Five Excuses for Missing Work That Just Don’t Cut It

Some days, you don’t want to go to work. But you do, anyway, because you want to make a good impression. And get paid. That’s important, too.

But there are days when you have a legit excuse. Get into a debilitating car accident, no one but J.K. Simmons is going to expect you show up to work.

On the other hand, here are a few excuses, that I have actually heard people use, which  don’t cut it–

You’ve got a screening/premiere to get to.

Sorry, this is Hollywood. Everyone has a screening they’d like to get to.

I certainly don’t want to pay to see the shitty movie I worked on last year; the cast and crew screening sounds a lot more fun. But your producer doesn’t care about last year; she cares about completing this shoot, today.

Traffic is horrible.

Traffic is like the weather; the freeways are jammed for the righteous and unrighteous alike. We all got to set on time. Why didn’t you?

You’re hungover.

Seriously, I know a PA who called in hungover. The AD gave him a five minute reaming, and all the kid said was, “It’s the same as being sick!” No. No, it’s not. First, a hangover isn’t contagious; second, it’s your own damn fault. Learn to hold your liquor.

The alarm didn’t go off because [power outage/I forgot to set it/whatever].

Get another alarm clock. Get two. Hell, go full Doc Brown, I don’t care. Neither does your boss.

You need a “personal day.”

Fuck you.

Posted in On the Job | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

The Most Important Truck!

I’m such an idiot! On Monday, I wrote about the various trucks and trailers you run into on set, and I left off the most important one: the honeywagon!

Ahhhhhh…

For the uninitiated, “honeywagon” is the term for the bathroom truck.Why’s it called that? Well, honey is yellow, and so is urine, if you don’t drink enough water. Seriously, guys, hydration is important.

A honeywagon could be just a single truck with a men’s and women’s room, for a smaller production, or even two semi-trailers on a big shoot with lots of extras. If you’re working on set, you definitely need to know where these are. Not just for your sake, because as a PA, I guarantee you’ll be asked twelve times a day where the honeywagon is.

How did I forget the most important truck? Well, that’s my office PA showing. I always make sure to utilize the office bathroom before I go on a long run, so I can avoid the honeywagon whenever possible. I mean, have you ever been in one? Most smell like someone killed a badger, cut it open, shit inside, sewed it up, then beat a hobo to death with the badger’s shitsidermied corpse.

They smell bad, is what I’m saying.

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How to Identify Trucks on Set

My parents were visiting from out of town, and the came by set last week. Since we’re still in prep, I had time to take them on a tour of our offices and stages. We passed by the transpo office, and I mentioned that’s where the teamsters hang out when they’re not in their trucks.

“You have teamsters?” my dad asked.

“Well, sure. We’re a union show. Who else is going to drive all the trucks?”

“What trucks?” That’s when I realized, I’ve been doing this for so long, there are some things I just take for granted, like the number of semi-trailers on a film production.

If you’re new to L.A., you might wonder why you occasionally see dozens of white, unmarked trucks and trailers congregating in large parking lots. These are, most likely, film or television productions shooting on location.

You see, not only does a show require hundreds of people, the also require hundreds of tons of equipment. When you’re on location, you need to bring all of that with you.

To start, there’s the semi-trailers: grip, electric, and, perhaps surprisingly, costume.

On a smaller production (or student film), grips and set lighting often get lumped together, so I’ll excuse you if you’re confused. But professional grips and SLTs1 will not. It’s easy to remember, though– electrics add light, grips take it away. If the truck is full of lamps, that’s the electrician’s truck; if it’s full of flags and stands, it’s the grips.

The tractor hauling the set lighting equipment will often have the generator attached. This is called the “gennie truck.”

It may not be immediately obvious why wardrobe needs an entire semi-trailer, but it makes sense when you think about it. A typical show has eight regulars, plus guest stars and bit parts. Each one of those needs an outfit for each script day, at least, and several duplicates, in case they get dirty or wrinkled. Even more duplicates are required for stand-ins and stunts. And that’s not counting all of the extras. Plus, the set costumers need a place to wash, dry, and press outfits, just in case.

Honestly, I’m amazed they can fit it all in one trailer.

Next, there’s a camera truck, which is usually a little bit bigger than a cube truck, with specialized rooms for changing film mags and the like. This truck is often the closest to set, since camera assistants have to run to their truck all the time.

