Press > Exclusive Interviews > Jerome Fauci (Steadicam Operator: Escape From L.A.)




How did you end up being a Steadicam/Camera Operator?

Went to film school in San Francisco in the early nineties. Francis Ford Coppola's brother August was the dean of the creative arts dept., and promised us that this film school would be different and wouldn't be so commercially geared to the industry like the SoCal schools UCLA (University of California) and USC (University of Southern California). He was right. Took me a much longer time to get a job ;)

I started as a writer. I was a two-time quarterfinalist selection from the Academy Awards program (AMPAS): The Nichol's Fellowship in Screenwriting, a Walt Disney writing semifinalist selection and a MTV/Latin Film Festival screenwriting semifinalist selection for a really popular feature that took place in Belize. It was a simple little "Faux-Foreign Film" like Il Postino, Cinema Paradiso and Slumdog Millionaire. It was called "Faux-Foreign films" because they had the charm, subtitles and lush location but were directed by English speaking directors who saw how these films charmed the smarter demographic of movie goers. There was only one problem. While I was in development of my film called Boy, a feature-length drama that follows a poor, orphaned sweetbread delivery boy as he has to explore his Latin family's dark past to prove that he is heir to his beautiful tropical island to stop the bulldozers of an American resort developer; one of the producers nonchalantly mentioned that after I sold this script it'll be probably the last time I ever saw it or was  even allowed to do anything involving the project. In fact, he said I probably wouldn't even be invited to watch the actual filming.

Hmmm... I decided that would suck and started training on cameras. The only real way into the camera dept. on most studios during the nineties that were ruled by politics and nepotism was to buy and learn how to use the steadicam. It was the latest and greatest camera system every director wanted to use on their films. So I bought one, practiced on my dog and girlfriend and got good on it. Besides that I got lucky on my God-given name. You see, during the early to mid-nineties diversity was the name of the game for Hollywood and many hiring companies that wanted to do The Right Thing. So although I was a short white guy, my name was Jerome, I started getting hired on every feature that had black producers, black stars and anyone that wanted to "level the playing fields." As my resume started having names like Denzel Washington, Wayan Bros, Samuel L. Jackson, Tyler Perry people just thought I was black. They only seemed a little surprise when they saw me on set but of course they didn't really want an embarrassing situation or a law suit I guess. I actually got a gig the day after the LA riots for a very anti-white music video by Tone Loc in the smoldering wreckage of what was a federal store on La Brea. The mood was pretty tense all over the city that day and the only other white guy in a ten mile radius was a motorcycle cop who screamed at me like I was mad. When I arrived at the location and someone demanded to know who I was I simply said, "Hi. I am Jerome, the steadicam operator." It took a while for the entire black crew to adjust but I can tell you that Tone Loc had very powerful motivation that day as he fired off anti-white rap at the short white dude with the camera in for of him.


How did you get the assignment to be a Steadicam Operator for Escape From L.A.?

Chris Squires was the A-Op/Steadicam Operator who had been working on nights for a few months. Chris was big time, Forrest Gump, The Usual Suspects, etc. I don't think his leaving was b/c of a bad experience. It was probably a scheduling problem. I think the Carpenter film went way over in shooting days and Chris is really sought after and had to leave. It happens all the time, especially when you're forced to work nights for three months. He knew I was good and he let me have the existing few weeks that were the interior studio scenes and re-shoots.

How were the shots prepared and which scenes were the most challenging, hardest or funniest to shoot?

I remember shooting a scene where the steadicam slowly tracks behind the "President" Cliff Robertson as he turns slowly and faces my camera. Carpenter was drawing from his 110s and yelling out, "Everyone knows what they doing? Right!, Alright, last looks!" So I stood there and shut my mouth and prayed that the hair and wardrobe people would see that the camera was very close to Cliff's back of his head where the 80 plus actor, God bless him, was terrifically thinning and it was obvious that someone in hair decided to spray black paint on his sparse scalp. Well, all of that was fine but I remembered very well that during the last rehearsal that his beads of sweat were making the back of his head look like one of those bad 1950 movies timed-transformations of the werewolf. I stood there and tried to politely tell my concerns to hair and makeup without pissing anyone off but what I got was, "It's fine. It won't read on film." So the stage's buzzer go off and red lights beacon all across the giant stage. Sound calls "speed" and my 2nd AC (Assistant Camera) claps the sticks, "Steadicam only!" Carpenter draws about two inches from his glowing embers and says quietly, "Action." My steadicam smoothly comes behind Cliff with the perfect speed and just about when he is about to turn I see the back of his head that clearly shows brittle wirily thinning hair matted down with black spray paint, and I remember that this movie is in Anamorphic so what I am watching on my steadicam monitor will be about 45 feet wide by 28 feet tall. The man in front of me looked like a scrotum in a pin strip suit. I decided I couldn't do it to my Cliff or his heirs who would have to stomach this scene for hundreds of years so I let go of the camera and the steadicam dipped towards the floor thus ruining the shot. "CUT!" It was Carpenter and he was pissed. He came running to me and demanded why I dare ruin one of his shots. Cliff was there too and I wanted to tell Carpenter without embarrassing Cliff, whose worked I respected for so many years but Carpenter was not helping, "His what is showing!? Scrotum!?" After a minute and with the help of the AD (Assistant Director) who help translate, Carpenter walked away understanding, presumably to find another cigarette but as he walked into the darkness of the set he turned and announced to the hair and wardrobe dept.,"Next time the kid tells you about a problem listen to him for Chrissakes!"

