Friday, July 17, 2020

I'm Not Here.


It's been a little over four months now since The Big Industry Shutdown™ caused by the pandemic.

It's also been a little over four months since anyone in this industry has seen me, in video, photos or otherwise, which is kind of an amusing thought. I'm not a big social media user and though I've attended the occasional Zoom gathering, my camera is generally off to help with the shitty bandwith situation in my apartment. They know I'm around. They know I exist. I stay in touch with everyone via texts and emails and what have you. I've spoken to them on the phone or during the aforementioned Zoom calls. We all check in with each other regularly, making sure we're all okay, checking if anyone needs anything. But no one from work has actually seen me. I'm like a ghost. They know I'm around, but my actual presence is something intangible.

The last time any of my colleagues saw my actual, physical being was the day before everything went down. I had the rare (ha!) day off in the middle of the week and woke up to a text from a crew I day played with. They were loading out their show at one of the rental houses not too far from me and invited me to have lunch with them. I met up with them that afternoon and we enjoyed a nice "end of the season" meal together. Little did we know, it would be the last meal we shared in more ways than one. The news was playing in the background, a continuous loop of the NHL cancelling their season and the Governor banning gatherings, but other than a brief acknowledgment, the announcements became little more than background noise. Instead, we reminisced over the highlights of the last few months on the show, talked about what jobs we had coming up, and then gave each other a round of hugs in the parking lot before we all parted ways.

That was the last time I touched anyone I loved.

After that, I went down to another show to pick up a check the Best Boy had for me. The stage was pretty much empty when I got there, the company having moved to wherever else they were supposed to be that day. So I sat there with the Best Boy for a few minutes, shooting the shit. We talked about how crazy things got yesterday, how news of one thing after another kinda hit all within the same span of time (Tom Hanks! NBA! Borders shut down!). But how naive we must have been, neither of us even thinking about how we could be effected by it, let alone so suddenly. There wasn't even a whisper of a rumor or anything circling around his show about it. He even laid out which days he could use me for next week and I told him I was available and to book me.

As I was about to walk through the cracked open elephant door on my way out of the stage, I heard my name being called out. I turned around and smiled. It was my favorite Craft Service guy on this job. Always down for a good chat, he loves nothing in this life more than his wife, his kids, and a good cup of espresso.

"Where are you going?" he asked. "You can't be done today already!"

I laughed. "I'm not really here today. But I'll see you next week though."

"Okay. I'll see you then. Can you believe all this craziness that's happening right now?"

"Yeah, it's crazy for sure." And I'm not sure why, but I added, "Hey, be careful out there, okay? Take care of yourself. Be safe."

He nodded. "I will. You too, my friend."

And with that, we both turned and went our separate ways. Him into the dark stage. Me, into the daylight.

The next day, all the shows shut down, suddenly and swiftly.

And just like that, he became a ghost. Vanished, just like I have.


Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Changes Are Coming.


I've mentioned in my previous post that I'm doing just fine and dandy during this whole "no-work-stuck-at-home" quarantine thing. I don't miss the crack-of-dawn early call times, the end-of-a-fourteen-hour-day location wraps, the sitting in traffic, the perpetual state of exhaustion. I don't miss the judgey assholes who I have to keep proving myself to. And I sure as hell don't miss shit, mold, dust and rat infested locations that for some reason the location department thinks is are great places to shoot.

And while I'm still enjoying what I suppose was a much needed break from the grind, there are a few things that I do miss.

I miss working with a great crew.

I miss the all encompassing hugs from colleagues I haven't seen in a while.

I miss seeing the resident cranky guy crack a smile when I happen to say something witty or funny.

I miss the creative 2nd meals crafty sometimes comes up with.

I miss whispered gossip with the hair and make-up team about the latest drama in their trailer.

I miss being introduced to new locations and places in this town that I haven't been to or seen before (Shit Alley excluded).

I miss digging through a cooler full of ice, looking for the one can of the one flavor of La Croix that I like. Having to work for it made it taste better somehow.

I miss checking off the scenes we've done on the callsheet, like a scoreboard that tells us how many more innings we have left in our day. It was always so satisfying to physically cross something off.

I miss fiddling with the knick-kacks on set (sorry, set decorators! But rest assured, I always put things back where I found them).

I even miss riding around in pass vans with my favorite driver.

And while it may still be a little while before we get the all clear to return to work* I'm getting glimpses of what life would be like while working during a pandemic.

