• What if a reporter got inside the production of a major motion picture?

  • One with big movie stars, 4,000 extras and a "new-Hollywood" budget.

  • Watched every day, interviewed crew, and stitched it all together.

  • BELOW THE LINE, FROM CITATION PRESS
    FALL 2018
     

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  • Below the Line is narrative nonfiction about the making of a major motion picture. Not just any movie, but Last Vegas, a comedy starring Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline, and Mary Steenburgen, with seven Academy Awards among them. Written by a journalist imbedded with production, it starts with an empty warehouse and a handful of crew, then bobs and weaves over five months and two cities. Eventually it added up to 50 cast members, 4,000 extras and a crew of 400. With its modest $30 million-plus budget it quietly grossed $134 million. This is what it really takes to make a movie.

Advance Praise

  • 5 Star Review

    "I had nothing to do with it."

    • -- Director Jon Turteltaub on how journalist Meredith Jordan was embedded on his movie, Last Vegas
  • 5 Star Review

    "Meredith Jordan’s Below the Line offers film fans a rare gift: seeing Hollywood icons as real people. In the course of the making of a major film (which, with rare access, Jordan dissects with the skill of a brain surgeon), Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, and others are revealed as they've rarely been seen before, going about their workdays and interacting with the rest of the cast and crew, all the time unaware that they are being observed without a production company's or a publicist’s restrictions and image spin. It’s all pure catnip for movie lovers."

    • -- David Wallace, author of Lost Hollywood, Exiles in Hollywood and five other nonfiction books. His most recent is “1937: A Tale of Hollywood’s Nastiest Scandals.” (Amazon, 2016)
  • 5 Star Review

    "Below the Line is about how a movie is really made by an enterprising writer who hung out with the cast and crew of Last Vegas for months. She charts every aspect of the mission, and it is a real adventure."

    • -- Mollie Gregory, author of Stuntwomen: The Untold Hollywood Story
      (Screen Classics, 2015)
  • 5 Star Review

    "Jordan undertook a huge effort with Below the Line, from getting embedded on a movie to begin with, to interviewing nearly everyone involved behind the scenes. This is old-style reporting and the results are far richer and more fascinating than typical books about Hollywood: She has the details you never see: about the budget, actor salaries and perk packages. This book is for anyone who wonders how they make major movies today."

    • -- Allen Salkin, author of From Scratch: The Uncensored History of The Food Network
      (Putnam/Penguin hardcover, 2013; Berkley Books paperback, 2014)
  • 5 Star Review

    "If you have ever puzzled over what exactly a "best boy" is in the credits of a big-budget movie, if you've ever wanted to look under the hood and see how a movie actually gets made, this is the book for you. It's a fast-paced, well-written inside look at the fascinating nuts and bolts of creating cinematic illusion. It's also a vivid illustration of the powerful economic engine that the film industry represents when it takes root in places far from its native habitat, like the Deep South – as well as its potential social and cultural impact."

    • -- Tracy Thompson, investigative journalist, Pulitzer Prize finalist,
      and author of The New Mind of the South (Simon & Schuster, 2013)
  • 5 Star Review

    "Below the Line promises to be an incredible asset to teachers and trainers in the movie industry. By examining how people actually do their jobs on a working movie set, particularly one of the caliber of Last Vegas, Jordan has created an incredible vehicle for learning. It's also a stellar read, with real life people wrestling to get their jobs done in an age of pinched resources. Oh, and there's also a movie star or two in there. I highly recommend it, not just for students but anyone interested in movies."

    • -- Kenny Chaplin, 1st AD, founder of Film Industry Training Seminars
      and author of Beyond the Basics: Film Crew Essentials
  • 5 Star Review

    "Below the Line is a remarkable book that tells the other side of a story so long overlooked we don’t know it’s missing. Jordan, a superb award-winning investigative journalist, was able to watch the entire process of making Last Vegas. With imagination she chronicles the path from an empty warehouse in Atlanta to the last scene, this time with the lens on the crew as well as the famous actors in front of the camera. This rare portrait of the anatomy of a film is quite fascinating, and the writing is engaging and vivid. This book is a must read for anyone interested in movies and for any class in film studies. Marvelous!"

    • -- Carolyn Johnston, PhD, the author of five nonfiction books, Pulitzer Prize nominee,
      and recipient of a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship and a Danforth Fellowship

Anatomy Of A Movie

Movie stars are nice but it’s the crew that makes the movie.

