When you want to be a Big Bad Producer on a show like Outlander
Since the start of the new year, I’ve been focused on gaining more clarity about what I want my career to look like. I listenedto Maril Davis explain how she bailed on Ronald D.Moore when she began working for him and then through the twists and turns of life ended up working for him again (as an assistant no less!). Together they produce one of the best shows on television.
Throughout most of my tenure in New York, I’ve constantly wondered whether or not I’m making the right career choice. Did I pick the right job, the right gig, the right boss, the right project, the right time, the right city, the right move, the right life…? The list is endless.
See, I freelance in film and television production in NYC. My day job is Production Coordinator but some day my super hero job will be Big Bad Hollywood Producer. For now the day job (when in between gigs) is to look for more work! To freelance is to hustle and we’re always looking for connections as a step to the next opportunity. Some of us are ok doing the same job for years and others are…impatient. I’m the latter.
I see the behind-the-scenes photos of Outlander and I’m like, yeah I wanna be in the pissin’ rain on set! As a Coordinator, we’re primarily in the office like some of the other office staff i.e. Accounting, Payroll, Art, Locations. All day. Working 12-14 hours (sometimes 10 if our boss is real nice) like the set crew. My goal is to one day break free of the office walls and onto set. Sitting with the director, writers, grips, gaffers, camera, DP, PAs, HMU, and other producers. Except I won’t be a Coordinator, I’ll be a Producer.
Now to be clear: Production Life ain’t glamorous. Producing sure ain’t glamorous either…maybe when you’re walking down a red carpet and the clinking of champagne glasses is off in the distance. That’s by no means typical but a nice perk if you can land it. Producers do a lot of different things and not every Producer does the same work on every job. Take a look at thePGA‘s (Producers Guild of America) Guidelines for the Producer’s role in film, tv, and new media. Did I mention I’ll be applying for membership this year to the PGA? Yeah that’s happening. Anything I can do to acquire a great Producer’s sweet success passing through me like osmosis at the annual conference…or just get some free swag and access to screenings.
But waking up at the wee hours of the morning to arrive on set before the sun comes up or waking up in the afternoon because you’re on a ‘split’ (overnight shoot) and your Friday has turned into a Fraturday. Welcome to the one day weekends where Sunday becomes your only chance to get caught up on the laundry, cleaning, connecting with friends/family (or ‘civilians’ as we call non-Production people), or just get caught up on sleep. Pure simple sleep and do absolutely nothing. All day. Back to work on Monday! And if you’re really lucky, you may be on a 6 day work week. Oh yeah. Those are great.
Don’t get me wrong. Though the Production staff are in the office and don’t have to bear the natural elements (amongst other things) throughout the day we endure other aspects of production like the following requests:
“We need 20 emergency hotel rooms for crew that can’t drive home tonight because a blizzard is about to hit the city! No don’t provide a credit card yet! They require it to hold the rooms? We have to confirm in an hour or we lose them?…Let me call you back.”
“We need a local car service to pick up the Director and Producers who scouted the Long Island coast in a helicopter but don’t know what time they’ll land and where they’ll go after but they need that car service in the middle of nowhere RIGHT NOW!” [Car booked and heading over in 20 mins]“Nevermind we don’t need the car.”
“Hey Jordyn where’s all the rigging expendables that we need for the day? What?! No one told you to order it? It’s 7am and we need it now!…Call time isn’t for another 5 hours and Transpo Captain is still sleeping!?”[it was an overnight shoot and call time starts later in the day and Transpo transports equipment/expendables and the Production minivan is too small to bring everything over aka “A Crisis”]
I’ve decided that we all work hard. No matter which position we have in the crew, we all work hard. I’ve never thought it was fair that some departments think they work harder than others…Well maybe the Teamsters don’t work that hard (*wink).
No really I wanna be on set. Rain, fog, freak hail storm in the summer (that’s happened), freak earthquake in NYC (happened too), cold in the winter with toe warmers in your boots, I WANT IT ALL! I’ll have it when I’m a Producer dealing with cast, budgets, writers, network, and the studio. Now that I’ve asked for it I can’t regret it when it happens…
Also, I enjoy the comradery that can percolate on set. Not every crew gets along but when they do, I feel like there’s an understanding that everybody’s in on making it happen no matter what. Everyone makes their contribution to create the best story they can. The feeling that the only way to get through the obstacles is to get through it together.
Or everyone resents each other and the job then pretends it was all great at the wrap party.
For now, I’ll take Coordinator, Assistant, or Associate Producer. Eventually an AUPM (assistant unit production manager). I don’t care. Does Tall Ships need an Assistant? I’ll fly myself to Scotland…or LA. The point is I aspire to do more and there are times when it’s really difficult to see the light when the time between gigs is quiet, you’ve gotten two no’s within 5 minutes (no joke) for work, and when you are finally working, you’re at a desk into the wee hours of the night wondering why you’re doing any of it in the first place. But it could be way worse, right?
Truth is (honest truth) people like working with me. I have a great resume and all of my bosses don’t have a bad thing to say. Perhaps I say no too often to gigs that don’t suit my idea of what step I should take next. Blergh. That’s some personal growth that I’m working on.
So I go back to thinking about how Maril Davis started her career and other Producers like her. No one has a set template. We all get there in different ways and it’s the process that can frustrate me. But it’s the process that has to be experienced for all its warts and beauty marks (I’m trying to think of the opposite of wart…). I long to have my name on a show or film that is well received, accoladed, and admired. A project I’m passionate about, can champion, and be recognized for it’s artistic integrity. My own kinda Outlander.
In the mean time, I’m going to line produce a micro budget short film (for free). Then my next project will be producing another Star Wars installment with JJ Abrams. I believe that’s the missed call on my phone.