Tuesday, May 31, 2005

don't yell "fire" in a crowded theater, don't yell "wetback" in a mexican restaurant

Sunday was the last day of principal photography on this feature film that I've been working on. It is customary on the last day for everyone in the cast and crew to write their name on a dollar bill and place it in a box. Someone pulls out a dollar bill and the person whose name is on that bill gets to keep the whole box full of cash. The producers and above the line talent usually throw in more than a buck, just to make it interesting, especially when you have a small cast and crew. At some point, I am sure that a stripper will receive a dollar bill with my name scrawled on it. The lucky winner was the most unpleasant person that I worked with on the set. He screamed at just about everyone on the set, everyone that didn't have the authority to fire him. PAs, set coordinator, location manager - it didn't matter whether they deserved it or not. He tried to yell at me, but I just laughed and walked away. His name was on the dollar bill that was pulled. No justice. I caught him checking me out at lunch on Sunday and it creeped me out.

I spent a lot of time in the production office rather than on the set. I had a weird vibe from the crew and the producers assured me that it wasnt' just me. One said that this was the worst crew he's ever worked with. Unchecked egos, blatant exploitation, shirking responsibilities, sexism, idiocy and every form of bad behavior that can be exhibited on a set was very much on display here. I stayed because of two producers, extremely nice and competent individuals who took me under their wing, who have been very generous in sharing their knowlede and expertise with me. I feel as if I just completed an accelerated master's program in film production. It certainly wasn't the cliche-ridden script, the unimaginative director with the lifeless camera, the woefully inadequate pay, the histrionics of that screamer on the crew, or the nepotism of the AD and his minions with an incredible sense of entitlement that kept me here.

The wrap party was somewhat lame, but not without any action. I thought that the executive producer was footing the bill, but someone said that the director was taking everyone out. "Better get your drinks and leave before the director does," I said, "because his ass is broke and he might stick you with the bill if you stay too long." Sure enough, I walk into the restaurant in time to hear the director tell the bartender, "Everyone gets one drink, then close my tab." He throws a party about as well as he directs. The other producers were nice enough to break out their credit cards and keep the drinks coming.

I decided I'd give the screamer on the crew a chance. Maybe he wasn't an asshole, maybe that's how he learned to do his job and he didn't know any better. After about six margaritas, I'm talking to him, and he's saying something about how all the abuse, all the yelling, all the histrionics - all of it - were completely necessary to get the job done. I'm not buying it, but it was pretty obvious to me that there was no malice behind it, he's just an idiot. So we're standing there talking, I'm trying to figure out how to extricate myself from the conversation when this other guy, let's call him "Rocky", from out of nowhere, comes over and punches the asshole, landing his fist right on his jaw. It made a really loud sound, too. Asshole hits the ground and stays there, rubbing his jaw. I'm completely shocked and all I could say was, "Holy shit." I didn't have enough sense to get out of the way, I was too shocked. So friends of the asshole, friends of "Rocky", they surround me, trying to knock the shit out of each other. I'm still standing there, repeating myself, "Holy shit." The executive producer pulls me out of the away, pushes me to safety, and he's in there trying to break up the fight, trying to keep these guys from pounding on "Rocky". Asshole's friend, who isn't too bright himself, is this little guy, a scrapper from Jersey. Jersey starts yelling at "Rocky", who happens to be Mexican-American, calling him a wetback. Did I mention that we were in a Mexican restaurant? I saw the busboys out of the corner of my eye, getting a little upset at this little guy screaming "...you fucking wetback, I'll kick your ass you little Mexican!" This situation wasn't going to end well. I finally got hold of my senses and asked the executive producer to hold Jersey and the other guys back. When he did, I pushed Rocky out the back door. As we exited, five busboys and waiters closed ranks behind us so that Jersey couldn't follow. I pushed Rocky to my car and drove him back to his car a half-block away. Once I determined that he was sober enough to drive, I told him to go home and cool off. I was all hopped up, my adrenaline was pumping. I thought about going back inside to see the aftermath for myself, but I was tired and figured it was time to go home. I am so glad this shoot is over.

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