Other trucks of similar size would be the props truck, and maybe a set dec truck. Set decoration will also likely have another truck for doing runs and prepping future locations and sets. Depending on the show, you might have a special effects truck around, too.

My favorite truck, of course, is the catering truck. It looks like a typical food truck you’d find a street fair, without the crazy paint job. It’ll be one of the first trucks opened up on a given day, to serve breakfast as people arrive. They’ll also generally leave in the early afternoon, after lunch is served.

If you’re in a really remote location (and the show has a big budget), you might also have a lunch box. It’s a massive trailer with walls that slide out to become, essentially, a dining hall for the crew.

Much nicer than a bunch of pop-up tents.

Then there’s the trailers. Lots and lots of trailers. Most are about the size of large campers, retrofitted for specific purposes. There’s going to be a transpo trailer, where the transportation captain works. Naturally, this is always a very nice trailer.

Next, there’s the AD trailer, sometimes only half a trailer, which the ADs (or, really, 2nd ADs, since the 1st ADs tend to stay on set) work out of. The director may or may not have their own trailer; it’s rare, in television, since they only shoot a single episode and don’t really have time to settle in.

Hair and make-up will have at least one trailer, to share, or a trailer each, depending on the needs of the show. These are easy to spot, since they basically look like a salon inside. Also, there’s generally a few stylists in there willing to chat with a bored PA.

Craft services2 might be a truck, might be a trailer; that’s up to crafty. Sometimes you’re allowed to go onto the truck to get your food; sometimes they prefer to keep that area private and clean. In those cases, they’ll set up a tent for the snacks and drinks, instead.

Most important are the actor’s trailers. The regular cast will have at least have a trailer to themselves, if not a whole trailer. Some really famous actors own their own private trailer, which can be… impressive.

This is the inside of a TRAILER. The house I grew up in isn’t this nice.

But that’s mostly for movie stars. TV stars just get their own Star Wagon. Which, you know, still aren’t half bad.

This one is bigger than my current apartment.

That’s a lot of trucks and trailers. Did I miss any?

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. Set lighting technicians.
  2. Which is not interchangeable with catering.
Posted in On the Job | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Be Proud of Your Work

Black Bag Pictures replied to Wednesday’s post [paragraphs added for readability]:

Hollywood has changed significantly since Rambo III. It has become far more corporate, more focus grouped, more dissected. Despite the historic ego and money involved, it used to be a “family business.”

Now the chain of command goes up so far you’ll end up in a boardroom at Viacom staring down dozens of executives, along with the toy companies and marketing team and you’ll completely lose sight of what it is you set out to create. Because you didn’t create it. Someone else did… Stan Lee or Eastman and Laird. Or perhaps a filmmaker from the 70s like, oh I don’t know, George friggen Lucas? You no longer have creative ownership over the movie at all. You are a hired shill, whose job it is to maximize the entertainment value for ONE weekend, so the numbers look good to the shareholders. And then there’s China… let’s not even get into that.

My point is, if you want to be a brown-nosing suck-up, then take that old professor’s advice. But if you want to be a person of integrity, it’s perfectly acceptable to say a movie sucks. Because it probably does… and frankly, if someone’s ego is bruised because their Marvel sequel reboot wasn’t great, they should look in the mirror and ask themselves why they even want to make movies in the first place. If the answer is MONEY, then they should grow a thick skin and expect harsh criticism. If the answer is ART then they should maybe think about leaving Hollywood.

I could save everyone time and write “Don’t be like Black Bag,” but I take pride in my work, so I’m going to write a full on blog about this.1

People have always been complaining about how corporate filmmaking has become. In the 90s, old folks wouldn’t shut up about how great it was back in the 70s; now people glorify the indie boom of the 90s. This happens every generation. In the 1930s, filmmakers longed for the days of the nickelodeon.

It doesn’t matter at all why someone hired you to do your job, whether you’re a director or a PA. Your Evil Corporate Overlords are going to be evil and corporate. So what? You do your best and take pride in your work. Maybe the film is great, maybe it’s awful. That’s what happens when you work in a collaborative medium. The end product is out of your control.

Yes, even for the director.

Heed the wisdom of Patton Oswalt, about how seriously people in this business take their jobs–

After all that, I think it’s perfectly fine to be proud of what you’ve done, even if the movie isn’t that good.

So, when someone comes along and says, “That movie sucks!”, I don’t think, That person has Integrity. I think, What an asshole. And guess what? Assholes don’t get hired.

