How Many Languages Do YOU Speak?

I had a coordinator once who was Vietnamese. She’s been in America for a couple of decades, so she didn’t have much of an accent, but she still occasionally got colloquialisms wrong. For instance, she would say, “Do you grab my drift?”1

I understood what she was saying, obviously, but it still bumps you for a second. “Wait, have I been saying that wrong my entire life? …that’s probably not the most likely explanation.”

One day, she said something funky in front of the AD, who responded in an extremely condescending tone, “Huh. I think you mean, catch your drift.” With an implied “idiot” at the end.

Now, a PA probably shouldn’t mouth off to the AD, but he was being a giant dick to my boss, who is awesome. “Hey, how about you go and learn two more languages,2 then let’s see how coherent you are in the third one.”

I’d like to say everyone slow clapped as I walked out of the room, but really, he just glared at me, and I was on his be-a-dick-to list for the rest of the show. But whatever, if an asshole hates me, I call that a win.

And Jesus Christ, have you ever heard Vietnamese? It’s all vowels. They have triphthongs. How is that even a word I know?

The reason this story came to mind is, I was fixing up a reader’s resume. She mentioned in one of her emails that she was of Pakistani descent, so I asked if she spoke a second language. Like my coordinator, she speaks three languages: English, Urdu, and Hindi. She’s also studying French and Korean, just for funsies.

Don’t you feel like an underachiever, now?

If you, too, speak multiple languages, this is definitely something to highlight in your resume. In fact, it should be the first item in your “Skills” section. It’s just that unique and useful.

The thing is, you just never know when your unique abilities match exactly what a potential employer wants. They’ll put certain requirements in their job listing, sure, but there’s always something that they’d prefer in a candidate, but neglect to state.3

But sometimes, they don’t even know they want something until they see it. Maybe they’re working on Slumdog Millionaire 2: Dog Harder,4 and a Hindi-speaking assistant would be perfect.

What I’m saying is, make sure to highlight anything about you that’s unique, that makes you stand out from the crowd. There’s a lot of recent-film-school-graduates-who-want-to-write-screenplays out there.  There aren’t a lot of recent-film-school-graduates-who-want-to-write-screenplays-and-who-also-speak-Urdu.

There’s a good chance whatever makes you unique is what will also get you the job. Use that to your advantage.

* * *

On a completely unrelated note, don’t forget the TAPArty is next weekend. If you’re not there, you better be on a show!

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. For any ESL readers out there, the standard phrasing is: “Do you catch my drift?”, meaning “Do you understand what I’m saying?”
  2. Did I mention she speaks French, too?
  3. Sometimes it’s a preference they’re legally not allowed to state, like a wanting a hot young thing in a short skirt at the reception desk. You don’t want to work for them, anyway. At least, I don’t.
  4. I’d watch it.
Posted in Finding a Job, On the Job | Leave a comment

What to Do About Sexual Harassment

A reader who would like to remain anonymous writes in–

Actually, you know what? To preserve this reader’s anonymity, I’m not going to copy-and-paste the email, like I normally would. There’s too great a chance of somebody figuring it out.

Everyone with more than a couple years’ under their belt has experienced some sexual harassment.1 For me, it’s mostly been of the old-man-set-in-his-ways variety, and occasionally the meant-as-a-joke-but-really-isn’t kind.

But this reader’s issues are far more serious:

  • She2 was accused of sleeping with one of the producers, and another producer attempted to fire her over it. While that didn’t happen, the false rumor spread throughout the set, anyway.
  • A different crew member was likewise accused of sleeping around with her co-workers. This person wrote a formal letter stating that this was unprofessional behavior; the producers stated they would never work with her again.
  • Another young woman was made to sit still while the producers drew a penis on her forehead with a sharpie, as a prank. She doesn’t want to report them, for fear of being blacklisted.

I literally don’t know what to say. This is beyond anything I’ve ever experienced. So, I reached out to some fellow anonymous film crew to see what advice they had. Since they’re both smarter and more articulate than I, I’ll just share what they wrote in its entirety.

Mystery Grip has this to say:

That is horrible.

