Do you constantly dream of abandoning your desk job and running off to work in the movies? A career in the motion picture industry requires a deep commitment and a lot of personal sacrifice, so to help you make your decision we’ve collected the top ten differences between the “regular” working world and the motion picture industry.
1. No More of Those Boring 9 to 5 Hours!
Get ready to work in the middle of the night and on weekends
One of the first things that newcomers to the motion picture industry learn is that everyone on the crew works extraordinarily long hours. From production assistants to producers, 15 to 16 hour days aren’t uncommon and may endure for the run of a production, which may take months to complete and can often be made up of a six-day work week.
Unlike the normal working world, people who work in the movie business have no idea what their schedules will look like from week to week, let alone six months into the future. Get ready to begin missing parties and concerts, weddings and funerals. Little Johnny’s first T-ball game? You won’t be there. Little Susie’s first dance recital? You were standing in a field in the rain, drinking cold coffee. Your schedule will mystify you; it will frustrate your loved ones and put a strain on your love life; your best friends from the regular working world will slowly drift away.
2. Stop Worrying About Job Security
And face the fact that you will be frequently unemployed
Unlike a lot of jobs in the regular world, movie work is temporary and you’re always shooting yourself out of work. Sooner or later you’ll receive that final paycheck and find yourself back amongst the ranks of the unemployed. People sometimes try to find other work between movie projects, like food service jobs, but it’s difficult to find an employer who is willing to make room for you on their staff only to have you cut out and leave for a movie job a few weeks into a waitress gig.
Longtime movie technicians are all too familiar with this cycle of work and have grown accustomed to filing a claim with the Department of Labor to collect unemployment insurance between films. Many people who have only ever worked in the real world find this process frightening and disheartening, but it’s the very real way that film crews survive between projects and if you’re committed to becoming a pro you’ll have to swallow your pride and start learning how to go the unemployment office without fear or embarrassment.
People who are new to the industry will be competing with people with better resumes and should expect to find their employment opportunities constrained due to this competition during their first year or two in the business.
3. There’s No Such Thing as a Salary for Film Crews
Predicting your expected annual income will be impossible
Just like your wildly unpredictable work schedule, the amount that you get paid will vary based on a variety of factors including: the type of project you get hired to work on, your department, your position in that department, the deal that you or your union have negotiated for that position, the amount of hours you work in any given week, and any penalties accrued by production exceeding union-negotiated windows for meal and travel times.
4. You Don’t Have to Use the Company Healthcare
Because there isn’t any now – you have to pay for it yourself
People who work for big companies out in the real world expect for one of their benefits to be health insurance, but this isn’t the case for people who work in the movies. In fact, you’ll never technically work for Paramount or Disney or Universal or Sony or any of the studios – you’ll work for a payroll company, whose only duty to you is to cut you a check from the production company to which you’re providing services.
But don’t panic. You can always join a union and join in on the group-negotiated insurance plans they offer, similar to plans offered by big companies in the real world.
5. The Novelty of Food Trucks Will Fade
Those people have been sweating into your food all along anyway
People who work in the real world can have lunch in a company cafeteria or may enjoy a range of local restaurants within walking and driving distance of their workplace. When these same people have an opportunity to order from food trucks they tend to lose their minds due to the sheer novelty of the act.
Movie crews on the other hand are quite accustomed to eating food prepared in a food truck because that’s the way that Hollywood has been feeding their people for decades. Producers can’t afford to have their crew wandering away from set during lunch for fear that they won’t return in time to keep the days work on schedule, so they provide a caterer. The novelty eventually wears off for some crew members and they sneak away from set to eat at nearby restaurants when the opportunity presents itself.
6. No One Will Ever Steal Your Office Chair Again!
Because you won’t have one and will never sit down again
At least that’s what it will feel like the first few times you work a 14 hour day on concrete floors, with few chances to sit down and take the weight off your feet. It could take more than a week for you to get your “set legs,” so until your muscles grow accustomed to the workout be prepared to combat the pain with shoes designed to provide good cushioning, and don’t scrimp on those fancy $40 insoles hanging on the rack nearby.