I didn’t tell you to lie.2 Just find something nice to say, because you’re talking to someone who poured their heart and soul into the job. Telling them it was all for nothing is a dick move, dude.

Finding something positive to say doesn’t make you a “brown-nosing suck-up;” it makes you a nice person.

That being said, making movies is a job, and I’m a professional. Yes, I expect to be paid, and I will not be ashamed to say that, no, I’m not going to work on a film unless I’m compensated for my time and talent. As a PA, that compensation tends to be low; as a director, it can be very, very high.

Does that mean I’m not creating Art? Bullshit. As Scott McCloud put it so eloquently in Understanding Comics:

Art, as I see it, is any human activity which doesn’t grow out of either of our species’ two basic instincts: survival and reproduction.

If you haven’t read this book, you really should.

If you don’t see that happening on sets across Hollywood, man, you’ve been working on the wrong movies.

Lastly, I like Marvel movies. The people who work on Marvel movies most definitely are not doing it just for the money. I know, from personal experience. I’m looking forward to their next sequel reboot.

So, again, despite your “integrity,” you screwed up at the most basic level of persuasion. You tried to find an example of a movie that is obviously devoid of artistic merit, and failed utterly.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. Sorry, this is going to get long and rambly, but the comment I’m responding to is long and rambly.
  2. Well, okay, I did, but it was obviously a joke.
Posted in On the Job | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Yes, You Loved That Movie

My old writing professor (yes, the one who wouldn’t shut up about his Oscar) told my class a story–

I was at a dinner party. I knew some people, didn’t know others. You know how it is.

No, we didn’t know how it is, because we were fucking 19 and had never been to a dinner party. Anyway…

My movie had just opened, and it wasn’t doing very well. So, my buddy was ribbing me about it. Finally, I said, “Yeah, well, at least it was better than that piece of shit Rambo III.”

Which was out at the time; my professor was old.

The room goes totally silent, I have no idea why. Suddenly, a guy at the other end of the table slams his fists down, stands up, and says, “Fuck. You.”

Then he storms out. I don’t know what’s going on. So I turn to my buddy, and he goes, “Why did you say that? That’s ________. He produced Rambo III.”

I didn’t mean to insult the guy. I didn’t even know who he was! I was just trying to think of a movie that we can all agree was pretty awful.

Which is why you should never badmouth a movie. No matter how bad you think it is, somebody is very proud of the work they did on it.

Like Thomas Lennon said: “Nobody in Hollywood ever sets out to make a bad movie ever but about 99% of the time, that’s what happens.”

There are a lot of good reasons to not hate a movie, but the fact that you work in Hollywood just adds another. You might hurt someone’s feelings; you might even cost yourself a job in the future.

I’m sure your grandma told you, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” But at some point, someone is going to ask, “What’d you think of _______?” You can’t just avoid the question.

You definitely shouldn’t give a non-answer, like, “I wasn’t really the target audience” or “Congratulations on completing the movie!” Everyone can see through your transparent act; they know you hated it.

But here’s the thing– there’s (almost) always something good about every movie or TV show that actually made it to your screen. Maybe there were impressive effects, maybe a good performance, maybe even just a single funny line. Whatever it is, say that.

Even if you haven’t seen the movie in question, mention something in the trailer that looked appealing. “I haven’t gotten a chance to see it, yet, but man, that scene with the bees looks awesome.”

And it is awesome.

I’m not telling you to lie. Just look on the positive side.

Or, y’know, you could lie. This is Hollywood, after all.

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There’s Nothing Wrong With Ambition

Your script probably isn’t very good. Even if it is good, probably no one will read it. Even if they do read it, they probably won’t give you the money to make it. Even if they give you the money to make it, the movie probably won’t be very good. Even if it is good, probably no one will see it. And even if they do see it, they probably won’t like it.

Don’t believe me?

Last year, 701 movies were released theatrically. Seven hundred and one movies! How many did you see? If you went the the theater every single weekend, you saw only around seven percent. And how many of those did you actually like?

But that’s not all. Visit your local Redbox, or head over to Netflix and Amazon, and you’ll find that for every movie that made it to theaters, probably ten went straight to video. If you’ve ever worked at a distribution company, you’d know that for every movie that gets released even on video, ten more are rejected by every outlet.

These are terrible odds. But, like Han Solo in an asteroid field, you don’t care.

