Before he landed a gig as a Marine Technician on The Finest Hours, Disney’s forthcoming drama based on the true story of a 1952 Coast Guard rescue mission, Michael Hoban didn’t even know movies had marine departments.
“The marine department is very niche,” says Michael. “It’s not on every film. Marine techs maintain, repair and drive the boats, they escort actors to their scenes that take place on a boat, and they work with the art department to make sure that boats are up to snuff with whatever period the film is set in. Basically, if there’s a boat in a movie, there’s a marine department.”
The 2013 Film grad was living in Massachusetts and working as a freelance camera operator when he got the job on The Finest Hours. He was at his wit’s end, he remembers, stressing out about paying bills, when friend and fellow Full Sail grad Brittany Dewees (Entertainment Business master’s, 2013) – who was working as an office coordinator on the film – recommended Michael after the head of the Marine Department said he needed more help.
“I grew up in a small fishing town, in Scituate, Massachusetts,” says Michael, “and even though I didn’t do a lot of fishing or boating as a kid, everyone who grew up there knew about boats. I got extremely lucky, and if it weren’t for [Brittany] I wouldn’t have gotten the job. Now it’s up to me to set up a career for myself.”
His first two days on set were grueling: 12-hour shifts of manual labor, doing nothing but sweeping floors. “Some people would have quit,” he says, “but I am glad I didn’t.”
Michael ended up working on The Finest Hours for six months, and his responsibilities quickly increased from sweep duty to fixing and cleaning boats, making sure each one worked every morning before filming, and driving the small zodiac boat that transported actors and crew members between the picture boat and the dock, all of which was housed in a giant tank in the middle of a warehouse. He helped out with the special effects team, and even became a member of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), after the stunts department needed somebody who knew how to drive a boat to appear on screen during a scene.
While most of the film was shot in the tank, the crew went down to Cape Cod for two weeks to shoot in the Atlantic Ocean. “It was an overnight shoot, in December, so it was freezing,” says Michael. “We had a lot more boats and a lot more people to deal with, and everything wasn’t as controlled as it was in the studio, but it was really fun. One of my favorite things is working with other departments on set and having fun while we’re doing it.”
Michael’s patience, hard work (and “being really, really lucky,” he adds) is paying off. Now living in New Orleans, Michael will next work as a Marine Technician on Lions Gate’s Deepwater Horizon, which is in pre-production now. While he’s interested in working in the camera department in the future (which was what he enjoyed doing most while at Full Sail), he’s happy with the path his career has taken so far.
“It’s very rare, but sometimes you have a moment on set to stop and look around and just be like, ‘This could be history.’ You never know how well a film’s going to do,” says Michael. “And even on the bad days, when I’m miserable and I’ve been doing physical labor for 12 hours and my feet hurt and I don’t know when I’m going home, I think, ‘Man, I’m on a film set.’ This is what I want to do.”