1) The courage to come forward – This is something everyone must weigh for themselves. The sad truth is that, there will be some blowback. I think that is almost completely unavoidable. Did I invest three years with the particular abusive person because at the end of it I will gain X? And is it worth it for me to endure the abuse? For me, at my age and experience level, no it is not. Life is too short and there are too many other people in Hollywood to put all your eggs in one abusive basket. To me, my dignity, self-respect and peace of mind is better than any job. I do know, young grips, who have worked for EXTREMELY abusive Keys. Both verbally and physically. Just because they were big time Keys doing big movies. So I’ve seen the mindset firsthand. Everyone has a different breaking point.

2) There are MANY good producers, directors, LPs, ADs, UPMs, etc that know exactly what went down if someone comes to them and says “Don’t hire X because she caused problems for me on the last show.” They will see through that for the bullshit that it is. And not only that, but they can call legit references on the person in question’s resume. There is no “BLACKBALL”. Sure the abusive person may cost them a job or two. That is a real consequence that may occur. But, shut you out of everything forever? No. Not going to happen. I think a lot of people new to the business are easily bullied into thinking that this can happen.

3) Who do you go to? Take for example, if it was a grip harassing you. The unofficial way would be to talk the Grip in question and try to resolve between the two of you. If you can’t do that you go to the Best Boy Grip. If you can’t do that you go to one of the ADs. You continue up the chain until you get a result which may be the Producer. Now if NONE of these people will help or if the Producer, like in these examples, is the one who is doing the harassing then if it is a Studio show or a show bankrolled by a Studio you can contact H.R. A case will be opened and investigated. At first informally and then it will escalate depending on level of harassment, evidence discovered, responses from the accused, etc.

So if you are on One Time Productions, LLC that was formed to shoot one movie, but it is part of Sony, for example. Then you’d call Sony H.R.

You could also contact the E.E.O.C.

Or the California Department that handles it

Both of these are mentioned here:

Again, the sad fact is, there is some effort to maintain anonymity, but more often than not, the identity of whoever brings the claim will come out. I hate that, in 2015, we’re still dealing with shit like this, but we are. And I think if more people, statistically speaking, women, reported this abuse it would help to curtail it somewhat. If men know they’ll be punished they won’t do it.

Trust me, when there’s a big sexual harassment case, we ALL hear about it. Anything big has ripples. It won’t stop an asshole from being an asshole, but it might give him pause from doing it at work.

Also, and I don’t recommend this route, but if say the person being harassed is a PA and they are being harassed by an AD, they could anonymously call the DGA. Or the Local that covers that particular abuser. Again, every Local will handle this differently and some will handle it poorly. But, it is something to consider. It’s like pulling the pin on a grenade, tossing it into the room and shutting the door. You have no idea what’s going to happen. So if they go that route, WHICH I DON’T RECOMMEND, make sure they do it SUPER ANONYMOUSLY. Like call from a payphone and disguise your voice. Some Locals such as mine or the Teamsters can be VERY archaic.

But if they are IN a Union they can call their Union rep. But, same rules apply. Every Local is different and some handle things VERY poorly.

Best bet is to try to handle it with the abuser. If you can’t and I understand if you can’t then go above that person. If you can’t and I understand how that happens then you’re better off with the EEOC, CA Dept of Fair Employment, call HR, and if they’re able obtain lawyer.

I want to clarify something to less experienced readers– unlike most businesses, you don’t go to the human resources department to get hired on a film. You get hired directly by the department head.

There’s a bunch of paperwork you’ll have to fill out, and most of that eventually makes its way to the studio HR, but you rarely deal with them. At the beginning of a show, there’s probably a sexual harassment meeting,3 but that’s about it.

If you’re talking to HR, something bad has happened.

Mystery Line Producer also had a lot of useful input–

Unfortunately there is no good answer to this question – or at least not an answer that would allow your reader to maintain her anonymity while exposing the names & professional affiliations of her harassers. There is no faceless online vigilante group waiting to take down disreputable producers. Social media has power, but anonymity is actually a disadvantage in cases like this as it removes the weight of the accusations.

Fighting quietly does not work. Women have been politely enduring all types of harassment and intimidation for decades and have made remarkably little progress in claiming an uncontested place within the industry. Silence is is how we become complicit in maintaining the constructs that degrade and discriminate against us.

