Except, of course, when they don’t.
Every once in awhile, I run into a situation like the following: the set PA called and said they needed a stand-by painter on set.
Most of the work that happens in the office is either getting ready for tomorrow’s shoot, or fixing what went wrong yesterday. The set, on the other hand, lives in the moment. They only have these twelve hours to film these eight pages on this location with these actors. If they can’t get the shot now, they may not be able to do it again later.
All of which is to say, when the set needs something, they need it immediately. Unless your hair’s on fire and your butt’s catching, you better get them the thing that they need.
In this case, as I said, they needed a stand-by painter. Why? I don’t know. Mine is not to reason why. The coordinator wasn’t around at the time, so I just called the construction department and said they needed a stand-by painter on set. the construction department said okay, and that was that.
Or so I thought.1
A little while later, the UPM came into the bullpen and asked, “Did you authorize the construction department to hire a stand-by painter?”
“What? No, I didn’t ‘authorize’ anything. The set asked me to get the stand-by painter, so I called construction and told them.”
“We don’t have a stand-by painter. They called a guy in with an eight hour guarantee to touch up a bit of floor. You need to ask me before you call in someone else.”
“I didn’t know they were going to hire someone else.”
“If you don’t know, you should ask,” he chided.
But I really hate it when someone says, “If you don’t know something, ask.” Well, of fucking course. But what if I don’t know that I don’t know?
There was no reason for me to think they’d hire a new guy. Every show I’ve ever been on has a stand-by painter. There’s, like, twenty guys in our construction department; surely one of them knows how to paint. Hell, the PA asked for “the” stand-by painter, not “a” stand-by painter.
There was nothing about the situation that would lead me to think they were going to hire a new crew person. If they called and said they couldn’t find an actor, I wouldn’t assume they would just hire a different one to replace him.
I could just as easily seen the conversation going this way:
ME: “Hey, the set said they need the stand-by painter.”
UPM: “Why are you telling me? Don’t you know the stand-by painter is in the construction department?”
And it’s not just a one-time thing. People call all the time asking for stuff. I can’t run every little request past my superiors. At that point, they might as well answer the phones themselves.
There are times when you just don’t know something, and you don’t know that you don’t know it. And that’s exactly what happened.
What really bothers me is how short-sighted his response to this is. People so often extrapolate from the problem right in front of them and try to formulate a general rule. “You didn’t know? If you’d asked, you would’ve known. Next time, ask.”
But the next time I ask, you’ll think I’m an idiot. Or, you won’t be around, and I’ll wait, and you’ll get mad that I didn’t just take care of the problem myself, instead of waiting around for you. Or some damn thing.
And all I want from any UPMs and coordinators reading this is to realize that the solution to your problem today is not a universal solution. What might’ve worked in this situation may not work in the next one.
Sometimes, a mistake is just going to happen, despite our best efforts. You just have to live with that.