Sorry To Ruin your Dinner…(Unions protect us all)

Los Angeles Early 1991

An actor, a grip and a production designer walk into a restaurant…

I had just finished my first production design job on “Boyz N the Hood”. One month before I started on “Boyz” I was best boy grip on “A rage in Harlem”.    I was having dinner with my  two great friends,  Jeff Joseph and Keith Burns at one of our favorite hangouts, Cafe Luna on Melrose. We usually got a great table because I’m so engaging and magnanimous and entertaining (to ME).  I was telling my friends how I went from non-union set dresser to, non-union grip, to union set dresser and union art director in the space of four years.   

I was a hard (angry) worker and a visionary (hard headed) artist.  The most disappointing moments of my life and career have been when I’ve questioned my own talents and instincts. I had worked hard to earn my way to where I was. But enough about me (for now) , this is about US. 

At the core, labor unions (we) are working men and women, unified as one force. Despite any personal differences that may exist between us, we have banded together to protect and improve the lives of workers. We rise up together for the greater good. We defend one another like family.

SUE CARNEY, “We’re Not a Fee-for-Service Organization”, The American Postal Worker, March/April, 2014


I was telling a story of how,  as a grip, I made $600 cash on a non union commercial for Seagrams.  It was an entertaining story of how these four Yakuza looking cats were passing out cash to the crew at the end of a nine hour day. Seated at the table next to us was a group of twenty somethings that had the distinct aroma of Orange County wafting from their pores.  Although I was 28 at the time I never felt as young as they were at the time.  I was totally independent from the day I turned 18 and hadn’t spent more than a week under any roof that I hadn’t paid for since that moment. I hadn’t gone to college other than Los Angeles City College so my “Adult Life” had started about ten years before these “kids”.  

The fresh faced, blonde and beautiful Reaganites had recently graduated and were  working for a hotel chain owned by a Japanese corporation. They were polite and engaging and we shared the energy and optimism of young people beginning the journey to take on the world. They overheard my story about the Yakuza and thought it was funny. We shared opinions on commerce and America. I told them that I was from Detroit and how disappointed I was at the American Car industry and how all the best cars are Japanese and the American car manufactures were myopic and the engineers never listened to what the factory  workers said about the quality of the product. The Japanese manufacturers always considered all points from the factory workers and their products always reflected this philosophy.  The “Brad Pitt” of their group volunteered that American manufacturers have an adversarial position with the workers and SHOULD HAVE STOPPED THERE! 
He then said that the unions constant pushing and bulling affects productivity. 

SO…that citrus smell wasn’t a coincidence.  I smell a Republican! The sweet and acidic aroma of  Machiavellian utopia.  

I tried to be diplomatic and just replied that unions aren’t really evil, people are and that unions are a “necessary evil”. He and his colleges told me that the union tried to organize the hotel that they were employed by and they would never sign the cards because they got along with management and were paid well and the when the union tried to organize the hotel management had just given them a raise. They also said that they got great benefits and saw no need to sign a card and pay dues just to get a small raise.  They all agreed that they were happy employees.  
Well I guess they shut me up! (Not really)
I’ve often been accused of being smug and superior and one of the edicts I live by is, “When you realize you’re talking to an idiot, stop talking.”  When I don’t think I can make my point clear I usually “Let the Wookie win”.  As our food arrived and our dining neighbors basked in their philosophical victory I asked a simple question, “So do you really believe that if that union was not knocking at the gate of your employer they would bombard you with raises and benefits out of the kindness of their hearts?”   The silence was deafening.  


The Tear Won…

  “The entertainment business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”

Hunter S. Thompson 

A good friend of mine said to me years ago, “There are only three jobs worth having in the entertainment industry; producer, director or star”.   We can safely assume that he is one of the above.  I bought into what he said and somewhat agreed. I was a young, ambitious set dresser and had visions of rising through the ranks to be a production designer and a producer one day. 

Optimism: The Fuel and Folly of Youth.

Like most of my IATSE brothers and sisters I’ve only managed to produce offspring and debt.  We do however work hard, refine our crafts and mentor our brothers and sisters to perpetuate the various skills this industry requires.  

“A writer needs a pen, an artist needs a brush, but a filmmaker needs an Army”

  Orson Welles

We are that army. 

I started in this industry in 1986 on non-union productions working very hard and enjoying it. I was a non-union set dresser/driver. The theory was the swing gang (set dressers) teams of two would trade off driving the 5ton set dressing truck to give each other a break. In reality what would usually happen was quite different. The decorators would hire the two most dependable guys they knew. 

When the shows started they drove the truck made the pickups, dressed the sets. As the show progressed they’d add another truck,  hire any knucklehead and split up the two original guys to drive the truck and “train” the new guy. If the new guy was smart, dependable and aware enough to drive they’d add another truck and another knucklehead until the law of averages caught up to them. In the non union world there were only so many craftspersons with the necessary skills, awareness and fortitude to do what we do. After all more experienced people generally work on higher quality projects and most non-union productions weren’t exactly blockbusters.  

As a young, ambitious artist I enjoyed the raw enthusiasm of my fellow workers, the bright optimism and the comraderie of these young groups of people starting out in the business.  The union workers I saw seemed snobby, smug and superior and seemed to look at me with equal parts disdain and pity.  

I was loading a truck at the dock at Warner Bothers Property. The decorator had saddled me with the producers neighbors 35 year old never left the nest son. Yeah…THAT GUY! We’ll call him “Birdy”.  I was 23 at the time and pretty much no other way to describe myself but an absolute ass kicking badass.  The dock wasn’t very busy and a crew of dressers and drivers watched me as I backed up the truck, dropped the gate, started unloading the truck and doing the return paperwork as Birdy meandered around looking at all the shiny things on the walls.  We had a small emergency pickup so I hustled it to the dock completed the paperwork and began to load the truck. I needed to give Birdy a task to keep him busy while I got the job done so I told him to pad and tie down a grandfather clock at the end of the truck. 