No more hugs from old friends that make me feel loved. No more just hanging out with your fellow crew members at staging between set ups. No more huddling around phones or tablets or anything else with a screen and an Internet connection whenever a game is on. No more self-serve meals.** No more whispering of secrets in my ear about the latest work-place scandal. No more cool locations to explore (even possibly no locations at all). No more callsheets to check the day off on. No more driving around, crammed into a van like a family on a road trip during Summer vacation. No more sneaking away from set to do a coffee (and the occasional milkshake) run. And worse of all, the discussions about possibly having a "studio system" of sorts for day players mean I may no longer get to choose who I will (awesome, milkshake loving people) and will not (assholes) work for.

Basically, almost everything I love about my job will either be gone or altered in some way.

But at least on the flip side, gone too are the unsanitary locations, the ridiculously long days,*** and until the unemployment rate goes down, traffic will be lighter.

Ungodly call times and assholes aren't banned though, so at least some parts of this business will still be recognizable.




*Yes, I'm aware of this article, but as of the time of this writing, LA County hasn't give the okay yet, not to mention pre-production would have to start first, making shooting at its earliest, still at least a few weeks away.

**I know this one sounds trivial in the grand scheme of things, but you're talking to a gal who generally likes to try a little bit of everything, but can also be kinda picky or have to limit my consumption of certain types of food for health reasons.  Self service meals mean I can scoop whatever I want and it'll all get eaten. Pre-packaged or caterer-served, and you're looking at a LOT of uneaten food on my plate (and I hate food waste, as should you), and I'm gonna be cranky and hungry again in a little bit. Also, "bring your own lunch" isn't really an option unless a microwave and fridge are provided (per labor law. Plus, who wants to lug around a full tool bag AND a cooler to work every day, or eat a cold lunch all the time), in which case, that's another potentially contaminated/unsanitized shared space, not to mention, unless we're only working 8 hour days, Mama doesn't have time to work a full day AND make two nutritious meals that can be easily packed and may or may not need refrigeration every night. I don't care if you think I'm spoiled. Production is supposed to provide meals and I'm on the side of making them pay for as many things as possible since they're so reluctant to spend money of things like manpower, equipment, and various safety issues. And this ends my food rant for the day. Thanks for coming to my TED Talk.

***While the white paper does call for shorter work days, it declines to give an actual number for recommended hours worked. I've heard various guesstimations of what those days may look like, and while they do sound shorter than what we're used to, they're still longer than the 8 hour days our non-industry friends enjoy.


Monday, May 11, 2020

Isolation.


The world is in such a weird and unstable place right now, but I'm happy* to report that I'm doing pretty well, all things considered.

I don't have annoying roommates, my unemployment claim went through and even though I have an emergency fund, the additional payment from the CARES Act each week is enough for me to pay my bills for the time being, and I don't have kids to try to teach at home. I have enough crafts, classes I want to take online, and home projects to keep me entertained forever, not including the amount of stuff on the Internet and Netflix to help keep me occupied. I honestly haven't been bored once since this whole thing started.

The supermarkets may still be out of some of my usual staples, and I may have to get a little creative with some of my meals, but I'm still pretty well fed even without crafty and catering to supplement my diet. (Maybe even a little too well fed if the waistband of my yoga pants has any say about it.)

My closest friends don't live within a hundred miles of me, and my family even further than that, so my relationships with them haven't even changed much. If anything, we may even check in with each other more than we used to. And honestly, I'm pretty introverted anyway, so I don't even miss the crowded bars, clubs and parties where I have to make awkward small talk and think of an excuse to go home early (or better yet, not go in the first place). Everyone I love and care about are, to my knowledge, safe and okay.

All in all, despite me being situated in an area with more restrictions than most places, I'm doing okie dokie. Honestly, I had a hard time saying "no" to work for the last decade and as a result, I didn't take as many vacations as I should have. Plus, I looooved it when I had the rare weekend off with no plans and I got to stay in my apartment wearing sweats and doing nothing. So this has essentially been a long staycation for me.

And like all vacations, the thought of going back to work kinda makes me go "ugh." If work started back up again tomorrow and all the safety issues were magically resolved, I don't know if I'd be ready to go back. I'm enjoying my laid-back-at-home-lifestyle a little too much still.

My friend, however, does not share my same view. He, like many others I've talked to, can't wait to get back to work. "It's in our blood," he said to me the other day when we checked up on each other. "This industry. This business. It's what we do."

This echoes what I've been saying about us weird, movie-making folk from the beginning. A part of us has to at least enjoy some aspect of our jobs because we wouldn't be able to survive them if we didn't. It's not like regular jobs where you can hate what you do for eight hours and then go home to what you love. With us, you're at work more than you're at home, so you have to at least love part of what you do. And I loved loved loved my job. That's part of the reason why I have trouble saying "no" and taking a vacation. Who needs time off if you're happy with what you do for a living?

