Film Industry Workers Talk About What Life Is Like Behind the Scenes

©Unsplash,Sam McGhee

I worked on film, TV, and commercial sets for several years when I was younger in Chicago and New Orleans. It was a great experience and I learned a lot and made a lot of good friends.

The one thing I would say to people who have never spent any time on a film set is that they might be surprised that it is almost totally blue-collar workers: painters, electricians, construction workers, caterers, etc. And then there are the few people on set who are actors, producers, and writers… we won’t get into them.

Most folks think that it is probably glamorous but it’s incredibly hard work and looooooooong hours. I’m talking 16 and 17-hour days sometimes. But still, if it’s an industry you really enjoy, it’s a great way to make a living.

Film workers sounded off on AskReddit about what goes on behind the scenes. We’re talking about the good, the bad, and the ugly.

1. Pretty boring…

“I haven’t worked in the area in 15 years but I guess it’s much the same.

God it’s boring. Actors have the most boring job on Earth. They just hang around all day, they’re on their phones or their laptop, just bored out of their minds.

Then they have to go into makeup and that takes hours. I mean, even for a really natural face, cos God forbid the Key Make Up Artist isn’t happy with every damn pore. And the actor isn’t in much of a hurry so that trailer is just a black hole of time sucking. SFX make up?

Oh God just take the whole morning. We’ll be hanging around on set just waiting, whilst the DP bitches to anyone who’s forced to listen. DPs are just the crankiest, most negative people, just huge pains in the ass.

And then the scene starts and the actor has to go from 0 – 100. From basically being horizontal with boredom to this whole animated other person. That’s when they earn their money, cos God knows I couldn’t do it. Or not – more actors are actually kinda shit than great.

A lot of people treading water cos they’re in their 40s and never finished school and literally have no other option. But some really try their best to absolutely explode when needed. It’s really hard though. I never ever once envied them, even the rich ones. It looked to me like a really shitty job.

Then in between takes there’s the touch ups. And the resetting. And more hanging around. And more bitching from the DP. And shouting from the 1st AD.

I had to get out, everyone else thought it was such a cool job but I was bored out of my skull.”

2. Sign here, please…

“I once saw an intern forging our main actors autograph on like 200 posters as per the producers request.

It was on a very popular show too.”

3. Smoking rules.

“Some movies have a tremendous amount of smoking in it. As a rule, nicotine-free herbal cigarettes are used.

Otherwise, in order to shoot one scene where a character smokes, where many takes are often needed — it would do significant harm to the actor’s health.”

4. Reality TV

“My roommate is a set painter. He did backgrounds for show promos for the Kardashian’s a while back.

They showed up with a whole entourage and apparently you aren’t allowed to talk to them or even LOOK at them.

He said it was all very strange.”

5. It’s a grind.

“The days can be incredibly long–I once worked from sunrise to following sunrise on a set, went home for four hours, and had to come back and do it again.

If you’re not a part of a guild or a union, you are going to get screwed.

Little details in a shot can have a lot of forethought behind them–I worked on a set that was supposed to take place in a hurricane. Despite the three wind machines, smoke machines, and other special effects, the director and FX team didn’t feel like it was getting sold enough.

They tied fishing wire to every window pane, and hid crew members just outside of the shot to get the panes to bang how they wanted.

Best people to befriend on set are crafty and transpo. They’ll keep you fed and get you where you need to go.

The amount of time and effort that goes into getting the background actors prepped for a scene is insane. Depending on how large the scene is–it can be hours of costuming, make-up, paperwork, and instructions for a scene that will last less than a minute.

All of the seasoned production members smoke.

There are far more people that go into a production beyond the (already long) list of credits.”

6. The A-Listers.

“A friend works in the industry and has told me this: 99% of A List people are garbage and PR firms are paid a lot of money to keep that under wraps.

Ellen, from what I’m told, is by far the most detached and nastiest people to work with. The reason you see a lot of people she works with show up again and again is because they are paid a lot to put up with her and have shown to be able to either take it or prove their worth.”

7. You need to be passionate.

“11 years experience. 8 years as a 1st Assistant Cameraman.

