It was an exceptionally hot 🔥 July day up in Squamish. We were standing under the noon day sun, clothed in mid-90s “tactical/technical wear” that was far better suited for a stroll through the shady woods in October.
Ben Immanuel seen here over-dressed and over-acting with the late great Richard Crenna in 1998 action-comedy “Wrongfully Accused.”
I was riding high on some recent independent film successes followed by this, my first supporting lead in a big studio movie. I would be on set for several weeks of work, and for whatever reason, on this sweltering day, the director of the film seemed to choose me as the guy he took out his frustrations on.
We were shooting a scene, a sight gag in this whacky big budget action-comedy, where my character, a U.S. Marshall, is supposed to be signaling passing planes in morse code with spotlights that inexplicably appear out of nowhere. I didn’t really get the joke, but I committed to it by mugging with a raised eyebrow into the sky, an overly serious and focussed expression on my face as I flashed the lights on and off. As the cameras rolled, the director would yell out “directions” like, “What are you doing?” What is that face you’re making?” “No, no, no ... Jesus, what was that?”
As I kept trying to get it right, I saw that the first camera assistant, directly in my eye line, was clamping his eyes shut, tilting his head back, breathing deeply with exasperation.
The cameras kept rolling. The director kept barking at me. “Do it again. Do it again. Come on, do it again.” It was going on forever. My face was flushed, my heart was pounding. The 1st AC, whose face was now the only thing I could see, was squirming more and more with every effort I made to deliver the gag to the director’s satisfaction.
Beside me, the kindly, award-winning veteran actor playing my boss was wilting in the heat. He was too old for this nonsense, but too generous and well-mannered to complain. The director didn’t have any adjustments for me -- he just kept telling me how badly I was failing.
The 1st AC was now stamping his heel into the ground with every botched attempt I made at selling the joke.
Already humiliated by the director’s bullying, I abruptly stopped in the middle of the endless take and stepped over to the 1st AC. Through gritted teeth, I quietly snarled, “You got a fucking problem, man?”
The 1st AC looked at me with desperation in his eyes, a bead of sweat trickling down his temple. “Sorry, Ben”, he whispered. “I just gotta take a shit real bad right now.”
I felt like such a dick. After a beat, with the cameras still rolling I returned to my mark, banged off a few more takes, none of which appeared in the film (the whole scene was cut) and the director mercifully called “cut.” Like a fire brigade, the hair and make-up team sprinted over to the drooping Hollywood actor with umbrellas and bottles of water.
I stood and watched as the 1st AC quickly scuttled away with his butt cheeks squeezed together, in search of the nearest toilet. I’m not entirely sure the poor guy made it in time.
It was an important lesson; one I have never forgotten.
Everyone on the crew has a job to do and everyone has a physical and emotional life outside of that job that may, at times, affect their behaviour on set. The days are long, as are the weeks and in many cases, the months. When things get a bit difficult for someone, try not to immediately take it personally.
Yes, there are certainly times when you must stand up for yourself and each other. Inappropriate, rude, or disrespectful conduct is thankfully no longer tolerated on film sets, as it was not that long ago. Equitable working conditions are supposed to be mandatory. That director was being a total dick that day. Who knows why? I was still a young actor back then and I was too intimidated to speak with him about it to find out. I just wanted to keep my job.
Of course, it’s totally within your rights to express your concerns calmly, privately to those in charge if you feel mistreated. If you feel too intimidated, call your agent or union rep, and share your concerns with them so they can handle it thought the proper channels.
But pick your battles. Maybe you can make the situation better and help the day go smoother by simply choosing not to react to something that probably has nothing to do with you.
Don’t take on other people’s daily, human struggles. Not your circus, not your monkey. Be an aspirin, not a headache. Don’t be a dick!