Day 2 – Be Prepared For The Worst
When on set, it’s wise to be prepared for whatever the day may throw at you. I’m not just talking about adding additional layers for warmth as mentioned on the previous chapter, but mentally as well.
Today was one of those examples. After the initial starting process of everyday, costume, hair, make-up, breakfast, on the bus to set, the 50-odd of us were taken off-site to a location shoot where the set designers had built a small village in the middle of nowhere for a bloody public disciplinary of a lead character. Lovely.
What wasn’t lovely was the weather. In the centre of this medieval village was mud. Lots and lots of mud. Us gents with knee-high boots were relatively unscathed bar shivering, whilst the ladies were sinking into the mud in open-toe sandals and sweeping dresses slowly absorbing the sludgy mess, like fungus slowly creeping over a piece of bread which you left on the table when you were a student “just to see what would happen”.
I was relatively unscathed by the process as luckily I had been assigned an archway to patrol under. But even so, on days like this the only way to muster through is keep telling yourself:
“Well, at least it’s not the worst shoot I’ve ever done.”
Not the greatest advice in the world, I admit, but a poignant one at least. I’ve had some horrific days I can say. Days where I’ve questioned why the hell do I tolerate this disgusting treatment as SA’s aren’t even the slightest bit respected in some instances and even sworn that I world never work in this profession again.
The first bad shoot I ever did was about 6 years ago at an abandoned military training site, they had converted one of the buildings to look like an illegal, seedy club. There were girls there who were topless but made to look under-age (they were of course over 18), two bus-full of drama students who were there as “un-paid work experience” which is quite frankly downright immoral and something EQUITY would’ve taken them to court on. The kicker was being left outside for 12 hours with no facilities, no food, no hot drinks, freezing in the winds of cold Welsh weather and after 8 hours of nothing food came. Options were a tiny chunk of chicken on a singular piece of lettuce, vegetarian option was the singular piece of lettuce. I. Shit. You. Not. Oh and we weren’t even used in any of the scenes. Again, lovely…
But even high-budget productions you can have horrendous days. It was actually the beginning of this year on a high-profile Hollywood film I nearly walked off set. For the scene we were required to be corpses so I had to lie on my front all day. Sounds easy, right? Well, firstly I had 4 layers of costume which included tabard, chain mail and underlayers with additional thermal trousers/top to boot. Now imagine torrential downpour so bad that my clothes go soaked through to the point where said thermals were dripping wet and expected to lie there for the 8 hours we were on set. Now it wasn’t just the conditions that made the day bad but the crews attitude and general disregard for our well-being, especially from the costume department which is surprising as their main priorities are to maintain the condition of the costumes. There was no cover for us to seek shelter from until the very end of the day by that time it was too late as the previously mentioned we were soaked to the bone (literally). Even the props guy dealing with our swords was head-to-toe in waterproof gear and confessed even his clothes were starting to seep. It’s always a kick in the teeth when you’re in said conditions and you see the principle artists being pandered to as well. In this case they had an easy-up over their heads and an electric heater for warmth (which was strange as when I requested one it was a “health and safety hazard”) whilst you’re watching from afar shivering in the rain. Is it so hard to be treated like a person now and again?
These awful, reoccurring memories were going through my mind as I watched from my post as the sympathetic crew were running in with thick blankets to keep everyone warm between takes, taking solace and couldn’t help but smile slightly as the AD’s going out of their way from their very busy days to personally go to each individual SA and ask if they’re OK whilst a few runners brought hot drinks around to keep everyone’s spirits up.
Well, at least it’s not the worst shoot I’ve ever done. And if it was? Well, it’ll make your next great shoot be more worthwhile. Take the positive from the negative and use the experience as a learning opportunity. Like staying well away from any production which offer you a “deal rate”. You won’t find me freezing my perfectly-formed ass outside an abandoned warehouse in Newport for £60 again that’s for sure!