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Try Not to Freak Out

We’re living in a transition point in the film industry. The old guard who started in the 80s and 90s are retiring and taking their ways of thinking and working with them. From what I’ve heard, working on set is much less intense than it used to be. I hear stories from old-timers about PAs getting fired for walking in front of the lens while the DP is setting up a shot. That level of rigidity doesn’t exist anymore, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I can’t speak for everyone, but I find working difficult with the threat of imminent unemployment dangling over my head. You still have your Michael Bay tyrant type directors, but people like him are becoming rarer on set. As the rise of digital cameras and streaming platforms have made filmmaking more accessible and in larger demand, producers have more options when looking for a director or cinematographer. That power shift has forced department heads to dial back their grating personalities and act more professionally which, in turn, leads to a more humane set environment.

Of course, we’re still talking about the film industry. You’re working with people who society has deemed “artists.” Like I said earlier, you’re still going to be dealing with egos, the occasional tantrum and overall weirdness. In order to survive, you need to develop a thick skin and let things go. Don’t ever let yourself seem panicked or bothered. Staying calm while doing your job is an invaluable skill to counteract crazy personalities on set. You may even start to enjoy certain people’s craziness.

A few days after the medivac incident, our production started shooting the final episode of the season and switched directors. To maximize efficiency during production, episodic TV shows frequently carry more than one director over the course of the season. One director spends a week or two shooting an episode while another preps the next one, eliminating a need for downtime between episodes.

Our new director was named Cedric. He had directed a few episodes before I joined the production, so I was the only person on set who hadn’t met him before. My boss, in preparing me to interact with the new director for the next two weeks, just said, “Good luck. Cedric is a lot.”

Cedric is an incredibly successful director. A tall, bald Englishman with a wiry frame and mischievous grin, he’s directed episodes of hit TV shows like Ballers, The Expanse, Years and Years, and Jessica Jones. I love the guy; he’s my favorite director I’ve worked with to date. He also has the most chaotic energy of anybody I’ve ever met in my life. The first time I ever saw Cedric in person, he was sprinting across the lobby of the Millennium Biltmore Hotel before launching into a flying ninja kick against nobody in particular. If he liked you, he’d walk up to you and growl Run the Jewels lyrics at you from less than a foot away. One of my major responsibilities as digital utility was to always keep Cedric’s personal handheld monitor assembly next to him. Nearly every take, Cedric closed-fist punched those monitors. He wasn’t angry; I suppose he had a lot of excess energy. He made a game out of leaning the monitor stand over when I wasn’t looking, then calling my name while dropping it to see if I’d catch the monitors before they hit the ground. I could never let my guard down around Cedric.

Even though I was stressed learning my new job while constantly looking over my shoulder to see what Cedric was going to do next, I never let the worry show. I smiled and laughed when Cedric broke one of his monitors, asking him, “well what did you expect?” I could have begged him to stop messing with me or the equipment but that would have shown weakness. I knew I couldn’t possibly be blamed for the monitors breaking, so why did I care what he did with them? If Cedric freaked out and threw those monitors into the ocean, production would pay for new ones and we’d move on.

Always be cognizant of your level of responsibility on set. If something is out of your control or responsibility, let it go. You can’t control how people act. All you can do is control how you react to people and situations. Always work to be the best version of yourself on set because, if you don’t settle in with a specific team, you’re going to be jumping around a lot. I’ll talk about day-playing on Friday and tell you why it’s vital to accelerating your career.

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