If she’s serious about addressing these concerns, she should consult a lawyer who specializes in sexual harassment cases and get a professional assessment of her options. Regardless of the culture of the industry, sexual harassment is a crime and cases that result in mental anguish and/or loss of work can (and should) be prosecuted.

Many producers use the spectre of “blacklisting” to keep people scared and silent, but it’s not as serious a threat as they would have you believe. Standing up for yourself, whether it’s against harassment or discrimination or poor wages, is not automatically an end to your career. Yes, this industry operates largely on word of mouth and networking and it is likely that you’ll be shunned by the group with whom you’ve done your last several jobs, but screw those people. Those people are assholes.

There are thousands of movies, television shows, and digital series being made every single day. There is plenty of work. You might feel adrift for a little while, you might have a few doors slammed in your face at first, but you’ll build a new network… hopefully one full of people who don’t spread vile rumors or assault their peers. The good/bad thing about this industry is that there will always be work available for people who do their jobs well. Anita Sarkeesian is working more now that she’s at the center of the GamerGate harassment, not less. Roman Polanski still makes movies for god’s sake and he’s both a rapist and a fugitive.

Taking a stand against harassment is hard. It requires courage and resolve and skin as thick as a rhinoceros, but facing it head on is the only way to change it. Anything else is just perpetuating the system.

Your reader might be surprised how much support she finds if she decided to take the bull by the proverbial horns. Look at what’s happened with Bill Cosby’s accusers – each woman who came forward gave strength to other women who would likely have remained silent.

I wish I had better news, but sadly, I don’t. I hope this helps.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. Yes, even men, although it’s usually of a different sort and generally less pervasive.
  2. I assume the reader is a “she,” but never expressly states so in the email.
  3. And someone always makes the joke, “Why do I have to go to this meeting? I already know how to harass people!
Posted in On the Job | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Willing to Relocate

Tom writes in:

I’ve been looking to break into “the industry” after recently graduating and finishing two media internships. I’ve been networking and applying like crazy; I reached out to a few recruiters and HR people in LA and NYC on LinkedIn, and one (a recruiter from Warner Bros.) got back to me yesterday.

We had a typical conversation where I told her what I want to get into and she said she’d be happy to look over my resume and pass it along to any of her colleagues. Here’s the thing though, I live in Boston but am more than willing to relocate to LA. In the initial message I told her I was “interested in learning more about the tv/film market in LA.” How do I convey that I’m willing to relocate? Do I put a vague address on my resume or keep my actual one. I just don’t want to send it to her and have my location be a dealbreaker or cause any of her colleagues to immediately pass based on my residence.

Sorry, you have to be here (or New York, or wherever the job is). There are too many people ready to walk in the door tomorrow morning. Or hell, this afternoon.1

A studio will only relocate you if you offer an incredibly unique and valuable skill. I’m talking name actors and directors, high level executives. Assistants are important, but there are a lot of those in Los Angeles. You might be the best assistant in the world, but the difference between you and the best assistant in L.A. is negligible.

The exception to this is, of course, if you know a guy. If both went to Harvard and met at an alumni event, or you both grew up in the same small town and he dated your older sister,2 or you met on a play flying to Disneyworld. Or, you know, you worked together when you were an intern.

This is why you take internships and work for free. Don’t talk to recruiters. Talk to your former employers. A personal connection can get you places.

Applying online will not, sadly.

And speaking of personal connections, anyone in Los Angeles should come to the TAPA mixer in two weeks. It’s gonna be fun, and it might actually help you get a job.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. This happened to me, once.
  2. This also happened to me.
Posted in Finding a Job | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Women in Horror Month

Welp, the Oscars are over (not that I had many opinions on that). More importantly, the film I was on is over, so I don’t have any good set stories to talk about. Having some time on my hands, I decided to read up on Women in Horror Month.

If you’re not a fan of the genre, you probably don’t think horror is particularly kind to women. Normies1 tend the focus on the gore and T&A (and why wouldn’t you?), but they forget that it’s one of the first (and still few) genres that regularly feature strong, female leads. You know what Sigourney Weaver‘s first Academy Award nomination was for?


