I was 25 when a married Executive Producer took my hand and tried to talk me back to his hotel room. He was a big deal in Hollywood. I was his young, ambitious production coordinator, who also happened to be a long way from home. Even so, I made my excuses and left. Another statistic. Another #MeToo. It wasn’t the first time a male boss had tried to blur the lines between colleague and plaything, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last.
But what about the other Harvey Weinstein-sized elephant in the Green Room? What about the culture of bullying that is rotting away the foundations of an industry that I loved and worked in for sixteen years? This may sound controversial but however uncomfortable I was made to feel by certain male producers and actors, I never felt more degraded and humiliated than by my own female counterparts.
Put another way, if sexual harassment is the Gatekeeper then bullying is the Keymaster. The two are inextricably linked, and it is a problem that is inherent in every production office from the UK to Hollywood. In the same way that actresses suffer horrific sexual harassment to carve out a career for themselves, production staff are enduring months and months of verbal abuse to achieve the same objective.
To work as a freelancer in Film & TV you have to be tough, smart and savvy. Your reputation is key. There are hundreds of unemployed crew just waiting for their chance to nudge you out of the line. In this warped environment rejecting your producer’s advances is a big deal but so is speaking up about your line producer’s filthy temper.
Filming schedules are tight. A good crew likes to move together from film to film. It’s a win-win for the freelancer as you spend more days in work than not but if you rock the boat and get labeled as a ‘trouble-maker’ then Theresa May isn’t the only one being handed her P45.
I started out as a runner working on a low-budget British movie. No pay, just ‘expenses only’, and I was often putting in a 14-hour day for the price of my bus fare home and that all-important credit on my empty CV. On the very first day my production manager called me a ‘fucking idiot’ in front of the entire office for not faxing a document quickly enough. I can still remember the hornet’s sting of humiliation even now. For the next three months she never once used my real name. I was always just ‘fucking idiot’ to her.
My second female boss was in TV. She didn’t see the point of me at all. I didn’t dress well enough or take the right drugs, which automatically disqualified me from the best gigs. She used to enjoy walking up to whoever I was chatting to at the time and purposely invite them to some industry party. As for me, I didn’t even warrant the footnote of a simple ‘hello’. I stayed in that job for nearly three years and never said a word.
Last but not least was the filming job two years ago. By then I was running my own production services company with an ex-BBC colleague. We were hired as location fixers for an American show shooting in Europe. Once the producers arrived it was pretty clear that they didn’t have a clue what to film. Most of my suggestions and recced locations were rejected. The only place they were interested in was a large, very famous department store because the presenter, who incidentally they were all terrified of, insisted on shooting there. Despite my best efforts the store had already declined a filming permit. Instead of accepting this, the producers took me to one side and screamed and screamed at me to ‘make it happen or else!’
I remember looking at this woman at the time and thinking, ‘I don’t need this. I have two beautiful children at home that I’m missing like crazy. My life is too short.’ It turns out I was right. I was diagnosed with cancer the following year. The shoot wrapped and I resigned from my company soon after. My days in the Film and TV Industry were done.
When I look back over my former career I often marvel at what I put up with. From the A-list celebrity who chucked a plate of food at me, to the male actor who insisted on patting my bum every time I walked past. I was like an abused puppy going back for more. But there was lots of good stuff too. I travelled around the world, made some life-long friends, and i’ve yet to find anything that compares to the magic of walking onto a film set at Shepperton or Pinewood.
I struggle to find comparisons of similar incidents in others industries, yet I’m sure they exist. And why were my female bosses always the worst perpetrators of the verbal abuse? Perhaps it’s their way of offsetting the sexual harassment of their male producers? Perhaps it’s chronic insecurity? After all, Film & TV production is still very much a man’s world. A recent statistic revealed that women only make up 27% of film crews.
I may have left the industry but I still carry around my stories. The other day my eldest daughter (6) announced that she wanted to be an actress so I sat her down over a chocolate milkshake to share some of the abbreviated ‘highlights’ of mummy’s former profession.
She wants to be a vet now.