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school of hard knocks, or, just being a jerk?


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#1 Annie Wengenroth

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Posted 12 April 2009 - 10:13 PM

So, I was thinking about this recently. I have a really cynical but well-meaning friend who works in the biz as a camera operator. She seems to have this basic mentality about this industry that if one can't take the heat, one should get out of the kitchen...and that most people in the business are inherently going to be total a$$holes and that's just how it is.

I am long past the days where I expect anyone to care about my feelings and I agree about getting out of the kitchen when necessary, but this is somebody who found Christian Bale's rant to be not only somewhat "typical", but ACCEPTABLE. She basically said he was well within his right to act that way. But my argument is, that doesn't MAKE it right.

It got me thinking...what's the line between sucking it up and dealing with the horrendous ways people treat each other on set, versus putting your foot down and deciding to be more civilized and less crass and tactless about everything? I'm all for good-natured ribbing as much as the next person, but doesn't there come a point where it crosses a line and becomes too personal, or abusive? And how is it fair that I am expected to just LIVE with somebody else's horrible social skills, just because we're not working in cozy cubicles surrounded by Human Resources with puppies and cupcakes and kittens?

I personally feel like, you know what, NO, it's NOT okay for you to yell at me if I make a mistake, or to ask me personal questions about sexual preferences while I'm next to the camera. (Yes, this happened and my snarky answer was "Arriflex" :P) When I'm next to the camera, I'm at work, and I'm not inclined to answer prying, invasive questions that have nothing to do with the next shot. And I don't think it's okay or cool for directors to throw hissy fits about running out of time in the day or for DP's to yell at their gaffers or for 2nd AC's to berate the loader for taking too long. I mean, why do we tolerate people acting like they're in kindergarten?

I really just think that if we're all so "professional", it's best to STFU and do our jobs, live and let live...and treat others as we would want to be treated. I'm not saying this to be a stupid hippie...I'm saying this because my friend claims that "Well, you know, we're all professionals and we're under a lot of stress and blah blah blah". You know what? I honestly think that if someone is under so much stress and sleep deprivation that every word out of their mouth is an insult or a complaint, maybe they shouldn't work in this business. I started to get that way on low-budget jobs, really surly and negative, and when I caught myself doing it, I realized that life is way easier when you DON'T act like a douche.

So why does there seem to be this inherent expectation that we all just have to put up with childish crap on set, mean-spirited behavior, and a general mentality that we're all in a war or something? It's not a picnic either, but there must be a middle ground, right?

Am I wrong? I would be interested in hearing about other peoples' experiences with this sort of thing.
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#2 Justin Hayward

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Posted 12 April 2009 - 11:34 PM

I’ve had too many experiences with this to comment now as I just don’t feel like typing, but I will say it seems this particular industry is rampant with people’s nose so high, we wonder if the air is too thin for them to breathe.
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#3 Chris Keth

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Posted 13 April 2009 - 01:19 AM

Well, since nobody did jack sh!t about it, his behavior clearly was "acceptable" to a group of people on that set. In my opinion, it wasn't at all right; no person should be treated like that at work. It was abusive and, in any other business, the company could have incurred fines and perhaps a lawsuit for allowing one employee to abuse another.

Unfortunately, to keep your job, often the best thing is to ignore stuff, walk away and get coffee, pretend not to hear or see it, etc. That's what I've always done on set in those situations, though the attack has never involved me in any way (and I'd like to keep it that way.) It's not my nature to not fight back but I'd rather keep working than find another profession.

I think in that DP's situation, I would have walked away and got a drink and asked the AD to be alerted when we could shoot again. Basically treat him like a temper-tantrum-gripped child without actually saying anything to him. I would bet anything that the Bale would have cooled off if the guy hadn't tried to make excuses and hadn't just stood there and took it.

Edited by Chris Keth, 13 April 2009 - 01:22 AM.

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#4 Peter Mosiman

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Posted 13 April 2009 - 01:36 AM

I personally do not have any professional experience in the field yet as I am still a student, but I wanted to say thank you for putting this out there.

