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Stories from the set of Still Alice

December 8, 2014 Written by | No Comments


The Gotham Independent Film Awards kicked off the 2014-2015 awards season last Tuesday. Julianne Moore picked up the Best Actress award for her unflinching portrayal of a Columbia University professor diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s in Still Alice. Experts and pundits are predicting that Moore will also earn the Academy Award for the film, which was just released for a one-week awards qualifying run this weekend.

Ali Rashti, a production assistant for the film, spoke to The Art House Attic about his experience on the set of Still Alice.

A native of Montreal, Canada, Rashti’s first experience in production came as an editor for the pornographic site, Brazzers and its parent company, Manwin (now known as MindGeek). At Manwin, Rashti edited original content for the web and he re-packaged previous content from the web for broadcast like Playboy TV, as well as Video on Demand. “We would bring past porn content from the web to broadcast level and sort of re-versioned it so it would be broadcast ready,” he says. “Web is the wild west of broadcast. You can just cut something together and put it up. But with broadcast, there are a lot of things that you need to prepare with audio and picture and to take that extra step to make sure that it qualifies to be broadcasted on television.”

Rashti worked with Manwin for about a year and then landed his first job as a production assistant on an independent Canadian film called Black Noise. The film’s plot is similar to Still Alice in that it also features a lead character living with Alzheimer’s. Black Noise did not receive a theatrical release due to its miniscule budget but it did have a VOD release in both Canada and the U.S. The film is also available on Itunes.

Rashti then moved to New York and one of the first jobs he landed was Still Alice. Besides Moore, the film also stars Alec Baldwin, Kirsten Stewart and Kate Bosworth. Rashti describes the experience as very humbling and also speaks fondly of the film’s directors, married couple Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, whose lives now tragically mirror that of Moore’s character in the film. In 2013, Glatzer was diagnosed with A.L.S., also known as Lou Gerig’s disease. Rashti says that on the set of the film, Glatzer could not talk so he had to use an Ipad to communicate with Westmoreland and the crew. “It was really interesting how they were making this movie about this woman and her family going through a horrible situation and how it paralleled to their own lives,” Rashti says.

In describing his job as a unit production assistant, Rashti recalls assisting in the locations of the shoot and labeling the load in and the load out for the set trucks and the crew. “You’re always the first one on set in the morning and afterwards you’re the last ones there waiting for everyone to clear out. You then begin to take out the signs and the trash, and there’s a lot of trash on set,” Rashti laughs, describing himself as a “set garbage man.” Rashti also recalls some miscellaneous things like shoveling sand from a boardwalk for about three hours in order to allow the wheels on the directors’ tracking camera to fit the boardwalk.

There was also a day when Rashti and other production assistants were used as extras playing students in a scene where Moore gives a lecture in a classroom. “It’s a small, independent production and on that day we did not have enough extras on set,” Rashti recalls. “Most of the P.A.’s have a little cameo in the film which is kinda cool,” he says with a smile.

Since his work on Still Alice, Rashti has moved on to do P.A. work on a much bigger production, a comedy called The Intern starring Anne Hathaway and Robert DeNiro, which is being released next year. Rashti says that working on the set of an indie film like Still Alice, as well as a bigger, studio film like The Intern were both great experiences but for different reasons. “Shooting a studio film is a lot more comfortable. There’s more at your disposal in terms of stuff like cash flow, food services and safety rides,” he says. “But I feel like with the indie films, the projects tend to be more of passion projects as opposed to the studio films.”

Categories: Awards · Films