Hollywood Hullabaloo

The world was rocked last week by allegations of sexual harassment against Harvey Weinstein and other members of Hollywood’s elite.

And by “world”, I mean “everyone not in the industry”. For those of us in the industry, it was just Tuesday.

Those allegations aren’t shocking to us. Hell, they’re not even news to most of us. We all knew what Harvey was up to. Anyone that says they had no idea what was going on is either adorably innocent, or lying.

And innocence has a short shelf life in Hollywood.

I never worked directly with Harvey Weinstein, but his predatory sexual behaviour was well-known, even as far away as New Zealand. Unfortunately, Harvey Weinstein isn’t the only one using his power and position to take advantage of the women he works with.

Almost every woman in the film industry – both in front and behind the camera – has her own Harvey Weinstein. Many of us have more than one.

For us, sexual assault is often the price of admission.

I worked with a guy on set. Lets call him “Doug”. Mostly because that was the fucker’s name.

Doug was the Executive Producer, and as such, he held the rights to the movie we were shooting in his sweaty, grabby little hands.

This made him untouchable – a sentiment he unfortunately didn’t extend to the women on set.

One morning, Doug decided that he should start the day by groping my breasts. There was no preamble. No flirty introduction to this. Hell, he didn’t even say “good morning.” He just walked up to me, and – before I could process what was happening – had his hands on my breasts.

What the actual fuck?!?

Did this happen behind the sound stage, where no one could see? No. Did it happen in a secluded area between two trailers? Nope. Maybe in the car park, where no one was around? Hell no. It happened smack bang in the middle of video village,* in front of dozens of people.

No one said a word.

No one could. No one was going to risk shutting down a $200M production that employed hundreds of people over something as minor as a little sexual harassment.

Other times, Doug would try to lure me into his trailer between set ups. Not at all surprisingly, I always had pressing business anywhere else whenever those invitations came up.

I wasn’t Doug’s main target though. That was reserved for our PA, Ashley.**

Ashley was young, sweet, and in no position to complain about the older man who kept trying to corner her in his trailer. By the end of the shoot, things had gotten so bad that the other PAs would cover for her whenever Doug was around.

But, other than the sexual harassment, Doug appeared to be a normal, older, married man. He was a born-again Christian who espoused the sanctity of marriage. He wasn’t what you imagine a sexual predator would look like.

This was confusing. Maybe he was just being friendly? Maybe I was reading too much into this? Maybe he was only inviting me into his trailer because it’s hot– oh, nope, he just groped my breasts. Definitely a creep.

A few days ago, I googled Doug to see if there were any whispers about his inappropriate behaviour.

There was nothing.

I was disappointed, but not surprised. I’ve always wanted to speak out about his behaviour,*** but it’s a risky move. It’s hard to be the first person to come forward, just in case you’re also the only person to come forward.

As I checked out Doug’s IMDb page, I noticed that he has another show in pre-production. Knowing that he’s going to be around other young women on set, I thought seriously about at least putting his full name in the blog post.

Part of me reasoned that, well, it’s been a decade, and he’s never going to stumble across a small blog run out of Canada, is he? Maybe I should just put it out there?

Another, larger, part of me pointed out that I have no proof and being sued for defamation, losing my job, and never working in this industry again would kinda suck.

Not surprisingly, I decided to err on the side of caution; there’s enough detail in this blog that others will recognise him if they’ve encountered him, but not enough to set off a google alert. Or a law suit.

I also reached out to a friend of mine who knows the production team on Doug’s new film. He’s going to give them a heads up about Doug’s behaviour so that hopefully he doesn’t get left alone with, well, anyone. Ever.

It’s not enough. It’s never enough. But hopefully it’s a start.

Doug wasn’t the first guy to harass me at work, and he wasn’t the last.

Hollywood has always been a boys club, run by rich, powerful men with barely any women at the top, and a tolerant atmosphere for creative people who don’t want to play by society’s rules. Everyone’s too scared to rein in the industry’s excesses, in case it somehow also reins in its successes.

They’ve excused rampant drug abuse as he’s just such a tortured artist, he needs drugs to cope. They’ve allow temper tantrums on set because he’s under so much pressure to realise his vision. They’ve let people get away with sexually assaulting women because they’re afraid if they try to stop it, they’ll lose the golden touch that brings in the box office.

