Set Etiquette for Extras, Lesson 3- Don’t talk about Fight Club
One of the coolest things about working in the Background in film and television is being in the know before the rest of the masses are. It gives you a weird sense of power. Most recently, I knew that a character who had been “killed” off of a show was going to return. But the higher-ups on these shows do not fool around. This is why many shows require everyone to sign a Confidentiality Agreement. This is also why cell phones are banned from set (although not many folks abide by this rule, including the crew members). In Atlanta, we have got some really hot projects going on and there can be a lot at stake if someone leaks the plot lines. Yes, if you have read The Hunger Games books, you know how it all ends. But you don’t know how they are going to shoot it or what the director has envisioned. So, why should you be able to ruin it for other people?
The #1 rule of Fight Club is “don’t talk about Fight Club”. This is also the #1 unspoken rule of being a Background Artist. Don’t talk about what you see or hear in regards to plot lines! If you want to talk about your experience or where you were, that is fine just as long as you don’t give away any details. It is between you and however many people had been working that day. In fact, until after you have completed your work, do not even mention where or what you are working on. (On my social media accounts, I will post what I call EMOTD, or encrypted message of the day, which is my way of telling my other friends in the industry where I am working that day without coming right out and saying it [another big no-no].)
I was recently on a set where I was discussing having worked on a horror film that had just wrapped in town. I was talking about my experience on the set and the basic premise of what we were doing (there really wasn’t much to what we had been doing). The other person that I was talking to started to tell me about her experience. Before I realized what she was saying, she spoiled the whole ending of the movie for me. Whereas she could have said, “we were shooting in a field” (which would have been enough) she started going on about the details of the scene. Now, the show we were discussing is a book adaptation but it is not a book that I had read. She went and ruined the whole thing for me. That makes me wonder how many other people that she had discussed this with. One of these days she is going to slip and say it to the wrong person. (Side note: I have a picture of myself from the day that I worked on this horror project that I am just itching to share but need to wait until images start being released for the show.)
Another instance of another BG member stumbling to me was on the set of one of the most popular shows that is filmed in Georgia. He mentioned that he had worked on the show before. The episode that he was referring to was to air later that night. But I didn’t have to wait to find out what happened on it because sat there and told me everything. And it was a pretty important scene in regards to the main storyline that season. I seriously just sat there, looking around me to see if any crew members heard him say that. This is a show that is very serious about secrecy and for good reason. They have been known to sue folks in the event of a breach of confidentiality. I was nervous that I was going to be “labeled” as a person that leaked information just by listening to the guy.
In short, just don’t talk about it. Let it be a surprise to everyone. Plus, just because you were there for the filming doesn’t necessarily know that you are in the know about how it will all come together. Lots of times the same scene is filmed over the course of several days and with several different set ups and you may not be present for all of it. It may end up being a surprise to you yet.
Never forget, never again
For years in jobs, as with most things, there were sexist stereotypes. Men were the doctors and lawyers, and women were the teachers and the nurses. The film industry was no different, with the “manly” positions being the grips/camera department and gaffers/electric department while the “girly” ones were in the wardrobe, hair and make-up departments. Of course with the change of the times, these stereotypes have faded away with the bad fashion choices. It is more common to see female camera assistants and men make-up artists and such. But I still take notice when there are female grips on a set that I am working on. Personally, I don’t think that I could lift that camera or push it and a 200 lb. man on a dolly. Nonetheless, we girls are getting in on it and making ourselves noticed. And Sarah Jones was one to be noticed.
Sarah Jones was the light and the refreshing breeze that is needed on set. Shooting a film or television show can be grueling, with long hours, tricky set ups and often poor conditions. But Sarah was the one on set that would lighten the mood at 3:30am, when a crew member wants to be anywhere but in the woods somewhere when it is 36⁰ outside. She was sweet and bubbly and just plain fun. In short, everyone loved Sarah.
Sarah got a position on the Gregg Allman biopic, Midnight Rider, which is filming in and around Savannah. As with all of her other jobs, she put her heart and soul into the work. She would not say “no” when the “adults” told her what to do. (When I refer to the “adults”, I am referring to the higher ups, the people who should know better.)
