Until a couple days ago, I hadn’t been on a shoot since mid August. Now mid-February, I can finally say I was able to work on set again. Even if it was just for a day — even if it was unpaid — I’m glad I got to get outside of my day-job zone. This time around, I worked as a set intern, which is just like a PA without the PA-Y. I started out feeling pretty optimistic about it — I bought some sharpies, notepads and pens from Target, and I ordered a multi-tool online for $36.
When I arrived on set, however, I suddenly realized just how rusty I was. It had been half a year since I set foot on-set, and I’d lost my rhythm. That first hour of the shoot, I meekly shuffled about trying to volunteer my help as I tried to find at least SOMETHING to do. Need a HAND? A grip mentioned he was thirsty. HERE, HAVE A WATER! I BROUGHT SIX. Here-let-me-write-your-name-on-this-or-okay-you-can-take-it. Ah, here comes the 1st AD. She stands by me and watches the grips.
ME: So, you’re the AD?
1ST AD: Yup, that’s me.
ME: Ah. Yeah, First AD, huh?
1ST AD: Yep. *takes swig of water* That is who I am.
I slid on my sunglasses to hide the shame in my eyes. Clearly, I’d been inhaling too much latte steam for too long. I’d forgotten how to jive with people on set, or even what needs I was meant to fill. I wasn’t surprised to be assigned to traffic directing duty before the first hour passed.
For the next few hours, I called out, “CAR COMING THROUGH!” whenever a car turned down the street we filmed on. We were shooting on a residential street, after all, and we couldn’t well close the road for the entire production. We could only temporarily keep it clear during rolling, which usually involved me standing in the middle of the road with an outstretched arm and open hand. Halt, ye who dare trespass. This duty included warding off pedestrians, though no amount of explanation would stop passers-by from trotting right along, gawking directly at the camera the entire time. I even encountered a couple of pleasant, 30ish gentlemen who I very politely asked to not draw attention to themselves during one take.
ME: Good afternoon! Excuse me, but we’re on a shoot on this street, so if you could please pass without looking too much that way…
GUY 1: Wha? Wha? Wha?
GUY 2: Hmm? Huah?
ME: We’re doing a shoot, and —
GUYS 1 & 2 (crossing the street we’re shooting on): Hi! Hello! Hi! *they wave and smile as they walk by* HELLOOOOO HOLLYWOOD! HELLO! OVER HERE! *they whistle and clap, lingering a while* YOOOHOOO!
They turn to me and say something mocking that I can’t quite make out. I smile back and give them a jolly ol’ thumbs up. They resume holding hands and laugh audibly as they walk into their sunset. I send a silent prayer to the karma gods to take away their ability to achieve erection. May they both be incurably flaccid for three, no, six months.
And then we heard the sounds of buzz-saws slicing through wood and mallets smashing bricks. We had a noise problem. My walkie garbled the order into my ear: “Max! Track down that noise and make it stop!”
I jumped on the opportunity to take this adventure. I tracked the sound of a buzz-saw to a man and his boy making a wood picket fence. They very pleasantly agreed to halt the woodwork when I explained the shoot we were working on. Just as soon as I solved this problem, the buzz-saws started again. I gave the man a curious look. Wasn’t him. Turns out the neighbors were doing some construction too.
No problem. I’ll just ask them to stop the same way I asked this guy. I let myself in through a gate, up a driveway, past another gate, and into the backyard of a condemned looking piece of property to see a small team of workers tearing down a small house. I asked them if they could just halt construction for the two-minute shots we were doing — and they reluctantly humored me for the first few shots. But when I told them this start-and-stop would go on til nightfall, they came out with the question.
“We’re hourly workers, you know. We have work to do too. Are you going to compensate us for the hours we lose?”
Uh-oh. This shoot was just a super low-budget short. From what I understood, the production didn’t have the funds to account for these guys. Fortunately, the line producer swooped in when I explained the situation — she was a more experienced talker, and was able to convince them that we just had this one day to shoot, whereas they surely had other days they could continue their labor. Perhaps they could do the lighter, less noisy work to finish out the night. And then I delivered some snacks as a thank-you — sodas, fresh fruit, potato chips — literal bargaining chips, I guess.
Actually, negotiating with both neighbors on their respective construction projects required more finesse and tiptoeing than I detailed here. It was actually the part of the shoot I most enjoyed because I love playing the role of diplomat, ambassador, negotiator, or whatever you’d like to call it. I warmed these people up to the idea of what we were doing, shared tidbits of what sort of story and characters were involved in the project — I even asked them about their projects and told them relatable anecdotes about myself when appropriate. I like building that human factor between people, and that’s probably because I like to remind people that we’re all fellow human beings.
Anyway, I ended the night driving a van back and forth as I shuttled crewmembers to their cars after wrap. That’s my story.