Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

Quick, Look Busy!

At some point between wrap on Tuesday and call time on Wednesday, our boss got spoken to by lot management about us not looking busy enough.

It’s important to make it clear that the problem was not our not working fast enough or doing good work (what we’ve done so far looks great, and we got a compliment from the CEO himself on how nice everything looked), but that we weren’t giving the appearance of being productive worker bees as the important people sped past us in their cars on the way through the security gate.

We’ve actually been working pretty quickly, but every so often we have to stop for a few moments to a) stand up straight b) think for a moment c) untangle lights or d) have a sip of water.

Apparently all these things are completely unacceptable, and we must be moving at all times or memos are sent and threatening phone calls are made.

I should probably note that moving around more than absolutely necessary is something that all of us, after years of having to conserve one’s energy throughout long days, have learned not to do. Repeatedly picking things up and putting them down in order to justify the crew size to the bean counters just means I’m going to run out to gas right when it’s time to load the truck at the end of the night.

All these memos and calls (this is just the latest volley in the ‘crack the whip on the dirty laborers’ round of memos*) have been hard on my boss, who is a terrific guy and doesn’t deserve to have this kind of shit heaped on his head when he is, in fact, doing a pretty bang-up job.

After I protested that for once in my life I was actually working and not just running out the clock, my boss sighed and said “Look, just make them think they’re getting their money’s worth – make sure they see some kind of activity as they pass by. If they see you just standing there they think you’re goofing off.”

“Don’t they see the lights? Isn’t it obvious that we’re making progress?”

My boss, who is very diplomatic, just said “Well, you know how these people are”.

Good point.

Unfortunately, I do know how these people are. It’s just that usually, they have no idea what exactly it is that I do (they just have some vague idea that my carrying weird looking equipment into and out of the set prevents them from standing in the doorways), so they can’t normally tell if I’m really working or just filling my down time by fucking off while I get off my feet (“I’m very, very busy here. If I don’t get these widgets organized by size and color, we won’t be ready to light the next set”).

This time, it’s different. Everyone knows how to do holiday lights, right? We’ll never get away with blatantly staged busyness when people actually know what we’re doing, will we?

Apparently, we will.

Whenever an overpriced luxury sedan would pull out of the executive parking lot, one of us would yell “Incoming!” and we’d all start trying to look busy – fiddling with lights, moving things from one pile to another, crouching down and standing up again. At one point, my partner just started waving his arms around as the cars drove by.

“C’mon, man.. No one’s going to fall for that. You look like a crazy person.”

“Oh, please. They can’t tell what I’m doing. They just see movement. You know how these people are.”

I guess it worked, since my boss didn’t get any angry phone calls last night.

*What the fuck is it with the memos? I’m not used to this – I’m used to insane people screaming and throwing things, which is easier to cope with than a seemingly endless round of passive-aggressive memos. In times like this, I remember exactly why I decided to bypass corporate America.

Filed under: Work

11 Responses

  1. Mike80 says:

    “Corporate America” and “Movie Execs in Suits” are really two separate species, Peggy. “MEiS” (or as I like to call them, “L.O.M.B.A.R.D.’s” – acronym for “lots of money but a real dickhead)are characterized by their arrogance, incompetence, and need to constantly throw their weight around to justify their insecurity. A lot of people in “Corporate America” actually work for a living. I’ve made it a point to have a lot of non-movie biz friends over the years to keep my sanity, as well as give me a reality check, and most of them are pretty regular folk. Now the Lombards, well it’s like the old lawyer joke. What do you call all the Lombards at *nameless studio* locked up in a shipping container at the bottom of the ocean? A good start.

  2. John Doom says:

    So what you’re saying is that when these asshats sit down at their desk and some exec walks by, they try to look busy by writing a memo about how you guys don’t look busy?


  3. Meg says:

    As the shit rolls downhill, possibly someone had questioned the expense of holiday lighting, and someone else said yes! that’s where all the money is going to. And a memo was written.

  4. Molly Mayhem says:

    I’m used to insane people screaming and throwing things, which is easier to cope with than a seemingly endless round of passive-aggressive memos.


  5. Anonymous says:

    If you’ve worked in food you may have heard someone tell you “if you can lean you can clean” to make sure that you are always running around doing something no matter how slow it is. Of course, you can’t properly clean and still have the establishment (in my case a Starbucks wannabe) still be prepared to serve anyone who comes in. Barbara Ehrenriech talks about the phenomenon in one of her books and about how the slow times end up being more mentally and physically exhausting than the busy periods.

  6. Dan says:

    Memos are what happens when you combine the Santa Ana’s and idiots with the illusion of power. As Michael Criton calls them: “Fabulously Stupid”.

  7. AdicaRoy says:

    Have no fear – I’m on the production end of the business, and about once every two weeks we have a meeting about how upper management walked past our cubicle area one day and thought we weren’t typing or dialing fast enough. It happens on all ends of the industry.

  8. Anonymous says:

    So much for being in a union. I had an experience just this week. Rigging an insane set. 44’s 728’s and Laborers( sorry I forget their local 700 something)
    tripping over each other all day long. 3 days later some suite walks in and says ” wow magnificiant job, you guys really came through ( he couldn’t leave it there) although
    it took you longer than we wanted.” It took every thread of my being not to say “shove your back handed compliment up your ass” sorry I do go on.

  9. Jules says:

    Love your blog. I don’t comment much but I’ve been reading it a while.

  10. JCW says:

    I once asked Anthony Minghella what made Saul Zaentz such a great producer, and he told me “He doesn’t try to direct”.

    If only everyone in the business would stick to their OWN business,
    things would run a lot smoother.

    Next time an asshole in a big car drives by I suggest your crew rush into place to perform an impromptu nativity scene for them.

    How’s that for holiday spirit?

  11. Anonymous says:

    Why are people such effing a-holes? I’m a producer/director, but I’ve done just about every other job out there. I had a meeting today with a rather progressive production company (all self-financed – thank goodness for billionaires who “get it”) that made it clear that they have no desire to work with the Michael Bays of the world – – and all of their executive counterparts – – no matter how much money they might bring in. They want to spend time with good people who do good work, but understand that we’re all human beings too. My, what a novel idea. If they need christmas lights hung, I’ll send them your way Peggy :)

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