George foisted me up on top of a plastic picnic table in the middle of the front office and began dry humping me. He pinned me in place as the table legs scooted back against the wall with his bodily force. The front doors opened letting the fall chill my exposed skin. He was laughing. They were all laughing.
George was funny like that. I thought there were only five people in the front lobby. A few producers, the production manager, the director, maybe a driver from transportation a production assistant or two. But memory is funny. I also remember people saying to me later, when we were alone, not in front of anyone who could fire us, “I can’t believe he did that! If we worked anywhere else, he’d be fired.”
“Yeah,” I said. I thought the same thing.
But none of us did anything about it.
What could I do? I was pretty low on the food chain. And my bosses all saw it. All guffawed. Enjoyed the show. I wasn’t a person. I was an expendable.
I gave up my home to be part of this movie crew. I moved all my belongings into storage and lived in a Motel 8 off an Omaha, Nebraska highway with a great view of the parking lot. Everything a girl dreams of when she works her way up in the film business.
I wish that were the only time George humiliated me in front of people. But it wasn’t. He took pleasure in making jokes at my expense, asking me if I wanted to act in the porn the characters in the movie watch, and told me I was stupid.
He didn’t know me. He didn’t care that I spent seven years working in production already, that I worked for Spelling Television and produced my own show when I took the job. I took the steps down in rank to help my friend and, in theory, myself.
Victor called me, “I need your help. Linda can’t come out of town, and I hoped you’d be willing to live in Omaha for three months and help me with the movie. They (the producers) want me to hire locals, but I can’t trust them. They don’t know anything.” To sweeten the deal, he said, “It’s low budget but a negative pick up from Paramount. The pay isn’t good, but I need someone who knows how to run an office.”
I thought the call was heaven-sent. I served my husband with divorce papers and wanted to put as much distance between the man who spent five years mentally and emotionally battering me.
I wanted to fill all my holes back in and prove I still had worth. I was at my best at work.
My boss at Spelling called me into the office one day and said, “Holly, one day we’ll all be working for you.”
And there was Victor’s cheery voice over the phone, laughing, giving me an escape route. If I said yes, I had three days to put my house on the market, my things in storage, and put fifteen hundred miles between me and my soon-to-be-ex.
Little did I know I had victim written on my forehead. Deciding to leave didn’t mean the first door was an exit.
“Yes,” I said. And I went.
George wasn’t the only man on set to treat me disrespectfully. But he was the only one to apologize. After calling me an idiot at a production meeting for asking how he preferred his paperwork, he wrote me an apology note.
“I shouldn’t have done that. Sorry.” When he gave it to me, he told me I reminded him of his soon-to-be ex-wife. He was in the process of divorcing her and leaving his small child because he started an affair with the gorgeous lead actress on the movie he wrapped before starting this– this low-budget movie. He and his big-budget girlfriend were better than us. His brown eyes laughed, and I wondered if this was the bullshit he fed his ex-wife, too.
I thumb-tacked George’s apology in pubic view behind my desk. I figured if he had the audacity to embarrass me in public, he should publically apologize. There was still some fight in me.
One of the six producers on the film was a jerk too. Each producer had an agenda. Each peed on places in the production office, marking their territories, fighting for dominance. It all rolled downhill toward me.
It was Jake’s first time as a producer. He came from post-production and didn’t have much time on set. He overcompensated by informing the office staff of what our jobs entail. On the first day on location, he had his assistant hand me a printout of a production coordinator’s jobs and responsibilities. It was ironic.
First off, I was a Production Coordinator for years and had long relationships with the Screen Actors Guild and the Directors Guild of America. I filed all the DGA paperwork on several Spelling Television shows and built a reputation with my honest and hardworking contacts. I knew whom to call to get a solid answer and worked tirelessly on maintaining those relationships.
Jake asked me to forge SAG sheets, changing the working hours of actors. I told him no. He threatened me to do it. I said no. He said the producers didn’t want to get in trouble. But they had no issue with hammering me down.
“Just do it. We can’t. We’ll get in big trouble.”
As if I wouldn’t.
Jake called me one morning from location while I was in the production office. “How could you let us run out of film? Why are you including short ends in the total? What the fuck is wrong with you?”
“I’m not the camera department. I don’t fill in the totals on the production report, and if you don’t want short ends in the total, talk to the camera department. The Director of Photography, the first assistant camera, second assistant camera, or loader. All on set.”
He slammed the phone down on me. He conveniently forgot that according to the paperwork he gave me, a Production Coordinator wasn’t allowed on set. That my job had me firmly planted in the production office across town. Any time I asked to visit set, they wouldn’t let me.
