The Ten Commandments of Movie Work (a re-post from

Curtis Crowe’s “The Ten Commandments of Movie Work”

A re-post from

My good friend Curtis Crowe wrote this.  His many decades in the business combined with his freakish attention to his surroundings make him uniquely qualified to expound.


My first job in the business started with a phone call. My best friend from grade school hired me with the simple instructions, “I hired you because you are my friend and I know you can do the job. If you fuck me in any way I will fire you in a heartbeat and we will still be friends.”
That is easy for me to understand. 

We packed tools to ship to Jamaica the next morning and over a bottle of rum and a yellow legal pad, he taught me all I needed to know about the movie business. 

Its not like this is an official document or anything. Its just something that works for me and seems to work for everybody else that has taken it to heart. I call this… 

The Ten Commandments of Movie Work

  1. The Schedule is God, The Budget is Jesus and you may not fuck with either of them.


If there is a singular element that differentiates the movie industry from any and all others it is probably the brutal , non-negotiable deadline culture.

During the creation and writing phase, and even the initial financing phases where producers and studios are introduced into the project, it is still a loose art project wrapped in explosive high finance. Years may pass as they casually glance at calendars and contemplate the picture.

The stopwatch starts when they open offices and start production. The green flag has dropped and the race has started. One common thread in any production office from executive producers down to PA’s is the calendar. It is their lord and master and woe be unto you if you fail to recognize this. Every cylinder will fire in perfect sequence or the race is over and careers are in flames.

6:00 does not mean 6:01 with a cup of coffee in your hand. 6:00 means 5:30 having your coffee and ready to go.  6:01 is full tilt jam time. Minutes count. Seconds are just short minutes and they count too. Why the hell is everybody so obsessed with being so anal about being on time? I mean,jeez, lighten up already! What is 5 minutes?

If you spend one of those minutes to look at one of those calendars hanging in every hallway and every office, on every phone and every other piece of paper coming out of the production office, you will notice a whole lot of bits of info scattered along the dates. These are not suggestions or rough targets. They are deadlines.


You miss any one of these and you go back to your old job at the coffee shop. Every day is a deadline. Within that day are multiple deadlines. So while you are chatting about last nights dinner or the big game, someone very close to you is about to have a heart attack because they haven’t slept in three days worrying about deadlines. That is why everyone is wound so tight. If they don’t seem wound, then they are really good at hiding it, but the basement is still full of dynamite and gasoline.

The one thing we don’t have and can’t get more of is time. That’s why movie guys work fast. I say guys and I include gals as well and I hope you get that. We are all movie guys.  We work fast.

Woah….slow down dude.. isn’t that dangerous to work fast? Um…no.

You don’t have to move fast to work fast. It is really a function of not working at all. As a matter of fact if you are moving fast you are probably doing it all wrong anyway. What unnecessary steps are you making? Why are you walking so far each time? Can you lift less and slide more? What is the absolute simplest way to get there? The most efficient and speedy job would barely involve movement at all. Simplify. Generally give your hardest job to your laziest person and he will figure the easiest way to do it.

Time.     Hey what time do we get off today? Do you think I could get off a little early on Friday? The answers: When we are done and no. The day lasts till it is over. Best to pack an extra pair of socks and underwear. Back in the good old non-union days we got paid 200$ flat. That meant for at least 12 hrs and sometime went 20. I put in a 40 hr week one day. At least now when you work you get paid. Whatever pain you are experiencing, the producer is feeling as well. Smile and keep working.


Here is what most people think:  Movies throw money around in shameless excess on pampered stars and useless props and then destroy it all, leave a mess and leave town. Yep, there have been some episodes of shameless excess. Check, on the stars and destruction. And yes I have spent a bit of time following rude crews cleaning their mess. All of that said I would take almost any movie crew and the task they are given and test them against any corporate structure in the world as far as speed of production , accountability of budgets , and responsible flexibility during rapid change. I was talking to a UPM a while back and he described an incident during a catastrophic hurricane in Louisiana (pre Katrina). The set they had built was an entire town mockup and it was destroyed. Within a week the town was cleared , rebuilt , painted, dressed and lit, the crew was filming and having a catered lunch. It was another month before power was restored in the surrounding neighborhoods. If a national disaster hits my neighborhood , I’m calling the movies!

