I recently received a tricky question: How can you tell if you were fired from a film or tv job?
I was supposed to work as a PA on a film set for the whole week, but after the first day, the line producer told me they only needed extra help on the first day. Should I tell them I’m willing to do anything else they need? Is this a sign I made a bad impression and they cut me off? Or should I just say “thank you for the opportunity” and look for a new job?
Having a gig cut short unexpectedly sucks, but it does happen. I was recently signed on for a full 2-week gig, only to have it cut down to one week — and then cut down to 1.5 days.
There are several reasons a job can be cut short. The production company may have run into bigger issues: They can’t get insurance, can’t get past final creative approvals from the network or ad agency, the talent is suddenly unavailable, etc, etc. But there is also the chance that your gig was cut short due to something you did. And very, very rarely will anyone explain to you why — especially if you’ve been fired.
Trying to solve the riddle, I asked a few follow up questions:
Sometimes, productions realize they don’t need the extra help and choose to save the money. And sometimes, it might be that they did let you go, whether due to some incident or because the director’s nephew suddenly needed to be added as a PA.
Was it an out of town production company? Did anything seem amiss during the day?
Either way, I wouldn’t beat yourself up. This has happened to me, as well. It’s the nature of the freelance beast and it’s unfortunate, but it’s their loss, in the end. People can be very fickle in this industry, and it’s very possible you did nothing wrong!
Yes. It was an out of town production, and I should also mention this is a crowdfunded independent film. I was late and I was supposed to bring breakfast to the crew and failed to do so on time. Despite all this, I still want to network with these people.
Let’s talk about breakfast on set first.
Breakfast is a big morale boost for the crew before a long day of shooting begins, especially if the crew is already working for discounted rates. It’s a small morning ritual prior to every shoot: Everyone will take a quick minute to grab a coffee, eat a bite of a sandwich, and chat with their coworkers before working their butt off for 6 hours until the next meal break.
In many ways, breakfast can set the tone for the rest of the day. If the breakfast is late and the crew has to start working without it?…that’s a lot of disappointed people.
(It’s worth mentioning that sometimes the restaurant will run behind and will not have the breakfast ready for pick up on time, and that can make you run behind — but whenever you’re involved in a pickup, always be in communication with the producer/production coordinator to let them know your status.)
Being Late in the Film Industry
The schedule is king. A few scheduled bullet points on a sheet of paper — and a 1st AD — are the only things maintaining order in what would otherwise be expensive creative chaos.
Being late in this industry — especially on the very first day of the shoot when impressions are being formed, and especially as a production assistant — is a very difficult thing to overcome. (On the flip side, always being ten minutes early will earn an additional layer of respect from your bosses.)
If you are late, work your butt off, have a good attitude, stay late, and give a sincere apology. You have to work hard enough and anticipate enough to undo and overwrite that horrible first impression.
So… Were You Fired?
There is a still a chance your gig was cut short for one of the reasons earlier mentioned. Maybe they had to shed a PA so they could afford a new piece of gear, and as you were late combined with blowing the sanctity of breakfast, you were at the top of their list.
And…to be frank, they may have let you go because you were late — and nothing happened throughout the rest of the shoot day that allowed you to redeem yourself.
It sounds like you have remorse, which is a very good thing — you’ll never be late again!
In my experience, the best bosses believe in second chances. If you still want to network with them, there’s nothing to be lost by reaching out. Send an apologetic e-mail, thank them for the opportunity, express your regrets and hope the project turns out well.
If you never hear from them again, just move on. If you want to work in this industry, accept this as an expensive learning lesson. Hopefully, one day, you’ll be a successful EP that can laugh at this over drinks with your crew. After all, everyone is human and we all make mistakes (like that time I got lost going to FedEx with a celebrity’s entire work wardrobe in the back of my car and got screamed at over the phone by the producer until I cried).
Anyway, I think it’s a huge benefit they were an out of town company. The other PAs may have been local and may have seen what happened — but overall, your local reputation should be in tact, and you should still have a second chance getting a job for a different company.
Best of luck!