7. Save Money!! No More Suit and Tie expenses!!
But you’ll spend twice as much on weather gear
Shooting exterior locations will expose you to ever-changing weather conditions, from rainstorms to blizzards, scorching summers and sub-freezing winters. As a result, most veteran crew members boast a collection of high quality outdoor gear and have learned to layer their clothes like professional mountain climbers, carrying everything from moisture-wicking socks to Gore-Tex wind-blocking pullover hats.
Take the advice of the pros when they tell you to spend at least one paycheck to purchase the best gear available, because all it takes is getting sick once to realize that you could miss out on a paycheck due to inadequate gear.
8. No More Meetings!
Actually, there will be plenty of meetings
Every movie holds a production meeting at some point during pre-production. This important meeting is led by the 1st assistant director and is comprised of a read-through of the entire script, with a discussion of the outstanding responsibilities of each department for each scene, making sure that all the department heads are on the same page. Production meetings often reveal issues that may have been previously overlooked; from logistical issues to location challenges to overlapping responsibilities between multiple departments. Unless you’re a department head or their main assistant you may not be invited to this meeting, so count yourself lucky.
Another important type of meeting is a show & tell with the director. Show & tells are designed to get the director to buy off on a range of things, including: sets, set dressing, props, wardrobe and various other elements that are being purchased or built for use on-camera. These meetings can be tinged with politics, as they are sometimes used for forcing indecisive directors to cop to a decision so that they don’t later cast blame on the department for not providing the right stuff.
Any time there are to be firearms, stunts or special effects on set there will be a safety meeting run by the 1st assistant director and expounded upon by the department head responsible for the execution of the dangerous portion(s) of the shot. These meetings are very necessary and highly desired by veteran crew members and anyone new to the business should be aware that a safety meeting is a very important meeting, as lives may be at stake.
9. Say Goodbye to Friday Margaritas With Co-Workers
Say hello to Splits (aka Fraturdays)
At the beginning of the week a movie crew expects to have an early morning call time (this is the time you’re supposed to be on set, ready to begin work). Due to the fact that most movies shoot for more than 12 hours a day, each subsequent day’s call time gets pushed a little later into the morning in a natural progression as the week goes by, which generally means that the crew will be coming to work in the early afternoon by Friday.
When a script features exterior night scenes the production must shoot splits, which are scheduled at the end of the week. Split is a filmmaking term that describes the instance in which a crew is given an afternoon call time, allowing the day to be split into two parts to accommodate daylight scenes and nighttime scenes.
If there’s just a little bit of work to be shot in the daylight crews may be instructed to arrive late in the afternoon on a Friday and work well into the morning on a Saturday, often finding themselves driving home after sunrise. These blended Friday/Saturday shoots have come to be called Fraturdays. Saturday/Sunday combinations are less typical but Satundays do exist. If a script features a lot of night work, splits may begin earlier in the week, or the entire week may simply be shifted into vampire hours, which is when the entirety of the schedule is dedicated to night work.
Fraturdays are the bane of film crews, because they mean that you’ll find yourself sleeping well into the afternoon on a Saturday and be jetlagged all weekend, just in time to be turned around for working an early 7am call time the following Monday morning. Regardless of how your schedule works out, chances are you’ll miss out on Friday date nights.
10. Say Goodbye to the Executive Washroom
Say hello to pooping in a trailer
If you’re picky about where you use the restroom at the office then you’re in for some major culture shock on a movie set, because everyone on the crew will be using the honeywagon at some point in the course of a location shoot. Toilets and urinals on a honeywagon are fairly spartan, but ever so appreciated when you find yourself shooting in a field miles from civilization.
A good honeywagon driver will keep his restrooms spic and span, but it’s still hard to forget that you’re crouched in a tiny stall in a big trailer because you can feel the whole thing swaying back and forth as actors and PAs trot up and down the stairs leading to the other rooms in the trailer. If you close your eyes you can try to imagine that you’re on a boat out at sea, but when you’re finished and ready to go you still have to lift a foot pedal to fill up the toilet bowl with water then cross your fingers that when you press down on that same pedal the water will wash the bowl’s contents down into the foul-smelling tank where all the bad stuff stays without letting your cell phone tumble out of your shirt pocket.