Question about people behind the scenes in movies.

Hi SD,

Question for you about movies that flop at the box office.

Every movie has a ton of people behind the scenes. Cameramen, special effects guys, marketing team, etc. When a movie flops, why don’t we ever hear about these behind the scenes folk expressing frustration that they put years of their life into a project that bombed critically and/or financially? Or that they hate to be attached to a project that failed? Directors/producers/studio heads/actors, sure, they comment sometimes. But these unspoken employees–aren’t they as upset as everyone else? Why don’t we hear from the cinematographer for Gigli, or one of the stuntmen from Speed 2, or a stuntman from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? These are just examples, but I guess my general question could be stated as such: how invested are the crewmembers in the success or failure of a given movie? Is it just a job to them? What would animator number 4 of the latest Ice Age critical bomb say if given a chance to comment about the movie? I am naive, please enlighten me.

Thanks, everyone!


By and large, if you’re not talent or creative control on a film, it’s just a job.

Yes, everyone who creates anything seen on screen, from set decorators to CGI animation artists, takes some pride in what shows up on the screen for audiences. But they don’t live and die by it the way the top creative members do, and their paycheck remains the same regardless of the movie’s performance.

I’m sure it’s more fun to have a string of blockbusters on your gaffer’s resume or art department portfolio, but in the end… it’s all just work, it all pays pretty much the same (heavily unionized) and every one of the jobs ends every six months to a year or two. So it’s all more workday for the back crew.

Unless you have a share of the profits (highly unlikely) you’d care about how long the gig lasted rather than how well the film did. And I doubt film quality means anything on a production person’s resume - the film industry is small, and your rep counts for more.
Same goes for extras and lower level principals. If you are working, you’re happy.

No movie ever failed because the key grip didn’t do his job.

My guess is that the animator would be proud of the two-second scene he/she animated or of the realism in the hair on the lead character (when the realism is due to the animator’s skill and programming abilities) and really not care whether the movie bombed.

It also helps when you always hire the best boy.

I also guess that you would damage your reputation by speaking-out negatively after the fact regarding a project you worked on. Bridges, fire, and all that.

i would like to put a bunch of text in all caps thankya


“Studio hairdresser’s youtube tear-filled rant goes viral: ‘It wasn’t my faulty the movie bombed at the box office!’”

“Caterer Denies Any Responsibility for Film’s Failure; Congressional Investigation Demanded”

I used to work with a guy who was one of the sound people on Species 2. He was not impressed with the movie. He also didn’t do any more movies after that…

Friends of friends work at ILM and they were, individually, really not happy with the way Star Wars episode 1-3 came out. When they were working on their bit, they were given a very limited view of what was going on and how it was all going to work together, so they did their shot and sent it off and when they saw the movies in the theaters, they were all “Um… this is not the movie I thought I was making…”

It happened.

In one of the documentaries of the Star Wars Prequels (don’t remember which one) I recall the animators talking about being proud of their work, while not really liking the film as a whole.

I’ll bet the people doing the grunt work have a lot to say about box office failures, but since they’re so far out of the public eye, nobody bothers to report their comments.

I know a LOT of behind the scenes people, grips and what not. Mostly they bitch about how stupid so-and-so actor/director is. They rarely even care what the movie/tv show is that they are working on, as long as they get steady work and a paycheck and the director isn’t a total dickhead.

I wonder how the dolly grip turned out after working on Nine to Five

I’ve covered some of this in my “Ask the…” thread, but yes, this was my experience when I was working in the Lucas organization.

The most interesting (and, for some, depressing) thing was that the Star Wars prequels were essentially running in parallel to Peter Jackson’s LOTR films. Some of the personnel even overlapped, and the community is full of names that are instantly recognized in the VFX and sound design worlds.

So while an animator or compositor could be proud of the numerous 30-second or 3-minute sequences they toiled over for months, there was no getting around the fact that the whole was far lesser than the sum of its parts, and there was undeniably a demoralizing current to the fact that while the SW films could brag about X number of effects shots or Y number of dollars earned, the films were not getting any kind of critical acceptance the way the Middle Earth films of the time did. They were on another artistic level altogether, and that gap had nothing to do with money or resources or individual talent of the many people involved in the films’ making. It all had to do with vision.

Sometimes, it’s genuinely hard to tell if a movie is good while you’re shooting it. Jaws appeared to be a notorious disaster when the shoot was over. Ditto SW Ep.IV before the visual effects, sound design and scoring occurred. Being immersed in a project for weeks or months (though rarely years for these below-the-line jobs) doesn’t offer the staff editorial distance. And like has mentioned before, they’re professionals who roll from one project to the next and the next and so on. So their perception of the film will be informed less by aesthetic or creative elements and more by how harmonious (or chaotic) the work flow was, or how well (or poorly) the production was handled–particularly when it comes to safety, timelines, or cost overruns.

I’ve worked with many industrial model makers whose products ranged from prototype car parts to Star Wars weapons to surgical instruments. Their portfolios are filled with photographs showing the detail, quality, and function of their crafted works regardless of how valid the product idea was.

On a related note, does the crew get to see the movie before it hits the theaters as a preview? If not, I wonder how often they just don’t bother to see the final product, because as said before, it was just a job. (Does the stone cutter got to church at the cathedral?) I’d think they’d be curious to see what the end result was.

I am a behind the scenes person (grip/electric) and I this is how it is: I could not give one rat’s ass about the show/movie/event I’m working on, other than to do my job well. I care about safety, how well-thought out the process is and how good the food is. And frankly, as long as the check clears, those things being subpar will prolly be forgiven.

Here’s a good paraphrase of my own attitude and (IMO) most professionals in my line of work: I don’t care about this movie/show/event. I don’t want to care. “Caring” implies a level of entanglement that I don’t want or need for what is ultimately a temporary gig. I am, however, concerned about the work that I do and about the environment that I am working in (including the people around me), because those are the things that are going to determine what future gigs I am offered and which I accept.

No, there is generally no screening for the working crew IME.