Things were normal for the most part…except it was obvious from the very beginning, 7:30 AM, that the Production Assistants in charge this time were not organized. Every directive they gave to go to hair, wardrobe, or make up was corrected by the people who actually ran each department.
But then all went back to the normal “wait to see what happens next mode”. Several of us realized that there were oddities to the whole day. First the shoot’s location was changed. We assumed because it had been postponed. Second, we noticed that there was a whole second group that had been listed to show up at noon – for a second shoot, we assumed, different from ours… they were costumed and made up differently – far more fancy.
But we (about 30 of us) were sent off to the set before they arrived. The timing seemed normal, but what happened there wasn’t. We were ushered into a bar, which was good because we were hired as “bar patrons” but there was nothing set up in the bar… The shoot took place in a closed and private back room fronted by frosted glass windows, so you really couldn’t see in, or out, unless the doors were opened. The actual bar was now being used as satellite holding and not for the shoot.
They hand-picked those who were hired as friends and family members to go into the room, placed them for the shot with the camera facing away from the front of the bar. Normal. Then they turned the camera around, so it pointed out. But if it was able to see anything at all past the frosted glass, maybe it could see shadowy figures in a few tables very close to the back room. So, in all they used maybe 6 of the non-friends and family.
OK, that happens sometimes. There are times people are hired but not used in a scene. Disappointing but ok.
But this was where things turned weird, and demeaning. All of us have done this several times. One of the P.A.s then took more of us and placed us at the bar, with a bartender… as if there was going to be a scene there, but we all knew none of us were in the shot. The camera was blocked, not only by the frosted glass, but also by a billboard with notices next to the bar.
As they shot take after take, it became so obvious that the bartender, fully outfitted, stopped “tending” and sat next to me who was furthest from the camera at the bar. He put his Covid Mask back on and NO ONE – neither PA, nor their assistants, TOLD HIM TO GET BACK TO THE BAR AND TAKE OFF HIS MASK.
It was obvious these two PAs did it to make us feel like we were being used in the shot…Really? Don’t insult our intelligence.
So, the scene ends and back we go to holding to go get the coats we were all given for the other thing we were hired for… an exterior shot, as pedestrians. And once again the Assistant PA gave us the wrong instructions.
After clarifications we did the normal wait until what they called lunch at 3:30…. Also, normal.
All the while we see this new group get all dressed up…which we were not… for some fancy affair. As it approached 5:30 I asked one of the PA’s if she thought we would be there past 7PM because I had reserved a garage spot until 7 PM and she said if you can extend it, you should. So, I extended it to 8 on Spot Hero.
Finally, she said, ok let’s all – both groups- go to set… So off we went figuring ok, two scenes. One, interior especially for those other people, and maybe us PLUS the exterior scene they wardrobed us for.
This was at “The Capital Grill” Fancy! We looked around for where they had set up lights for an outdoor shot and didn’t see any. Once inside, the PAs took us upstairs to satellite holding again as the shoot was in the lower part of the restaurant, mostly around a semicircular bar…
As usual, they needed to fill in the scene with us backgrounders where the cameras were aimed and then they would turn around to shoot the other directions, so we figured we’d be in one or the other shots. They shot the first side many times from different camera positions (normal) then switched. So, they called a few more people down. There were still about 25 of us upstairs waiting (all from the early shift) with our coats. I had to tell spot hero to extend to 9PM
Finally, one PA (The second in command who made a # of errors during the day) came to the table where 4 of us were sitting and said, “Let’s go down. Leave the coats.” OK- finally…
But here was the thing. She sat us at a counter that was clearly not in the shot. The two women they brought down two women knew they weren’t supposed to be in this scene because the same PA told them they had the “wrong” hair and wardrobe for this scene, but appropriate for the first we did in the morning.
We could see where the camera was pointing. There was a pillar blocking all four of us and between me and another one of us was an unused light stanchion. On the counter was a crew member half eaten lunch.
Clearly, we were out of the shot, even with the fake drinks they put in front of us.
A couple of the crew asked us, “Why did they put you here? You aren’t in the shot.” THIS WAS EVEN MORE DEMEANING.
As the camera rolled for the first shot, I had a conversation with that light stanchion who I considered my date since they sent the two women back upstairs to holding and joked after that if I had touched its knobs, # Metoo would have cancelled me.
They asked us to move as they changed a camera position forward of us, so we were now behind the camera. As that was happening, I saw the remaining folks from upstairs (about 20) walking down the stairs with their coats on and leaving.
So, I walked over to PA #1 (the Boss of the Background) and asked, “Are the people walking down the stairs and out of the restaurant doing the exterior scene we were supposed to do or just being released because there is no exterior scene after all.” I added, “Can the two of us join them? It’s clear we aren’t being used here.”
Her response? “Go back to where I put you and do what we tell you to do.” OK we did… fuming inside.
Finally, they finished the shot and someone with more power or knowledge told her and her #2 PA to release all of us who were behind the camera and were not being used because they had decided hours ago that they weren’t doing the exterior scene either at the first set where it was originally supposed to be or the second.
So, as we made our way to the stairs to go upstairs, get our coats and leave at 9 PM I asked #2, “Why were we placed at that counter where everyone knew, including her that we were even close to being in that shot?”
Her Answer? “That is the way things are done.” That was as unacceptable condescending answer to experienced people who know how things are done. I told her, in as calm a voice as I could muster, “Given your knowledge, shouldn’t we have been able to leave with everyone else? Shouldn’t all of us that you knew weren’t going to be used from 7 PM on been allowed to leave early as was the custom on other sets?”
That was my day. Worst set experiences by far. I have met 8 other Background Production Assistants, all of whom were organized, knowledgeable and treated us graciously, often with humor. These two were awful.
So was the day.