As I was closing the truck and Birdy was headed to the shotgun seat (he’d asked me if I wanted him to drive but I wasn’t going to take the chance of him wiping out stage six) I saw the the ropes were loose on the clock and the pads were falling off. I shook my head and started to fix it. The union crew was watching all this in complete entertainment and couldn’t take it anymore. A guy walked up to me and said, “Don’t worry kid.  When you get into the union you won’t be working with guys like that”.  I nodded my head but I was really too pissed off to appreciate his gesture. 

Welcome to the big leagues

About three years later I got into IATSE Local 44 and the working environments did indeed improve but to me was a bit more sterile and businesslike.  I missed the spontaneity and simplicity of the non-union world but not those tiny paychecks. Three years prior I left a job at the LAUSD TV station (KLCS) to take my first non-union movie of the week job.  At KLCS I was making about $800/month and doing another video duplication job.   Although I went from making $800/month to $500/week I realized that I was essentially “giving” those productions about $1800/week by being “a man and a half” and saving the productions the cost of a driver. I realized that I was truly being exploited but I had to “pay my dues”. 

Taking care of little brother

When the tiered contracts came into being many in our unions thought it would weaken our union. I felt compassion for the less experienced workers and was happy to have more brothers and sisters to strengthen our union.  I was glad that a young kid as I was at the beginning of my career wouldn’t be exploited as I was and would have the backing of IATSE to protect him. Now, even the “little guy” on the “little production” would have a voice and protection and benefits and an avenue to the “big leagues”.  

As an aspiring film maker and rebel the thought of the “little guy” film maker getting access to top notch technicians was appealing and encouraging.  This new wage scale allowed lower budget films to benefit from a wider talent pool and also allowed IATSE members to work on projects that would other wise either not get made or shot in Canada.  We all know that some of the most compelling and entertaining stories don’t get told because of budget and studio constraints. Independent  films have often launched careers of directors and previously unknown actors. “Sex, lies and videotape”, “Reservoir Dogs”, “Friday” and  “She’s Gotta Have it” all launched careers of previously unknowns.  It seemed like big brother was trying to help out little brother. 

Then little brother got greedy, manipulative and just plain rude

The tiered wage structure opened a few doors and the producers saw a vulnerability. Through some creative accounting and contract deferments they were able to hide the true costs of some of the “tiered” productions.  An “A”list actor deferring payment until the release of the film is taking a minimal risk.  When a film is released with an Actor of top market value, curiosity dollars alone can easily put a film halfway into the black.  The rule of thumb for independent films is about a three to one ratio.  Essentially box office returns triple the production budget equals the break even point.  There are of course variances and no one can predict what the public will like with pinpoint accuracy.  Film making is a gamble at best. Some films will hit.  Some films will take a loss.  When we lower our wages to work on these lower budget projects we are also taking the loss wether the film is a hit or not.     

In February 2015 I worked on the first two weeks of prep for a Tear One Project. The set was dressed, I was laid off and went on my merry way. Seven months later the film was in the theatres and kicking ass at the Box Office. “The Gift” was thriller with a great script, great production design and great production value. What is production value? An experienced and uber talented set decorator working on a tier one movie. 

At a union meeting I proposed a system whereby a hit tier one film would retroactively pay its IATSE members full feature rate. I of course was met with resistance and skepticism.  I was told I’m talking about profit sharing. I’m not. I’m not seeking payments in perpetuity. I was told, “Don’t take those jobs”.  I’m not concerned about just myself.  I’m in a UNION and I don’t want to see my UNION brothers and sisters exploited either.  I was told, “It will never happen”.  I didn’t have time to rip the face off of the person saying that myopic bullshit statement to me.  People who either are unaffected  by policy or  immune from injustice easily say, “It’ll never happen” or “that’s the way things are”. “Women will never vote”, “man cannot fly”,  “The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will never win a Super Bowl”…

Tier One Features with A and B list actors are a big fat lie and EVERYONE knows it!   

To be clear; Give me a fucking break! With foreign and ancillary markets the tier one film is a cash cow.  The producers crying about taking losses is crap. The modern day IATSE member is not some clueless, hammer carrying, Bozo in overalls and you insult our intellect by suggesting that a $5M feature with an A or B list actor is in any real danger of not making a profit.  To me there is no such thing as a tier one feature with A or B list actors. 

There may be many solutions but grabbing my ankles is not one I’m willing to accept. If we have to ban A and B list actors from working on tier one projects or modify the contract to provide for a retro active wage increase or even a lower tier with profit in perpetuity or limiting production companies to three tier one films per year something must be done to close the loophole that companies like Blumhouse routinely exploit.

This is a fraudulent application of the low budget agreement. 

This is the voice of every IATSE member. We all know that it’s not fair or in good faith that the spirit of the tier one deal is continuously violated.  Hiding the cost of the labor wether it’s the labor of acting or writing from the true cost of a production sounds like fraud to me. These “back end” deals with the actors and writers do just that. They are getting it ON the back end. We are getting it IN! 

All IATSE  locals: It’s time to open the dialogue

I’m open for discussion but I’m not going to ignore the humongous elephant in the room.  We are getting fucked! Blumhouse and others are laughing at us.  This country used to respect labor and hard work. Now there is a quiet disdain for the people who are suckers enough to do physical work and provide for families and pay taxes.  Wether you are a film school grad or a Harvard business alumni you won’t accomplish anything without hard working men and women to execute. 

I call on ALL my IATSE brothers and sisters to share this post and open the dialogue. This is our voice. We are remiss in our responsibilities if we don’t take this to union leadership. If union leadership doesn’t reflect the voice of it’s members, it’s time for new leadership. 
It’s OUR UNION. It’s OUR responsibility to protect it and each other. 

What I propose, as a starting point, is simple. 

When a tiered project quadruples it’s production budget in domestic box office, it pays its crew retroactively the difference between the negotiated tiered contract and the full feature rate. On a $5M that is roughly a $1.6M check. The DGA has this in their deal, we can do it also.


I hope that you enjoyed this. However the point is to emphasize the need for action, brothers and sisters. Don’t Just read the story and enjoy. Take action. Spread this message to your other brothers and sisters. We won’t get what we don’t work for fight for. 

