Happy Feet

Welp, I already failed at updating this again somewhat regularly. But basically, the month of February didn’t exist — I worked the NAACP Image Awards, Grammys, Oscars and Kids’ Choice Awards in March. And thus was my stint in the awards show circuit.

The Grammys was actually quite lovely. I was Walkie PA for the first time and I was worried because I had never been THE Walkie PA. And when I get there, I come to learn that I’m responsible for almost 400 walkies, which is a butt-ton of money for me to lose. But hey! I didn’t lose anything! Which hasn’t happened at the Grammys for a few years now so, yay me. My favorite moment will be as I sat in my little utility closet/expendable room and listened to Adele rehearse her performance. I will probably never see her perform but this free and loose performance was absolutely lovely.

I’ve been vying to work for the Oscars for some time now and I had met a few PAs back in November that regularly work it and I suddenly found myself getting a flood of emails for credentials and background checks. Other than it being a high-profile show, it was pretty mellow and normal — nothing too special to report other than an interesting pseudo run-in with a celebrity.

But the real news: I HAVE AN ANIMATION JOB.

I work for a stop-motion animation studio and I’m so freaking jazzed, I have to pause once in a while and remind myself that I finally landed an animation job. It took me about 2 years, 8 months, 2 weeks and 4 days since the day I decided to work in animation to actually land the job. That’s about 50 animation-related job applications (about 27 of those since October) and five interviews. It was a lot of agony, anxiety and so many damn cover letters.

Figures that I got this job by reference that required no cover letter.

I’m a PA/runner right now, so I don’t work on a specific show but I work with the entire company and its departments. I’ve been able to take a peek at the puppets in storage and am helping rearrange the sets and props area, but I get too distracted by looking at the beautiful mountain of fabricated tacos to be quick about it.

While I may be floating on cloud nine, I also feel like I’m just floating. I had been gunning for this for so long and hard, it’s like I’m a spaceship that was rocketing towards outer space, struggling against the resistance of the atmosphere that when I finally broke through, the lack of friction is confusing. The rational side of my brain knows that this feeling is temporary and soon, I’ll be charting a course for the rest of my career.

AND THAT’S ANOTHER QUESTION. Where TO go? I’ve been aiming for production or storyboarding (more set on storyboarding) because I thought I’d land in a traditional 2D/3D animation house. My company was one of those “It’d be so cool if…” places because stop-motion is a blend of live-action and animation and it struck me that this would be the perfect way of breaking in. But, I never expected to actually get to this specific spot ‘cuz that doesn’t happen, right? But here I am and I could… sew! Build puppets! Build sets! Go into production! I could take a storyboard test! I COULD LITERALLY DO ANY OF THOSE THINGS OH MY GOD YOU GUYS.

So, bear with me as I settle into my new company. I still promise to try to post useful things here. But who knows.. maybe this will be the end. Or it’ll morph into an animation blog. Who knows.

Dreams come true, but also the dream is just beginning, you guys.

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Back to the Future

TL;DR
I worked a lot. I’m not working now. I still want to work in animation. It’s 2016.
I’m gonna try to bring this blog back a bit by writing more helpful posts about the film industry. I owe someone a post about 1099s and freelancing from 2013 and it’s haunted me ever since.

•••••

Whoa, hi.

I was a lucky lady in 2015 and managed to pull off constant work from March to the beginning of October, thus the radio silence on this here blog.

I landed on another Nat Geo show called, “Breakthrough,” in the office from June to October and it was a fun job. The crew was great and I was able do more than I usually do as an office PA than other jobs so I felt all fancy and grown up. There was a point where my UPM and coordinator were out on shoots and it was up to me to coordinate a shoot with a producer. I loved being able to figure out what I needed to do, and deciding for myself when and where to go to do it all.

