The In-Depth Look at the Lifestyles of Film Members By: Olivia Gudaniec
Only the strong minded and passionate need apply.
Being employed in the entertainment industry means to acquire a specific interchangeable lifestyle. This leaves many cast and crew members having to decide if the pros of working in this business outweigh the cons. To those I have spoken to, this is a constant internal debate. However, for the rare breed of those who do continue onwards, we learn to adapt and dare I say that some of us even love it? I have been working full time in the film and television industry, doing various positions, for almost five years now. The hours can be strenuous but once you get into the flow of things you will realize that a 12 plus hour day is the norm. At that point, you need to prep your body and mind accordingly. The contents of this editorial will give you a realistic and honest description of how this industry can challenge both one’s mental and physical health. You may even say that this is unpleasant to discover and read. Many sacrifices are required and I believe those working in the entertainment industry are all struggling to maintain a balance between work and pleasure.
Let me start off by being crystal clear that for those crew members on a show, the time spent on set has no limitation. The hours worked depends on which position you are in and if overtime is approved. Even equipment can fail or a stunt can take longer than anticipated. These elements are out of your control so being flexible and calm is crucial. In addition, you have to mentally be strong to be able to work under pressure with countless personalities in a close parameter. Whichever set you end up on, a typical day is organized this way: It begins with a private blocking (aka a rehearsal with the actors and director) followed by a crew blocking. Shortly after, most of the departments begin to set up the shot. Once that is complete, the director of photography usually requests a second team rehearsal. First team, known as the actors, show up almost immediately after, pending if there are any adjustments to make. Then a swarm of hair and makeup finals come in to get the actors touched up. Last but not least, shooting commences with no limit on how many takes it will require to get the directors vision across. So many variables come into play as every scene is covered to such an extent that it can become quite tedious. Patience, attention to detail and the ability to work well with others is mandatory. I emphasize these traits because the entertainment industry is a team effort where you support, assist and learn to rely on one another as a community. That for me is one of the best parts of the business. Therefore, the expectation is that everyone continues to show up ready to do whatever it takes to get the shot.
So how has this unpredictable lifestyle affected me thus far? When I first started in the film business, to put it bluntly, I vegetated on weekends. I did not go out with my friends; I did not even want to leave the house for an hour. Instead I recouped, as if I ran a full-fledged marathon throughout the week. I was given an opportunity to work in a great industry right out of university and yet I was unaware of the strain it would take on my emotional and physical psyche. At some point you simply accept the uncertainty that this world offers and go with the flow. Sure, there are storyboards and timelines but rarely ever do they go as scheduled. Due to the large amounts of time spent away from home, my personal relationships were beginning to wither away too. It made me feel sad, as I thought some of these people would be by my side for life. One of my past boyfriends even called me a “liar” and said, “no one works that much”. It was only when I presented him with my timesheet that he realized he overstepped. This unfortunately is a part of the process and a burden you have to carry when working in the film and television industry. What you do usually get is an 11-hour turnaround. Therefore, if the show wraps at 10pm chances are likely, but not definite, that you will start the following day at 9am. Certainly it is nice to know when you will be home to see your family or significant others, but that is a not a luxury on set working crews get. Trust me, throughout the day we are all guessing when wrap will come. My mental health continues to be tested as many people outside of the business do not understand how I work so many hours and do not know when I will be done. What I had to come to terms with is that only certain people in your life will understand and continue to stand by you and everyone else will sort of dissolve. Although this was a hard realization to come to terms with, now I see it as necessary filtration system for my future.
As I strive to look for a balance during the past two years, I have taken on a new approach to this demanding lifestyle. I started with being determined to make plans to do at least one social activity on weekends. Lately, I have turned to Latin dancing. This allows me to set up a goal for myself, to see and meet new people outside of work and get some exercise in as well. Having a regular dance schedule also acts as my stress relief as I am able to shift my energy and focus during those few hours. Can I now confidently say that I have found a balance between my work life and my social life? Not yet, but I am putting in the conscious effort and I am happier this way. Sure my energy is a bit more depleted come Monday morning but for the most part Monday’s are hard on everyone.
