"Who the hell are you?" asks a tall, thin man who looks like Michael Keaton. I tell him I'm a Production Assistant with the show. He shakes my hand.
"I'm Nate, the Producer on this fucking thing. Hop in."
I climb into the passenger seat of a white mini-van. David, the Field Coordinator, drives us around to the side of the hotel. He has a face like a sleepy cartoon character. A Marlboro Light dangles precariously from the edge of his lips.
Because the van is full of gear, Nate walks to the room ahead of us. We follow him through the Hampton Inn parking lot until he jumps on the hood grinning and screaming as if we had run into him. Everyone gets a big kick out of this. I'm too nervous to laugh, and anyway it's not that funny. The real Michael Keaton would have made it funny.
The rest of the crew seems friendly as we unload the camera and audio equipment from the cargo van that's waiting for us when we pull up. There's thirteen of us total. All men. Only three of us are North Carolina natives. The rest of the crew was flown in from Los Angeles. A tight knit group coming off seven months of traveling with another production, a documentary about no holds barred martial arts. They went from that to this, a documentary on high production swamp logging. At this point, even the equipment is pumping testosterone.
We finish unloading, I fill out the paperwork along with the other PA's ,and I go back to my room. Call time will be 7:30 tomorrow morning. I have no idea what to expect, so
I prep everything tonight. Last thing I want is to get out in the swamp and find I'm under-prepared. This requires forethought, and in the morning I'm no good for any kind of thought. This way my bag is ready to go when I come out of the shower, guzzling a cup of coffee to kick start my brain.
Being a good PA means staying on your toes. It means running a lot. And, occasionally it means getting yelled at. Even crew members who are unbelievably civil and understanding people in real life give themselves free license to verbally bitch-slap a PA on a movie set. No one thinks twice about it. It's the nature of the beast. The fear of giving someone a reason to scream at me is the number one thing that drives me to be my best on shooting days. I'm used to working in the relative comfort of a production office, so I'm extra nervous about going out on set for eight days. On top of that, I'll be out in the elements, which puts me well outside of my own element.
A trip to Wal-Mart before the drive from Wilmington turned into a spending orgy of cautious preparation. Cargo pants, working pants, mud boots, a hat for shading, sunscreen, two cannisters of high concentrate Deet insect repellent, first-aid kit, pocket knife, miniature fan for cooling, memo pads, pens, chewing gum, sunglasses, and a waterproof backpack. It's been over a decade since I've spent more than an hour in the woods. And, now that I think about, I've never even been to a swamp. Mt gut tells me I won't need all of this. My paranoia tells me I should have bought that snake bite kit afterall.
I lay out all the items in front of me and carefully pack them into the backpack for maximum space and access. Then I brush my teeth and get ready for bed. A mixture of excitement and frustration runs through me. I'm looking forward to the adventure, but I resent being a PA. I'm a 28 year old man and I get surly when people tell me what to do. Still, I'm the youngest PA on this shoot and I tell myself I've got plenty of time to move up the ranks. Besides, I was on the brink of financial ruin before getting the call about the job. I need the money, and something tells me getting my ass kicked by Mother Nature for a week and a half will do me some good. At least it gets me away from the computer.
Of course I can't sleep. Never can if I know I have to get up early. So I toss and turn for four hours, thinking about what lies ahead. It occurs to me that I've been so focused on the job that I haven't stopped to ask the most obvious question - what the fuck is swamp logging? I picture myself on the bank of some bubbling bog, hustling bottled water to the cameramen as the loggers cut and load timber from surrounding woods. Maybe they've got a crane and a chainsaw. Perhaps a boat to haul the wood off site. In any case, the entire affair is small scale, almost intimate, and I'm dead sure I'll have plenty of time to stand around looking for alligators.
The air conditioner hums its low purr in the background of these thoughts. The bed is comfortable. The room is dark and cool, and around four o'clock I finally drift off to sleep. Although I will forget them as soon as I awake, my many dreams are vivid and frightening.