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How To Not Annoy Everyone

“I’m gonna puke. I’m gonna puke, fuck this movie I want to go home.”

I repeated those words to myself in my head as I gagged and kept sprinting. It was 3am, and our crew was jammed into a parking structure in downtown Atlanta. We were shooting the final climactic chase scene of Baby Driver where John Hamm’s character chases the hero and his love interest through a parking structure in his car. The movie had a lot of car stunts, which meant lot of complicated scenes for the second unit, our unit. We spent most of our days outside, shutting down various stretches of highway around Atlanta to film car chases and stunts. The city let the production close off miles of road, exacerbating Atlanta’s already intolerable traffic. Inside our space, however, we were insulated from outside influences and distractions. The camera and stunt teams spent hours setting up each shot. They’d sit in a circle and watch the stunt coordinator lay out the scene for the day with toy cars, each car representing a different picture vehicle. An excruciating level of detail is required for huge stunts involving several cars. You don’t have duplicates of every car, so you might only get one shot. The days cycled through long stretches of peace and brief moments of extreme chaos.

Tonight’s stunt in the parking structure didn’t require any of the grace and detail of the larger stunts. We had the whole first level of the structure cleared out, and we just needed to film a car spinning its tires and drifting around in a circle. The stunt was simple: very little setup time required, easily repeatable.

For two hours, our stunt driver spun doughnuts in that parking structure. The building filled with thick black tire smoke as the burning rubber squealed across the concrete floor. As we burned through tires, so too did we burn through magazines of film. With barely any time in between takes, and four cameras on two levels of the structure rolling at the same time, our loader was stretched to his limit loading mag after mag as fast as he could. My job was to resupply each camera with new film as they ran out and take the spent film back to the loader on the camera truck outside the parking structure. For the two hours we spent shooting that scene, I ran back and forth from each camera to the camera truck carrying twenty-five pound cases of film. The noxious tire smoke filled my lungs and burned my eyes and, for the first time since starting my career, I didn’t feel lucky to be on set. I felt exhausted, I felt sick, I wanted a rest. Over the coming years, I’d become better acquainted with those feelings.

Film production is a physical career. We work insane, unstable hours. The standard workday is twelve hours, but nobody knows how long we’ll be on set when we show up for the day’s work. If the project requires that certain scenes happen at night, the night portions of the movie get bundled together and the crew works a schedule of nights, often coming home after sunrise. Unless you’re in certain departments, most of your day is going to be spent moving heavy equipment around. You’re loading or unloading trucks, pushing carts full of equipment around set, setting equipment up, tearing it down, or whatever else needs to happen in order to get the shot. I’ve carried huge cases up and down mountains on my back because the director decided he liked the look of a particular gulley. No matter how strenuous the work is or how tired you are, if you want to work in this field, you can never complain.

Complainers do not last long on set. They either get replaced, leave, or aren’t hired on the next project. Morale is important to a film crew and having a complainer in your department can destroy everyone’s morale. Remember, we’re all going through the same experience together. If you’re tired because you’re in the middle of a fourteen-hour day, guess what, so is everybody else. If you’re starving and have a headache because production never broke for lunch and you haven’t eaten in ten hours, the person next to you hasn’t eaten either. The workload and schedule can be overwhelming in the beginning, but your body and spirit get acclimated after a while. You’ll have to get used to working tired and, after the work finishes, driving home even more exhausted. During our night shoots in Atlanta, we would finish shooting around 7AM. After we wrapped, I would drive forty miles back to the cheap house I had rented from a friend of mine. I’d drive the whole forty miles with the windows down and the music blasting, using the freezing early-March wind to keep me awake on the drive.

Working on set can sometimes be a game of surviving until the next second. When I was running through that parking structure hating my life and lamenting my decision to come to Atlanta, I got through the night by effectively turning off my brain. I couldn't think about how miserable I was if I didn't think about anything at all. I just focused on the task at hand, putting one foot in front of the other. I knew the night would be over eventually, I just needed to survive every second until it was over.

When you find yourself in a decidedly unpleasant position on set, recognize that your situation is only temporary. Just like I’m not still choking on tire smoke, you will eventually get sleep, or food, or rest, or fresh air, or whatever you need that you’re missing. The harsh reality of working in the film industry is that you’re going to be working in uncomfortable environments. Your ability to execute your responsibilities in those environments and function as part of a team will define your career. Your coworkers remember your attitude, and they want to work with somebody who helps the day go by quickly.

A good sense of humor is an incredible asset on set. Learning to laugh at an awful situation is an essential film industry skill. On certain days, you're going to look at the person next to you at midnight and you'll both think, "fuck, we're going to be here another four hours, aren't we?"

Whether planned or accidental, you're going to work some extremely long and challenging days in your career. No matter how miserable you are, do whatever you can to make light of your situation. For instance, during the long nights on Baby Driver, production would bring us a second meal around three in the morning. Because of the late hour, McDonald's was usually the only place open. Every night for a week, production would set up a table near craft services and lay out trays of McDonald's breakfast wraps. I'm not going to judge you if you like those wraps, but they're disgusting. We'd be standing outside in the wee hours of a 29 degree morning cold, tired and hungry. Still, the camera crew couldn't bring ourselves to eat those wraps.

Instead, we passed the time by playing a game where you'd try to sneak as many McDonald's breakfast wraps in to someone's jacket pocket as you could before they noticed. I'd walk up quietly behind Billy during a down moment and stealthily slide three wraps into his pocket while he was talking to somebody. The game was powerfully stupid, but we were overtired, and the reaction of someone putting his hand in his pocket and finding a bacon and egg-filled wrap was funny enough to get us through the night.

Complaining is easy, and it can be comfortable, but there's no room for complaining on set. If you get into the habit of complaining, you'll bring the mood down on set and crush your chances of a successful film career. When you feel a complaint coming up, just take a second and ask yourself if voicing it is necessary. If not, swallow it and move on. You'll be a better professional and a more agreeable person at large.

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