Of course sometimes I wish I could take a personal day or call in sick, especially on those cold, frigid days when we are working outside. Yet, there is a social stigma that when you cannot make it in one day, you are somehow not as reliable, responsible or grateful for your job. Or at least that has been my personal experience time and time again. Although it is flattering to know that people care about your whereabouts, you can feel from a select few the unsaid judgment and resentment the next day. One person even avoided speaking to me for a period of time because they believed that I was not committed to the show. Yes, I was told this while addressing the person directly, and it took me a little longer to realize that how other people will react is out of my control. We are all human beings and cannot predict life events. The dilemma I face is that if I need to take two or three personal days a year, why am I being scrutinized for this? I have never experienced this type of behavior in jobs outside of the film industry. My inner strength and mental health is constantly being tested, which is why I cannot stress enough that you need to develop, if you do not already have, a strong backbone. Although I am still challenged daily, this business has definitely toughened me up and I will always be grateful for that. In times like these, I simply have to remember that this is a team effort and they chose me and are relying on me to show up, not my replacement. So unless it is an absolute emergency, I will not take time off.
Many of these clashes in opinions are due to the fact that people are simply overworked. I can almost guarantee that by the end of a show you will be drained and itching to attend to you and your life. On the plus side, rest assured that the time you spend away from your bed, you will not go hungry. Please keep in mind that I have been fortunate enough to work in North America on mainly Tier A/big budget productions. This is a place where gluttony (myself included) is witnessed day in and day out. Although free food is one of the many rewards of working on set, I have personally seen people gain up to an additional twenty pounds over the course of a few months. Despite the show, location and the crew members, the same scenario repeats itself over and over again. Physical health is vital, so why is it taking a back seat while on set? The logic is that a better-fed crew is a harder working one. However, the lines between eating when you are hungry versus eating when it is available straightforwardly become blurred. From that point on, people’s moods adjust as their self-esteem drops, which is a hard thing to watch. Mental health once again is a huge concern. I speak from experience as I often feel regret when grabbing that extra snack when I am already so full. What is one or two more bites, right? I am not here to preach about how to eat healthy or maintain some self-control because I have not mastered either. Yet, when you are doing the same shot countless times and you smell fresh baked cookies…I know I welcome the distraction and instant gratification. Therefore, between the lack of sleep, irregular eating routines and little to no time for exercise, your body simply reacts accordingly. Yet when you are done a show and have a few days to yourself, many of us are desperately looking for the next one. What can I say? We are a unique group of people.
Do not get me wrong, there are many positive factors to the business. Having new experiences, a steady growing pay cheque, a constant changing environment and working with some talented people are just a few perks. In addition to all of these thrilling moments, you get to see your collaboration come together for many to watch. Some films even become classics and win prestigious awards. But lets be realistic. New experiences can include travelling and/or stepping out of your comfort zone. The money includes excruciating hours. A constant changing environment means that you always have to be available to go wherever the show goes. Were you planning a vacation ahead of time? That is a luxury we do not normally have as end dates always fluctuate. One of my favorite rewards is working with celebrities, yet that usually means strict confidentiality and repetitive privacy checks. Last but not least, you contributed to an artistic job, yet you are bound by contract to not reveal any sort of information, especially plot lines, until the project is released. This of course could take months but on average takes years, depending on if it is targeted for film or television. If that was not hard enough, no one knows if the film will be the anticipated success that everyone is hoping for. So whether you already work in the business or are interested in joining, ask yourself what appeals to you about the industry. The process is essentially what you have to endure whether or not you work in front or behind the camera. I personally adore the unpredictability of every day, but I am well aware that this is not a lifestyle many can comfortably take on. Therefore, if you find yourself not utterly in love with the development of an artistic project then you are idealizing the result.