I think its important to be treated as a professional and I know that this doesn't always happen (at least its what I've heard) and I don't like to pick fights or even finish them so I am not looking forward to this aspect of the biz but knowing there are more people out there that haven't succumbed to it makes me hopeful for my future.
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#5 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 13 April 2009 - 02:07 AM

I don't think it's right to be a jerk on set and feel it's detrimental to the whole process. IF you are a good leader who inspires, is clear about what's needed and expected and is sure of themselves and takes responsibility seriously as a professional should, people will follow you through Hell and back again. When I direct, I like people to enjoy their work and try to do the best work they're capable of doing. I like the set to be a fun place to work where we do the best damn work of our lives!! I don't believe in degrading anyone, but encouraging them to do better and try harder, helping them if they have problems rather than bitching at them for making a mistake. If you're dealing with professionals, they know their jobs and if you've hired the right people, they will do the work correctly. EVERYONE makes mistakes, we're human, but if those mistakes start adding up, I will let someone go and get someone new in there that can do the job, but I consider that MY mistake for hiring them in the first place.

Now asking about you sexual performances while next to the camera is ridiculous and no different than having someone at your office sexually harass you at work, rude and inappropriate. You're a pretty girl so you probably have to deal with getting hit on a lot, but you shouldn't have to while you're pulling focus or slating no more than a pretty secretary getting hit on by her boss, that's just stupid and I as a producer wouldn't want to put myself in the position of being sued for creating a hostile work environment. Had it been me and I was made aware of it, I would have pulled the guy or girl aside and told them to knock it off or look for another job!!

Fortunately most people I've worked with when I was doing grip work, have been nice but I have had to deal with a few jerks.....and I don't suffer idiots lightly. As a director, I've really only blown my cool one time and that was when some sound people damaged my own personal sound equipment by treating it REALLY rough. That did piss me off, as one might imagine. Even so, they could see I was VERY angry but I kept in low and spoke directly to them, never insulting them personally just telling them to be much more careful with my equipment. Sometime you do have to be tough, but you NEVER need to be abusive.

Oh BTW, I've been an actor for years, and if you've ever been on stage and tried to deliver your lines while having a baby scream at the top of it's lungs, while still maintaining character, someone crossing your sight line doesn't even enter into it. If you're in character, you should have created your own little world. My guess would be that Bale was having problems that day and just couldn't deliver the lines the way he wanted too, so in frustration with his OWN problems, he lashed out at the crew guy. Actors always need to be taken with a grain of salt. They are by nature, emotional and much of the time, the way they behave is disproportionate to the situation that occurred. NO he did NOT have any right what so ever to explode at some poor crew guy for walking where he happened to be looking, it was wrong and stupid, but ALSO remember when your are an already emotional person and have a multi-million dollar project riding literally on your every word, it can create titanic amounts of tension so though it was wrong to do, it is understandable why he might react like that. It ain't easy having that kind of responsibility sometimes, if know what I mean.

BTW, if you DO want to tell me about some of those performances, feel free to email me anytime. :rolleyes:
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#6 Andrew Koch

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Posted 13 April 2009 - 02:18 AM

Good response with the Arriflex. Arri certainly makes sexy cameras.

Someone once told me that a person teaches others how to treat him/her. Consciously or subconsciously. I'm not saying we should blame the victim, but I think the abuse from department heads, actors, producers, etc... exists partially because we allow it to happen. If someone above us screams at us, we try to suck it up for fear of loosing our job, but our not defending ourselves sends the message that it is ok for that person to continue doing so.

