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  Steve Schuster
 
Award-Winning Content Producer
                                                        
How it all began ...

The Casting Call
June 7, 2014

It was a hot, humid, summerlike day in suburban Baltimore. Wearing an all-black suit and red tie, I stood outside waiting for hours in a line spanning several city blocks in Bel Air, Maryland.  Once inside the Bel Air armory, a staff member of the casting company took my resume and photographs and said someone would be in touch if they were interested. I had no prior acting experience.

Not even two weeks later, I received an email from the casting company asking me if I would be available for a recurring role as a journalist on Season III of "House of Cards." Without hesitation, I accepted the offer. The very same week I was called to the set.

Life on the set

My first day, I traveled to the set (or “soundstage,” as they say in the industry) in Harford County, Maryland. A production assistant introduced to me folks from props, wardrobe and makeup, as well as the hairstylists. I signed legal non-disclosure forms saying that I couldn’t talk about what I saw until after Season III aired (Feb. 27, 2015).

I was issued Hollywood-made White House Press Corps press credentials and told I was now a photo journalist covering Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey). I was even given a character’s name (Aaron Trewer), provided with an expensive working camera, and given other tools of the trade that a working journalist would use.

 

Wardrobe issued us designer suits and ties. Some actors were issued $3,000 tailor-fit suits, while others were given $99 off-rack suits – all property (props and wardrobe) had to be returned.

No two days were ever alike on the set of "House of Cards." But one thing remained consistent; they sure fed us, often and well.

Although most of the food came from local caterers in the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. area, a food truck was brought in from West Hollywood. 

 

Most people probably don’t realize all of the hard work and hours that go into producing an award-winning series like "House of Cards." From the brilliant writing from creator Beau Willimon and his talented writing staff --- to the talented actors, directors, photographers, lighting crews, set builders and even real White House/D.C. political consultants.

The consultants' attention to detail was mind-blowing; one even told the crew where to place a flag within a centimeter.  A two-minute scene could take six hours to film, with countless takes, and then the scene could be written-off (not used) at the end of the day. If Beau didn’t like how something looked on set, he ordered last minute script rewrites; it was truly impressive to see his creative mind at work.

A day didn’t go by where I didn’t run into Robin Wright, Kevin Spacey or at least one of the principal actors.  It was inspiring to hear how Kevin started out as a shoe salesman in the valley and became who he is today. It was also exciting to hear about where Kevin and Robin spent their free time in the Baltimore/D.C. area. I learned about their favorite happy hour and brunch spots.

Tornado warning on the set

July 14, 2014 

As the rain pounded on the roof of the 99,000-square-foot set, cell phone text alert sounds filled the set while thunder shook the entire building. Suffice it to say, it didn’t take long for filming to wrap (stop). We all gathered in a small room--- that’s the entire "House of Cards" cast and crew (that includes Beau, the directors, Kevin and even Kevin’s dog Boston).

 
Photo Courtesy of Beau Willimon

I walked up to the snack cart and there was Lars Mikkelsen, who played Victor Petrov (The Russian President). I asked him how he liked Baltimore and with a Danish accent he replied, "It's nice, although I've only really been to the Inner Harbor."

I walked around some more and eventually circled back to the snack cart to find Michael Kelly (Doug Stamper) eating peanuts in his bathrobe. After spending the afternoon talking with several of the other principal actors and directors, the storm passed without incident and filming was back on.

The days were long. I often had a 7:30 a.m. call time, which meant I had to be on the set by 6:30 a.m. and some of those nights we didn’t wrap up until midnight.  I always arrived early, and on Aug. 4, the early start gave me the chance to have breakfast with Mahershala Ali (Remy Danton). Downtime on the set allowed me the opportunity to meet many of the other actors while waiting in "holding."


Hanging out with other members of the White House Press Corps

When the day was over, our security detail escorted us back to our vehicles in black Suburbans though a heavily guarded area.

Despite the long hours, it didn’t feel like work. Being around Kevin and Robin was an incredible opportunity. Kevin was sometimes even more funny off-camera. One day, Kevin’s wardrobe person walked up to him with a lint brush. Kevin grabbed it out of her hand and began to brush the lint off of the wardrobe person. There wasn’t a single person on the set who wasn’t laughing. 

I'm sure I will not soon forget the summer and fall of 2014.


Click 
HERE to watch Season III.