A young inexperienced security guard becomes an astute observer of how Hollywood really works. 2,547 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
Dan looked left and then right. The only one of these two that might make any sense was busy hopping on one foot as he pissed against a wall. No way was it the other guy. The other guy had no pants and was dragging a shopping cart without wheels. It couldn’t be him. Finally he finished. Dan called out. “Are you Vance?”
The guy who turned wasn’t tall but still somehow seemed it, at least until you got close. Thin, with stick legs, a huge head, rocker hair and a well-worn Judas Priest shirt. Dressed all in black, he looked more like a roadie than a professional security guard. Maybe 50/50?
“Yaa… whatta you want?”
“They… uh, I mean Wilf, told me to report here. I’m Dan… for security…”
“Well, welcome to Hollywood, buddy, or at least my shitty corner of it.”
Vance’s “corner” was actually on the lower East side of Vancouver. It consisted almost entirely of aging trucks, trailers and rental vans parked along a side street. Vance began to swing his arms and point.
“The whole circus is strung out along the block here – plus we got the small parking lot there and then another few trucks around that corner. It’s kind of a fuckin’ pain with the corner ‘cause it makes me have to get out and move around every hour or so. Glad you’re here.”
Dan nodded his head like he understood what was going on – even though he didn’t.
The dark-clothed stoner studied him for two incredibly long seconds before breaking into a big – and totally unnerving – smile. His teeth were beyond terrifying.
“Hey buddy, welcome aboard. Yeah, I’m Vance. What’s your name again?”
“Yeah! Dan… the man!”
Dan hated when “the man” got added to his name.
“I guess. Where do you want me?”
“I’m up in the front seat of the black truck there. If you sit in that dirty red one you can see around the corner. Then we can trade off sleeping.”
“Fuck yeah – I’m not staying up all night.”
Finding someone willing to “stay up all night” seemed to be the only real requirement Wilf had.
“The morons I usually hire are all fucking drug addicts. Half the time they wander away before the night’s even done. I just need somebody capable of staying awake until the crew gets in. Easiest $100 you ever made.”
And it was exactly what Dan needed. He was desperate. It started two months back his when his buddy Jess told him to go get a commercial driver’s license.
“I’m a transport captain. In film. Seriously. I can hire you.”
When Dan balked at becoming a truck driver, his friend swore he wouldn’t actually have to drive any big rigs, explaining those gigs were already taken.
“You just need a Class 1 so the union won’t bitch. Do it!”
Whatever. Dan needed out of town anyway and heading to Vancouver seemed just the ticket. He borrowed two grand for the course, spent two weeks doing it, (barely) passed and headed for the coast. He hit town just in time to find out his brand new license was invalid thanks to some long-gone medical issue discovered deep in his “file.” Great. Now officially worse than broke, the offer of a last-minute security gig seemed like a good way to go.
“I don’t need a license?”
“I’ve never done this before.”
“What do I do?”
“Stay awake – earn $100.”
Wilf was Jess’ direct boss, the transportation coordinator. He said he’d call with an address and a time. At first he was annoyed that Dan didn’t have a pager but he perked up fast when Dan said he had a car.
“That’s great. Usually these idiots are begging me for rides or pickups.”
Dan was told to report to the corner of Main and Powell just before midnight on Thursday. The gig was simple enough. Stay with the trucks until the crews come back in the morning. When you’re there, make sure no one breaks in or steals anything. Don’t touch or fight anybody. Call the police if something happens.
Vance toured Dan up and down the block a few times, betraying a sort of weird pride at being able to identify the various nondescript trucks from each other.
“Grip truck, camera truck, cable truck & genny, props, SPFX, set dec cube. I sit in the camera truck ‘cause the doors don’t lock. If you need to piss stay out of the honeywagon and never use a motor home. Seriously. I use the alley. If you gotta shit the store over there will let you, but you have to buy something.”
“Do you have keys to them all?”
“Naw, they don’t trust me with keys. They just lock ‘em and leave ‘em.”
“What if something happens?”
“I go find a pay phone and call a cop. They left me a handful of change.”
Vance lifted his right leg and jangled the mound of coins in his pocket.
“I never usually call a cop though. Last time some fucker was trying to roll off with some cable. They haul it to the metal yards for the copper. Anyway – I caught the dumb fucker in the act. Hit him across the head with a bottle. Split his skull wide open.”
Dan’s face barely hid his alarm. For an instant, Vance looked surprised by this. That quickly gave way to confusion.
“He was fine, just a fuckin’ junkie anyway. They barely feel that shit. I had told him to get lost three times already. He kept coming back. Don’t come back no more!”
At that point Vance let loose a noise as unfortunate as it was shocking. A sort of bizarre sucking sound mixed with a donkey’s bray. He was laughing. It seemed physically impossible in practice but it did somehow match the rest of him. Finally, Vance took a breath, pausing only to re-fill his lungs with a deep drag on his smoke.
“Anyway, you don’t gotta do that. I like to have fun sometimes. You just hang around. Nobody really does anything if they see you. If I’m alone sometimes I pay a junkie five bucks to chase the others away. Then I can kick back. Gotta watch though. Sometimes those fuckers are crooked and they try to steal shit. Let’s sit down.”
Vance turned, reached up and yanked open the door of the old truck, pulling himself into the front seat. Dan walked to the passenger side and got in. As the door slammed Vance shuffled a giant soda bottle and a half-eaten subway sandwich off the seat onto the dash of the truck. There was garbage everywhere.
“What’s in this truck anyway?” Dan asked.
“Camera stuff. This is the big ticket shit. All the highest price shit. If this truck goes missing they cut your nuts off.”
“Good one to sit in then.”
“Huh, yeah I guess. Never thought of it that way.”
Dan stared out the front window, disbelieving.
“It’s not a bad gig. $120 sitting around for a night.”
$120? thought Dan. Really? How am I already getting screwed over…?
“I don’t always do this you know.”
Dan looked at his watch. 11:38pm. Long ways to go. Might as well talk.
“No, I do construction some. Just don’t know anybody here really yet. Need some contacts. Wilf asked for some help so I said I would. I get around some.”
Dan nodded like he was engaged. This was freaking surreal.
“I’m pretty good. There’s always ways to earn if you’re smart.”
“Fuck yeah. Just gotta be creative. I was up in Fort St. John once and I had no money. I mean less than nothing. Got rolled a few nights earlier too. I wasn’t having none of that so I found a couple independent skanks working the corner and slapped ‘em around a bit. Nothing really bad, just let ‘em know I was running ‘em now. Made almost a grand inside a few days.”
Dan did an internal double-take. Did he really just hear what he thought he did?
“No, I just – it seems, like… I probably couldn’t do that kind of thing.”
“Yeah, well, I can.”
At that, Vance smiled and uncorked his horrible laugh once more. Dan had to move.
“I’m going to walk around a bit.”
Dawn came slowly. Eventually the damp sidewalks started to attract a few quasi-normal people. Dan stretched his arms high and yawned. The first guys from transport had already arrived and were prepping their trucks for “opening.” Regular crew was also coming in, unlocking vehicles and organizing their spaces for the day. Wilf walked out from between two trucks and strode toward Dan.
“You made it.” Wilf went to work lighting a smoke.
“No troubles,” said Dan.
“I might have a shift for you tonight too. Not sure yet. They may have to split the circus between two locations – leave some trucks for second unit stuff. I’ll call you later this afternoon when I know. You available?”
“Yeah, sure. Of course.”
“If you want to have breakfast off the truck just head over.”
“Great, thanks.” Dan wasn’t exactly sure what that meant.
Wilf started to turn away. “And don’t forget to fill out a timesheet for last night. If you want to get paid.”
“Where can I….. ?”
In that moment a ridiculously tiny Suzuki Swift four-door sedan drove right into the centre of the slow-moving set chaos. Wilf immediately turned back, heading straight for the still running car. Dan stood alone, left in mid-sentence.
Wilf opened the driver door and held it open. “Morning Alan.”
A tall man with thick glasses unfolded himself from the miniature car. Them he reached back inside, grabbed a massive script bag, hung it on his shoulder and headed towards the catering truck. He spoke without really looking fully at Wilf.
“You can park that for me, right? Thanks.”
As he continued moving toward breakfast Wilf nodded and reached for the radio mic clipped to the collar of his jacket. Dipping his head to one side he pushed a button on it as he spoke.
“Can I get someone up by wardrobe to park Alan’s car? Now please?”
A voice crackled a response and Wilf stood there waiting, cigarette dangling from his mouth. Dan stepped forward, looking slightly confused. Reading his expression, Wilf offered.
“That’s Alan Allen. He’s the line producer on all these shows. Whatever he needs he gets.”
Dan nodded, but he still needed an answer.
“The timesheet? Where do I get one?”
Wilf nodded. “There should be a stack in the cab of the camera truck. Ask Vance. He can show you what to do.”
Dodging hustling bodies, Dan walked back to the camera truck. Vance was standing outside leaning on the front fender. He had what looked like a burrito shoved half in his mouth as he juggled a coffee, two juice boxes, two muffins and a sealed plastic cup of orange juice. Eventually shoving everything packaged into an inside pocket of his jean jacket, Vance tore purposely into the burrito. He spoke through his mouthful.
“Hey, you get food yet?”
“No – Wilf said I should fill out a time sheet.”
“They’re inside the truck – stuck in the door. I put mine on the dash. Just make yours look the same and leave it by mine. They’ll pick it up from there.”
As Dan sat in the seat adding his personal info to the three-carbon timesheet he glanced out at Vance. The actual film crew’s day was in full swing with people moving all over — but no one even acknowledged Vance’s existence. No smiles, no waves, not even a damn nod. Not that he seemed to care really. Vance appeared far more focused on finding creative ways to stow even more food on his person, as he awkwardly rejigged the placement of the juice, muffins and God-knows-what in his various pockets. Fucking weird, thought Dan.
Finishing his timesheet, Dan stepped down from the cab and headed over to the catering truck, joining a line-up already in place. Free food is good. Not a bad way to end a shift. He looked around for clues in how to act. There was a chalkboard sign near the handout window declaring pancakes and sausages plus a veggie omelette as the main dishes of the day. And home fries. He listened in on the person directly ahead of him.
“Can I get a whole wheat breakfast burrito with egg whites only, no mayo, vegetarian sausage and mango salsa instead of the regular? On the side? Thanks.”
Jesus, thought Dan. I’m not smart enough to order here. Dan watched in justified awe as the annoyingly complex order was prepped and handed over in seconds. Now it was his turn.
“Uh, hi. Can I have a… breakfast burrito?”
“Who are you?”
“Crew only. You crew?”
“Security. Just last night.”
The caterer rolled his eyes, sighed way too loudly and started to prepare the order.
“You have to have permission to eat off the truck. Home fries?”
“Yeah, please. And Wilf told me to. He said it was okay.”
The caterer just stared at him as he leaned down and handed it over.
Taking a few steps sideways, Dan watched as someone pulled a drink from a cooler in the side of the catering truck. He followed suit, opening the slide and fishing out a chocolate milk. Turning, he spied plastic utensils on a table beside a tray of cut fruit, baked goods and condiments. Briefly he considered filling his pockets a la Vance but decided against it. Balancing his plate of food and milk, Dan moved toward an area defined by multiple folding tables and set up with folding chairs. Some crew were still eating but most had already moved on. He found an open corner and sat down.
Eating his breakfast, Dan surveyed the action. People moving, prepping and readying stuff all over the place. None of it seemed particularly orderly but it was clearly specific. He felt like it would be really easy to screw something up or annoy folks without even knowing what you did. Everybody was eating, talking, smoking, moving, standing. They all knew exactly what to do, or seemed like it. Dan felt like he didn’t belong at all. And he was sure everyone knew it.
Swiveling his head towards the far side of the parking lot he spied the only person he’d really made any significant contact with, Psycho Vance. He was still standing by the camera truck but this time he was no longer alone. Mr. Big Shot “park-my-car” Alan Allen was right beside him. The two were acting all chummy as they talked. As Dan watched, Alan handed Vance an envelope. Without looking, Vance shoved it in his back pocket. Then, Vance reached inside his own jacket, palming something smaller and passing it right back to Alan. Both men smiled, spoke a few more words and then broke company — each heading in the opposite direction from the other.
Clearly, there was more to the business of film than Dan had originally thought.