If you look at it in other industries, getting fired for saying "please don't yell at me, I do not appreciate that. Don't threaten me," would be grounds for a lawsuit. I know someone who ran a company for 13 years who found out that one of their employees was stealing. They spent several days planning how they would confront this person in a nice way so as to not appear angry for fear of a verbal abuse lawsuit. It seams like people on set are less careful (of course I am comparing an office job versus a set job so it is not quite a fair comparison) I wish there was a way to better curb such behavior. I am still pretty new to the industry and would love to hear how some others have handled these kind of situations because to be honest, I usually just bite my tongue and deal with it, but it does get to me sometimes. There are times in the past where I wish I would have said something.
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#7 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 13 April 2009 - 02:37 AM

I usually tell them in private they don't need to berate me use ask me or tell me what I'm doing wrong and I'll correct it. Now if they're being particularly abusive, I just yell right back at them, I don't care if I get fired, I don't take that from NOBODY. I tent to react even sometimes when it's not in my best interests, what can I say, I'm an actor. B)
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#8 Saul Rodgar

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Posted 13 April 2009 - 03:04 AM

The best people in this business to work with are those who don't lose their cool under extreme pressure, very few, unfortunately. However, humans being humans, there will be times when even the most articulate and self-possessed person will turn into an apoplectic and rabid mad man. So it is important to differentiate a one off freak-out episode from a usually sweet person vs a serial raging maniac.

I don't mind stern, stone-faced crew members or the occasional short or sharp "get it done" type command. But those who think they can just perpetually yell for things to happen as their MO and constantly abuse others around them are contemptible and pathetic childish jerks. The fact that Bale allegedly assaulted his own mother and sister before the Hurlbut tirade speaks for itself.
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#9 Annie Wengenroth

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Posted 13 April 2009 - 10:28 AM

Saul-
Yeah, exactly. It's one thing to tell people what to do because it's your job, but it's another to yell all the time. And there is a fine line between the two, sometimes.

I have to admit, I occasionally get really frustrated with the structure of the film industry when it comes, at least, to non-union work- in that there IS no structure...you're thrown onto a set with people whose names you don't know, you're working in an environment that's totally new to you (and good luck getting the camera truck parked close enough!), and you're working within a schedule that's often pretty crazy.

The second part of my thoughts on this matter, is that I think a lot of peoples' moods on set can be affected according to how much, or what, they eat, and how much they sleep, versus how much coffee they drink. I have observed these effects in myself enough times to know that they work for others too. I know EXACTLY what happens when one drinks too much coffee, or doesn't get enough sleep, or doesn't eat often enough. And too many people completely override their own bodies with this stuff, which then makes them impossible to work with.

I think if more emphasis were placed on mindful thinking and wellness on a film set, it would build a better foundation for a more positive working environment in which the crew works well together and nobody feels like they're getting screwed. But unfortunately, it seems like a certain amount of self-destructive tendencies, is the norm. When I work in any position on the camera crew, on any job, I always try to be tuned in to how the camera department is doing. I try to keep snacks and water on hand. I just feel like, yeah, it's a hard day, yeah, you're gonna be tired, but is it really that difficult to anticipate that and put yourself in a state of body and mind where you can get through the day/night and finish strong? I'm really kinda over the "tough poop" act. I do this for a LIVING. This is a JOB. Why make things harder for yourself?

When I was in high school I did the Boston to New York AIDS bike ride, which was a ride to benefit AIDS research for Fenway Community Health. My school had a team in order to get our community service and phys ed credits. Riding 300 miles in 3 days is nothing to mess around with. We had tons of seminars about rules of cycling, how to change your tire, what to eat, WHEN to eat, how to train. We had two mottos: "Stay alert, stay alive" and "Eat before you're hungry, drink before you're thirsty". I think a mindset like this is much more beneficial to working in the film industry, than showing up and completely disregarding the dignity of the human being, whether by being an idiot and drinking too much coffee, or yelling at the loader. I just wish more people thought along these lines because it makes me feel like such a bleeding heart when I say these things!

p.s. I'm glad you guys are so accepting of my Arrisexuality. I was really afraid that my own family would reject me. :lol:
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#10 Simon Wyss

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Posted 13 April 2009 - 11:12 AM

Having worked with different labs I must say that this is nothing compared to what the gals had to take there but it is about twenty years ago.