Every small movie is somebody’s big movie. They scraped together their life savings to make this thing. Help out or go home.

Just because it’s a big movie doesn’t mean they have a lot of money. However much they have, it’s not enough. If it is a 150M movie they probably have 300M worth of ideas to whittle down.

Again, help out or go home.

Ok, so you have been working for a little while, saved up some money and you have a project to do at your house. Would you hire the guy next to you at the same rate he is being paid here? Really? Why not? More important, would he hire you? Why should he? Keep in mind there is a hungry world of eager applicants ready to do your job better, faster and with a whole lot less complaining. Who would you hire if it was your money?

Why does that guy make more than me? Two reasons. Because he is worth more or he made a better deal. If this happens to you and you find yourself working alongside or even in charge of someone making more than you….smile. You now know what to do. Work harder or make a better deal- next time. That part is important. Whatever deal you made is the deal you made. You stick with it till your run is finished and move on. No whining.

  1. Everybody is on a first name basis and really friendly!

Really! It’s cool that Ron Howard is just RON and Arnold Swartzenegger goes by ARNOLD. And they are really nice sometimes! Just because they are nice doesn’t

mean they have either the time or the interest in chatting.

Remember commandment #1 ?  It’s that deadline thing but it’s supercharged by that money thing.  These are people that will smile sweetly, listen to you prattle on and ask for an autograph, and as you leave will grab the nearest  PA and say “ find out who that prick is and fire him!” As irresistible as you are, Jennifer Anniston doesn’t want your body.

If you wanted to hang around movie stars then you got in the wrong business. You should become a Ferrarri salesman. If I want to see movie stars, I go to the movies.

If we do our job right, they never see us and we never see them. That is a good thing.

Same goes with the office. Really nice and friendly group of people on the outside, but what you can’t see is the minefield. The office, and by that I mean ANY movie office, is a supercharged explosive atmosphere. Nice friendly people with twitchy fingers nervously fingering the detonator under their desktop. Best bet is just to stay out altogether.

Which gets us to the set. The lights! The action! The glamour! Best to get this shit out of your system as soon as possible. You know the office? It’s like that but run by the director, a figure somewhere in the food chain between demi-god and King.

Very much the same as the office, but sometimes they just stop with the pretense of being nice and get down to the dirty business of making movies. It is a heaving deck with a wildly swinging gun looking for someone to shoot.

  1. It takes 10 “Attaboys” to undo 1 “woah shit”.

The good thing to know is that woah shits are given out like candy at Halloween. Attaboys , however are hard to come by. If you think your shit doesn’t stink its only because you can’t smell it. Everybody knows when you have shit your dress. Everybody.

There are only three things anybody will ever remember about you. The way you started your job, the way you finished your job and the one thing you fucked up.

The way you get your job is simple. Someone gives you your first day on the job. It is a gift that will put your kids through college or buy you that sick sports car you have been lusting after. Really! You can do this without having gotten that degree your dad thought you should have gotten. Hell, you can do this with a felony record! All you have to do is answer the phone when it rings, and when they say “can you be here at 3AM”, you say yes. Don’t ask a bunch of stupid questions. The answer is yes or no. You already know what time.

(remember rule 1?  2:30 AM having had your coffee- Duh) The only other thing you need to know is where. An address will suffice. If you cant do the Google/Mapquest and find it with that great big brain of yours, you won’t keep the job anyway. If you think you are going to have a flat tire, or run out of gas, or your grandmother is going to die again, don’t bother coming in. And don’t call back. Now you are just annoying people that are actually working for a living. If you actually want to work, figure it out and get there on time. ( ON TIME= 30 min early ) Remember to pack those socks I told you about. It could be a long day.

That was day one. Wow! 18 hours in the pouring rain. Still want all this glamour? This day was your gift. Tomorrow you earn it.  Every day after that you earn.

20 years in and I earn my job every day constantly worried about that one thing I’m about to  fuck up.

  1. We are paper towels. We are used to wipe up a mess and be thrown away.

This one is hard for a lot of people to get. I think of all the commandments, this is the one that divides the herd the most.   Go back to #1.  The Schedule is God. Once you get used to the idea of the schedule, you understand that it will, by design, come to a rapid end.  It only lasts a finite time. You will, under the best of circumstances, be hired early and laid off at the end.  You will get laid off.  You are going to get laid off.  I will say it again. YOU ARE ALWAYS ONE DAY AWAY FROM BEING LAID OFF.

