Lisa is an engineering subcontractor working in FAA offices. She hid a video camera
to document the groping her officemate does when no one’s looking. What else will
the camera find at the FAA?
EXT. FEDERAL AGENCY HEADQUARTERS
Opening credits for all episodes: Capitol is in the background. Zoom in on a window
of a federal building. Play goofy music.
Shooting the Scene
This was shot on September 11, 2008. It was a nice sunny day to go downtown. The
date was coincidental. So was the building.
I didn’t care what building I used for opening credits, as long as it looked like
an office. I scoped out Pennsylvania Avenue, Maryland Avenue, and the National Mall.
They each had direct views of the Capitol. I needed to be on the west side of the
Capitol so I wouldn’t have a view of a bunch of silhouettes in front of the early
afternoon sun. The National Mall didn’t have any office-like buildings, so that was
out. The office buildings on Pennsylvania Avenue weren’t as close to the Capitol
as the ones on Maryland.
The office building with the best view of the Capitol in the background happened
to be… FAA Headquarters. Shortly after lunch, hundreds of federal employees milled
around. I stood on the sidewalk and aimed my video camera at the FAA building. On
the seventh anniversary of the aviation attacks on the Pentagon. I was concerned
that a security guard – or much worse: a former coworker returning from lunch – would
approach and ask what I was up to. But this is Washington, where authorities are
more concerned about my seventy year old mother entering a museum with a bag of airline
peanuts than real threats that don’t achieve security theater. Nobody bothered me.
In Real Life
I didn’t work at headquarters. I worked a few blocks away. I don’t know who works
behind the window shown in the opening credits. Could be a conference room or a storage
room for computers from the 1960’s.
Nah, couldn’t be storage for computers from the 1960’s. Those computers are still
in use at the FAA.
Shot out of a second story window of Federal Agency Headquarters. Looking down, we
see BARRY, a fifty-something government engineering manager in a suit, and JANE,
a twenty-something professional-looking engineer, as they walk toward the entrance
of the building.
LISA (OS – right behind camera)
Barry and Jane coming to work together? Glad I brought my camera.
Shooting the Scene
OS is Off Screen in screenwriter lingo.
As I held a camera way above my head aimed at Ted (Barry) and Eli (Jane), I stood
on the top step of a ladder perched on the top of a staircase that led to an office
building entrance. No window involved. Meanwhile, Anthony, who plays the New Guy,
held the ladder steady underneath me. I was wearing a skirt. We had just shot a restroom
scene where one of the characters makes a comment about my skirt and I didn’t have
time to change out of wardrobe.
It felt like a ridiculous pose. I teetered up there as elegantly as possible, although
I wasn’t worried that Anthony might look up my skirt. When he came to audition, I
asked if he would be interested in the role of Charlie. He said there was no way
he could touch a woman’s rear and be able to finish the scene. Not that Dave (Charlie)
pulled it off without some embarrassment. I wish more guys were embarrassed about
touching women’s rear ends.
The original version of this scene didn’t have the voice-over. During editing, several
people critiqued the first cut of Budget Justified. They didn’t know what was going
on in this first shot. They expected to see me, the lead character. After brainstorming,
we determined that this shot needed a voice-over, hinting at what Lisa was up to.
The reason I’m not in the first shot is that this story isn’t about me. Yes, it’s
from my point of view, but I’m not one of the thousands of federal employees and
contractors still subject to the follies of government managers. The story is about
how federal agencies’ management style, or lack thereof, affects the way your taxpayer
dollars, and government employees, are used.
In Real Life
As I wrote this, I imagined the parking garage at my former employer, also an FAA
contractor. Our building was in the suburbs where we had no contact with FAA employees.
Management preferred it that way.
We were nowhere near a Metro station, so everyone drove to work. Well, everyone except
me and two other people (out of several hundred employees). The three of us usually
took the bus. But everyone else arrived through the parking garage. And usually not
in pairs, as Barry and Jane do here. Parking was free; no need to carpool. So when
anyone arrived together, it didn’t go unnoticed.
