Joseph F. Berenato
Are you there, Hollywood? It’s me, Hammonton
Left: T.J. Bryson and Mila Kunis on the set of Bad Moms. Right: Amber Mathes on the set of CBS’s “FBI.”
Recently, two Hammonton High School graduates—T.J. Bryson and Amber Mathes—found themselves working together in an uncommon situation: the filming of a major motion picture in Charlotte, N.C.
Both got their start in the industry via the TV/media classes at Hammonton High School under the instruction of Damiso Josey, who is now the assistant principal at Warren E. Sooy Elementary School.
“I started taking the classes, and my sophomore year, and I had Mr. Josey, who ended up being my soccer coach as well. I was in the morning announcements class, so there were times where I was seeing Mr. Josey three different times a day. We talked a lot, and he guided me towards it. I loved it, took it for three years and went to school for it in college,” Bryson told The Gazette.
Mathes echoed Bryson’s sentiments.
“I did the TV/media homeroom for three out of the four years I was there. Every morning, I would go there and do the announcements, but the way they had it set up in that room was so cool, where it would be broadcast, and you would learn about the cameras, and there would be a green screen for the weather person. You learned a lot, just doing the homeroom. Then I took both years of TV/Media, so I learned how to use Final Cut Pro, and the rule of thirds—a lot of stuff you don’t normally learn until college, unless you’re doing outside research on your own. I learned a lot through Mr. Josey and Mr. [Gary] Joseph while I was there,” Mathes said.
After graduating in 2008, Bryson attended Drexel University, pursuing a bachelor’s of science in film and video.
“While I was in school, I worked on some films that just happened to be going through Philly. I had some friends who graduated ahead of me who got me on and that led me to meeting a bunch of people—and led me out to L.A. for a bit. I did a couple of movies there—Horrible Bosses 2, Fast and Furious 7—and from there I headed down to New Orleans, where I spend three years or so and worked on a bunch of projects down there,” Bryson said.
Bryson worked on other films, like the upcoming Army of the Dead and The Harder They Fall, before getting a call to go to Charlotte to work on Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, an adaptation of the 1970 book by Judy Blume. Production on the film, which stars Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates and Abby Ryder Fortson as the titular Margaret, began in April.
“On this one—it changes from show to show, because we’re all freelance—but I’m the assistant production coordinator. I work in the production office. We’re kind of like the liaison between the shooting crew and the studio. We contact a lot of the reps from Lionsgate and also get the shooting crew everything that they need,” Bryson said.
Mathes, a 2011 graduate of Hammonton High School, attended Rowan University where she majored in radio/TV/film and journalism.
“Through Rowan, I had a couple of friends who had some loose connections to working in the industry. Thankfully, through them, I started PAing; that’s when you’re somebody’s personal assistant. I was an actor’s assistant for a couple of years on set. It’s called production assistant, but there’s like eight different names for it. That’s when you’re pretty much working on set, and you’re doing whatever anybody needs you to do—whether it’s getting coffee, whether it’s locking up, people on the corner—you do whatever you’re told and you do your best at it,” Mathes said.
Soon, Mathes met people who worked in the camera department.
“I mentioned to them that I would like to work in camera, and they took me in. I started as a camera PA, which, essentially, you’re still getting coffees and stuff, but for the camera department. After you do that, those people helped me get walked into the union, the International Cinematographers Guild, Local 600. The last four or five years I’ve been very lucky; I’ve been very busy, staying in the camera department and working on set,” Mathes said.
Mathes said that her work has been based in or around New York City until now.
“I have only really done jobs in New York City or based around there for my whole career. I just recently got offered to go do a job in North Carolina, and it’s the first time a production has offered to pay and put me up, so I thought it sounded great,” Mathes said.
Mathes said that a phone call to the assistant production coordinator on the first day led to quite a surprise.
“On my first day on set, getting settled in—a lot of times you have to make phone calls and order some equipment—I went to call T.J. Bryson, and I saw that his number was a 609 number. I thought, South Jersey is kind of big, so he’s probably from Toms River or somewhere else,” Mathes said.
Bryson said that when he saw a number from the Atlantic City area, he “thought for sure it was spam.”