If you dont have passion for filmmaking get out. I put in the same scope of artist, musicians, fashion, basically anything artistic. I know many people who have gotten out only after a couple years or even a few months. It’s very hard to break in and the hours suck, 12 hours a day minimum. IATSE is scared shitless of the Producers Guild.

On the good side…once you’re established you can get little picky on what jobs you take. If it’s a shit rate, stay home and play video games.

Car commercials are the most fun and pay the best 😉

I love it and cant/wont do anything else.”

8. Hurry up and wait.

“Theres a lot of sitting around and doing nothing.

I’m a Script Supervisor, which means the majority of my work is done days before shooting starts, and then I watch the shoot with the directors to catch continuity errors, and then after wrap I have reports to write. During the entire process of scene transition (which is the most time-consuming part), there is nothing for me to do.

I don’t mind this, because I like downtime and am really good at entertaining myself. Also film sets usually have at least a few cool crew members to shoot the bull with (I almost always make friends with the sound guys).

And then its reversed if you’re a grip or camera assistant. Busy as hell during setup, but as soon as rolling starts (unless you’re operating a dolly or otherwise directly assisting the director of photography) theres nothing to do but hang out, eat snacks, and be super quiet if you’re anywhere near the set.

Theres a joke motto for film sets: “Hurry up and wait.” And it’s so true.

9. Like a family.

“I worked in the industry for many years and can say that the film crew on my regular shows truly became my family. Sure they were my weird, high strung, uber-creative family but my family nonetheless. I literally saw them more than I ever saw my real family when I was working full time.

You get to find out ALL the secrets when you live in a fun make believe box with 100+ people every day.

Every single day is different and the amount of weird and random things you will be asked to do is never ending. And that’s why I love the industry.”

10. From an extra.

“I work as a background actor. The amount of ass kissing and racism in this industry is astounding. Also lots and lots of food. If you’re on a diet, you can kiss it goodbye. Very boring too. I was in the new Harley Quinn movie.

Filmed for 16 hours and sat all day on a metal bleachers (my back was aching after) only for it to show up for 3 seconds in the movie (it’s the roller derby scene at the beginning). Oh and my god, there are so many attractive people on set that It’s definitely taking a toll on my self confidence and making my depression worse 10x. :

Also, you don’t know when you get out. I’ve had days where I work 30 minutes and get paid the 8 hours, but I’ve also had days where you work for 16 hours walking. Schedule is never set! I love it for the most part. It’s a big and small world and what I mean by that is you’ll work with people you’ve work with from other shows.

I normally get booked as a high schooler and my god everybody knows each other already.”

11. Water is key.

“For night shoots, they almost always hose down the ground before a shot, either on a studio lot or while shooting on location.

The water helps create a reflection of the lighting setup to brighten up the scene.

And everything looks cooler.”

12. Editing is a different story.

“All of the production people saying it’s “hurry up and wait” is very true. The exact opposite is true if you work in editorial… you start the same day as production and it’s a nonstop marathon sprint for months on end until your show airs/gets to the theater.

My personal record for working nonstop hours trying to get a film into the movie theater for a preview screening was 36 hours straight. Editing takes a special kind of endurance and absolute love of filmmaking.”

13. Stories from Dad.

“Not me but my dad used to be a foreman for movie sets there’s is a bunch of fun stuff from that. For example:

A director told my dad that a door needed to go at the end of a hallway in order to look right it was non functional so my dad added trim and a door handle. It was convincing enough to fool two members of the lighting crew who both tried to open the door.

His boss had a beef with the lighting crew so a set was designed with as much glass and other reflective surfaces as possible just to make it different.

Movie sets are often built three times for different occasions or events. For example one set is built standard bait another is built on scissor lifts to be lowered into the ground.”

14. Oh, boy…

“Michael Bay disappeared on the set of Transformers for weeks to his hotel room with a couple of escorts while we were all shooting the desert scenes, leaving us all with our dicks in our hands not even knowing if we were going to have hotel rooms from night to night.

He also laughed like a maniac after a boom tech passed out due to heat exhaustion as a result of him demanding that the crew water trailer be moved ten miles out into the desert because the edge of the hitch was visible in one of his shots.

I’m really glad I’m not in that business anymore for lots of reasons, but he was a real piece of work even in that world.”

Some very interesting insights…

How about you?

If you’ve worked in the film industry, please share some stories with us in the comments.