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Top Chef a la Juneau, part two

Posted: February 14, 2013 - 1:00am

Editor’s note: This is part two of a two-part column, summarizing Clint J. Farr’s experiences working as a production assistant during the filming of two episodes of Bravo’s “Top Chef,” season 10. The Juneau-based episodes do not include the finale as previously reported. The finale occurs in Los Angeles.

•••

Hollywood was in town.

This was my chance to pitch my dream Alaska tourism show to anyone who would listen. It’s a show I plan to write, narrate, and host. “You know, not like that Palin show which was like, ‘What Rich People Followed By Cameras Do in Alaska’, but something that’s like 50 percent Rick Steves, 30 percent Anthony Bourdain, and the rest Marty Stouffer.” Then I’d do my best Marty Stouffer impersonation, “Hi, I’m Clint Farr, and enjoy your wiiiiiiilld Alaska!” The under-30 crew would then ask, “Who’s Marty Stouffer?”

Oddly, I haven’t received any calls for this show.

I bet Padma knows who Marty Stouffer is.

I did the production assistant, or PA, gig because I was curious. I love the show. I love movies. I figured this would give me insight into how that world works. Maybe I’d meet Padma. Heck, maybe I’d get a Juneau Empire article out of it…

The motivations and backgrounds of the other Juneau PAs were varied as well.

There was the local yoga instructor who regaled the visitors with her life’s many stories. There was the burgeoning filmmaker trying to learn the trade. A few may have actually needed the work. Then there was the young man ablaze in the latest skateboard fashions who outhustled everybody, including the folks imported from down south. I don’t know when he slept. He is down south now working as a PA on other productions. I’m not surprised; he is a great representative of Juneau.

Regardless, we all had to learn how to deal with the culture of, for lack of a better description, Hollywood.

Shooting days could be stressful and commonly demands were curt. A few locals, having better things to do than be barked at, left the production. But most of us took a distant view of the experience, rolled with the shifting priorities, ducked under the occasional attitude, and otherwise tried to learn something.

Like I always say - you’ve never truly been reprimanded until likened to a munchkin in the Wizard of Oz by a man in a tailored suit and flip flops.

For the most part, the culture clash between Hollywood and Juneau was mild. I’m sure our folksiness drove them crazy. A fellow local put it to me this way: we Juneauites like to know the people we’re working with, where they’re from, where they’re going, and who they are. Hollywood has a job to do and does not care about you, Juneau, or anything other than the task at hand. You are whatever they need in the moment: a forklift, personal shopper, or dishwasher. This isn’t a judgment. It makes sense. Of course Juneauites take a personal approach. In all likelihood you’re going to run into co-workers outside of the office. The LA people will never see you again. There is no pressure to maintain future relations when the most urgent thing is to get the show “in the can” … now.

Some of the clash may have come from not being able to understand each other. There is a jargon to being a production assistant; a terminology I would otherwise have been forever ignorant. For example, a “crafty” means a box of snacks. It’s not catering, that requires flatware. Crafty is required at location shoots. And crafty is mostly – from the perspective of an obesity specialist – crap: chips, cookies, and soda. Also, there is ‘A’ roll and ‘B’ roll. ‘A’ roll is all the footage of the main action. ‘B’ roll is all the extra shots, scenery, eagles, bears, and Toyotas (one possibly driven by me) going by pretty scenery, eagles, and bears.

Then there was my confusion with a text one morning that said “show blacks.” That’s it. I thought to myself, “Hmmm. ‘Show blacks.’ Well, maybe Top Chef does need to be more diverse. They seem to have a white, Asian thing going on most of the time.” Then I thought a little more, “that’s an oddly political sentiment to send in a text.” I thought about it even more. “That’s probably not what they meant.” Google quickly enlightened me. It means black work clothes. If you are accidentally on camera, you don’t draw the eye. So you see, the wheel grinds, but grinds slowly.

Perhaps another example of the culture clash and miscommunication was the casual outing of the production by a Juneau radio station. That irked a number of people. First, for fairness, all of the contestants need to be equally in the dark about what’s going on, whether or not they are still competing. Second, they need to capture the true emotion and reactions of the chefs. After all, they’re not actors. Third, for the sake of ratings, viewers and fans shouldn’t know the “big reveal”. With every Top Chef season the “big reveal” is when the chefs find out the finale location. If the audience already knows, fewer watch the show, ratings drop, and so does revenue. I hope Juneau doesn’t get a reputation for being uncooperative. The show that was fun to work on, provided production experience for our burgeoning filmmakers, and by my unofficial accounting, pumped a ton of money into the economy (or at least Fred Meyer).

And above all, what would Padma think?

Beyond our different cultural contexts however, most people from the production were great. I even got to know a few beyond the production office and had a few over for a home cooked meal. Sadly, I served these production managers for Top Chef, the nation’s preeminent cooking show, dry roast beef. Unlike Alaska trivia contests, I should stay away from cooking competitions.

I never met any of the competing chefs, or “cheftestants” as they’re coined. I did meet a number of the judges at the crew party. I thanked them for coming to Juneau. They all graciously claimed to have had a great time, which is what I’m sure they say to all overly eager star struck locals. I had a wonderful conversation with the head grip. Grips not only have the coolest name for a profession ever, but are rather cool people too. I still have no idea was a grip does.

Alas, I never did get to explain my love for Alaska to Padma. I never spoke to Padma.

I got to see her though.

You see, I’m a door opener. Before you tsk this trait as hopelessly archaic and sexist, I think it’s genetic. I reflexively open doors for everybody; women, men, and all nationalities. I’d open a door for a pink polka dotted hermaphroditic Martian if such a thing existed.

And I held the door for Padma. Padma, Padma, Padma. Professional. Poised. Pretty. Possessor of a perfect palette. Padma remained elusive, but as she left her hotel on the last day of shooting, I happened to be in the right place. All I had to do was keep the door open. Don’t do anything dumb. Don’t slam the door in her face. Don’t say anything stupid to her as you’re apt to do. Better yet, don’t say anything. Just hold the door. Holy God she’s beautiful … raven tresses slightly curled, gaze intent on some faraway goal, floating by on a dreamy jet stream of food ferries and magic. Wait! Just hold the door! JUST HOLD THE FREAKIN’ DOOR!

And I held that door. I held that door like the wind.

••• 

Top Chef airs Wednesday nights on Bravo or you can purchase episodes on iTunes or VUDU.

 

• Clint J. Farr can be reached at cjfarr@hotmail.com.

 

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