The alarm went off at 4am, there was no way I wanted to spend another day on the indie film set from hell. The promise of money and my reputation in the indie film world was the only thing that got my tired ass out of bed.
The last 3 days had been a cluster fuck to say the least. Actors dropped out, costuming didn’t arrive, we were behind schedule, and we were out of money. It wasn’t my problem I was in charge of make up. I had my kit, my team and I knew the script. What I didn’t have was a clue to what the newbie director wanted.
Grayson Armstrong, apparently Gods new gift to filmmaking – or so he thought. Grayson had never made a movie before, never went to film school but he was sure he could bring something new to the ever-plentiful world of Horror; a.K.a. the most over-done genre being done in filmmaking to date. My guess he had these delusions of grandeur was because he watched a horror film or two and thought, how hard can it be?
This was my fifth straight horror film to do make up on. Green zombies, ghost zombies, clown zombies, black and white Romero zombies, I could do the make up in my sleep. Every director thought they were bringing something new to zombies but on each set they asked the same damn design from me.
“I want them to look like ‘Night of the Living Dead’ but better” they would say.
Grayson wrote the script while he was drunk and high with mutual colleagues of mine. It was his first script.
“It was a first script that a film school would have told him to throw away and now write a real script,” the Gaffer said to me.
Max, the Gafffer, who handled the lights, went to USC film school and had three scripts in progress in his car at any given moment.
Most film school people were this way. I went to St. Anne’s Beauty School on the south side so I guess I had an edge of distaste for people with no training who thought they could do what I do.
Grayson had the only things it matters to make a movie anymore – had a friend who had a camera, connections and an internet connection. Facebook was the wicked source that drug us into this project. I swear Grayson went through Geoff friends list and coned us all into this shoot. Geoff, the camera man, wasn’t a super friend of mine but he was making a good deal of films and he and I had worked together on a few. I saw the crew and cast list grow with more friendly names. I asked about pay. Grayson offered me more than I asked for so I took the gig.
One production meeting that pretty much was just a script read later and we were on set. Crew call was at 6am at a little run down shack in the middle of nowhere. There was no coffee on set when I arrive and more importantly no actors. The first actor call wasn’t until 7am and I needed to get 3 key actors in full make up ready to shoot by 7:30pm.
Surprise, surprise, there was a wait on set for make up. The Assistant Director was all over my ass that we were already behind schedule and we hadn’t got our first shot off. As calm as a mouse, I let him know that I sat around for an hour ready to do make up but there was no actors. Then when they arrived the director wanted to talk about their motivation which involved…
DIRECTOR: You ready for today?
ACTOR: Dude, yeah, sure.
DIRECTOR: Alright let’s get you into make up.
ACTOR: Where do I get coffee?
When time is being crunched due to improper planning everyone on set suddenly has ideas. Even the dude holding the slate will have an idea of how to do a quick zombie make up to get 15 zombies ready for a shot in an hour.
“I saw this on a behind the scenes, once,” the slate dude started.
I would fuzz them all out. The second I stopped and listed to the ideas they had the more they would slow me down because nothing can just be done it all has to go through the channels. It has to go through the Script Supervisor to make sure there is continuity to the shots already in the can. It has to go through the Assistant Director to make sure there is time. Then it has to go to the director for his approval. Each one of the those conversations has another handful of ears listening in who – of course – all have another idea of how I can do my job faster. This process of figuring out what to do with the fact that there is a hold on an actor who is in make up is mute because by the time the circle-jerk conversation has finished and got back to me, I’m done with the 15 zombies and they are ready to shoot. That is until they have to tweak the lights because the camera man isn’t totally happy yet.
So with my job done, I sit by a monitor – if there is one – in this case there wasn’t. Only a 2×3 LCD monitor off the junky camera to look through to make sure the actors weren’t shinny or messed up their face by sneezing or touching their face.
Grayson was dead weight, my wiener dog Rocky can give more direction than Grayson. The actors did their lines the same as they did at the table read, the same I’m sure they did at the auditions. Actually I’m not sure they did auditions, I’m sure it was all whoever was available on facebook and on Geoff’s friend list.
Simple questions were asked of Grayson.
“Do you want another take?”
“Was that what you wanted?”
A silence that I wished was filled with nails on a chalkboard filled the air. Inside I screamed “Answer, the damn question!”
After a long pause the answer was always “it was fine.”
Nothing thrilled Grayson except his own reflection. He’s pose for pictures near the camera every chance he could. He arrived on the set acting like JJ Abrams. He asked the media to come to set and we lost 2 hours while he talked to a reporter when we could have been shooting something.
By day 5, the production teetered on the edge of collapse. The AD was freaking out about the schedule; the actors couldn’t have the shoot extended because they had other gigs, day jobs or kids to get home to. Most people just wanted to get home and get away from what was becoming an ego-fest. That, and the fact Geoff started being the director. Which was needed, but confusing to everyone because of the assumed chain-of-command.
The schedule changed for the better for me. I got the actors in early and started. But then the actors were sitting around ready for a set that was being reconstructed to the camera man’s liking regardless of what was in the script. Grayson didn’t seem to flinch. I don’t know if it bothered him or he knew that his lack of experience was starting to show.
Actors being actors, want everyone to like them because it leads to their next job. Plus as Maria said to me between takes “it doesn’t matter shoot sucks, if I look good on my reel, it’s all worth it.” I wished that was true but on some sets it’s not worth it.
I packed up m kit for the last time on day 6. I got the last actor on call to set on time. I packed a little touch up kit in a ziplock bag just in case. I wanted to just hand the bag to the AD and wish him well but I stuck around for my money.
At lunch I saw a few actors talking to the director, it looked like they were getting paid.
I waited until I could talk to Grayson alone, I didn’t like brining up money in the first place but I really didn’t like doing it in front of others. Something about it always made me feel like a hooker.
When the AD called wrap on production I waited until Grayson got his hugs from the actors.
“Grayson, I need to jet, what about my pay is that now or…”
Grayson replied, “I had to pay the actors who were out of state, can I pay you next week?”
Like an idiot, I said yes. A week turned into a month. No emails, calls or facebook messages from Grayson. So I asked. The last of the money had to go into post-production. Then story changed to Grayson was flat broke but the promise of paying me after the premiere.
“This is what I need to get by” he said.
I waited six months. I bought three tickets so my family could come see my work. I cringed as I looked around the crowd. What was being hailed as a sold out show was anything but. The theater was half full. I doubted again if I would ever see my money.
Promises were written but never delivered on. DVD’s were made and sold but I never got a copy or got paid.
The horrible horror film that was more of a thriller with zombies went out to Grayson’s facebook friends who gave it glowing reviews. He sent it to festivals that Geoff knew so he would be a shoe in to show and win. The buzz machine was on full blast and no one ever talked about how much a mess the shoot was. No one from the crew ever worked with Grayson again. Geoff went off to direct his own projects. Max and I would work on other shoots together and we’d bitch but we were still working. Only those actors who firmly planted their lips to Grayson’s ass were attached to his new project, which for some reason could never find money.
But if you never learned nothing than nothing’s in order. I learned my lesson. Take projects for 3 reasons and 3 reasons only: for pay, for love or for fun. If it doesn’t fit into one of those perimeters, then you won’t see Gwen Roma’s name on it.