I approached the iconic Musso and Frank Grill when I noticed a group of people stopped forming an inconvenient clump in the middle of the sidewalk. A man was standing in front of them, his arms gesticulating wildly as he spoke. I didn’t pay him much mind as I skirted around the group. My automatic brain was used to scenes like this on Hollywood's Walk of Fame and I registered him as a tour guide speaking to a group of tourists.
“You need to wait here!” he snapped at me.
“Why?” I asked, baffled but not really caring enough to wait for an answer. I saw others walking up ahead and saw no reason to stop as I continued on. Besides, as far as I knew he was one of the many street hustlers trying to sell me something. The second you stop for them they get their hooks in you.
It wasn’t until I was in front of Musso and Frank that I suddenly realized the only other people around me were clad in 1960’s era clothing.
I had just inadvertently walked through the set of Quentin Tarantino’s new film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (OUATIH). The guy I blew off was a crew member tasked with only allowing costumed extras to walk by the windows while they shot interior scenes.
So if there happens to be an anachronistic woman in a pink jacket among the extras, it was me, the rushed local who couldn’t have been bothered to listen to some random guy on the street barking orders.
The summer of 2018 saw our Hollywood neighborhood transformed to the year 1969 for Tarantino’s film. There had been a lot of buzz about the production and its story about the gruesome Sharon Tate murders by followers of Charlie Manson.
Our first clue about the upcoming production came during an early morning walk when Brian and I noticed an artist sketching out a mural on the side of one of our favorite burrito shops. Whenever we happen to catch an artist at work we like to stop and watch it unfold for a bit. If the artist is open to chatting we love that too – hearing about their inspiration etc. It was an unusually hot morning and the artist was coming down from the scaffolding to take a break from the sun.
He was very friendly and we chatted for a bit. When we asked about the commission the artist suddenly became less chatty.
“Its for a production,” he said with a sly smile.
“The Tarantino thing?” we asked.
He dodged the question and we didn’t persist. He was generous with his time and we didn’t want to press.
Shortly thereafter, other signs of production started popping up and it was unmistakable that Hollywood Boulevard was getting transformed to Manson era 1969. Somehow, believe it or not, the seedy boulevard became even more seedy with the return of XXX stores, the Pussy Cat Theatre (where Deep Throat ran for a record ten years). Even our favorite little burrito shop was given a new X-rated exterior.
I was walking home at the end of a long day. I turned off of Hollywood Boulevard and onto my street. Over the weeks of shooting my block had often become a “forbidden zone” as it occasionally served as a base camp for production. Avoiding this area would mean walking blocks out of my way to get home. But as long as I played it cool and “looked like I belonged” I was in and out of the zone in under a minute.
“You can’t go that way!”
Ugh. I heard the barking command but I was half a block from home so I ignored him and kept walking.
“You can’t go that way,” he shouted as he ran past to get up ahead of me.
He stood in front blocking my path. I continued walking. He walked backwards ahead of me while still yelling at me to go back.
He wasn’t a cop so I didn’t care what he had to say.
Rather he was with the film crew. He had a job to do and I can respect that. But by this time I had lost count of how many times I had been yelled at by a Testosterone-Filled-I’m-Working-for-Tarantino-So-I’m-Going-To-Throw-My-Make-Believe-Authority-Around crew member.
Besides, I was almost home and I was just steps away from exiting the “forbidden zone” anyway.
“This area is closed,” he repeated as I went around him.
Silently, I continued walking.
“You can’t go this way.” He was becoming increasingly agitated as he continued to pursue me.
“Looks like I can,” I calmly smiled as I continued.
“I’m going to call the police!” he shouted.
I shrugged. Like LAPD didn’t have bigger things to worry about.
Don’t get me wrong. The transformation of the neighborhood was a lot of fun. With the new look and energy, all summer long there was an extra excitement in the air.
But in between the excitement these few encounters with pseudo-authorities got me thinking about the idea of authority. As a self-defense instructor what really got my brain turning was how the presentation and perception of authority impacts results.
In myself I noticed a reaction to shrug off authoritarian commands, especially when I determined there were no consequences. If it had been a cop giving me those commands I definitely would have made very different choices. But an overzealous 20-something crew member with something to prove? Pfffft. I got places to be.
What was chilling to see however, is that for the most part, the crew’s techniques were effective. Loud and bellicose, they effectively corralled the public on public streets. The crew demonstrated that by yelling with just the right tone and pitch most people would do whatever you told them to.
While I’m all for law and order, from a self-defense perspective, I frequently see this mentality as an obstacle for many looking to protect themselves.
