There’s an old saying on movie sets that captures the essence of working in Hollywood. The simple four word phrase is all at once a contradiction, a demand and an approach.
You hear it so many times on set that you grow immune to its truthfulness.
In some way or another, we all buy into its philosophy, but we have to because it embodies life in the film industry and is the secret to Hollywood productivity.
That phrase is “hurry up and wait” and streams through the lifeblood of every production — big, small, East Coast, West Coast, digital or film.
It’s the great nagging words of any below the line crew member. Everytime you find yourself standing by the camera wondering, “Why aren’t we shooting right now?” it’ll pop into your head.
Hurry Up and Wait (For the Train)
The best example of “hurry up and wait” in action happened to me on the set of a short film that was shooting in Brunswick, MD. A small town that reached its heyday when rail travel ruled the country, but has since seen those glory days drift away.
The story we were shooting was entrenched in this atmosphere of “moving on” and so it was appropriate that we found ourselves the next morning standing beside empty train tracks with a looming gloomy sky showing only differing shades of gray.
To get the shot the director truly wanted, he needed to have a train choo-chooing along the tracks. As the train pulled forth and the characters walked alongside, the camera would swoop down and pan up, landing at eye level of the main character during a minute long dialogue.
At least that was the idea.
Our small crew raced to construct a jib arm along the road that ran parallel beside two sets of tracks. Meanwhile, myself and the first assistant camera (AC) rushed to ready the camera and mount it on the arm of the jib.
15 minutes into the day and we had fulfilled the first part of the Hollywood promise: hurry up.
Now it was time to wait.
The Countdown to Shoot
A producer came back from the main terminal of the train depot to say we would hear a 2 minute warning whistle from any train before arriving at the station.
But, after a couple rehearsals and three takes, we were still waiting to hear that whistle.
When news came that a train was scheduled to arrive in 20 minutes, the first AC powered down the camera. Since we were currently far from our “base camp,” we had a limited amount of charged batteries and didn’t want to waste any juice while waiting.
10 minutes of waiting… and a small group gathered near the tracks to place pennies, quarters, and dimes on the rails.
5 more minutes… and I stood up holding the slate, waiting impatiently.
3 more minutes… and all of us were starting to question whether the train was actually on its way.
Finally, off in the distance, somebody spotted the train. Like waking a grizzly bear from hibernation, the crew sprung into action. The jib operator took his stance, the director of photography (DP) snatched the joystick of the remote head, and the first AC powered the camera up
Did I mention that we were shooting on the RED One?
If you don’t already know, that camera takes an excruciatingly long 90 seconds to boot up. So, when the train went whizzing by while the camera was showing the “RED Mysterium Sensor” boot screen, our spirits were crushed.
By the time the camera had turned on, the train was at a complete stop. Hurry up and wait turned into hurry up for nothing.
We got news that in another 20 minutes the train would leave so we’d have a 2nd chance at taking the perfect shot.
But you know what this meant? More waiting.
You Can’t Game the System
Much like how I wrote we all have to learn to “keep on limping by,” were also all part of the big game of “hurry up and wait.”
It’s the unavoidable nature of the beast and you can’t game the system. You’ll find yourself laughing about it one day and frustrated another.
Think about how you hustle during production only to end up waiting a year to see a finished film.
Or how you send an invoice and wait weeks, sometimes months, to get the cash in your pocket.
Think about getting attached to a new movie: you get a call, you send off resumes, hire others in your department, and compile an expendables list. There’s a lot of hurry up, and then, about a month before you ever step on set, there’s a lot of wait.
You wait to find out if the job will actually happen. You wait to read final script breakdowns. You wait for call sheets. You wait, wait, wait.
Then, when day 1 rolls around, you know what you’ll be asked to do? “Hurry up! Let’s be ready to roll camera in 5 minutes!”
Yep, it’s the secret to Hollywood productivity, but don’t tell anyone I told you.
What’s the longest delay you’ve had to endure on set? Please leave a comment and let me know what you think about “hurry up and wait.”