This story is part 2 of The Battle with Producer George. You can read part 1 here where George and I get off on the wrong foot and continue down that path.
Having to put up with people you don’t like isn’t an anomaly to the film industry — it’s an unfortunate part of life.
When I first met George, I was astounded at how terse and unfriendly the exchange was. From then on, I always felt he was accusing me of something I hadn’t done and most of the time he was.
I didn’t like it at all. I had been excited to come work on this film and was optimistic it would be a great experience. And though there were moments of fun, George was making life tough.
Shake, Rattle and Roll
Despite this film having a decent amount of money, I was working for dirt cheap. Everyone else on the crew was in a similar position or working for free.
Even moments where it made sense to put money into the shoot, there were corners being cut. Locations were rarely locked-off, video village featured a low-end Acer computer monitor and, when it came time to shoot some car scenes, a car trailer from U-Haul was rented instead of a true process trailer.
Everyone from the grips rigging to the director of photography (DP) operating camera had to make do with it.
The problem was roads everywhere suck and are full of dips, cracks, bumps and jumps. Translated into a camera with an 85mm lens fitted and that tiny pebble seems like driving over Mount Everest.
True process trailers are low to the ground which helps minimize the shaking, but they are also designed to be filmed on. The rig we had was designed to help Joe Schmoe move his car from one city to another — definitely not meant for people to ride on it with a camera.
Since the whole operation was sketchy at best, only the DP and the safety/stunt coordinator were going to ride on the rig. I snagged a seat in the tow car, which George was driving, to slate scenes and help the DP out between takes.
To say the shots went rough is an understatement.
The DP feared he would fall off. The camera shook like a massage chair. And George, well, he refused to slow down to compensate for either of them.
“Tell him to stop being such a pussy. I’m only going 40 mph,” he told me when I came to the defense of the DP.
“Well, I’m sure it seems a lot faster to him than that,” I retorted. Others in the car agreed with me and collectively we convinced George to reluctantly slow down the barreling SUV to a modest 25mph.
After a long morning rigging and an even longer day shooting, we wrapped the daytime car shots.
Low on (Battery) Life
The budget restraints didn’t end there. Early on, I expressed concerns that we only had four RED batteries and one charger. I thought, to be safe, we should have six batteries with two chargers.
You can get by on four, but it cuts very close on a 12 hour day. And if you go over that 12 hour mark, you play catch up with the charger and eventually get left without any juice.
The producer, James, ultimately decided that in the worst case scenario we would switch to AC wall power. I made sure he understood this might slow us down and wasn’t ideal. I don’t mind working with limitations, but I don’t want to get blamed when they bite you in the ass.
And that’s exactly what happened later that night when we were still shooting on the makeshift process trailer.
Because we had been shooting mobile exteriors all day without a “homebase” location, we were down to the last 20% of our last battery. While waiting to reset for the next shot, I powered down the camera to save what little juice was left and
figured prayed we would be able to squeeze through the day.
When the camera wouldn’t power back on, however, I knew something was wrong. I tried all the tricks: unplugging the battery mount, remounting it, etc.
I let the DP know, who let the producer know, who asked George to plug our AC adapter into the car power inverter that had been rigged to power a small Kino light on the car.
Innocuously, I plugged the camera in and it worked. I put the battery back into my toolbag thinking there was an issue with the cable on the mount that I could fix later.
We shot out the rest of the night and the footage that came back was some of the most beautiful stuff from the film. To the DP on that shoot, I know you’re reading this, it was top notch work.
That was the good news.
The bad news was when I went to charge the drained batteries later that night, one of them simply wouldn’t mount on the charger.
Three frustrated tries later, I looked to find one of the pin holes had exploded causing the gold plates to lose the shape needed to fit onto the charger. In short, the battery was fried and needed to be sent to RED for repair or replacement.
For me, that meant one less battery. For the producer, it meant $450 down the drain.
Neither of us were happy about it, but as the DP and I tried to explain: these things happen.
Calling George’s Bluff
The battery shorting out was an accident, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when the next day George tried to blame it on me. It had become a recurring theme and each time it happened, I grew more tired of shouldering a slice of natural guilt (I didn’t want it to happen) and misplaced blame (it was really nobody’s fault).
On set the next day, producer James pulled me aside, “George says you blew out that battery when you plugged the camera into the inverter last night. What happened?”
I chuckled at first and shook my head, “James, I would be the first to admit if something was my fault. But that battery wasn’t working before we ever plugged the camera into the inverter.”
The DP chimed in: “Those batteries are fragile and they were being shaken up the whole day. They’re not made very well.”
I knew this wasn’t anybody’s fault, but George wanted someone to be responsible for breaking the $500 battery. He was picking on me because I was young, I was quiet and because he thought he could use his power to bully people around.
But did he truly believe it was my fault? I wanted to call him on his bluff.
“You tell George this was not my fault. And explain to him what happened. And if he still thinks what happened was because of me, tell him to come tell me himself and I will be more than happy to talk with him about it. If he is going keep blaming stuff on me, tell him to come to my face about it instead of going through you or someone else. That’s unprofessional. I’d be more than willing to have this conversation with him if he truly thinks I fucked up that battery.”
I was fired up and the producer could tell. He politely thanked me and walked away.
In the days that followed, never once did George approach me about the battery.
A Change of Heart
I’m not sure if the producer put George in his place or if he had a change of attitude after a brutally honest production meeting, but by the wrap party, George and I were having drinks together.
When it came time to leave the party, I shook hands with George and said goodbye, the complete opposite of how we had met a month earlier.
You might think I’m angry about the situation or how I was treated and I wouldn’t completely disagree with you. It was the hardest month of work in my life and George didn’t make it any easier.
But because of George I learned to stick up for myself and fully formed my professional attitude. While I hope nothing like this happens to you, knowing when to defend your turf is just as important as humility.
What happened on that shoot reminds me of some of the earliest advice I was ever given about working on a low-budget feature film: “People will become friends, people will fight, then they’ll become friends again by the end. At least, that’s the idea.”
Production can be a fiery hell that brings out the worst of us. It’s rarely easy, always tough, and all you need is the cathartic release of “that’s a wrap!” to get along again.
What sort of encounters have you had on set with people who mistreated you? Let me know in the comments!