I put it out there that I would take suggestions from people on what to blog about. Not too many of you actually suggested topics which means that you can not come back to me and complain about how boring my blog is getting or how long this post is. You have been forewarned. Susie suggested that I post something about working in the film industry. I didn’t work in it for very long but in this biz that doesn’t necessarily mean that I would not have a lot to talk about. I do. Working on films has got to be one of the most bizarre occupations out there. There is no glamour. None. There is lots of aggravation, terrorizing and angst. Lots.
The first job I did was as an assistant designer on a low budget indie film. I had volunteered on short films in the past but this was my first paying gig. We had so much fun and the higher-ups were so funny and cool that it completely negated any crap I had to deal with and I have to say there was very little crap on that show. It was a great first experience and it completely spoiled me. No other job I ever had since was that fun.
The very first union job I did was in the summer of 2003. I got the job as a total fluke. It was the busiest summer in ages for the city so crew was in short supply. The fact that I had metalsmithing experience, made costumes for my cat and actually owned a Bedazzler were the chief qualifications for my employment. I was a craft costumer, which means I did all sorts of crafty type things to do with the costumes and accessories without actually being a seamstress and working with clothes. I altered jewellery, made hats, and did, well, all sorts of fun and crafty things. The glue gun was never far from my hand. The designer on this gig was from L.A. and quite famous. I will not say her name or what show this was as I talked about it with some friends and family and we decided that even though I could back up everything I am going to tell you that she could probably sue me for slander. This is the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
I started the job after the previous craft costumer was fired. Should have known then what I was getting into. I was warned right off that this designer was “very temperamental’ and quite “eccentric”. Learn from my mistakes, if you hear this about your boss DO NOT TAKE THE JOB! I was very much looking forward to working with this designer, as she is a very talented woman. Chances are you have seen a movie she has designed and you have commented on the costumes. I really thought I’d learn a lot. What I did learn is that the film industry is not for me. First of all I should mention that I am the kind of person who when stressed does not spazz out and loose it. The more stressed I am the calmer and quieter I get. My focus gets deeper so I can get what needs to be accomplished done. If you think about the dynamic of a costume department it is solely made up of women with a few flamboyant gay men thrown in for fun. Can you say drama? When you are surrounded by people who are freaking out on any given day over any given situation and you are not freaking with them some people think you are not taking the situation seriously. I was taking things very seriously but I have to set the tone here so you can understand what I was going through. I am not cut out for film work on many levels.
When I started the job I was very much in this designers good books. She loved me and what I was doing. She gave me a lot of creative rope to play with. I hung myself with it eventually but I will get to that in good time. While I was in the good books there were other costume crewmembers on the shit list that were systematically fired for very stupid things. One woman was asked to leave because she sat down without being invited in a meeting with The Designer. Another woman was fired because she talked too much about her husband and child. Basically The Designer would get some hate-on for some poor worker bee and that person would be dismissed. Then the next person would be picked on until a grand total of 6 people were fired over the 3 months of the gig. Even though I was in the good books I knew I could be demoted to a resident of Dumpsterville at any time. It didn’t take long. I won’t tell you what single incident precipitated my demise but let me just say it was very petty and reflects very poorly on The Designer. After than I could do nothing right. NOTHING.
I used to get the jobs I had to do in little bunches as the fittings would progress and once an outfit was confirmed then I would have to start making accessories for the outfit. We have prep costumers in the costume department whose sole responsibility is to shop for the department. I would get the prep costumers to buy my supplies a lot of the time but after the first firings we only had one to do all the work of 2 or 3 people. I found it much faster to go to the huge craft store two blocks away to get my more immediate supplies, as I needed them. A lot of the time I wouldn’t even know exactly what I needed unless I scouted the store myself. The Designer started complaining that I was spending more time out of the workshop than working. This was completely untrue but I was told that I was not allowed to get my own supplies anymore. So picture this, I would get work to do on Day One. The prep costumer would be out of the office at this point so I would have to phone her to tell her what I needed. Most of the time she would be too busy to get my supplies that day so she would get them the following day and they would arrive at my desk at the end of Day 2. Sometimes then I would even have to wait to get colour/material approval before I could start. Then often I would actually start working on the project the day after that, on Day 3 or 4. So I started getting in trouble because I was waiting 1-4 days to start projects. This was so frustrating as I could have got most of my own my own supplies in 30 minutes from this craft store and the poor overworked prep costumer hated having all that extra stuff to do on top of her already overbooked day. One day The Designer came into my area and saw me working on something she had told me to do a couple days prior. I had just finally got all the components I needed to start the project. She started screaming at me saying, “I am over this now! This should have been completed already!” and grabbed the item out of my hand and threw it in the garbage. It was not even close to the actual deadline for completion but in her mind it should have been finished moments after she thought of it. I didn’t explain the situation to her as we were expressly told that we could not “bother” her with details as it “distracted” her from her “creative process”. I just sat there and apologised.