Since then it’s just been day playing on a game show and for a company that does production and management for YouTubers with being a background extra again. I don’t have much prospects for future jobs, but I’ll admit I’m not really trying. I want so much to have a steady job and not be unemployed every other month. And the idea of continuing on in live action as a coordinator or an AD doesn’t appeal to me at all so… things are limited. I’m still up for art department but even then that’ll land me back at the altar of the EDD (unemployment department).

I’m still gunning hard for animation and I had a few interviews this past summer so at least I made a little bit of headway. Go me.

But I’m feeling that my time in live action is limited. I know for a fact I can’t be a freelancer my entire life — I don’t want to give up all that I want for my life for just one aspect. I don’t know when I’ll stop, and the idea of getting another day job and saying no to future PA gigs is terrifying. If I do get a day job, it’ll be within the industry still. Being a studio tour guide sounds like a good deal, and some studios combine that with a page program and allow you to go somewhere else in the studio when you’ve spent a year or so as a page. Maybe I can get myself into a prop shop or costume warehouse. Who knows! There are still options, but animation is still number one.

But it’s a week into 2016 and you’re supposed to have resolutions n’ stuff, right?

• Be more confident.
It’s something I’ve struggled with all my life. I didn’t grow up in a household where I was encouraged or praised, and was told constantly not to talk back or voice my opinions. One of the ways I’m gonna do this is to learn how to haggle in Chinatown and downtown LA. I’m absolutely terrified and terrible at haggling, but I figure if I can get a rude vendor to agree to a price on a product, I figure I can take over the world.

• Have more discipline.
Mostly this is about sticking to a creative schedule and learning. I’ve got myself a Lynda account and am enrolled in an online art school, both of which I have yet to take any classes. I want to get back to drawing every day and I’d love to learn something new every week or so and have my skills and perspectives grow.

• Seek self-fulfillment.
I need to take my hobbies seriously. I love to draw, it makes me so happy. I love to sew, it makes me feel like a wizard. I want to paint, I want to sculpt, I want to carve, I want to create so many things and I need to use these desires as fuel for myself. I’ve had enough time not enjoying myself since graduation, that it’s time to focus on myself outside of the jobs that pay the bills.

• Take less bullshit.
Whether it’s putting up with it or dishing it out myself, it’s too tiring to have it in my life.

• Try to make this blog helpful again.
Well, if it’s needed. I feel like there’s a lot of resources out there besides this blog about filmmaking, but I created this mostly for those who attend/ed my alma mater so I’ll be catering more to them. Almost three years ago someone asked about freelancing and 1099s and I still have yet to write anything substantial on it. Oops.

There Will Be Blood

Hurr, I totally forgot what I was gonna rant about as mentioned in the last post ‘cuuuuuz I had about five gigs since then. WOO.

In March, I got back into game show production with some of my old coordinators. Luckily, it was a huge job so literally all but one of my coordinators was on that show, so it was a way to kill four birds with one stone and say “Hey! I’m back!” The show went well, as it always does with this group of folk. I was the control room PA, which means I just sit in the control room and act as production liaison to the producers. Good job, good people, I got to watch the show as it happened, it was good times.

The gig after that was being an art director for a short film. I mean, awesome! I get to be an art director, it’s a short, and they’re above the current PA rate. Buuuuut… it was not a fun experience. I had major issues with the schedule and the director. The good thing that came out of it was that it paid for an on-set art kit, which is basically a butt-ton of colored gaff tape, spray paints and markers. I’m really excited to expand it.

Third gig was being an art PA for a commercial. It was super fast-paced but luckily, the art director gig I had was also super super fast paced and I was still wound up from it. It zoomed by quickly, I learned how to pronounce “ranunculus,” and set was only 15 minutes from my house. Hoo hoo!

Fourth gig was sewing together some costumes for my friend Sam’s project. I kind of got cocky and bit off more than I could chew, but everything looked great on camera. It was a great way to unwind from two hectic shoots.