First, it illustrates our culture of outsourcing our safety. By unthinkingly allowing someone else to be in charge of our bodies and our safety we surrender autonomy. We look to someone else to “be in charge” and all too easily surrender when someone shows up with all the right outer markers of it.
Often those outer markers are related to gender, age, race, physicality, job title, a religious affiliation, the way they carry themselves and perhaps a uniform. Consider for yourself, who do you automatically and unquestioningly defer to as an authority? What do you base it on?
Second, to whose authority are we ultimately deferring? In these cases it was merely a made up “authority” with no teeth or consequence.
If you are deferring, especially to a pseudo-authority, where does that leave you and your own sense of agency?
Is it because they actually have anything to offer?
Are there are any consequences for not submitting to their authority?
Or are they all hot air?
There are certainly times that acquiescing to authority is the best outcome. Consequences should always be weighed and considered. Taking unnecessary risk with authority (real or otherwise) may not be worth the potential negative outcome.
For one who wants to take ownership of their own safety these are questions worth examining.
I invite you to consider these questions and consider where you are giving up your personal autonomy to someone who doesn’t have a right to it. And you don’t have to be a jerk about it either. Politeness is a powerful tool.
One last experience during the OUATIH shoot to consider.
Over the course of the weeks-long shoot, the highlight came when the big man himself, Brad Pitt, was shooting exterior scenes. I guess DiCaprio was there too, I don’t really remember.
The sidewalks were mobbed with tourists and locals alike looking to catch a glimpse of Pitt driving up and down Hollywood Boulevard. There was a carnival like atmosphere where we ran into neighbors and friends for what became something of a block party. Throughout it all, you guessed it, the crew was tasked with the difficult and thankless job of clearing certain areas.
After getting yelled at by one too many who were short on politeness, I turned to my friend Troy and said, “That’s it, I’m sick of being yelled at in my own neighborhood. The next person that yells at me to move can go f*ck themselves”.
A few minutes later a crew member approached us. She was in her 20’s, a slightly built African-American woman. She looked at me with these big Disney Princess eyes and kindly said, “Hey, I’m sorry... would you guys mind moving just this way a bit?”
Immediately my gruff attitude melted.
“Of course! No problem!” I cooed.
I looked at Troy. He laughed and rolled his eyes at how easily I was swayed.
“How could I say no to that face?” I smiled as we scooted back a few feet.
For all the macho posturing of all the other crew members barking orders to, “MOVE!”, it was this young woman’s kind approach that actually, and literally, moved me.
I shared an early draft of this article with a friend of mine who works in the film industry to get her perspective. I found her response to be illuminating, especially her thoughts on the culture of gender differences in the industry and how certain behavior is rewarded. With her permission I’m adding it below with my friend’s name removed.
I want to send this to every AD and production office I know so they can require every set P.A. to read it.
The guys barking orders at you were production assistants. Lowest on the crew totem pole, they have no union and they are nearly always overworked, underpaid, and demeaned. A lot of them were hot shit in film school and now they’re in L.A. working on a Tarantino movie, and they’re angry at how unimpressed everyone is with them now. It’s their job to pick up garbage, keep track of walkies, get food and coffee for the higher-ups, and work those lockups. So a lot of them take lockups (keeping randos from walking through the shot) way too seriously. It doesn’t help that the 1st AD - their boss - is typically an angry, stressed-out guy who has to maintain a tight shooting schedule to keep the production on budget.
When you walked through, the guy who “let you through” may well have had a 1st AD growling in his earbud a moment later about how bad he sucks at his job because a bogey (you) just walked through the shot and now Tarantino, a notorious perfectionist, might want to reset and shoot the scene again, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of production time.
The thing is that you noticed what I noticed back when I was a set P.A. too. I have the same personality and I don’t like people shouting orders at me. The production has no legal right to block you from walking on a public sidewalk; all they can do is ask you to please wait. And when asked nicely, most people do! But there’s a marked difference in gender in this industry, and these male P.A.s are watching their male bosses get patted on the back for being strong, loud, and forceful. They’re expected to be that way too. The woman who asked you nicely is probably not going to be invited onto the next job unless she is shockingly good at everything. She just won’t be remembered at all.
It’s one reason I don’t work on set anymore. So much of set culture is a bunch of goddamn gorillas all thumping their chests and waving their dicks at each other.
Anyway you were 100% in the right. You can add to your article that legally, a production can’t stop you from walking down the sidewalk. The only way they can stop you is if they bring in actual cops to direct traffic.