All this in an industry that is infamous for its poor representation of women in media. Is it any surprise, when movies treat women like disposable objects, to find out that the men making those movies behave the same way?

But, it finally seems like things might be changing. With so many woman standing up and recounting their tales, maybe the industry will start to acknowledge and address its systemic problems.

I hope this doesn’t die down in a month.

I hope that the industry doesn’t think “well, we fired Harvey, so we’re good now, yeah?”

And I hope that women entering the industry now don’t have to put up with this bullshit any more.

 

* Where all the monitors are set up, a place second in popularity only to the Craft Services truck.

** Her name has been changed, not to protect the innocent, because it was a decade ago, and I’ve forgotten it. Look, I’m sorry, but it was a large crew, and apparently I’m a terrible human being.

*** Partly because it’s really not cool to sexually assault your employees, but also because his religious hypocrisy annoys the hell out of me. Don’t give me shit for living with my boyfriend outside of marriage, and then try to lure me into your trailer for a quick grope while they swing the lights, you two-faced fucker.****

**** Okay, yeah, I’m still a little mad about it.

 

Advertisements

On Any Given Saturday

It’s amazing how quickly a crowd can become a mob.

Even in Vancouver, a relaxed, laid-back city,* it doesn’t take much to tip the scales from peaceful protest to riot.

This was something I apparently had to find out for myself last weekend.

Now, besides being chill, Vancouver also prides itself on being a progressive, multicultural city, where everyone is welcome regardless of their race, culture or religion.

This might be because pretty much everyone here is from elsewhere. Since arriving, I’ve met about a dozen people actually from Vancouver. Everyone else has immigrated here, drawn either by the job prospects (non-Canadians) or the fact that it doesn’t get covered in thirty meters of snow every winter (Canadians).

And for the most part, everyone gets along. It helps that Vancouver is a young city, settled by immigrants from all over the world that came to pan for gold, log trees or build the railway, so it never really developed its own identity. Instead Vancouver just borrows from everyone else’s, resulting in a melange of cultures, ethnicities, and – most importantly – great restaurants.

I went to a St Patrick’s Day celebration a few years ago that had Chinese dragon dancers, a kebab truck, and skateboarding demonstrations. Pretty much the only Irish component of the day was a couple of very confused looking Irish wolfhounds.

And that’s generally Vancouver’s approach to multiculturalism. If New York is a melting pot, then Vancouver is a mosaic, where the different cultures and religions steal each others recipes and then go skiing together on the weekend.

That’s not to say there aren’t problems – we have a long way to go to make up for all the things done to the First Nations over the years, and Chinese immigrants are shouldering the blame for the shit show that is our housing market – but overt racism is pretty minor here compared to other places I’ve lived.

Mostly, we’re happy to embrace different nationalities if it means a good taco truck within walking distance from the office.

So, it’s no wonder that, with everything that’s been happening south of the border recently, Vancouver’s felt a little smug.

This came to a head last week, when an alt-right hate group calling itself the “Worldwide Coalition Against Islam,” lead by a couple of muppets from Calgary and Manitoba, decided to come to Vancouver and hold a white supremacist rally at City Hall.

Local Vancouverites caught word of this, and decided it was Really Not Cool With That Shit Happening Here. So, a counter-protest was created, which also happened to be at City Hall, at pretty much exactly the same time as the WCAI protest.

Gosh, what a coincidence.

Since this was only a week after Charlottesville, I though that this was one protest I should probably head along to. Also, it was a nice day for a bike ride over the bridge.**

I arrived about half an hour after the rally had started. There was no sign of nazis or white supremacists at City Hall, just a sea of counter-protestors holding placards espousing love and inclusion. I felt a certain Vancouver-esque smugness at the sight – See! This is how we deal with nazis! We hug them to death! None of that violent left-wing militarism here, just handmade signs and tolerance!

A Vancouver sign at the edges of the rally

I spent a few hours wandering around the crowd. It was a beautiful sunny day, music was playing, and everyone was relaxed and having a good time. The police were studiously ignoring the faint smell of pot in the air.