Bruce Bellamy    IASTSE Local 44  

The Wall and the Other Side of the Camera

Two weeks ago I worked on a hilarious Pilot for a weekly 1/2 hour show. It was an immensely enjoyable experience. I have every confidence that it will be picked up. I hope that if it is I will be called to work on it.  

It was refreshing to work on this pilot for two outstanding reasons:

Reason One (yuck)

I’ve been working in the most popular genres in American television, the procedural. Each week a myriad of television crime dramas present it’s audience with a cadaver, a suspect, a motive and a solution all in the time it takes to sell hot wings, lingerie and a few luxury cars. 

The weekly sight of another scantily clad coed cadaver laying in the bushes has calloused the minds of America to the horrors of murder and desensitized the public to the lasting repercussions of losing a loved one to a completely preventable and many times unnecessary death.  

Reason Two (and the main point of this essay)

Last month I was working on a feature and we were shooting in a kids community center. The director wanted the change the bulletin board and said, “Do you have any colored flyers”?  I responded, “We call them the Tuskegee Airmen”…(crickets)
thought it was funny…
OMG, B-L-A-C-K people! 

The film industry is a notoriously nepotistic and homogenized industry. I’ve spent most of my career as the only or one of few African Americans on most of the productions I’ve been a part of. I could easily say aloud, WHOLE DUP!…and…get…no…response. Culturally isolated.  A vast chasm of Morissey, Nickleback, Kenny Chesney, Dane Cook, Surfing, soccer and Hockey with so few culturally congruent references that I remain lost on my own island of Jazz, Hip-Hop, Basketball, African American history and culture.   The NFL may be the only consistent common ground, culturally. 

This was a refreshing repose from such isolation. The executive producer and star was a longtime acquaintance and I truly consider him “family”. I must qualify “family”. The African American community within the film industry is a sort of secret “family” due to the limited numbers of African Americans in the industry. 

As elated I was to see people of a similar visual signature and assumed cultural familiarity I was soon brought back to reality as I observed that the only other caramel, chocolate, mocha, coffee and latte flavored human-suits were worn by the executive producers entourage and fellow actors. Alone again, naturally.


The Wall

The population behind the camera steadily grew
as the week progressed and read through and rehearsals vulcanized the body of teleplay. I felt life, humor and humanity breathing into the concept of the production. As more and more writers producers an network personnel arrived for rehearsals and run throughs I consciously or subconsciously scanned for another person of color.

The executive producer/star had a staff of friends/relatives on the production that he was grooming as writers/producers for entry into our industry. Some of them worked for his company others were new to the process. Their exclusive presence via invitation only was the most poignant reminder that the only opportunities for advancement for African Americans in this industry are made by African Americans in this industry.  

At weeks end and time for the first live show the stage was a buzz with excitement as the final product was performed in front of a live stage audience. Genuine laughter from our audience and the network, production and studio personnel validated the week of hard work and whispered a promise of a new hit show. 

As the audience filed out and the stage floor flooded with the network people congratulating the cast, crew, writers and producers I wondered if anyone other than myself saw that humongous elephant. At least 150 people on the floor and only two, the 2nd assistant director and myself, were African American. It’s not unusual to have such an absence of cultural balance or lack of representation on a production. 

I wasn’t sure who all “those people” were. When we performed the “Network” run through the entourage grew.  As I took visual inventory of them I wondered what their paths were. The film industry touts itself as an equal opportunity business. With a bit of positioning, twisting, turning   
and quite a few modifications I’m sure we could rise to such obscure definitions of “equal” and “opportunity”. 

They were all polite, cool, articulate personable and seem to defer to the Star/Producer in complete admiration and deference. I do know that not one person other than me was African American. I also know (or feel) that not one person in that crowd was more qualified, experienced, talented or articulate as I or many of the talented African Americans I know in the business and in other industries. The determining factor is not just the invisible wall that we say doesn’t exist. It’s also a legacy of mentorship in this industry which is predicated upon its historically nepotistic origins. 

Nepotism unfortunately carries with it some very negative connotations. The word can invoke the image of a spoiled, entitled son or daughter of a studio executive gets the keys to drive a car that he doesn’t know how to drive. Nepotism can also be used to explain why a young man who just happens to be the son of a gaffer is so knowledgeable about lighting that he becomes a director of photography by time he’s 28. He has benefited from two lifetimes of experience ; his fathers and his own. 

The perpetual cycle of exclusion can only be broken if those who benefit from it (WHITE PEOPLE) make the effort from the other side of the racial barrier. 



If you ask most department heads why they don’t hire more African Americans the usual answer is, “I don’t know any”. A polite and non confrontational person would let it end there. We know that this is neither an acceptable answer nor a solution to diversity in any industry.  The lack of experienced African Americans on the other side if the camera can be directly attributed to the lack of opportunity to learn the crafts and skills. When Afrycan are given lip service opportunities it’s often under pressure from an outside agent or an “above the line” force.  A reticent department head will hire an African American to acquiesce to the pressures of the producer(s) or director. They get any black face qualified or not to quiet the drums. Offer no support and subliminal or overt sabotage to validate their latent bigotry. I’ve seen this scenario a few times.  I’m pretty sure I’ve disappointed a few bigots because I more often than not rise to occasion. 

My point is if there aren’t any qualified Latinos  or African-Americans it is time to find Latinos and African-Americans and assist them  in becoming qualified. 

If you can count how many African Americans you know, you don’t know enough. 

When there is a production in town with an African American producer or director that has been present and verbal enough to tell his or her department heads that there is a diversity goal on the production the phones of African Americans start ringing off the hook as department heads scramble to staff a few tokens and window dressing. I usually turn down these calls if I know that I’m being hired because of this brand of affirmative action.  