No, certainly the atmosphere must not become poisoned. To me as a rather blitzy guy those people were impressive who stayed calm all the time. In the end they delivered better work, far better than the angry or frantic or etchy or very funny ones. I believe it's got to do with home.
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#11 Chris Keth

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Posted 13 April 2009 - 11:36 AM

p.s. I'm glad you guys are so accepting of my Arrisexuality. I was really afraid that my own family would reject me. :lol:


You going to start wearing a film ribbon now and call yourself a minority?
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#12 K Borowski

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Posted 13 April 2009 - 12:27 PM

It apppappears I am in the minority here, but, there is an artform to oppressing underlings who are powerless to do anything about it.

The more helpless and subservient they are to you, the more artistic and creative your tormentation can be. Lol. Push the envelope! Take it to the limit.

See "Mad Men" for a candid view of the now-lost artforms of racism, sexism, and drunk-on-the-job ;-)
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#13 Chris Durham

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Posted 13 April 2009 - 12:39 PM

One of the DPs in "Cinematographer Style" - can't remember which - said that when he was young and first interested in film he was told he should be a cinematographer because the cinematographer is the most respected person on set. (I think I'm remembering the story correctly). After having seen that, it inspired me to try to be the most respected person on set. I sometimes fall very short, but I always try to have in my mind that the road to being respected isn't just avoiding the things which lose you respect, it's doing the things that earn you respect.

I'm finding that this requires an acute sense of judgment. I DP'd for a director who was irresponsible and abusive and I held my tongue and did my job and did my best to console the crew, support them, and act as a level-headed liaison between the director and them. When he began doing things that crossed ethical lines is when I drew the line, threatened to walk, won out and was able to finish the job - and I had the full support of the crew with small exception. I understand that extremes of personality and ego are a part of this business, however knowing when to draw the line, and how, is probably an important thing and beneficial to us all.

There have also been instances where, under stress and frustration, I've blown up on set. This will happen. Again, this work can be very stressful and extremes of personality coupled with passions over a creative endeavor don't help. I think this is where humility is important. People respect sincere apologies and if you're looking for a silver lining a show of willingness to swallow pride for the greater good might highlight that your blow-up was an act of passion for the production, not simply ego.

One more thing about what Annie said about food, drink, and sleep. See to the quality of these things. A local Dallas vegan restaurant caters film sets as well. The thinking is that vegan food (and I'm not a vegan or vegetarian though well-versed in nutrition) won't slow a crew down the way that, say, a pizza lunch will. I experienced their craft services the first time a week or so ago and I'm here to testify - I've never felt so good post-lunch. Point is, GIGO (garbage in, garbage out). Take good care of yourself and/or your crew and it will help things immensely. Consider it psychological preventative maintenance.
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#14 Tom Jensen

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Posted 13 April 2009 - 02:11 PM

I could write a book on this subject if I hadn't got such a headache just reading the first post. I will say that if you work in this business long enough, you will meet every type of personality there is. You will experience every emotion there is and you will be surprised if not shocked at what you see. That being said, rarely will it be worth the trouble to complain. Just go to work, keep your mouth shut, and stay away from the toxic people. Don't make yourself a target.
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#15 John Sprung

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Posted 13 April 2009 - 06:05 PM

I will say that if you work in this business long enough, you will meet every type of personality there is. You will experience every emotion there is ....


True, and eventually you get to the point where you know who the good and bad people are, and you can afford to only take jobs where you know the working atmosphere will be placid and professional. The tough part is to hang on until you get there.




-- J.S.
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#16 Saul Rodgar

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Posted 13 April 2009 - 09:23 PM

True, and eventually you get to the point where you know who the good and bad people are, and you can afford to only take jobs where you know the working atmosphere will be placid and professional. The tough part is to hang on until you get there.


Mmmm, I dunno. I know a lot of senior keys and general crew members who wish they could work with the "good guys" all the time, myself included. Economic reality does not always agree with preference as to who one works with, no matter how long one works in the biz. Who can foresee an emergency medical expense that needs to be paid for, for example?