And the fifth and last gig… hoooo. It was the coveted scripted show. Whoooaaaa. AND it was a comedy to boot. I got assigned to be the talent PA, also known as First Team PA, on bigger shows it would be the 2nd 2nd AD (kind of… it’d involve more paperwork though). My job would be to stick with the actors. A little bit of go-fer, but mostly moving them through fittings, getting dressed, hair, make up and getting them to set on time. To put it simply, it was kind of like playing the Sims, with their free will pushed up to 12,000%.

And guys, I’ll confess: I fucking sucked at it.

This job kicked my ass. Not in just a, “Phew! That sure was tough but by golly, we done good.” It was a “Holy shit holy shit holy shit WHAT IS GOING ON OMFG WHERE DID HE GO we’re running late whoa that wig looks amazing OH FUCK SWITCHING TO TWO FIFTEEN MINUTES, I SWEAR.” It’s amazing how I wasn’t fired. Honestly. I’ve never run first team before. On one show, I was told I could invite Morgan Freeman to set once because I was standing near him, but I chickened out. But yeah, okay. Let me be responsible for sometimes 20 people in a day. Suuuuure why not.

According to my pedometer, I walked/ran/paced/panicked about 13 miles a day. I got yelled at by multiple departments. I got so so many dirty looks. Talked about behind my back. Every day, I was someone’s bad guy. Every day, I came home defeated and broken. Knowing that I would wake up at 4:30am, drive an hour to set and slog through a day of exasperated sighs, last minute bathroom breaks, people talking in my ear, and that shrug people do when they’re asking, “Seriously, what the fuck?” all for less than a dollar over minimum wage (for those who are motivated by the money). The stress of it all got me so wound up that one night, when my boyfriend was making dinner and told me it’d be ready in two minutes, I had a physical reaction. My heart rate went up, my muscles seized and my breath quickened. I answered my walkie in my sleep and I would wake up at the slightest sound and ask my boyfriend if an actor had signed out yet.

I really struggled to find the balance between being a schedule Nazi, and trying to be empathetic to the artists’ work. Because they were all artists. Wardrobe, hair, make up, the actors themselves, they all wanted their craft to be respected, and to be done well. I can totally understand that. If an actor went in front of the camera without a piece of jewelry or a headpiece that was specifically rented for that character, that sucks and that’s money wasted. If an actor goes out with a half-glued beard, or unpinned hair, it’ll look terrible. One of those, “You had ONE job,” kind of things. Each department is responsible for their one thing, and if I don’t let them do it, they’re gonna be upset. No one but them (and well, the EPs) can say when it’s good enough. That’s why they were hired.

I would be asked by production for an ETA, I’d ask all the departments, and I’d report. Production would probably ask “are they done yet?” and if it was before the ETA I gave, I’d say so. If it’d go on longer, I’d have to say so. I was a parrot. There were some times when the AD or an EP would have to come in and stare at the artists while they worked, and they hate that. That’s when you know you’re in trouble.

What’s funny is, it wasn’t until the second to last day, which was the absolute worst day ever for reasons I’ll recount over a drink, that I learned the key to it all:

Don’t ask for an ETA, give them the ETA.

I was asked to get an ETA, so I would get it. What I should have done, from the very damn beginning, was to give vanities* an ETA. Rather than having them tell me it’ll be about 20 minutes, I have to tell them “We have 15 minutes.” So then they can tell me if what they got approved by the EPs is feasible or not, or if they can improvise. I didn’t know I could do that. Was I allowed to do that? My title still has “PA” in it, that means I don’t have power… right? No, it’s not that telling someone they have fifteen minutes was me telling them get the job done now, it was me letting them know that production is gonna be ready for an actor in fifteen. I am a catalyst. The go-between. The liaison. It’s such a simple solution that came to me from our wonderful magical Hair Magician, after I had spent the lunch hour just sitting behind the wardrobe trailer, hiding from everyone.

