Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

Reflections of late

Nothing will make me panic faster than thinking I’m going to be late to work. Not only do I hate being late in general, but being consistently tardy is something that will get one’s name dropped from the call list in fairly short order.

I wasn’t late this morning, but I was cutting it a bit close (generally, I try to get to the lot about 1/2 an hour early, so I can find parking, wander over to the stage and then have  breakfast and not have to rush. Getting to work later than 15 minutes before call time is cutting it too close for comfort), so when I pulled up to the guard gate, I was happy to see only one car in front of me.

A car which pulled up just short of the gate and then stopped while the driver made a phone call. Of course, he was close enough to the gate that I couldn’t drive around him.

Normally this wouldn’t have bothered me, but that cold clock-related fear gripped me after a couple of minutes of waiting on Mr. Phone Call I did something that I almost never do: I leaned on the horn.  Then, I stuck my head out of the window and yelled at him to either move forward or get out of the way so I could go through the gate and get to work.

He looked startled, and then gave me that weak sort of ‘I know this is my fault but go away’ wave and didn’t pull forward, so I leaned on the horn again. By then, I was really freaking out about sitting there just outside the guard gate while the clock ticked. Not only did I have to find parking, but I had to walk all the way across the lot to the stage.

It’s hard to explain just how frowned upon tardiness is in film crews, but it’s easy to explain why.  Mainly it’s because we have to a lot of work right at call – if we’re on location, we’re unloading our trucks right at our call time and showing up late means that we’re short a guy just as we get to push heavy carts up a hill or run additional cable or change all the tubes in the the Kinos.  On stage it’s not quite so frantic but we’re still usually busy clearing out whatever set they’re using to rehearse or setting up some light we’re going to use later so it’s unfair to the rest of the crew to be late, and that gets noticed.

Smelly? Toothless? Wearing an offensive T-shirt? Covered in boils? Had a stroke last week and can’t use one arm? Fine, fine.. we’ll work around it. But show up after call time without a damn good excuse and word gets around.

“Yeah, he’s an okay worker, but he was… late.”

Some crews are more tolerant than others, of course, but no one counts ‘tardy’ as a quality they’re willing to overlook.

For someone who gets work based on repeat calls and referrals, this is the stuff of nightmares.

After a few more excruciating minutes during which I contemplated using my car to push his to the gate, the guard came out and got my chatty friend to move. He pulled forward and got his pass, and then drove veeeerrrrrry slowly into the parking garage.

I tore like hell through the garage, found a parking space fairly quickly and then hightailed it across the lot as fast as I could, got to the stage with a few minutes to spare and then found out that the gaffer was late that day.

At least it wasn’t me.

Filed under: studio lots, Work, , , , , , , , , ,

8 Responses

  1. Michael Bell says:

    Back in 2002 I was hired to grip a commercial shoot for an indian casino. The casino was about 60 miles from where I live and just before shoot day my car broke down. I called the production coordinator and told her why I couldn’t make the shoot. She told me I could catch a ride with the van bringing the talent. My call time was 6am. Talent was 8am. She told me not to sweat it. She’d let the Director know I wouldn’t be there until 8am.

    Except she didn’t.

    When reported in I was told to hit the bricks as I was two hours late. I found the Prod Coordinator and she straightened everything out. Or so I thought.

    At the end of the day, after we’d staged everything for the next days shoot, the gaffer let me go so I could catch the van back down the hill.

    The director was shooting inserts of chips and cards. He looked up from the shot and told the gaffer, “F*** him. If he can’t show up on time, he can at wait until I’M done.”

    I was stuck there until the AC, who was heading back to LA for another project, drove me back to Bakersfield and dropped me off at a gas station about a mile from my house.

    Needless to say that production company never hired me again.

  2. Good grief. That sounds a bit stressful, but I suppose if you love your job all that “be on time!” anxiety is worth it. In my case, whenever I’m stressed because I’m late, the next thing I remember is that I’m late for a job that I can’t stand. At least I’m being laid off at year end. Heh!

  3. opus says:

    Punctuality is a major thing for me, work related or not.

    I can’t believe you’d be that stressed about being a couple minutes late just once. If you’re consistantly on time or early most people wouldn’t be freaked if you were a few minutes late.
    If it was a couple hours late that’d be a different story.

  4. David H. says:

    The fact is, all it takes is one time of being late. Particularly when you have a job on set, word gets around really quickly. It may just be your immediate boss that will let you off the hook, but when you walk in late, the whole production crew can see you (including directors, producers, etc) and they’ll fire you without thinking twice.

  5. It’s hard for anyone not in the Industry to understand just how important it is for us to be on set at call time — and for most of us, that means being on the truck or in the room fifteen minutes early. If you want time to eat, get there even earlier.

    This isn’t like “having a job” where you go to work at the same place/same time, monday through friday, fifty weeks a year. We’re all “daily hires” — and that means if we seriously fuck up, we won’t get called again by that crew for a long time, if ever. Depending on the job and the crew, being late without some Act of God excuse is considered a fuck-up. Anyone who makes a habit of fucking up will soon be relegated to the status of a Hall Call.

    For those of us who came to Hollywood from the outside, with no connections, getting started in this Industry required a maximum effort. We knew nothing, and thus had nothing to offer but a good attitude and extreme hustle. We had to prove ourselves, working very hard (sometimes for free) to work our way up and eventually earn a spot in the rotation. And the very first rule we learned was DO NOT BE LATE — call time is the Word of God. A newbie who shows up late is telling everyone else that he/she doesn’t really care.

    Even after thirty+ years, I still freak out when circumstance conspires to put me in danger of being late to work. If I step back and look at it, this seems more than a bit absurd — but that’s just the way it is. Unless you’re in the Industry, you have no way of understanding.

    Hey, at least the idiot you were honking at didn’t turn out to be your gaffer…

  6. Nathan says:

    I hate being late. And for me, being late means I didn’t beat the first truck to show up on location. If I’m not there before the trucks show, that’s the day they’ll all park where the shot is supposed to be. And it’s always a lot of fun telling a bunch of Teamsters they’ve got to move.

    On the plus side, if I’m late, nobody but my own crew, the teamsters and the caterer ever know about it.

  7. D says:

    I had a juicer friend for years on the east coast who made a habit of going out the night before on location (usually with me) He, however slept in a drunken slumber so sound he would miss his wake up alarm consistently. I spent many mornings frantically calling his room and trying to distract the gaffer (not easy for a dolly grip). He still works, just not on location.

  8. geekhiker says:

    I remember being late as one of the two crimes NEVER to commit on the camera crew. The other was simple: don’t lie. Shattered a $200 filter? Be honest with the DP about it. Of course, what he tells production might be a different thing altogether…

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