It was a mix of persistence and an interest in movie making that recently landed a local lifeguard on set of the Hollywood film “The Lifeguard.”
Kirsten Spalding, 20, has been interested in film since age 13. She attended her first Sundance Film Festival screening in Park City, Utah as a senior in high school.
Her interest led her to major in media and society, a film studies program, at Hobart and William Smith College, where she’ll be a junior this fall.
Those same interests drove Spalding of Sewickley behind the scenes of a professional Hollywood production this summer.
The journey started back in June when Spalding’s mother told her producers were in Sewickley looking for film extras for a new movie, “The Lifeguard.”
The indie film, directed by Liz Garcia, stars Kristen Bell, who plays Leigh, a reporter nearing 30 who abandons her life in New York City and returns home to get her high school job as a lifeguard. She starts a dangerous relationship with a 16-year-old delinquent. Co-stars include Martin Starr, Mamie Gummer, Alex Shaffer, Joshua Harto and Amy Madigan.
'Go after it'
“I knew I couldn’t sit back and wait for something to happen,” Spalding said. “I had to go after it myself.”
It was after work on a Saturday night that Spalding went where filming was taking place at the Sewickley Confectionery on Beaver Street. She stood by the gate and introduced herself “to pretty much everyone who walked past.”
“Some were annoyed because I was interrupting them from their job, but others were very friendly and talkative and told me what was happening on set,” she said.
She eventually met the film’s co-producer, who wrote down her name. But Spalding's big break wouldn’t come for a few more days, after the crew had set up base at the Sewickley Community Center where she works.
The locations director came by to chat with Autumn Redcross, a coordinator at the center. Redcross said the cast and crew spent two weekends there and she could sense Spalding’s excitement.
“She told me that’s what she was interested in, film production,” Redcross said.
So Redcross introduced Spalding to the locations director.
“He told me to come to set later that night,” Spalding said.
Spalding left work about three weeks ago and showed up on set at a property behind the Sewickley Heights Manor Pool. Multiple scenes were shot there, she said, because the setting fit the movie.
Lifeguard by day, film by night
Spalding said she hung out for a little bit on her first night and began receiving call information directing her on where to go each day for filming. She even helped her younger sister Zoe, 11, and a friend get on as extras in a walking scene that involved Martin Starr’s character waving.
“She wanted to be in the movie,” Spalding said. “They needed people to help fill up the sidewalks to make the town look busy.”
Spalding said she pulled double shifts, working her job as a lifeguard during the day and then joining the film crew at night until sunrise.
Her jobs ranged from fetching coffee and accommodating everyone’s needs to setting up scenes and making sure the set remained quiet during takes.
Spalding said she wasn’t allowed to do certain jobs as a volunteer, such as move important equipment, but she quickly learned the more reliable you were, by working hard and being there, the more complex and important the jobs were that you got. She got the job of wrapping a gift for Mamie Gummer, Meryl Streep's daughter, on her last day of set.
"I also helped with lock-ups, making sure there where no background noises or distractions or anyone accidently walking into the picture that was not supposed to be there… it depends on the day and what is going on.”
People started to recognize Spalding and remember her name. As for the actors, she ran into Gummer on set, chatted with Alex Shaffer and the other teenage boys starring in the film, and eeven got a high-five from Martin Starr when she showed up to work as an extra only to have the rain slightly change the plans.
“When Martin Starr gave me the high-five, it was more of a, ‘Now a Hollywood actor kind of knows who I am.’ For me, it’s about networking and making connections and finally having those people remember you.”
It wasn’t her first time meeting Hollywood types. While growing up in Park City, Utah, Spalding remembered sometimes running into actors, athletes or directors on the street or in restaurants during Sundance. Spalding has personally worked on small film projects, but said she was "super happy" for this experience.
Filming wrapped up last week in Fox Chapel, where Spalding spent Aug. 7, the last day on set, working before the crew headed to New York City. She said her biggest highlight was just being apart of the film.
"It was a lot of fun, I loved the environment, and I cannot wait for the next opportunity in which I will be able to dedicate more time and completely commit myself to the project.”