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On the Set

On the Set
Caroline Purtell

When Dudley Arbaugh graduated in 2005 with a degree in entrepreneurship, the last thing he envisioned was fetching James Gandolfini a piece of cheesecake from a local deli while on the set of “The Sopranos.” However, that’s exactly what happened.

 

Arbaugh often daydreamed about a job in film and television. Fortunately, he knew the right people and got in touch with a family friend who worked as the unit production manager on “Spider-Man 3.” Although he could only secure a weeklong stint on the set, Arbaugh moved from Greater Cincinnati to New York, slept on his aunt’s couch on the Upper East Side and convinced his superiors to keep him around a little longer.

“If you serve as an additional production assistant, you can actually work on multiple projects at the same time,” he says. “Basically you network your butt off, making friends with current production assistants, second assistant directors, everybody who is anybody that can get your name out to those with other productions. If you’re afraid to ask for a number or make a phone call, this job wouldn’t last very long for you.” So far, the networking has paid off. He recently worked on the film “American Gangster,” starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, which is due out this fall. He’s also worked on television shows such as “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” “America’s Most Wanted,” “Rescue Me” and, of course, “The Sopranos.”

On “The Sopranos,” for example, Arbaugh works as a production assistant, which entails arriving on the set by 6:00 a.m. to receive instructions for the day. That could be taking breakfast orders for the actors or directors, organizing the daily tally for walkie talkies, readying background actors for placement or keeping everyone quiet once filming begins. Overall, he averages 12-hour days, although it’s not uncommon to work an 18-, 19- or even 20-hour day only to be back at work five hours later. “If I have to drop off the film at the end of the night at Technicolor downtown … let’s just say two cups of coffee and a whole lotta gumption are the only reason my eyes are open the next day.”

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