When a Movie Shoot Resembles a Robbery

Jake Thomas
Making Movies
Published in
4 min readSep 5, 2020


A camera operator sits on a stepladder against a blue night sky
Photo by Lorenzo Belassen on Unsplash

We learn so many unexpected lessons when making movies.

Case in point…

March 2014

It’s a freezing cold midnight in skid row of downtown Los Angeles.

I’m standing in the gated loading dock of The Warehaas, current home to Love Nail Tree, who has given us temporary shelter to lens the short film we’ve been working on since the previous December, an action-fantasy-comedy called Hotwire.

My wife Erin Brown Thomas is directing. She’s currently perched up on the warehouse roof with her director of photography Beth Napoli and two professional stuntmen who are dressed as ninjas.

It’s my fault they’re dressed as ninjas. I wrote the dang script.

Hotwire is a fourteen-pager about a shy guy who loves action movies. He views life through the lens of action movies. And the night he decides to tell his best friend just how much he loves her, he can’t help but imagine the myriad of complications playing out as if the two of them were heroes in an action movie.

Gosh, I think. I should have worn more layers. I’m shivering on the ground level, looking up at the crew members on the roof.

We only have one night to shoot these pickup shots, because it’s all the budget allows after wrapping principal photography back in December.

Without Warning…

“You got a smoke?”

It takes me a second to realize a voice from over my shoulder asks me this question.

I turn around and see the guy.

He’s standing just outside the chained loading dock gate. A steel-barred fence separates us, but the bars are wide enough for a grown man to stick his arm through.

Indistinguishable features. Deep voice. Odorous. He’s wearing a thicker coat than me. Smart guy.

“You got a smoke?”

I reply, “I don’t. Sorry.”

“You working?”

I explain, “No. I’m with them…”

I point up to the top of the warehouse.

As if on cue, Erin calls “Action!” The two stuntmen dash across the rooftop — silhouettes against a neon-colored night — and leap over a four-foot gap into camera frame. They disappear behind air-conditioning exhausts.

Photo by Roman Denisenko on Unsplash

I turn back to the guy.

“Oh, you stealing stuff?” he asks.


This guy thinks I’m a lookout.

So not only am I freezing cold during a midnight shoot in skid row, but now this guy thinks I’m aiding a crime in progress.

What’s he gonna do?

“Hey, come here.”

Now he wants me to get closer to the fence. Within arm’s reach…

“Come over here.”

What’s he going to do? Threaten me? Does he want a percentage of our haul? Our imaginary haul? I have absolutely zero stake in a crime that doesn’t exist, yet I still feel defensive about it.

I wish I had my phone on me. I could use it as an excuse to leave. Pretend I’m getting a call. Meh, screw it.

I lift my empty hand to my ear like I’m holding a phone.

“I gotta go. They just called me.”

I retreat.

He raises his voice: “I said come here!”

I just hold my empty hand to my ear and pretend I’m on a call. I skitter closer to the building, away from the dock entrance and back to the table full of blessed hot coffee.

Lessons Learned

Express Your Intentions

If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and talks like a duck, it’s likely a duck.

Likewise, if it looks like a robbery, someone is completely justified in assuming it’s a robbery.

It’s easy to forget how others may misconstrue your actions when they can’t possibly know all the details.

Our own perspective often completely envelopes us, so much so we forget how others may perceive it. Take a step back. See how things might look to someone else.

Ask yourself, Right now, do I look like a filmmaker or a thief?

It’s easy to forget how others may misconstrue your actions when they can’t know all the details.

Never Assume Intentions

On the flip side, never assume you know what someone else is thinking. Their communication style, their motives, their background — it’s not the same as yours.

Coincidentally, Hotwire addresses this theme. The heroine misconstrues the hero’s anxiety about their relationship as disinterest in their relationship.

Remember, you cannot assume you understand the intentions behind another person’s actions. That is why it’s good to check-in with them:

“How are you doing?”

“How does this make you feel?”

“How may I best help you?”

Give the other person a chance to hang a sign on their thoughts, their feelings, and their desires.

And for the love of Pete, hang a sign on your film set to let people know it’s just a movie.

Jake Thomas is a writer, filmmaker, and wannabe chef. Along with writing articles and reviews for Fanbase Press, he has toured with the improv comedy groups Spats&Cane and Nice People. To create the perfect evening, he adds a dash of black-and-white movies with a splash of chilled white wine. He’s on Twitter and Instagram, and you can see his work at jakethomasmakesmovies.com.



Jake Thomas
Making Movies

Relentless reader | Storyteller | Filmmaker | Finding my voice in my nerdy thirties. See my work at jakethomasmakesmovies.com