Makin' Movies: 'American Virgin' Brings Jobs and Dreams to Local Crews

A man in a black stocking hat is moving a 20-foot pole back and forth along the sidewalk of Monroe Street in the heart of Greektown. "Closer to me," yells someone on the other side of the street. "Bring it in the street if you have to!" There were four poles, all exactly the same. Three other guys walked up, wearing various types of stocking hats and cloth gloves. Each one grabs a pole and jostles it around.

"I need some sands bags over here!" Says one of the four workers. He has a beard. His cheeks are red from the cold. A fifth worker appears, "There aren't sandbags on the cart, let me check the truck." He comes back carrying four small canvas bags that, by the look on his face, are holding a bit of weight.

These five guys are a small part of the crew working on "American Virgin," a new Rob Schneider comedy about, well, booze and parties. But never mind that. The important thing is that those five guys are local. In fact, so is most everyone else on the set.

"Ninety percent of our crew is local," says Schneider, a comedian, SNL alum and star of movies like Deuce Bigalow and The Hot Chick. "It was important to us to have most of the crew be from the area."

That means 90 percent of all involved in "American Virgin," from hair and makeup to catering and security, and even the unpaid extras, use their hand as a map when showing someone not from Michigan where they're from.

"My hair and makeup people lived in L.A. and have since moved back to Michigan because of the work the incentives have brought," Schneider says. "There are people in L.A. that can't find this kind of work 'cause all the movies here. And, for Michigan, that's good."

Movies, you have to remember, aren't just cameras and actors and directors and producers. It's an army of people doing a host of things and each one is a job, a paying job. There are the drivers and the caterers and the assistants to the assistants and the girl with the one line who flashes the camera in a scene (it's there, watch the movie). There is the crew that has to move those poles and the crew that has to gather the props and the lady who runs around with winter coats for the two star actresses who are freezing their butts off out on the set on Monroe Street.

"I've been busy," a Teamster says, standing on the curb watching those two actresses freeze their butts off. He's been working in transportation. "These movies come here, they gotta go through us. We're a union place. And I'll tell you what, it's been one movie after another."

That's good to hear.

"It was my plan to be in L.A. by now," says Yolanda Mendoza. "But now, looks like I can follow my dream here in Michigan and I don't have to leave my family." Mendoza was hired as the stand-in for "Virgin" star Jenna Dewan. Mendoza's job is to block the scene for Dewan before filming. And, she says, she gets paid quite well to do it.

"It's a great job, and I get to make money and be part of the movies," Mendoza says.

"We're kind of learning the ropes, as is everybody," says Mary Wilson, director of catering for Splendid Plates, the company providing the food for the picture. It's her first film job. "It's a lot of shooting from the hip. It's different than what we're used to. But I would love for this to continue, and we will actively jobs in the film industry. In fact, we have a meeting next week with the Detroit Film Office."

Something to hold on to

"Michigan's economy, for a lack of a better word, is desperate right now," says David Fletcher a production assistant for the picture. "But the people of this state know they have an opportunity to grow a future through movies, and movies aren't going anywhere. We are creating something here for the city to hold on to. It's not just movies, but it's a message of opportunity to grow and remake a city. And nothing says grow like a job."

"We're so much more busier now than we were a year ago," says Rose Gilpin, who along with Kathy Remski co-owns the casting agency RealStyle. "We're working 16 hour days now."

"Twelve hundred people came out for the casting call of 'Prayers for Bobby'," Remski says. "There was a line down the block. We weren't expecting that, but you know, trial by fire in this business."

The effect of movies coming to the city is viral.

"So many companies and people have been effected by the industry," Gilpin says. "We have a catering friend who has to turn down work because he's too busy. And if you have a warehouse, an empty warehouse, no matter the size, the moviemakers are busting down your door to use it."

Busting down the door might be an overstatement, but Detroit and the state of Michigan, as long as these incentives stay in place, stand to make a bit of money, create a number of jobs, and retain a good amount of talent.

Each project in a sense is like a small business. And the dollars they spend here, and the people the employ, is an investment right back into the street, the community, the city, and the state.

"Having local workers, local crewmembers, is a direct investment into the community," says Jason Price, a producers for "Virgin." "Having 90 percent of the crew from Michigan is good for Michigan's economy."

Terry Parris Jr. writes for Model D. Send feedback here.

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