There are so many gory details. But I knew towards the end that this ass whooping was gonna be good for me. I know I can get a big ego, and that I had been doing well as just a regular ol’ set or office PA, so this knocked me down a peg or two (but really, knocked me down to the concrete). I’m did something new, and my skin is gonna be a little bit tougher once these battle wounds heal. I’m still roughed up, I’m still trying to wind down, but I wasn’t fired. Maybe it’s because the AD team was from NYC so they didn’t have any other PAs, maybe I’m blowing it out of proportion on my end, who knows. I’m just gonna avoid being a first team PA again for as long as I can.

*Hair and make up is typically known as vanities. Some prefer “glamor.” Also, when someone is “in the works,” that means they’re currently sitting in a hair or make up chair.

Spring Awakening

Two weeks ago, my college brought the students from the Professional Development course I had helped create out to LA for spring break (!!!). We had a mixer on Monday, where I was a dweeb and had to flit around and insert myself into conversations and seem like I have my life together. Thursday was a dinner with a just a small handful of alumni and the students and we all got to know each other. They had good questions, good plans and good heads on their shoulders. I’m really, truly impressed with this bunch. Almost all of them were very motivated, were sure of what they wanted and made my immediate graduation groups seems like flailing piglets. Also, I got unreasonably attached to them and want them all to come to LA as soon as they get that diploma in their hands.

With how rough my introduction into the industry has been, talking to the students gave me some perspective. An alumnus with a few years on me and is a working DP agreed with me on my talking points, which kind of validated my experiences and philosophies. Like it was a mile marker saying, “Hey, you’re on the right path.” And just being able to tell the students about my horror stories, things I’ve done and learned helped me to see how far I’ve come. Yeah, I may not be steadily working as a PA, (though, I am right now. Wee!) I’ve still been through a few things.

A small update, I don’t think I’ll be going back to the old once-a-month schedule, but I’ll have a rant soon, once I have some time to reflect on it. Grr.

The Fall

Sorry for the silence. Things got a little gnarly at the end of September and I spent October getting back into normalcy. Big decisions were made, then undone, redone or put on the back burner. Harrowing things happened, harrowing things are going to happen and 2015 is going to be interesting. I’m steeling myself for a bit of hardship and any positive vibes will be appreciated.

So I’ve been toying with the idea of discontinuing this blog, or at least on my somewhat-regular basis. All of the instructors at my alma mater that promoted this blog are no longer teaching there and there’s only a handful of super seniors (no shame! I was one too!) left there that know who I am, and I don’t think any of them are in film.

This blog was born from the idea that I was fresh and new to the industry, that I could document my attempts to break into Hollywood in real time. The other industry blogs I read were by people who broke in years ago, back in fax machines were used instead of email and MySpace was still a thing. But it’s been over three years now. I’ve been around the block a little, I’m hardly green any more and to put it plainly: I don’t have much to say. I don’t feel like I’ve gotten very far in my career so unless I hop onto a big scripted show, I don’t anticipate on having a bunch of stuff to write about. And the things I do have to say, you could have found if you Google hard enough. That’s how I learned 98% of the things I learned about filmmaking and now animation.

Maybe this ennui-like thing was born from the fact that I’ve been at the same job since February. And not only is it the same job, it’s a really boring job that I have nothing to report on. A job that makes me feel so far from the heartbeat of the industry that earlier this spring I had grown complacent and quite depressed. It got better with an amazing summer of friends and the RHR project, a fall that went back to being very quiet and now an adventurous winter: I’m being downsized.

My last day will be one week before Thanksgiving. Conveniently, I have an animation convention to attend (CTNX14!) to help ease me back into filing for unemployment and wayward schedule of being an extra again. But the folks at work are being awesome and offering to pass my resume around, and some folks are well acquainted in the animation world so maybe this is the kick in the butt I needed and dive into the deep end.