Side note: I showed a script to a producer friend of mine. Not asking her to make it or anything; I just wanted her input. She told me it would never sell, because men can’t identify with a female lead.

Um.. whut. Tell that to forty years’ worth of slasher movies. Since at least the (original) Texas Chain Saw Massacre, the Final Girl has been a staple of the genre. Are you telling me boys haven’t been watching horror movies since a decade before I was born?

I could write a whole book on why this isn’t the case, but oh, wait, Carol Clover beat me to it. (“Men, Women, and Chainsaws” sounds like the name of a metal band, but it’s actually a very well-researched academic book.)

I tell you, Hollywood is way more sexist (and racist and homophobic) than they accuse the middle of the country of being.


Anyway. As I said, Women in Horror Month has inspired me to do some reading.

Off Screen magazine jumped the gun by several months, but that’s okay. They have not just one, but two issues devoted to Gender and Horror. I particularly liked “Film, Fear and the Female, An Empirical Study of the Female Horror Fan,” by Amy Jane Vosper, which dispels a lot of myths about women who like horror.

There’s a lot more where that came from. Malevolent Magazine’s February issue is likewise devoted to Women in Horror Month. The Horror Honeys have a retrospective on some lesser-known women in horror. Stoned Crow Press has an interview series titled Women Write Horror.

Speaking of interviews, my new favorite horror podcast, Werewolf Ambulance, recorded an episode on Slumber Party Massacre for WiHM, followed by their first interview, with the writer and producer of a new horror movie.

Another side note: Slumber Party Massacre has the most awesomely bad NSFW trailer I’ve ever seen (seriously, it’s very NSFW)–

Well, that’s enough links for now. That should keep you busy until I find my next gig.

Speaking of finding your next gig, networking is an important part of that. You should totally come to the PA mixer on March 8th in Burbank.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. That’s what we call you.
  2. Yes, okay, that’s more of an action movie than the original Alien, but still, my point remains.
Posted in About Me, Off-Topic, Writing | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The TAPArty Is Back!

And better than ever!

Sorry it’s been a wee while. I’ve been on a shoot out of state, with no real way to make arrangements. But now I’m back, and it’s on.

Mark your calendars: Sunday, March 8, at 2:00pm, TAPA and her readers are descending on Story Tavern in Burbank. Because we got into this business to be storytellers, right?

We’ll gather on the patio, because there’s plenty of space, and it’ll be quiet enough that we can actually talk to each other. You know, like we’re networking and stuff.

Invite your friends!

The address is 150 S San Fernando Blvd, Burbank, CA 91502:

It’s the Valley, so parking is easy. And there’s, like, three movie theaters within walking distance; after you make friends with fellow PAs, you can go catch an afternoon screening of Chappie.1

That’s what I’m gonna do.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. It’s just Short Circuit with better effects, right? I can’t be the only one who sees this.
Posted in TAPA Meetup | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Set Life Versus Office Life

Brianna writes in:

My life goal is AD.

I was just told by a PA as green as I am that I should take a job as an office PA because I didn’t go to film school and the office is a great classroom and that everyone should do it once.

I know that being an AD involves PRs and office related work, but I’m just worried I’ll go crazy if I’m stuck in an office all day for the next 6 months (I quit my comfy, salaried office job because I was going crazy – coincidentally how I got my first PA gig).

I’ve only done set jobs, one of which required me to work in the office for one day, during which I ran a few errands then literally sat around for 8 hours (despite, of course, always asking everyone if anything needed done [it was a small reality production]).

My biggest worry is not that I’ll be bad at the work (because I won’t be) but that I’ll get bored with it and thus not come off as the super stellar (albeit green) PA that I’m rumored to be. (I like to think the rumors are true.)

Any advice? Would you shy away from office work because set life is where you thrive or do it just to say you’ve done it once and know what it’s like?

First of all, if you worked in the office for a day, you were an office PA. You’ve done it. Hurray! You’ve learned how boring it is.

You did get good advice; everyone should probably work both on set and in the office at some point. You just don’t know which is the right position for you, until you try.