If you get laid off before someone else, it’s because you have either finished your job, somebody ran out of money or you have become dead weight. Or nobody likes you. In any event, every one of us are one day away from never working again. Unless, of course, you are good enough at your job that they want you back on the next show, or another show wants your amazing talents and wit. This applies to all of us. Actors , producers, heads of studios. We are all one day away from never working again.

It’s not about you. It is the demands of a business that burns fast, eats up a lot of talent and material and then stops with an abruptness that will take your breath away sometimes. What we look for, that is, what the people that would hire you look for, is an easy flexibility. It means you are adaptive to change. Believe it or not, that willingness to adapt and roll with the punches is so hard to find, that we pay people really good money and look really hard to find it.

The whole object here is to work yourself out of a job. Guys that see the end coming and slow down the work to get more work have completely missed the entire point of their employment.  Remember rule #1 – Schedule and budget. That’s why it’s rule #1.  In and out fast, everybody makes money. If you are fast and constantly working yourself out of a job, you will always be working.

Bounty paper towels had a slogan- “the quicker picker-upper”. They sell a lot of paper towels.

  1. You are nobody in this business till you have been fired twice.

If being laid off is the natural end of the cycle of work, being fired is as common as the cold and about as welcome.

While I’m kidding about being nobody if you have never been fired, having been fired is only an indication that something went wrong very near to you.  It’s an everyday occurrence for things to go wrong especially in the explosive pressure cooker of a movie project. There are outsized egos to match outsized demands. There are the machinations of mysterious politics going on behind closed doors. There are budgets in crisis, careers in flames and desperate people looking for fall guys. When you get fired, stop and lick your wounds and ask yourself the really hard questions. Did you really fuck up? Maybe. Did you fuck up even a little? Of course you did, if even it was simply not recognizing the writing on the wall.

Having been fired also gets you into the club of scarred battle vets. Most everybody has at least one of these scars if you’ve been at this a while. It can be a rough playground. The most important part of getting fired is picking yourself back up, dusting yourself off and learning the right lesson. It’s also important to know that the person that fired you may not necessarily be your enemy- they may actually turn into a future ally if you are lucky.


  1. Be nice to everybody.

This one seems so obvious that it seems dumb to add it. Before you go yell at that homeless looking guy wandering around the stage, you might want to check and see if he is your main movie star. Or a studio exec.  Or your director.  Or maybe he is just a homeless guy wandering around. In any event, be nice. If you would have this as a career in mind it also helps to know that the person you just insulted will soon be your boss. Just because she’s sweeping the floors doesn’t mean she won’t own the place soon. Back to #3. Woah shit is remembered a long time.

You were the new guy once too. As you casually bad mouth someone, take a long hard look in a mirror.

When you sign onto a job you have become an employee and therefore a representative of that company whether it be a tiny little indie production or the mega-billon production studio.  You are also a representative of the entire film industry when you are in public. Don’t be an ass. My job is on the line too you know.  I don’t care how much money you make, how important you would like to think you are or how big the last movie you worked on was, don’t be an ass.

We often go to lovely picturesque locations, build a lot of expensive scenery and then blow them up. There is a way to do this where when you leave everyone is smiling and waving goodbye and can’t wait to see you again. This is the real art of movie making and it doesn’t always involve throwing truckloads of money at pissed off people.  If every single person on the crew treats the local crowd like real people, that is if you treat people like you would want to be treated, then they get a lot less pissed off and may even enjoy having their town blown up. We are going to fix it all anyway. Try to leave it a little better than you found it. Pretty basic stuff really.

  1. Try to avoid becoming a movie star.

If you want to become an actor or actress that’s cool.  Really hard work but cool.  It’s the star we all hate.  After a while in the biz many people feel like something really special.

Remember # 4.  Like all the rest of us, you are a paper towel. You are not so special that we all should genuflect when you pass. However hard you think your job is, everybody else has a hard job too. As a matter of fact, each one of us has the hardest job on the set and everyone else is a lazy slacker. If you need a lot of special attention you should check into the emergency room. There might be something wrong with you. Whatever it is, keep it away from the rest of us because we don’t want to catch it.

