What I want to share with you in this blog is how you can have a career in the film industry: What kind of film jobs there are, the money you can make, and how to get in, even how to find the best online film school. I also want to give you a realistic view of what it’s like working in this industry. To do that I put together stories about what happens on a film set and what it’s like working on professional sets.
One of the best things about working in the film industry, is that you work on fun stuff all day long and you get to work with your friends. It’s a fun, lighthearted environment most of the time. After all, we all left the real world to have a different, more exciting lifestyle. We get the work done and are focused on that, but any extra time and energy we have, we’re spending with each other.
My last shoot started at 7:00 am. Breakfast was being served at crew parking by Jim, a caterer who can whip up anything you want for breakfast. This guy has been making breakfasts for the film industry for 25 years – and he rocks. The best part: it’s all paid for by production! You can order anything at all and Jim will make it. Or you can order off Jim’s menu that has dishes like Irish huevos rancheros, spicy Mexican burrito, blueberry french toast. For me, it was between blueberry pancakes and tortilla scramble. I chose the tortilla scramble and it was probably one of the best tasting dishes I’ve ever had. So we’re all hanging out having breakfast in the parking lot. It’s always fun to see who you’re going to be work with.
Alex, the key grip, showed up. He’s a sweetie. I just worked with him earlier in the week on another job. Then Lisa showed up, who I hadn’t seen for a year! Lisa is a script supervisor. Now, it’s 7:30 and time to go to work. We jump into passenger vans and head to set.
Today the set is a million dollar house in the Hollywood Hills. This house was chosen because the director liked the look of the upscale kitchen and the spacious living room. The owners of the house will make $15,000 for renting it for these 2 days. Yesterday we shot at this same house, so all our equipment is still there including the camera, dolly, lights, cables, grip equipment, sound and video equipment, tents, chairs, and monitors.
The first shot is in the kitchen. Depending on what your job is, you’re doing different things to get ready. The camera department is preparing the camera, loading film. The make up and hair stylists are preparing the actors in the motor home. The grip and electric guys are setting up the lighting. The sound and video playback are running cables and preparing their carts. The director is going over the scripts, and determining what the shot will be with the director of photography (DP), the head of the camera department. I’m the sound mixer, and I’m setting up my equipment in the backyard near the pool. The agency is set up nearby under a pop up tent. There’s a big monitor and several director’s chairs. The agency and client watch each scene because they will use this footage to make the commercial. They wear headsets so they can hear the sound.
It’s hot today, probably 90 degrees. The production assistants set up some fans and even a mist-er to keep the agency comfortable. There’s a craft service table set up nearby with breakfast stuff, fruit, cakes, fresh coffee, juice, chocolate, tortilla chips, several types of cheeses and chocolate.
I fill a cup with coffee and within seconds, spill it right down the front of my white linen pants! Bummer! I thought I was looking pretty good today – with my khaki top and white pants – I even got compliments this morning! So I walk back to my sound cart and my boom op, Julie, says “Get those off and ask Wardrobe to give you some shorts!”
Keith, the wardrobe stylist, is the person to talk to. Keith is pretty cool, talks a mile a minute, has tattoos down both arms. Anyway, he says ‘no problem! and asks his assistant to get me some shorts right away. Unfortunately, they’re large mens’ khaki shorts so I have to walk around all day holding them up. I’ll just tell people I’m setting a trend ;)
Keith came to the rescue the day before too, when Lisa, the script supervisor split her pants right down the rear. We put a big X with gaffers tape to keep the pants together but when she sat down, the tape kept popping open. So she finally switched to the shorts.
In this scene, the father walks through the kitchen and says a line to the kids, playing video games and talking on the phone in the living room. The girl actor was pretty funny. Her mom pulled up a chair near me at my cart. She said her daughter was taking improv courses and loves acting. The scene was the girl chatting on the phone to her friend, talking non-stop gossip, lots of ‘ohmygods’ and ‘did you see him with her.’ She had everyone cracking up. Her mom gave me a coupon for Starbucks, which I took advantage of after the shoot – and got a caramel macchiato.
Then in the afternoon, the 1st AD (assistant director) comes up to me and says ‘Janet, we’re going to do a gag, so keep the sound rolling after this next take.’ We do the take, and the director starts screaming ‘Dam it, how many times are we going to do this shot?!!‘ He’s ranting at the agency for asking for the same take over and over. Some people are in on the joke, most are not.
He comes storming out of the house to where the agency is sitting. But he’s got a slight smirk on his face, and the agency gets the joke and everyone starts laughing… this director is such a nice guy, so it was hard for him to pull it off.. practical jokes are common on the set.
Another director I know would always do a gag take, where our hairy propmaster, bare chested with his bulging belly, would come into the scene and say something outrageous. It surprised the heck out of the actors to see this guy wander into the shot. Everyone would laugh their butts off. Good stuff.
Well, it’s 5 pm and the day is done. We’ve shot all the scenes, the commercial is in the can, meaning the film is shot and in the can – film canisters. Now the film goes to telecine to get transferred onto video and the editor will cut it together. Everyone here, camera, sound, lighting, hair, make up, production, is done with this job and will go on to the next job. Different location, different script, different commercial or movie or show.
I walk back to the production trailer to turn in the sound. Today I’ve made $700 for labor and my boom operator has made $575. And I worked 5 days this week. Most everyone on the set made $500-700 for the day. Even the production assistants, the lowest paying position, made $200-300 today. So! That’s a day on the set in the film industry. If you have any questions or want to see more posts like this, let me know in the comments below! Talk to you soon!