But there’s no reason to torture yourself. If you hate the office, never go back. Unless, you know, you need to. Sometimes the only offer you have is for a job you don’t want. A girl’s gotta eat.

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

The Gravity Lawsuit and Adaptation

Do you listen to Scriptnotes?

You should; it’s awesome. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a podcast about screenwriting, and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

This week’s episode explains “The Deal with the Gravity Lawsuit.” It’s extremely illuminating, and if you’re new to the business, I highly recommend listening to it. There’s a lot of minutia, but it’s important minutia.

tl;dl: Writer Gerritsen believes that the film Gravity is based on her novel of the same name. It’s not a completely insane claim; New Line bought the rights to her book, Warner Brothers bought New Line, Warner Brothers produced a film with the same name in the same setting (near Earth orbit).

Gerritsen isn’t suing over her copyright; they bought the film rights fair and square. She’s suing because she’s owed a bonus if a film was ever made of her book. Warners says the Sandra Bullock movie was developed separately, and any similarities are coincidental.

The novel is rather different from the movie, but one could imagine how the development process could transform one into the other. In fact, Gerritsen claims just that. I don’t know anybody involved, and either version seems plausible to me.1

Anyway, back to Scriptnotes. At around 46:32, Craig says:

Let’s say Gerritsen never sells her film rights to New Line Productions, okay? She just publishes her book, she goes on her merry way.And then one day, Warner Brothers makes Gravity.

Same situation. The only thing that’s different is that she didn’t sell the film rights to New Line. Would she not be able to sue Warner Brothers? Of course she would. And what would the law suit be? It would be a copyright case.

The problem with this hypothetical is, saying that the purchase is the “only” thing that’s changed presumes that the Cuaróns would have written Gravity with out having read her book (or the screenplay based on her book).

I don’t know whether that’s true or not; I don’t know if they ever saw the book or screenplay, even. But the hypothetical situation assumes that they did, in fact, come up with the screenplay on their own, which is the point of contention.

In other words, Craig’s argument that Gerritsen is wrong rests on the assumption that she’s wrong. It’s circular logic.

Here, I believe, is a better hypothetical situation, followed by a question I genuinely do not know the answer to–

Let’s start with an imaginary horse racing book (to take another running hypothetical from the episode), about a boy who loves the freedom of riding a horse, but can’t afford to own one. So, he works for a rich family as a groomer, and secretly takes the horses out at night. When their daughter catches him, she encourages him to enter a big race. To the astonishment of his wealthy benefactors, the boy wins!2

Then the producer says, “The last five horse racing movies tanked at the box office. You know what’s hot right now? Ostriches!” So now the film gets moved to the Middle East, and becomes an ostrich racing movie.

Go Pros - is there anything they can't do?

I’m not making this up.

A director comes on board, and she wants to make the main character a girl, to address women’s issues in the Middle East. So class warfare goes out the window, in favor of feminism.

The head of production at the studio looks over the budget and says, “Ostrich racing is fucking expensive. Cut the race.” Now the girl merely works at an ostrich farm, and there is no big race to finish the movie.

And on and on. The point being, very little of the original remains. We’ve all heard stories of books being adapted into something entirely unrecognizable. So my question is: at what point is the movie no longer based on the book?

If we’re talking about a screenplay, the answer is easy. WGA members, in the arbitration process, read every draft of the script, and assign credit based on that. In the horse-race-to-ostrich-farm scenario I outlined, it’s a pretty easy guess that the the first writer would not be getting credit.

But what if it’s a book that started this whole chain of events? Even though the final product is way different, none of it would’ve happened without the novel starting the process.

Of course, the same argument could be made about the first draft of the script. Sooooo…? I dunno.

Anyway, it seems to me, that’s what Gerritsen means when she says “this isn’t a copyright issue.” She believes, if she had access to the discovery process a trial would grant her, that she could trace a line from the proverbial ostrich farm to a horse race. Or, rather, from the Sandra-Bullock-floating-in-space movie to her outbreak-on-a-space-station book.

I don’t know what the answer is. Do you?

