A career that was once seen as one of the last barriers to entry into the entertainment industry is no longer shut off to those looking to break into television. As more companies of all sizes have started providing on-call employees for guest-starring roles, or to even film those new shows pilot season, more and more front-line agents are finding themselves hand-picking, or arranging for, the credentials of the employee who will replace a guest star – even though the candidate’s inexperience, and lack of formal training, create vulnerabilities.
No-one is talking about it, but this is a problem. One that is focused not only on costly on-set injuries, but on secondary cast members who, in many cases, may not even be able to afford a bus pass to get there. From the stage to the screen, no one knows if you’re hired or not.
For the workers to whom CNN sent to ask questions, most of them appeared to be working on ships. At the ITV Studios in New Orleans, we found personnel hard at work with pistols in between takes, conjuring up storylines for scene after scene as we filmed… props and scenery, mostly.
Yet even with the large at-the-ready team of regular crew and actors there could be no assurance we could safely get through the shoot without injury. And yes, we knew it was possible for workers to die on stage. When Steven Scalise was shot in 2017 during a Congressional baseball practice, it was a worker staffing that extremely busy production who reportedly passed out and died as a result of the bullet striking his throat. But injuries are also being sustained in much simpler scenes, without nearly the same amount of camaraderie.
This concern is real and is impacting how crew members are recruited. On the set of TV drama “The Last Ship,” which is shot at a complex based on the decommissioned General Dynamics NASSCO shipyard, we found that certain workers were there on call, but – if a scene required the company to send a crew rather than a guest, or vice versa – there was no way to know who was on call until the job was completed. Instead, managers placed rank on the position of holding up the shoot, with a different list of attributes for each crew member. So it seemed reasonable that if you happened to be strong on one station, you didn’t stand a chance of holding up the others, who were pushing themselves to do double-duty while wearing hard hats, work boots and protective gear.