Pamela Adlon, the creator, executive producer, director, and star of Better Things has long been a passionate advocate for the wellbeing of members of her crew. With national attention focused on IATSE as the union gears up for a strike authorization vote, Adlon put her money – and her camera – where her mouth is.
At the end of a recent shooting day, as the crew was preparing to wrap, Adlon created a video to express her solidarity with the crew. The video opens with the elephant doors to Stage 3 at CBS Radford being flung open and more than 100 Better Things crew members from all the crafts filing out into the daylight. Some wore t-shirts; many brandished #IASolidarity signs and several called out the number of their locals. Pete Seeger sings the 1915 union anthem “Solidarity Forever” in the background.
“IATSE, union strong,” Adlon says at the end of the two-minute video. “Take care of your crews!”
“Without our crews, there would be no movies. No television. No theater. Without crews, there would be nothing to look it, listen to, and inspire us to keep creating,” she said in a separate statement to 600LIVE! “They can bring anything you dream of to life. They literally carry us on their backs. Feed them, water them, let them rest. And most importantly: listen to them and respect them. Love your crew.”
Not only did the crew appreciate the show of support, the Better Things team said that the sentiment behind the making of the video was entirely consistent with the way Adlon runs her show.
“She really does go out of her way to make sure that everyone is comfortable and not working themselves to death,” said Alaina McManus, a Local 600 NEB member and 1st AC on Better Things for its entire five-season run. “This is a different kind of show, and it definitely has a family vibe to it.”
Crew members have been especially appreciative of the show’s humane shooting schedule that usually includes a 9 or 10-hour day with reasonable turnaround time, permitting artists to leave while it’s still light outside and have quality time with their friends and families. The shooting schedule is just one of many ways that Adlon continuously fights for her crew’s well-being, noted several crew members who also cite proper breaks, and high standards with catering and craft services.
The issues at stake in the negotiations over the next IATSE agreement are immediate and critical, said Sound Utility Krysten Kabzenell who also praised Adlon’s loyalty and fairness. While the Better Things crew may have a better situation than most, that atmosphere should be the norm not the exception, Kabzenell said.
“My girlfriend hates me. I’m never home,” said Kabzenell, a member of Local 695. “I would love to be able to come home and relax for a couple of hours before I have to force myself to fall asleep and wake up to go back to work the next morning. It would be nice to have a weekend where you’re not working until 7 am on a Saturday and then going to bed at 8 pm on Sunday so you can wake up at 4 am on Monday for work.”
“Everyone who has been on a set has experienced that,” she continued. “It would really be nice if our negotiators could win some of those battles for us.”
Carme Tenuta, a member of IATSE Local 706 who heads the make-up department of Better Things, noted that some of the crew members became emotional during the making of the solidarity video. Adlon’s devotion to her crew is contagious, Tenuta said.
“We would do anything for her,” said Tenuta. “If we had to work ‘Fraturdays,’ we would do it happily for her, but she would never let that happen. On the day we made the video, we wrapped soon after that. It was lights out and Pamela made sure everyone got home safely and had time with their families and personal lives.”
As a member of the Local 600 Negotiations Committee, McManus has been through two different contract cycles. She notes that the support for IATSE and the #IASolidarity campaign – both inside and outside the union – seems to be at a particularity high level in the current climate. She feels that the shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic gave everyone a chance to examine their priorities and brought issues of healthy working conditions more sharply into focus.
“When we had the lockdown and nobody was working, a lot of people were spending more quality time with their families than they had in a long time,” said McManus. “Then when we came back and were doing strict 10-hour days for health and safety reasons, people got used to having that work/life balance.”
“They didn’t want to give it up,” she added. “I know I don’t.”