Saturday, March 5, 2011

Theme Days.

Every once in a while, I’ll find myself on a show where "Theme Day" makes a regular appearance. Usually on a Friday. That means that once a week, everyone’s supposed to show up dressed in accordance to whatever’s noted on the call sheet. “Camo Day.” “Hawaiian Day.” “Western Day.” “80’s Day.” On days like these, the set can end up looking pretty bizarre as you have an army of people who look more like they belong in a Trader Joe's than a working film set.

I hate theme days.

From my experience, they’re usually concocted by someone sitting in the AD trailer all day and thinks it’ll be fun. And the theme itself is often centered around what they have in their closets at home and what they might feel like wearing the next day. Granted, it may be their attempt at lightening up what may be a miserable shoot, but in all honesty, I’d rather they direct their efforts to making the set more efficient and get my ass home faster instead of dictating my wardrobe choices for the rest of the week.

Another thing I don’t like about Theme Days is the unrealistic expectation that the g/e crew can participate. Sure, we may be able to throw on the appropriate patterned clothing for themes like Camo Day, but I’m sure as hell not going to run around the set in cowboy boots because one of the ADs think they look cute in a Western hat. Tie Day? Forget it. Between my jacket, surveillance kit, the occasional ID badge and ten other things dangling from my belt, I’m not about to voluntarily wear yet another item on my person that has the potential to get caught and snagged on all this heavy, awkward and dangerous equipment we’re dealing with.

Plus, often times, I don’t even have the shit in my wardrobe that would require me to participate. Disco Day? Yeah, I’ve got nothing in my closet from that era. Sure, a decade appropriate outfit wouldn’t be that hard to scrounge up after a trip or two to a thrift store, but who the hell’s got time for that when you're working on a show? Not to mention how ridiculous it’d be to spend money on an outfit you hate, for a day you hate, on a shoot you hate, that you can’t even work in.

And sometimes, when I do happen to have an appropriate piece of clothing to fit in with the proposed theme, it’s usually nice enough (read: in good condition without rips, stains or holes) that it's part of my non-work wardrobe and I don’t want to risk fucking it up at work as I climb on ladders and pull cable from the mud.

It’s also not just me that’s being a spoil sport about the whole thing. I know a camera op who refuses to participate for the same exact reasons I listed bitched about above. I also know a Gaffer who refused to participate in “Gangsta Day” because he didn’t think it was appropriate to make light of the environment he grew up in. And the good boom ops out there also often refuse to participate due to their need to wear dark colored clothing, lest they be caught on camera from reflections and what not.

In short, I hate theme days. I think they’re a stupid idea. And if you start to pay attention to who’s usually spearheading them on a set, it’s more often than not those who sit in a trailer for most of the day and not those who do the manual labor on a set. I’m not saying their job isn’t hard or demanding, but they do tend to be so far removed from what the rest of us really do, that they often fail to understand why you’re refusing to wear your pajamas to work when it's so clearly stated to do so on the call sheet.

Sure, sometimes seeing the AD or Director walk onto set wearing a goofy outfit will get a laugh, but that kind of amusement usually only lasts for a second. I’d much rather see their efforts channeled into their job rather than their outfits.


Michael Taylor said...

I'm not a fan of playing "dress-up" at work, but then I've never cared much for Halloween, either. Some people do -- different strokes for different folks. While day-playing on "United States of Tara" a couple of years ago, I was stunned to find a good portion of the crew all dolled up in vintage rock-and-roll outfits -- the theme for that particular Friday.

One of the juicers came in a camo jumpsuit with his face in full black and white "Kiss" makeup. I had to seek him out the following week just to find out what he really looked like so I'd recognize him in the future.

There were lots of other very creative costumes all around set that day, and although wearing anything like that would have driven me nuts, this crew had fun with it. They all worked their asses off, too -- none of them stood around admiring their costumes while letting everybody else do the work. After lunch that night, they had a contest for best costume, and the whole crew really got into it.

This would have been unthinkable when I was their age, coming up through the ranks, but we live and work in a different era now. It's not for me -- I wouldn't feel comfortable working in costume -- but the crew of "Tara" demonstrated that it's possible to have a very different kind of fun while doing a really great job on set.

Episodic television can be a meat-grinder, and although old dogs can't always learn these new tricks, I had to admire that crew for their spirit and sense of fun in a job that all too often sinks into the grim quicksand of tedium.

A.J. said...

Michael - I think I'm just a spoil-sport. :) That's a pretty fun story though!

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