On the surface, Hollywood is all bright lights, fame, and free food at movie shoots. It is all that, of course, but it’s much more complicated once you’re actually in it.
Getting to Hollywood is the dream of millions and more difficult to attain than a Harvard acceptance. Yet, the cutthroat culture doesn’t end when you get there. We read about it in tabloids, we listened to interviews, and, well, Hollywood even makes movies about Hollywood. People who have actually worked behind the scenes of the “industry” have stories that are worse than you’d imagine. From bratty celebs to nightmare producers, this Hollywood isn’t the La-La Land we all heard about.
35. People Are Passed Up Quicker Than They Think
I was a lowly intern for a big production company during film school. We were doing a pitch day where writers and other producer-wannabes came in to pitch their ideas. We (six of us) sat at a long table while the potential filmmakers told us their ideas hoping for funding. Before we started, the executive producer said, “If you hear me say the word ‘pass’ in any context, that’s code for ‘stop taking notes and have zero follow-up questions’ so we can get the duds sorted out quickly.”
People were coming in and pitching and a few minutes into their stories he would say, “Pass me a pen,” or “Pass-trami for lunch okay with everyone?” He was having fun coming up with ways to interrupt the pitchers with his hidden code word. Well, the worst one was a guy from Minnesota who had this kids’ movie idea that a lot of people back home loved. It got some attention and the right people agreed to set up this pitch meeting for him. The guy was written up in his town paper, local boy goes to Hollywood, they named a drink after him in this small town, the town got together to raise money for his trip out to big ol’ Hollywood, hero worship to the hilt. Anyhow, he walks in, sets up an easel and the executive producer immediately says, “Are you coming from Pass-adena?” Done, over. Pens down. All he’d said was his name and its a pleasure to be here and he got passed. I felt bad for everyone that day but I felt especially bad for him. He went on to pitch his entire story, his hometown hero personal story, and all the executive producer was doing was drawing geometric shapes on his notepad.
34. Everyone Has An Ego
Most people in the “business” are conceited jerks. I interned on a (bad, short-lived) reality show for MTV. The producers were the biggest jerks who thought they were great because they had been “handpicked” for this job (they had very short resumes) and treated everyone above them like gods and everyone below them like slaves. One spilled her entire drink on my personal laptop when I was out of the room. When I returned and saw it sitting in a puddle (she hadn’t even attempted to clean it up) she said, “Yeah, that was me. You shouldn’t leave your computer on the desk.”
33. The Pay Isn’t Great. Actually, It’s Terrible
I had a producer call me specifically because he had many glowing recommendations for me and sang my praises. Then he asked my daily rate for a feature. Then after a big sigh from him and an awkward silence he asked if I could work for 10 days for $25 dollars a day. After another even longer awkward silence from me waiting to see if it was a joke, I asked him if he was serious. He said yes. I said I wouldn’t work for that little because it’s the equivalent of two bucks an hour for highly skilled labor. He told me I didn’t know what I was missing and that he would give out terrible recommendations to others about me because I turned him down.
32. Standards Are High, To Say The Least
One time I had an audition and I had a zit on the side of my nose and the casting director just said, “Come back when you get a bar of soap.”
31. People In Film Don’t Understand Film
I had a producer who couldn’t understand that if you want a shot sped up but kept the same length, you will need more footage. This was a man who had been working in this field for about twenty years. He was the best friend of the owner, which was probably the only reason he still had a job.
30. You Aren’t Covered For Asbestos
The most messed up thing I’ve been a part of was filming at an abandoned mental hospital that was vacated in the 80s, which meant it was full of asbestos and lead paint dust. There were two respirator masks on the whole set and the rest of the people were expected to make do with a particle mask. No one wanted to be high maintenance (or if they did, they just quit the shoot) so we all just stupidly accepted the risk and spent a month being exposed to asbestos and extreme lead dust.
29. There Are Some Interesting Stress Relief Methods
I started in a big talent agency. People were encouraged to lie about their hours and work late. People threw office supplies at their assistant’s head. I’ve seen several people get fired on the spot for relatively minor things. I had a buddy start at a new job as an assistant and his boss called him to his office. The boss ripped off his headset, crushed it in his hands and threw it across the room. When my buddy left his office, the coordinator who was previously this guy’s assistant brought him over to a drawer where there were 20 more headsets. Apparently, this guy pulled this move so often they just had a drawer of headsets for the occasion.
