There she stood unaware of the danger surrounding her.
With each flash of her smile and brush of her hair, she risked an attack at any moment.
I wanted to scream, “Get out of there! Watch out!” but my lips locked tight as I darted my eyes between her and the job I was doing.
I felt helpless as I watched them close-in, her simple beauty chumming the water for the hungry sharks circling around her.
Then, as quickly as I looked down to clean a lens, it happened.
An older actor, at least three times her own age, approached her with his hand oustretched followed by a flimsy attempt at flirtation.
It was too late — the first strike had happened and the feeding frenzy began…
If you’ve ever been anywhere near a film set, it’s no secret it’s a male-dominated industry. Overwhelmingly directors, producers, and crew skew toward the male gender. There are a few exceptions in stereotypical areas, like wardrobe, hair, make-up, and script supervising. But, for the most part, a film crew is comprised of a bunch of men.
(I hope to see this change in the future. Gender equality has given rise to great things in many arenas and I would love to see more women pick up jobs in our industry, especially below the line.)
The end result is a cavalcade of dudes together – all the time – for 12 hours. If shooting on location, the dudefest is amplified by shared hotel rooms, crew houses, and other accommodations. Quickly a summer camp mentality develops between all the fart jokes and beer chugging.
However, despite their minority status, I have yet to work on a movie without any women. They may be underrepresented, but they are there. And men enjoy working with them. We respect them professionally, appreciate their contributions to the production, and treat them as our peers in the same way we would treat another man. That’s just common sense.
But not all men are always beholden to common sense.
Sometimes another part of our brain takes over — especially when holed up with a majority of men for several weeks for many hours a day. All of the sudden, the presence of a woman, even one whom you have a professional relationship, can become a fish in a shark tank.
I’ve seen it too often: when there are few women on set, some men can’t help but go after them.
In particular, I’m reminded of several occasions in which I watched kind, professional, and confident women get swarmed by a male crew. These are their stories…
Christy the Script Supervisor
Christy’s transformation all started with what was to become a grueling feature-length production.
I had been flown in for the shoot, along with the director of photography (DP), to live on location and crew as 1st assistant camera (AC) for a month or so. Most of the other crew were local, so while several of them knew each other, the DP and I were our only friends at the start of filming.
As we met the rest of the crew, we both took note of the fact that there weren’t many women. In fact, there were only three (excluding talent): the wardrobe supervisor, the hair & makeup artist, and the script supervisor. Of those three, one was a grandmother, the other was middle-aged, and the third was fresh out of college — her name was Christy.
Both the DP and I were single, but we weren’t naive enough to think we’d have time to date women while on location. Still, when you’re with a guy friend, it’s hard to avoid the topic. And that’s exactly what happened as we sipped on beers the night before Day 1 of production.
“So what’d you think of Christy?” I asked outloud.
(Would you ever hookup with Christy? is what I was really asking.)
“Eh. She’s OK,” the DP replied.
“She’s really nice,” I said.
“Oh yeah. Definitely.” he said
“You just wait — right now you’re lukewarm about her, but after a whole month with only guys, she’s going to become more attractive than you think. She’ll go from being ‘OK’ to ‘really hot’,” I predicted.
I had seen this phenomenon take place already on two previous feature films. The storyline is predictable and, truthfully, a bit sad: a moderately attractive woman shows up on Day 1 and, as the shoot goes on, her stock keeps rising because the men on set are surrounded by nothing but testosterone.
It’s hard to spend that much time around only one gender when you’re biologically programmed to seek out the female of the species.
It’s only reinforced by my belief that the film set is a microcosm of life. Every day in life, we look for partners, relationships, friendships. When in the midst of a film production, that is your life. Where else will you look for these distinctly human desires? It can be difficult to establish any sort of new relationship when the people you see the most are crew during the day and your pillow at night.
I’ve fallen victim to it, too.
