I Wrote a Thing About What It’s Like Working at a Movie Studio
The Nametagged Nameless
I am currently employed in a position just below the bottom of the totem pole at a major movie studio. I am paid better than any job I’ve ever had and I have benefits. I am very lucky. A movie studio, it may surprise you to learn, is a palpably odd place to work. To grasp the inherent oddness of a studio, you need only scan the area around the on-lot coffee shop at lunchtime. Here is a list of people you might see with a single sweep of your gaze:
#1 – An angry middle-aged, union protected laborer with a cigarette in his mouth and a ponytail on the back of his head. You will know him by his trademark “frown.”
#2 – A man or woman or non-binary gendered person in business casual clothing. They, like me, will either be eating alone and enjoying the pleasure of NOT answering an email for a moment OR putting on a fake smile and pretending to be friends with someone who is similarly dressed to them. The latter is called “networking.”
#3 – A somewhat well-known actor from a somewhat well-known television show. Despite what most people may think, every single one of these people are very nice and humble except for the boy named Jack who plays a super powered 15-year old on a television show intended for 10-year olds.
#4 – A coffee shop employee on their break. This person will spend most of their break imagining the deaths of everyone around them. Particularly those of the #2s, the #5s and Jack.
#5 – A tourist. Typically loud and maddeningly self-entitled, these folks can often be found stealing from the company store and crying when they find out they cannot “swing by” the president of the studio’s office to pitch them a movie idea about a rapping parakeet.
#6 – The president of the company. He or she (just kidding…it’s he) will be wearing a very expensive suit. Were it not for this suit, #6’s constant pattering back and forth would make him look like the type of misplaced elderly person normally escorted from malls or shushed at movies. No one talks to (or even networks with!) #6 because he is scary and powerful. For this reason, #6 seems lonely and longing for one real friend in this world.
#7 – Academy and Emmy award winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin.
#8 – Taylor Kitsch.
Those are all the people I saw just this morning. The intersection of these types of people is largely unheard of in other jobs in other parts of the country. When you work in a hotel, you never see a customer, an employee, the inventor of the continental breakfast, and Warren Holidayinn in the same room. Stranger still, very few of these people interact with anyone outside their number rank, unless required to for work (like said homicidal coffee shop employees).
If the union laborer took pause from his loud tirade, spoken into a Bluetooth headset, about how he didn’t get his aforementioned cigarette into his mouth until 25 minutes after he was legally supposed to, he might discover a tourist very interested in hearing about his day-to-day profession. If the employees in business casual stopped laughing too loudly at a putrid possible contact’s racist joke, they could learn Taylor Kitsch really wanted them to come over say “hi” because he thinks they are cute and Taylor Kitsch is shy. And, if the president of the company bothered to get to know the barista who makes his coffee every day, he might discover a young person brimming with ideas and talent that has only taken the job for the purpose of inching closer to the industry they’ve loved their whole lives.
But none of these things happen. Partly because they are embarrassingly optimistic fictions that don’t really happen anywhere but also because no one interacts. Except for the pages.
I didn’t count the pages in the list above because no one EVER seems to count them. They are, ironically, the MOST obvious people on the on the lot with their matching, unflattering half-khaki suits. They give tours to tourists (the root of the word!) and provide guidance to the lost. And yet, no one ever pays them much mind. Unless of course someone near them of superior rank (read: everyone) wants to yell at something. Much like a Tyrannosaurus-Rex’s eyesight is based on movement, pages are only visible to their superiors if they’ve done something wrong.
When that happens, the offended can refer to a page’s ever-helpful mandatory nametag. It is an unspoken rule at major movie studios that a nametag should only be referred to for scolding or shaming, and NEVER for thanking or congratulating. If, on the off chance one of these interchangeable penguins does commit something OTHER than sin, their manager will hear of “how helpful that red-headed page was. The boy one. Or maybe it was a girl?”
Despite this high-risk/low-reward ratio the pages find themselves stuck in, they DO interact. It is their job to be the brightest, shiniest, most personable peon in the whole machine. These nametagged nameless live their lives leapfrogging from one small lily pad of opportunity to another. They are hungry and determined and they want nothing more than to be on the list of people you notice. It’s difficult, but many of them do achieve this feat. One good tour with that one anomalous person searching for new and young help can change their lives in an instant. It will propel them to a place where they can cast off the wretched nametag and uniform.
It will propel them away from the people who care about them. Away from the surreal camaraderie of other people who know what it’s like to be the constant subject of condescension. They will find themselves working with new people to whom they want to relate and befriend but can’t. They discover what’s off the first time they hear a fellow full-timer talk about how disposable the pages are; the first time they see “pages” on a budget sheet right beneath “office supplies.” They’ll discover that a huge part of their identity wasn’t only thankless but also dehumanized. It’s something they often joked about and even knew, but it was always their joke to make and no one else’s.
Sure, they’ll get paid more than any other job they’ve ever had; they’ll have benefits. But it’ll feel like their first experience with selling out. It’s the first time they’ll really grasp the cliché “rude awakening.” “I thought I had a long way to go when I was wearing a nametag,” they’ll think. “I’ve only just started.”