My logic and reasoning is this: if you are calling me because someone lit a fire under your ass and told you to hire some qualified African American craftsman and you had my number in your pocket, why didn’t you hire me when you weren’t compelled by the producers? I’m not an excellent “black” crew member, I’m an excellent crew member. You’ve told me in no uncertain terms that you would only consider me when forced to. I don’t want to be forced on anyone. It is also clear that you are hiring me to save yourself. I’ve been through this a few times. I get an unsolicited call from a leadman or decorator that I’ve known for years. When these calls come from out of the blue I always hope that I’m working or in a position to turn down work. The point which may have eluded the willfully myopic is this: If you know an African American don’t wait until someone puts a gun to your head to hire him/her. If someone has to put a gun to your head to get you to do it, it’s not worth it.  

The wall must come down 

The African Americans in the industry simply cannot do all the heavy lifting in this project. First of all the wall doesn’t want to be moved. 
That is precisely why I say the the wall can only be torn down by those that have erected it (and PLEASE don’t try to tell me that it’s not there because I’m looking at it now).
Those that deny racism facilitate its proliferation  
The journey of 1000 miles begins with the first step. It would be nice to have directions toward the proper path or never shown a possible destination. 

What’s the solution? I thought you’d never ask! 

A group of studio executives and a development team that resembles the cast of “FRIENDS 2.0” escorting an entourage of LAUSD and LACCD Latino and African American teens and twenty somethings through the stages, editing suites, marketing departments, development offices, writers rooms and screening rooms is EXACTLY the scenario I envision. Id imagine a peek behind the curtain and a no holds barred dialogue about EXACTLY the journey that was taken would demystify what’s behind the wall. Students would be given a tangible mental property to anchor their ambitions.  

If I had my way each person on the floor would be assigned four African Americans to mentor and nurture toward a studio position; One in high school, one in Junior high and one in college one from inside of the industry that shows interest or applies to a program.  I’d also endorse a studio high school and junior college mentorship and intern program tied directly to LAUSD,  NAACP (they have time for the image awards) and LACCD. 

You mean you want ME to mentor, nurture, guide and facilitate someone to compete for MY job? 

In a word yes. 

What is your fear? 


Competition makes us all better at what we do.


If you work hard you’ll move up and those that you’ve mentored will be there to support you and probably make you look like you’re more talented than you actually are. 

We could justify and squirm all day but we all know that this industry does not reflect in its personnel the percentage of minority’s that reside in its host city.
I challenge the writers, producers, executive producers to broaden their perspective and deepen the talent pooled creatures and technicians that make our wonderful products. 

It is a challenge to those on both sides of the wall. I’m open for solutions but please don’t try to tell me that it doesn’t exist. I’ve bumps a bruises from running into it and I have the scars to prove it.

Bruce Bellamy local 44 

3rd best on-set dresser and the guy who calls out the elephant in the room.


For all those whom the above cultural reference has been lost upon, the correct response to the call “Whole Dup”! Is “Wait a minute, let me put some (boom, funk, love, groove, boogie, bass) in it”!

“Hold up, wait a minute. Let us put our groove in it”!

The key to being a great screenwriter is…

     If you’re ever in a noisy Starbucks in Los Angeles and you’d like to silence the crowd, simply utter the title of this essay slightly above a whisper.  

If you find that you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.   

 Lorne Michaels.

When I turned 50, something very profound became crystal clear to me.  I was overwhelmed by the absolute certainty of the epiphany that…SOME PEOPLE ARE NEVER GOING TO “GET IT”! 

     If you’re wondering what “IT” is you may be among the lost.   Many have wondered what “IT” is. Some people have “IT”. Some people “get it”.  Not all that have “IT” “Get it”.  Some that “get it” don’t have “IT”.  What is it?  What it is.  

After the room is silent as you can hear the braistas hearts beating, the answer is, drumroll please…

Follow the golden rule.

That’s it? I’m suspending my grande, soy, caramel macchiato for THAT?  How dare you?  

     It’s truly that Simple. As a writer you are in a committed relationship with your reader, audience or listener.  All of your relationships are fulfilling and rewarding when you feel good in the company of those you are involved with.  You hang out with people who allow you to be yourself. You marry or date a person that makes you feel good about yourself.  We surround ourselves with people and things that make us feel good about who we are. 

     Apply this to your stories.  If you are a screenwriter, remember that a human being is probably going to make a decision based on what they feel when they read the first page and closes the last.  Reading scripts and doing coverage is the third to least desirable jobs in Hollywood to me.*.  It is ultimately a thankless and dangerous job.  Please be kind to these poor souls. 

      When I started in the Tracy Ullman show in 1990 I ventured into the Gracie Films office and saw a closet full of scripts.  There was a 6 x 8 x 2  space filled from top to bottom and left to right with scripts. I was overwhelmed. A reader/pa/intern told me that each and every one of those scripts were pretty much absolute CRAP!   I couldn’t believe him after all this was a major company and these had to be submitted by a literary agent.  He suggested that I grab one at random and start reading. 

      I randomly selected a bradded stack of 3HP and began to read. Within three pages I realized that what was in my had would never make it to the screen or stage. I tried again three times with the same results. At the time I was new to the business, had no idea what a truly great screenplay was and I still may not know. But what I do have is common sense and some perspective on what is entertainment and what for a lack of a more politically correct term is masturbation. 

     Just like the relationship I eveluded to above are about communication between two people to achieve a common goal this intercourse between a writer and a reader (viewer) can’t be all about  one persons perspective.  Just because it’s entertaining to you doesn’t mean it’s entertaining. Gaining perspective of you various characters and how they respond in different scenarios is what will allow you to become a great communicator.  Just like knowing a little about a woman or a mans body will give you clues on how to be a better lover. 

     If you’re born a man you’re not going to flip a switch and become a woman and vice versa.  If you were born into an Irish Catholic environment you may not have the perspective of a Southern Baptist minister.  It is for these reasons that most educators suggest that everyone in this business take an acting class at some point. 

     Actors transform themselves to their assignment characters through various means. Once they have completed that journey the true perspective and enlightenment begins.  It is called study.  Art directors, set decorators, directors of photography and many others in our creative crafts make decisions based upon what the story and character requires, not just what they think will look cool.  

      If you can only appreciate things from your own perspective you are lost as a writer and perhaps more as a human. 

