The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

February 1, 2013

CAMERA READY

Jefferson grad credits childhood as she takes on positions at HBO, Cinemax

By ROBERT LEBZELTER - bobleb@starbeacon.com
Star Beacon

— Caitlynn Leary grew up in front of the camera.

Her father, Gregg, had a photography studio in his house and Caitlynn was often the subject of his work.

Having grown up in Jefferson, Leary readily admits she wouldn’t mind making her living in front of the camera. But for now at least, she loves being assistant to the unit production manager on the HBO series “Veep” and assistant to the co-producer on sister network Cinemax’s “Banshee.”

“United production manager, in simplest of terms, is the person who makes sure we stay on budget,” Leary said. “The UPM is responsible for every department and every department has to go through the UPM when purchasing equipment,” Leary said.

“The co-producer is able to contribute to the creative side of the script,” she said.

She caught the show-biz bug early. She’s been in several plays over the years, back in Jefferson Area High School and at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, plus as an extra at Screen Gems Films Studios.

It all started at home.

“I was never camera shy because my dad would photograph and videotape all of our events growing up. I started to write my own stories and plays when I could formulate sentences,” Leary said.

“When I got older, my dad would help me set up the camcorder and tripod. I used to write, direct and ‘act’ in my very own Barbie movies. Then as I got older, the kids in my neighborhood acted alongside of me and whenever my cousins from Pennsylvania visited, we made feature-length movies.”

She said her ‘a-ha’ moment came when she was 5 and went to see “Forrest Gump,” which was destined to be her favorite movie. “On our way home from the theater, I proclaimed to our entire van that, ‘Movies can change the world! I am going to do that.’”

If you hang out in Jefferson, you might remember her as a reindeer in “Elfis Impersonator” or saw her annual spring play at Jefferson United Methodist Church.

She was in no less than eight plays at Jefferson High and decided on the University of North Carolina not only because of its stellar academic record, but because it is close to Screen Gems Films Studio, the largest film studios on the East Coast.

“As soon as I got to college, I was trying out for plays and went on a tour of the film studios and before you knew it, I was a tour guide myself.

On weekends, Leary gave tours of the sets of CW’s “One Tree Hill” for four years.

“I started to do extra work on the set of local shows as well. Extra work, a background actor, is a great way to be on a film set and learn terminology when you are first starting out,” Leary said.

“I can honestly say that between classes, working at the studios and being on as many sets both professionally and as a student, helped my education go full circle.”

She was in four shows in college and a student film her sophomore year, “Getting the Dog,” which won the Reel Teal Film Festival for best directing.

It was then she got an agent and started to audition for series like “One Tree Hill,” “The Blindside” and “Army Wives.”

Leary said getting an agent early stopped her from making mistakes at auditions.

“In my senior year of college, I had developed the reputation at Screen Gems of being trusthworthy and obsessively organized and the president of the company offered me the job of an executive assistant. He was willing to work with my final semester of class schedules and rehearsals. The job allowed me to see the business side of things as I began doing accounting work.”

While at Screen Gems, she met Bill Hill, producer of “Eastbound and Down” and “Nashville.” When Leary decided to move to Charlotte, Hill came by to say good-bye and promised to stay in touch. She sent a resume and cover letter and four months later,  got a call to help on “Banshee,” which was filming in Charlotte.

“Banshee” stars Antony Starr as an ex-con and master thief who assumes the identity of a murdered sheriff and administers his own kind of Justice.

“Veep” stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a female vice president.

Yes, Leary gets to hobnob with the talent.

“I am on the set every day. On ‘Banshee,’ I had a lot of interaction with the actors and executives. Some of them are my mentors to this day.” They include Starr and executive producer / creator / writer Jonathan Trooper.

“I still get text or email from them every so often to make sure I am still going on auditions and writing. They are my accountability partners. They want to see me succeed,” Leary said.

She met the producer of her beloved “Forest Gump,” Charles Newirth, when he was scouting for “Iron Man 3.” She told him he had a hand in her desire to be in show business and he asked where her accent came from. She said northeast Ohio and he replied, ‘No way. I went to OSU.’ He proceeded to say “O-H,” making the OH with his arms, so naturally Leary finished with “I-O.”

“He then proceeded to call me Ohio from then on out,” Leary said.

“The first time I saw how they made it rain on set, I was dumbfounded. It was a beautiful summer night and they were making a full force storm complete with rain, lightning and wind. My jaw was on the floor. I remember telling my boss how cool it was and he said he remembered when he used to think all of that was cool. He told me to hold on to the magic.”

“Banshee,” as you can guess, gets pretty violent. A stuntman came up to her looking ill and had a huge cut and blood gushing out of his face.

“I said, ‘Oh my gosh, here, let me get the medic.’ He started laughing and then I realized, ‘Duh, Caitlynn, it’s fake.’”

She said the crew on “Banshee” is like a family, partially because it is the first season of the show and a lot of the actors aren’t mainstream yet.

She doesn’t interact with the cast of “Veep” so much.

“I think part of it is that these actors are some of Hollywood’s elite. I was in the bathroom at the same time as Julia Louis-Dreyfus and all I could muster up to say was ‘Hey,’ palm to face. It’s an intimidation factor, I watched her on ‘Seinfeld’ growing up and now it’s like, woa, here she is and I am actually working on the same project.”

She says the film industry is a traveling circus. “I am traveling from show to show in city after city. It’s definitely hard, especially being away from family and it’s hard to settle down. But I know that I have to take these steps to learn, build my resume and make contacts.”

“Banshee” was filmed in Charlotte, with “Veep” filmed in Baltimore.

She will be working on the series “Eastbound and Down” in her old stomping grounds, Wilmington, where she went to college.

Being in the background makes her “antsy,” watching the actors and writers do what she wants to do.

“It’s the most exciting part of my job, but it’s also the hardest. I am standing five feet from the camera. It’s like a dog who is waiting for you to throw the ball. That’s how I feel. Just give me a chance. Come on, just give me a chance.”

She works 80 hours a week. “Banshee” requires primarily night shooting.

And where does Caitlynn Leary see herself down the road?

“I will have created a television show, I will write the episodes, act in it and direct every now and then, kind of like Lena Dunham on ‘Girls.’ Then I’d move on to creating feature films. Of course, I want to film these in Ohio. And why not? Ohio has a very competitive film incentive and they are building a crew base up,” Leary said.

Her Ohio roots remain close to her. She credits her dad and mother Lynn, who took her career choice seriously.

She has advice for others who have dreams. “Go to school. Knowledge is the best gift you can give yourself. Love to learn. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Be trustworthy and sincere. And go for your dreams.

“I get up every morning and think of little 5-year-old me who really wanted to change the world through movies. I do it for her.”