There was a TV show called Film School on cable just two or three years ago that followed some students at NYU Film School. I watched a few episodes and never got sucked in, but perhaps that was because the show followed older students instead of first years (at least I believe it did; my memory of the show is fuzzy).
My classmates and I all shot a short project last quarter using a roll of 16mm film donated by the school. This quarter, we were given four days to shoot a 6 page script. We were split into three groups, my group being, once again, the group missing a seventh member.
The one condition that remained the same from our first quarter project was that we'd be assigned one of seven crew positions on each shoot each weekend. Each person would serve as one of the following crew members exactly once: director, assistant director, director of photography, gaffer, sound mixer, boom operator (since I was in the group short one person, we had to find our own boom operators).
The key point is that first year film school directors are assigned classmates to serve as crew while second and third years usually choose their own crew members. Choosing your own crew probably leads to a more pleasant, harmonious shoot. But if you want the type of hysterical drama that makes for engaging reality TV, the type that inspires a sense of car crash rubbernecking on the part of the audience, filling them with a soothing schadenfreude, then handing a whole class of directors a random set of crew members is a brilliant concept.
Every one in the class has one position they're best at, and one position they're worst at. You find out more about a person when they serve in either of those capacities than at any other time. Students in their second or third year shared stories of tears, fistfights, and shouting matches. After a rather smooth fall quarter on our 2-minute film shoots, I thought we'd come through the winter quarter relatively unscathed. But ah, the pressure of the film set should not be underestimated.
Because we were limited to a 4 hour shoot in the fall quarter, the damage from personality clashes and skills deficiencies were minimized. But this quarter, with four days of 12 hour shoots (and more, if a director wanted to push his cast and crew into that dark forest called overtime), tiny cracks in each production team spread and grew into gaping fissures.
Movie sets foster rumor the way NYC trash attracts rats. Perhaps it's the division of a crew into departments, each with its own culture and responsibilities. I've always been intimidated by union grips. Actors, of course, have a certain exalted status on set. The whole process of making a movie creates dozens of micro-stories. Did you hear that this actor was late to set this morning? Did you know that so and so lost his mind and yelled at so and so (see Russell, David O.)? Yes, it's true, she just started crying. I think he was on something--did you see his eyes?
Our first quarter professor told us of recent studies that show that humans thrive on gossip, that it's a sociological instinct. After this quarter, I'm starting to believe him. Splitting our class into three different groups for the quarter promoted what is already a gossip-filled environment. Not only did we have stories to share from our own sets, but whenever we ran into someone from one of the other two groups on break, stories would be swapped as readily as cigarettes.
This type of environment walks a fine line between therapeutic and toxic. At Amazon we always liked to say that brands are like quick-drying cement. It's not different with a person's reputation. That first impression is a bear to shed.
I tend to shy away from drama. It's not my style to act out, and for the most part I try to keep emotion out of disagreements. But it only takes a single person to detonate a group.
And so, at the end of our second quarter of film school, it becomes clearer who will work with whom next year when each director is responsible for assembling his or her own crew. I think most people have at least a half dozen or so people they'd be willing to work for, and there's always outside help, especially in LA. 2nd year shoots should be smoother sailing, but they'll make for lousy TV.