    I’m not saying that you need to BE a ballet dancer to write a ballet story but perhaps an hour or two spent a rehearsal would fuel the authenticity of your story. How you get there is up to you but you must recognize that unless you are a poor black child born in Detroit in 1962 you really won’t know how she feels until you drop your assumptions about her and try to see things from her point of view. Learn how she views the world,  not vice versa. 

    I recently worked on a project that had the requisite number of African American characters accompanied by the requisite number of stereotypes, missing black father, angry black woman, obnoxious black child and of course,  a black maid.  It was a daily challenge for me to ignore these subtle jabs at my culture but I realize that most people live a a safe place that they never venture out of.  We all know that the only progress is made when we step out of or comfort zones. We must try to see things from perspective other than our own. You can’t see in the dark. We do need to open our eyes. 

Bruce Bellamy local 44 
3rd best on-set dresser and all around badass.

Anatomy of the tech Scout

 A production scout is the equivalent of a bus full of unruly elementary school children being forced to go on an educational or culturally significant field trip. They squirm and complain because they want the whole thing to be over so they can go to lunch.
The entire purpose of the scout is to find the best place to have lunch and talk shit about the clueless shooting crew. The gathering of information is a byproduct of that quest. The best way to keep the shooting crew clueless is to refrain from sharing what was discussed on the scout or throwing away or “losing” all notes, measurements and photos taken during the scout.

The Scout personnel:

Driver of the Scout Van (silent but deadly):
Says nothing. Hears everything. The driver has an agenda just as all other members of the scout team. His or her agenda is to get you to the location, get you out of the van to get a rest from all the senseless babbling and get a rest from all the gossip. He’d like to be part of the conversation but you keep referring to some weird thing called “script”. He will follow the directions of the person in the “Power Seat” (shotgun) unless he knows a better shortcut (always). Once you and the rest of the entourage have exited to wander around like lost ducklings he can listen to some metallica or country music and chill. He Eats lunch in the van during the scout so he can sleep while the scout eats. Now the whole van smells like leftover Kung pow chicken.

Location scout/manager (fight promoter/wanna bee producer/politician).

Our first contact and ultimately an ambassador to the public for our industry. Must be well mannered at least on the surface.
Somehow this person is a Teamster. He is just as ashamed of being a Teamster as the Teamsters are for having his wimpy ass in the same union. He has sold a dream to a clueless manager or home owner so he’s hoping the entourage behaves itself until he can get the contract signed. If the price is right and the location has been used in a similar fashion required by the script, he and the UPM will gang up on the production designer and decorator to force a trite looking location down their throats to make them “actually do some work” to make it look like what is required per the script. He takes the first shift in the “power seat” of the van to get the scout to “his” location. If “his” location isn’t chosen he will pout and disappear until it is time for lunch.

Transportation Coordinator (Not Logic, Logistics)

Where am I going to park all my trucks? When am I going to get some sleep?
The transportation coordinator only seems pissed off all the time because he actually IS pissed off ALL the time. The teamsters started off driving teams of horses. Now they have to drive teams of people. Horses only ate and slept and pulled trailers. Now he must manage an army of drivers that also sleep (very little), eat (too much), pull trailers, ask questions, fart, clean equipment and back up trucks when production is rolling. He knows that when he is told during the scout where a safe place for base camp and equipment storage is that it will change three times before the day of shooting. This is why he’s ignoring everything everyone says during the scout. Where’s lunch?

Line Producer/UPM (NO! What’s the question?)

To the line producer it should be an honor and a privilege for all involved to be able to participate in the production. Therefore each penny than he releases should be cherished by the recipient as a bonus. Whichever location will cost the least will do. If it looks bad it’s because the Art Department didn’t do it’s job. If it looks good it is because the Art Department spent too much money. Where’s lunch? Who’s paying?

Production Designer (if you don’t look good, it’s because you didn’t listen to me)

A complete slave to aesthetics the production designer only cares about two things. What makes him look good and what is easiest. Picking the correct location for the story involves more than just “finding” a diner or office building.
She/he Would rather design and build than scout and find an early 18th century cathedral so don’t be surprised that no matter how perfect the location is she/he can make it perfect-ER!
“We’re not just looking for a barn for the bad guys to hide in! I need the visual rural American equivalent of the catacombs of Europe to serve as a haven for the refugees of the blitzkrieg! Don’t you all SEE?”

The look must be in congruence with the mood, tone and intention of the story. This is often when he/she must make concessions due to budget, location availability or practicality. If his or her favored location isn’t chosen he will pout and turn to the decorator to “fix it”.

Construction Coordinator (Abracadabra)

The shooting crew would be shocked to discover that the bank vault that we are shooting in today was actually an ice cream parlor 72 hours ago. That’s because the location manager and the UPM made some sort of deal that saved them money and shifted the challenges to the art department. The Production and Set Designer have decided to keep their jobs and defer to the art of compromise. There is no such thing as a perfect location but the Construction coordinator and carpenters can make anything out of nothing.

The Writer “That’s not what I envisioned” (who invited this weirdo?)

The only reason the writer is on the scout is to see and speak with some real live human beings so he or she can crawl back into the rabbit hole to create a new story based upon his or her experiences that won’t happen until he emerges again. Kind of a catch 22 but if they were able to communicate verbally or had any people skills they’d be directors or at least sober.

Director of Photography   (mortal by necessity)

How can you tell who the D.P. is when you see a scout? Look at the shoes as they walk. The shoes that never touch the ground belong to the Director of Photography. He or she is only there to save the rest of the entourage from their own ineptitude. He and the production designer are best friends/enemies depending upon who is making whom look good at the moment. If during the scout the DP arrives at the location and the light is washing into the set at a perfectly golden 45 degree angle he, will note the time of day and stall until that time of day on the day of the shoot and take credit for “Gods Work”.

Gaffer/Best Boy Electric (Really wants to be on the golf course and notes every golf course in route to the location.)

When he arrives at the location he will turn his back on the scout entourage to look for a spot to place the generator. The only reason he acts like smug, under appreciated genius that’s smarter than all of you slugs is because he is. He read the script and realized that too many night scenes cost him manpower days but give him golf time.