Except for the one big harrowing thing in 2015 (yay for vague!), I’m kind of excited. I’m gonna have so much time to really dig into animation now and I’ll be able to read, watch, draw and paint. The week before I got this job, I bought myself a gouache starter set to play with with and I haven’t been able to touch it since. I haven’t even read a book. It’s like the past nine months have been a hiatus in my full-time personal growth. I’m sad to be losing a reliable and hefty paycheck but that’s all that this job was to me.

What’s funny is that the first week I got this job, I worked a few days on a show and the week after I finish this job, I’ll be working a few days on the same show. And I’ll (hopefully) be an extra again. So I’m practically picking up where I left off. I feel strange more than anything, that my life is going back almost the exact way it was this time last year.

I’m okay. I’m hopeful.

Red Heart Rebels: Pre-Production

Let’s make Red Heart Rebels blog posts a three-part series. First up: Pre-production

**I’d like to preface this by saying that there are a bunch of ways to handle a production and the way I’m presenting how I work may not be the “right” way for you and your team. Each production handles itself a little differently and I’ve adapted my pipeline from my own experiences.

How I got involved

It was a beautiful night in early May and I was in line to hop onto a trampoline arena to play dodgeball (because that’s how these things happen, you know) and Ethan, essentially the showrunner whom I had only met once before, asked me if I wanted to act in his web series, Red Heart Rebels. Without even hesitating, I said yes. No audition for me, suckaaaaz.

Over the next few weeks, he and his co-EP, Andrew, started texting and messaging me with various questions about production and offered to let me read the scripts and Ethan opened himself up to notes. After about a week of back and forth, I was asked if I just wanted to hop onto the team, since I wouldn’t shut up about how to do things. I know after last year and Les MiseraBaristas, I swore I wouldn’t jump onto a production while I had a full-time job but I loved the idea of being on a project again and I loved the story. I needed some excitement in my life where my work life is mundane and isolating, so I agreed.
And that’s where the fun began.

ORGANIZATION
Overall for the project, I crowned myself unit production manager because I like knowing everything that’s happening and I’m generally OCD about how things are organized. A UPM is someone who manages the whole production. The ADs report to the UPM, the UPM works with the line producer (money person) and the other producers to make things happen on budget and on time. The UPM and line producer sit at the top of the below-the-line folk.
I was invited to the Google Drive and its two tiny folders. One for scripts and one for a preliminary pre-production schedule. Anyone who’s worked with me knows I pretty much command how things are organized. So the Drive ballooned into this:

GoogleDrive

 
This, to me, is the most easily digestible way of handling a lot of information. Breaking things up into departments and having sub-folders if necessary. And spreadsheets are KING in my digital production binders. They’re so flexible and they allow you to organize everything very (very very very) neatly on the page, make templates and generally, make miracles happen that would take forever in a word document.

After organizing the Drive, came the Calendar:
Calendar
Forgive the lightness; it lightens the events that’ve passed.
Every department and executive team member had a color assigned to them so we can see when things had to be done. Things moved around as our availabilities changed, and I always like to give things early deadlines so that we have some wiggle room to refine and edit them (this came from my time on the student magazine).

This worked in tandem with a to-do list you can see on the screen grab of the Drive that broke down what everyone was responsible for, including what all three of us had to do, and when they should be done. It had some things that weren’t on the calendar, like break downs, list-making, etc.
BUDGET
We first started out with producing all six episodes, which itself would be a handsome sum of money. But at the time, the story was set in the desert. Which meant housing, transportation and adequate shelter. Which is another, even handsomer sum of money. Ethan wanted this to be made as legal and legitimately as possible and he was after SAG-AFTRA actors. This meant getting film permits, California Highway Patrol officers, insurance and becoming a SAG-AFTRA signatory project.

To break down the budget, you should do scene break downs: you go through the script(s) 5,000 times (exaggerating) and highlight props, set dec, wardrobe, locations, people, etc. From that I was able to pull a shopping list for art departments and was able to get a vague idea of a schedule, which would translate to how many days we needed to rent equipment, how much to pay people, permit fees and location fees. It… was a very large number. Too large of a number. A number so large that I couldn’t fathom spending it all and I was starting to work a line producer into the budget.