“You have to keep it together in the office.”
I stayed. I’d chat with my friend, the one who hired me. We talked about how clueless Jake was, how he didn’t know the equipment, what a chimera was, or lug to pin electrical equipment. How if I handed him a list of vendors without telling him what each one provided, he wouldn’t know Leonetti from Panavision or a dolly from a makeup brush. We laughed at how my assistant kept trying to get me fired because she wanted my job.
She wouldn’t fax production paperwork to Paramount or get production assistants to pick up supplies. We laughed at how terrible it was that I couldn’t keep a good production assistant because they wouldn’t work the twelve to fourteen hour days for less than one hundred dollars a day. We sat in his office and commiserated about how the producers told us each to do opposite things. Then he’d leave for the set, and I’d be alone with a girl who wanted my job and bosses who used me as a punching bag.
I thought I could take it. I wanted to prove I was strong. I could handle all the bullshit. I was smart. I spent years learning all about each department so I could help solve problems. I had something to prove.
Having something to prove is a waste of time and energy.
The second assistant director felt terrible for me. Sean was a good guy. He didn’t understand why George was such an asshole to me. Sean came by to apologize now and again give me set gossip. Like how one producer was sleeping with a production assistant, and that’s why she was promoted to a transportation department driver.
Sean knew my lousy situation was not of my making. To make up for the hell I dealt with, he invited me to set the day before Thanksgiving. He placed me as an extra in a scene. I sat in the shot during rehearsal while lighting the set, and just before the director, Alexander, was about to shoot, Alexander asked me to leave.
You see, I refused to forge the SAG sheets. And I had the nerve to send a whole script to a minor. Sending scripts to cast was part of my job. (I had the paperwork to prove it) He didn’t want the minor’s family to read the script. He thought he was Woody Allen and could send only the pages with the dialogue for the young actor spoke and get away with it. He didn’t want the parents to back out because of the scene of the actors watching porn or the lesbian relationship in the movie, which is what happened.
Alexander called the production office and asked for me. It was the first time in eight weeks that he spoke to me directly.
“Tell me Jake made you do it.” His tone was terse. I felt his temples sweating and imagined his thick black-rimmed glasses sliding down his hot face.
“Do what?” I asked. I had no idea what he was fuming about.
“Send the script. Tell me Jake made you do it.”
Looking back, I know at this moment, everyone else would have said, “Yes. Jake made me do it.” I would have told the up-and-coming director that their tormentor told them to do it. I could’ve made myself the hero. I could have moved up the food chain and saved myself. I wish I said yes. But I thought the truth mattered. I didn’t want to join in the blame game.
“No. He didn’t,” I whispered.
“Who the fuck do you think you are?” Alexander cursed me out for a good minute or two. He called me every nasty female derogatory term and anything else his quick wit thought of. He drowned me under his tidal wave of rage.
A calm came over my mind as my body began to shake with fear, fury, and inferiority. I kept my voice flat. “I’m going to have to stop you there. No one talks to me that way.”
“Fuck you,” the director said.
My floodgate burst.
“I don’t know who the fuck you think you’re talking to, but no one talks to me like that.” I leaned forward on my desk. I needed its strength. I couldn’t fall. My voice grew powerful. All the pain they inflicted on me was returned tenfold. I know I told him off. I remember enjoying it. The phones started ringing off the hook again. I had work to do. I was over being the film’s punching bag.
“Fuck you!” I yelled and hung up on him.
“Holly, phone,” my assistant said. She held the receiver toward me. She was across the room at her desk. Her eyes reflected her brain’s calculations about the probability of me being fired and her opportunity to take my job. “Line two is Victor.”
“Hi, Victor.” I sank into my chair. “I think I may be fired.”
He laughed. “I heard the whole thing.” He was standing next to Alexander as he screamed at me and was on the phone with the production office– but not put on hold- and heard my side too.
I wasn’t fired. Alexander waited. He waited to dole out his punishment.
It was the day before our Thanksgiving holiday.
We had worked six days weeks, and it had been a long time since many of the crew had seen their families. Family members came to Omaha and took up residence with us in the Motel 8 to share a rubbery turkey dinner and 12 hours off with us. My mom was kindhearted enough to visit and lift my spirits.
To make up for the hell, I dealt with the second assistant director, Sean, invited me to set the day before Thanksgiving. He placed me as an extra in a scene. I sat in position during rehearsal while lighting the set, and just before the director, Alexander, was about to shoot, he asked me to leave.
