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Volume 24, Number 10 — November 2017

Christina Garnett: A force behind the scenes in various roles

Christina Garnett (right) and Jane Bell (left) on the set of
Christina Garnett (right) and Jane Bell (left) on the set of "Belleau Wood."

By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | September 25, 2013

Christina Garnett, who grew up in Abingdon, Va., is employed behind the scenes in film and television. She was a set dressing assistant on the set of "Lincoln" and is looking forward to being the production coordinator for AMC's new series, "Turn." "Turn" is based on the book "Washington's Spies" by Alexander Rose. The series brings to life the story of George Washington's spy network that helped America win the Revolutionary War.

"Working on Lincoln was very exciting," Garnett says. "I feel honored to have been hired for such a high profile project with so many talented and amazing individuals. My bosses won an Oscar for their efforts on the project and to be able to say that I was able to watch them create that magic from the front row still blows my mind.

"I found that I put even more pressure on myself to work hard and perform better to live up to what is expected and at times demanded (in a creatively good way) from people of creative caliber. It pushes you to be your best working with people like my bosses (Jim Erickson — set decorator and Rick Carter — production designer) and Steven Spielberg. They are at the top of the craft, the best of the best. The Lincoln/Spielberg/Daniel Day Lewis experience was incredible ... something I will never forget and always cherish."

She was also involved with HBO's Emmy award-winning television mini-series "John Adams," 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 Europe.

"'John Adams' was my first huge project, so I worked extremely hard and long hours. It was a very new and exciting experience to be at that level and see how things operate in that budget range. I also had wonderful department heads (Emmy winning) to learn under for the job. I met a lot of new people and was thrilled to have been part of such a wonderful piece of art."

From this it may sound like Garnett earns her living exclusively in period pieces, but that is not the case.

"I have been lucky to have worked on many different types of projects from independent short films to feature length movies, mini-series, reality TV, commercials, high end commercial print photography, news and soon episodic television. Every project is different because you have a completely different group of people and personalities together, and each project ends up creating its own atmosphere to work within for the duration.

"I learn every time I am on the job. You have to keep an open mind to change and roll with the punches, because you constantly have to adapt to your surroundings as a freelancer in the film business."

Garnett is based in Richmond, Va., and says that while she loves both period and modern pieces, her location is one of the reasons she does so many period-based productions.

"They both have their positives and negatives and unique challenges. I like doing a variety of projects if possible. Fortunately and unfortunately, in Virginia, we get a lot of historical projects. Our state provides filmmakers not only with the true places where many of these events took place, but with an amazing range of landscape backdrops upon which they can paint their stories. I say "fortunately' because our state's rich history means we have been awarded so many incredible projects, but I say "unfortunately' because sometimes we don't get the variety of genres. (i.e., comedies, action, etc.). Freelancers in Virginia are just glad to be working and enjoy whatever comes our way."

Garnett says that she was led to her career in the film business by her love for still photography.

"My parents gave me a Canon AE-1 one year for Christmas, and I never looked back. I went to college not knowing what I wanted to do for a career, and I began taking photography courses and enjoyed them so much I wondered what working with motion pictures would be like. It was then that a career was born. But I didn't even realize it yet because I didn't realize then what the possibilities would even be, besides a job in a news station. My parents' support was always undying, but they were always concerned that I wouldn't be able to make a career in film because they too did not know what kinds of jobs were available and possible in that field. I had a photography professor at Appalachian State University (my alma mater) who opened my eyes a bit to the possibilities and also encouraged me to explore.

"I would say sheer determination, interest and passion have played a big role for me. You have to get out there and pound the pavement hard and really dig to find your niche and get the offers to stay freelance in the film business. It takes time and diligence, but it is all possible.

"I got into film by starting at the bottom, making connections, interning, working on people's small projects for free to get experience and networking. I left early the morning after I graduated college to start on my first film as a production assistant in the art department for the reshoots on a feature film. I continued to pursue employment through friends in the business, contacts that I had made and checking the Virginia Film Office website and Craigslist for new opportunities in the film world. I worked on feature films for around a year, until I moved to Richmond, Va., and it was there I was introduced to the commercial world. I had a local freelance production manager take me under her wing and teach me how things worked in commercials versus movies, and I worked hard and learned from her for years as I made my way up to production coordinator on projects. I still work with her to this day.

"I think working in the film and television world is based a lot on communication and developing professional relationships with many different personalities and being able to work with them on a project with a common goal in mind. The feature film world and television world are very closely related; many people float between the two depending on what projects are hiring. There are distinct differences however in reality TV, feature films, episodic television, mini-series and news shows. You just have to decide which you enjoy the most or switch between the genres to keep things fresh and learn new things, as I like to do when the opportunity presents itself."

Most of her opportunities are in production these days, even though she occasionally gets to "go play" in the art department as a set dresser or prop stylist.

"I think that production (production coordinating, production managing and supervising and producing) is my strong suit. I always said I would never want to be a production manager because of all the math, but my path and skill set have led me straight to that line of work within the business. My high school math teachers would be proud.

"I like working in production because I am usually one of the first people on the project and one of the last to finish, so I get to be part of the core team start to finish which gives a nice sense of completion."

She also receives some strange requests. She's had to round up "dead horses," (fakes, no actual horses were harmed), dress dummies and drag them all over a parking lot, order grain pellets to make fake horse manure for streets, dig a grave and help create a fake elevator in an empty doorway.

"In the film world we constantly have these types of experiences which makes it interesting, fun and exciting. We work in a world of make believe. Most of the time we are faking something, inventing something or dreaming up something to put in front of the camera. We strive to create these worlds that eventually make their way into the theatres or into your homes and are constantly "re-inventing the wheel' (as we like to say) on how to create these worlds in a safe, efficient, creative, fun, interesting way."

Garnett isn't sure what is next for her after "Turn," but she hopes that "tons of wonderful projects will be filmed right here in Virginia."

THERE'S MORE: Robin Mullins is busy with her film and television roles