Knowing the likelihood of getting that number was pretty much zilch, Andrew and I ended up talking to Ethan about focusing on just the pilot. Our reasoning was that no matter how much money the IndieGoGo would make, it would all towards just one episode and not be spread so thin across all the episodes, that it ends up looking like crap.

Before we set out to film the teaser trailer to accompany our IndieGoGo campaign, we had to plot out what we would offer as perks. Just some days spent shopping around at promo item companies online and locally and pricing things out. What was tricky was estimating and hoping that enough people would select a perk item that would net us a profit.

Now here comes a nugget of wisdom: do NOT think that perks are what will get people to donate in the first place. No no no. Perks are NOT incentives. They are thank you’s. No one will see that you’re offering a $10 shot glass and say, “Golly! I really want a shot glass! How convenient that this IndieGoGo is offering them.” Perks may entice people to donate more than they were planning to, but they won’t draw them in. Keep it simple.

Once we had our budget in place and our rewards tiers set, we filmed the teaser on a surprisingly breezy and not-too-hot afternoon in the desert near Palmdale. Edited that thing and the IndieGoGo went live.

We asked for $16,000. That’s still a big number. That number came from buying everything, renting equipment, renting shelter and porta-potties, paying for insurance, film permits, California Highway Patrol, housing, food, industry-standard rates for crew and a very decent wage for the actors. And I knew it wasn’t gonna happen. But I put it up because I was clinging to a little blip of hope that maybe, just maybe, we’d get a lot more money than I knew we were going to make.

The thing about IndieGoGo and Kickstarter is that they work wonderfully for people who have a large following or is so buzz-worthy that it can grab media outlets and get the buzz. We were not that. We were just another small indie film/tv project, one of hundreds if not thousands trying to grub some money.

So as the campaign went live and the money didn’t roll in as I think Ethan was hoping for, he re-wrote the pilot to have a much smaller budget. A just in case. So we had two scripts: one for $16,000, one for $1,600. As they days went on, we agreed to focus solely on the smaller pilot, which Ethan has said he actually likes a lot better than the big budget pilot.

We closed out at just over $1,800.
PERMITS, SIGNATORIES, INSURANCE, ETC.
Because I did a majority of the work while I was at my day job (when it was slow, of course), SAG-AFTRA stuff was given to Ethan and film permits to Andrew.

The wondrous beauty of being a new media production (basically, anything having to do with the web) is that the platform is so new, no one really knows what to do with it yet. We qualified as a new media production which means we could hire SAG-AFTRA actors, those who are eligible for SAG-AFTRA don’t have to join the union*, and those who aren’t eligible, have been Taft-Hartley’d** into it, and the amount we have to pay the actors isn’t on the usual theatrical scale (which is very large).

*When someone is eligible to join the union, in order to work on a union show, they’d have to join first.
**This means they automatically become SAG-AFTRA eligible, which is a big deal if you’re an actor.

From what Ethan has told me, the folks at SAG-AFTRA are very helpful and nice. They required us to pay our principal actors minimum wage, and extras are on deferred payment. Of the money paid to the principals, 6.8% of that goes to SAG-AFTRA for health plans n’ stuff.

As for permits, Film LA was also readily available to answer questions and walks us through the process. Because we approached them while we were still planning on shooting on the side of a road in the desert, that required us to have a California Highway Patrol officer with us, and that s/he as going to be paid almost $1,000 a day. And in addition to fees due to Film LA which didn’t include location fees, it was very obvious that this would be the most expensive item in our budget.

Insurance was kind of straight forward. Found a company, wanted to be liable for $1 million (as standard) including $500,000 for equipment, and was quoted about $750. When you have insurance, locations and rental companies will ask for a certificate, at which you can give them a copy of your certificate of liability that says what you’re covered for. Some rental companies will let you rent without a certificate (or, “cert”) but will charge you a ginormous deposit/waiver fee.

