It’s a well known fact behind the glitz and glamor of the film industry lies a seedy underbelly. The sky-high wages of the leading actors are balanced by the notoriously low wages of the people who keep the movie machine oiled and running. Underpaid workers carrying out mind-numbingly boring, menial, or degrading work make sure that the stars have everything they need. Aside from the army of migrant workers involved in building, cleaning, and washing, there is a whole world of peculiar niche jobs in the movie industry which come with some truly shocking requirements.
Hollywood pays people to keep stars safe, to preserve their modesty in sex scenes, to look attentive during award ceremonies, even to tell them how to simulate sex on screen. The list of jobs goes on and on, and changes as the techniques used to make movies evolves. One particularly painful example of a relatively new task is that of the video effects artist, whose job it is to trace every hair of an on-screen character so that they can be CGI’d into a scene with a monster or superhero.
Below we’ve put together some of the most established – but still shocking jobs – in combination with a few that have only emerged in the past few years. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s a brief overview of some extreme examples of the bizarre jobs which operate behind the glamorous facade of the movie industry.
5. Nudity Doubles
When films feature Penelope Cruz, Natalie Portman, Owen Wilson, or Keira Knightley, some portion of a film’s audience might be attracted to the idea of seeing their favorite actor or actress without their clothes on. However, chances are the celebrity took a day off filming for that scene, and instead used a body double. The practice is so common that it might be easier to list those who actually appear in the flesh (we’re looking at you Jason Segel).
Exactly what is required other than a similar body shape is unknown, though it stands to reason that there are agencies and databases for finding the perfectly shaped double. Whether it is uncomfortable or not, it must be a fairly strange situation when an actor like Kit Harington (Jon Snow) spends time with the guy who’s going to play his character’s butt.
Working for free is nothing new, but the financial crash has meant that more and more 20-somethings have found themselves landing on the bottom of the career ladder with little or no compensation for being treated like the lowest of the low. The average intern at a movie studio will be the first in to the office and the last out, and will perform a wide variety of petty jobs that could well make them question their life choices.
Though the best employers will arrange for a period of unpaid work to evolve into a real job, it is sadly completely normal for multi-million dollar companies to arrange for a rolling program of unpaid workers who are tipped out after a few months and replaced by a fresh batch.
3. Stunt Men and Women
Whilst body doubles are there to preserve the talent’s modesty, a stunt double is just there to preserve a star’s safety. Tumbling from buildings, jumping onto oncoming cars, performing sword fights, and most general purpose flying and falling are handled by specialist stunt men and women. Latex masks of actor’s faces used to be the norm, but now most of the illusion is taken care of by CGI.One particularly fascinating element of this industry is the device known as the air ram which makes use of compressed air or hydraulics to literally shoot a stunt double into the air to simulate an explosion or superhuman fight.
There are a number of large training academies for stunt men, though the expectation is that most people start out with some kind of specialist training (sword fighting, rock climbing, or the ability to crash a car at high speed are all solid starting points). Readers are probably familiar with the work of one particularly productive stunt man named Colin Follenwieder who has appeared in everything from Die Hard to X- Men and Iron Man to Avatar, working to make sure that actors including Shia LaBeouf, Bruce Willis, and Chris Evans are out of harm’s way during the filming of high-octane scenes.
Despite the training there have been a number of accidents on set, some of which have resulted in the end of the stunt man’s life. In cinema’s early days a stunt man’s life was much more dangerous, but even with today’s safety procedures and equipment there are still tragedies. The Expendables II, XXX, and The Crow all had accidents on set in which the stunts went wrong and resulted in crashes, gun misfires, and explosions which killed the doubles involved.
2. Seat Fillers
To someone putting on an awards ceremony or film premier in Hollywood the very idea of an empty seat is terrifying. A film that failed to drum up enough buzz or an acceptance speech that sends the audience running for the bar would be a source of great embarrassment for the PR people in a world where image is everything. The pressure to fill seats has lead to the bizarre phenomenon of the seat filler agency, which will provide your event with a whole bunch of mute, beautifully dressed people who will rush to any empty chairs in ad breaks to ensure the theatre always looks filled to capacity.
Even the biggest ceremonies like the Academy Awards aren’t above hiring in a bunch of people who aren’t allowed to drink, eat, or talk to the celebrities. Vanity Fair managed to interview a seat filler who discussed how prospective candidates had to send in passport scans and pictures of the dresses or suits they planned to wear. The day runs from 9 a.m to midnight. It’s considered volunteer work and is therefore unpaid.
1. Cinematic ‘Sexographer’
“If you’re filming a scene with an element of combat, you get a fight director. If you’re filming a dance, you get a choreographer, and if you have a sex scene, you get a … sexographer.” So said Michael Arnold, one of Hollywood’s only sexographers, in an interview with the UK Guardian. And you might well laugh at the idea of this, but you’ve come across his work if you’ve seen the recent Scorsese flick The Wolf of Wall Street.
With all their moving parts, sex scenes are notoriously difficult to get right, and it only gets more complicated when you add people and props, and start asking for more complicated acrobatics. Which is why Michael Arnold will (for a price) choreograph your sex scene down to the smallest detail, working with the actors to define what they will and won’t do, and ensuring that the sex scene sets exactly the right tone.