And eventually, in a few seconds really.
A few weeks ago, I received a request from one of our on-set coordinators. She had compiled a list of all the non-union background actors who needed to be Taft-Hartley’d over a few episodes of a TV episodic production but wanted to compare her list with our database, to ensure that it was accurate.
We had already built a feature that lets us “Taft-Hartley” users in a project. It’s a simple box to check that indicates that a performer should be paid at the union rate even though they are non-union.
So technically, if I just exported the list of users with this “tag”, I would be good. But, you’re never too sure! So in addition to this list, I wanted to double check union roles for non-union actors.
The obvious way to accomplish this task was to go episode by episode, day by day through the project on Castifi, and make note of any non-union actors hired in Union roles. A super fun project was starting to emerge…
But as soon as I thought these words out, I realized that this task was not only possible for a computer to perform, but actually the perfect example of what a computer is designed to do: Repetitive, row by row actions. This is where things get exciting (for us nerds).
If you break down the methodology, here’s what it looks like:
Step 1: Look up the first project in my list
Step 2: Look up the first union role in that project
Step 3: For each actor, check their union status
Step 4: If the actor is non-union, log their name in a list before moving on to the next actor
Step 5: If there are no more actors in the role, go to the next union role
Step 6: If there are no more union roles in the project, go to the next project and go back to step 2.
Once the program is out of projects to look at, it will end by printing the list of names it logged along the way.
Because I made the terrible financial choice of working in production rather than becoming a software engineer, I asked our lead developer to write the script to run these steps. And a few minutes later, he sent me a little csv file on Slack.
There you go. The full list of performers to Taft-Hartley. All in less than 20 minutes, when a regular production coordinator would have had to go voucher by voucher, day by day, episode by episode, with the disadvantage of being a human and making mistakes due to repetition, lack of interest or simply fatigue.
Following this event, we have now implemented his feature into our platform, so that anyone is able to press a button and get the same list for their own projects. From a full day of work to a few minutes of coding, down to the press of a button.
But why stop there? You still need to “actually Taft-Harley” all these people. So we decided to create a feature to prefill and send SAG-AFTRA’s Taft-Hartley’s background actor report form with the information contained in our database for each user so you won’t have to.
There are so many amazing things humans are great at. But our shortcomings are also numerous. When we are confronted with tasks that involve simple, monotonous steps, our first reaction should always be to turn to machines.
Production work has always been repetitive by nature, and our industry lacks the technological tools that have improved the rest of our lives so drastically over the last few years. So here’s what I’m asking you: If you agree with me, why settle for the Status Quo? Don’t tolerate this lack of ingenuity and join us to create the future of the film industry. We need your human experience to build the right tools that will let you and your peers focus on what you truly excel at.