A soldier who wishes to remain anonymous writes in:
I am a soldier of the US Army Reserve. I am obligated to give one weekend per month and two weeks a year to the Army. I am also an experienced set production assistant. I’ve never had this issue before, so I thought I’d ask you. (I’ve also asked my Sergeant to see if she knows).
The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) states that:
“If you are a past or present member of the uniformed service (which I am); an employer may not deny you initial employment because of this status.”
I have a 12-week (union) feature film coming in April and I’ve applied for the job of Set Production Assistant. During the 12 week period, I have my obligated two week training for the Army. According to this federal act, the production company cannot not hire me due to me being gone for two weeks. Is this true? I’ve worked with shady producers before, do you think they will find “another reason” not to hire me? How should I prepare myself.
Another important note– this reader lives outside the big production areas. I won’t say where, because the location would probably be a giveaway. If she lived in Los Angeles, my answer would be, “It depends entirely on your relationship with the AD.”
Most jobs are long term. Whether you work at a bank or a widget factory, your employer expects you to stick around for at least a year. The government demanding that these employers release their employee for two weeks out of the year is not that big of a burden, especially considering the sacrifices these citizen-soldier are making themselves.
But for a movie shoot, two weeks is a huge chunk of the production. A show takes a few weeks to find its rhythm. It takes a little while to get used to everyone’s personalities and work habits. When a PA leaves, that process has to start over.
If they don’t know you, most ADs will simply hire a different PA in the first place. Even in New Orleans or Atlanta (and other third area cities), there are plenty of qualified PAs; it’d be neigh impossible to prove they didn’t hire you because you’re in the reserves.1
But if you live in an area without a lot of production, you really might be the most qualified PA for miles around. At that point, they’ll likely hire you. A kick ass PA for ten weeks is better than a shitty PA for twelve.
My advice is, be honest. Tell them why you’re the best PA available. Then, after you’ve got the job, tell them we live in a world with walls, and those walls have to be defended by men (and women) with guns.
If they can’t handle the truth, well, shit. There are worse reasons to lose a job than defending freedom.