During the late afternoon of February 20th, Sarah and some of the crew for Midnight Rider were doing a test shoot for a dream sequence in the film. The crew was aware that they would be shooting near railroad tracks. The “adults” decided that the bed in the dream was to be placed on the train tracks on the trestle. They had the train schedule and the two trains that were slated had already passed. And here is where it went horribly wrong. Production never got permission from CSX to be shooting on the tracks. But the team said a little prayer that they could just get the shot in before the next scheduled train and they soldiered on. They were all set and ready to go when they heard the sound of an oncoming unscheduled train horn. Being on a trestlel 80 feet above a river with copious amounts of equipment and having less than a minute to vacate, the crew did the best they could to get out of the way. The train hit the bed which was still on the tracks and caused numerous injuries. And one death.
Sarah Elizabeth Jones was 27 years old. She was from Columbia, SC. She was a 2nd camera assistant. One thing she loved most in the world was bacon. She was the light and the life to all of those who knew her. Sadly, her life was wrapped too soon. And for what? To save a few bucks? Any good producer and production company does extensive research prior to shooting. They make sure that all permits have been obtained, precautions are in place and that their asses are good & covered. This particular company failed Sarah Jones. They did not get permission from CSX. They did not have a representative from the railroad to be present for guidance. The area was not properly locked up. I guess they figured that since it was just a test shoot that these things wouldn’t matter. Just cut a few corners. But because of those corners the world lost an exceptional person. All to save a buck.
I did not personally know Sarah Jones but had worked with her a few times on The Vampire Diaries (she worked on the past 2 seasons). But I feel like I did know her based on stories that mutual friends have shared about her. One of these friends, and close friend of Sarah’s, AC, has said something that has become the theme to this whole tragedy, “We are all Sarah Jones. She is all of us. Never forget, never again.”
Never again. Hollywood can never again let this happen. Making sets unsafe in order to save money is out of the question. No movie is worth risking a human life. When you are new to the business you will do whatever you are told knowing that every miss step could result in the end of your film career. I can not even begin to imagine what Sarah and the others were thinking or feeling during this entire incident. Production seems to always be careful when dealing with firearms or open flames, having a representative there to “keep watch”. (I once worked on a shoot that was taking place on an alpaca farm and we even had someone there to “keep watch” over the farm animals and advise us.) So who’s bright idea was it to drop the ball and not do this when shooting on live railroad tracks?
The amount of love that has come out of this tragic loss is staggering. Close friends to Sarah have created a Facebook page in her honor called Slates For Sarah. This page is celebrate Sarah’s life, share condolences and to make sure this never happens again. The Georgia film community seemed so small before this. But this tragedy affects all members of the industry. Sets all over the world are posting pictures of their slates and other creative mediums in memory of Sarah. Tuesday morning the page had 12,000 likes. By the same time Wednesday, it had reached 26,000. Another way that the industry (and the world for that matter) is coming together is by signing a petition to get Sarah’s memory added to this weekend’s Academy Awards ‘In Memoriam’ segment. At last check, there were 36,860 signatures . (The petition can be found here- http://www.thepetitionsite.com/)
Sarah’s funeral was yesterday in South Carolina and it had a packed house. The Vampire Diaries family and many others traveled to Columbia to be part of the funeral. For the friends that were unable to travel to SC for the service, there will be a memorial service for her in Atlanta on Sunday. Another mutual friend of ours (also a grip) wrote on Facebook, “So good to see the power of love and solidarity in action. If this was your purpose, well Sarah, you fulfilled it. You made a difference. You brought an entire industry together on one accord and that is more than we did before…Safety is the #1 topic. Look at what you did! This industry will never be the same.” I think that you nailed, Dwight.
The mutual friend that I mentioned earlier lost her mother recently to a battle with cancer. Saturday morning, she posted on Facebook a dream that she had where her mother was waiting to welcome Sarah to Heaven with a margarita and a platter of bacon. I think she was. AC, it looks like you have got yourself a new angel. Looks like we all do.
Rest in peace, sweet Sarah.
** More information can be found at the links below-
***Picture credits go to Slates For Sarah contributors.
If it ain’t broke…
Not long ago, I got a text message from my sister stating, “possible remake of Point Break with Gerard Butler playing the part that Patrick Swayze did”. It wasn’t until I later saw the listing for the project on Production Weekly that it really hit me. Point Break was made and released between 1990 and 1991- that doesn’t seem that long ago. (Then again, Hollywood has decided that we need a remake of The Fantastic Four and that came out during this century.) When this movie came out, it was the summer before I entered 8th grade. My best friend, Jennifer, and I were hell bent on seeing it in the theater. With it being an R-rated movie, she and I had to sneak into the theater. And this was back when theaters were set up in a U formation, with the newest and most popular movies right inside the front doors. She and I tried to act occupied until the usher walked away from his post and the concessions folks were busy to make a beeline to the theater door. (Having since worked in a theater, I now know that those people really don’t care if under aged kids sneak into restricted movies, but will do it to embarrass kids from time to time.)