A counter-protester holds a sign saying "love" at the Vancouver Stand Up To Racism Rally

A Vancouver protest sign

It felt like a typical Vancouver Saturday.

I worked my way around City Hall until I found myself on the north side, away from the main counter-protest. Here, the atmosphere abruptly changed, becoming charged with tension. I could see pushing and shoving from the steps.

Huh. This looked interesting.

I watched as two white supremacists, surrounded by a phalanx of police officers, made their way towards City Hall. Around them, a small knot of counter-protesters yelled and screamed.

The two protesters – an Asian man, who was apparently quite blind to the obvious, and an old white guy who believed that personal grooming was Something That Happened To Other People – started hollering about banning immigrants from Canada.

This did not go down well with the crowd. Probably because it was about 95% immigrant.

The crowd turned ugly, pushing and shoving at the two protesters, before breaking out in a chant. “GO HOME! GO HOME!”

I tried to join in, but I didn’t really have it in me to scream at complete strangers. It just felt weird.

I turned to the guy next to me, an older white man who was yelling at the top of his lungs. “Isn’t this normally what these guys yell at immigrants?” I asked, over the din of the baying crowd.

“Yeah. Good for them to hear it themselves,” he shouted back with a European accent.

Uh. I guess…?

The two protesters passed me. I could feel the hatred coming off the crowd like waves. For a brief moment, feeling myself be rocked back and forth by the tidal mass of the counter-protesters, I wondered if this rally might turn violent. I could taste the anger in the air, and realised how easily the mob mentality could flip a peaceful gathering into a bloodbath.

I moved back, away from the pushing, the shouting, the red faces twisted in anger as the group rounded the corner of city hall. There, the main mass of people from the rally caught sight of them, and swarmed down the hill towards the mini-procession. It was unsettling, like watching a pack of animals sense weakened prey.

Well, shit.

The police, deciding that, yeah, this was probably going to end with way too much paperwork for a Saturday afternoon, swiftly made the call and removed the two WCAI protesters from the area.

The target of their rage gone, the crowd’s anger vanished, and within a few minutes, everyone had returned back up the hill, to instagram funny protest signs, and talk about inclusiveness.

Without the police presence, could this have turned ugly? Vancouver is one of the most relaxed places I’ve ever lived, but the hatred directed towards the neo-nazis was palpable. For all the “lets hug it out” signs, racists were definitely not welcome, and as soon as one showed up, the crowd became a rabble.

I can see how things get out of hand in other cities.

But overall, the Vancouver counter-protest is being hailed as a success, with Vancouverites patting themselves on the back that this is how to deal with racism. And, for the most part, they’re right. In total, four neo-nazis turned up, compared to four thousand not-nazis, giving white supremacists a pretty clear message about exactly where Vancouver stands on the whole racism thing. Similar protests and counter-protests across North America have turned violent, while the only casualty in Vancouver was a torn sign.

While it might not have been perfect, maybe this was the best we could hope for right now.

A protester holds a Death to Fascists sign at the Vancouver Stand Up to Racism Rally

Okay, so not all the protesters were up for hugging it out with neo-nazis.

*That may or may not be permanently semi-stoned

**Note to self: cycling to a left-wing peacenik rally is a terrible idea if you’re hoping to find somewhere to chain your bike up. You can guarantee about four thousand other locals have had exactly the same idea.

The Life and Times of a Production Assistant

I once made my production assistant go and buy me new socks.

Now, in my defense, it was Friday morning, and I’d been at work (and awake) since Wednesday morning. I was producing the VFX for a film that was due to screen in Trafalgar Square in a few days time, and while I was holding up surprisingly well, the same couldn’t be said for my socks, which were a swampy morass from being worn for forty-eight hours straight.

Sometime around 4am, in a sleep-deprived fugue, I sat down, took my shoes off, and threw my socks away. I sent my PA (who was asleep at home) a text asking him to pick me up new socks on his way in to work at 9am.*

He thought I was joking and turned up to work without new socks.

I made him go back out and get them.