It took me a long time to feel like I had left that job, slipping out slowly, cutting
hours to part time to teach at a local university. I had been well-integrated into
the culture at Former Employer. I had lots of friends. Everyone knew me. I was one
of the ‘popular’ people there. Not in the high school sense, but because all the
staff wanted me to work on projects with them. They knew I always came through with
what I said I’d do. Upper management knew I was competent and had faith in me.
That wasn’t quite the case with some of the lower management. Because I knew their
foibles and they knew I didn’t care much to validate them. I never confronted lower
management about anything they got away with, but neither did I pretend that everything
management did was so very clever.
The entire screen is covered by rattling blinds as the camera is jolted away from
the window. Quick PAN TO CHARLIE, a thirty-something engineer, standing right next
to the camera.
Hey Lisa. Whatcha doing with that box?
Charlie nods toward the camera.
Oh. It’s just a software box.
Charlie looks toward the window.
I think our boss has a new girlfriend.
Charlie points out the window at Barry.
Shooting the Scene
Dave (Charlie) and I stood in the conference room on the seventh floor of an office
building downtown. The view outside was an alley. Not the entrance to a building.
If you freeze the frame where the blinds are partly open, you'll get a glimpse of
a brick wall.
Dave is much more quiet and shy in person. It was just the two of us in this conference
room while we shot this scene. He didn’t initiate conversation, so I asked him about
his other acting gigs while we set up. He spoke about the movies Meter Maids and
Deadlands with enthusiasm. Even though acting is his side gig, he’s pretty serious
Hopefully you’ve figured out that the premise here is that I’m hiding the camera
inside a software box that I carry around the office. Most of the time it’s supposedly
sitting on a bookshelf in someone’s office. Although in reality, the bookshelves
were moved away so that we could put the camera on a tripod.
In Real Life
One morning as soon as one of my coworkers arrived at work, he came past my office
and said, “I think your boss has a new girlfriend.”
This was a confusing statement to me. First of all, how would he have any information
about my boss’s love life. Second of all, which boss was he referring to. It was
a ‘matrixed’ organization. I had several project managers, I managed a project that
was split into pieces and managed by other staff members, any of the supervisors
in my department were allowed to ask me to work on something for them, and when my
supervisor was unresponsive, his supervisors would come directly to me for support.
The most likely ‘boss,’ the one whom I talked to the most, was married. A quiet,
decent man who didn’t go around harassing women.
It turned out that my coworker was indeed referring to my married boss. My coworker
had seen Boss and one of his subordinates, a very ‘close friend’ of Boss, drive into
work together that morning.
“You must be misinformed,” I told my coworker. Or maybe I said something more like,
“What the hell are you talking about.”
In the weeks after that strange declaration of a new girlfriend, I noticed that Boss
frequently snuck in and out of conference rooms, his office, and the entire building
with his very close female ‘friend.’ I wasn’t the only one who witnessed this. According
to conversations with others who worked with Boss, the activities between him and
his friend/mistress had been off and on over several years. Sneaking around was more
frequent shortly after each of his promotions. It would cool off as soon as she received
her subsequent promotions.
I make light of Boss’s alleged love life here. I believe the situation was more complex.
He and Mistress had been good friends for a long time. Since his marriage wasn’t
ending any time soon, they knew where they stood with each other. It seemed to be
more than a fling, but nothing that would ever become permanent.
Fooling around was part of the FAA culture with its contractors. One of Former Employer’s
female managers almost lost a marriage over a fling with one of the FAA managers.
One of Former Employer’s vice presidents had a fling with one of the staff and did
lose his marriage over it. Someone got shot in the parking garage for having a fling
with another guy’s wife.
Interestingly, Boss was only one of several guys in the office that Mistress had
been seen sneaking off with at various times of day and night. I don’t think he cared.
Made it less likely that she'd cause problems with his wife.
Barry and Jane out the window, he puts his hand on her back as they enter the building.
Charlie, that one’s married.
Shooting the Scene
Dave ad-libbed at the end of each take. The first time, he said, “I don’t think he
cares.” He was lighthearted and I laughed. The second time he said, “She likes them
that way.” I could’ve left the ad-libs out, but the second one made a statement about
Charlie’s character – he thinks women like fooling around with married men. And he
wanted in on the action.