Director Jon Turteltaub

Creative head of Last Vegas

Gary Rake, 1st Assistant Director

Top Manager On Set

"The Boom-Boom Room"

Home to the Art Department

Chris Flurry, 2nd Assistant Cameraman

Keeper of the slate

Katrina Rice, Assistant Prop Master

Managing Inanimate Actors

Samuels, Kaminshin, Badalato

The production team

Costume Supervisor Jennifer Jobst

On Location in Las Vegas

Mailing Avenue Stageworks

The studio in Atlanta

Mark Mothersbaugh, Composer

Creator of the soundtrack

Excerpts

1

Below The Line

The other side of the story

Click the red arrows to see more pages.

2
  • “We’re like the movie marines. We’re the first to parachute in and the last to leave.”
    — Billy Badalato, unit production manager, Last Vegas.

3
  • The crew had set up a perimeter in the lobby of the giant Aria Resort and Casino amidst a thousand people, more if the flow in the gaming cavern was included. Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline and Mary Steenburgen were hidden in a makeshift fabric room in the middle of it all. Screen partitions had been set up next to pillars to create a private space and unless someone saw an actor duck in, no one but crew knew. The actors sat on director’s chairs that bore their names, chatting away, while the casino roared. But De Niro’s highchair was empty. He sat just outside the cocoon in a regular casino chair, hidden by a row of slot machines, reading the New York Times and occasionally talking on his phone.

4
  • Last Vegas fits into a large pack of 2013 movies. As the 56th largest-grossing movie of 687 releases in the U.S. it might fall from view with giants like Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Iron Man 3 and Frozen. Yet with its $30 million budget it’s far more typical of how a successful movie is made today. Producers spent years planning it, got a solid director and signed big-draw actors. They came up with product placement to cut location costs in Vegas and shot the movie in Georgia, which provides compelling tax credits to lure movie productions. They hired management, which hired crew, everyone paid scale to keep costs down. With its modest budget Last Vegas quietly scored $134 million at box offices worldwide. Successful enough that a sequel is in the works.

5
  • The script had continued to change a little throughout the entire process. To keep everyone on the same page, each revision resulted in a change to the color of the script. These weren’t things that would alter the plot but they were noticeable. The rap star cameo, which featured Kanye West in early versions, was rewritten for 50 Cent. The El Cortez Hotel & Casino, originally envisioned as home to the scenes in a B-Grade hotel, was replaced with Binion’s Gambling Hall and Hotel. The wet t-shirt contest became a more ratings-friendly bathing suit challenge. Characters from Blue Man Group were out and some from Cirque du Soleil’s Zarkana were in. The reasons varied, star schedules to a simple decline on the part of the El Cortez, but each shift had a ripple effect.

6
  • Each crew member had broken the script down differently. The unit production manager had read it for dollar signs. The production designer saw the "look" of the movie and each scene in sets. The set decorator saw each set furnished. Costumes saw what the actors would wear keeping script days in mind. The props department saw it for objects the actors would touch. Locations saw it in scenes to be shot outside the studio. The grips read it for rigging, electric saw it for cable and power distribution, and camera saw it in lenses, all of them at the direction of the cinematographer. But in the end, they would work from the first assistant director’s script breakdown. He would run the show with the director, who had read the script with vision.

7
  • The “Boom Boom Room” was unlike any other place in the studio offices. It was the art department’s conference room. Each wall, painted black and then affixed with fiberboard just a week before, now had hundreds of images. Places where different scenes took place were labeled. The city of Las Vegas took up a lot of the space with subdivided areas like “Aria” and “Old Vegas” and “McCarran Airport” and “X-Scream.” The latter was a ride atop the Stratosphere where they would send Michael Douglas and Mary Steenburgen – or stunt people – careening over the side. There was also “Flatbush, NY, 1955,” and each town where a main character lived. It was all the handiwork of David Bomba, production designer. It was Last Vegas coming to life with the practical purpose of giving the director visuals to choose from. It was just one way Bomba ensured he and Turteltaub were in the same frame.

8
  • Tension around the studio in Atlanta had steadily built during prep. Most department heads and managers were concerned their respective budgets were too tight given the caliber of the cast and the expectations for the movie. It was up to them to make the movie good and they felt strapped. There was intense lip service paid to the bottom line by production management, yet they could see big money flowing. The penthouse set being built on the soundstages would cost more than $600,000. Turteltaub wanted more extras and now 4,000 were budgeted. “Four thousand extras isn’t a small movie,” lamented one. The pressure finally burst through at a work dinner in Las Vegas where the creative team had gone to scout locations.

9
10

The End

About The Author

Meredith Taylor Jordan spent 20 years working full time for East Coast news organizations, all of them rooted in traditional journalism. None of them involved writing about Hollywood. Then she visited a friend at work on a movie set and saw a story that needed telling. Who were all those people and how did it tie together? What did it cost? And why hadn't a book like this been done before?

Below The Line

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