Seeing as it’s Academy Awards day, I thought I’d share with you my experience with making moving pictures. I don’t care about the Academy Awards at all. In fact, I hate them. They clog up streets. I don’t care who you’re wearing. Academy Awards weekend means I can’t go anywhere near Hollywood, lest I murder someone through vehicular manslaughter.
Even before I was personally aware of the chaos they engender, before I moved to Los Angeles, when I was still a wee lass, I hated them. It was really Driving Miss Daisy that did it. That movie won best picture in a year when the other nominees were Dead Poets Society, Born on the Fourth of July, Field of Dreams and My Left Foot. Driving Miss Daisy is sentimental dreck with racist undertones, but it made the most money:
I realized then that it was not about about picking the best picture, but about politics and money. There’s no movie magic in politics and money. Driving Miss Daisy’s win made me lose all faith in the Academy’s ability to pick even a decent picture, let alone the best one. Ever since then, they have not proven me wrong.
Martin Scorsese’s The Departed won best directing, editing, writing and best picture in 2006. Best writing; it’s a remake. I didn’t know it was a remake until I watched it and everything seemed so terribly familiar. It’s a remake of a Chinese film called Infernal Affairs, which is just a better movie. How can you win best writing for a remake? Shouldn’t the Chinese fellas who originally wrote it get that honor instead?
Argo is nominated for best picture this year. Male dragged me to see it kicking and screaming. It’s directed by and starring Ben Affleck. For decades, I’ve thought that Ben Affleck is a terrible actor. He has a severely punchable face. I did not want to see a movie starring and directed by Ben Affleck and I was right. The rest of the cast is good, specifically Alan Arkin and John Goodman, but he’s terrible in it. Not only is he a bad actor, but he’s a bad director. How can a movie that’s supposedly true have so many plot holes and make so little sense? At least he didn’t get a best director nomination, too.
For the second year in a row, my sister asked me if I wanted to walk the red carpet. I declined again. I turned her down because a) I don’t care and b) I’m afraid that I would accidentally bring a bomb with me. Every time I drive by the Academy offices, I flip them the finger.
Anyway, to get back to the story portion of this post, about ten years ago, I was a fresh-eyed doe in the land of Hollywood. Unlike almost everyone else who moves here, I did not move to Los Angeles to become part of the film industry. I moved here for the weather and because that’s where my best friend was moving. I had just gotten out of an abusive relationship and I needed a change.
I was unemployed and in desperate need of a source of income. A friend of mine worked for a major studio and asked if I wanted to PA. In film lingo, PA does not mean Pennsylvania, but Production Assistant. It is the lowest step on the film business ladder. PAs are essentially paid slaves. I took the job because I was in no position to be turning down jobs.
There are rungs on the PA ladder, too. Set PA is the highest. That means you get to stay on set all day and do anything that needs doing there. A runner, which is what I was, is the bottom of the heap. A runner literally means just that. You run all over hell and gone delivering and picking up things that are needed. I should have known when they asked if I had reliable transportation.
My film career started like this: I went into an office in Studio City and filled out some forms. They made a copy of my drivers license and social security card and the like. They told me to come back the next morning at 5 am.
At 5 am, I went to the office in Studio City where they gave me a walkie-talkie and a piece of printer paper cut out and fitted into a laminate with a lanyard that had my name and job on it. They told me the set was in Ontario. Drive out there and deliver something. Ask for Marco and he’ll show you where to go. Ontario, California isn’t quite as far from Studio City as Ontario, Canada, but for the purposes of my new job, it might as well have been. It’s about 50 miles (80 kilometers).
There are some regions of the world where 50 miles is cake. For example, my parents moved up to Northern Michigan. The closest real town is 23 miles away. My mom drives 50 miles round trip to go grocery shopping like it isn’t a big deal and it mostly isn’t. There’s no traffic and the only hazards are snow in winter and the occasional deer. Whenever we pass more than one car, my dad says, “Traffic jam!” All of my dad’s jokes are corny like that.
Anyway, my point is that 50 miles in Los Angeles, a city renown for its horrible traffic, is like driving 150 miles in northern Michigan. It’s all relative. Still, at 5 am, it was mostly painless. It took me over an hour. I got to the set, asked for Marco and delivered the goods. I radioed the girl at the office. She gave me instructions to deliver something else back to Studio City. Marco gave me whatever it was and I drove back. Once I got to the office again, the girl told me to pick something up at a film supply place in Hollywood and drive it back to Ontario. That’s pretty much how the rest of the day went. Drive to Ontario, deliver and/or pick something up, drive to the Studio City office, run an errand in Hollywood, drive back to Ontario. As the day went on, the traffic got worse with every trip. Still, back and forth I went. The film set was inside a bar that I never got to see.
The most responsibility I had was driving the dailies to the film processing place. I drove out to Marco and he handed me something to take to a lab in Hollywood. Marco told me to be very careful with it. Don’t tilt it too much; carry it like a pizza box. I carefully drove that box from Ontario to the big film lab in Hollywood, which had security like you wouldn’t believe. It was only when I got there that I realized I was carrying part of the actual film. If I had not handled it carefully, if I had gotten into an accident, the day’s labor by everyone involved might have been lost.
I worked 18 hours that day, just driving back and forth. I started at 5 am and didn’t get released until 11 pm. I put over 400 miles on my car. At the end of the day, I went back to the office to turn in my walkie-talkie and the girl at the desk told me there was a good chance they might call me back tomorrow. I dragged myself home, the last delivery of the day, and flopped into bed where I slept forever. When I woke up, I discovered that they had called me at 5 am to come back again. I had slept right through the call and that had effectively ended my film career. They never called me again. I can’t say I wasn’t a little bit relieved. The thought of doing that all over again the next day was mind-boggling.
Making a film requires a ton of work from a lot of people. It is not as easy as they make it seem, which is why it infuriates me so much that there as so many bad ones. All that effort and money and work by countless people wasted on crappy films. So, this is what I say to the Academy and its ridiculous self-congratulatory awards:
MAKE BETTER FILMS.