Even as I consciously noted it, I experienced the downward spiral of professional relationship to flirtatious friendship. It’s sort-of like the girls you were friends with in high school who you knew would never date you because you were like a brother, but at the same time, if she got drunk and wanted to kiss you, well, you wouldn’t stop it!
For those of us who are kept busy on set, it becomes a bit easier to ignore these temptations and to skate away from any awkwardness flirting might flare — you’re always 10 seconds away from needing a lens, a filter, or a coffee for the DP.
But what happened to Christy is what happens to many attractive young ladies who spend their time on set: they get crowded by those without the luxury of being busy.
I watched as the shoot went on and Christy was woo’ed by a straight actor, a gay actor, and our director. At any one time she wasn’t actually doing her job (which she did well in spite of this), she was wrapped up in a conversation full of laughter, smiles, and playfulness. It’s true she was having a good time with her friends — her peers on the film set — but as a guy myself, I know when other men are flirting.
That isn’t to say they weren’t genuinely friends with her — they were — they just also seemed to be attracted to her in a way that a friendship can’t, ahem, satisfy.
Yours truly even took a few shots at the target. Some of them landed, but I stepped away from that game as the shoot became considerably tougher and I was less and less interested in anything besides getting it done so I could go home.
Christy, throughout the film, was a consumate professional. Never once did she let the cavalcade of men vying for her attention distract her from her responsibilities and duties. She was always available for help, always knowledgeable with answers, and always willing to put in extra effort.
I applaud her for that, especially because her directorial counterpart couldn’t do the same. Where she was unburdened by the presence of a little flirtyness, he was unable to do anything but.
And what did that effort earn him?
Nothing more than a solid working relationship with Christy — exactly what she had hoped for from this shoot at the beginning of her career.
Amber from Wardrobe and Joe the Actor
This 2nd story was the inspiration for the introduction of this article.
Several years ago when I met her, Amber was young, sweet, and innocent. Like me, she was new to the film industry and excited to be a part of it. Unlike me, she had a lot of downtime on set as an intern of the wardrobe department.
One thing people may not realize about the wardrobe department is how often you interact with actors. You may think the talent simply goes into their trailer and their clothes are waiting there, but that’s not always how it works — and that’s definitely not how it works on independent films.
Most of the time, the talent has to physically go to wardrobe, confirm what scene they’re shooting, and get dressed into their costumes. Once the clothes are on, they get adjusted, trimmed, dirtied, bloodied, or whatever other tweaks need to be made:
“Is this the scene before or after you got in the fight?”
Better rip that tie for continuity sake then!
“This is the scene where I’m running out of her parents house after being caught having sex.”
Leave the pants at the door, sir.
So, by extension, Amber spent a lot of time talking with the talent between the professional questions and the probing about the source material. She would joke, they would laugh, and she’d start prepping for the next actor who needed to be fitted.
It is within this context, then, that Amber was continuously flirting with the older actor mentioned above. I’ll be honest: it was a bit of hyperbole in the intro that he was three times her age, but I’m back to being truthful when I tell you he was at least double it.
This actor, Joe, wasn’t nasty or anything. He, too, was kind and caring and considerate. He was funny and, on several occasions, I enjoyed his company during meals, breaks, or brief encounters near the camera. To this day, I consider Joe a friend.
But watching Joe and Amber together was cringe-worthy.
I could tell they were texting each other between long setups or delays. I knew he fancied her by the way he watched her when she was doing her job. It was also apparent in his body-language — how he would sit open to her or seek her out amongst a large group of the cast and crew, many of whom he was also friends with.
The sad part is, I’m not sure she reciprocated the feelings, even if she egged Joe along.
None of this resulted in anything particularly wild — there was no making out on set, there was no emotional explosion of romantic passions, there was no indication that anything happened between them save for some flirting.
Not every instance of women being treated unfairly is a great injustice. There isn’t always a big scandal followed by a soothing denouement.
We may work in the movies, but our lives rarely play out like one.