28. Miranda Priestley Is Real
One rainy day he asked me to get him coffee across the street. I went out into the rain and picked up a coffee. When I brought it back he sipped it and goes, “what is this!?” To which I was terrified, wondering what I had done wrong. He then had me call a specific production company and see what his favorite other producer got for coffee because that’s what he wanted to drink that day.
27. Laws Are Ignored
I was the guy who edits the footage to see if any equipment was in the shot (stage light, mic, etc). One of my coworkers in the editing department was terminated for “evading time at the workstation by spending a prolonged amount of time in a vehicle”. This man was a paraplegic in a wheelchair; his legs were paralyzed and it took him about 25 minutes to get in and out of his car. He only worked there for six months.
26. Celebrities Steal, Too
I worked on a movie set many years ago. Part of my job was to make sure the (very well-known) female star didn’t steal wardrobe. Apparently, she would demand certain brands of clothing and shoes for costume fittings and then sneak them out of her trailer.
About an hour after the fitting, I’m getting ready to leave and as I walk to my car I see her and her assistant come out of the trailer with 10 boxes of shoes. TEN! We’re talking Gucci, Manolo Blahnik, Jimmy Choo, Louboutin—easily $20,000 worth of shoes that she just decided to take home. Before I could say anything, she told me that the Director told her it was okay. I knew that was a lie but what could I do?
25. Everyone Is Making Themselves Sick
Thinness and appearance are all that matter. I regularly saw women who seemed like they might just pass out in front of us and no one batted an eye. Even “down to earth” industry people obsess over their weight, their skin, even the “visual age” of their hands. And it spreads. Even people who aren’t on camera or even involved in the industry have these weird plastic appearances.
24. The Pay Is Bad And Sometimes, It Never Comes
A week and a half before Christmas, we’re on the last day of shooting and everyone goes on strike because apparently no one has gotten paid—crew, vendors, locations, actors, NOBODY. Union reps show up, producers are flown in from LA. Somehow, the producers say, “Bros, we’re so sorry. The money will be here tomorrow. Let’s just finish up tonight and then we’ll have all your money,” at which the union replies, “Aw shucks fellas, you guys are the best.”
Surprise! We finish up. Producers send us an email the next morning (which was like three hours after we wrapped because we were working nights) with their lawyers’ contact info explaining there is no money and that we have to talk to their lawyer for more information. A WEEK BEFORE CHRISTMAS!! At that point, I was owed a full week of work, two extra days, and an adjusted paycheck when they tried to pay me PA rate. As of today, I still haven’t gotten it all back.
23. Hollywood Is Still Very Racist
I work in development. The thing that continually surprises me is that it is almost impossible to cast any person of color as a lead unless it is directly and almost exclusively targeted towards a specific racial audience. So it’s ok to cast a black man as the lead in a Tyler Perry movie, but not as the lead of a wide-release, all-audience film. The rationale behind this I’ve heard repeated by many producers, sales agents etc. is that these movies “don’t sell well”. Essentially, they are saying that a lot of people are casual racists and making say… a romantic comedy with a black guy and a white woman will keep these people out of the theatre and tank the prospects for your movie.
Although this is a harsh and unfortunately not particularly surprising truth, what’s shocking to me is that everyone accepts it. I’ve had producers claim that we can’t cast an Asian man as a romantic lead because women “buy the stereotype” about penis size and wouldn’t find him attractive, while another script wouldn’t cast a young black woman as a concert pianist because it “doesn’t connect culturally”. Movies and TV, like sports, are something that can truly bring people and the fact that people in the industry buy into this idea is pretty depressing.
22. Celebrity’s Families Sell Them Out
A very well-known pop star’s uncle offering information on said pop star for cash. Everything from baby pictures and videos, to her whereabouts. You name it. It all had a price.
This happens more than you realize.
21. There Are Tons Of Exploitative Side Gigs
I can’t count the number of editors I know who shore up their income by teaching “advanced” editing techniques in a three-day weekend for $1,000. Those film classes are populated by movie fanatics, most of whom will never work in the industry. Have your script looked over by a professional script-reader. Get notes back on your script, like you would receive from a studio or executive. Polish your script, so it is a green-lightable script before you submit it. $150 for professional script reviewing. Voice acting class. $750 to learn to talk into a microphone. Good microphone technique is the “only” thing stopping you from a lucrative career in commercials and cartoons. Are you not getting the parts you know you should? You need better headshots ($$) than the ones you send out. A completely legitimate screenwriting contest, submit your script with a $40 entry fee. A prize (a couple bucks from each entry fee) is awarded to the best script. You should be an overnight success, for $1500 I can show you how to fix the one thing that is holding that up.