Key Grip/best boy grip (Really wants to be surfing and is hoping the scout rolls near some great breaks)

The key grip or best boy position actually came to the movie industry from the circus industry. This legacy continues as they erect this circus and performers and keep us from killing ourselves. On the scout he gets pissed at the Set Decorator who keeps borrowing his tape measure and leaving it on the van or at the location. If you pick a location with no elevator he will make production pay twice what they save in location fees by hiring four extra grips to bring the dolly up and down the stairs.

Art Director (sorcerers apprentice)

Came on the scout to keep the production designer from alienating all of the other department heads because as liaison and traffic cop to the art department he will have to get along with everyone to execute the plans. He always carries two tape measures, two cameras two notebooks because the decorator keeps borrowing his tape measure and note pad and leaving it on the van. He doesn’t speak much if he’s a man and won’t talk to anyone if she’s a woman. Listens well so watch your words. Anything you say can and will be used to tell you what you asked for and not what you wanted.

Set Decorator (May I use your tape measure, please?)

Gonna make you look good in spite of yourself. With no money. With a crew that is more interested in football than design. With a Leadman who can understand the simple phrase ,”I can’t spend that on pickup at Modern Props blue lamps on Wednesday after budget etagere this size tomorrow”.
She’s dressing four sets with two trucks and no sleep while she’s riding in the van. When the scout gets to a residential location and the UPM tells her that we will use the ugly furniture that came with the place, you can read the subtitles beneath her as she says, “That’s fine”. She means,”cheap bastard”.

Leadman (Seargeant of set Dec)

On the scout the Leadman is truly is like a kid being forced to go to church when he’d rather be elsewhere. His phone rings constantly because although he’s given specific instructions to the set dressers while he’s on the scout they refuse to listen or work with each other like siblings claiming, “Daddy left ME in charge while he’s gone!”
So he’s distracted by that crap while taking notes and looking for his tape measure that the decorator left at the restaurant.

Director (captain “on the hook”)

Can’t believe he/she has to helm this ship with this crew. Her or his plans are exactly like the game plan every boxer has until he gets in the ring…

This visionary communicates those plans to the entire entourage that hangs on his every word but changes those words to what they want to hear. He’s building a shot list in his or her head and that’s where it will be safe from the rest of the film crew. The only reason to let it out is to allow nature, scheduling, actors, crew and time destroy it completely. He has read the script thirty times and has a bold clear vision of where the project will go. Unfortunately most productions take on a life of their own once the horses are out of the gate.

First Assistant Director

(why is it that the only time I get silence is when I ask someone about their responsibilies?)
I submit that all 1st A.D.’s are assholes

Q: What do you call an AD with NO sense of humor?

A: Asshole

Q: What do you call an AD WITH a sense of humor?

A: I rest my case. 

The first AD is going to be blamed for everything that goes wrong. The director will be credited for everything that goes right (but the DP will get the attaboy). He’s actually the only person paying attention to what’s being said because he’s doing all the talking.
With great power comes great responsibility. With great responsibility comes a large staff of AD’s and PAs to throw under the bus for not moving fast enough. The first AD has to figure out what the director wants in addition to what he/she has asked for. He’s constantly thinking of a contingency plan in case of rain or if he hits the lottery.

3 PA’s

If you’re driving and see a passenger van and there’s kid in the window with a “help me” sign, just ignore it. He’s just trying to raise money to buy a meal. He should stop throwing his money away on silly things like rent, gas (that we don’t pay for) and health insurance.

Weren’t there more of us an hour ago?

From time to time the scout will venture into dangerous territory. When that happens we may have to send a PA alone to get a Starbucks order in a neutral zone. If we go into hostile territory such as Beverly Hills or a Hatian voodoo compound the locals may require a human sacrific as a “deposit” to cement the deal. That’s why we bring three and put them in a red t-shirts. When we get back to the office no one notices that we are short one PA. The PA’s on the scout go “round and round” and pick up all the crap that the scout drops so we will be allowed to return to shoot.

Bruce Bellamy local 44 
3rd, 4th or 5th best on-set dresser (depending on wether Mike Horn, Ryan Beyer are available and how much coffe I’ve had) and all around badass.

what is that smell?

The TV/Film Art Department

The Art Department

PRODUCTION DESIGNER (architect of the projects “look”): Self Absorbed, misunderstod genius that makes the Director look like he knows what he’s doing. The production designer must be able to communicate the language of vision to the audience. He gets the point across without the use of irritants such as actors. If you took a still of each set of a well designed project with no actors in frame you’d understand the story completely.

ART DIRECTOR (traffic Cop): TRIES to calm down the production designer while making the signeage and acting as a conduit between the construction crew, the paint crew and the set dressing crew because production designers have such poor people skills and would get EVERYONE FIRED!

(Radar O’ Reilly) mind reader/accountant somehow must be a psychologist for the entire art department while making sure they don’t kill each other. You usually can’t see this person because they are tethered to a desk surrounded by a moat of paperwork. A fire breathing production designer decides when they are allowed to eat or drink. I’m pretty sure that these creatures only exist at wrap parties.

CONSTRUCTION COORDINATOR stoic, smug know it all that conducts a crew of stoic know it all carpenters to build a dream that won’t kill a crew and actors and make the nightly news.

SCENIC PAINTERS (homeless hipsters).  After the set is built, it still lacks life. The skilled artists known as scenics paint over all the sloppy carpentry and make production designer look like a genius (sensing a theme here?)  The ghosts/ninjas of the film industry appear and disappear in a cloud of smoke. We ignore them during preproduction because they are wearing lose fitting clothes that are covered in paint and what looks like feces if they were woodgraining that week. When they show up on location the cops chase them out of the food line. When they show up at the wrap party everyone wants to know what department they worked in. One of the reason people don’t talk to them is because the negotiation and discussion of what needs to be painted, color, texture and specifics takes twice as long as the actual execution.  Scenics are either wanna be artists or wanna be left alone. Often both.

