By Tony Pacheco, Sr. Producer
The Biggest Production in History
Working on feature films and TV series, I was always reluctant to think my latest project was the most important of my career, but now as I see the biggest production in history unfold in my hometown, I will not let the opportunity to report it pass me by.
On September 19th my friend and fellow producer Allen Perez was on location in Mexico City’s Roma neighborhood. At the same time Alesso Martinez, first camera assistant was on location in Coyoacán, and another crew was working at the Estudios Churubusco stage 7 when at 1:15pm a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck central Mexico leaving hundreds dead and many more trapped under collapsed buildings. The call sheet was out.
Night for Day
Night fell over hundreds of volunteers working on collapsed buildings bringing labor to a deadly halt. Social media exploded with messages requesting generators and lights and the film industry was up for the call. When equipment rental houses arrived on location, the hum of genies and cinema lights brought everybody back to work.
Rental houses in our industry have always been supportive of each other. It was never a surprise to see one house lending personnel or equipment to another to pull a project through, but this one was the greatest collaboration ever. Staff from every company worked for countless hours to keep the rescue operations in motion. Just like in the movies… Only this time it was night for day.
Marvin Garcia is a sound engineer who joined the crew. Like him, dozens of sound recordists ran to collapsed buildings with mic/recorder/headphones to scan the debris for signs of life under tons of concrete and steel. By the time they arrived, there was already a protocol on set. Rescuers would ask for silence and everybody would hold their fists high. No one moved, traffic was interrupted, tools and machinery would go silent in hopes of hearing cries for help.
Victims were too weak or too confined to be loud enough for the bare ear, but our sound engineers managed to bring voices out of the silence. Marvin managed to bring a protools suite to a central location where the sound files were logged and doctored to isolate the frequencies looking for paths of life.
At one of the collapsed buildings the sound crew met a victim’s sister who waited for her cue: “Silence please!” A wave of clenched fists sprouted from the crowd. “Roll sound!… Now!” She called her trapped sister’s cell phone and the VU meter started to move. “Here!”
One story of success in a sea of despair. The crew who saved lives also had to see the parade of dead bodies with its emotional toll. A price they all were willing to pay in order to discover the next survivor.
Hundreds of production professionals joined the crew call. From catering to video assists, to special effects, everybody re-purposed their resources to respond to the emergency: Assistant Directors used their amazing logistics skills to setup and run collection centers and to distribute food and supplies; SFX cranes and camera cars were modified to transport tools and lift debris; video assist mobile units left all playback equipment behind to give space for supplies and went out with their mini genies and lights to create mobile collection centers, a network that would become arteries for supplies, food, tools and even toys.
After years working on set, we tend to think our job is only about what we put on screen and fail to imagine it can be more. I guess that happens in any trade. Mexico taught us that we can bring our talents to new arenas and challenge ourselves to apply the resources and knowledge we have.
Today, some of the sets of this production are finished with their own score of life and death, a few are still rolling, but all who responded to the call had the honor to be part of the largest production ever, put together by the largest crew ever to work for free when real life became their set.
Click here to donate to on-going relief efforts in Mexico.
Photography by Octavio Soto.
Tony is a Senior Producer at Dieste. When he’s not producing ads here, he likes to rock-climb and film documentaries.