The sidewalk shown in this scene isn’t in front of a government building. It’s on
K Street, near all the big lobbyists and big corporations. I liked how the busy street
in downtown Washington gave the feel of a city that looked busy on the outside where
a bunch of fooling around was happening on the inside.
In Real Life
Our offices were near the L’Enfant Plaza and Smithsonian Metro stations in Washington.
On the National Mall nearby, people play Frisbee and go jogging alongside the long
grassy field amongst museums and federal buildings. We were in a cul-de-sac near
a super-expensive hotel and didn’t get much car or foot traffic. But we did see several
limos. Rumor has it that Jennifer Lopez got out of one of them.
Many of the men I’ve worked with over the years had second-class-status opinions
of women. Our culture encourages women to take the role of second class – to serve
men’s sexual demands and to be household servants. I wanted to portray Charlie as
someone who likes having women as second class coworkers and feels entitled to use
lower status coworkers to boost his self importance.
INT. LISA & CHARLIE’S OFFICE
LISA, a Tina Fey type, glasses, late thirties, dressed Washington-professional (not
Hollywood-“professional”) and Charlie walk into their shared office/cubicle. Charlie
puts down his briefcase, Lisa puts the camera “software box” on a shelf and goes
toward her chair.
Charlie is in the way. He motions Lisa over – entice her closer so he can tell her
Why would they come to work together? Barry lives in the Virginia suburbs. Jane lives
Hm. Barry’s wife is in Texas visiting her mom.
No wonder Jane got a promotion. Like I said. A new girlfriend.
He slaps Lisa on the butt. Lisa is peeved.
Shooting the Scene
Of course the real reason for getting Lisa to come over to him was so Charlie could
get some of his own action. He wants to have what the managers take for granted.
I hope viewers of this episode caught the concept that my character was putting the
camera (inside a software box) on a bookshelf and weren’t wondering why I was so
close to the camera that all you see is my neck. I put the camera on a shelf several
times throughout Budget Justified to remind the viewer that this is supposed to be
stealth footage of something actually happening in the office.
My husband, Randy, was the cameraperson for this scene. I think Dave felt nervous
about patting my butt in front of my husband. At first I thought Randy would weird
out about. I was weirded out about it. Especially since I had told Dave to do it
by writing it into the script. But Randy was cool about the whole thing. He knows
I don’t make big video projects for the purpose of getting someone to grab my butt.
I could’ve gone through a search process to find a cameraperson to shoot this scene,
but I chose Randy based on one criterion: He was there. Since the shtick for Budget
Justified is that the whole thing is captured by Lisa’s hidden camera, the cameraperson
didn’t need all sorts of complex camera skills. And Randy was there because this
office is in my house.
The desk set is a bit fancier than what you’d find in a federal government office.
The entire partners desk – desktop, file drawers, bookshelves, cabinet doors – is
made of sturdy wood. The walls are painted dark green. There’s an occasional glimpse
of white carpet, baseboards and crown molding. But it was the perfect location for
shooting Budget Justified because didn’t need to arrange for access to the location
every time we wanted to shoot.
In Real Life
Before the days of cameras in every phone, it was illegal to bring cameras to work.
Perhaps because they didn’t want taxpayers to be able to check up on how their money
was being spent.
Though I never had a hidden video camera at the FAA nor in any contractor's office,
I kept a record of what was going on in a blog I started after about a month of witnessing
consistent inappropriate behavior. Because I knew my reaction to Mr. Friendly’s advances
was inconsistent. Sometimes I’d tell him to knock it off, sometimes I’d ignore him.
I wasn’t sure if a reaction, even if it was to tell him he was pissing me off, was
exactly what he was hoping to get out of me. Just like some of the FAA managers got
a perverse kick out of insulting their employees, Mr. Friendly thought it was funny
to upset me.
I hoped that if I could understand and monitor the trend of his behavior versus mine
in the blog, I’d figure out how to handle him so I could prevent becoming fearful
of coming to work. Plus I wanted to have a document outlining his actions.
