As I speak about working in film and TV, I do try to impart to rookie and pro alike that for us, the filmworker– it’s not the show, but all shows…
Our lives on set are not measured by the projects we work on or the people who send us our checks. It is in the process we live. We love projects that are wonderful and perfect, but we work mostly on projects that need our help to create and bring them to life. An Actor can only effectively do one role at a time and only really concentrate on the immediate work if they want to know the scene intimately. The same is said for the Cinematographer, the focus puller and the dolly grip. Yes, they’ll talk at lunch about the big stunt coming up this weekend, but their day is locked in the day to day creative struggle to film each shot, each scene.
The crew that works directly at the camera–setup and shooting–never stops. There is a whole other half of the crew that works in mad starts and fits. And then sits around. The Key Hairstylist gets to set at 4am to set up the workstation and be ready to receive actors by no later than 4:30a on a typical 6:30am call. Then a crazy rush to get ready and then– sitting around and waiting for the next need– make up an actor just arriving, rush in for a touch up… and then sit for 20 minutes. Costumers, company grips, 2nd 2nd AD’s, etc., all understand and work in and around the changing pace of the day.
There are various departments and parts of departments whose job it is to just be ready. Or get the next shot ready. Or be standing in the door of the grip truck and await instructions on equipment. This is the only way for the on-set, shot by shot crew to function and never stop shooting.
Then there are Department Heads like the Production Designer and the Costume Designer. They have great responsibility off set to be sure the next scene, the next day is ready. And be working in the future. The PD could be building sets that come into play in 10 days and yet must be intimately aware of what is happening on-set. If the shoot crew has fallen behind, there may be new sets to go up overnight (good Art Dept./Construct crew is fairly amazing) or change what is coming tomorrow or the next day.
The whole dance of these connected and yet independent departments of the TV crew is our process. Due to the hours, the stress and the work, most crews bond like theatre troupes. The demand on our lives takes a toll on our families. We tend to play too hard too, but most of us still manage to figure out family time. It has to be about quality more than quantity, for certain. As they get older, the kids get that. Helps to have a partner who ‘gets’ the business. It really won’t be easy without that.
Saying you worked on an Oscar winner or an iconic movie like Groundhog Day is fun. But the call is still at the crack of dawn or fall of darkness. 1st or 50th day of a show, it will have it’s own crazy rhythms and demands. And the day will be long. And– hopefully satisfying. No matter what, we’ll wrap it up and show up again tomorrow.
It’s where we live. What we do.