But you know what? This doesn’t come close to being the worse thing a PA has been told to do in the film industry. Heck, this is probably not even the worst thing I’ve told a PA to do. It’s no secret that production assistants get the worst  – and weirdest – tasks in the film industry, having to do everything from buying birth control, to babysitting the director’s children. Daniel Day Lewis famously made the PAs carry him around on the set of My Left Foot to help him stay in character.

There’s very few other industries that would get away with treating their junior staff the way the film industry does.

So, why do we do this? Do we have our heads so far up our own asses that we demand to be waited on hand and foot?

Well, maybe a little.

But there is more to it than that.

First, a bit about myself. I’m a visual effects producer. This means my job is to manage the budget, schedule and deliverables of high end visual effects for film and television. I’m ultimately responsible for taking the budget the studio has for VFX, and turning that into high quality VFX shots. The hours are long, the stress levels high, and the dollar amounts I deal with in the “lots and lots”. If I screw up, I could potentially send the company I work for under.

So, that’s fun.

When I’m in the thick of a show, my day normally starts about 3 minutes after I wake up, when I check my work emails as soon as my eyes can focus properly. I’ll head in to work early to catch up on any budget or resource issues I need to deal with, then, once the team is in, I’ll spend pretty much the rest of my day putting out fires before finally heading home sometime between 10pm and 2am.

I won’t take lunch. Instead, I’ll use that hour when everything is quieter to catch up on the less oh-my-god-the-world-is-going-to-end-if-this-isn’t-fixed-right-now problems.

There is never enough time in my day to do all of the things.

As you can imagine, that means that some of the not-as-urgent items slip through the cracks. Unfortunately, those not-as-urgent items tend to be things like paying my phone bill, picking up a package from the post-office, or taking my car into the mechanics. The bad news is, life doesn’t stop just because I’m on a film – the phone company still wants their money, my boyfriend would like his birthday present, and the car really probably shouldn’t be making that noise when I brake.

That’s where a PA comes in. They’re hired to take care of all the little problems, so that I can focus on the bigger ones. The little problems can range from restocking the office kitchen, to, well, anything. One time I got lost on my way to a location scout, so the locations manager handed me a PA for the day. All that kid did all day was sit in the car with me to make sure I didn’t get lost between locations.

I’m pretty sure that was not what he expected he would be doing when he was in film school.

On the plus side, spending six months as a PA is a great way to see if you really want to be in the film industry.

You see, a lot of people want to work on movies. It’s seen as exciting and glamorous, all Hollywood red carpets and mingling with stars.

In reality, it’s long hours and egos. It’s missed birthdays and divorces. It’s financial uncertainty and politics. I mean, it’s still amazing – we do get to paid to make movies, after all – but there’s definitely more to it than just the celeb-fest that Variety would have you believe.

And, because a PA’s skill set is pretty minimal, we’ll hire almost anyone who wants a job and can put up with being treated like a PA for six months. I’ve known baristas, waitresses and bartenders who have all gotten their foot in the door because they served a producer who was looking for a PA at the time.

Of that flock of PAs that we’ve hired, not all of them are going to want to stay in the film industry once they’ve seen behind the curtain. And that’s what makes being a PA a good entry level job – if you’re not okay with having to get coffees for a group of executives, you’re really not going to like some of the things coming up later in your career. Better to get out early, in that case.

But, for all that, being a PA can actually be a fun job. Sure, the pay sucks, but it’s (relatively) low stress, every day is different, and it’s a great opportunity to see the whole film making process. Also, most people on the crew were once PAs, so they’ll (generally) be pretty nice to you.

PAs also work across departments, meaning they get to know everyone on the crew, in a way that most department specific crew won’t. Not only does this make the PA role a lot more social than other crew positions, but it’s a good chance to decide which direction you want to go in your career. And because you know everyone, it’s usually not too hard to wrangle a gig in that department on the next film.**

If you get the opportunity to work on a film as a PA, don’t be put off by some of the stranger jobs you have to do – the person getting you to do that job probably had to do something worse when they were a PA.

And don’t worry – the pay does get better.

* Fortunately for both of us, my underwear was surprisingly okay.

** Just don’t be a jackass. In fact, that’s such good advice, I think I’m going to do a blog post on that topic.

%d bloggers like this: