Chris gets a gig
Hello to everyone in WI Film Land. Peep this exclusive REEL Milwaukee interview with Milwaukee filmmaker / jack of all on-set trades Chris T.K. Coyne for an inside look at Universal Pictures’ Public Enemies with Oscar-nominated director Michael Mann (The Aviator, Heat, Ali, Collateral) and Oscar-winning actor Johnny Depp (21 Jump Street, Cry Baby, Nightmare on Elm Street). Chris is on the set full-time as an office and costume production assistant, so he gets to see it ALL. Enough of my hot air.
How did you hear about Public Enemies / get hired?
I had been reading about Public Enemies for a while. I just could not picture a film of that scale [Ed.: upwards of $100 million] happening in Wisconsin. Take into consideration the weather and the fact that we only see the sun in Wisconsin for a precious few months in the summer – the weather is not on the side of the filmmaker. But then you add in a check for 25% of your budget from the state and the weather becomes something you can deal with.
As far as getting my foot in the door, you could have the best resume in the world and it doesn’t matter unless someone knows you. I submitted my resume to a few different departments and didn’t get any calls back. And then a friend of mine knew someone who was working on the film and was able to recommend me. When they say it is all about who you know, they mean it. Most of the crew is from L.A. or New York. Michael Mann has worked with much of his team on previous projects. You can’t blame him for that. It would be like a CEO throwing out his whole staff and hiring new people every year. By working with the same people he is able to get more done and be more efficient.
I left Wisconsin in 1997 and headed to Colorado College for my Bachelors, then moved to Washington DC to work on documentaries. I worked with the Discovery Channel for a while and then decided that I really wanted to get back into film. I decided to go to film school for an MFA [and] ended up at Savannah College of Art and Design. The great thing about their program was the industry professionals who brought their knowledge to the classroom. My professors ranged from people who produced The Breakfast Club to people who directed Angelina Jolie and Leonardo DiCaprio before they became mega-stars.
I left Savannah College planning on heading to Los Angeles. And then gradually, bit by bit, the possibility of film in Wisconsin started to become a reality.
For starters, the new tax incentives are solid and some of the best in the U.S. Wisconsin also has a lot of places people haven’t seen on screen. Before I ended up on Public Enemies, I was in the process of producing a feature independent, Gods and Robots (godsandrobots.com). As soon as my duties are done on PE, I will go back to trying to bring that film to the big screen. My work as a Director of Photography is at my website, christkcoyne.com. I currently have a number of short films in festivals.
What has surprised you most about Michael Mann and the way he runs a set?
This is a loaded question – enough to say he has a unique style of directing. Were you to find me in a bar and had we had enough to drink I might tell stories. I will say he is shorter than I expected.
Any good stories from the set? Near misses? Flubs and flaws?
My best time so far has been getting to shoot on a vintage Mitchell 35 camera from the 1930s that was in front of the line (part of a scene). At the last second, the camera department needed someone to dress up in period clothing and jump into the scene. I had long hair and a beard at the time. They sent me to hair and makeup. I had five women cutting my hair and trimming my beard at the same time. It was quite the whirlwind. I got back to set and jumped into period clothing and then got a 30-second tutorial on how to use the camera. The camera was actually shooting Kodak Vision 3, 35mm stock. There is a good chance it will end up in the film as the view from the news cameras. My goal is to be a professional Director of Photography, so getting to shoot Johnny Depp under award-winning Director of Photography Dante Spinotti (Last of The Mochicans, The Insider, L.A. Confidential, Heat) was a dream come true.
[The temperature] was in the 30s, not snowing but definitely raining. I was only out there for three hours in the rain. The other extras who were out there for eight hours in 1930s clothing were troupers. Filmmaking is like sausage; you only want to see the finished product. The illusion of filmmaking glamour is just that – illusion. At the end of the day you spend 16 hours on a 30-second scene. You have to love making movies if you want to do it for a career. If you don’t, you’ll burn out really fast.
For more information on Chris Coyne and the Public Enemies crew, check out their hush-hush blog at publicenemiescolumbus.blogspot.com.