When you do your job well and right, the people that matter will notice. They may not throw you a parade, but you will get called again and often. All the rest of us really don’t need to have you tell us how special you are.

The cute barrista at your old coffee shop is just in awe that you have such a cool job. And you do really. It’s just that you are not curing cancer. There are a lot of people in the world that actually have important jobs like teaching or firefighting. Your job is to tell their story and get it right.

If you really must brag about how great you are, try to wait till you have grandchildren and then you can regale them with tales about your time on “Vampire Piranhas in 3D” or whatever stunning cinematic achievement set your name in the stars.

  1. Make friends with the accountant. They have your balls in their hand.

If you don’t have actual balls you still get my drift.

Back to #1. This is real and serious business. It is run by real and serious people that also have bosses to answer to and they want to know ‘Where the hell is all that money going?” Whether you like it or not the industry is a for profit industry and if you don’t make them more money than they pay you, one or both of you will be out of work soon.

All the old timers will tell you of the good old days. Back when there was plenty of money, nobody questioned anything and we had martinis at wrap. It actually could have been that way for all I know but that’s not like that now. It’s business. If you don’t like the business either get out or start your own.  In any business you quickly get to the bottom line and it will soon become about money.  The thankless task of keeping up with this is the accountant’s job. While it is easy to blame every ill of the industry onto the face of the industry (the accountant) the request is simple enough. Be responsible with the money. Be accountable for the money.

Every show is a brand new venture, a stand alone project. It’s like they have invented a new industry from scratch each time. The last accountant told you “we always do this” and your new one says “we never do this”.  I’ve had this from accountants in back to back shows from the same studio. Whatever. How the accountant wants it done is how to approach it because after all of the breast-beating and tears that’s how it will be done anyway.

Lets face it- we work for corporate overlords mostly. We rage with righteous indignation as they (yeah… THEM… the ones that do all the bad stuff)  as they FUCK US!!!! I just have to ask the question.  Which part of me hiring you is fucking you? Which part of me giving you two breaks a day, paying you sometimes a lot more than you are giving back in value and giving you Holiday Pay is fucking you? You poor whiny baby! How was your craft service when you were hanging drywall? I’m sure the accountants raced your check to you, red faced and apologetic on Thursday noon when you were working with your landscape crew.

Be honest with yourself.  Is this job better than your last one?  No?  Why are you here? Go away, we don’t need your complaining!

Don’t get me wrong , there are plenty of opportunities for being fucked in this business. There are legends about it. There really are producers that find that beating you out of a nickel gives them a near orgasmic experience. But again, be honest. Those people are everywhere in every profession and every job. With the stakes higher and the pressure higher, so come the hard-ass conniving back stabbers. But what we look for, hope to create and often find are some of the most generous and hard working professionals you will find anywhere. Some of the smartest people you will likely ever meet are quietly working alongside you.    Lets face it, it is not a normal business that will hire someone on the spur of the moment with such little background information, often only a recommendation from a stranger, and then give them such responsibility and control of such resources.

  1. Never ask a question you already have the answer to

This one opens a Pandoras box of related topics. This is all about self-reliance. Many times you will find yourself asking someone just as busy as yourself to stop what they are doing and do something for you. Most of us are geared toward support of the team and will actually stop what we are doing so we can help you. When we find out that you had the answer in front of you all the time, it just pisses us off and we now have you pegged as a lazy moron. Remember # 3 ?

Yep, that goes down as a little, tiny “whoa shit”. You will probably remain a lazy moron in our eyes until some time in the future when a bunch of near heroic acts on your part bring you back up to the starting point of “ I have no opinion of you”.

When do I need to have this ready? Where should I take this? What is his phone number? Where do I find it?  This is bullshit!!!!


One of the hallmarks of movie making is the organized effort to streamline information. Schedules, call sheets and phone lists are available to every member of the crew. They are color coded in sequence so you always know which is the most current. White,Blue,Pink,Green,Yellow,Goldenrod,Salmon.  And then it starts over…2nd White  ,2nd Blue , etc.