Not only that, but I owe a good chunk of my career to a Gaffer who essentially used the same words to describe me. "You have to hire her," he once told another Gaffer, "She's made for this business. This is what she does."

So what does it mean if the thought of going back to work right now doesn't appeal to me? Who am I if I don't really miss working? How is it that I'm okay without the lifestyle that I know?

Maybe this is me catching up on all the vacation time I didn't think I needed. Maybe I'm not coping with this social distanced quarantine period as well as I thought I am and I'm actually broken somewhere. Or maybe I'm not as in love with my role in this business as I believe I am. Maybe it's all of the above. Who knows.

But what I do know is that if/when I got back to work, it'll be for this industry. There's no doubt in my mind that this is the path for me. This isn't a career choice crisis that we're looking at here. But what kind of bothers me is how none of all this really bothers me.

If this business is what I do, if it's who I am, if it's in my blood, why am I not itching to go back to work as soon as possible?








*Okay, let me stop you right there. I know a lot of people are unhappy at the moment for various reasons. Believe me when I say that I am very aware of those people, and I'm also aware of the privileges I have. But this post isn't about that. You are welcome to read something else if you have an issue with it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Clipboard.




I had been in this business for a little while, mostly day playing, when I landed on this new show with new-to-me people. It's the first day for everyone, so shortly after call, everyone's huddled around the back of the truck as the Gaffer starts handing out start paperwork. After a few of us scrounge around for a pen, we kinda disperse with everyone looking for a flat surface to write on.

"Here," the Gaffer offers me a quarter apple. "You can use this if you want."

"No thanks," I reply. "I got something I can use." I open up my backpack and pull out a clip board.

The Gaffer just stares at me in shock.

"What?" I ask.

He says nothing for a second, then, he starts to smile. "Wow. That's some best boy shit right there," he finally says. Then walks away.

I complete my paperwork, start the day, and finish the job. Years later though, this short interaction still leaves me a little puzzled.

Before I landed on that gig, I've done several dozen different start packets and almost all of them were done by filling it out on the shelf of a cart, the floor of the truck, the rough diamond plating on the lift gate, a random set piece, or, of course, on a pancake, quarter, or half apple perched on my lap. And don't even get me started on all the times everyone in my department had to take turns because only one of those options were available.

So it only made logical sense to me to throw a clipboard in my backpack. I had a couple of them left over from my college days, so it's not like I specifically bought one just to do start work on, not that they're terribly expensive or hard to find to begin with. Plus, it wasn't heavy, nor did it take up a lot of room in my bag. It actually helped give it some structure and kept my tools from poking me in the back.

So why was it so odd that I carried around a clipboard to do paperwork on? I was a day player, who, like many of my other colleagues, started a new job every few days so I did new start work several times a month. If I had learned to bring my own pen instead of asking to borrow one, why was it so odd I did the same with a common writing surface?

Every now and then, this little memory will pop into my head. Honestly, I guess I could see where he was coming from since I don't think I've seen anyone else carry around a clip board, Best Boys excluded, but I've always wondered, why not? Why do my colleagues keep insisting on scrambling to find a semi-suitable writing surface that, more often than not, renders part of their start work illegible instead of investing in a $2, low profile, light weight solution?

While I don't lose any sleep over it, this is one of the questions in life that continues to baffle me.


Monday, March 23, 2020

COVID-19.


So... I'm guessing I don't need to update anyone with what's going on in the world right now. Our industry essentially shut down across the country a little over a week ago, and shortly after that, the state of California closed down all non-essential businesses and ordered everyone to stay home.

No one's happy, some people are freaked out, and there was a line running down the entire length of Target the other day, just minutes after they opened, of people trying to get a pack of toilet paper. It's madness out there.

There's also a lot of people who aren't taking this seriously. I'm one of those people who believe there's no reason to panic, but it's also not the time to behave as if things are normal.
THINGS ARE NOT NORMAL RIGHT NOW.

I could go into a rant about how self absorbed or selfish you are if you decide the rules of social distancing don't apply to you. Or about how this isn't about the government trying to "take away your freedom," but about the health and safety of your country, community, friends and neighbors.

But instead, I'm going to leave you with a couple videos. I've seen a lot of news reports, articles and explanations about the spread of this stupid virus over the last several days because I'm unemployed forever, stuck inside, and bored. These are the ones that I found the most calm, yet informative and explain things in ways that anyone can understand. Take a few minutes (and I know you have the time to spare) if you haven't watched them already, and pass them on to those in your life who just don't get it.








