You’ve been flirting with the idea of being on television and movie sets for awhile. You’d be a perfect fit for each other – after all, you watch a lot of TVs and movies, so helping make them is the soulmate career choice, right? Just like any relationship, the film industry requires a LOT of hard work. It stretches everyone in all departments to their maximum capacity on a daily basis…and I’m not talking about the typical 8 hour day. These are 15, 16, 17, 18 hour days… sometimes more. And every day is a long one, followed by another long one, and so on for several weeks.
Working on a movie is the most all-encompassing relationship you’ll ever have.
Here are a few of the demands.
The Early Morning Call Time
If you’re filming outdoors, it’s likely the crew’s call time will be before sunrise in order to allow maximum use of natural light. Location, production, transpo, and AD departments usually arrive at least an hour prior to crew call. If it’s the middle of summer, this could be as early as 4am. (Random fact: My earliest call time ever was 2:30am for a shoot at a military base.)
The Overnight Shoot
It’s like a sleepover, but with cameras!…. kinda.
Sometimes “day for night” is an option (faking nighttime while filming during the daytime), true nighttime exteriors look the best, because, well, it’s REAL. (By the way – here’s the worst “day for night” I’ve ever seen.) Depending on availabilities of actors and locations, night shoots are usually grouped together, which can mean a week of working from 5pm-10am, and it only takes 2 days of this to start feeling like a zombie. These days are physically and emotionally draining, and everyone gets tired and cranky by the end of the week (or maybe it’s just me and I project my crabbiness onto everyone else).
If it’s pouring down rain and the script calls for a sunny exterior, that scene might get pushed, but one of the talents and common traits of people in the film industry is their ability to make it work, regardless of circumstances. (And, while we’re being honest here, the people that have the authority to cancel due to weather are usually dry and warm by the monitor). What usually happens, if not filming at a soundstage, is that the interior location is far too small to house all of the crew, and stuff still has to get done outside. So, it’s 10 degrees and sleeting, and you’re stuck at the end of a driveway, making sure no one drives up during the take and ruins the shot with their headlights. Doesn’t matter. It isn’t sleeting inside the house, so guard the driveway you must.
(Tip: A good rain jacket is VITAL. Nothing’s worse than working 16 hours soaking wet! Also, befriend someone in the locations department…they can hook you up with a portable heater. Also, set medics have hand warmers, sometimes.)
The 80+ Hour Work Week
40+ hours a week is for wimps. 80+ hour weeks are done ALL the time in this business, especially for transpo, locations, production, and the AD department. The most intense week I’ve ever had was for a TV pilot where we spent a week at a location that was 1.5 hours away from Nashville. My total for the week came to 97 hours, and I barely made $1,000 to show for it (and yes, I cried when I got the paycheck). But, I was a mere set production assistant, which has no union, so the pay is pretty abismal. But if you’re in a union on a job with those kind of hours, you make BANK. (Tip: Let your G&E friends buy your drinks.)
The Greatly Diminished (OK, non-existent) Social Life
In normal civilian life, it’s feasible to squeeze in a few activities in after work. Yoga class, meet a friend for dinner, go bowling, whatever. Yeah…that won’t happen if you’re working on a movie. Movies shoot 5 or 6 day weeks, so you should have at least one day off per week.
For most, 16 hour days and 80 hour weeks mean all you’ll have time to do (and all you’ll want to do!) is sleep when you’re not working.
Also, it’s impossible to make plans during the week, ever, and you end up missing out on a lot of the little important things in life, since very rarely can one take off early or get a vacation day. You’ll miss a friend’s wedding. You’ll miss your niece’s ballet recital. You’ll miss the Super Bowl.
If you’re a social butterfly, this can be a hard adjustment, and its even a tougher one for your friends who can’t understand the demands of your job.
BUT! There are Perks!
To focus on the demands would only be half of the story! Here are some of the perks to kindling a romance with the film industry.
Easy commuting. Rarely do you get stuck in morning or evening traffic since you’re commuting at off-peak hours.
You never have to go grocery shopping. Films will provide breakfast, lunch, and if the shoot goes longer than 12 hours, a “second meal” (dinner). Plus, there’s ample snacks to satisfy your cravings in between meals. I usually gain weight when I work on a movie because there’s way more food options available to me than in my pantry at home.
You walk away with good stories. Crazy things happen on a daily basis that far surpass anything that could happen in an office scenario (like the time I met my childhood crush, played guitar with Cary Elwes at a wrap party, or thought I’d lost Seal at a Verizon store), and no two days are the same.
Savings galore. You’re working almost 24/7, so you don’t have the opportunity to spend a lot of money. Ka-ching! (Tip: Plan a nice 2-week vacation at the end of the gig if you can. It will preserve your sanity.)
Film and scripted television are some of the most demanding branches of the entertainment industry, but they’re also the best place to pick up the trade. I learned more during 4 weeks on a movie than I did in a year of working on music videos and commercials. Presently, I’ve switched over to the kinder world of docu-style television (we actually do have 9 hour days), but the energy of being on a massive film set is unmatched. If you’re given the opportunity to work on a movie, take it!