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Film set offers real world education


Extras filed in one by one into the Goshen Theater after signing a release to appear in a movie being shot there that evening.

Up on stage, large studio lights were being set up. Off in the wings, actors were in costume, getting makeup applied.

This is movie making. It’s a world that doesn’t come to Indiana very often. But the cast and crew for “Sand Castles: A Story of Family and Tragedy” spent the past three weeks around Goshen shooting a feature film.

It was also an opportunity for Lakeland High School senior Peter Thompson to get some hands-on experience in a field he is interested in pursuing after high school. Thompson served as a production assistant (PA) for the last week of the shoot, which included two overnight shoots at the end of the week.

Thompson is interested in going into film production and saw the opportunity to be on the set as a chance to look at the different areas of production and  possibly determine what specific area he would want to pursue. As a PA, he got to work with just about all of different departments.

“A PA makes sure everyone is quiet on set,” Thompson said, listing off his duties. “We make sure no one walks on the set while shooting and we also go on manhunts for the actors or even the director.” PAs also help the producers by running various errands.

The film crew utilized over half a dozen interns over the course of the filming. “They learn more being on a set than in any film school,” noted screenwriter and lead actor Jordon Hodges. “Film making is so subjective. You learn how to do it on set and you find out when and how to use the tools.”

Thompson worked alongside Hodges during his first day on the set, serving as an assistant set dresser and prop master. “His job was, after each take, to make sure the props were back in place and ready to go for the next take,” Hodges said. Thompson would also hand Hodges the props he needed before each take. “He is learning about the timing of shooting and how a scene works. He’s gaining confidence being around the actors,” Hodges noted.

It is also important to watch the details. Hodges pointed out that if any prop is in the wrong spot or different from the other takes, then the take with the error can’t be used as it breaks continuity.

“Each of us is a piece of the machine,” noted producer Chris Nickin. “Getting the prop in the right place and at the right time is crucial.”

“He was my go-to prop master,” Hodges said.


“Peter experienced a lot of different things,” added Nickin. Thompson helped to lock down the set when shooting was done in the evening, he worked with the craft services and other departments, and helped to direct extras as well as the prop and set dressing work. “That’s the nice thing about bringing in students like that who want to learn,” Nickin said.

Along with work skills gained, Thompson learned a lot of the lingo used, along with the hand signals used on set. “Instead of ‘lights, camera, action,’ they will say ‘rolling, speed, set and then action,’” Thompson explained.

From the start, the high school administration was keen on the idea of making the internship happen, allowing Thompson to spend a couple of full days on set, as well as leaving early as he already had an internship period at the end of the day.

“Our focus is on getting the students to think about what they want to do and whatever opportunity they have to gain experience. We need to let them pursue it,” said LHS Principal Eva Merkel. “Any opportunity to have an authentic experience like this, we’ll support.”

It was especially important from the school’s point of view to give Thompson this experience, as it fell directly in line with his career path. Merkel added that a lot of the school’s program, through New Tech and Project Lead the Way, are geared toward giving students the chance to experience a career path as early as possible. That way, students can determine as early as possible whether or not they want to pursue that career, instead of finding out only after enrolling in and paying for college courses.  “Experience at this level, before money is spent at college, is a great way to find out what you like and don’t like,” Merkel said.

For Thompson, it was confirmation that this would be a career he would definitely like. Now he is looking at film schools, but realizes that “film school is helpful, but the best experience is being on set.”

He’s also convinced that, if the opportunity comes up again, he’ll jump at the chance to work on a film set, knowing that the school will support those opportunities when they come along for any student.