I know that every feature I work on there are good and bad apples no matter what. I mean, these crews are around 100 people strong, so it is impossible to say that all of these people would be good or bad, unless one is G W Bush. One has to take the good with the bad, as they say.

Love it or leave it? Tough one . . .
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#17 Tom Jensen

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Posted 14 April 2009 - 02:22 AM

True, and eventually you get to the point where you know who the good and bad people are, and you can afford to only take jobs where you know the working atmosphere will be placid and professional. The tough part is to hang on until you get there.




-- J.S.


That sounds good in theory but DP's work more than directors. So you might hook up with a great director but when he's not working, you aren't sitting around. There are commercials and music videos that are hard to turn down when bills come in. And you know else? Sometimes it's the DP that's being a jerk.

Edited by Tom Jensen, 14 April 2009 - 02:23 AM.

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#18 Annie Wengenroth

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Posted 14 April 2009 - 07:42 AM

Tom, I understand what you're saying about keeping my head down and my mouth shut, which is excellent advice...but in the context of being in an online forum and not on a film set, I must be so bold as to say, "True, but if we ALL did that EVERY time, we'd be f*cked!" Having the DP on a set turn to me right before rehearsal and asking me who I like to sleep with (in terms slightly more crass than this) is not the kind of poop I'm going to just lie down and take. Having a director scream at me over the phone and threaten my life because of a problem with the camera, is another instance of pushing the envelope. (Although I couldn't help but laugh inwardly at the image of a hand reaching through the phone to strangle me, just like the cartoons) People like this are poisonous to the point where it's almost laughable....and the more their behavior is simply dismissed as a temper tantrum or accepted at face value, the worse the working conditions will get. Again, I get your point and I'm not trying to start conflict by any means- I'm just pointing out that even in CHOOSING your battles, you still choose to fight at some point in time, right? So how does one learn to filter this stuff out and rise above it without getting walked all over or perpetuating it? I think this is a different scenario than, say, getting harassed in an office environment, or by a bunch of strangers. And I think situations like Christian Bale's little monologue are kind of like the white elephant on the film set that nobody wants to talk about. What is it about human nature that makes people behave that way, and how do we learn to be strong and fair in our actions on set so that we get along?

Bonus points for vegan catering! :-D
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#19 Simon Wyss

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Posted 14 April 2009 - 10:18 AM

One more thing about what Annie said about food, drink, and sleep. See to the quality of these things. A local Dallas vegan restaurant caters film sets as well. The thinking is that vegan food (and I'm not a vegan or vegetarian though well-versed in nutrition) won't slow a crew down the way that, say, a pizza lunch will. I experienced their craft services the first time a week or so ago and I'm here to testify - I've never felt so good post-lunch. Point is, GIGO (garbage in, garbage out). Take good care of yourself and/or your crew and it will help things immensely.

Let me support this. In my mother tongue: Der Mensch ist, was er isst. (Man is what he/she eats.)
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#20 Thomas James

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Posted 14 April 2009 - 11:18 AM

I think in this current economic recession things are going to get ugly out there. When previously sucessfull people are behind in their mortgage payments and are seriously at risk for forclosure they start to blame other people for either taking or being a threat to their jobs. A perception exists that the union protects bad people and allows bad people to get and to keep good paying jobs which should belong to good people. Feeling frustrated these people who think they are good start to take matters in their own hands and use threats and intimidation to get rid of the competition.

During times of deep economic recession this has happened to me especially when the union operates a hiring hall that hires not on the basis of ability but by a ranking system which simply means that the person who is unemployed the longest gets first dibs on any job offer and the person if he is fired whithin the first 40 hours of employment is allowed to maintain his ranking on the out of work list. Further what infuriates so called good workers the most is that bad workers are allowed to self qualify themselves for any position that the Union hiring hall offers.

So although tis happened a long time ago I have been called by other Union members every name in the book and after I have received death threats not only have I been called a homosexual but I have also been called a communist who thinks that the world owes me a living.
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