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#1 Alex Wuijts

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Posted 24 October 2006 - 06:26 AM

I always hear that the atmosphere in European, i should probably say Dutch, sets is more informal than in the US. If you're an electrician and you see some grips struggling with a heavy crane, you help them out if you haven't got anything else to do. Most of the time you do ofcourse, but it's a different attitude. From what i've heard it borders on the insulting in the US if you offer to help somebody out from another department, because then you're implying they can't take care of their own business.
Dutch actress Willeke van Ammelrooy played Sandra Bullocks mother in The Lake House this year, and in an interview she told that she had lunch with some crewmembers the first day for some good conversation, and she practically got stared away. The second day she just went to her trailer like all the other actors/actresses.
As this is a messageboard for professional filmmakers, i would like to know from the US people here if you have any experiences with European, maybe even Dutch, crews, and how those differences worked out.

I understand that the atmosphere in lower budget US films would be similar to European, probably.

Edited by Alex Wuijts, 24 October 2006 - 06:27 AM.

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#2 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 24 October 2006 - 08:39 AM

I always hear that the atmosphere in European, i should probably say Dutch, sets is more informal than in the US. If you're an electrician and you see some grips struggling with a heavy crane, you help them out if you haven't got anything else to do. Most of the time you do ofcourse, but it's a different attitude. From what i've heard it borders on the insulting in the US if you offer to help somebody out from another department, because then you're implying they can't take care of their own business.
Dutch actress Willeke van Ammelrooy played Sandra Bullocks mother in The Lake House this year, and in an interview she told that she had lunch with some crewmembers the first day for some good conversation, and she practically got stared away. The second day she just went to her trailer like all the other actors/actresses.
As this is a messageboard for professional filmmakers, i would like to know from the US people here if you have any experiences with European, maybe even Dutch, crews, and how those differences worked out.

I understand that the atmosphere in lower budget US films would be similar to European, probably.


It's an interesting and valid question and the reasons for both situations are valid. As far as pitching in to help other departments goes, the high-budget projects which use IATSE union crews are very specialized. Camera dept. handles camera, Grips handle their own things, etc. There are a couple of practical reasons for it. One is that those depts know their jobs and equipment better than anyone else does. An Electrician might see an AC struggling to lift a camera, but if he goes to help and grabs the camera in the wrong place, something could be damaged. The reverse is true. And on and on through the departments. It's one thing to help for a second if one really knows how to help, but it's another to drift around just lending a hand.

That leads to the second reason for specialization and not jumping in. You may not have anything to do in that moment, but you might the next. So if you're off helping someone else do their job and your own boss asks for something to happen right now, where does that leave you?

I think you tend to see more helping out on lower budgeted projects due to staffing and experience differences. Something with a lower budget may not have the money to afford to properly staff each department correctly. So a large budget film with four Grips, four Electricians, and a full Camera department isn't going to need that level of jumping in to help out that an understaffed production requires.


As far as the Actor thing goes, there is a definite line drawn which separates crew from talent almost in a royalty sort of way. We're trained to not speak unless spoken to. Only engage talent if required for the work. That sort of thing. Part of that was established and is maintained by the Actors themselves. So when an Actor/Actress "breaks" that wall, it is unusual which may prompt uncomfortable reactions from the crew. It's not that the crew wouldn't like to be buddies with the talent, but when you spend your entire day working around them and not really with them, striking up idle conversation at lunchtime isn't likely to be something that will happen naturally. Some talent set the tone right away on their first day. Sometimes they can be personable and be "real" people, friendly with the crew and set a pleasant rapport. Most of the time though, that line that divides talent from crew is maintained from the outset of production and remains there no matter what anyone would like.

At the end of the day, we're all there to do our own jobs and any extra help or interesting conversation is a bonus. We're all working on the same project, but there is an expectation that if an individual or a department is struggling, then perhaps they don't deserve to be there in the first place. That sounds awful, but it doesn't mean that the occasional helping hand can't be lent. It just means that in general, if everyone on set does what they're supposed to be doing, then the machine that is creating the project should run smoothly and the work will get done in the most efficient manner possible. Imagine production as a machine and that each person is a cog on one of the wheels. The machine won't run correctly if a cog is broken, if one cog is smaller than the others, or if one cog thinks it's bigger than the rest. And the machine runs better if each cog stays on it's own wheel where it belongs. :)
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#3 Hal Smith

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Posted 24 October 2006 - 10:23 AM

It's an interesting and valid question and the reasons for both situations are valid.

But it begs the point as to why this isn't true in Europe. The reason is cultural, the United States culturally operates on a "Military" model with a very large gap between officer and enlisted.

As any one who has been in the US military is well aware of, an enlisted man is never free to be "at ease" with officers. The enlisted does not socialize or otherwise "play" with officers and vice-versa. The system is so rigid that the military to this day has problems dealing with the huge experience gap between a long-serving senior enlisted man and the most junior officer - who may have learned to return a salute two months ago in ninety day wonder school. They invented a grade called Warrant Officer to try to smooth the gap but even then had to create two grades, Enlisted and Commissioned Warrant Officer.

On US film crews, there seems to be the same gap between Producers, Directors, and cast with respect to crew positions - the crew is enlisted, only to speak when spoken to. DP's will recognize this gap instantly, a DP is much like a Warrant Officer, on some productions, the DP is treated with the respect and courtesy afforded officers, and on others he/she is there to light the set and point the camera where the Director wants and is otherwise very much a lowly enlisted man.

The non-British European military seems to operate much more democratically, just like their film crews - maybe it's because they're smart enough to maintain real Royality - it keeps the commoners from taking on airs and self-appointing themselves Earls. American corporate executives are increasingly becoming self appointing Lords with very little concern for their working class commoner employees. Did I hear someone say "Who Needs Sleep"?

Disclaimer: written before my first cup of coffee. :)

A later thought: I'm not sure what's wrong with the British - they have a healthy political system with clear separation between Crown and Government - but socially still seem to be pretty "Upstairs/Downstairs". How are they handling their military and what's it like to be on a British film crew today?
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#4 Max Jacoby

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Posted 24 October 2006 - 12:50 PM

As far as talking to actors, there are some who obviously like to concentrate on their work and do not like to make conversation, but I've found most actors to be very approachable. Let's face it, they have lots of hanging around and waiting to do, so most of the time they welcome a little chat.
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#5 Tim Terner

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Posted 24 October 2006 - 02:59 PM

As far as talking to actors, there are some who obviously like to concentrate on their work and do not like to make conversation, but I've found most actors to be very approachable. Let's face it, they have lots of hanging around and waiting to do, so most of the time they welcome a little chat.


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