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.