You know how when you watch your favorite TV show you only see the actors, celebrities, or contestants’ faces the entire time and you can usually rattle off their names without a sweat? Now try watching all of the credits and recognizing any of those names. Can you do it? Probably not.
For many TV viewers, terms like “boom operator” and “gaffer” are foreign lingo (and when I say “gaffer,” I don’t mean Samwise Gamgee’s papa in The Lord of the Rings). Usually, the people’s names that show up next to these titles receive the same treatment, automatically being disregarded as unimportant and too obscure to be worthy of note. However, it’s people just like boom operators and gaffers that make your favorite shows possible.
This weekend I had the opportunity of being a production assistant for season 12 of American Idol, and I can now officially say I know what it’s like to be one of those workers whose name will not be remembered by anyone watching the show, yet the bus crew who stopped to audition local talent would not have been able to get through the weekend without me. And that is literally the most humble way I can explain the importance of mere “no-namers” in TV production and all that they do.
For example, the first thing I did on Friday was chauffeur several of the Idol crew to the audition location so we could scout out the best areas to park the tour bus and set up the audition tents and tables. I also was in charge of driving the crew back to their hotel every day, toting them around town to run errands, and picking up meals. Normally, driving does not seem like a large task; anyone could do that, right? Wrong.
When you’re an assistant, you are not always just driving yourself. You drive any crew members around and suddenly their lives are in your hands. This is a particularly scary thought at 5 a.m. the next morning when it’s still dark out and you’ve had four hours of sleep and are hopped up on coffee. You pray to the Lord that you won’t drift across lanes, hit a deer, or, worse yet, fall asleep at the wheel. Suddenly I realized why they’d asked for a copy of my official driving record!
Also, can you picture Ryan Seacrest or Simon Cowell running out to get their own lunches when they also have to be getting to hair and makeup in preparation for filming in the evening? Don’t try to picture it because it rarely — if ever — happens. The same situation was true with the tour crew, as well. They were more directly involved with the food selection than they might have been in-studio, but I was the one who ultimately went and picked up the food, paid the restaurant with production money, and made sure to get a receipt so the production manager could claim it as a company expense. You simply can’t have a hungry, grouchy crew or cast on your hands if you hope to get anything filmed every day.
Though most people don’t want to deal with paperwork, this is one of the final and most important elements that goes on behind-the-scenes of TV shows. Thousands of sheets of paper for employees are processed so that they can get paid properly, yet you never see any of these sheets. That’s because it’s the job of assistants, the legal department, and human resources. I, too, had to take care of making sure all the paperwork was properly signed by the other temporary production assistants hired to work this past weekend. Had I not done so, one of my friends would have missed a good chunk of money due him because he did not sign in three different, required places. Imagine how many other people in the industry miss signing and how some worker in the TV company has to catch each error, yet you may never know his or her name.
I haven’t even covered the jobs the other production assistants did, like line control and monitoring, registration table, paperwork for the “winner’s circle,” and more. What you need to remember is anyone who works behind the scenes of a TV show clearly has a purpose, no matter how insignificant it may seem. So the next time your favorite show is on, do the boom operators and gaffers a favor by acknowledging first their existence and second their efforts. Should you ever have an opportunity like mine or theirs, I can assure you that you will appreciate all the positive attention and “thank you’s” that you get.
* All pictures in this story are copyright Woman Friday (Bree Brouwer), with the exception of the header and one indicated photo which are owned by Paragon Videography.