Actors have a tendency to be seen as divas. Their reputations precede them because many are, well, drama queens or kings.
They’re also the best treated people on set, they get celebrated when they finish their job, and they’re the face of the project long after production is over.
Actors dominate Hollywood and their shadow is cast over every piece of work you are a part of — no matter which crew job you’re doing.
As crew, we watch actors get all the perks, the fancy trailers, and the later call-times. They get to eat first, leave first, and can complain while everyone stays quiet.
The result of all this is a perceived gap between crew and the talent; A natural divide of us Morlocks who toil away behind the camera, unseen by society, and the blissfully beautiful Eloi who traipse in front of it.
“For Talent Only”
Becoming friends with talent (as actors and actresses are referred to in the film industry) is a long and slow process for me. I tend to stand back and be non-confrontational. Every so often I have to step in to get a mark or ask them to stand in a certain place, but for the most part, if I wanted to, I could avoid talking to an actor all day.
Over time, you grow more comfortable with them and they grow used to seeing you next to the camera. And, over time, you befriend them because actors and camera are the two main ingredients of filmmaking soup always on duty and always putting in the time.
On Ghosts Don’t Exist, I grew to truly admire the lead actor, Phillip Roebuck, and his commitment to the role and his approach to the craft. Besides being a great actor, the man is also a talented musician and his magnetism for everything creative rubbed off on me.
When I would come back to the crew house where he was staying, we would all drink some beers and talk, no longer the gap between us as there is on set.
That gap seems to be where the film frame draws an invisible line, splicing the set in half between what exists in the narrative and the wizards behind the curtain making the magic.
In film grammar, you might call this the fourth wall.
In the low budget world, where talent tends to be more grounded and the crew smaller, actors don’t always appreciate this artificial gap
For instance, I was quietly eating lunch with the Camera PA on location for a feature when two lead actors for the film approached the catering table. I watched as they slowly made their plates and sauntered over towards the eating area.
They walked right by the table labeled “For Talent Only” and grab seats at the long table of crew.
“Those actors, they’re jerks anyway,” one said, “why would I want to sit with them?”
“Yeah those assholes! Got their own table in the shade,” said the other.
We all laughed and dug into our food.
While we conversed as friends and equals, the assistant director who had demanded a PA place the sign there and also chewed a few people out for attempting to sit there, stuffed his fork in his mouth embarassed about the over treatment of his down-to-earth stars.
Actors Who Stay Focused
Not all actors will go out of their way to become your friend. It isn’t anything malicious, they just get transported into work-mode, much like you or I will hone in on a task on set.
Some simply have to travel to another time and place to do their job. This can mean they don’t talk to anyone, don’t want to meet anyone, and want to be left alone.
For the most part, crew respect this, save for the odd PA who doesn’t know any better.
I was on a set where a fairly well known actor (he is headlining a network TV show these days) turned up and went into the holding area.
He stayed there until he was needed, came out, did his scenes, then went back in.
Since he was only there for a day, he kept to himself, was super professional, and left when he was told he could. I never once said hi, shook his hand, nor even made eye contact with him — most of the crew were in the same boat.
As long as the actor shows up on set when needed, say their lines correctly, and don’t go on a Christian Bale style rant, nobody minds.
That’s their professional duty and nobody is expected to go above and beyond that.
When Tate Donovan Bought Us Pizza
It’s usually the main or lead actor of a film who becomes friends with the crew. They’re the one actor or actress who reports to set almost every single day like the crew whereas their co-stars will have days off peppered in throughout the schedule.
On the first day of shooting, I sat across from him at lunch and talked about skiing and snowboarding. At this point, I was still a wide-eyed doe in the filmmaking world and incredibly surprised by how down-to-earth the guy was.
Both Tate and his co-star, Kip Pardue, were genuine, kind, and friendly towards the crew.
When we convinced them to show up for drinks with us at a bar in downtown DC, they had no problems coming by and grabbing a pint. Kip bought pitchers for the camera department up until he left and Tate left about an hour into the night only to come back with enough pizza to feed 20 – 30 of us.
They knew and expressed gratitude that we were working hard for cheap to make them look good on screen and this was their small way of saying, “thanks.”
It made all of us happy, drunk and full.
Breaking Down the Wall and Bridging the Gap
As crew, we watch actors get the special treatment, freebies and benefits, but nobody said their job is easy — in fact, it’s incredibly tough.
I admire talent and their innate ability to spit out precomposed lines with natural ease and to repeat this process for 12 hours at a time.
Don’t even get me started on how mind-boggling tough continuity in a scene can be for actors.
Instead, their struggles are internal and mental. They get the perks to keep them relaxed so they can deliver a performance worth watching. With their talents, they end up delivering a paycheck to everyone on set.
But this difference in how the industry treats us doesn’t have to be an artificial barrier blocking the way for strong friendships or even casual conversation.
In the end, we’re all in it for the same product, for the same film.
Below the line, above the line, talent, or crew, a moment to talk, to have a drink and maybe even eat some pizza is all it takes to realize we’re not so different after all.
What experiences, good or bad, have you had with actors? Do you find them among your friends? Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts!