The moral of this week’s story is to never take short cuts in life. Why?? Because it always ends up taking you twice as long and things never go according to plan. It makes twice as much work for you, at least that is my experience in everything in my life, especially when I try and take short cuts when I’m in a hurry.
I reached this conclusion for the millionth time in my life, when I decided to buy the cheaper cat biscuits for the girls instead of the known and trusted Hills brand. I figured that it probably wouldn’t make so much difference taste or nutrition wise, but would save some money. I’d never have done this before, but somehow being in Georgia, I am starting to become more Georgian without even knowing that I am doing it, i.e. taking short cuts!
This stupid act turned out to be an expensive an inconvenient one. The cats did eat the cheaper biscuits, so did the dog, and every time they ate them, they were promptly sick! Luckily I managed to get them all outside pre vomit session, and with no problem. But just once, I missed the chance with my tabby Izzy, and she was sick…all over my desk, missing everything in sight, bar my ipod, the most expensive thing on the desk, and hardest/most expensive thing to replace here in Georgia. I actually have two ipods, one is really old and one is a newer one. One has the songs on the computer, the other does not. Guess which one she was sick on…..yep, the newer one, that doesn’t have the tunes backed up, as the tunes were on the hard drive of my computer which died in January in Georgia!!!!
Ipods and the Arctic
The irony for me, is that Ipods have been designed and tested to work in arctic conditions, friends of mine have taken them on expeditions on the ocean, in minus conditions, in the jungle, and you can even buy waterproof jackets with ipods built into them and with the controls on the sleeve or even on the glove part of the jacket. But it seems that whilst they may be arctic proof, they are clearly not Izzy or cat sick proof!!! So, learn a lesson from me, never ever try and save money by buying cheap cat food, just go for the quality one, as it will work out cheaper (and less messy) in the long run!
Being a bit philosophical this week, I came to realise that this cutting corners type approach, is very typical in Georgia, it always goes wrong, causes lots of drama, and is one of the most common experiences I have had here. I am not saying that it is right or wrong, it is just an observation of Georgian culture, and it pervades every aspect of society from the lay person in the street all the way up to the Ministry. I have seen it in the travel industry, with TLG, and now, here I am doing exactly the same thing!!!
It is one of the things that really frustrates me about Georgia, and is something that I hate in myself too, this thing of doing half a job, and I realised this week, that it is why I feel so stressed out with school right now…because its a cultural thing, and its in-built into me that because I am not prepared by British standards, therefore I am doing half a job, and therefore I am a failure and a bad teacher. I have acclimatised an awful lot since I came to Georgia, but it is probably the thing that I still have the hardest time with. I think it is probably hard for Georgians to understand too, as they are constantly giving praise and they are used to do things off the cuff, and they often look confused as to why we are stressing out, but its much easier to get your head around when you realise it is a part of the British make up, we are just brought up that way, knowing we are being judged, knowing that people will talk about us behind our backs, and always striving to give our all in case one of the vultures is behind us and after our job. When you think about it, it makes sense that Britain has the only culture who works for free above and beyond their scheduled hours, and many people, especially Georgians don’t realise that when they just look at salaries and get funny with us because they see us as rich, and a rich culture with no poor people. Those moments are difficult, as Georgians don’t realise that actually they are the ones who are rich. Brits spend so much time working and trying to please others, that they often forget to live, have no time time for friends or family, and rarely sit down together for a meal. We live a life of constant stress and pressure. Georgians do work hard, especially women, but in most cases they still have that standard whereby friends and family take precedent. Work in Britain is also very different to work in Georgia. Here, it is normal to have strong friendships and to be social with those you work with, but in Britain this is not really so. We are more inclined to have friends and to be sociable outside of work, that way any gossip does not spread into the work place!
Last week was super interesting on this front, as I had the pleasure of working on a new film called “ნაწილები” / “The Parts”. Its a romance about a couple who work in a laboratory, and the cast and crew are from LA and from Georgia. Here is a little clip of us filming that made the news on Rustavi 2:
I’ve never filmed in LA before, but I have worked with crew from LA whilst working at Pinewood Film Studios in the UK, so it was fascinating to see how three different cultures went about the film making.
Film and Food
It was lunchtime (4pm) when I arrived on set after finishing school, and the first difference I saw was the meals. In the UK, meals are a big part of the film making culture, people always complain about them, but they are always a gigantic affair really. In the UK, meals are generally served from a mobile home type trailer, they come in three courses with a selection for each course. We generally arrive on set anywhere between 4am and 7am, and have breakfast, usually fruit juice, teas and coffees, hot chocolate, and a selection of cereals. Then we have a traditional English breakfast with fried eggs, bacon, sausages, tomatoes, fried bread, mushrooms, and sometimes hash browns or onions or black pudding too. Alternatively, you can have bacon butties, or any kind of butty, basically a bread roll filled with sausages or eggs or bacon, and usually tomato ketchup. For those in favour of a lighter breakfast you will usually find fruits, mueslis, and fruit salad as well as more continental type products like cake or croissants. At around 10am we have brunch (between breakfast and lunch), and then between 12-2pm we have lunch. This is usually soup, or some starter, then casserole or roast diner, or some kind of meat and two veg, or curry, or something substantial, followed by a pudding, lik sponge and custard. After this there is a selection of fruits, and a cheese board with cheese and biscuits of all colours, from various countries. Around 4 or 5pm we have afternoon tea or something like it, cakes, biscuits, more tea with milk, and then if you are filming into the evening, there may be sandwiches or sometimes another meal, maybe lasagna, or pizza. Food is one of the things I always love about filming in the UK!
In Georgia, this is not quite the same, but mainly because the food is more Georgian, and there is no tea with milk, but there is still food, and the hours are probably also similar, except that filming doesn’t take place on a Sunday, which is not the case in the UK, unless you happen to work on a long standing television series such as Holby City or Eastenders where the hours are a little ore regular.
Status and Hierarchy on the Film Set
Another big difference is that in the UK there is a social hierarchy. You have actors at the top, and everyone else way down below. We eat separately, don’t speak, don’t give eye contact, and actors never get their own food or queue up. The actors have their own runners to look after them, and those runners and those at the top end of the food chain as it were, always get served first, whilst those at the bottom of the pecking order get to line up last and get the leftovers food wise. This etiquette is never broken and is the cause of friction and tantrums if it is.
In the UK, if we are filming on location, we often eat in a red bus, a retired London bus. We sit separately, and we never mix. You can get an idea of this from the BBC Comedy series Extras:
Filming in Georgia, was quite the opposite and Georgian hospitality and warmth was clearly still present. We had a polystyrene container with compartments, some meat in one, mashed potato or red cabbage or something in another and then some kind of Georgian sauce, and glass bottles of coca cola. We were filming first at the Academy of Arts in Tbilisi, the most amazing building and it made me somewhat nostalgic over the film that I first saw about Georgia and Tbilisi which led to my interest in coming here in the first place. To an onlooker the place could be seen as the Mary Celeste, like a time capsule, old and shabby with Romeo and Juliette-esque balconies and vines growing up them, and huge statues and works of art around the place. I was informed that by day the place was bustling with students, but now they had finished for the day. The building looked like it could fall down and would be inhabitable, but on entering the inside, as with so many buildings in Georgia, it was mesmerising. Quiet little arts studios with the most perfect natural light and ambiance, ornate stair wells with chandeliers and amazing frescoes, and marble stairways, and a long white art gallery, the perfect space for displaying such art work. This is one of the magical things that I love about living in Tbilisi. Just walk up any side street and you will find yourself in some little Italian style ezo (yard), sculptures and intricate architecture and art work, and vines of grapes, balconies overhanging yards, and roofs that look like they should be in some action or romance film. It is a film makers paradise, with a little something for everyone in terms of location. And as we sat outside in the afternoon sunshine, chatting, and the Georgians smoking little cigarettes, it was hard to imagine how different this was from my days out filming on location in the rain, sat on a bus, and keeping myself to myself.
Weirder still, was the fact that I couldn’t tell anyone’s status or role from looking around, either at lunch, or on the set. Everyone seemed to be equal!!! People were chatting and laughing together, looking each other in the eyes, and touching each other. Extraordinary!!!! There was no atmosphere or pretence, just a group of like minded people who all happened to love making films. Actors were eating the same food as everyone else, they were getting their own food, and no one was running around after them. The AD (Assistant Director) and 2nd AD were not shouting, no one hated them, and they were friends with everyone. I was totally in shock when the 2nd AD noticed that I didn’t have a drink, and do got up to get me one, and even took the top off for me. That would NEVER happen in the UK!! Everyone was hospitable, and even the actors were happy to chat, despite the language barriers. The only ones who looked as out of place as I felt, were the crew from LA, who also had to get to grips with this totally different hierarchy and new social rules, and I have to say it was definitely a winner for me over filming in the UK.
Filming started a little later than planned, pretty much as I had expected, but actually with very good reason, and was managed very efficiently. In the UK, filming involves a lot of hanging around, and I have often wondered how Georgians could be so efficient with their film making, taking just two weeks to shoot what would take us in the UK around 18months. The reason is that Georgians are more organised, probably because they don’t have the budgets that we generally have. In the UK, you will have the whole crew on set, and often ened up only getting the lighting set up, with everyone just hanging around for no reason all day, whilst in Georgia, all that stuff is generally set up already and crew already know what they are doing before shooting starts, which is far more efficient, and better for morale too. Most of my work in the UK was more about trouble shooting and dealing with people who were tired and bored and had been sat on set in the rain all day doing absolutely nothing, whilst it would have been better to just get them involved when things were ready for them.
It turned out that the reason for the delay was that one of the mirrors purchased for a scene with an infinity mirror, had been broken, and one of the crew had cut their wrist in the process. Another major cultural difference for me, as the AD had taken them to the hospital to get them fixed up. This was quite a surprise to me, especially having worked with the medical crew on sets. In the UK we have to have a set medic by law, but in Georgia this is not so. Unless you were Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt, then you would be off the film as soon as you had injured yourself. The set medic would take you to the nearest hospital, where you would wait for four hours in a queue to have your injuries assessed, and then spend another two hours waiting to get fixed up. Even if you hurt yourself, the AD would not care, and certainly would never take you to the hospital and likely would not even know your name. That would be the job of the Set Medic, and there would need to be a replacement set medic to cover you during the hospital trip, otherwise filming would have to stop for the day. The AD would NEVER take you to the hospital, and the injury would result in a lot of paperwork filling, as well as a risk assessment, statement, and plan to ensure that no one could hurt them self again.
Always Be Prepared for the Worst
Another difference is that we would probably have a spare mirror anyway, just in case one got broken, and this is where forward planning and a bigger budget really helps, as it means you can continue with filming. There are pros and cons to this, but its a matter of preference really. I hate to see unnecessary expenditure and unnecessary waste on a film production, and am always horrified at the amount of money spent on things which could easily be given to the poor to use, or could be recycled somehow, so for me, the not having a ‘just in case’ mirror made a lot more sense, but was obviously a bit of a problem when it came to replacing the broken one, as they needed to be sourced, and delivered to the set as quickly as possible.
The other big difference for me was that, had that been in the UK, the injured person probably would not have been invited back to work on the set, regardless of the reason for the accident. Paid film work is scarce and there is fierce competition always. One of the golden rules of filming in the UK is to never draw attention to yourself, which is definitely not the case in Georgia, and I liked this lack of social pressure, and freedom to be yourself a bit more.
Soon enough, the problem with the mirror was solved, set up was fairly quick, and shooting began. What was instantly obvious was the lack of social hierarchy again. On a UK production, you can walk onto any set and immediately know who is who and what their job is, just by looking at the way they behave, who they give eye contact to, and the way they are sitting. Had I not already known many of the people who were here, I would have had a really tough time. Camera men looked like Actors, Directors looked like actors and camera men, there were no obvious runners or ADs, and there was this weird sense of equality. Every so often, another person would arrive. First a lady from the TV channel who wanted to film some of the shooting, obvious only by her microphone with its big orange tag. A lady arrived and gave one of the actors a big hug and kiss and spent a while with her arms around him, ahaha, he must be her husband! Nope, a little while later, she was doing the same with another guy, and he was doing the same with another lady. Maybe they were all married to each other???? Everyone stood close together, no sense of personal space, people sat with arms around each other, patted each other affectionately on the arms, and people sat closely together, sometimes sharing the one seat even though there were plenty of other seats available. Georgians just love to be close and to be friendly with each other, but as a foreigner its like learning a whole new language, and is easy to misunderstand what would usually be obvious and easy social cues. On a British set, we maintain physical distance, social distance, and even avoid eye contact. If you so much as looked at a Director or Actor in the eyes or in the wrong way, you could even be banished from the set, or would find that no one would ever employ you again. We never mix social groups or jobs, we like to keep in our cliques, and we have to look serious and busy all of the time. We never show emotions. Yet here, people were just being themselves and enjoying their work, with no social pressure at all, it was so refreshing, and there was a real buzz of creativity and less focus on maintaining personas or looking the part.
Filming and Children
There was a child on set, not acting but must have belonged to one of the actors. It was fascinating to watch, and is something I have not had opportunity to do before as children, in fact even friends or relatives are NEVER allowed on set, so no one gets to visit, and if they do there is always a strict code to adhere to. But here was a child, behaving really really well, and being entertained by everyone when they were free, and they were playing with him, laughing and joking. We are never this way with other people’s children, and as a rule, we don’t play with children unless we have our CRB check and a certificate and only then is it OK, but we only interact in a distant kind of educational way, we don’t play or show that we are enjoying it. This child come have belonged to anyone on that set, everyone interacted as if they were his mum or his dad, everyone took responsibility for him, and this is something I have noticed in Georgia in general. Children do not belong to their parents, but are minded by their community guardians, everyone takes responsibility, and it is one of the things I most love about Georgia, and which is sadly missing from British culture. Being allowed to have family on set, really helps to keep that family unit together, whereas in the UK, we spend hours and hours filming, we have no idea when we will finish work, and so family have to take second best or lesser priority than work, but in Georgia, many family members were present, and the whole crew were their own little family and community really.
The equipment was all pretty standard, the tracks were used far more effectively than in the UK, and this may have been due to the other alien species on the film set…the LA film crew, who looked equally as interested in the cultural differences of filming in Georgia. It was especially funny to see the use of the clapper board, as this is a very prestigious role in the UK, and you have to work your way up from a runner to this part, and then move upwards over a long time. At first, the guy was ‘clapping’ ver differently to what I am used to seeing, but I figured this might be just a Georgian way, until the LA crew taught him how to do this properly. In the UK, we would not have taught him this, we just would have never hired him again, so I was pleased to see the whole Georgian crew get training in different things over the weekend. I love that it is possible to evade all that social bullshit in Georgia, that you don’t have to work your way up to things, that you can make a mistake or do things wrong without feeling like you need to kill yourself because of your eror, and I love that its OK to teach people new skills. The crew are very young, but I’m really excited to watch them develop and grow and also to watch the production company grow too. Its especially nice for me, to see that fusion of British type film knowledge fused with the Georgian atitudes and hospitality and that will have special and real appeal as the film industry starts to really take root in Georgia and on an international level.
The Princess and the Diva
As is typical of my life in Georgia, I often feel as if I am treated like a Princess compared to my life and social ways of Britain. People care for each other, take time for each other, and people love to host. I felt very special on set, but as a part of the family rather than up on a pedestal or anything. It was totally unfounded too as I wasn’t there doing anything, and I didn’t deserve to be looked after so well. Even in school, people make me coffee and take time for me, and I still have this feeling of Guilt and embarrassment as I am just not used to having any attention focused on me at all, and in general the only time Brits are given attention is when its negative. I’m getting a whole lot better at it, but it is still strange to not have the tools to deal with compliments or kindness! Everyone on set knew my name, and that was a first for me. Usually only the main actors names are known, and only the Directors speak to them. Even if an actor started a conversation with you, it would be weird and wrong to interact, but not in Georgia. I guess that is why it is easier for so many ‘celebs’ to maintain normality in Georgia as there is no star spotting or paparazzi in the same way that I am used to.
The Extra and the Supporting Artist (SA)
A little while on, I was informed that I was to be an extra on the set. In Britain, there is a huge ongoing war in film and television production, and I gather that this is the same in Georgia too. The Extra/Supporting Artist debate!! On the whole Extras don’t like to me referred to as such, they prefer to be called ‘Supporting Artists’. The reason this has become such an issue is because traditionally, actors have come to despise Extras, seeing them as unqualified and socially lower than themselves as they have had no formal training or education. There is also a pretence about those Extras who have worked their way up to become actors, and they are always considered to be second best no matter if they win awards or not.
It probably comes about because it is difficult for actors to get jobs. During drama school, they will work as Extras to make money to support themselves, and when they cannot find acting work they are forced to either work in a supermarket stacking shelves, or to go and work as an Extra, where everyone can see them and knows that they are a ‘failed actor’. The result is that you get this whole attitude thing that builds up.
It was funny to be asked as an extra/SA again, first time in ages, and first time on a Georgian film production. I was actually quit nervous, which was also a first, and probably because usually when I’m an Extra no one even knows my name, and here I was in front of friends and people I would have to see again. The other big difference was that everything was new to me here, social etiquette, expectations, and most of all….the language! Usually when I’m filming it is always very clear, I know what is being asked of me, and the order for filming goes something like this…rolling, cameras set, background action, and action. In Georgian they have entirely different words for these, so everything is different, and a lot of it was guess work on my part, although they were extremely good at giving instructions in English too.
Filming in Multiple Languages
Filming in another country with a foreign crew was a fantastic experience, and certainly did wonders for my Georgian, although I was exhausted after using my brain so much after the weekend, but I definitely plan to do as much work as possible on set as it really helped me with my Georgian. Luckily the Director from LA spoke Russian, so was able to speak to his crew in American, and to the Georgian crew in Russian, and the Georgian crew were able to speak in Georgian and Russian, with the actors being given directions in both Russian and Georgian. Filming with different languages is a lot more complicated that you would expect, not just because of the cultural differences, cultural expectations, or translation issues, but because so much of filming is time critical and things are changing and developing all the time. We had call sheets in Georgian, but the LA crew didn’t have these in English, and sometimes things were progressing so quickly that it was not possible to relay all information to everyone in the three languages. There is a lot of special terminology in filming and much of this also has different words in the three languages and they are not everyday words, so sometimes translation was more challenging, on top of which you had different training and techniques being used, and a compromise on how things should be done had to be reached by the Directors. The Film’s Director was effectively in charge of the two ADs, both of whom are usually directors in their own right, and have different ways of approaching things.
The next day, we went on location outside of Tbilisi, and I had another fantastic day and was looked after really well again. Today was quite funny as I felt somewhere in between the Georgian and western cultures in terms of filming and also social or cultural norms. I felt a bit evil, laughing a little at seeing the American crew get frustrated by exactly the same Georgian traits that used to drive me crazy and which I am slowly becoming more accustomed to, and it was nice to feel like I have started to make some progress in my acclimatisation to Georgian life. But it was also weird, as there are still cultural differences between myself and Americans, and also myself and Georgians, and I was a little like the odd one out, especially as the only Brit, not a local yet not completely a foreigner either. If I could edge out a filming role for myself right now, I would love it to be the person who somehow bridges the cultural divide between the two different cultures and smooths out those cultural issues which threaten film proceedings. It was also the first time I have been on set as an observer with no actual role or job to do and that in itself was nice, and very interesting.
Georgian V British Film Making. And the Winner is…
On the whole, I think I actually prefer Georgian filming to British filming, it is much more friendly and creative. I saw two very different kinds of actors, those who would continue to talk when the Director had asked for quiet, and those who were frustrated because the crew continued to talk whilst they were shooting. In the UK, you would NEVER EVER talk on set, even when not shooting as you would get thrown off the set and would distract the Director and actors. Phones were also another big difference for me. In general mobile phones are not allowed on set, if you did have one it would be on silent and you would never get caught with it unless you were the Director or AD or perhaps a Runner and needed it for your work. If your phone went off or you were using it you would never be invited back to work again. I had wondered whether this rule would apply when filming in Georgia, and I often wonder how Georgians managed before the mobile phone. Most Georgians have two phones, they live with them, and every five minutes a family member will call, ask you where you are, who you are with, and how you are. Even fourty year olds will get calls from their mother checking up on them, and that is really strange to me as a foreigner, who has spoken to my granny once since November last year on the phone, and that didn’t go as far as a ‘how are you’. In Britain, we disown parents, relatives, even friends if they phone to check up on us, we hate to be nagged and we need to feel a sense of freedom and privacy in our lives. We would certainly never let anyone know a family member had called us either, but for Georgians it is quite the reverse and my culture is just as alien to them. It was funny then, to see the film crew from LA who seemed confused about the Georgians and their life dependent phones!
Fly on the Wall Foreigner
It was hard not to feel a little sorry for the LA film crew as they attempted to work at even half the speed of their normal work. No one told them that they had to reset their watches to Georgian time. In Georgia, its about savouring the process, about living in the moment and savouring time with friends and colleagues. It was interesting too, to see the LA crew trying to get the Georgian crew to document F stops and things, and doing things properly.
I felt very privileged to be invited filming and I loved every minute of it, I loved working with both crews, and both were extremely professional and competent and did exactly what was needed of them in terms of film production. But what was interesting was the cultural differences, the ways they went about things and their expectations. One would think that film making would be pretty standard around the world, but seeing this in action, showed me how deep culture and customs goes. It is the meaning of those events which makes a person American, or Georgian, or British or whatever. The LA crew were different to a British crew, but I have only seen this whilst filming in the UK, and being a fly on the wall was a fascinating experience, and I hope that it also helped me to figure out more about not just my identity, but that of those around me, and I hope that this will help me to change my expectations of others in the world, and to be less frustrated when things are not done in my way.
It was lovely to talk to the actors, and to ask those who had been to Britain, what they thought about their time there and what differences they noticed. I learnt so much Georgian in a short space of time, and I felt incredibly welcome. I don’t know if they will have time to read this blog, but if they do, I just want to say a huge thank you for letting me join you. I’m not sure when the film comes out, but when it does, I would love to get your feedback, and to see what you think of it in terms of technique and style, how does it compare to American, Georgian, or British films??? Which style of films do you like best and so on……