Stars Behind the Stars: Lila Mullins
BY Robbie Armstrong, January 14, 2021
Stars Behind The Stars is a bi-weekly series featuring theatre makers behind the scenes.
This week, we sat down with Stage Management student Lila Mullins. Mullins an Aries and a Stage Manager from San Francisco who has worked on the national tour of Hamilton, the national tour of Aladdin, and most recently the upcoming film Tick, Tick, Boom.
Tell me about your first time in Theatre.
Lila Mullins: I grew up in Theatre because my mom was a performer and my dad was a carpenter. I did it so much that I didn’t want to do it anymore. I was a ballerina at a young age and toured with a production of The Nutcracker in the holidays. I went to study medicine and I didn’t like the bureaucracy of it so I was disillusioned with that. Then I took a trip to New York with my mom and saw some shows which made me want to get back into theatre. My first introduction to Stage Management was with the African American Shakespeare company in San Francisco. I was pretty green at the time but the company took a chance on me and I had the time of my life doing it.
How does being an Aries appear in your work?
LM: I’m an Aries sun, Taurus rising, Taurus moon. It seems like I should be a stubborn sign but I’m not like that. An Aries trait is wanting to do the best that I can all the time. I sometimes get hard on myself when I don’t do the best. I got in trouble on a show once because every time I got an email while working on a show at school, I always wanted to solve it immediately. An Aries trait is to be very gung-ho and wanting to solve problems instantly. I’m also very politically minded. I always want to fix everything and maybe that’s a Stage Manager trait, but it feels like an Aries trait, too.
I’d love to hear about Tick, Tick, Boom.
LM: I was brought in after the movie started filming. I learned about it from a Facebook friend. In her bio, I found out that she was a Production Assistant for the Tony’s and I was trying to get into that. I offhandedly said to her that I’m available and then she reached out saying that she was working on a movie musical. She connected me to the Key Production Assistant and then I got the job as a Production Assistant on the film. I was just in the right place at the right time. And I must have signed close to 110 pieces of paperwork for this movie, contracts from Netflix, COVID-19 documents, etc.
Could you tell me more about your job, even if it’s not glamorous?
LM: It’s absolutely not glamorous. I was one of the last people brought on. I got tested for COVID-19 every week. There were different colored zones for different areas of production. In the red zone, for filming, full PPE was required: gown, mask, gloves, face shield. I was often responsible for maintaining perimeters, calling out updates from the film set and production team. I was often letting people know about sound levels. One time the city of New York had jackhammers going right outside the film location so we had to film around that. The days were anywhere between 11 and 18 hours on set.
One particular day we were setting up a designer facade that was going to be a magical transition. I kept watching the crew raise and lower this facade for hours and this was movie magic. I was fascinated with the crew and how precise they were with getting these shots. It was a lot like being in tech for theatre, except doing that every day.
What was a normal day on set?
LM: We’d start pretty early. I was often in charge of “holding,” which was maintaining a perimeter or monitoring entry from one room or another. They tried to plow through the film to save some money and finish early. The days were really long but I got some Thesis work done during it. I worked a lot with the video effects crew. Whenever we were filming on the street I was keeping the crowds back. I also took care of the background extras. Seeing how the company kept each group of people safe and separate was extraordinary. These film sets used to have gigantic buffets where people could take whatever they wanted and there was so much freedom. Now all the food is prepackaged and everything is completely autonomous so no one touches each other’s food or drink. One really nice thing was that Netflix paid for all of our cabs because they didn’t want us taking trains. It was really great because it would have cost me $2,200 in total for cabs.
What’s a lesson you’ve learned from your time at Columbia so far?
LM: The first thing that came to mind, which is a recurring thing, is “Read the Room.” Learning how everyone operates is a huge part of working on a team and for me that means understanding what I need to do to be successful. I read a book called Never Split The Difference which was recommended by Professor Fred Hanson and that book has really helped me solidify my communication style particularly when finding work. One thing I learned in my undergrad at UC Berkeley, is that you don’t get a do-over with your reputation.
What’s your favorite play/musical?
LM: Different day, different plays...it’s easier for me to point out shows that I don’t like because I love most of the shows I’ve seen. I love Beetlejuice because it’s difficult to turn a movie into a good show and this was a modern interpretation while it kept its original essence. That show got jipped by The Music Man.
What’s next for you?
LM: I got another job from this. It’s a new comedy series called Only Murder in the Building with Hulu. Steve Martin is in it. It’s going to be filming for four or five months. We’ll see what happens with projects through Columbia. I am set to work on a musical by Julian Mesri called Telo but that show is very intimate so it’s not going to work with the current safety requirements. We might do some sort of staged reading but we’re still figuring it out.