“But I picked it up, and she said, ‘I’m Amber, I’m the new loader.’ I asked why she had a 609 number. She said that she’s from the area. I said, ‘So am I, where are you from?’” Bryson said.
“We both said ‘Hammonton’ over top of each other, and I was like, excuse me? Then we said our graduating years, and we realized that we overlapped for a year. He was a little bit older than me, but I was so surprised,” Mathes said.
Bryson said that, though he didn’t know her personally while at Hammonton High School, after they talked he “definitely remembered her.”
“It’s a crazy coincidence,” Bryson said.
Mathes said that the fact that it happened on a job in North Carolina—and neither of them live in North Carolina—is “so crazy and small world-y.”
“As soon as me and T.J. found out we went to high school together, it was just wonderful to have that small-world feeling, even when you’re working all over the place ... Usually I have to explain to people, ‘No, it’s Hammonton, not Hamilton.’ It was nice, because this industry is small, so to meet somebody who went to Hammonton High School with me and that also took the same classes as me, it was really nice,” Mathes said.
Both Bryson said that working in the motion picture industry is rewarding and challenging.
“What I realize is that, the better the project, the harder it is, workwise. It’s no correlation to anything, but sometimes people are just more demanding. One of the toughest projects I worked on was Logan. It was an incredibly demanding experience, and the final product is one of my favorite movies that I’ve worked on. It’s definitely something I’m really proud to have been a part of,” Bryson said.
Mathes said that learning new techniques and being exposed to new technologies is one of the many bonuses of her work.
“The Irishman was my second job as a camera PA. I wasn’t in the union yet, but they took me on as a camera PA, which was really cool, because those cameras were state-of-the-art. They invented a new way of filming, where they had three cameras set up, and the two on the sides were infrared, which helped age everybody backwards. It was really cool,” Mathes said.
Bryson said that there are also unexpected perks that come with the job.
“I was working on Bad Moms as a producer’s assistant. We were hanging out, and the writers kept coming up with more jokes so they needed more extras for one scene. They picked me and put me into it—it was with Mila Kunis; I was standing right next to her in the scene—and the back of my head is actually in the movie, which I thought was kind of cool,” Bryson said.
However, what makes a lasting impression for him—and one of the best parts of the job—is the permanence that comes with working on a motion picture.
“We had always talked [in Mr. Josey’s class] about what our life goals were. One of them was to see my name at the end of a major motion picture in the credits. I’ll never forget going to the movies with my family the first time, and seeing the credits with my name up there. It was a really cool moment. They can’t really take that away from you. That movie’s going to be there in 100 years, and you can look at the credits and your name will still be there. That’s a really cool aspect of it,” Bryson said.
“One of the first movies I worked on was The Week Of. I was a camera PA, and it was an Adam Sandler movie. It was a Netflix comedy, and somebody I haven’t talked to in a while sent me a picture of my name in the credits, and I thought it was so cool that he watched through all the credits and saw my name; most people just turn off the movie when it ends ... I think it’s something my parents really look forward to, watching the credits for my name. I don’t write the movies, so most of the time my family just likes to watch the movie to see my name at the end, which is always rewarding to me,” Mathes said.
Mathes said that the things she learned both at Hammonton High School and in Hammonton in general have stayed with her.
“I don’t live in Hammonton full-time anymore, but it’s still nice to have that small-town identity, you can still run into other people who know the same things you know, like the same things, know about the 16th of July; I really think Hammonton helped form my identity a little bit growing up, and I still have the small-town mentality even as I live in New York, where I like to know my neighbors and I like to garden. It helped mold my personality,” Mathes said.
Bryson agreed with Mathes.
“I’m thankful for the experience at Hammonton, and getting to experience the love of film that pushed me forward to the career, which I think is a cool aspect—and getting to work with Amber, someone I went to the same high school with, in this industry, is a really cool feeling. It’s a super-fun career path. I definitely get to meet a lot of people, and I’m learning so much—and I’m living my dream. Not many people get to say that. I genuinely like what I do—and it’s fun, because you can share what you do with other people,” Bryson said.