I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s a safe bet that anyone who talks about “the glamour of the movie industry” has never actually worked in it.

I recently worked two nights on an upcoming TV show which, because of an NDA that I had to sign, I won’t go into detail about because I’m not sure if my own personal blog falls within their definition of “social media.” Here’s how each day went:

DAY 1 - call time 3:00 pm, wrap at 4:48 am the next morning.

DAY 2 - call time 3:30 pm, wrap at 6:00 am the next morning.

Considering that the money one makes on a union production is pretty damned good, especially when you factor in regular rate, overtime, double OT and meal penalties*, all things considered I’d still rather work on fireworks displays or do live theatre. Why, you ask? Well, because:

  • Movie and TV shows involve a balancing act between “Hurry up and wait” and “Why wasn’t this ready 10 minutes ago?”
  • Repeated takes can get very, VERY boring when you’re doing something like making sure your smoke machine and fan are working properly…and doing location shoots late at night in the fall/winter time where you can watch your water bottle freeze as you thank the deity of your choice that you were smart enough to wear your thermal underwear and insulated gloves is not, in my opinion, a great way to spend one’s evenings.
  • The only feedback you get as to how your efforts are being appreciated come from the FX supervisor, the director and sometimes the cinematographer…and usually, the feedback is to ask/tell you to do something differently (or, if you’re screwing up, you get yelled at) - when dealing with a live audience you will get a pretty good idea of whether or not they like what you’re doing. I remember one night shoot where I was attending a smoke machine and a fan, my job being to keep both operating and to change the angle of the fan if the wind shifted. Fortunately (?) there was no change in wind direction so I didn’t have much to do, but at one point the FX co-ordinator came on the radio to tell me that the director loved what I was doing and to keep it up. Um, okay, sure…

  • There’s something to be said for getting for getting your “mother*%&*ing movie cheque” (as Jay and Silent Bob put it) and seeing how much you’ve netted after deductions, because it’s a hell of a lot more money than you’ll get shooting fireworks…and for roughly the same number of hours (don’t think that just because you go home after watching a fireworks display the fun is over; we’re still there for a few hours afterward cleaning up and tearing down and loading the truck back up). Still, if you take money out of the equation I’d rather be shooting fireworks because it’s not repetitive - every show is different even though the principles of setting up a display are the same - plus as soon as the show is over I get to hear the cheers of the crowd and know that I’ve done my part to entertain them, instead of having to wait until a particular scene appears on TV or in a theatre.

    There’s also the fact that being on a barge when fireworks are going off is pretty damned cool.

    *A “meal penalty” is incurred by the production when they don’t break for meals at the proper time; this will usually happen because the director wants to finish getting the shot before stopping. When this happens, you’re paid a extra amount based on how long the delay is.

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