Like several people I’ve worked with throughout my life, Mr. Friendly’s behavior
was extremely accommodating most of the time, interspersed with occasional bullying
stints. When I was in high school, I thought these people behaved this way toward
me because of something I had done or something wrong with me. But as I entered college,
I acknowledged that these were generally toxic people, no matter how overly-nice
they acted when it was convenient.
Mr. Friendly had a knack for making me laugh. He was full of off-the-cuff jokes.
He often told me about interesting things that had gone on in the office. He was
always willing to tell me about office history and his version of office politics.
Our office didn’t have any actual projects going on. None of my coworkers had a role
they were responsible for. Thus there weren’t many methods for observing office interaction
other than going around the office bothering people with chit chat. Occasionally
I had some data to look up, or came across a document that needed more context, so
I was able to come up with legitimate discussion topics as excuses to drop by coworkers’
But since I was crammed alone into the corner of our floor most of the time, Mr.
Friendly’s visits to my cubicle were my best source of anecdotal information. Not
only was he my office entertainment, he was one of my very few knowledge sources.
INT. LISA & BRIAN’S KITCHEN
BRIAN, a big guy in his late thirties, wearing dress shirt and tie as though he just
got home from work, cuts celery on cutting board at kitchen counter. Knife block,
basket of tomatoes, and another cutting board nearby.
Lisa enters, still wearing the white boucle jacket and purple silk pants she had
worn to work earlier that day.
Brian looks toward the camera.
Oh, there’s our video camera. I was looking for it earlier. Where was it?
I took it to work.
Lisa picks up a tomato and knife, starts slicing tomatoes to help with dinner.
There’s a guy at work. Wandering hands.
Lisa wiggles hands.
Brian looks at the camera, picks up a big knife, looks it over very carefully. A
good weapon if he ever needs it. He sighs and puts the knife back down.
I wanted to document what I’m going though.
Oh really? Confused look from Brian.
To be able to stand back and take an objective look at what’s happening. Because
sometimes I think he’s hilariously goofy. Other times I am pissed. I’m not sure how
to feel about it. Or what to do about it.
Why don’t you tell somebody?
I’m a subcontractor. I’m not in a position to go around tattling on a fed. And if
I send an email to my HR, I’m lucky if I get a reply. If I leave a voice mail, I
never hear back. So am I supposed to email a complaint about sexual harassment? I
don’t even want to think about where that might get forwarded.
Shooting the Scene
What better kitchen to use as Lisa and Brian’s kitchen in Budget Justified than Lisa
and Randy’s real life bright yellow kitchen? But not simply because it’s in my house.
As luck would have it, there’s no wall between my kitchen and living room. So we
can watch Lisa and Brian talking toward the camera while they prepare dinner on the
speckled stone countertop, rather than a shot of our behinds while we talk at a wall.
I had Andy Kiser (who plays Husband Brian) over to shoot his scenes on a hot day
in July. The scene we shot before this was outdoors. I’d been wearing a t-shirt with
a pink jog bra underneath. I removed the t-shirt and we rehearsed a few times while
Husband Randy set up the camera.
When Randy was ready, he turned on the camera, then Andy and I did the scene for
‘real.’ Except it wasn’t for real. In the middle of the scene, I realized I forgot
to put on the white long sleeved jacket I had worn for the previous scene. So in
the outtakes of this episode, you’ll see that I abruptly interrupt myself mid-dialogue
by slamming my hand on the kitchen counter and announcing my faux pas, “I’m not wearing
Costume! Like I was producing some sort of Halloween movie. No real movie producer
would call it a costume. I believe she’d call it ‘wardrobe.’
I included outtakes at the end of each episode because not only are they fun to watch,
but seeing the actors being themselves makes them seem more human. Especially me.
I’m supposedly playing myself but…I’m not speaking off the top of my head. The actors
are better at being someone else than I am at being myself.
Perhaps some day the whole story will be rewritten, reshot, and reedited. But by
then I’ll be so sick of the story, I won’t want to be there.
In Real Life
My husband, Randy, and I have more original nick names for each other than Sweetie.
