I’d been doing a day here and there on a low budget for a friend of mine, and was supposed to come in to wrap a location this afternoon, but around 6 am I got a text informing me that the entire lighting crew had been replaced.
Not that any of said lighting crew were shedding any tears over this, mind you. Most had better paying jobs lined up within minutes, and firing crews is something that happens all the time on the lower rungs of the pay scale.
It usually happens like this:
Low Budget Producer (LBP), after four or five go-rounds of producing micro-budget cluster fucks and then foisting them off on some of the less-fashionable film fests, decides it’s time to run with the big dogs (so to speak) and gets a gig as Line Producer or UPM on what (for him or her) is a HUGE show, but is, in reality, just over million dollars (which, in movie world, is equivalent to the change you find under the couch cushions).
Now, LBP is used to dealing with small amounts of equipment (most of LBP’s previous shows have had lighting packages that fit nicely into a minivan that’s seen better days) and 10 person crews (two electric, one grip, three camera, director, two production assistants, and him/herself), so he or she takes a look at this show’s numbers, becomes horrified at how much the dirty toolbelt people are costing the show, and freaks out.
LBP can’t understand why we keep asking for more people (“can’t they come down out of the condor and work the set? Why do we need a wrap crew? Can’t the set guys just do it after we’re done? What, now you want water, too? It’s only 110 degrees out.”) and more equipment (“just pull the cable off the last set. I know we’re going back there tomorrow, but you can put it back in just before we shoot, right?”) and at some point decides that it’s a vast conspiracy (possibly right-wing, LBP’s not sure) to drive him or her crazy and run the production into the ground just for shits and giggles.
At this point, LBP starts making completely unreasonable demands – usually cutting crew and equipment orders to the bone while expecting things to get done more faster and more better with fewer people and less equipment – and when warned by the best boys of what’s going to happen (“We can try to rig three sets in four hours with two people who are ‘breaking away’ from the shooting crew when they have the time in between lighting set-ups, but we probably won’t be ready and you’ll all have to sit and wait while we scramble around trying to catch up”) if they stick to the plan, freak out again and decide to deal with the vast conspiracy (right wing, LBP’s now dead certain) by firing the crew and bringing in people who are more co-operative (read: less experienced).
Let me just take a moment to address any of you producer hopefuls that might still be reading:
Your crew is not trying to screw you over.
We are trying to do things in the most efficient way we know (based on experience. We’ve done this a lot), and sometimes that involves a scary amount of oddly-named stuff upfront (yes, they really are called ‘snakebites’ and we really do need a dozen of them). If an equipment list we’ve turned in really starts to make you dyspeptic, you can always come to us and ask us to try to get the numbers down for you and we’ll do the best we can.
We don’t want you to go over budget, really. We want you to help you impress your evil Porsche-driving overlords so you’ll get better-paying gigs and hire us to come work on them, but you have to trust us.
And I don’t mean that in the “fuck you” sense of the saying. I really mean it. Demanding that we defy the laws of physics and then throwing a temper tantrum when we can’t do it may be entertaining, but it’s ultimately unproductive.
DISCLAIMER: Just because someone is a producer on a low budget show does not mean they’re incompetent – I’ve worked with several who can shave the skin off a nickel and not kill the crew while doing it. These are the folks who trust their crew and let us do our job.