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Voice Of The Crew - Since 2002

Los Angeles, California

HomeColumnsI Walk the Line

I Walk the Line

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Aretha pretty much spelled it out. Her blues were based on not getting even a little of it. You know that old adage about a little going a long way pretty much rings true, especially when, 1) you’re working hard and, 2) acknowledgement is rarely given.
If you work below the line, you’ve been hired either by someone above the line or a rung or two higher on the ladder than your particular station. You got the job because you do good work. Now there may be other factors that contributed to your hiring—factors that range from salary to availability. But if it’s a union shoot, there are minimums and no one’s going to blink over a few dollar—if they really want you.
So you work hard and you work long hours and while you’re thankful to have a gig, it still bothers you that no one ever says “thanks” or “nice job.” This is something that goes hand in glove with respect and is known in society as courtesy or good manners. Now I’m not suggesting that producers, directors and department keys be sent off to charm school, although it would be money well spent. But everyone involved in production ought to be mindful that in addition to work there is the working environment.
Feature film shoots, as opposed to commercials or television skeins, are by their very nature, unnatural. Other than ultra low budget, it’s rare to encounter a schedule that runs less than 35 days and more typically you’re looking at something that will keep you employed for three or four months. For someone who’s worked regularly for a decade, it’s likely you’ll know some of the crew, particularly within your craft orbit. Still, when the camera rolls, a mass that’s never worked together before is expected to perform in a harmonious and efficient fashion. It is the ethos of the professional.
Film shoots tend to begin, quite understandably, with a degree of awkwardness as individuals and units develop work habits and relationships. What’s lost in that period when the machine is working out the bugs can be made up for in the sheer adrenaline any new job provides. It’s crucial at this point to establish an ambience on set that recognizes mistakes will be made as the crew transition to an optimum performance level. Barring the intrusion of a natural catastrophe, that level will kick in sometime during the first week of filming. It is simply the natural order of things.
However, given the pressures involved in committing perhaps $500,000 a day toward a major motion picture, it’s understandable that nerves fray and tempers flare. Some very talented people have incendiary personalities (along with less luminous lights) and cannot distinguish between a glitch and a dilemma. It’s during these delicate early days that most shoots could use a referee or people wrangler to step in to bring the temperate back down to 72 degrees. He’d also be the guy or gal to whisper reminders in the right ears to inject words like “please” or “I’d really appreciate that” or “perfect” in their communications.
While all this is said with a fair amount of humor, the underlying gravitas should not be dismissed. There is a third stage during most film productions that can be unpleasant or miserable. It evolves quite quickly as the realization that work is coming to an end begins to dawn among the crew. The majority will not have a next job lined up and that’s going to blur their focus minimally and might significantly raise their anxiety level.
If the film is behind schedule, there is a tendency to ascribe blame and, of course, divisiveness is going to mean that people start working against rather than with one another. This occurs at about the same time that weeks of working long hours and sleep deprivation begin to have a physical and mental toll. Every previous slight mushrooms and even clear heads start to cloud.
Though the scenario should not be viewed as inevitable, the atmosphere certainly has an alarming tendency to breed these conditions. One’s heard a lot about the importance of the three-act structure for screenplays and sets appear to have discovered their own unhealthy equivalent triptych. So, it’s vital to break the prevailing cycle. It’s like the old joke about the guy who goes in for an examination and says, “Doc, it hurts when I go like this.” The doctor shrugs and replies, “so, don’t go like that.”
It’s great to be on a set that hums like a well-oiled and maintained machine. But people need to be greased with a different kind of lubricant. It’s that stuff Aretha sings about and a dash of sensitivity.

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