Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

Ready, aim, fired!

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.

Filed under: mishaps, movies, rants, Work, , , , , , ,

11 Responses

  1. churk says:

    I hear ya. I was working transpo on one of these shows last week before they let us all go because we were being “unreasonable” about the way they were cutting us to the bone. Wanted to pay the truck & trailer deposit and rental with two post-dated checks, wanted us to drop the trailers in the morning and come back at wrap and only pay us half a day because “you’re not going to be here the whole time,” wanted only one truck and driver to tow two trailers, etc… Amateur hour.

  2. wasagrip says:

    Wait a minute. There are producers who don’t know everything? Hmmm.

  3. pissedgrip says:

    I was working on a non-union show a few years ago. UPM started giving me grief about wanting extra guys. He asked me “Can’t you get some help from any other department?” I said “Will DO !” I handed him my gloves and told him to punch in. After 1/2 an hour of lugging sand bags and mombos to the roof @ Lacy Street Studios. He turned to me and said “How many more guys do you need”. I worked several more projects with him at his request. He never questioning my requests. He has left the business and we are still friends today.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I hate walking in the day after a crew was fired off one of those things. They (UPM) are usually pretty vague when they hire you for a feature starting “the next day”. Its always a huge mess and they expect to continue shooting as normal. Also, they’ve unknowingly released both crews from any sort of responsibility for lost and damaged equipment. (Hey, we don’t know what happened before we got here… and: Well I dont know where that other crew did with it after we left.) We’d be glad to do a full inventory the day of hire… but we know you’re not gonna give us the manpower…

  5. I hear you, Peg — sometimes it really is a relief to get fired. I’ve been there, as have we all. As long as there are better jobs to go to, it works out in the end. The LBP learns that a more compliant (less experienced) crew will end up costing him more money and headaches in the end, while that new crew learns a bit more about industry reality — and thus becomes less compliant — while you move on to a real job.

    But if those better jobs aren’t out there, we’re all fucked. Today’s LA Times (Business Section) reports that “Ugly Betty” — currently occupying a lot of real estate at Raliegh Hollywood — will pack up and head to NY next season. Why? NY is now offering extremely generous tax rebates/subsidies to productions that move east. That’s how ABC/Disney rolls, of course — to hell with the crews who helped make that show a hit. Fuck the people as long as you can save a buck or two for the corporation.

    There goes a hundred + good jobs…

    First it was Canada, and now it’s the rest of the U.S. doing their best to drain the economic aquifer that supports Hollywood. If this goes on, we’ll all end up working –and hating it — for the kind of idiots who just fired you.

    Peggy sez: I know, the state subsidies suck. I’d rather see these states give tax subsidies to bring ‘real’ jobs – long term manufacturing, for example, instead of having taxpayers foot the bill for film jobs that aren’t long term. What might help would be someone good with numbers sitting down and spelling out to these states that are jumping on the subsidy wagon. I also wish Disney weren’t such evil greedy fuckers but that’s not going to change, either:(

  6. […] And for those of you interested in le industrie de film, Peggy Archer talks about the realities of working–and not working. […]

  7. Norman says:

    You know what they say — there’s never money to do it right in the first place, only money to fix it later.

    Also, to quasi-quote Ken Rutkowski, “Doing something cheap is very expensive.”

  8. geekhiker says:

    “expecting things to get done more faster and more better with fewer people and less equipment” – that’s the story, it seems, of my entire working history, no matter what the job…

  9. RJ says:

    I’ve been fired a few times and in every case it really was a relief. On one particular feature we had the feeling it was coming on day 2. Of course it took a week and half to actually happen (I could probably write two or three blogs just with stories of pain and suffering from that one show alone). Then when it did, the Line Producer came around and told everyone we were fired right before lunch – apparently at the behest of the director and Exec. Producer – then had a mad scramble to convince everyone to actually go back and finish the rest of the day. It would have been hilarious if it weren’t so pathetic.

  10. kato says:

    but wait a second… Didn’t your gaffer tell the UPM what the deal was on the tech scout? Did your gaffer fight for what was necessary or did he just throw his hands up and agree to give it the ol’ college try?

    I’m all for blaming idiot low-budget producers, but usually smarter department heads will explain what they can and can’t do without resources.

    Peggy sez: the Gaffer’s fighting for enough equipment and manpower was part of the reason the crew were dismissed. He was seen as being uncooperative.

  11. JCW says:

    1) Perhaps one of the best posts of the past twelve months.

    2) Kudos to Michael Taylor for making his point. Not only is the state letting down the film making community (Under the watchful eye of a former actor no less), individual cities in CA are dropping the ball. The San Francisco board of supervisors just voted no on a bill to increase tax rebates/subsidies, leaving those of us located in NoCal royally fucked.

    Luckily, my being non union yet leaves me open to work on “World’s Most Astonishing News” for Japanese TV….

    At least I hear they’re nice folks to work with, even if lunch does come from Dominoes….

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