Calling in Sick

Joey writes in:

A few days ago, I was referred to day play on a TV series by someone I had PA’d for once before, which I was really excited about. That morning, I woke up with the worse flu I’ve ever head. We’re talking vomiting, sweating, all the gross stuff.

I know this is probably bad form but after scouring TAPA and fruitless Google searches, in my miserable state I texted the AD, emailed the 2nd AD and the person who referred me (also working on the shoot) explaining the situation, apologizing and canceling on them. The following day I sent my referral another email apologizing and explaining my thought process, but haven’t heard back.

It was a big day, and they had plenty of PAs, so I don’t think I left them in a bind, but felt SO awful. I didn’t want to come to work and leave a bad impression, not bringing my A-game and looking like I was trying to skim by to get a paycheck and honestly, not earn that paycheck. I am immensely concerned with making good impressions in the work place and want to know two things: 1) Did I handle the situation correctly? 2) What is the best way to call in sick?

You did exactly what you should have done. Unfortunately, you’ll never get credit for it.

The worst thing a PA can be is not there. You have to be up and at ’em, ready and willing to work, for at least twelve hours. You’re not doing anyone any good from home.

In a freelance industry, first impressions matter. A lot. It makes no sense, but your behavior on the first day will affect everyone’s view of you for the run of the series. If you can’t show up, well…

It sounds like it was unavoidable in this case. If you are literally unable to get out of bed, that sucks enough in and of itself. But you’ve now made a bad impression with both the AD on that show and the friend who referred you. You’ll probably never work for either of them again.

It’s totally unfair, but that’s life. So if you ever find yourself in this situation, take a moment to really assess yourself. Are you “not feeling well” or are you “nearly dead?” If it’s the former, drag your ass to work. If it’s the latter… dang. Bad timing.

I’m talking about the first day, here. If you’ve been on a show for three seasons and never missed a day, showed up bright eyed and bushy tailed every morning, working hard the whole live long day, then yeah, you can call in sick. Again, your first (and 301st) impression is positive. One sick day won’t undo all that work.

Also, wash your hands once in a while. You’re spreading germs!

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10 Comments

  1. I never admit to being sick (or having a family emergency or whatever). Firstly – I CALL – Secondly I say “Hey, the gig I was on that thought was ending yesterday decided to go an extra day/decided they need me during wrap” or “Hey the gig I’m booked on after this one has moved up the schedule and needs to bring me in a day/week early” EVEN IF THERE IS NO GIG.

    It softens the blow with the production I’m bailing on because they all can relate to craziness like this and know what a bind it can be. They understand I don’t want to leave them hanging but I can’t leave previous engagements hanging either. It makes you sound not only responsible but popular – you’re such a kick-ass PA the other guys want to keep you on for an extra day/bring you on early! You must rock!

    Then I ALWAYS offer to find a replacement for myself and give them the names of a few of my fellow PA buddies.

    This has yet to bite me in the ass, in fact, I’ve had calls for more jobs from people I’ve bailed on in such a manner before.

  2. Another thing you can do to avoid this scenario is to have a few PA pals on stand by just in case you can’t make it. This way you’re not leaving anyone in a bind.

  3. Hi all,

    Unless you’ve all found weekend hours ( do you even get weekends in the biz?) for this kind of thing, what about sick time for important stuff like doctor/dentist appointments? Yeah, I think they are mostly 9-5 and outside of the 12 hour PA day. I had to get an MRI last week (my back is fucked! Please take care of your posture people,) but thankfully I was able to do it on a Saturday morning. Now I get the side of the argument about lazy people, but honestly, you get those in every job. The point I’m trying to make is that shit happens, especially while paying your dues. I’ve worked sick and cycled it out. I have also worked sick and gotten much sicker. I guess this is a subjective thing, but an important one. Going further, how do you all manage this kind of thing while working in the industry? You all are human and not Hollywood robots right? Yes we are all getting older, and a lot less invincible than we thought.

    Best

  4. Definitely always call.

    Having been on the hiring side of this question the person whose car breaks down, who get’s sick, who forget’s X on the first day – it’s a very tough first impression. I once overlooked this and for an entire summer was dealing with the where is that person question – which for a low level position is pretty much a key job requirement.