Of course they’re too ridiculous to throw in as dialogue at the beginning of a web
series. I rarely call Randy by name (and certainly never call him Brian). More likely,
I’d call him Huz. To get used to the concept of being married, I started calling
him Husband after our wedding in 1994. I’ve called him Huz ever since.
Unlike Andy, Randy’s not a big guy. He wouldn’t make knife jokes when telling him
about office groping. I didn’t want my fictional husband to seem too much like my
In Budget Justified, I often mention contractors and subcontractors. Like most government
agencies, the FAA hires lots of contractors. Sometimes the contractors hire several
subcontractors rather than employees to soak up the budget – I mean to do the ‘work.’
In my case, a huge international contractor hired a tiny subcontractor, or headhunter,
to find me. Even though I sat in FAA offices with FAA employees, the contract between
Huge Contractor and Tiny Subcontractor said I would be an ‘employee’ of Tiny Subcontractor
for six months. After that, I was supposed be hired as a permanent employee of Huge
Contractor. Or so they told me.
‘Employee’ is in quotes because I had no contact with any of the other employees
of Tiny Subcontractor. Tiny Subcontractor was based in another state. The managers
at Huge Contractor interviewed me. I was the only person in the office employed by
Tiny Subcontractor. In fact, I had never heard of Tiny Subcontractor before, was
not acquainted with anyone else who had ever worked for them, and never met any of
Tiny Subcontractor’s other ‘employees.’
Tiny Subcontractor had contacted me by email to ask if I was interested in the job.
I have no idea where they found me. Some of the FAA employees and contractors in
that office had known me previously. The only contact I had with Tiny Subcontractor,
even after I was fired, was by phone, email, or fax. Nobody ever answered their phone,
so I left voice mail. They never called back. If I wanted answers, I had to send
email. I received an answer to emailed questions only twice, and I had to wait several
days before getting a response.
One might wonder whether they even existed. Oh, yeah, they existed. Like the rest
of the FAA and its contractors, they took taxpayer money and didn’t do much for it
besides shuffle the money around.
I thought that after I was formally hired on as permanent staff at Huge Contractor,
I’d have official channels through which I could file a complaint – if they could
be trusted, and if I had reason to believe I wouldn’t be subtly punished for complaining
about a federal employee. But I wasn’t sure the atmosphere at Huge Contractor would
facilitate such a complaint. On my first day of work, one of the Huge Contractor
managers told me that the wife of one of my bosses was hot. I need that information
She had previously worked in that office but stayed at home with the kids shortly
after she got married. The manager didn’t call her intelligent or a valuable employee
or even lovely. Instead, the adjective he chose was ‘hot.’ It struck me as a bad
omen regarding the atmosphere of the office.
I didn’t trust that anyone at the FAA would handle reports of sexual harassment well
either. After you watch Budget Justified or read the rest of this book, you’ll understand
At Former Employer, a subcontractor had complained about ‘sexual discrimination.’
One of the managers told me that the behavior she was complaining about should’ve
been categorized as sexual harassment. English was not the complainant’s native language,
so she wasn’t well-versed in the difference. Since the complaint wasn’t filed as
harassment, the perpetrator wasn’t investigated. However, the woman’s subcontract
was not renewed and she was ‘laid off’ a few months later. Problem ‘solved.’ She
became unemployed, but the perpetrator still had a job. Thus I became very wary of
reporting ‘discrimination’ to FAA contractors.
Purchase the book to find out how the FAA “solved” Lisa’s problem...
EXCERPT FROM BUDGET JUSTIFIED: Chapter 1 (of 50): Boss’s Affair
A few years ago, Dr. Lisa Schaefer was hired by a government contractor. She was
fired the day after a government employee masturbated in front of her. So what did
she do about it? Produce a movie and web series about what it was like working there.
“Budget Justified: The Waste, Fraud & Abuse of Government Workers” is a 270 page
book written by Lisa Schaefer that goes into the story deeper than the webisode series/movie.
Lisa describes how each scene of the movie relates to exactly what happened in real
life while she worked in FAA officesas a government contractor. She also tells the
reader about the behind-the-scenes action of shooting each episode of Budget Justified.
Read an excerpt of “Budget Justified: The Waste, Fraud & Abuse of Government Workers”
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