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Volume 24, Number 10 — November 2017

Believe! Christina Garnett: Making History

Christina Garnett working on
Christina Garnett working on "Woods," a short film shot in Richmond, Va., for a feature article in Fuji's Aperture magazine. INSET: She also worked on HBO-TV's award-winning mini-series "John Adams."

Networking, hard work, showing up on time, interning, learning as you go, and persistence ...

By ANGELA WAMPLER | A! MAGAZINE FOR THE ARTS | September 28, 2009

Christina Garnett worked on HBO's Emmy award-winning television mini-series John Adams (2008), based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book about the American Revolutionary leader and second President of the United States. Filming took place in Colonial Williamsburg, Va., as well as Richmond, Va., and in Europe.

Most recently, she produced 6 Nonsmokers, a comedy about a mediator who takes on six roommates whose only thing in common is that none of them smokes. Previously she helped produce Border Town (2009), an independent low-budget movie; the drama Feels Like Drowning (2008); Terminus (2007), a short adventure film; and the horror film Decisive Moment (2007).

Christina grew up in Abingdon, Va. Here's what she had to say about her life as a freelance filmmaker:

• What formative influences led you to your career?

The path that led me to my career was somewhat twisted. My parents planted the seed, unknowingly, when they gave me a 35mm still camera for Christmas one year. That started my love of still photography. Then, when I went to college, I still wasn't sure what direction my life would take, but I thought to myself: If a person can do all of these things with a still image, imagine what one could do with motion picture. I began taking as many video, documentary, film and communications courses as possible. The morning after I graduated from Appalachian State University, I headed to Chapel Hill, NC, for my first freelance job in the film business. I was an Art Department Production Assistant.

I was influenced by so many along the way, but my greatest career influences have been since I became a full-time freelance filmmaker in Richmond, Va. I have met some amazing people who have not only taught me more than I could have dreamed but inspired me even more. There are a lot of large personalities in this business, some with hearts and minds even larger; and I have been lucky enough to cross paths with some of them.

• How did you get into movie work — and now television?

Networking, networking, networking. Professors always use that term and it is true what they say! Networking, hard work, showing up on time, interning, learning as you go, and persistence are how I got started and managed to stay afloat.

I am freelance. I am my own boss. I pound the pavement. I get jobs from recommendations, reputation, previous work (repeat hire), resume, on the internet, word of mouth. No agent, no manager.

• What are the rewards of this type of career?

You have the choice of whether to take a project or turn it down in the hopes that something that is better suited for you will be around the corner. You get to go to places and meet people that most don't have access to. You get to create art on a large scale with people who bring different talents and skills to the table. You get to learn new things on every job.

• What range of experiences have you had?

In recent years I have been lucky to have a wide variety of jobs, from producing independent short and feature-length films; production coordination on commercials, industrials, historical re-enactments, network television pilots and mini-series; and dabbling in the still photography world at times, too.

As a Producer, I have overseen a project from beginning to end. Producers make sure that all of the nuts and bolts are in place, start the business side of the production, work on crew and cast contracts, union (if they are involved) contracts, budget, and more. A Producer has a hand in everything that is happening on the set.

I mostly work on the production side of filmmaking, which is the nerve center of activity. The production department gets every project up and running at the beginning and packs the last box and signs the last check at the end of a project. Production provides the tools that all of the other departments need to do their jobs and do them efficiently. In the last 8-10 years I have found that production is where my strengths have led me. However, I love to dabble in the art department (which includes set decoration) when the opportunity allows it, whether as the coordinator of the department, an assistant stylist, or a set dresser on a still photography shoot.

These opportunities have all been very different and rewarding in their own ways, and I am grateful for them all! I am finding that the variety of work is really nice to break the work up here and there, but my heart lies in the independent filmmaking world. The heartbeat and struggles are different on a small project. You have to make a mountain out of a molehill and that keeps things exciting at all times.

• Describe your work on John Adams.

I was the Set Decoration Department Coordinator. My job was to assist the Set Decorator with anything that she and anyone in the department needed. I was also in charge of all the paperwork. I dealt with vendors and coordinated pick-ups/drop-offs of all rented and purchased items. I helped order fabric and wallpaper, among other things, for the Decorator and the Production Designer. I helped with research to find the most historically correct information and items possible, within reason. I helped relay information to other departments about color schemes, schedules and patterns that may affect them and their teams, especially the Costume Department. I helped with the coordination and shipment of the items that needed to be shipped to Hungary for the remainder of the shoot.

The job description for filmmakers changes with every job — every day at times — because in the end you just do what needs to be done to get the project "in the can" (finished) and with the most efficiency, professionalism, talent and courtesy possible along the way so that at the end of the day (or the project) you look back and have a reason to be proud.

• For John Adams, we heard that you helped round up "dead horses."

Ha! So funny that you brought up the "dead horses." Yes, I had a big hand in renting and setting up delivery and pick-up of seven fake dead horses. They have made a lot of appearances in films.

That was just one of many strange jobs that I have done over the years — from dressing dummies and dragging them all over a parking lot, to ordering grain pellets to make fake horse manure for the streets, to digging a grave for a death scene, to helping create a fake elevator in an empty doorway.

One of my favorite things about being in the film business is that we constantly get to do things, see things, go places and meet people that most do not. We get to create things that only live in some people's imaginations. It is amazing to see how all the different departments come together to make movie magic!

• You must feel like a gypsy in this type of work. Is all of your work based in Richmond — or do you have to move around to pick up jobs?

Being a freelance filmmaker does make you feel like a gypsy at times, especially with the economy being in the state it is and because Virginia does not currently provide competitive tax incentives for filmmakers to shoot in the Commonwealth. This makes it harder to get large projects to come to Virginia and harder for area filmmakers to stay home with their families. More and more we have to travel outside of Virginia to obtain work. It is frustrating and disheartening at times. Travel is just part of this business to an extent, but the degree to which people are having to spend time away from their homes now is frustrating since Virginia has such an amazing crew base and landscape to offer film projects of all sizes and kinds. I am still waiting for the chance to come back to the Abingdon area to make a film. Hopefully it will come to fruition sooner than later!

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— Collette Burson: Still a Maverick!

Topics: Film