    A lesson learned.

    Organizing your life so you can show up is important. I’m not that great at this actually – but as an example, I had few days that I knew would be critical to my career some years ago. I went to incredible lengths to show up – it would sound crazy I think to others. In other words, I said this IS in my control, even things that NORMALLY would be a totally reasonable excuse.

    Everything from my diet (I didn’t eat out for the days leading up to avoid food poisoning), good rest / no parties, hand washing all the way to transport and fallbacks (and fallbacks), chance for random crime (I’m not kidding, I lived in a bad area). I literally thought of every possible issue I could think of and controlled it. Thank god these make or break things are once or twice in a life (one or two career items and maybe a wedding).

    It paid off though (and I saw others bomb the same thing through no fault of their own, but for reasons I had worked hard to avoid).

    The other side of this issue is 100% true as well. Once you know someone – bosses MUST encourage / demand people take sick time / take care of themselves. That means soap near sinks, 100% support when someone CALLS to say they are going to be out and yes – not working people into the ground… The only thing I’ve asked is that people call EARLY. If I get a call the evening before – frankly it’s going to be fine though a hassle. If it’s 5 minutes after someone was supposed to be somewhere – that is TOO LATE.

    In short:

    Call early.
    If the gig matters, control as much as you can.
    If you are a hard worker and your boss knows it, it will NOT be an issue AT ALL, you are probably more valuable to them then you realize!

  5. That’s one tough dilemma — truly the no-win position between a rock and a hard place. TAPA is right that showing up sick and dragging your ass though half a day just to impress the higher-ups what a martyr you are won’t do much good. Quite the opposite. The A.D. and your fellow PA’s will certainly resent you for exposing THEM to that god-awful flu bug — and if they get sick as a result, they won’t forget it. You’ll be Typhoid Joey forever to them.

    But Jess has a point — bailing at the last minute (especially via e-mail) means Joey will inevitably be viewed as the guy who didn’t show up. At the very least, he should have called to let the AD actually hear just how miserable he was — maybe even calling from the bathroom. Hey, the acoustics in a bathroom can be very effective, and a profuse verbal apology carries a lot more weight than an e-mail. They may well have assumed he got a better job or simply decided the gig wasn’t worth his time and blew them off.

    Like I said, a no-win situation. Sometimes the Gods of Hollywood conspire against us all, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Turning down work due to illness is a real bitch — and every Hollywood veteran has their own working-sick stories. I told one of mine in a post eight years ago — if you’re interested, here’s the link:

    http://hollywoodjuicer.blogspot.com/2007/12/working-sick-post-that-came-in-from.html

    Joey got screwed by fate, but sooner or later it happens to us all in this town. What’s done is done, and the important thing is to learn from this and move on. He needs to shake it off and move on to the next job — by next May, this missed opportunity will be ancient history. And in ten more years, Joey will be an AD, writer, producer, or director telling PA’s his story about the day he had to call in sick and lost a great gig… because the worst experiences make the best stories.

    Buck up, Joey — you’ll live to PA another day…

  6. I hate the answer that I’m about to give. Almost no other industry tortures themselves as much as we do.

    As a rule of thumb (even when I’m hacking up a lung or with a fever) is that I go in to work and let them see how miserable I really am and let them release me. There’s exceptions of course, but in four years I have only missed one day of work. I did in fact call out on that day because I was throwing up the night before (I was lucky enough that other crew members were also getting sick, and there were witnesses to my throwing up in the honey) and it had been a television show that I had been on for months. Meaning that I had established relationships with the ADs.

    I would recommend to everyone making new impressions to go to work and let your bosses see you try, see how sick you are, and send you home and tell you that you were crazy for coming in. It’s better than the alternative (they think you make up an excuse to skip out).

  7. What’s this guilt about ‘skimming by for a paycheck’??? The entire industry does this. How do you think every piece of sh*t direct-to-DVD action thriller starring Bruce Willis the past 10 years got made? People wanting paychecks.

    • “People wanting paychecks” is one thing — mailing it in is another. Of course some people do the least work possible to skate through every day, and those are the kind of people you don’t want to work with, much less the kind of person anybody should want to be. If you aren’t willing to put in your full efforts into the job, then don’t take the call…

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