Am I a Productive Member of Society?
The first thing I learned working on the TV show Nikita is that machine guns are loud. Even when they’re firing blanks, they’re really, really loud. I know that sounds obvious, but it’s amazing when an actor standing only a corpse-length away points an AK-47 just over your head and empties a 30-round clip. Your clothes vibrate against your body with the shock-waves from the concussions. Your heart feels like it’s skipping beats.
Oddly, while working on that show I felt like a productive member of society, making my strange contribution. After all I got up with the alarm, worked like crazy for 14 or 15 hours, way to much of it running to set and back with mags of film or carrying diddy bags that weighted about a hundred pounds.
Yet, when I took time off between seasons to write, I often wondered if I was a productive member of society. Perhaps it was because no one gave me a pay at the end of the week to prove that my presence was valued.
But one day after work on Nikita I met some friends for a Friday night drink. I regaled them with tales of how stressful our work on the show had been that day–three cameras in a gravel pit with not enough crew. Explosions and machine guns. I had to involuntarily upgrade to focus puller for one of the cameras and got caught on film when the operator abruptly panned the camera left to follow a departing truck. The A.D.s had failed to warn me the truck would pull away.
The expression on my face in the rushes ended up being the source great amusement on the camera truck over the next week.
When I finished my tale a friend put down her wine glass and mentioned off hand that her day had been a bit hectic too. I knew she worked at a shelter for battered women, so I asked what had happened.
Her manner was understated, but her words told a different story–a story of a woman repeatedly beaten and raped, of escorting her to court to testify, of a screaming ex-husband threatening his ex and my friend with brutal murder. Tears and fright and a police escort out of the courtroom. My friend picked up her wine glass for a sip after this shocking story and I put down my beer.
The shelter was run by the Salvation Army. My friend was paid minimum wage, and I was pulling in a couple of grand a week. It made no sense. She was a productive member of society, contributing to the overall good. I was making the filler between car commercials.
The second thing I learned on Nikita is that receiving a pay check at the end of the week didn’t necessarily mean that I was a productive member of society, contributing to the overall good.
My stories won’t save the world, but maybe somewhere someone will use them to fill a few hours and go somewhere better.
Although before I get all snooty about Nikita: when I was at a youth hostel in Romania a few years later (1998), I walked into a room full of Romanians glued to a tiny television set. They were watching an episode of Nikita where the climax took place in a gravel pit–lots of explosions and machine guns. For an hour they were transported away from the economic disaster that was post-Soviet Romania.
Who am I to judge?