Love Lost and Found--The Film Business
I have always loved movies.
I grew up in Los Angeles, so many of the streets and locations that were showing up on the TV and movie screens were my backyard, so to speak. My next door neighbor was a working actor in shows that I had actually seen. One of my schoolmates father was a director of shows like Fall Guy and the Bionic Woman.
I worked as a set dresser for the first time when I was 17; I was paid under the table because of my age.
I went to college intent on majoring in film, but switched to drama/dance because the professor in film was a self-righteous prick. I quickly realized I was probably too big and too old to have much of a career as a dancer and I knew the statistics of "working" actors. To add to these realities was also my feeling of being isolated, thousands of miles away from my home town, at a small liberal arts college of around 800 students spread out across acres, which during most seasons was fun for wandering but when winter hit, everyone tended to stay huddled in their own dorms; mine had around 30-40 people and we were definitely getting stir crazy. At one point, I instigated a food fight that almost got me expelled.
I left a couple of weeks after that fully intent on returning after taking off a year. I was doing the "gap" year before it was a thing.
For better or worse my gap year became a gap decade and then a gap Grand Canyon and finally after taking on-line course, going to junior college; petitioning for some of my high school AP classes to be credited, slowly getting a few credits here and there, I realized a college degree was probably not for me. I also had reached my goal of making a hundred thousand bucks in a year and I wasn't drowning in debt from college loans like so many of my friends.
I was moving furniture for Starving Students, which by the way may have been founded by a couple of struggling college students but by the time I signed up neither myself or any of my co-workers were going to school and most had no intention to ever go back to college. I still intended on going back getting my degree and perhaps going on the grad school so that I might one day become a professor.
It was a this point that a friend's mom who was working as a script supervisor on a movie called Scenes from a Class Struggle in Beverly Hills asked if I wanted to fill in for a few days as a set dresser, doing sort of the same thing I was doing already.
When she told me the pay, I quit Starving Students and started my film career.
The three day job turned into a three-month job and then I was back to working various odd jobs to make ends meet. I worked as a clown at children's parties and other events, I worked at exotic fish company unpacking and repacking bags of live fish, I ushered at Le Cirque du Soleil when they came to Santa Monica for the first time, I did some retail sales jobs, I studied to become an Arthur Murray dance instructor, but there weren't enough clients for me to actually get paid, but it was fun to learn ballroom dance for free.
And then I got a call to work on another project, it was a movie of the week that went for several months. After that I never did another job outside of the film business. That was over 30 years ago.
Ridley Scott, Twin Peaks, and Beyond
I was extremely fortunate for so many of the jobs and experiences I have had in this crazy business.
I worked on both seasons of Twin Peaks, first as a set dresser and then as the lead person on the second season.
The second season is when the show "flipped" and was organized. That was when I joined IATSE Local 44. Working on that project was to this day one of the highlights of my career. We all knew we were on something special but we never knew the effect it would have on television and become the classic that it did.
I dabbled breifly in the commercial world and was lucky to work on a Superbowl spot that Ridley Scott directed
Bugsy, Hook, Dracula and the Academy Awards
One year I had an incredible string of jobs. I had just gotten into the union and had to borrow money for the initiation and dues. I didn't know anyone in the union so I really was wondering if I had made the right decision. Then out of the blue a friend called and asked me if I wanted to work on Bugsy. That job led a set dressing gig on Hook and then Dracula. I was working on mini-series at Warner Bros., Sinatra, when I met my future wife. Actually, I had briefly met her on the Sony lot when I was on Hook, but we got to know one another and started "dating" on Sinatra.
Bugsy, Hook, and Dracula were all nominated for Academy Awards for Art Direction that year, as was Fisher King, the movie my future wife decorated. I was torn as to which one to root for, Bugsy took home the golden statue that year.
My wife would get nominated again for her work on What Dreams May Come and I was able to actually attend the event, which was pretty unforgetable .
Here, There and Lots of Places in Between
Over the years I have had the good fortune to work on shows that went to incredible locations. Speed 2 wasn't the greatest of films I've worked on but getting paid to work in St. Marteen for several months was a nice trade off. Tank Girl was one of the hardest shows I've worked on and the conditions we shot in was one of the main factors. It was 112F in White Sands and we had to hand carry all the set dressing up mountains of sand dunes. I lived in Mexico for several months when I was the set decorator on The Legend of Zorro. I've worked in Louisiana quite a bit as well as in Atlanta where a great deal of film production has gone due to their massive tax incentives.
But I've moved back to California because I missed the ocean too much. The weather is also quite nice. I much prefer the dry heat we have to the humidity in the South. Plus it's my home and where I started this crazy career.
Jon Danniells is an adventurer and traveler, a teacher and student, a husband and a father, a cook and a farmer, a "week-end warrior" (very amateur athlete) and has not earned any money on these labors of love.When I googled myself what showed up first was my IMDB listing, which is basically a resume for my 20 and then some year career in film, for which I fortunately do get paid.