Wednesday, March 28, 2012

I Don't Care What You Say. I Was On Time Today.

So here's a question for you: Is your call time the time you're required to be at crew parking or on set?

If you asked me this question a few years ago, I'd probably look at you like you're an idiot and say, "Uh, duh. The answer is 'set'." Call time, especially for newcomers, is generally understood and defined to be the time when one starts work, and work on a film set is, well, obviously on the set.

But if you ask me that same question today, I'd without a doubt say "crew parking" and look at you with evil eyes that dare you to challenge me.

I started out in this business on fairly straightforward locations. Sure, there were many times where I had to circle the block for half an hour to find parking,* but for the most part, we'd roll up to the house/warehouse/middle of nowhere we were shooting at, park in the nearly empty residential street/parking lot/dirt road and walk the twenty yards or so to set. Being on set and ready to work by call time usually wasn't a big deal.

But as the shows I worked on got bigger and bigger, the more I found myself required to park further and further away from set. If I'm at a studio, I'm told to park at a specific parking structure (often across the street from the main studio) and then walk my ass to the stage which takes anywhere from ten to twenty minutes (because of course, it's all the way on the other side of the lot). If we're filming on location, it's not unusual for crew parking to be a few blocks (or even miles) away from set with pass vans shuttling people back and forth. Sometimes, it can even be a little bit of both. I've had a job or two where I had to park in a studio lot only to be shuttled to another location.

With that in mind, now let's look at the call time scenario:
- I arrive at the studio parking structure and wait my turn while the guard at the gate checks the IDs of every person in every car in front of you (3 minutes on a good day).
- It's finally my turn to hand over my driver's license and a visitor's pass is issued to me for the day (1-1.5  minutes if you're actually in the system, but 50% of the time, someone on the show forgets to put my name in and I'm stuck at the gate trying to work it out).
- By the time I get through, parking can be scarce and I'll have to wind my way all the way up to the roof or all the way down to the basement to find a free space (4 minutes).
- I park, gather my shit and either take the stairs or wait for the elevator to bring me back to the ground floor (1-2 minutes).
- There, I find a pass van from my show waiting for me... and thirteen other people. If I'm lucky, I'll hop in, slam the door behind me, and off we go. If I'm unlucky (more often than not), I have to sit in that fucking pass van for another ten minutes or so until the van's full and/or another van has returned from it's run before it can leave. Meanwhile, I'm in the back pissed off because the more time I spend sitting in the van doing nothing is less time spent getting and enjoying my breakfast and/or less time I had to get ready that morning. It also means that I ran a yellow light and cut off a minivan for nothing.
- Van finally leaves crew parking and heads towards set (a 7 minute drive)...
- ...but has to stop by base camp first (add another 4 minutes).
- While at base camp, the P.A. that needs to be dropped off kindly asks the driver to hold on for a sec because they just need to drop something off quickly and then hop back in the van (another 3 minutes).
- And just as we're about to hit the road again, hold on! Some other people at base camp would like to go to set too (another 2 minutes).
- Finally, back on the road again and five minutes later, you're on set.

By that time, it's been 30-40 minutes since you pulled into crew parking. (I'm not exaggerating any of that stuff either. That exact same scenario has happened to me on multiple occasions.)

And at that point, if you still think it's fair to say that you have to be on set by your call time, I'm going to be mad at you.

Very, very mad.

Because I'm not the one who chose to park a couple miles from the location. And it's definitely not my idea to sit in a pass van twiddling my thumbs for twenty minutes. And I absolutely cannot control a transpo driver, so that van's going to leave when it leaves and make as many stops as it wants to along the way no matter how much I fume in my seat.

I can anticipate how bad traffic will be on my way to work. And I can maybe anticipate how many cars I have to wait behind at the studio gate based on the time of day (lord help you if you drive in at the same time as a game or talk show audience). But I absolutely cannot predict how long it takes for me to get from crew parking to set, especially if I'm relying on a production dictated method of transportation. And if production's mandating where I park, where I work and how I get from one to the other, they better damn well have me on the clock for it. The same is said for the reverse: I'm still on the clock and collecting (sometimes hypothetical) overtime at the end of the day even if the truck is all buttoned up and ready to move, if I'm stuck waiting at location for a goddamn pass van to pick us up to take us all back to crew parking. If you're keeping me from going home at the end of the night, then you better damn well be paying me for it. Therefore, if the clock stops once I get dumped back at crew parking, then the clock should start there as well.

Now that said, I make every reasonable effort to be on set by call. On certain show's, I've even been known to pull into crew parking an hour before my call simply because I'm anticipating a pain in the ass trip to set. I know several other people who do this as well and I've never met anyone who intentionally waits until their call time before setting a foot out of their car. In fact, I'd see that as kind of a dick move and I'd imagine that person would have a short career in this town. Despite the occasional heated "discussion" of call time being for parking vs set, everyone at least agrees there's somewhat of an unspoken rule that you at least try to make it to set before call.