As weird as this sounds, Point Break is a very important film to me- very close to my heart. This is the movie that made me realize just what industry I wanted to work in for the rest of my life (although the actual position has evolved). This movie, packed full of explosions and some of the best action sequences (of the day), had been directed by a woman. A woman! That was a big deal to me. I was going to be a woman someday. If Kathryn Bigelow could do it, then why couldn’t I?
Now, viewing Point Break in present light, I realize there were issues with this film. Some of the acting and those day-for-night surfing sequences were particularly painful. But there was some awesome stuff too- Anthony Kiedis shooting himself in the foot, turning a gas pump into a flame thrower, the soundtrack (first Sheryl Crowe song I ever heard), some quotes that I still use to date and, of course, an extremely hot Keanu Reeves. As of now, the only role that has been cast and confirmed is Gerard Butler stepping in for the late Patrick Swayze (Bohdi in the original). Not that I am not complaining about Mr. Butler getting his turn (I love, love, love my Scottish guys, especially that one), but I just can’t see him playing this bad guy adrenaline junkie turned bank robber. Patrick was just fine (except for the last scene that takes place in Australia). Plus Gerry doesn’t have a good record with surfing movies (have you actually seen Chasing Mavericks?) I can’t even imagine who will play Pappas (Gary Busby- he was the right amount of crazy for the role and the only movie I have ever enjoyed him in.
Looking over the Production Weekly listing for Point Break, it is really intended to be a re-boot rather than a remake. It is going to be shooting all over the world. The bad guys are called “The Bush Administration”. The main character is no longer an ex-football player turned FBI; he is already a surfer (where is the fun in that?). I much prefer “The Ex-Presidents” and Johnny Utah (“punk…quarterback punk”).
I will, of course, give this possible butcher job a chance if for no other reason than to see Gerard Butler (even though he hasn’t made a worthwhile movie since Law Abiding Citizen). But I just don’t want to see this movie, which has always been so important to me get ruined. Well, there is always the original version on DVD… “See ya in hell, Johnny!”
Who cares about art?
In school, we are taught about the “Greats” in the field of art, such as DaVinci, Rembrandt and Picasso. We all know that these people and their amazing works of art reside in European countries. In school, we are also taught about how during World War II, Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime attacked and bombed their way around Europe. But one thing that we don’t hear about (or have ever thought about, in my case) is what happened to the works of the “Greats” when the areas and countries where they were housed were damaged during WWII. The Monuments Men focuses on this very subject that had never been explored on film before.
Nearing the end of WWII, it was discovered that many of the works of art from churches and museums as well as private art collections had been stolen by the Nazi soldiers. Many of these items were taken after attacks on the cities and from the homes of Jewish families during the “cleansing” of the ghettos. Art historian, Frank Stokes (George Clooney) with the support of Monuments, Fine Arts and Archieves program (MFAA), approaches President Roosevelt with the idea of sending a group to Europe to save and recover these works of art. The idea became The Roberts Commission in June 1943 which created the Monuments Men, who were “charged with promoting the preservation of cultural properties in war areas, provided this mission did not interfere with military operations.” (www.monumentsmen.com)
A group of middle-aged scholars, curators and architects were sent to basic training and then on in to Europe. The Monuments Men made their way across France and Belgium in smaller groups then into Germany. With little to no funding, these men made due with what they could find in order to save pieces of art such as the Ghent Altarpiece and the Madonna & Child statue from Bruges, Belgium. The items were taken with the ultimate purpose of being relocated to the Furher Museum in Linz, Austria but many lesser known pieces went to the Nazi higher-ups homes. With the help of a French curator turned spy, Claire Simone (played by Cate Blanchett), the Monuments Men were able to locate the stolen art in a castle in Bavaria and in salt & copper mines scattered throughout Germany. But once the war was officially over, the men had to get to the pieces before the Russian Trophey Brigade could get to them. The other group of men were instructed, that in the event of Hilter’s failure, to destroy the stolen works of art, which was labeled the Nero Decree. Overall, the Monuments Men were able to find and return over 5 million pieces of art work. Sadly there were many pieces that were destroyed in the process.