OTHER STUFF
Casting, the wee bits of art direction and such I feel are pretty self explanatory. But if you, dear reader, made it this far and actually want to know how we did the fun pre-pro stuff like casting, the wee bit of art direction, location scouting, etc., let me know.

I think that’s all for pre-pro on my end. Next up: production.

GUEST POST: Extra Notes for Extras

This blog is getting so fancy, that it’s getting guest posts.

This post comes from my friend Liz, who had the fun of wrangling extras recently. I wrote a post earlier about my experiences of being an extra, but now we get the other side’s perspective. Besides this little intro blurb, this is all Liz, so don’t fear that I spun anything.

How To Be An Extra That People Will Love to Work With: The Do’s and Don’ts of Background Work

Recently I was able to briefly break free of the yoke of reality television and day-play as a production assistant on a narrative project. This was something I hadn’t done in a few months, and I was unbelievably excited. To get to work on a feature again! My luck was looking up. But by the end of the day I was just as stressed as I sometimes find myself on the most hectic of reality days. And I can directly pinpoint the cause: the background artists I was wrangling. I suffered about a thousand headaches at the hands of these people, and throughout my entire 14-hour day, I just kept thinking if only I could give these people a list of what to do and what not to do on set. It would make my life so much easier.

As those of you who live in Los Angeles may know, whether you’re trying to break into the industry in front of the camera or behind it, background work can help you make ends meet while simultaneously providing you with invaluable knowledge and on-set experience. Basically, you can get paid to stand around and watch movies and TV shows get made. And sometimes all while wearing cool costumes. Sweet gig. But here are some tips from the person who is your immediate supervisor on set. I know I’m just a PA or 2nd 2nd, but I’m in charge of you and making sure you’re always where you’re supposed to be and doing what you’re supposed to be doing. So help me help you by following these simples tips:

• DO listen and pay attention. ALWAYS. ALWAYS LISTEN. ALWAYS PAY ATTENTION. Days can be long and boring, it kind of goes with the job. But even if you’re on your 12th hour, I still need to you to be constantly vigilant for when I have instructions for you. Chances are, I’ve got the 1st AD screaming in my ear that he needs 10 background YESTERDAY, and if you slow me down because you were busy listening to Iggy Azalea on your iPod, I’m going to get angry at you.

This rule applies when off set, but more importantly when on set. On this last job I had, we had placed about 20 background in a scene. The 1st AD gave very specific instructions to the background people, “You can walk here and here, but do NOT walk in front of this light.” Guess what happened? Someone walked in front of the light. We had to do the scene again. Again the AD said, “See this light? Do not walk in front of it.” Again, someone walked in front of it. We had to do the scene again. And again, and again, and again. When this happens, my time is being wasted, the whole crew’s time is being wasted, and your time is being wasted. You save so much hassle and stress for yourself and others when you just open your ears and listen to what’s being said to you. If you see me coming towards you calling out instructions and you can’t hear what I’m saying, get closer. Don’t just sit there and ask me later to repeat myself. And one more thing: You and I both know this is a hurry up and wait kind of industry. It’s dumb, but that’s the nature of the business. So sometimes I come by and give you a five minute warning to be ready to go to set, but it actually ends up taking about an hour. I’m as frustrated as you when that happens. Regardless, when I give you a five minute warning, you still need to be ready to go in 5 minutes, because on that rare occasion when I can really walk you in time, I can’t have you shuffling for another 30 seconds packing your book and your computer and your phone and your other junk back into your purse. You should have done that five minutes ago.

