Why Do You Do What You Do To Me?
Picture a dark, rainy night in the middle of an abandoned airfield somewhere in Southern England. The rain has been poring down for 8 hours, temperatures are below freezing (or feel like it) and you are drenched through every one of the 16 layers of clothing you are wearing.
Hot tea! Something to warm you up! But go steady – drinking leads to needing the bathroom, which is a much used and abused ‘honeywagon’ half a mile away from your location. Add to that the 20 minutes it’s going to take peeling off those wet layers in order to use the facilities, and it’s warmth or weeing decision time.
Any of us that have worked for any length of time in the film and TV business and who have worked on location gets this picture (no pun intended there-honestly!)
Filming involves long hours of waiting combined with frenetic moments of getting your particular departments job done efficiently (and in some cases with SFX, stunts and armoury - most particularly safely) whilst being aware that any slip or momentary lack of attention to detail will hold up the working lives of 150 people, who like you are desperate to get warm and go home, plus potentially costing a large amount of the production’s much stretched and lubricated budget. If you’re an armourer it’s even worse, especially if you have Practical Firing happening – those 8 hours of waiting have had you check equipment a thousand times, all the while being on edge knowing you are about to go through a process that is potentially dangerous. Any armourer, however seasoned or experienced, who doesn’t worry about safety even if they are doing something they’ve done a thousand times before, is not a good armourer. You NEVER take your eye off the ball (again no pun intended) it’s just too important.
So - after hours of hanging around, dripping wet, half frozen and desperate for the loo, you do your job, - and bang - you do it again. The first take may be perfect and the one that ends up being used, but you do it again and again and yet again.. The take has to be right and all angles have to be covered, literally.
Finally “It’s a wrap” for today,. Hooray! You then spend another half an hour at least checking and packing away equipment, drive the hour back through the rain, and then in the armourers case, go first to your secure and alarm embellished armoury, hunt around with frozen hands for the 15 sets of keys and get your exhausted brain to remember the alarm combination. Was it your date of birth backwards, or the same as your old PIN number? Then it’s check, check , check again, clean and put away your weapons - before wending your weary way home and then starting the whole process again the next day. Why?
What sane rational person with a skill set that can be used in the ‘real’ world would do this to themselves, day in and day out for weeks or months on end? Why? We can’t help it. It’s an addiction, and one we’re sneakily proud to admit to. Hence the number of production gift clothing and water bottles seen on any set.
Personally, I caught the bug slowly; at first I just went along on a few jobs to load magazines and clean guns ( I’m a cleaning freak-I’ve had therapy for it ) but then somehow the business grew on me, a little like a slow growing fungus, and believe me, I’ve had a varied career and I’ve experienced many different work experiences and environments. From cleaning bedrooms to ruling boardrooms, running Fetish Clubs to Funeral Parlours - and I’ve loved them all in their own way. But the filming business has tapped into my addictive personality in a bad way, or maybe it’s a good one.
There is something about it - the camaraderie-and yes, hey - we all know half of it is false, ( “luvvie Darling, you are wuuuuuunderful!” ) and the sense of absolute achievement at the end of a long filming shoot, whether it’s a TV series or a movie, especially when you see the results of your efforts on screen.
For me the idea of being part of a long tradition of story -tellers in my own little way means a lot. Even if it is just making the guns go bang. I think also the huge sense of relief in my particular field, of knowing you helped make something intrinsically dangerous safer is a real buzz fix. There is nothing like that feeling ( and yes, I’m touching wood here ) when an artist or camera operator says; “Thank you-you made me feel really safe” - it is totally addictive. Ok, the wrap parties can be fun too - but I’ve never needed an excuse to party, as is evidenced by way too many Iphone pics and face book posts. Maybe it’s the fact that I lose 5lbs every time I do a job- lugging 16 AK’47’s around and wandering around a set looking for those elusive honeywagons does add up in calories burnt, plus the fact that due to the nature of my specialty I don’t drink whilst working. But there is something deliriously addictive about this business. Even with the mud, madness, and mayhem. The pretentiousness and penny-pinching. The long mind numbing hours of hanging around before the final hour of creative chaos. I really have met the best and nicest people whilst doing it. And definitely the most interesting. Yeah, we are all a little mad, we have to be to do what we do, but seeing familiar faces on set on a new production is such a comforting feeling. The warmth engendered by all those hours in the cold and rain together creating something worthwhile isn’t all false. In fact it’s the opposite. A bit like funeral arranging ( about which I will expound in another post ) there really is a sense of cohesion and achievement at the end of a job. At least I’ve found it so in a lot of the productions I’ve worked on. As anyone who has watched the Brilliant BBC series The League of Gentleman will understand - “It’s a shit business” - but we love it. That’s why we keep doing it. When really we could earn more in the real world and have a semblance of a ‘normal ‘ life. , The late great Terry Pratchett caught the craziness in his book Moving Pictures - I can say no more. You’ve got to be mad to do it - but hell, when it works, it’s worth every dirty, cold, miserable minute. Even if loading guns does chip my nails.
A big shout out to the business in my first post. Thank you for reading folks…..the saga will continue.