The under tone of the movie is summed up perfectly in one line that is spoken by Frank Stokes- “with this many people dying, who cares about art?” It is a valid question. This is probably why this topic had never been explored before. It seems so minor to worry about such a thing with the amount of lives that were lost during WWII. But in hindsight, these pieces of art are an important part of history. If it weren’t for this group of men, many of us would not know about these items and would not have an opportunity in our lifetime to actually see them in person. And it is crazy to think of what items we will never learn about because they were lost and destroyed. Art may seem like such a little thing to many people but it was the most important thing to these men (and woman) that they risked their lives to save it.
The movie is based on the 2009 book The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel. While it was a good movie about a very interesting topic, it is not the typical war movie. It was a lot different than I had expected it would be. There is very little action. But then again, this is not a war movie, just simply a movie that is set during war time. There are several funny things, such as witty banter between characters, funny lines and one character’s particularly poor French. It is also not the typical Bill Murray movie. One of the most moving scenes in the entire movie involved his character, which is not something that I ever thought that I would say. I think that this film will be enjoyed by history buffs and art buffs, alike. But, as I said before, do not go into this movie expecting Saving Private Ryan (who oddly enough, it one of the actors in this movie).
Yesterday businesses closed their doors at 1:30pm so that their employees could head home safely. It is now 10am and there are people that are still not home from that commute. Many buses weren’t running yesterday afternoon, so kids had to stay at school overnight. People slept in their cars on the highway, in hotel lobbies and at stores such as Home Depot. Never in my life have I ever seen such a cluster f*ck on the roads! And the local government is blaming the commuters. They are calling in the National Guard. My sister had to get a hotel room last night, which was planned a few hours in advance. My friend Jen had to take refuge at a friend’s house near where her car ran out of gas while her 3 year old son had to spend the night at his daycare center. This is the first time since I lost my job in May that I have been happy that I was unemployed.
But I can say that in the midst of this mess, the term “Southern hospitality” took on a whole new meaning. People were opening their doors to strangers. A page was created on Facebook to inform people that were stranded where they could find shelter nearby. We would have done the same in our house if we weren’t so far away from a highway. And today the roads are not any better. It is currently 17 outside. My friend Sherrie is set to be induced today as her baby has been enjoying his stay in her tummy and has not been in any hurry to get out. I really hope that he can stay out the weather and not make his daddy deliver him.
Please pray for everyone in Atlanta that is not warm in their own homes. Please pray that they make it home soon.
Shutting Down a City
Although I identify myself as one of the GRITS (a Girl Raised In The South), I was born in Illinois where I lived until I was 8. Winters in Illinois are pretty brutal. The coldest temperature that I can recall being in happened the winter before my family headed South. Under 18-20 inches of snow, we suffered through temperatures of -75⁰ F with the wind chill. I have always loved snow but was not allowed to even set one toe outside of the house during that particular storm. Unless things got extremely horrific, school was never cancelled (and I had to walk to school, although it was only uphill in one direction). Snow days in the North are also referred to as weekends.
Fast forward a few years after our arrival in Georgia. Snow, what is snow? That white, fluffy that sometimes falls from Heaven? Yeah, that doesn’t happen very often here. The first snow day that I can recall having was in 1986, the same day as the Challenger incident. I remember there not being much snow on the ground but what the heck- we will attempt to play in it anyway. Snow days and school closings are a rarity down here. One of the newer things to happen is closing school because it is too cold outside. This only happened once while I was in school but did happen a few weeks ago when the morning temperature was 5⁰F but about -10⁰F with the wind chill. I can understand doing this if the ground is wet and there is a chance of ice, but because it is too cold? That seems a bit strange to me.
In the South, people get excited over snow, whether the excitement is the good kind or the panicked kind. The running joke is to rush to the grocery store to buy milk and bread (although I prefer to stock up on ice cream and beer). The world is ending, so let’s all make French toast! Snow means no school but it also means no driving. Folks in the South can’t drive in the snow and the areas are not prepared (i.e. no snow plows/ blowers, rock salt, etc). Even if you do know how to drive in snow, you don’t want do it because of all of the other folks who can’t. Chains on your tires- why? And forget about sleds. Down here we get creative- garbage can lids, cardboard boxes, laundry baskets (which make very good sleds, by the way).