• DON’T wander off. Yeah, you’re human. You need to snack sometimes. You need to use the restroom occasionally. Sometimes your legs fall asleep and you need to walk it off. I get it. I understand. But you have to let me know. I’m fine if you come up to me and ask “Do I have time to use the restroom?” Chances are I’ll say “Of course! Thanks!” but PLEASE don’t leave me in the position of only being able to send the 1st AD twelve background when he’s asking for twenty because you wandered off to see if there’s a Starbucks close by. On this most recent project, I had something happen to me that, quite honestly, happens so much and I hate it. A good portion of the background wandered off somewhere. I came by to pull about twenty people for the scene because the AD asked for twenty. But when the people who had wandered off came back and saw a group of people heading to set, they tagged along, thinking I was taking everybody. Now I’ve got 35 background who have no idea what they’re doing. Or worse, I end up with even more than that.

Finally, do NOT, repeat, do NOT wander onto set with an escort. This is for your safety, I promise you. Between scenes there are people rigging heavy lights and flags and frames and other stuff. If you’re wandering around, you could hurt yourself or someone else. You could get in someone’s way. You could damage some piece of the set or the gear. That’s the fastest way to get fired.

• DON’T come up to me asking a bunch of questions. There are two reasons this is a bad thing to do. One, most likely I’ve got someone talking in my ear over the walkie, giving me instructions that I need to be paying attention to. Two, more often than not, I don’t know the answer to the question you’re asking anyway. I don’t know how much longer you’re gonna be here. Yes, it’s true I have a call sheet and I know how many scenes we have left to shoot, but I don’t know how long each scene is going to take. I don’t know who to talk to about getting extra SAG vouchers for you. I don’t know if you’re being paid by the hour, or if you’ll be getting overtime. I don’t know if you’re being paid cash or a check, and I don’t know who is sending that check to you, and I don’t know when it’s going to come.

On this last project, this was the biggest problem I encountered and it made me want to rip my hair out. In the morning, we were expecting 50 background at 8am. About only 22 showed up, which resulted in production rush-calling twenty more. Apparently these rush-call background people were told they’d only be working four hours, but it ended up being more than eight because the production was running behind. Needless to say, these poor background were a little frustrated and very much wanted to go home. I had about ten people every hour come up to me asking me if I knew when they’d be wrapped. I tried my best to be polite, but after the twentieth person asked me, I got a little short with them. True, my frustration was compounded by the fact that were we filming at a real functioning dance conference, and I was also being bombarded by regular conference goers asking me where to go for this and that, and asking when this was supposed to happen, and when this person was performing. Also, it was my very first day on this production working with this crew, so I didn’t know who anyone was or anyone’s name. But the thing to take from this as an extra is that the person giving you directions is most likely a PA or 2nd 2nd. If you know anything about the hierarchy of a film crew, you know those people fall pretty low on the totem pole. As such, the call sheet is likely their only source of information. So in order for them to find out how you’re going to be paid, they’d have to walkie someone higher up to ask, but the people I’d need to ask are just as busy as I am, and don’t want to be bothered. So while the questions you’re asking are (usually) valid and important, unfortunately I still cannot help you. I’m sorry.

• DO be on time. If you live in LA, traffic is a fact of life, and I will not accept that excuse because you should have factored traffic into your commute and left earlier.

• DO bring costume options. A lot of times, if we don’t have enough background, we’ll reuse the ones we have in different shots, but for continuity purposes, it helps immensely if you have a different shirt or jacket. Because the person in the red shirt can’t be here and over there at the same time, but it’s okay if the person in the red shirt it here and the person in the blue shirt is over there. Did that make sense? Anyway, yeah.

• DO silence your phone. Duh. Come on.

• DO NOT walk around the set taking photos and video. Yeah, it’s cool, I get it, you want to remember this experience forever. But I can and will ask you to leave if I see you doing it. So just don’t do it. It’s kind of a no-brainer, isn’t it?

So there. That’s my slightly hostile list for how to behave on set as background. It’s just like any other job, in that to be good at it, you have to be alert, on your game, and pay attention. And if you make a good impression on the people you’re working for, who knows what opportunities might come your way? So get out there, mighty extra, and fill up that scene like the beast that you are.