- Associated Press - Sunday, November 23, 2014

RICHMOND, Ind. (AP) - Thursday’s opening of “Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1” will feed fans’ appetites for another movie in the popular series.

The film’s debut also delivers an opportunity to see the results of the behind-the-scenes work of 2001 Richmond High School graduate Jessica Lakoff.

On the film, Lakoff served as second camera assistant, part of the director of photography’s crew. Among her many duties was one of movie-making’s most recognizable jobs - handling the clapperboard for each take. She also kept details records, handled the film and took care of camera equipment.

She began her work on the “Hunger Games” series with the second movie, “Catching Fire,” and remained with the crew for “Mockingjay Part 1 and Part 2.” The work has taken Lakoff and the crew to Hawaii, Georgia, France and Germany.

“The opportunity of working on Hunger Games . has been an invaluable experience. I can’t stress enough what a joy it is to work with the talented individuals that make up this film crew,” Lakoff told the Palladium-Item (https://pinews.co/11OipFq).

“Francis Lawrence, the director, is one of the most talented men I have ever met. On top of his incredible direction, he is just the kindest man.

“Jo Willems, the director of photography creates the ‘look’ of the film. I have learned so much from him and how he lights. Their collaboration together is the true definition of teamwork,” she said.

Lakoff’s mentor on the film was Dave Thompson, the A camera operator.

“Day in and day out, (Thompson) performs with the camera on his shoulder and delivers exactly what Francis and Jo want. Francis envisions the shot, Jo makes the shot look amazing, and Dave makes the vision happen flawlessly,” she said. “The three of them together seem to work seamlessly which is something every filmmaker aspires to on every single film. To see something from vision to actual creation is really amazing.

“I have learned and taken away so much from each of these, very different, yet each talented filmmakers,” Lakoff said. “We come to work every day excited for the day. We come to work happy to see everyone. We come to work with the expectation that we are doing something fun and creative. How many people can say that about their job? I am so lucky.”

Lakoff’s interest in a film career was inspired Larry Blanford, a 1977 Richmond High School graduate, who is a friend of her parents, Tim and Penny Lakoff of Richmond.

Blanford got his film career break while in the Air Force when he did aerial photography for “Top Gun.” He is best known as a director of photography for the second unit, the unit that films the action sequences. His work includes three “X-Men” movies and the upcoming “Terminator: Genisys.”

Blanford also has been director of photography for several films, including “Ride Along,” ”Think Like a Man” and “Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer.”

“From a very young age, because of our family friendship, I saw Larry traveling the world, doing what he loved with so much passion for film-making,” Lakoff said. “When I started at Purdue - I decided that film-making was the road I wanted to take as well.

“He has not only continued to be a mentor through my career, but is also someone I am lucky to call a close friend. He is someone that I look up to and aspire to emulate someday,” she said.

At Purdue University, Lakoff majored in telecommunications and film studies. However, she said the majority of her training for the film industry has been on the job.

“I loved Purdue and what I learned there, but most of the everyday set work is taught on the fly, down and dirty, on a film set,” she said. “I started in the industry as a production assistant and from there made my way into the local 600 union. I was a loader for just over a year and then I moved up to a second camera assistant.”

During the filming of “Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2,” Lakoff was promoted to B camera first camera assistant, which involves more operation of the camera. She hopes to continue climbing the ladder, becoming a focus puller, the person who handles the camera focus, and eventually an operator like Thompson, the person who makes the director of photography’s vision a reality.

Blanford helped Lakoff when she joined the industry. One of her early jobs was serving as his first assistant on “X-Men: First Class.”

“She’s done really well,” Blanford said in a 2012 Palladium-Item story. “She’s a talented girl who works hard. She’s done nothing but make me proud.”

Lakoff said her career began to take off in 2012 when she joined the crew of “Django Unchained” as a second assistant.

“I wrote my senior paper at Purdue on Quentin Tarantino, so to work closely with him every day for seven months was a dream come true,” Lakoff said. “Plus, Bob Richardson, an academy award winning cinematographer, was a wonderful person to learn from about lighting and composition.”

She went directly from “Django Unchained” to “Hunger Games: Catching Fire” for an intense four months of filming.

Spending day after day on the sets of the “Hunger Games” films has not dimmed Lakoff’s admiration of the story or its characters.

“My favorite character is, of course, Katniss. She is the definition of a true female heroine. I love that young girls can have a strong female lead to look up to and emulate.

“That being said, Jen Lawrence is the epitome of Katniss Everdeen. She is strong and brave, yet grounded and hilarious. What you see is what you get with Jen - and that is so rare in this industry,” Lakoff said.

“However, I can’t leave out anyone in the cast. They are all such wonderful, talented people and to get the opportunity to shoot three films back to back has been so fun,” she said. “It really is like a family on set. We laugh constantly.

“It was so fun coming back and seeing old friends like Josh (Hutcherson), Liam (Hemsworth), Woody (Harrelson), Sam (Claflin) and Jeffrey (Wright). The additions of Julianne (Moore), Natalie (Dormer) and Mahershala (Ali) only added to the family-like feel on set.”

She said everyone involved really wanted to be there and believed in the work they were doing.

“It’s great when you can have so many talented artists in one spot and still have a great time. This film has been a wonderful experience based on the relationships I’ve made with the cast and crew,” Lakoff said.

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Information from: Palladium-Item, https://www.pal-item.com


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