I Quit My Job. At a Dead Run. In the Middle of the Night.
In 2013, I was 22 years old and fresh out of film school. I lived in a studio apartment with my boyfriend and worked part-time in retail. In my spare time, I scoured Craigslist for side gigs in the film industry.
A post titled, “Paid Internship” caught my eye, and I promptly submitted my candidacy:
“I’m looking to get involved with production, and I also have some experience with writing. I’ll do anything, really, even coffee runs.”
I’ll do anything, really, even coffee runs.
Those words haunt me.
I was hired as a production assistant on a low budget indie film, following the most awkward interview at a Starbucks in which the film director refused to begin our meeting until the agreed upon time (I was ten minutes early). As we sat across from each other, he averted his eyes and engaged the producer sitting beside him in banter about banana bread and whether or not he should get some.
I could sense the crazy early on, right there in that interview, yet I persisted. I was technically an adult, but still stupid enough to believe that working as a production assistant would catapult me into the film industry. Soon I’d be taking work lunches with New York types, flipping through MY screenplay and saying things like, “I agree that Ryan Gosling would be great for this part. Let’s get him on the phone.” I accepted the position because I thought it would be my big break.
When shooting began after several weeks of menial tasks in pre-production, the director decided that I was going to be his personal assistant/servant. There were maybe ten other interns, but I was The Chosen One.
“There’s something about you that’s so Nordic,” he told me. I didn’t know if he meant this as complementary, or in a way where I seemed like a stoic Swedish housemaid who never complained and would be good at cleaning. I know now it was the latter because soon after he claimed me, I was over at his house that smelled like an aquarium all the time, doing household chores, grocery runs, and other tasks that certainly did not indicate that this was my big break.
While away on business, he emailed me feeding instructions for his two indoor cats. He adamantly requested daily photos, saying, “They’re pretty much the only things I really care about.”
Between Trader Joe’s runs, airport pickups, buying the director special barbecue, and getting the inside of his Lexus cleaned, it became a growing concern that I was not learning anything or experiencing any real professional development, and ultimately being used.
“My friend from New York is flying in today, would you mind dusting my bookshelves?”
Standing on a rickety chair in the director’s mid-century kitchen, wiping down his ceiling-to-floor bookshelves, I held back tears as well as rage.
Something that my father always told me popped into my head: “Everything you want to happen will happen in time, so long as you pay your dues.” At 22, this was difficult to hear. I thought all I would need to do is sing my employment eligibility from the rooftops, and people would line up, looking to pay me large sums of money for my boundless creativity and wit.
This strategy, however, wasn’t moving me in any direction. For months I plugged away, having been told in school that the film industry is a bit of a ladder and you have to work your way up from the bottom. Maybe this was just part of those pesky dues.
Things came to a head on one of the longest production days — a thirteen-hour stretch. The late hours that come with productions are something I was never properly warned about while studying film, but now I was getting first-hand experience.
The interns and lesser crew-members were instructed to hunker down in the director’s garage, where there was little oxygen. In the corner was a cat litter box that stunk up the entire room, where we stood for hours, watching takes in a huddled mass around a display monitor. I continued checking the time, and with each “Cut,” I hoped to hear the sweet words of “that’s a wrap for today.” I did not.
There are people who’ve made lifelong careers in production work, and I commend them. The hours are long, the work is grueling, and typically your treatment will be mediocre at best. Some strong-willed people can handle the production lifestyle, but I am not one of them. I realized it on set that day.
Finally, it was a wrap. It was well after midnight, and I’d been on the clock since sunrise. The actors scurried out and disappeared into the night, and the interns were left to load up all the shit into equipment trucks and pick up trash.
I participated in general cleaning duties for several minutes before the director emerged from the house and approached me, his Swedish housemaid. “What’s your plan for the rest of the night?” I hesitated, the purest form of fear seizing my heart.
“What do you mean?”
“Well I mean, look at this place. It’s a total mess! I need help putting everything back together.”
At that moment an actor interrupted, grabbing the director’s attention long enough for me to retreat into the shadows where I became unseen.
I was parked just up the street, in a different neighborhood. I slinked to the edge of the driveway, shrouded by the craft services truck. I looked back — the director was distracted.
I took my chance and ran. I sprinted as fast as I could out of the neighborhood and down the street to my car. I was free, and it felt so simultaneously glorious and unauthorized.
No one ever asked what became of me that night. I like to think it’s because my stealth made my disappearance go completely unnoticed, but I can’t help but wonder sometimes if the director looked up from his conversation to see my shrouded figure dashing away from him, down the sidewalk and into the darkness, never to return.
Several months later, I attended the premiere. The film got a narrow release and earned a 43 percent audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. I earned one gleaming IMDb credit “Miscellaneous Crew.” I think that is as accurate a job description as it can get.