But sometimes, no matter how early you pull into that lot, you get screwed on the process in going from Point A to Point B. And sometimes, that's when you get the asshole boss or co-worker that insists you're late because "call time is when you're supposed to be on set."

I fucking hate those days.

Some more examples of why call time should be for crew parking:
- I once was in a pass van for over half an hour... And the location was half a mile away. (I hopped in, waited for other crew members... and the only other person to show up after five minutes was a P.A. who had to run a bunch of errands around the lot, so we shuttled him around and when he was done, we ended back at crew parking and waited another five minutes for just arrived crew members... WTF?)
- I once was in a pass van for about an hour... Because the location was thirty miles away.
- If you're at a studio like WB, you have to check in with the guard at crew parking, find a spot, go back to the ground floor where you wait at the stoplight of a very busy intersection so you can cross the street where you'll wait in another line so the guard at the gate can send you through a metal detector and fondle your belongings. Then you make the nice, long trek (uphill) all the way to the other side of the lot where, of course, the stage is. (It can be a 15-20 minute excursion, depending on how long your legs are.)

So if you're a Gaffer, Key or Best Boy, please take all that into consideration the next time you feel like calling someone out for being a minute or two late despite them being in crew parking at (or even well before) their call time.


* But those types of shows were so low budget and/or unprofessional to start with that you weren't getting paid anyway, so you don't feel too bad for being late because you couldn't find parking.


JD said...

Over hear in the east, NYC metro area, on time is on set, ready to go.
I sympathize with you. Not being provided with parking close to set (on location) because I'm "below the line, often bites production right in the ass. When a problem is encountered, the personal tool or piece of gear I need to solve that emergency is often in my truck which is parked far afield, because I'm not worthy of a parking permit or reserved spot near set.

JB Bruno said...

As production person (AD, Line producer) on East Coast, I'd have to agree with your assessment. The issue would be whether the shuttle was a courtesy or required by production. As it seems production is requiring you to use the shuttle and not offering parking on site as an option, I would agree mostly agree with you, possibly differing slightly in saying call would be when you're required to be at the shuttle leave site, and not including time spent at gate, etc. Once you're in that shuttle, you've done your part and it's on production, IMO.

D said...

I have been through this countless times. The bottom line is that once you are in the hands of production, it is out of your hands.If you arrive at crew parking at call time and then have a 20 minute van ride to set, that is out of your control. Anyone who says different is a clown, no I'm sorry, a KLOWN. However, I do believe that you should leave a little extra time to get through security at a lot. It's a known quantity. i consider crew parking to time. Along those lines, I give myself two hours to get to set, more than that and I will be late.Deal with it.

Nathan said...

A.J. is absolutely right within the basic parameters of the situation she described. If Production specifies a place to report to, then that's where your call time starts. If they're providing a place to park as a "courtesy", then call is on set. (Note: If this courtesy parking space is 5 miles from location and they neglect the "courtesy" of of a shuttle van, one would hope they remember the adage "Those lights aren't going to jump off the truck by themselves".)

As to J.D.'s comment...Assuming you're talking about NYC, Crew parking on set was something we always "got away with" in the past and for the last ten years, the city has gotten tougher and tougher on productions taking up street parking for anything but trucks and campers. I think you'll find it's been more than 5 years since you'll have seen any legitimate permit in a crew member's personal vehicle. Some productions will provide you a list of nearby parking lots and some will even pay for them, but, for the most part, if the job is somewhere in the city, your call time will be on set. As to your personal tools, most of the folks I know will pull up to their truck on Day One, offload their kit to the truck and then go park. If you have issues with who is and isn't "worthy", take it up with the Film Office. I'll happily hand out as many permits as they'll give me.

Niall said...

I think it comes down to weather you want time to eat food and settle into the day or just jump in head first and hope it's deep enough you don't bash your head.

JD said...

Nathan, it comes down to how "personal vehicle" is described on the permit. Often my truck serves as an additional equipment truck. That being said, we're also talking about crew members who are above the level of "spark" or "hammer" or PA. Recently I was providing and towing the generator for a production and the twit UPM/location manager/whatever, failed to secure me permit. I did call the Mayor's Film Office and straighten it out.

A.J. said...

JB Bruno - I agree. Call time should be when you're at the shuttle site, but I figured I'd throw in check in times, etc, just to demonstrate how ridiculous it can all get.

D - Klown is right! What also bugs me is when breakfast is at location, and despite arriving at crew parking a half hour before your call, you're technically "in" by the time the pass van drops you off and have to miss breakfast.

Niall - I always prefer to have time to eat, but then the question becomes how much muthaf'n earlier to I need to get there to do so?

Nathan and JD - I'm not exactly sure how things work in NY, so I can't really comment on your comments. But I will say that out here, it's pretty much required that Production must provide a place for you to park, AND transportation to set if there's a significant amount of distance between the two places.

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