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Monday, January 10, 2005


Life as a freelancer in the film industry ain’t always as glamorous as it might sound.

For starters there’s the ‘downtime’: a period spent out of work. This can range from just a few days to many months. All the earnings we make when we do work have to last during this period, which can be very hard. We get used to living life on an extreme budget – never knowing when the next job will come in to pay our bills – having to always be careful to make sure that we do have enough to cover ourselves.

Finding work in the industry is bloody hard. Our jobs are never ‘advertised’, you won’t find them in the pages of a national newspaper or included in a web-based-job-search-site. Every job I have ever had has been either through word-of-mouth, or through recommendation. Nepotism is alive and well on the film set floor. There hasn’t been one single job I have done where I didn’t know at least one person on it, in some department or another. It’s a very small community, our work environment.

Not that it’s all a holiday when we are working. Sure we get paid far more than most people in ‘normal’ jobs, but we work far longer hours, get far less sleep, work in unpleasant and dangerous conditions and develop injuries and illnesses that shorten our lives, so I guess it’s ‘danger money’. And, this has to cover us for the off-work periods, so it’s not like we can all afford to buy Mercedes SLK’s (though many Sparks do, I admit, but then they are all wide-boys from Essex, so that figures).

And of course we suffer the consequences of long hours - away from home, family, and friends - our social lives become non-existent: we are either too busy to go out (70-100 hour weeks mean zero dinners/cinema/gigs), or when we do get a day off, we are too bloody knackered to do anything and just use the time to sleep/do laundry/go shopping/pay bills.

So a lot of downsides as you can see.

When I tell people what I do for a living, most get excited and eagerly ask me,

“Ooh! Do you meet lots of famous people then? Who’s the most famous actor you have worked with?”

and I just wearily reply that I am much too professional to gossip (untrue, just ply me with 7 whisky and sodas and I’ll tell all); or I just tell them that actors are people like you and me, just that they earn more than us for working far less harder (though I also have respect for some actors – the ones who are talented and nice people anyway).

But people don’t see us lot behind the camera.

How we have to be at work at 5am.

How we get home after 11pm.

And have to be back at work again at 5am.

No. They see the glitz and the glamour and think it’s piss-easy. It ain’t.

Not only is working hard, but not working is hard too, as I have already said. We can’t just laze around waiting for a job to turn up. As well as constantly being on the search for work and having to arse-kiss any industry person we meet, in case they can offer us a job, we also have to be ready to go at all times – with no preparation - just in case a job comes to you at the last minute.

Which is where I found myself at 6am this morning.

After last night’s gig, and drunken stumblings, I found myself finally dragging my sorry arse to bed around 2am, still fucking bollocksed, my head spinning.

So when my phone rang at 6am and woke me up, I ignored it, thinking,

“What cock-sucking-bastard-wanker is phoning me at this fucking hour?”

and tried to recall: did I give my number out last night?

The call went to voicemail, and for a couple of minutes I lay there, thinking.

And that little nagging doubt went off in the back of my little freelance mind and I dialled into my voicemail to listen, just in case.

It was an emergency plea. Us film freelancers get a lot of these. Invariably they need you NOW because their regular person is ill/hungover/has been sacked/died/gone onto another (better) project, and they’ve got work for you but can you be there in an hour, sort of thing.

And in all honesty I had to think about it. I mean, I felt rotten. 4 hours sleep, my head like a fucking vice, and the knowledge that I would have to work a 12+ hour day ahead of me.

So I called them back and said I’d be there in a hour.

And like a doctor grabbing their medical bag, I did some last minute checks with my (always standing by) work items to make sure I had everything:

  1. Comfortable work boots – check. [Must be waterproof, warm and capable of not giving you blisters after wearing them for 17+ hours]
  2. Comfortable trousers with many pockets – check. [You can never have too many pockets on set]
  3. Coolmax socks – check. [To wick away from your feet the inevitably large amounts of sweat during the day that you’ll produce]
  4. Non-cotton t-shirt - check [Ditto on the sweat. Plus, having an ironic slogan there, always brightens people’s days and prevents boredom for the ignorant and ill-educated, who take their time to read it (and are unable to understand it)]
  5. Super-douper fleece – check. [It is a prerequisite that all crew members wear a fleece with the insignia of not only the last film they worked on, but of one that is a ‘big’ movie. That way, people know you are in demand, and not some small fry who only works in TV]
  6. Thermal leggings + vest – check. [Just in case. You never know when you’ll be standing outside for 15 hours freezing your tits off]
  7. Second pair of socks – check. [In case of leakage, or just some damn cold toes]
  8. Waterproof trousers – check. [Nothing like working in wet jeans, yuck]
  9. Waterproof jacket/coat – check. [Must be water-proof, not water-repellent. There IS a difference].
  10. Scarf + gloves– check.
  11. Warm hat – check. [If it’s waterproof too, even better]
  12. Work-belt – check. [Must be able to withstand heavy duty items on it]
  13. Work-bag for the belt – check. [For all your worldly items]
  14. Radio-holster – check. [For the annoyingly heavy walkie-talkies]
  15. Ear-piece – check. [So we can receive/give instructions quietly on set]
  16. Pink see-thru lacy thong with a sequinned heart on the front panel – check. [Ok, not a necessity, but after all the ‘manly’ heavy work-wear I have to don, I like to feel sexy and feminine underneath it all]

Anyway, it went fine. A short day since we were on a ‘continuous’: usually working a ‘straight’ 10 hour day with no breaks (you eat your lunch on set, standing up). Of course you still have to prep and de-rig which usually adds another 2 – 6 hours (unpaid) onto the working day, but let’s not mention that.

But in spite of it all, I still love it. There is nothing on earth I would rather be doing than working on a movie set. People say ‘hello’ all day, everyone's friendly and scratches each others backs, trying to help each other out. Like how things are in a village I imagine, not like being in London. It’s lovely. And I still feel the thrill of seeing the magic being created, each time I walk onto set. It is truly wonderful. I will never sicken of it. I look forward to working and when I am, I never think:

“I wish I was loafing around at home”,

like so many of my office-bound friends. Instead I think:

“I can’t believe I am so fucking lucky to be seeing this movie being made”.

So I guess you could say I enjoy it.

Though there is one thing, one major thing that I do dislike about it. This should come as no surprise to readers of this blog: the lack of playtime. Being knackered all the time is not conducive to having regular fiddles. Trust me on this. For all my fiendishness, when faced with 4 hours sleep or 3 hours 45 minutes sleep after having only had 20 hours sleep over the last five days, I have chosen the sleep almost every time. Sometimes a girl is just too tired to have a rub - even this Girl. That isn't to say I haven't had the occasional frig at work (noted more than a few times in this blog's archives), but generally a shooting week is a sexless week and this is probably the biggest sacrifice I have had to make (and are still making), being in this career I love so much.

Ah well. I'm not working tomorrow. Here's to a pearl that'll soon be thoroughly polished...

G'night x

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