Featured PA Production - Pope: The Most Powerful Man in History
Article By: PAFIA Vice-Chair Maria Shamkalian
How did you get involved with this project? I became involved with “Pope” through a former agent who remembered me and connected me with the show’s director. We immediately shared creative values and had an wonderfully common vision for what the show could be and how to realize it.
What did you love most about filming this project? Easily my favorite part of filming “Pope” was our Pennsylvania crew. It may sound like a canned answer given where this article is running, but it’s the absolute truth. From the extremely talented department heads, to the supportive producers, to the rank and file crew, every single person brought not only their “A” game but, more importantly and most satisfyingly, their “A” attitude. I really didn’t want the show to wrap and I’d love to come back and work with each of them again!
What were some challenges that you have encountered? The biggest challenge for this production was finding locations that allowed us to have Pennsylvania, where we shot our recreations, to stand in for such diverse historical locations as ancient Rome, Medieval Europe, Tudor England, WW2 Germany and the Vatican! At the end of the day, I feel our Pennsylvania locations more than fit the final bill.
Were there any difficult artistic decisions that you had to make? I never felt we had to make any serious artistic compromises on this production due to the incredible support of our Executive Producers, Jon Hirsch and Nancy Glass at Glass Entertainment Group. They saw to it that we were well covered and that our department heads had what they needed to create a really convincing historical show.
What were some of the most memorable Behind the Scenes stories? We often weren’t allowed to have actual fire in our locations and some of the work arounds Jon Chaifetz, Beau Kegler and their fantastic art team gave us to shoot made me very uncertain at first, but ultimately they worked a charm in the final shots. Sometimes though, we did have real fire. Having Camera Operator Tom Greco being lead backwards leading an escaping “Pope” brandishing a flaming torch in the tunnels beneath Girard College was exciting and convincing.
Creating a convincing Nazi Germany, complete with period-accurate Hitler posters on the campus of Bryn Mawr was totally surreal. I kept wondering what the students would think it whey wandered onto our set!
Why did you choose to film in PA and what do you love the most about working in Pennsylvania? Our production company, Glass Entertainment Group, is based in Pennsylvania and has strong roots there. So it was pretty much a given that we would film there. And in retrospect it’s very hard for me to imagine us having shot this show anywhere else given the plethora of perfect locations and incredible local crew we had access to.
What are some of your favorite shooting locations in Pennsylvania? I really loved shooting at Girard college, Bryn Mawr, Glencairn and on the Elkins Estate. Honestly, there were so many other great locations as well. I didn’t feel any of them were a compromise. But I was presently amazed that we found virtually everything we needed within easy driving distance from Philadelphia.
How did you get started in the film industry? I knew from way back, like from 7 years old, that I wanted to be a cinematographer. From those early Super 8 films in my parent’s garage. However, it took a decade long detour through advertising to finally find me happily behind the camera. That was more than 20 years ago and I’ve never looked back!
What do you love the most about your job? You have to love filmmaking to be a film maker. But if you do love it, there’s really nothing else you want to do. I do love the process and the tools, but most of all I love the people I get to meet and work so closely with.
What is your personal most awkward or funniest on set story? The Art department gave me a prop Native American headdress that I took to wearing behind the camera. For me it was very funny but might have looked super odd to anyone not in on the joke. I’m just glad there are pictures!
Do you have any upcoming Pennsylvania-based projects? I don’t currently have any Pennsylvania-based productions on the books, but I’m hoping that will change! I can’t wait to come back to shot there.
PAFIA has been working hard on increasing the film tax credit in Pennsylvania and bringing more film work to our local crew and talent, but we must all unite to really make a difference. What can you tell our elected officials about the importance of PA film industry and the difference it has made in your life? The tax credit had a large effect on our ultimate decision to stay and shoot in Pennsylvania. That in turn brought not only a lot of work to our immediate crew members but substantial work and monies to many more outlaying people and businesses that we either came into contact with or contracted through to provide services to our show.
What is your advice for the aspiring actors and filmmakers? Some steps to take? Some mistakes to avoid? I think anyone starting out in this business should try on as may pairs of boots as possible. Spend some time working in as many departments as possible. Then you’ll know from experience what you love doing the most and will have a much better understanding of what each person and department needs to accomplish their job. It will make you a much better and well-rounded film maker.
What are some of the most valuable lessons that you have learned about this industry and wish you knew earlier? I wish I had understood much earlier the necessity to network. People hire who they know and are comfortable with. If they know you as a person rather than as a reel, resume or website, they are far more likely to hire you.
What is your biggest aspiration in this industry? I’m ready to take the next leap in my career path and DP much larger shows. At the same time I want to continue to teach and help mentor the next generation of those who also love our method of storytelling.