I Need to Clean My Brushes

About a year ago a young and stressed makeup artist approached me on the second to last day of a short. She looked simply harassed and terribly unhappy with what was at the time her first or second outing on a film set.  She hadn’t expected the days to be so long, for them to be so stop start, for such early calls or simply the occasional intensity and pace of the job.

‘No one understands,’ she lamented. ‘My day’s not over at wrap time.  When I get home I need to clean my brushes.’

I had no choice but to nod politely and comfort the woman, she was very sweet and she really had worked hard. The reality of the situation is however the same for everyone.  On low budget shoots it’s not unusual for the gaffer to undertake a two hour Panalux run in the morning, then work a twelve hour day and not mention it once.  Or for the art department to put in extra hours at the beginning of the day to finish set dressing. DIT stay late to transfer and back up rushes on location. The director, DP and AD will usually run through things quickly for the next day.  The list goes on.

For myself, I regularly don’t have a second AD so there’s sending out the call sheet out, and writing up the next one.  That can take hours.  As well as getting sides together, finalizing the running order of the shot list if there have been any changes (and there often are) and there’s usually a quick update for the producer or PM in there as well.  All in all, once I’m home I’ll often have two or three hours work before I can even think about bed.  For the record, how much time spent prepping for the next day is often directly linked to how early or late I was brought on a project and the strength of the pre-production period. This is a prime example of why preparation is all and trust me, no one really wants to be on set with a tired and stressed AD who is getting four hours sleep a night trying to lock elements which should have been sorted weeks ago. Aside from the grumpiness factor, it’s genuinely dangerous.

Looking after your kit is important, it’s your livelihood.  I’m sure cleaning the makeup brushes is time consuming and probably does go unrecognised by the rest of the crew, but so do their time sacrifices.  No one’s day truly finishes at wrap time and sometimes that really sucks.  Working in film is an all-encompassing job and you don’t really have the option of going to the theatre after work, or even popping down the pub for last orders.  The sad reality is that if you get to spend an hour with your partner at the end of the day you count yourself lucky.

Wrap Time is Sacred

A gaffer once said those exact words to me and they’ve stuck with me ever since. I had to break the news to the crew that we would be going over wrap time by one hour and check that everyone was alright to stay late.  It had been a long and tough day as it was and we had some tricky days ahead.  The gaffer looked at me with dark puppy dog eyes, the disappointment apparent in his face and simply said quietly ‘Wrap time is sacred.’

He is of course correct. Working on small shoots no one is getting paid over time, it’s a fixed rate for the day, the week or the whole project – if they’re getting anything beyond glorified expenses that is.  The first shoot I worked on where people were being paid anything close to a proper daily rate I was shocked to be presented with a breakdown of what it cost to go over by one hour – and for the first time I really understood why for financial reasons wrap time really is sacred.

But let’s look at the all too common scenario of paying the crew peanuts and then expecting to own them for the duration of the shoot.  There is a common viewpoint from a lot of indie producers and directors who feel that if a crew are working below the standard daily rate, then the production itself can exist outside accepted standards of practice. By which I mean, for example, pushing for less than a twelve hour gap between wrap and call times, ignoring the six hour maximum between meal breaks, trying to pass a turn-around day as a day off, and in short, treating the crew like cattle. Financial penalties don’t exist in this world, so as an AD you’re generally seen to be causing trouble needlessly if you flag up these things.  If people are working on a lower than acceptable rate, it’s even more important to maintain standards.  To recognize that the crew aren’t getting as much out of the project as they should be, and to make sure they’re getting a fair deal in terms of working conditions.  They work really hard and deserve to be treated with respect.

I have upon occasion gone over the wrap time – there’s no way around that sometimes.  However, the most common reason for going over the wrap time is a time wasting director. A director who hasn’t put together a story board, who’s not terribly clear on his shotlist and is constantly changing everything.  Watch this space for a full blog post on this one as it’s one of the single most destructive things anyone could do on a film set and it’s a pet bug bear.

If there will be no financial penalty, it will not span into an unacceptable turnaround time and everyone has been working hard and maintained a good focus; I will be comfortable in running to another hour.  Usually in this situation most people would rather get the shots right than rush them through and not short change themselves on the film’s quality.  If the crew have worked hard and the director has been pissing about, I am very reticent to push the wrap time because I feel the crew aren’t getting anything out of it and are being penalized for someone else’s lack of preparation.

The reality is however, that you often don’t get a choice as a disorganized director usually realizes they are contributing to the problem, which makes them overly emotional and if there’s going to be a tantrum at any point it’s going to be now. Which doesn’t help anyone and generally beats the entire crew into silent submission for the next forty minutes.  So next time you’re asked to stay late with little financial gain, think of that brown eyed gaffer with such sadness in his eyes, trust me he feels your pain and so do I.