The film biz is a strange one for many reasons. High on the list is the quirky boss-employee dynamic. Most jobs involve a person going to an office or factory and performing some function that has an established standard of quality. A boss is present to ensure that those under his/her supervision meet that standard. Employers and employees could go on in this way for years or decades. Some old-school jobs are often handed down from one generation to the next as the older worker paves the way for their son or daughter to step into a well-defined position.
Not so in the movie biz.
For starters, a film production has a limited duration. This could be weeks or months. A successful TV show may employ the same crew for years, but that’s a rarity. So right off the employer-employee relationship is not based on a years-long relationship. The shift is to more personal relationships where a network of people align themselves together. In this way, the feature business is comprised of cells within cells. A director may have a favorite cinematographer and director they like to work with. That’s one cell. In turn that cinematographer may have an lighting crew they like to work with. That’s another cell. Being part of a successful cell is essential to a career.
Every film production is different with it’s own special set of challenges. There is well-defined criteria for success. Those efficiency experts from a hundred years ago who analyzed every office function, from the proximity of desk to filing cabinet to the placement of keys on a typewriter, would be stumped on a film set. There is no efficiency in doing something for the first time, and film’s are often inventing new wheels or at least new treads on old wheels. Experience matters in such cases as the larger your bag of tricks, the more people will respect your ability to handle any situation.
And then there is the BIG LIE. We all known Hollywood as the dream factory, but the fantasy can extend behind the camera. When a production is up and running there is an unspoken rule to remain supportive of the creative aspirations of the film. Like a North Korean pep rally, the crew works to achieve the creative team’s goals, even if those goals are lame. There are practical reason for this mass hypnosis. First, film production is so crazy that any dissension could spark a creative mutiny and throw the entire production off schedule. Second, no crew-person wants to be the lead mutineer because they would probably lose whatever standing they had in their career cell. Even those above the line folks—writers, producers, directors, actors—are loath to break the bubble of widespread enthusiasm for fear of being thrown off the money train.