the next movie. He feels lucky working in this business and having very memorable experiences along the way.
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Conte Mark Matel on IMDB.
Follow @contemattell2 on Twitter.
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The Not Just Sunglasses & Autographs podcast is hosted by Tommy Burke, who has been working in TV and film production for more than 25 years as a First Assistant Director. Download the podcast, listen on iTunes, and write a review.