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. Gravity” is kind of an obvious name for a movie about astronauts stuck in space.
  2. Not a great story, but whatever. Imagine Stephen King wrote it, and it sold a million copies.
Posted in Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Unusual Route to Becoming a Writers’ Assistant

Reader Andrew writes in:

There’s a small independent film company looking to break into TV. I know the producer, and she’s offered me a writer’s assistant position while they develop a pilot. So it’s really more of a development assistant position, but she calls it “writer’s assistant.”

This makes me very nervous. On one hand, it could be a great opportunity. On the other hand, they haven’t done TV, and neither have I. If their pilot is picked up, they’ll bring in a whole team who will what – discover I have zero training? Same with if it’s not picked up and I apply to other writer’s assistant jobs after. I don’t ever want to misrepresent myself.

I haven’t decided whether to take this position or not yet – what do you think? Is this a learning opportunity or an I getting myself into trouble?

It really depends on how big they are in film. Are they consistently making movies that go straight to video? Or do some of their movies get modest theatrical runs? Just like people, companies can be overly ambitious.

You obviously can’t guarantee any TV series will go well, but a company with a more successful track record has a better chance of succeeding in the future.

That being said, if you’re in tight with the producers, they’re not going to kick you out as soon as the show goes to series. The time you helped developing the pilot counts towards experience on the show. In fact, this is exactly the sort of situation I talk about when I say “The only way you get a job without experience is if you’re on the show at the time that they need to hire someone.”

If you have a bad feeling about this (if you think it’s going to blow up in their faces), then don’t do it. Otherwise, take the shot. You’ll figure out the job as necessity dictates.

Posted in On the Job | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Make a Good Last Impression

First impressions are important; they go a long way towards determining whether you land the job. But last impressions are almost as important; they determine whether you get the next job.

People are busy. They’re not going to remember every little thing you did or didn’t do over the course of a season. Your boss will have a vague impression about whether you were generally helpful or useless, but that’s about all.

They will remember, however, the last thing you do.

Whether it’s picking up lunch one last time, moving the desks out, or cleaning the dildos, your boss (and anyone else who is still hanging around) will remember how well you did that final task.

If you’re the last PA, the best advice is also the most obvious– keep working until the work is done. Don’t stop to take a break, don’t shuffle around the office, don’t whine about doing all the heavy lifting yourself (even though you totally are).

Less straightforward are the times when you’re the second or third PA. The office will likely remain open a week or two after you go. You’ll often run into this weird stretch of time between the stage wrapping out (which tends to take about a week) and the office shutting down for good.

There’s often not a lot of things to do in this Twilight Zone between wraps, so it’s hard to earn your Diligent Worker merit badge. What you can do is, not fuck up.

Don’t leave work behind for the other PA to take care of after you’re gone. Take everything as far as possible to completion. Check the asset inventory, clean every office, pack up anything that won’t be needed until next season (God willing). Your job is to make the last PA’s job boring as hell.

If the coordinator or UPM sees the wrap PA doing all kinds of work on the final week, they’re going to wonder why more wasn’t done in the previous week. They’re going to wonder why you didn’t do it.

Then they’re going to wonder why they need you at all next season.

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

Animator Jason Bierut


It’s the final episode of Crew Call for the year!

Today’s guest is an experienced animator, and now technical director. Jason Bierut has worked on The Powerpuff Girls, Mucha Lucha, and most recently, Jake and the Never Land Pirates. He talks about the state of modern animation, and what it takes to break into that industry. You can even take classes from Jason at Studio Arts!

Also this week, CAPS Payroll is sponsoring another contest! They’re giving away a pair of tickets to Crew Call listeners for their VIP suite at the Staples Center. The winners will get to choose from a range of events (concerts, sports, etc).

Winners will be chosen at random on December 14th during the next TAPA networking event. (You don’t actually have to be physically at the event to win; just pay attention to your Twitter feed, wherever you are.)

Chris Henry wrote the Crew Call theme. Follow him on Twitter at @MrStonebender.

If you like the show, please rate and review us on iTunes. You can also subscribe via Stitcher, or with the Crew Call xml feed.

Back episodes of Crew Call can be found on the Anonymous Production Assistant website.

To help support Crew Call, simply click on the Amazon banner before you go shopping:

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