Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Breakfast Breaks And Bitching.

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.


Nathan said...

Good on you A.J. I suppose I can understand how Production screwed up and scheduled the morning wrong, but I have no idea how someone gets to be a best boy (was he shop steward too?) without knowing how meal penalties and NDB's work.

You're actually kind of fortunate production capitulated. I know some Producers who would have said, "Fine, that's the way it'll be next time, but since your own guys didn't know any better, too bad." (I don't like those kinds of Producers but I've worked for them.)

A.J. said...

Nathan - You forget that I work in the world of low budget indies where 1) Production didn't "screw up and scheduled the morning wrong." They were trying to scam the system. And 2) Best Boys are often clueless and/or shockingly unqualified.

Hazela said...

From what I understand, an NDB break allows for 30 minutes off your feet with food available in order to synch the pre-call crew with the general crew call. For example, the electricians come in at 6AM and the rest of the crew starts at 8AM. The electrics work from 6AM to 730AM, break till 8AM, then resume working. Their lunch break is now due at the same time as everyone else - 2PM. The half hour break is on the clock and if food isn't available, you're in penalty from 12PM.

An NDB break is not getting an egg sandwich from catering and then chomping it while setting lights and running cable...

A.J. said...

Hazela - That's the way I understand it as well. However, Production decided that the "Non-Deductible" part meant the time isn't deducted from work time (therefore, had to be taken before call) instead of "you can't deduct the pay when they break for breakfast". Granted, "Non-Deductible Breakfast" can be somewhat of a confusing term, but it's amazing what some Producers think they can get away with due to ignorance and semantics...

Unknown said...

How large is the crew on the indie films you work on average? How many people are in the production department? Shouldn't accounting be more concerned with keeping the budget trim than production? Lastly, thats really shitty if they try to do that since you are working so many hours with a precall.

A.J. said...

Justin - The exact numbers vary from show to show, but on this particular shoot, I think it was something along the lines of 1-1-4 in my particular department. In terms the accounting department, I think it was more on the PM's head than theirs to keep within budget. And lastly, yeah, it was really shitty of them to try to pull that. Why any part of management (in this country anyway) would think it's okay to force people to work longer without compensation is beyond me. I think that's really what had me flabbergasted about this whole ordeal. It just lacks more common sense than usual.

TC said...

The egg sandwich situation literally happened to me two days ago... I started an hour before crew call (art dept, had to do a pickup) and when I got to set there was no breakfast anywhere to speak of... So we were shooting downtown la and had several locations within walking distance. So I was at one of the locations setting up, which happened to be a cafe, so I asked a pa that was on guard to wait in line for me and order me an egg sandwich, and I would buy him whatever he wanted as well, and I gave him my personal debit card to pay for it. (this was arou d 11 am) So I finished up and took my sandwich and was wolfing it down as I walked back to our main location. I got to he truck and the "art dept coordinator" watched me eating my sandwich as I continued working. So anyway, I decided to leave the show a few days later (it was awful,) and when I was filling out my time card the coordinator made me put that I got an ndb that dat because we didn't break for lunch until 2 pm (crew call was 8, I started at 7) because she saw me eating a sandwich... While I was still working! Sorry, I'm not going to eat chips for breakfast.... Thats all that was available... Plus this was the second day in a row that I wasn't able to break for lunch on time- first time was an hour and a half over, second was an hour over...whatever. What can I do if production is refusing to pay penalties and overtime? Especially if it's a non union show?

A.J. said...

TC - That really sucks. If I were in that situation, I'd explain to the coordinator exactly why me eating a sandwich I paid for while still working is not considered an NDB. That, and/or have my department head back me up. Or, if that's not happening and I'm filling out my own time card anyway, I'd be sure to make note that I did not NDB that day and keep a copy for myself. (I'm not quite sure how the coordinator made you put down otherwise.) If the penalty wasn't on my next check, I'd pay a visit to the labor board with my a copy of my time card and pay stub in hand.

Of course, your mileage my vary on this based on whether or not you'd think it's worth the fight.

Anonymous said...

Wait, you're telling me you make like $600 a day and you get fed breakfast AND lunch and there is craft service table with food on it all day long, and sometimes someone will come around and give you a smoothie. What a great job.

A.J. said...

Anonymous - No where did I say I make like $600 a day on a LOW BUDGET INDIE project. And no, I don't always get fed breakfast. Or lunch. And yes, we have a craft service table with food on it all day long because that's what you get when you take NO OTHER BREAKS other than lunch. Wait, you're telling me you have a job where you get to take a 10-15 minute break every two hours AND you work less than ten hours a day AND you get to make it home at night to see your family? What a great job.

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