20. Safety Is No One’s Concern
It is stunning how little regard for personal health and safety of the cast and crew actually exists on a lot of sets. On set, time really truly is money, so things get pushed way farther than they should way too often. This is especially true for Indie or “guerilla” filmmakers. Add in the fact that a lot of these folks have very little experience with staged combat and prop weapons, things of that nature, and you have a recipe for disaster.
19. Live Studio Audiences Are Curated
I used to seat audience for a late show with a live audience. I would have to seat people by attractiveness. That is, attractive people to the front closer to the cameras, and less attractive in the back where they can’t be seen. This is done in all shows with an audience.
18. Artists Really Are Divas
Back in the ’90s when MTV played Music video and top artists were spending millions on their music video, I got called late in the day to come to help out a shoot that was going long into the night.
I get to the set, it’s a massive shoot at a harbor with a rented battleship as part of the location, military assistance, two helicopters, 200-man crew… The main talent showed up seven-hours late to call. (Because that’s how artists roll.) I saw the Line Producer, he was ashen and looked like he was about to puke.
17. You Might Need To Pay People To Be Around You
A well-known actor we all love fell out with a director, who was a bit of a ham. To be honest, he didn’t like the director much from the start. Toward the end of production, things had deteriorated so badly, the director had to pay the actor in petty cash to perform things he didn’t want to do. If I recall correctly, the sum was $100 per ask.
16. The Kids Are Not Alright
The one thing I loathed more were auditions. You had to get there early and be in a room with hundreds of other kids and their stage parents. Most of the time, the kids were cool and just wanted to hang out and talk about video games and Pokémon. Stage parents, on the other hand, were complete jerks. They would say things like “Don’t play with them. You’re better than them,” or “They’re not star-material. Don’t associate with them.” I did meet quite a few kids who did act and think they were the next Brad Pitt.
15. Reality TV Ruins People
Producers encouraging a cast member who was a recovering alcoholic to drink so that they would make an idiot out of themselves on TV. The guy spoiled two years of sobriety.
14. If You Won’t Risk Your Life, Someone Else Will
I was on a gig, hired as a grip, and brought to the Hollywood sign for some b-roll. Up on the hill, behind the thing.
It was me and some other crew members. Now, we get there and I’m thinking okay, so, shiny boards? Bounce? Simple camera courtesies? Light AC work even? Nope.
Without telling me what the job would entail, they had brought me on so I could essentially carry all of the camera stuff down the hill to the base of the sign. For those of you that haven’t been up there, it is steep.
As the ranger was unlocking the gate so we could get down there, he started talking about how sometimes even on the flat ground by the base of the sign, the earth will just give way and send you tumbling. I asked one of the crew if he’d at least brought rope or something to use as a safety line, and he remarked, “No, you won’t need it, why? What, are you scared?” At this point, I’d had enough. I asked why they booked me without telling me this is what the job was—why didn’t we have access to bathrooms for all of the 12-hour day? Why didn’t they even let me know to wear climbing shoes or bring a rope? They apologized, but when I said I didn’t feel comfortable hauling lens cases and sticks down 50 feet of steeply graded sand/boulders they shrugged and asked someone else to do it.
13. There Are Lots Of Scam Artists
I had no connections in Hollywood so I began sending out specs through craigslist. I got a lead. A producer wanted to talk to me about my script. Imagine my excitement. I took a ninety-minute bus ride to the beach, where I spoke with one of the producer’s underlings.
As we spoke, I realized that no one had even read my script. Then he told me that I needed to pay a professional to read my script. He could get me a deal. My heart sank. It was a scam. He represented himself as a movie producer looking for a hit, and he was actually selling a script reader service.
12. There Is A Lot Of Showboating
Some of the producers were tossing out the most useless ideas to the artists and they’re all sitting there trying to figure out what the heck the guy really wants. What’s worse is when you get external producers working with our internal producers and both are mostly useless. It made for a lot of frustration. We also had one guy buy a Porsche Boxer and have it delivered to the office where his assistant announced it over the PA system so we could all hear it. I don’t know of anyone that was very pleased with that.