In short, the entire place shuts down as soon as the white stuff starts falling from the sky. The message is to stay at home, stay indoors almost as though the zombies are coming. While we may get lucky and get maybe one snowy day per year, there have only been 2 particularly bad storms to hit Georgia since we moved here- March of 1993 and January of 2011 (the infamous “snowpocalypse”). For a week in early January 2011, we were dumped on with snow and sleet which was followed by temperatures that did not rise above freezing. Schools were closed, which ultimately ended up lengthening the school year for “snow make up” days (since only about 2 are already worked into the schedule). The mail wasn’t even running- forget about that whole “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night…” creed. People were getting stuck everywhere. It was times like that when my friend Jeremy says that we should all be grateful for Rednecks because they certainly can get you out of a bind with their big ‘ole trucks and creative ways. Businesses were closed all over the place, although I must say that where I was working at the time only officially closed one day that week. They did not give a hoot whether or not you could get to the office. You had the choice to take the snow days out of your vacation pay or just not get paid for the time.
I guess what I am trying to say in this post is to not make fun of people from the South when they get excited and/ or freak out over snow. Much like folks from the North freak out over 100⁰F+ temperatures, we are not used to this and are generally are not prepared. Many people don’t know how to handle themselves whether behind the wheel of a car or on foot in this weather. There are people who left work today at 1:30pm and are just getting home at 8pm due to the fact that 1.) it is Atlanta and 2.) it is snowing. So, pipe down, Chachi! This weather is a novelty for us!
Quick glimpse of one of the traffic cameras this afternoon, thanks to Business Insider.
Pitch Perfect 2 is happening! I am beyond excited!! The sequel will be Elizabeth Banks’ directorial debut, who also producer on the first film. Aca-believe it!!
Set Etiquette for Extras, Lesson 2- Food and meals
We all need to eat, that is a fact of life. One of the perks of working on a film/ television set is that (generally) meals are provided. Upon arrival to set, especially if it is at the crack of dawn, breakfast is provided whether it be a complete hot meal or dried cereal & Pop Tarts. Typically, six hours following the “first shot”, lunch is served. (Notice this is not 6 hours after you arrived to work but 6 hours after filming begins.) It really depends on the budget of the project and/ or the size of the Extras pool as to the quality of the food. Six hours following the first shot after lunch, “2nd meal” should be served (although this doesn’t always happen and is generally only for the cast & crew). Snacks are provided in between meals. Again, the quality and amount of said snacks can be based on the budget and the amount of the Extras. When you are lucky enough to work on a smaller scene, Extras are sometimes allowed to eat with the cast & crew.
The cast & crew and the Background are generally served in separate areas. Do not assume that since their food looks tastier and that you feel that you are important that you are entitled to eat the crew’s food. Do not help yourself to the crew’s crafty table either (for those of you not in the know, crafty refers to the snacks). Do not do this!! It looks really bad not only for you but also for all of the other Extras. There have been instances when an Extra is allowed to eat the crew’s food due to dietary issues but that is to be cleared with a PA first.
Another piece of etiquette is to keep in mind is that you are not the only person who is hungry come lunchtime. We all want to eat, whether it is a hot meal or a mystery meat sandwich & a bag of pork rinds (true story). No matter what the food is, please be civilized about it. We were all taught at a very young age that we should stand in line and wait your turn when there are many other people involved. I recently viewed an incident that looked much like the picture below just to get the pork rinds.
Later that same day, which ended up being a 16 hour day, our 2nd meal was hot dogs (no buns). Once it was announced that there was food available for us, another mass exodus occurred. People were coming back with 5 and 6 hot dogs on their plate and 3 bottles of Gatorade. By the time my friend and I got to the food, it was gone. All that was left were oranges and water. Food is food, so we took what we could get (but these oranges had the thickest rinds that I have ever encountered).
So, in closing, I hope that you will take from this Set Etiquette lesson to take only the food that is offered to you and only take enough for you. Make sure that everyone else has firsts before you take seconds (or thirds). Do this one little thing and everyone will be much happier.
I am not liking the casting choices (I mean, Rita Ora- really?!) but I am diggin’ the first official poster and the tagline.