I tell this story because it illustrates how, if you’re a woman, from the very beginning of your career you’ll encounter men who will ignore the professional aspect of a film production in lieu of teasing and flirting and friendship (or more).
It’s about distraction. Each time Amber needed to help Joe get on his wardrobe, she also had to smile and blink her eyelashes while he made some stupid joke. Each time Amber wanted some time to herself away from the chaos of set, Joe would find her and intrude on her silence.
Amber’s story doesn’t have a dramatic ending. No, this ending is more like an ellipsis — incomplete, but suggestive — that implies women will have to learn how to toe the line between a professional relationship and a personal one on a much higher level than men are expected to.
That Time a Camera Ended Up Where It Didn’t Belong
Fortunately, I can’t take credit for this next anecdote. It was told to me by a 2nd AC who had gotten a job on a movie I had applied for, but never heard back from. The gig was for a feature length film shooting locally, but accommodating a handful of crew who were from out of town.
For whatever reason, the Art Director (a man) was sharing a hotel room with a Set Dresser (a woman). Why had production set up these accommodations? From what I was told, it was to save money. There were no other gender pairings available and so it was cheaper to place these two in one room than to each have their own room.
(Plus, the production didn’t predict that what ended up happening would’ve happened.)
As the shoot went on, the woman staying with the Art Director began to grow increasingly uncomfortable around him. There wasn’t anything specific — just a general vibe she felt when he was around that gave way to her feelings of uneasiness.
Her hunch was spot on.
One day, after taking a shower, she found a camera in the bathroom. He had been video taping her. As you can imagine, this upset the producers, director, and everyone involved in the film when they found out — but it upset her the most.
As for the Art Director? By the time the powers that be found out what he was doing and went to act on it, he had boarded a plane to Los Angeles and was flying across the country.
I’m not sure what happened to him — the 2nd AC who told me the story never heard the conclusion of it either since it had recently taken place when he told me — but the fact that it happened at all is profoundly disgusting. It illustrates the complicated web that women have to live within when working in a male-dominated industry that takes them away from their wives and their girlfriends. Something happens to some men — not all, of course — that makes them act in inappropriate ways.
To Escape the Feeding Frenzy, Shatter the Glass
In all of these stories, the lesson to be learned is two-fold.
As men, we need to have a greater appreciation for the film set as a workplace (as I’m sure many of you already do). If you’re going to chase a woman, do so in your off time away from set. And if you bring it to set, it shouldn’t hinder your or her ability to perform professionally — whether that’s because things are going well or because they went sour.
For women, the lesson above goes for you too, but is also coupled with a warning: working in a male-dominated industry is going to have obstacles. One of those obstacles will be relationship advances by your professional colleagues.
Is it appropriate? No.
Is it fair? No.
But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.
You could say some women enjoy it and incite it and I wouldn’t argue against that. But there is no equality: there are many more men who prey on the women than there are women who are provoking the men. The false equivalency that they’re both to blame is a little too absolute — the blame largely belongs with us males.
If you see sexism taking place, speak out against it. You can address it as it happens or privately raise your concerns with a member of the production team. It may not be obvious to you as it’s taking place, but if you notice it, you can help change the tide of sexism by taking action.
While I’m not going to tell you to avoid looking for romance with those who work alongside you, be wary of the effect it can have on your career.
It’s an unfair burden to ask you women to put up with us men, but it’s an unfortunate effect of the glass ceiling that’s yet to be completely shattered. And boy do I hope you manage to shatter it — after all, it’s the only real way to escape the shark tank you’re in.
Update: Since writing this post, I have received a lot of feedback — some good, some bad — from various avenues. I am grateful to all of you who took the time to share your thoughts. I have modified some minor elements in the article based on this feedback so that it better reflects my intentions.
How do you feel about female crew? Have you seen any similar stories like these take place on set? What do you think needs to change? Please share your thoughts in the comments!