It's the end of a rough day and all I want to do is go home. As everyone's prepping to leave for the night (returning things to the carts, tidying up any loose ends, etc) a PA walks around shoving the next day's call sheets into our hands. "Check your individual call times. They're all a little bit different," he warned.
And true enough, they were. A bunch of departments had a pre-call* the next day, including us. Which was weird.
It wasn't uncommon for departments like hair, make-up, wardrobe, etc to come in early, but to give a pre-call for G/E on that particular show was a bit of a conundrum. But whatever. We were still getting a reasonable amount of hours for a turnaround, so if they wanted us to show up early and kill some time in the morning, so be it.
That is, until the Gaffer came up to us and said that breakfast was a half hour before our pre-call.
Now, for those of you lucky enough to even have the option of a courtesy breakfast, showing up a half hour early for it is pretty standard operating procedure. You come in, have breakfast, then get to work at your call time. Six hours later (because they're required to feed you another meal no later than six hours in**), you get lunch. Six hours after that, if you're still working, you get 2nd meal.
All that changes with a pre-call though. What typically is supposed to happen (but correct me if I'm wrong) is you come in at your pre-call. Work. And then about fifteen minutes or so before the general crew call, you take a break for breakfast. That kind of "resets" your meal clock and six hours into shooting, everyone, no matter what their call time, takes lunch at the same time. That way, everyone's synced up and no one's going longer than six hours without a meal.
But what was confusing about this particular situation was that our breakfast was being served before our pre-call, which meant that it'd be more than six hours between our meals. But by the time any of us had actually stopped to think about this, we were already well on our way home for the night.
So we all show up the next morning, a half hour before our pre-call, still perplexed about this whole pre-call and breakfast thing, and while we're eating our eggs and bacon, I bring up the issue to my Best Boy.
Me: "So... Why are we having breakfast now and not with the rest of the crew when they come in during the general crew call?"
Him: "I don't know... But Production told us to show up at this time if we wanted breakfast."
Me: "So does this mean that we get meal penalties*** then?"
Him: "Why would we get a meal penalty?"
Me: [Kind of surprised he didn't think of this already...] "Because we have a pre-call and we're not breaking for breakfast later, so we're essentially going more than six hours before we get lunch."
Him: "Oh. Huh. That's not right, is it? I'll talk to Production once we're in and all set up."
So we go about with our breakfast and start work at our pre-call. I check back in with my Best Boy a little bit later in the day about the whole meal penalty thing. He says it's a no-go since it was written on the call sheet that we have to take an "NDB". This is the part where I skip ahead a bit because I don't want to bore you with the details. Basically, my Best Boy had no idea what an NDB was (Non-Deductible Breakfast) and Production had to explain it to him. Only, their definition was wrong and was using that false definition to get around paying us a meal penalty. I then explained what a real NDB was and back to the negotiating table he went.
It wasn't until after lunch when he finally got word that Production gave in and was going to pay us a meal penalty. He didn't know how much, but at least it was something (it ended up being a fair amount). Either way, it took a lot of grief and bitching on our part to keep pushing our Best Boy to even talk to Production about paying us a penalty. So much belly-aching in fact, that a few of us were wondering if it was even worth all the hassle.
I got my answer a few days later when I ran into the Wardrobe Assistant in the bathroom. Making friendly chit-chat, I asked her how her morning was going. "Ugh, stressful," she said, with an exasperated sigh. "But I could just about kiss whoever it was that who kept bitching about not getting a meal-penalty a few days ago. Production's been giving me a pre-call all this week and now they have to pay me the penalties too."
I secretly smile to myself. Sure, it was a bitch and a half to get a meal penalty for a pre-call, especially since a pre-call for my department on that particular show was pretty rare to begin with. But fighting for something like that now ensured that Production won't be taking advantage of us like that in the future. And more importantly, without even knowing it, we stuck up for our brothers and sisters in other departments who either don't realize they're being taken advantage of, and/or don't have the strength to stand up to Production (after all, it's a lot easier to replace a department of one rather than a whole G/E crew). I think that's a marvelous thing.
*A "pre-call" is a call time that's earlier than the general crew call. ie: Make-up might have a pre-call because it takes them a couple of hours do a particular actor's make-up.
**Typically speaking, that's how it works. But there is such a thing as "French Hours" which is a whole other story entirely.
***A "meal penalty" is when Productions goes over six hours between meals (although there are certain exceptions that don't apply to this particular case) and have to start paying the crew a certain amount of money for every specific increment of time they're late for lunch.