Stay healthy. Stay safe. And for the love of everyone, stay home. 



Sunday, March 15, 2020

Loyalty.


Dear Gaffer,

We've known each other for a while now. In fact, you're one of the first people I met when I started in this business. I think we work together fairly well and understand each others working styles. I'm not sure if you've realized it or not, but are you aware that I've been on every show you've gaffed for almost a decade?

In the beginning, I was just a day player to you. Which was fine. I was just getting my feet wet. I was paying my dues.

Then you started "cleaning house". Every show you did brought in a new assortment of regulars. It seemed like I was the only constant throughout all the changeovers. Yet I was always a bridesmaid, but never the bride. You never felt like I was "regular" crew material and I was always overlooked whenever you were putting together the core crew for your next job.

As frustrating as it was, I didn't quit you. I enjoyed the projects we did, albeit from a day player standpoint, and I liked your work. You put me on the sidelines, but I was just happy to still be on the team. I waited patiently for my moment. 

Finally, that moment came and you asked me to be a full time crew member on your next show. I said sure, and honestly, I probably did a happy dance after getting off the phone with you. After years of waiting for a spot on the crew, I finally had it!

And I think we can both agree that it was great. I rocked your sets. I had studied you for long enough to know what you were going for with each light you called. I was attentive on set and anticipated your needs. We even had various talks where you mentioned what you were looking for in a lighting technician and I made sure to hit all those marks. We got along so well that we even developed a non-verbal way of communicating. I could tell by the way you were looking at something whether you liked it or not and why. I would often bring you what you wanted before you even called for it. 

Eventually, I went from being your last call to your first call whenever you had a job coming up. Soon, it was just understood by everyone on our team that I'd be with you on every job. It was non-negotiable. 

I was loyal to you. I turned down job offers that would've placed me higher up on the food chain to stay on your shows. In anticipation of your next jobs, I turned down offers for full time spots with other Gaffers who saw my worth in far less time than you did. I irrevocably burned a couple of bridges with other Gaffers just to stay in your pocket because we had an agreement that was both implied and explicit that assured my future in this business with you. I have no regrets in the decisions I made because I felt good about our working relationship and where it was taking me.

Your jobs, though good when you had them, were often intermittent like much of this industry. And after a while, you hit a dry spell. That's nothing new. It happens to everyone.

What I didn't expect though was when you eventually did get on a show again, that I wouldn't hear the news from you. Instead, I heard it from everyone else.

Because you, dear Gaffer, had called everyone but me to find a crew. Because you not only didn't call me, but you called every one of the guys I introduced you to over the years. You called everyone that I had ever recommended to you, and then some, but not once did you call me.

And I have no idea why.

But here's what I do know. I know who you're working with and none of them would've vetoed me out. I know the job you're on and that it's a good one, so you're not sparing me from a shit job or rate. I know that, based on you trying to hire all my friends, you could've brought on whoever you wanted. So I know that the choice to not hire me was entirely yours.

I know we ended our last job on a high note. I know it wasn't too long before that where we actually sat down and discussed giving me the opportunity for me to play a more active role in your future projects, and that meeting had ended on a positive note. I know your dry spell meant that we haven't spoken regularly for a while, but I know we were on civil enough terms to at least reach out to each other during the holidays not too long ago.

I know I have spent the last several years of my career being nothing but loyal to you. But I guess that doesn't mean much these days.

I also know that despite part of me wishing I knew why I'm suddenly getting the cold shoulder, I harbor no ill will towards you. I really do hope that you get more good jobs in the future and that you do find that one show or DP that you can sail into retirement with. 

I enjoyed our time working together. I would be lying if I said otherwise. I learned a lot from you. I had a lot of fun. I got a lot of much needed paychecks.

But I guess it's time to move on. In a way, it's somewhat freeing to no longer be bound by our former working arrangement. I can take the jobs that I want without the stipulation that you come first. It's a great feeling, to know that the only one I have to be loyal to now is myself. 

To sum it up, thanks for the memories, boss.

I'll see ya around.



Sincerely,
-A.J.


Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Stupid Shit.


When I was first starting out, I thought banded cable was called "bandit." I think I called it that for about a year before I finally saw it written down on an equipment order.

I used to think stake beds were called "snake beds" and I couldn't figure out why. I mean, wouldn't the snakes just slither out of the sides and escape?

I was ready to take that to the grave when I worked with a friend of mine on a music video. That's when he learned that it was called a stake bed and not a steak bed. He thought that was the kind of trucks they used to take cattle to the slaughter house, hence the name "steak."



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