About this time last year, I approached the script supervisor on a show I was working on and told her that my skin felt odd. Turns out I had gotten a mild case of frostbite for the first time in my life. When I went to the hospital to have it examined, the doctor asked how many hours I was outside. I recalled an eleven hour day or so. She paused, looked at me like I was from another planet and strongly advised that in -22 C weather I should stay at home. Yet, it was not just the doctor that thought I was senseless for working on one of the coldest days of the year. My peers and family members felt the same way. I laughed as taking the day off is the logical thing to do, but I committed to a show and I have to show up just like everyone else. As I listened to the doctor’s suggestions that I need to cover up and that better gear would be helpful… all I could think was, “this is not my first rodeo”. The problem is that it is not always possible to leave set to go warm up. Of course I was already protecting myself to the max, but I could not cover up my face for the camera, which ironically is the one thing exposed that got frostbite. It was this particular occurrence that made me realize how many times I overlooked my physical health while on the job. Yet, if I had the option to do it all over again and stay home, I would still show up to set.
I suppose I now have a new level of understanding when watching movies. Especially when I see winter sets or natural disaster scenes. Exterior night shots also make me cringe. You name it, we are all working out in it. For instance, the visuals in The Revenant, San Andreas, Pompeii, and Mad Max: Fury Road are all breathtaking to observe from your cozy seat at home or at the theatre. Yet having personally worked on one of those four films, I can tell you that my clothes became filthy in seconds, breathing conditions were difficult (mind you masks are always available), your skin takes a beating from all the chemicals, the weather varies and due to the technicality of the shots, the hours have a tendency to extend. But just think of how great it will look and how much money you will make, right? On the other hand, those months of hard work were the most fun I have ever had. After all, who gets to experience such extreme conditions on a daily basis? I never imagined I would be in the centre of so much chaos with an uplifting group of individuals that had to endure it all with me. These types of scenarios bond people together and they are memories that are irreplaceable to me.
As you read this article, ask yourself what gives your life a sense of fulfillment and are you in a job that touches on at least a few of those key traits? Question everything and the get answers you seek. Are free food and a decent pay cheque enough to give up almost all of your social and family time? Is your mental and physical health worth risking? Fundamentally, what it comes down to is how strong your passion is for the entertainment business and what sort of nuisances you are willing to endure to work in it. You may be thinking what keeps you, Olivia, coming into work everyday? For starters it is the brilliant people that I get to work with. Curiosity is another reason. I want to see how much I can absorb, how much I can advance and even how much I can earn. This business allows for that freedom, which is just as frightful as it is invigorating. Moreover, from my own experiences I get to connect with people on a different level that I have never had before. The fact that I can influence and affect people in a positive way is invaluable to me as a human being. In addition, I have always known that I wanted to work in the film and television industry even before I knew anything about it. That is not to say it has been easy, far from actually, but I have learned to appreciate all the time, energy and people it takes to put together something magical. We have all heard the saying: The show must go on and that is exactly the attitude that I take on.
Although finding a balance is nearly impossible, I do enjoy the business and all it has to offer me. So for those reasons, I keep reaching for my boots and accept the challenges that come my way. Are you still curious to learn more about the unpredictable lifestyles of cast and crew members? My request is for you to take a moment to reflect on the consequences and the sacrifices that these jobs ask. Remember that this world challenges both one’s mental and physical health on a daily basis. It tests your self control, or lack their of. It requires people who are persistent and enthusiastic about the art of collaboration. For instance, whenever you see an image on a screen be aware that just outside of the frame of the shot is a plethora of hard working people waiting to be cued, holding a bounce, distributing atmosphere smoke and the list continues. But see for yourself, I have filmed a few of my peers to give you their thoughts about working and dealing with productions in film and television. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XNRbqUPn9lE Sound Speed! Rolling!
© 2016 Olivia Gudaniec
Photographer: Andris Matiss
MUA: Ashley Rocha
Hair: Maryanne Costa Hairstyling