One day I got called aside for a talk with The Designer and my supervisor. I thought I was getting sacked for sure. I have never been fired from a job and I didn’t want to start with my first union gig. I was sure I would be blacklisted for years and never work again. The Designer was obviously very upset and she started telling me that I was making her tea wrong. She explained that she had complained to my supervisor about it and she was sick and tired of shitty tea. I apologised and told her I was making it like I was shown by one of the now fired employees. She very seriously said that THAT GIRL had been making it wrong too and it just had to stop NOW. I couldn’t help it but I laughed. I told her she should have just come up to me MONTHS AGO and told me instead of letting it bother her for so long. I then had to go to the assistant designer and apologise to him too about his tea being too weak.
The day of infamy that I will never forget was one morning when the real deadline was at the end of the day and a couple spare worker bees were conscripted to help me complete all my tasks. We had had to hire a driver for The Designer, as she was too nervous to drive. However she rarely used this person and kept on getting rides with the assistant designer anyway. So this driver was asked to help me for the day. We all knew that if The Designer needed her driver that his poor soul would stop whatever she was doing to help and go do her thing. All The Designer needed to do was phone. I needed some supplies for a leather project immediately. The driver was in real life a leather expert so I asked her if she would go get the necessary items and to do this project. I called the supervisor to make sure it was ok. She didn’t answer her phone so I left a message telling her what I was doing. All of us decided that it was probably ok to send this person on this errand as she had run errands earlier in the day and was merely a phone call away from The Designer if she was needed. So this driver ran the errand in about an hour, came back, finished the project and was helping out on something else when one of the crew from the set popped by and told the driver that The Designer was wondering where she was. The driver got very worried and checked her phone messages and there was no call from The Designer. We checked all the office phone’s voicemail and there were no messages from The Designer. So the driver called The Designer to see if she had missed anything. When asked by The Designer what she had been doing all day the driver replied that she had run an errand for me. She did not say that this errand was work related and that she had run errands for other people and that she had spent most of the day at the workshop doing actual work. She just mentioned me. So The Designer asked to speak with me. I knew what was coming but I was not prepared for what happened. I have never been screamed at like that in my life. If I was actually in this person’s presence I am sure she would have jumped me and pummelled me to a pulp. The Designer was hysterical. I was under no circumstances to override her authority and blah blah blah. And that I had, ”ROYALLY FUCKED UP HER DAY!!!!!!!” Then she slammed the phone down in my ear. Now remember that she had never phoned the driver to say she needed her. The only difference is that with the looming deadline the driver was in the workshop more rather than running supplies back and forth from the workshop to the set thereby occasionally in the view of The Designer. In all probability The Designer didn’t ever need the driver but was just pissed that it was me who had used her driver. If the driver had mentioned running errands for anybody else there wouldn’t have been a problem. Remember there had been about 6 weeks of Kranki Hate-On prior to this episode filled with weird, petty and downright incorrect accusations against me by The Designer. So what did I do? I told her that I understood perfectly and that it wouldn’t happen again. I did not apologise, as I didn’t feel that I had anything to apologise for. The next day I was removed from my craft job and sent to work on set with extras. A very clear demotion. I was devastated.
Once on set the angst did not stop there. As that month went by things went from bad to worse to hellish. Pretty soon I was not allowed to speak to The Designer. Then I was not allowed to look at The Designer. Then I was not allowed to go into the office if The Designer was there. You know how humiliating it was to have to ask co-worker to get supplies I needed from the office because I was not allowed in there? Very. Then I was not allowed to talk to the actors. Then I was not allowed to dress the extras. My final job was checking off the extras’ names on the call sheet and taking continuity photos. My coworkers were afraid to talk to me. I was a pariah. It was obvious she was trying to get me to quit. I learned later that the union had started to question the firings or she would have got rid of me long before. So what did I do? I stuck it out just to bug her. At a HUGE personal emotional toll. When I learned that she was not moving on to another show but staying for yet another extra week I sobbed like a baby. It was the most stressful time knowing that no matter what I did it would be wrong and I never knew when she would jump out to get me. For instance, just to illustrate how screwed I was, one sweltering day I didn’t notice she was in the office and I walked in holding my jacket. She came roaring around the corner yelling, “What are you doing?!?! What do you have in your hand?!?!?!” like I was stealing shit. What I was actually doing and what I said was, “I am hot so I am hanging up my jacket.” Which I did and I spun on my heel and walked away. I am not kidding. It was that bad.
Her final parting shot to me was that she gave every single costume crewmember a gift except for me.
Tune in tomorrow when I tell you the subtle ways I got back at her.