TV comes to town

Posted by Alicia Smith on 1/31/2019 2:10:00 PM

Lights! Camera! Action: HBO films at AHHSRobert Pollok

During a recent district holiday in January, while many students and staff may have slept in, Robert Pollok, Elmsford School’s Director of Health, Physical Education and Athletics, was up early and at work by 6 a.m. at Alexander Hamilton High School.

There were, however, several people at AHHS but they were not students or teachers. Rather, they were directors, producers, make-up artists, costume designers, camera operators and sound engineers. A whole host of people who make television magic had descended on the school.

The entourage was there to film a scene for the HBO series Divorce. The series, starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Thomas Haden Church, takes a comedic view of a couple’s long, drawn-out divorce.

HBO has done some filming throughout Westchester County, especially in Tarrytown, and reached out to the Elmsford Union Free School District in March 2017 about filming in the high school gymnasium. They also asked if there was a staff member who could assist with some of the work.

“There was an initial surprise with HBO selecting our school as a location for a new series,” Superintendent Dr. Marc Baiocco, who was serving as AHHS principal at the time, said. “But after further thought, I know that the unique character and warm feeling of our school made the building appealing to the network.”

Dr. Baiocco said representatives from HBO met with school officials and community members to discuss the show, its filming process and to answer any questions.

“During season 1, I was present for much of the filming,” Dr. Baiocco said. “The process was intriguing and the amount of staff required for film production was overwhelming. The HBO staff was incredibly welcoming and very respectful of our school.”

Mr. Pollok was selected to work with the crew as a technical director. He was on set to assist with props and give the director feedback on any scenes depicting a basketball game to ensure they were realistic and authentic.

“These workers are brilliant with lighting, sound, screenplay, production design,” he said. “However, they might lack specific knowledge necessary for a certain scene, in this case basketball. They ask for my input on anything that might make the viewer say ‘that's unrealistic’ or ‘that would never happen in real life!’”

The experience was his first glimpse behind the scenes of a television production and it has been interesting to learn how things work.

January 21 was his second time working on the set, although, Mr. Pollok said he has worked with HBO on a variety of tasks relating to filming at AHHS, including scheduling, providing tours, coordinating details and filing facility requests. He has learned quite a bit about the industry, including how it can take all day to film one scene, resulting in just minutes of material being used for the show.

Mr. Pollok said filming day can be “overwhelming.”

“As an outsider looking in, it seems very chaotic, but all these workers play necessary and crucial roles to make sure they have what they need to begin their next phase of post-production —visual editing, sound editing, special effects,” he said. “It's crazy to think that an all-day production results in a five-minute scene.”

Mr. Pollok said he prefers to leave the “stars” of the show to themselves so they can focus on their job.

He did notice Parker during the lunch break and thought of letting her know how much he enjoyed her work in the 1992 romantic comedy Honeymoon in Vegas, but in the end opted to not speak to the actress.

“I'm there to work and so are the stars,” Mr. Pollok said. “As with any job, I prefer to keep the most professional work environment possible.”

However, he had an opportunity to work with actress Sterling Jerins, who plays Lila, the daughter of the divorcing couple played by Parker and Haden Church. The actress was in a basketball scene Mr. Pollok assisted with.

“She is very nice and takes direction well — making my job a breeze,” Mr. Pollok said.

His work on the show is different from his work in the school district. Mr. Pollok has served as a physical education teacher in Elmsford for 12 years and as the district’s director of health, physical education and athletics for 10 years.

With his “day job,” Mr. Pollok is responsible for a broad range of things relating to the athletic and physical education department.

During his free time, he has taken in a few episodes of the HBO show and has recognized some of the scenery in and around Westchester County.

The fictitious family depicted in the show live in Hastings, however, much of the show is filmed in and around Tarrytown.

“This is probably my favorite part about watching this series,” Mr. Pollok said. “I got a text message a couple of years ago from a colleague, a fellow Westchester athletic director, and he asked if the gym looked familiar.”

The message inspired him and his fiancée to watch the series, which has completed two seasons and has been renewed for a third. Mr. Pollok is now all up to date with the show and looks forward to the next season.

The superintendent agreed, he enjoyed seeing familiar places too.

“I watched a few episodes and felt an immediate sense of pride when I recognized our school on television,” Dr. Baiocco said.

Mr. Pollok has been asked to come back and work on more scenes in the future and he readily agreed.