Every movie company in the world follows this sequence or one very close to it. When you are looking at your pink call sheet that says you need to be at set tomorrow morning at 7A and everybody else is looking at yellow ones, you have a useless piece of paper in your hands. That’s important because everybody else is going to show up on set at the new call time of 5:30A. Don’t assume someone  is going to call you at home to let you know. It is your job to know. You show up at 6:30 (half hour early, right!?) and find out you got fired because you are late. WTF??!!?  All that information is right in front of you all the time. Take a minute to find it. Ask around. Don’t assume that what the last person told you was right. Find out.


This basically means how we do stuff and more importantly how we don’t do stuff.  Chain of command and all that.  The movie industry has formed a culture over the years that often resembles a military type structure. I have often said that movie people are the cross between Navy Seals and Circus Clowns. Circus clowns because of the ridiculous nature of our jobs sometimes. The Navy Seal part is how the job gets done. It’s the part we are most proud of. We work hard, play hard and don’t whine. Privates don’t call Generals at home in the middle of the night and complain about the food. Privates complain to the Corporal, who complains to the Sargent  if it won’t just piss him off ,who complains to the Lieutenant if the food is really bad who complains to the Captain if people are getting sick and he complains to the Colonel if people are dying Who calls the General if we have to hide the president.

If a Private calls the General in the middle of the night to complain that he doesn’t like the brown M&M’s,  the Colonel is going to get a royal ass-chewing in the morning. If you kick a bee’s nest to get a little honey, you may get some honey but someone else is going to get stung. I hope they kept a spot for you back at the coffee shop!

There is plenty of stuff to legitimately bitch about. There is some stuff like safety issues that you as a member of our union and as a regular human being are required to bitch about.  If the condition is extraordinary or the timing is such that you have to jump protocol, then by all means, do so.  That way when the Private wakes the General to tell her the brown M&M’s have been poisoned by a terrorist and moments count, the private gets a medal and his Colonel gets one too.

Jumping protocol is probably the most delicate operation of all. You are potentially saying “fuck you” to all your immediate supervisors. If you have a question there is always the one person that has it. Let me say that again. For every question there is ONE person most suited to answer it. Don’t wake the General if his secretary can do it for you. But if it is the General alone and no one else that can stop the brown M&M catastrophe, then take a deep breath and call her. Also, call the coffee shop to see if they are still hiring just in case you were wrong.

  1. Finish what you start.

        I could also title this one “ never volunteer for anything” because when you do it belongs to you all the way down to the ugly conclusion and beyond. More than that this is about completion. If you take the job, finish it. If you took a lower wage than you think you are due, smile, finish the job and renegotiate next time.  Jumping ship used to be a capital offence. You just didn’t work again.

When you find yourself being courted by another show or another department, go ahead – be flattered.  It means you probably learned the other 9 commandments. This 10th one is the one that will kill all the other ones.  Loyalty is the glue that holds all this together. When someone hired you they put their own neck on the line. They told their bosses “ I can vouch for this person”. All of us got our job by word of mouth. We were given a chance to prove we would not fuck up. Someone recommended us. That should not be taken lightly and is not given lightly. If I recommend you and you fail, my judgment is questioned.  I just got a “woah shit”.

This doesn’t mean you are wed to whoever gave you your first job. There are plenty of times when it is OK and even expected to move on. The easiest is when the natural cycle of work has ended when you are laid off or the job has ended. We are all free agents between shows. It’s in the middle of the show that I’m talking about. Of course, if someone has really done you wrong, move on. That should be easy enough to explain so that there will be no misunderstanding. If you get an irresistible offer, you can tell your boss that you have an amazing opportunity and get their blessings…or not.

This is an amazingly egalitarian atmosphere we work in. In any given room of people its not uncommon to have a 70 year old hard tail country trucker that chews tobacco, a flaming gay man, an equally hard tail lesbian biker and an 18 year old ingenue that barely has been out of the womb long enough to know which direction the sun comes up in. Mix all these people together and get a bad-ass group of people that will get the job done. Over you , under you, around you, or through you. Doesn’t matter- we are going through. We all get along. If you have a bad attitude, go home. If you have outsized ego and personality, bring it to the party by all means! The playground gets rough from time to time, but try to keep in mind it really is play. If it’s not fun hang on – it only lasts a little while. If it’s never fun then you are doing it all wrong.

Curtis Crowe is a Construction Coordinator in the Atlanta area, inventor of the dumpster pool, and the drummer for the band Pylon.

He is the coolest guy I know.


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