11. People Really Do Throw Phones
I was working as a secretary (one of three) for a semi-famous producer in Beverly Hills. He would have tantrums like a two-year-old when he got stressed out. One day, he couldn’t find a script he was looking for in his office; he was screaming for someone to come help him look for it. I went in and he picked up his desk phone and threw it at me narrowly missing my head (glad I ducked) and it exploded on the wall behind me. I wasn’t there long!
10. Total Perfection Means Lots Of Waste
I work at a printing company. Printed pieces for large DVD displays. One of the displays was printed and ready to ship. $100,000s+ worth of stuff ready to go. It was all thrown in the trash because the sister of a huge star (was his manager) didn’t like the way his hand looked.
9. Evil Directors
I work at a post facility and we once worked with a well-known spoiled director. Every review would be a circus with him yelling and screaming, getting calls from his mother, and just being an all-around jerk. Once he actually brought his cardiologist to review our work because he thought it would be entertaining. Throughout that summer, he consistently harrassed our client service member, going as far as prank calling her as a different director to ask what she thought about him.
8. You Are Expected To Do It For Free
Generally, people just trying to get you to work for free, through manipulation and intimidation and acting like they’re doing you a favor for it. There’s a dangerous combination of idealism and predators in Hollywood, and it’s everywhere, at every level in the business. Thank God for unions.
7. Tragedy Can Play Out On Television
I worked on a reality show where the star passed away. She performed a huge show in Mexico, and then she was on her way to a TV spot, and her plane crashed.
She was one of the most real, down to earth people in the whole world. She came from nothing and built herself an empire. She was often late to shoots because she stopped to visit a sick fan in the hospital, she donated so much time and money to charity, and she provided everything for the people around her.
6. The Work Hours Are Insane
I once worked for a month as a PA on an independent film. I worked 12- to 18-hour days with as little as four hours of sleep sometimes. And I didn’t get paid.
5. If You Are Overweight, You Are A Stereotype
Anyways, a few years ago, I used to weigh about 340 pounds. I am over six feet tall, so I guess I gave off what people in the film industry might call a “big guy persona”—you know, the guy who only exists to provide some form of backup or comedic relief.
The roles involved exactly what you might think it would be: eating, eating, and more eating. Pretty much every single scene I was involved in, I was essentially supposed to be the butt of fat jokes. A slobbering mess of a man. When you’re on set in that sort of situation, what you realize is that the difference between your life and a movie isn’t too big, maybe other than the fact that people express their opinions out loud in a movie, and in real life, they might keep those opinions to themselves or talk behind your back.
4. The Shooting Schedules Can Be Deadly
I had a friend pass away after driving back to the hotel from being on set too late. Drove right off the interstate.
3. If Something Bad Happens, You Keep It To Yourself
The industry is politics. People know people. If you’re still climbing the ladder, the last thing you need is someone who is well connected talking bad about you. Imagine playing six degrees you’re entire life. Yes, I could have reported it, but then I’m the person who got rid of that producer. Then other shows may be worried I could rat out them for something personal too. Or that the guy hiring me may know that producer and wants to maintain a good working relationship cause he has something they need, so I’ll get passed up so he doesn’t ruin that.
And “HR” doesn’t exist unless you’re in a union pretty much. I’ve never once seen or met HR. They’re in a studio on the other side of the city. I called once for a lost check. That’s it.
2. Not Everyone Likes Stunt Weapons
There was a scene with a line of “dead” soldiers lying on the ground. This line was made up of mannequins and enough real extras to make it look believable. A stunt guy playing a German then walked along the line “stabbing” the mannequins whilst being careful to miss the real guys. Well, he didn’t. This guy gets a little ahead of himself and manages to stab his buddy in the chest.
The best part? He’d been offered a stunt bayonet before shooting and had turned it down because it “didn’t look real enough”.
So much for a “trained professional”.
Incidentally, on this same shoot, another extra stormed offset after almost being run over by a tank whilst playing dead in the middle of a field.
1. Expensive Dogs Still Bite
I got bit by Jerry Bruckheimer’s giant $35k German Shepard named Goodspeed at his house as a PA and all I got was a lousy new pair of jeans.