SPECIAL EFFECTS (why doesn’t this toilet flush?). The pen is mightier than the sword but the sword won’t retract and the water won’t run and the car won’t explode when the drawer is pulled open and the cat jumps out of the elevator and falls through the trap door IF WE CAN’T FIND THE EFFECTS MAN!  He puts the action in movies and TV. If something isn’t working the effects man will tell you how much it will cost to repair it THEN ask you what’s wrong.

GREENSMAN (plant based life form). The greensman is the production and the DP’s second best friend.  He creates and moves a world of trees, vines, plants and grass to hide us from the realities of shooting on stage and on locations that look nothing like what the script calls for.   As soon as DPs and gaffers and grips discovered that a greensman could hide the stand of a light, they stopped trying to set lights and flags out of the shot and decided to “let” the greensman save them from their own laziness.

SET DESIGNER (draftsman) weirdo recluse who spends hours creating mazes for the rats known as grips, actors, electricians, cameramen and various other film crew to navigate. The set designer devises a beautiful structure to be built to explode upon impact with a shooting crew. Set Designer are great to invite to parties because it’s their only chance to talk to real live human beings. He/She once wanted to be a production designer until he realized that you have to communicate with…

SET DECORATOR (interior designer): Nervous Wreck that makes the Production designer look like he/she knows what she/he’s doing. The set decorator is the industry’s greatest politician as he/she must make promises to the UPM to stay within budget, form alliances with the vendors and production designer and somehow force the DP to shoot what he/she has dressed and not find the one square inch of the set that doesn’t have a porcelain fowl to photograph.

LEADMAN (set decorators consigliere):

Essentially a wizard/hypnotist capable of placing four set dressers into an instant coma by reciting a single word: “Listen”!

Sergeant at arms that executes the decorators wishes, saves him/her from his/her own PANIC and gives marching orders to the SET DRESSERS (whom he/she blames for EVERYTHING that goes wrong). Getting a crew of set dressers to get along, get on the truck, gather tools and do the job is…”Like herding kittens” Oscar Thompson (loc 44 Leadman).  When the lead man says, “Go open the Company”, the set dressers hear,  “Go get breakfast from the caterer”.

SET DRESSERS (labor force) : All the drawings, theory, planning and justifying don’t mean shit unless SOMEBODY ACTUALLY DOES THE WORK!   The set dressers are the Whiney, crybaby, spoiled infantry that DO the work of putting together what has only been imagined and theorized and pointed at. Breakfast, lift, lunch, lift, wrap, repeat.

DRAPERY MAN (Pirates of the carabiner) window coverings can make the simplest set look grand and a beautiful room look abandoned. Hanging  drapery is a fulfilling occupation if you are a loner, grouch or smug. Most drapers have a trifecta going. The job is not as tough as it looks, it’s tougher.

PROPERTY MASTER (golf pro) actually thinks that he is some sort of MASTER just because he gets free sunglasses, beer and golf clubs. The prop master makes sure that the actors are using the coolest phones, guns and laptops that product placement can get for his/her school aged children. Actors love prop masters because they can always steal watches that they “forget” to return and production pays for it.

ON SET DRESSER ( the last line of defense) five set dressers have spent two days loading furniture into a 10×10 set so it only makes sense to leave one guy to disassemble and reassemble it three times while the shooting crew refuses to get the fuck out of the way. The on set dresser must fix and complete everything that the set dressers decided not to completely install and left balancing so delicately that the slightest breeze will dislodge. As the Set dressers run away from a dressed set that will explode as soon as the crew arrives you can hear them chuckle to themselves, “Let the on-set guy deal with that shit”! The on set dresser falls into two categories: a know it all who the swing gang (set dressers) don’t want riding on the five ton with them because he wants to do everything right or a knucklehead that the swing gang doesn’t want on the truck because he can’t do anything right.

The SET DRESSING DRIVER (Nap Time babysitter). The pilot of the Set Dressing 5 ton is usually the crazy driver the the coordinator had to hire. He can’t be with the shooting crew because he’s such a loudmouth that he’d get the whole department fired. He must figure out how to put three sets into one truck without lifting anything off the floor. (BTW I’ve met a total of one person in this business other than myself that actually knows how to pack a truck.). He also must cater to crybaby swing guys who want to eat lunch where there’s no place to park a white dinosaur. (Pun intended

Shout out:

SET DRESSING SHOPPER/BUYER (irritating wanna bee or sorcerers apprentice) All the “glamor” of the set decorator with no stress or the additional responsibility. The shopper is great at pissing off everyone but you have to be nice to them because of one or two reasons: If they are competent, diligent and productive they will soon be decorators, if they are only marginally competent it means that the decorator will get rid of you before letting them go. The union and the business still believes that in the age of HD one decorator can completely shop, tag and order nine sets full of detail in two days (as in single camera episodic). The buyer allows the decorator the time to paint in broad strokes and leave the details to him/her. So why does everyone hold a quiet resentment for the buyer? To the teamsters he’s stealing a job because he picks up items in his station wagon. The swing gang is jealous because they are the same category but don’t touch tools and go home when they feel like it. You can tell who the shopper is: well dressed, wears open toed shoes with a pedicure (yes, even the men) just to prove a point, well rested and not nervous. He might say hello, ask you your name then, “can you help me unload my car”? although you’ve been on the same show for five seasons.

The Art Department PA

it’s no secret that everyone has insecurities. Insecurities are magnified under the lens of so many creative minds collaborating in one artistic venture. The most inspired vision and ideas are subject to scrutiny and vulnerable to arbitrary attacks by directors who lack vision, production designers who hate an idea until they are credited with it, producers whose wives are better at design because “I pay the bills that’s why” or a know it all onset dresser who will sabotage all y’all shit just to prove a point.

With all that rage, creativity and insecurity floating around, the department needs an outlet (scapegoat). That’s where the Art Department PA comes in. His or her sole purpose is to act as a basket for all the tasks that the rest of the team are “way too talented” to be bothered with (or just don’t know how to do). They bring the PA projects and problems are way too complex or require more experience that the PA can’t handle just to make themselves feel better about still being an “art dog”. 