Sean couldn’t believe it. “Let her stay,” he said.
Without a word, I got up. As I walked off the set, Alexander spoke.
“Get back to the office,” he said. “I don’t want you on my set…at all.”
Alexander didn’t know my mom was on set that day, too, working as an extra with me. The assistant directors made sure she got camera time. Their I’m sorry.
Mom saw how they treated me. How I let myself be dismissed. She saw how small I’d become.
More bad days followed.
A blizzard drowned the city in three feet of pristine white snow.
At six in the morning, my hotel phone rang. “How are we going to get to the production office?” It was Jake. He was hysterical.
“What are you talking about?”
“Open your goddam window,” he yelled. As if I made it snow. “You need to get to the office!”
I already spoke to Victor. We knew the roads were closed. No plows got through. We’d lose a day of filming. And now we could no longer shoot locations as fall, and we’d have to get the art department to match all scenes for winter. Victor said he’d call me and let me know what the producers decided to do with the rest of the day, where they’d meet to reschedule the rest of the shoot.
I have no idea why Jake called me. There were at least eight other people he should have called. He was the one who had to make decisions. I should have printed out the Producers’ responsibilities for him. Clearly, he needed the help.
Then there was the drunk driving incident. The Director of Photography hit a fire hydrant and ruined his renal car. I think it was 6:30 AM.
“Jim hit a hydrant,” Victor said. The black plastic phone was pressed up against my ear.
We all knew he drank. I didn’t think he’d be drunk that early in the morning. I handled the insurance claim. Of course, it was my job to make sure nothing about alcohol was included. Not that I saw him drunk, he didn’t come to the office, but the rumors of his behavior did.
The worst day came not so long after that.
An art department truck was in an accident at the high school we used as the primary film location. The cube truck hit a passenger vehiclem killing the teenaged driver.
I don’t remember who called me to tell me about the accident. It must have been Victor. It was too terrible. How could we stay? How could we finish the movie? How would we continue filming at the scene of a student’s death? How did the movie matter now?
My phone blew up with calls. Red lights flashed across the phone. There was no way to answer them all.
“You’ll probably get some calls,” Jake said. His voice was soft. “Don’t tell them anything.”
“What could I tell them? I wasn’t there.”
Ringing filled the space between us.
“Don’t pick up.”
“What if it’s one of our producers? The director? You?”
“Fine, pick up but take messages. Don’t tell them anything.”
Jake didn’t come to the office, and neither did the other producers. I don’t recall handing it well, and I may have shared a producer’s phone number besides taking messages.
I sat in the room under fluorescent lights and cried, thinking about the kid who died and his family. I thought about the twenty-something-year-old who killed a teenager– because of a movie. Maybe he was on his way to pick up a prop or drop off a table, lamp, or paint. It was too terrible. I think that’s when I broke.
I lost my taste for the business and all the belittling I endured. How could a movie be more important than the people working on it? The idea that I had to know more and be more challenging because I was a woman didn’t feel right. On the last day of filming, I walked away from the business.
The careers of George and Alexander took off. Alexander was nominated for an Academy Award or two. People talk about his genius. George is a first assistant director on A-list blockbusters and became a producer for Alexander. (His actress girlfriend dumped him and married Hollywood Royalty.)
I don’t think of any of them that fondly. I wonder if they’re still up to their old tricks. I wonder if the actors who looked up to them and the viewers of their movies knew how misogynist they were if they’d still be successful. And I know the answer is yes.
I took a two-year break from show business after Election. I lost any passion I had for the art.
I didn’t understand why I let myself be mistreated. I couldn’t wrap my brain around why being good at my job wasn’t enough. I got therapy. I found my voice and backbone, built boundaries, filled in my holes, and remembered my worth.
I didn’t want to be bitter. I wanted to be whole. It was immensely difficult work putting a grown woman back together.
When I ventured back into production years later, I realized the business of movie-making was still filled with people proving they could do it. Proving they were better than others around them by shitting on them, backstabbing, and stealing creativity.
I no longer needed to prove my worth to famous strangers. I didn’t need to prove I was strong enough to take the abuse. I learned I had my own creative longings, and I didn’t require anyone’s approval to pursue them, and I certainly didn’t have the desire to give my ideas or self away anymore.
I elected to thrive away from the abuses of Hollywood. And by walking away, I learned I no longer found myself forced on my back, on top of a table locked in place, and shaking. I didn’t require a desk to steady my voice. I found my legs, my worth, and my voice.