Skip to content

Working Background

So my husband and I just moved to New York City and to help pay the bills while I work on writing screenplays and directing short films, we decided that I needed to get a part-time job.

I needed to figure out what kind of job I could do that would be flexible enough but that would also provide a decent hourly rate.  I have an MBA, and experience producing films, bookkeeping, being a local coffee-shop girl, and even small business management; but I wanted something that wouldn’t drain me physically or emotionally.  As much as I like to play the tough, macho feminist who’s going to take over the world, I’m really just a sensitive artist who takes everything about my self way too seriously.  So I knew that bookkeeping and coffee-slinging would be too taxing for my fragile artistic soul (at this juncture).  What could I do?

Then one day it hit me!  Background work!

At first I was somewhat resistant to the idea, and to be honest, it’s because I’m kinda prideful. I’d love for people to think that I’m rollin’ in the dough, having made a ton of moolah on the feature we produced and don’t need any help getting my short film made. Well, the cut and dry of it is: the feature film hasn’t been released yet (and who’s to say how well it’ll fair at the box office once it does?), so I really do need the earn the money that we’re going to spend to finish my short film.

So in November, I signed up for Central Casting here in NYC. The very next day I was on a set silently improvising a conversation with two seasoned actors. The production was the pilot that Judd Apatow helped Lena Dunham produce. I questioned those seasoned actors and learned about other casting agencies – including Casting Networks. Shortly after, I signed up with Casting Networks.

The plan was to do the background acting for a few months to be sure I’d like it and could handle it; and if I did, I’d join SAG and earn the higher union wage (I became SAG eligible back in 2008 with a small role on an independent feature). I joined SAG back in April and haven’t looked back. It’s been really wonderful to have such a flexible job and for my job to be relatively low-stress! The early morning calls are tedious; but, boy! is it fun to be on set for a living!


Can you find me here on the set of Blue Bloods (S1 E14 “My Funny Valentine”)?

Also, with my producing experience, I can watch what’s going on around me with an educated eye – and I learn. I’m learning how different First AD’s function; learning how different sets are run (big ones versus little ones); learning who the best caterers in NYC are; learning what keeps background and crew happy; learning how to organize a shooting day; learning all the extra space you need when you shoot on location; and learning SAG rules. Learning all this and so much more will hopefully help make me a smarter, more efficient and patient director. I know it’s already made me a better First AD (more on that in another post).

8 replies »

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this information. I find it very interesting to hear all the things you are learning from being on set and I’m proud of you for taking on background work with such gusto! I always enjoy being on any set for similar reasons and I hope each experience makes me that much more prepared for bigger and better things in the production world. I look up to you and Ryan a lot, so I find this very encouraging.

    -Dan Matas

  2. Hey Gillian, just discovered your blog via fb. First, it’s cool to hear what you’re up to. It sounds like you’re making great progress. Second, there are too few people out there who are open enough to take each experience for what it is and see the bigger picture at the same time – how one step at a time, you are becoming a better director, even when you’re not directing. Looking forward to seeing some of your film work 🙂

    • Hey Matthew! (Thanks for leaving your email, so I could know which Matthew you are!) Thanks for this comment. I appreciate the encouragement! 😀

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s