In case you're wondering, the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately three thousand seven hundred and twenty to one.

Hey, you guys ever see that really old movie, Empire Strikes Back?

Hollywood is a dream factory, so who am I to tell you not to dream big? Maybe, like George Lucas, your student film will lead to a life-long friendship with a legendary filmmaker. Maybe your short film goes viral and catches the attention of James Wan.1 Maybe you’ll shoot a feature for under ten grand and become the darling of Sundance.

You’ll never know unless you try, so keep at it. But don’t, for the love of God and the sake of your own career, brag about simply the fact that you’ve directed a short film. Literally everyone on set has done that.

You can be proud of the finished product. Hell, you may even want to show it to people (after you’ve become friends, of course). There’s nothing wrong with passing around the Vimeo link; that’s how things go viral, and get into the hands (and laptops) of real decision makers.

But you also need to keep your day job. Realistically, directing a $1,000 film for two days with a crew of six does not prepare you in any way for being a production assistant on a real movie or TV show. If you put that director credit on your resume, it’ll get thrown in the trash (or deleted, since that’s how we do things, now).

There’s a time and a place to show your ambition, and in the meantime, keep shooting.

You don't get it.

See what I did there? Shooting… with an arrow? Get it?

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. Thanks to Eric on Movie Set Memes for pointing this out.
Posted in On the Job, The Industry | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Why No One Gives a Shit About Your Student Film

On last Friday’s blog post, I wrote:

Directing a student film doesn’t really count for anything.

As long as it’s clearly labeled as a student film section [on your resume], you can include your directing and producing credits. Just understand it’s not going to help you get anything better than a PA gig.

Over on Facebook, John replied:

Yet student films get optioned for features all the time?

I challenged John to name one. His answer? THX-1138. Or, more accurately, Electronic Labyrinth: THX-1138 4EB.

A 49 year old film.

There’s probably a more recent example of a student film being optioned for a feature, but sure, let’s talk about George fucking Lucas’s student film.

Lucas went to USC, which is my alma mater, so I happen to know a lot about how the film was produced. It was made for a class called CTPR 480, which is the senior level production class. The school doesn’t pay for anything; the entire budget comes out of your pocket. Lucas volunteered to teach a class in order to get free film stock and access to locations. He was actually quite ingenious in how he got such high production value for a student film. Almost like he’s a better producer than he is a director…

I don't like sand.

It’s like poetry. It rhymes.

But it’s not like Warner Brothers just saw THX-1138 and said, “Here’s your money! Go make a feature!” What actually happened was, the film was good enough for Lucas to win a contest to visit a set on the WB lot. The movie was Finian’s Rainbow, directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

The two became friends, and formed American Zoetrope together. Warners signed a seven picture deal with Zoetrope, and Lucas wanted to make a a feature-length version of THX. But that wasn’t because they liked the short so much; Coppola had made several films for them at that point.

So, THX did set Lucas on a path to directing his first feature, but a lot of things had to break his way and he had to respond to the opportunities correctly. This kind of networking and luck can happen to you, too. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t go out and make short films, but it’s unlikely to be your meal ticket like it was for Lucas.

Just as important, there was less competition back then. There were fewer than a dozen film schools in the 1960s. Now there are a hundred just in the United States. Completing film school with a degree and a student film is no longer as impressive as it once was.

You're a filmmaker!

Pictured above: Everyone’s reaction.

You don’t even have to go to film school to make short films, anymore. You can shoot one on your cell phone.

Unless you’ve won some kind of award, you’re not going to impress anyone with your student film. It’s certainly not going to help you get a job as a PA, because most student film shoots are clusterfucks.

Which is totally okay! When you’re a student, you’re still learning. But it’s not the kind of experience that gets things done on real film shoots. Bear in mind, THX wasn’t Lucas’s first and only student film. Lucas has several others in the USC archives. I’ve seen them, and they’re mostly terrible.

I haven’t seen your student film, but, just playing the odds here, it’s probably terrible too. If you’re willing to accept that, you can face your future with an honest assessment of your job prospects.

Posted in On the Job | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Resume Categories

Gina writes in:

I’ve been looking up production resumes and I was wondering whether it’s best to organize my jobs by type (film, tv, commercial, etc) or position (pa, designer, director, etc)?

Love your website, thanks for being so diligent in updating.

