I thought about this story the other day of an indie film set I worked on as an unpaid camera assistant in film school, so I went back and harvested it from the ol’ film school blog. I was extremely bitter despite nothing much happening, but it still makes me laugh, so I’m reposting it. This, by the way, is LIGHT YEARS away from almost all the shows I’ve worked on here in LA.
5:59 AM : Reverse down one way street to get to location.
6:00AM: Call director when I notice the building is desolate and there are no cars in the parking lot that have not clearly been abandoned.
6:05AM: Director informs me he is late when he returns my call.
6:08AM: Receive text message from director saying he will be a few more minutes.
6:15AM: Commence search on mobile device for “boyfriend gifts”
6:24AM: The rest of the crew arrives. Meet Luke, the DP, a dreadlocked dude with a worried face.
6:25AM: Homeless couple walks by me and they go into the building. Not only is it a soundstage, it’s a shelter!
6:26AM: Make my way up the stairs, led by George, the first producer I’m introduced to.
6:30AM: I walk into the “studio,” which is a condemned warehouse formerly used for building furniture. The room is a large cavern, probably 60 feet by 60 feet, with sawdust coating the entire space, nails protruding upwards from the floor like malevolent blades of grass, and boxes and boxes of broken mirrors and trash. Also, there is a huge saw in the middle of the “set,” which looks like a torture instrument of dubious legality. The set is a fake wall with a hole in it, but they only built one side and are going to “flip” the shots in order to get full coverage. I ask about a clean place to put the camera gear, and George the Henchman replies, “Well, you can use these tables, but don’t go in the hall because there are some people here… well, it would be safer in here.” Great, thank you, Fake Producer. The tables are COVERED IN SAWDUST and the camera cases are on wheels so if I work on top of them it’s going to be nothing but a vaudeville show.
Fake producer George suggests I go upstairs and use the “office” in there. I am relieved. However, he leads me up a rickety staircase to a second story of the warehouse MADE OUT OF BALSA WOOD, exactly like a tree house. He grabs some old newspapers and puts it on the floor for me to protect the gear, smiling winningly. George runs off to assist the rest of the crew, and I set myself up. First, I have to locate a chair. I find one, covered in dust, which of course I do not realize until I sit my happy ass down and get up to see my black pants have changed color. Looking down, I notice a series of holes in the floor. Great!
6:40AM: I go downstairs, get the gear and continue setting up the camera, shuffling down the tree house ladder any time I need something from a kit. The DP arrives again, and asks me if I could find a piece of card-board to tape his homemade graycard to. Ooo-kay.
7:00AM: The director, Leonard* is missing and Fake Producer George finally calls across the room, “He’s getting coffee!” He asks me if I’d like anything and to my horror I realize there is no craft service. (Does everyone know what crafty is? Leave a comment if not…) For a girl of my metabolism, going twelve hours, hell, going three hours without snacking is NOT an option. I eat a lot and I use a lot of calories when I’m working. However, any time I catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror or window, the scrawny little white girl lifting cases the weight of my fourteen year old cousin, I have an odd little proud reflective moment.
7:30AM: I finish setting up the camera, and just as I’m popping it on the tripod, a HOARD OF OLD IMMIGRANTS come storming in the door. Most of them do not speak coherently, however one affectionately calls me sweetie when he’s telling me to get out of the way (sarcasm). They proceed towards the large saw in the middle of the room, tip it on to its side, and bring it out the door, knocking a piece of wall on the way. As I look up, I am reminded the same material they just busted a hole in is stronger that the floor of my workstation.
7:40AM: Ralph comes up and introduces himself to me. He “not a film dude,” but was rather once the carpenter that owned the warehouse. He is our gaffer for the day.
7:43AM: It suddenly occurs to me with horror that the crew is only 4 deep for the entire shoot.
7:45AM: It also occurs to me with horror that I agreed to work for these knuckleheads, for free, for 36 hours in the next three days.
8:00AM: The director finally returns with coffee, and presents it like a preschooler might present a finger painting. Gee, thanks, Indie McGee. You’re almost barely meeting incredibly basic industry standards.
8:10AM: My stomach starts to feel a little queezy. Actually, stabbing pain that feels like my stomach is rotting out of my knees and being replaced with leaden casserole is a little more accurate.
8:30AM: The director approaches me and asks if I would mind lifting some stuff for him. I hesitate and say yes, I would mind. The director laughs at me and says, “We all are acting like PA’s today.” I am not amused.
8:35AM: I sprint to the bathroom and spend twenty minutes in the can, literally worried sick.
8:55AM: I wander back in to the soundstage and I meet Fake Producer 2, Leonard’s wife, Katrina. She smiles condescendingly and walks off with the craft service, which has finally arrived.
9:00AM: Leonard asks me if I want to see the storyboards, corrects himself, and asks if I know what they are. I decline.
9:01AM: I run back in to the bathroom, colliding with the geriatric janitor. He is actually the nicest person I have met all day, and quickly steps outside in to the hall. I spend five minutes dry heaving into the calcified toilet.
9:10AM: I walk back in the “studio,” notice that Leonard’s actor is using the makeshift second floor to jump off for a “sweet shot.” I run back upstairs to check in on the “staging area.” There is a 1200 watt HMI (large, daylight balanced light) IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FUCKING DOORWAY. Clearly, the knuckleheads do not know what they are doing, as the cable is twisted and knotted, also blocking the doorway. I fear for my safety.
9:30AM: I run back downstairs on my way to heave in the bathroom, and bump in to Leonard again, who proudly tells me he is always happy to give students like myself a “chance at the real world.” He also tells me that Luke will let me operate a few shots too. Let me explain why this is utter bullshit. The camera in use on this partifular shoot is one I’ve been using myself since my first year in film school. Not only is this halfwit convinced he’s going to use my camera assistant labor for free, he also thinks he can swindle me into operating for free! Once again, I attempt to smile and say thank you and run out the door back to the bathroom.
9:45AM: I bump into the janitor again, who politely leaves again. I collapse on the floor of the bathroom, quickly realize I’m sitting on more bacteria than a 72 pack of Dannon yogurt, and scamper out in to the hallway. I sit down and cry, trying to convince myself I won’t be a total loser if I leave.
10:00AM: I walk back in to the studio. Ralph tells me I look like “death warmed over.” I feel like it. I find Luke and tell him I won’t be of much use to him, that I’m having a personal problem and I have to go.
10:03AM: I run out of the building so fast I’m still putting on my coat when I get to my car. I’m so freaked to get out of there I don’t even de-ice my window all the way.
10:30AM: Collapse, trembling, in to bed.
*Names changed to protect the stupid.