How was the experience working with the cast and crew?


The stage was near some funky casino off the I - 5. Most of the crew were still on nights and were walking like zombies. I was pretty rested. Mostly these final weeks of shooting are to "fix", "re-shoot" some scenes that some didn't like the performances or the photography. The first thing I noticed that on a John Carpenter set, you were not only allowed to smoke cigarettes indoors on stage but it was encouraged. Every time Mr. Carpenter stuck one of his 110 Marlboros in his face he looked around and watched as the DP (Director of Photography) the First AD and even me the operator lit up. I wasn't really a smoker, so since Carpenter was right there I bummed one from him but as I looked around the room I remember I saw the horrified looks of the First AD. I figured it probably wasn't a good idea but John flipped me his pack and asked in his crusty deep tone, "Need a light too, I suppose." Three lighters came from three different directions with a chorus of, "No, he's good, John." You see, I think Mr. Carpenter was kind of tithed that I replaced his first operator, especially someone he didn't know and someone who didn't look like an old Hollywood veteran. He was probably even expecting that I was black. He never learned my name. He called me "kid" or "the kid" or "that kid" and he really liked my steadicam but he hated my conventional camera operating. The camera operating on the dolly and tracks and I don't think it was the quality of the framing, it was that I didn't look or sound like a camera operator from the studio periods of the 60's and 70's. Guys whose only job was to execute the directors and the directors of photographys vision. I was used to being a steadicam operator where the dp or the director allowed the steadicam op to "design his own shot" since they had no idea how to direct a camera that'd no boundaries, but I quickly learned that when I was seating on back on his dolly in conventional camera mode I was to zip it and listen to exactly what my Carpenter wanted. The DP Gary Kibbe sometimes jumped on the dolly when he thought John was in a bad mood trying to save me from getting yelled at.

What's your favorite memory or memories of working on the movie?

The time we were doing a big tracking shot with Kurt Russell and I had a chance to chat with him. I was a little uptight since I would be making or breaking this important shot when "Snake" gets the poison that spins the movies plot into action, but there was a lot of opinions on how the shot should be blocked. I was told how Mr. Carpenter wanted the shot and to make it believable I had to place the camera in the exact spot at the exact time when a female character runs her tiny finger nail across Snake's hand. We're talking about a spot as small as a postcard but the shot starts showing the entire room with panning, from the guards and prisoner background artists. This was going to be the hardest shot I tried in the movie and after Carpenter left I was more than half nervous. I bummed a cigarette from someone and saw Kurt Russell. Man, the dude was icon but here he was chilling just before a pretty important shot, with his lifetime partner Goldie Hawn and their young son. They reminded me how California was when I just got there as a child. People had mid-western manners and were on laid-back beach time. They never changed. Maybe that's why so many fans still love them. Anyway, we spoke for a few minutes and the cute little family left me totally relaxed. Kurt said, "Put me anywhere you want to make your shot." I nailed that damn shot in two takes.

I immediately fell in love with Michelle Forbes (Brazen) in her femme fatale bob. She was the reason I actually continued to going to work since all that yelling and the cigarette smoking was getting to me. Forbes was not only a knock-out but she was an absolute pro. Helpful, really helpful and one of the most down to earth actresses I've ever worked with. 

What do you think of the movie personally?

It's a comic book movie so the characters could play a little. Carpenter must have an interesting persona to be attracted to this tough-guy, tongue-in-cheek, anti-social genre. I was always impressed that he did most of his own musical scores. My favorite film of John's was Starman which really showed his talent with character development and human emotions without the special effects. Maybe he was really just a softy behind that gristle.

What are you currently doing and what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

Still doing features and TV. Not a kid anymore. Guess I am a "Vet". Still get black movies but I think the word is getting out. To this day, I remember the old camera operator replies that Gary and John taught. Example: If you get busted by the director about totally screwing up a blocked scene, you're suppose to reply proud, "I'm still working it out, sir" or if you really screw up framing at the video village, the proper vet op says to the director, "Sorry, sir. I can do better." Works like a charm. In any case, doing more writing these days while picking out features and TV I think I'll have fun on.



Jerome Fauci's Wrap Gift Cap

Thank you for your time, Jerome.

More about Jerome Fauci here: http://www.gocamerasupport.com/