That venerable Beach Boys pop tune that begins, “catch a wave and you’re sitting on top of the world” may well be Carla Bowen’s professional (and personal) anthem. What other AD has been asked to work a scene atop a surfboard off Hawaii’s legendary Waikiki beach?
As 2nd AD on Hawaii Five-0, she recalls shooting a funeral scene where some 40 surfers formed a circle in the open ocean to disperse the ashes. “I was paddling for six hours straight on my board, with my 1st ADs yelling at me [from a nearby boat] to move people around. I’m in every shot shivering because there’s nowhere to hide—the water in Hawaii is warm but not when you’re out that long.”
Another episode found Bowen six miles out to sea trailing a freighter in a small Zodiac during a rising swell. “No one on the ship could believe I didn’t get seasick,” she says with a smile. “But when you spend your life in the ocean that stuff doesn’t bother you.”
For Bowen, more concerning than 12-foot waves is proper staffing for ever more ambitious television shows. She is a strong advocate of the need to have a full complement of assistant directors on-board for every episode.
“Five-0 is a prime example of how much television has changed,” says Bowen. “We always have multiple units shooting at the same time—principle photography, second units, scouts, inserts—trying to pack the same quality of work into an eight-day schedule, which you can’t do without a very experienced production team.”
Five-0 is not Bowen’s first Hawaiian paddle-out. In fact, she calls her two seasons on Lost her most challenging. “The locations were so remote that the walkie-talkies often wouldn’t reach base camp,” she adds. “I’d usually have to drive miles just to find a cellular connection to update the production office with the next day’s schedule.”
Bowen says “community” is the biggest plus to shooting in the islands. “We do a lot of stunts and car chases [on Five-0], and we’ll lock up a freeway for 10 minutes and no one’s honking their horns.”
Although her heart may be in Hawaii, Bowen says the Austin-based Friday Night Lights, hundreds of miles from the nearest surf break, was her all-time favorite production experience.
“It was shot documentary style—handheld without rehearsals or stand-ins. On game days we’d have six cameras and lots of super-energetic locals for background, who were easy to motivate. Most days in television are 10-12 hours, but we’d wrap in six to eight hours, so it was a sprint just to finish the schedule.”
The first of Bowen’s many industry mentors, AD Albert Cho (others include director Bryan Spicer and AD Michael Waxman), actually discouraged her from becoming an AD. “I obviously didn’t listen,” she laughs. “I set a goal to become a DGA member in three years after I worked with Albert [as production secretary] on Mobsters, and made it.”