Assassins & Teamwork: Filmmaking (and Break-Making) for Cooper Brothers’ Film Five Windows

Sometimes, feeling useless can feel quite nice–particularly on a movie set. Hurry-up-and-wait sums it up, of course. But if you’re just lurking like I tend to do, watching former students do their thing, you can be quite invisible and love every minute of it.


Clint Eastwood on the set of Gran Torino‘s barber shop scene, July 2008

As an extra in Gran Torino, on the other hand, I felt useless even though I did have a job to do. I was told to walk down the street toward the Grosse Pointe hardware store and act like that wasn’t Clint Eastwood in front of me. It took me five times, but I did it. And when the camera stopped rolling, I quickly came to realize that I wasn’t a person, really–I was a prop, a prop that could be replaced much easier than the rake in the window I was instructed to examine, pretending that wasn’t Clint Eastwood in front of me.

In the clip below, I’m the blurry guy on the right walking my usual odd bouncy walk for three eternal seconds past the couple going the other way. My kids, sadly, were more excited to see our minivan parked in front of Clint’s pickup than their dad. (If you go a little deeper in the cut below, Regal Tools pauses so you can see their product–kinda funny in a Where’s Waldo sort of way.)

Eastwood’s shoot schedule was very economic and his crew loved him for it. Click on any of the principal crew members of Gran Torino and you’re going to see many of Eastwood’s classics such as Million Dollar Baby, Letters from Iwo Jima, Mystic River, and Unforgiven. A great leader and great team members will work together as often as possible. The day after my hardware debut, I was able to visit the set in downtown Royal Oak…


I bumped into one of my students, Joe Elrom, working on the set as a location assistant–a job he got through Craigslist. He ended up befriending one of the camera operators who took him under his wing and Joe is now in Atlanta working on such films as digital imaging technician for Selma, The Five Year Engagement, The Internship as well as many TV series.

Joe Elrom on the set of Gran Torino, Royal Oak, MI – July 2008

As a student, Joe was always team-oriented, calm, and an excellent critical-thinker with very high standards. Even when he was working, he always took the time to help out my current students. It’s no surprise to me that his talents were quickly realized by professionals in the film industry.

But two weeks ago, I didn’t have to be an extra. I was more than happy to fade into the darkness of the seedy hotel room below (built on a set at MPI Film School in Troy) and enjoy watching former students Daniel, Adam, Jeremy, Alison, and Jason go through the craziness. After working on many five-hour film shoots with all of them long after school officially ended it was a good to just pop in for a visit and later hear about the 4 a.m. wrap.


Writer/directors Adam and Daniel Cooper (who worked one summer with Joe Elrom who was…

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