Satisfying a hunger for a career change

March 01, 2001

Satisfying a hunger for a career change


Susan Maye knew she wanted to study art after she graduated from North Hagerstown High School in 1975.

She didn't know that would lead to working on major motion pictures.

Maye, 43, of Richmond, Va., recently completed work on "Hearts in Atlantis," a film starring Anthony Hopkins, expected to be released this year. Before that she worked on another Hopkins film - "Hannibal," the sequel to "Silence of the Lambs," Hopkins' 1991 Academy-Award winning thriller. "Hannibal" is in theaters now. Both were filmed on location in Richmond.

Maye ran the art office, coordinating projects between the art director and production designer, tracking budgets, doing research - a lot of research.

Maye looked into wheelchair options for Mason Verger, the character played by Gary Oldman in "Hannibal."

She researched medical saws that might be in a morgue for Hopkins' character, Hannibal Lecter, to steal. She finds some of the information online and gets clearance - "a lot of clearance" - from lawyers for everything used in the movie. Maye called Medical College of Virginia to get body parts for the film's morgue.


"What kinds of body parts do you want?" she was asked. Maye also had the honor of ordering cow brains for a scene in the movie.

"It's really hard work. It can be really crazy," Maye says.

Seventy-two-hour work weeks are not uncommon.

"People have the misconception that you just hang around," Maye says.

The motion picture business is not easy to get into. Maye landed her first movie job in Nashville, Tenn., where her husband, Gordon McVay, was working on "The Green Mile." A set dresser, McVay places every object in a scene - furniture, photographs - and makes sure it's the same when a subsequent scene is shot. There was an opening on the crew when someone quit. Maye slipped into the job.

Before going to the movies, McVay and Maye taught at Virginia Commonwealth University. Maye earned her bachelor of fine arts degree there in 1979 and received her master's of fine arts from University of Texas in 1984. She hasn't had much time for her own artwork in the past few years. Her background is in sculpture, and she describes her work as "figurative with a fantastic twist."

Despite their demanding schedules, Maye and McVay enjoy the film business.

"It's a way for us to work together and see the country," Maye says.

Although she wasn't expecting to, she met Hopkins one day on the set. She describes him as "very nice, very polite, very English."

She also was on the set the day wild boars were being trained, and watched them attacking a dummy.

Does working on a movie - knowing what goes on behind the scenes - change the viewing experience? "Hannibal" was less scary, Maye says.

Crew members often are called on to be extras in a film, and when a group from "Hannibal" went to see the movie, there was a lot of poking and pointing, Maye says.

"Hannibal" was the first production for which Maye received a credit - art department coordinator.

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