To start, no resume should list both “production assistant” and “director.” If you were really a director, you wouldn’t be applying for a PA job; if you’re an experienced PA, you’d know that directing a student film doesn’t really count for anything.

Almost everyone works in a variety departments while they’re still trying to figure out what to do with themselves, which is totally fine. But if you have three credits in each department, it looks like you’re floundering. It’s okay to have a little variety, but your resume should predominately feature the department you’re applying for.

But what if you’re just starting out? Eh… fudge it. Especially if you’re a production assistant, you can just add “PA” to the end of the department: post PA, camera PA, costume PA, etc.

While we’re skirting the truth, it’s worth noting that there are, broadly, two categories of PA’s: Set PA’s (who answer to the AD) and Office PA’s (who answer to the production coordinator). If your goal is a job that works on set, like camera or grip, make sure your resume has a lot of Set PA credits. If you want to work in the writers’ room or post or art, Office PA is the way to go.

Then, I sort my resume roughly in reverse-chronological order, with the newest stuff at the top. But then I re-sort the credits so more recognizable productions are towards the top. Also, the more relevant positions (set vs. office, tec) go higher, too.

But you can’t go too crazy with this. If you put Breaking Bad at the top of your resume, everyone knows that finished a while ago. It looks like you haven’t worked in three years.

I realize those instructions are kinda vague; you really have to feel it out and see what it looks like on a case-by-case basis. If you’re really unsure, you could try my resume editing service, and I’ll help you out.

When it comes to the type of production, it’s usually okay to mix film and television, since a lot of the expectations for PA’s are similar. I think it’s a good idea to separate commercials from narrative, though, because those are radically different. Plus, you’ll probably have more of those credits if you spent any time in the commercial world.

Student films can also be included, if you don’t have enough credits otherwise, as long as they’re in a different section. As long as it’s clearly labeled as a student film section, you can include your directing and producing credits. Just understand it’s not going to help you get anything better than a PA gig.

Posted in Finding a Job | Tagged | 5 Comments

Why Won’t He Call Me Back?

Ellis writes in:

Newly minted PA here and I need some help with networking. Several crew members have given me their numbers and encouraged me to reach out and stay in touch.

Here is the problem: Some respond and others don’t. For those that don’t respond, do I continue to reach out and stay in touch? Do I take them off my contact list?

Why give me their number if they don’t intend to respond? How do I navigate this?

If you’re a newly minted PA, you’re probably a newly minted adult, too.1 You’re still getting used to the idea that you and everyone you know have a million responsibilities, from child care to paying bills to changing the oil in your car. You’re probably feeling overwhelmed by all of these duties, but don’t worry… that’s perfectly natural and will never go away.

Pictured above: me, right now, forever.

So you should understand that important things come up all the time. They could be on the job, or in the hospital or on vacation in an exotic land where their cell phone doesn’t work. Or maybe they don’t like you.

The other possibility is that you’ve contacted them without giving them any sort of motivation to return the call. Are you asking for a job? If they don’t have one for you, there’s no reason to call/text/email you back.

Instead, maybe try asking if they want to meet for coffee or drinks or lunch. (Make sure this sounds super platonic. (Unless that’s what you’re going for.))

If you’ve texted three times (over the course of three months or so, hopefully), and never heard back, then stop bothering. Whatever the cause is, they’re just not that into you.

That being said, never, ever delete someone from your contacts. You never know when their email or phone number might come in handy. Save every crew list you ever get. I even hang onto cast lists when I get them.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. I know you think you became a grown up when you turned 18, but four years of film school suggest otherwise.
Posted in On the Job, The Industry | Tagged | 3 Comments

Super Secret Blog Post

This whole Patreon thing seems to be working out. More than 50 patrons are supporting TAPA! They’re contributing well over $400 per month to keep the site going. Thanks so much, you guys!

One of the reasons I started writing for The Anonymous Production Assistant was because of the anonymous part. It’s allowed me to talk about all kinds of things I’m not supposed to bring up in polite company.

But even with all that anonymity, there are some things I won’t write about here. It might involve slander, or tips and tricks that only work if just a few people know them (like how to sneak onto studio lots).

So, as a way to share all of this extra super secret information, I’ve decided to add it to my Patreon campaign. Once I reach $500/month (which should happen very soon at this rate), I’ll begin sharing some privileged information in the for-patrons-only blog on Patreon.

If you want to get in on that action, contribute here.

Posted in On the Job | 2 Comments