The art department PA or intern may be there to learn but the lesson that is taught is that the Art Department is a madhouse and a dysfunctional family who kills itself to create a believable visual story that requires no narration. Silent but deadly. The Art Department PA of today is the production designer, producer or burger franchise owner of tomorrow. 

I’ll be back yesterday…

Bruce Bellamy local 44
3rd best on-set dresser and all around badass.

(323) 382-5412

10 films for hatchlings to study (and why) – (opinion)

The following is a sample of various genres of films. Missing are the classic go to film school standards ie: The Battleship Potemkin, Intolerance, The Bicycle Thief, Citizen Kane, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and The Godfather(s). What is represented is a collection of films that are examples of prudent use of the camera, actors and visuals of our medium.

1. HALLOWEEN (1978) – (kick ass horror on low to no budget) John Carpenter – Horror
John Carpenter shot this 1978 franchise launching film for less than $400,000 ($1,000,000 adjusted for inflation). A chilling and suspenseful horror flick that uses some pretty neat tricks to scare the pants off it’s audience. Narrative foreshadowing and delaying the reveal of the films main antagonist string out the suspense and keep the audience on edge.

2. She’s Gotta Have It (1987) (low budget boy/girl human condition) Spike Lee – Comedy
Spike Lee’s debut film was a very simple story surrounding a central female character untethered by social norms and expectations. Nola Darling embraces her sexuality in what some feel is socially unacceptable. Her independence frustrates her lovers and the audience cheers anyone who defies convention to be themselves.
Other Examples: SHADOWS (1959) John Casavetes, Medicine for Melancholy (2008) Barry Jenkins

3. My Life as a Dog (1985) (coming of age and the struggle to be ones self) Lasse Hallstrom. Drama
I found out years after first seeing this film that the story was semi autobiographical. That explains the authentic vulnerability of the story’s central character, Ingomar. Hallstrom’s use of montages season changes and and screen direction to propel the story is masterful. Notice the direction and seasonal change of the train going to and from his “innocence” to his “new life” . A signature transitional device is a good weapon to have as a storyteller.
Other Examples: Stand By Me (1986) Rob Reiner, The Breakfast Club (1985) John Hughes

4. The Gods Must Be Crazy (1984) (One man vs Nature and the world to save his family) Jamie Uys – Comedy
The innocence and harmony of an isolated African plains community is disrupted by the invasion of modern man when a coke bottle falls from the sky. Since abundance is the norm and there’s only one coke bottle a new emotional element enters what was previously harmonious existence. The journey to ride the Earth of what has threatened his family is shot documentary style and filled with conflicts of modern man vs Xau (The Bushman) .
Other Examples: APOCALYPTO (2009) Mel Gibson, CASTAWAY (2000) Robert Zemekis Honorable Mention: Rabbit proof fence

5. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989) (The Limits of the mind unrestricted by great production design) Terry Gilliam
Production Design is the language of our visually dominated medium. The production design and visual signature should relay the emotion and feel of a story without words or sound. Terry Gilliam’s Epic adventure film was a box office failure but an instant classic. Perhaps this film was ahead of it’s time. The sets and photography were kuey within the story to bring the audience from the films reality to the fantasy that is part of the story within the story (then back again).
Other Examples: Romeo and Juliet (2000) Baz Lurhman, The Cook, The Thief ,His Wife and Her Lover (1989) Peter Greenaway

6. Reservoir Dogs (1992) (non-linear story telling) Quentin Tarantino Suspense
Sometimes the inciting incident is the actual highlight of a story. Tarantino crafts suspense from the beginning of the story by revealing glimpses of the aftermath of an unforeseen catastrophe. The juxtaposition of action vs consequences tell a story that unfolds in a puzzle that keeps the audience engaged. He followed with the same weapon in a different holster in Pulp Fiction.
Other Examples: Memento (2000) Christopher Nolan, 500 Days of Summer (2009) Marc Webb

7. DIE HARD (1988) (One Man vs a superior opponent and kick ass anyway) John McTiernan.
Jeb Stuart’s script started an instant bidding war among agencies. The simple trick of adding the slightest soupcon of vulnerability by removing our protagonists shoes makes
John Mc Clane all the more heroic. Out gunned and hindered by mobility, McClane has to Maguiver his way out of this mess to save the day.
Other Examples: Lethal Weapon (1987) Richard Donner, Under Siege (1992) Andrew Davis

8. Lawrence of Arabia (1962) (The scope of a Heroic Life shot through an all encompassing lens) David Lean
The photography was a key component in telling the story of a singularly quixotic English officer. T.E.Lawrence was larger than the limits of his post and humanity. He accomplished legendary military feats and David Lean and director of Photography F.A. Young chose locations, lighting and lenses to relay the scope and impact of on mans impact on history.
Other Examples of the importance of photography: Master and Commander: The far side of the World (2003) Peter Weir, Children of Men (2006) Alfonso Cuaron, Rosemary’s Baby (1968) Roman Polanski

9. Speed (1994) (the ticking clock as a plot driving force) Jan De Bont
The ticking clock or the impending event (disaster, birth, death, etc.) is a very effective tool for driving the dilemma of the protagonist or antagonist. The antagonist has set a limit on the amount of time the hero has to work the problem. The fate of our hero and those on the screen we care about is in the hands of time and circumstances. To “deliver us from Evil” Keanu has a strict window of opportunity. We cheer for him because he fights an unseen enemy and wins.
Other Examples: TITANIC (1997) James Cameron, Training day (2001) Antoine Fuqua

10. Places in the Heart (1984) (triumph of the human spirit against nature, circumstances and even ones own physical limitations) Robert Benton
Sally Field gives the performance of a lifetime in a time of desperation. Through all odds she fights to hold on to what is left of her family, home and dignity. The film flows visually through the darkest and brightest of times of a year of struggle and triumph. No matter what is the backdrop, sports, war or the unknown, the quest for spiritual fulfillment will always drive the story.
Other Examples: HOOSIERS (1986) David Anspaugh, Once Were Warriors (1994) Lee Tamaho

Bruce Bellamy local 44 
3rd best on-set dresser and all around badass.