Bin Furious

Many years ago, working as a lighting technician in the non-union world of Toronto’s film industry I witnessed something I’ve never forgotten.

We were working in Hamilton on a show for an aged but established Toronto-born Hollywood director. Days were long, averaging 16-18 hours. As you’d expect, the production was on a budget. Nothing terribly restrictive for our department, but the principal of frugality was evident. It was even rumoured the director had his own money tied up in the production.

Surprisingly, one of the ways the production had decided to save money was on catering. They contracted a local company. The food wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t what we were accustomed to. Quality was professional, portions were generous. Mostly, presentation was the problem.

Each meal was served with soup–which was served out of a 75 litre Rubbermaid garbage can. It was a clean bin, new, but you get the sense of how off-putting that would be. Everything, including the steam trays were unusual in that way. Workable, but odd. The staff were fantastic, but they were clearly a small, family-run business.

The first meal of the show, the director didn’t eat with the crew. Second day, same thing. Third day comes, and he saunters into the banquet hall and up to the guy serving the soup. In front of the entire crew, the director, shouting, went after the man’s company, his wife, and everything they had been hired to do. In terse, belittling terms, he proceeded to tear-down the soup guy who could do nothing but stand there, ladle in hand. The next day, we had different caterers.

Keeping crew happy by feeding them well is a staple practice. It’s not extravagant. It’s not lavish, or profligate. It’s a practical measure. As anyone whose been part of a crew can tell you, there are a hundred ways every day one person affects the success of a production. The decisions made to cut corners on meals were flawed, at best.

With no hesitation, I’ll admit I rarely approached my time in film with seriousness. That’s a decision I don’t regret, but for the way I could have been a better teammate, or learned more that I could take away with me. It was never my dream, never a career path I was following. My focus was elsewhere.

Often, it’s the mid-level people who make the difference, those who effectively translate the concept, the idea, to a workable set of goals. Failures in leadership at that level were rare in my experience.

That scene, played out in front of everyone, has stayed with me. It won’t have been the first example of poor leadership, or the last.