Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Which Job Are You On?

 

"Hey, let's get an 18K on a roadrunner in the backyard." 

The call came over the radio and we all snapped into action, some of us heading to the yard to scope out the power situation while others head over to the truck to start pulling the pieces. Everyone got to work except for a dayplayer still looking at his phone. "I'll catch up in a minute," he said. "I'm almost done with my paperwork for the job I'm on tomorrow."

Okay. Not a problem. There's more than enough people to handle one light.

Later on another call came over the radio. "Camera sees some of our gak and cable in the shot. Can we get some people over to the west side of the building to clear it?" 

Again, we snap into action and in seconds we're all grabbing a piece of cable to move it out of frame. 

...Everyone except for that one guy. 

"It's okay, dude. We got it," one of my colleague says to him rather sarcastically.

"Oh, sorry. I'm in the middle of e-mailing production on my job next week about my rentals."

Some more time passes and it's time for us to light a new scene. We clear out the old lights and reposition everything on the other side of the yard. It's a pretty busy set up and surprise, homeboy is no where to be found.

Finally we're all set and return to staging where we find him plugging in his phone. "I was on a phone call with the best boy I'm working with tomorrow," he explained. "Did I miss anything?"

Shortly after, another call for a light comes on the radio and again, everyone starts moving except for the dayplayer. "I gotta answer this text. It's about the next job I'm doing."

My other colleague has had enough at this point, stops what he's doing and asks him, "Okay. But which job are you on now?"

The dayplayer takes the hint, puts his phone away, and grabs a light. 

Listen, we all know dayplaying can be a hustle. You're trying to fill your week with calls and that means occasionally being on the phone while you're on another job. But constantly dealing with other shows while ignoring the one you're supposed to be working on is poor form. 

Don't ever forget what job you're actually on. 


Sunday, January 3, 2021

Diversity.


One of these things is not like the other.

 


"So how did you end up working with the Gaffer?"

I was helping a day player button up his condor for the night when he asked me this question. I had been with this particular crew for some time now, but this was the guy's first day with us so our conversations were peppered with getting-to-know-you questions.

"Oh, I did a pilot with him a while back."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. One of his guys threw my name in the hat because production wanted more diversity in their crew and apparently I was the only option available," I said, adding a slight chuckle at the end of my reply. I thought back to how on my first day with them, I was expecting to see different genders and ethnicities peppered into the crew but when I showed up, my entire department was made up of white males with the exception of me. "Three years later and I'm still here."

"Oh, yeah," the guy replied, though he didn't seem to find the humor in my answer, "My usual Gaffer ended up doing a show like that. We had to let go of a few of our regular guys." The way he said it made it clear that he wasn't happy about that. 

Nor do I really blame him. I like most of the people I work with and am always sad when I no longer get to work with any one of them, but at the same time, he didn't seem to see what his comment was implying: that his usual crew was made up entirely of white, straight, males. And in addition, it didn't seem like he saw any problem with that. 

As more and more shows are pushing for diversity and gender parity, and that's a great thing, I will say that I don't always agree with their tactics. (But that's a much longer post for another time.) And while it has happened more than a few times now, I'm not exactly thrilled that the only reason why I'm on a crew is because "production made them hire" me. I'm a set lighting tech, not a human prop. But in all the times I've been hired in the name of "diversity" I've never once not been called back to work with a crew, even when they move on to shows without a quota requirement. So while they probably would have never hired me on their own to begin with, I'm obviously good enough to keep around when given the chance. 

I'm not saying that any "diversity hire" my day playing colleague's Gaffer had to bring on is any better than any of the guys he had to let go, but the fact that there wasn't someone already in his repertoire shows that he doesn't really give a shot to those who don't come with a certain type of privilege to begin with. And that's a problem. If there was any diversity in his crew at all, their unit would still be intact.   

The conversation died and we packed up the rest of the gear in silence. Then he headed in one direction while I headed in another.



Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Thanksgiving 2020.

 

I'm still here. I haven't abandoned this blog. I just haven't updated it in a while because I don't know what to say.

I don't have any funny anecdotes to share, or any new insights to wax poetic about. And while I want this space to reflect my life in this business, I certainly don't want to turn it into a Pandemic Blog™.

So I've just been chugging along these last couple of months. I've been working, but honestly, it's been a weird and confusing vibe. I'd share it, but I just don't know what to make of it just yet. 

I guess what I'm trying to say is, that while this space may be silent, I'm okay. I'm surviving through all the testing, false positive scares, misinformation and shut downs, both at work and outside of it. And I hope you are, too.

I hope everyone is staying informed with this rapidly changing and often confusing time we're in. I hope everyone is staying safe and healthy. And I hope everyone is keeping each other safe as well. 

I hope that this Thanksgiving, we won't look at what we're missing out on, but instead be thankful for what we do have. Our (hopefully) health. Food on the table. Loved ones that we not only miss, but miss us as well. And the will and good judgement to stay home this holiday, no matter how hard it may seem. 

Because believe me when I say, this virus doesn't care if it's "just one dinner" or "just a few people" or even "we all tested negative the other day..."

On second thought, I guess I do have a crazy anecdote to share! But until I can put it into words, stay safe and follow the recommended guidelines. No one is above the rules on this one.

And definitely treat yourself to an extra slice of pie on Thursday. Because it's 2020.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Sunday, September 20, 2020

"You're Lucky You're Working." Part II.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen, I've got some news: I have returned to work.

I happened suddenly, and a while ago, and boy oh boy, did everyone have an opinion on it.

There were a few, "It's too soon!" and "That's great!" but the main one I heard was "You're lucky."

"You're lucky to be working right now."
"You're lucky to be working right now when no one else is."
"You're lucky."
"You're lucky."
"You're lucky."

But am I lucky?

Almost a decade ago, it was pilot season and to say the town was busy is a massive understatement. I was pulling in 5-6 days of work a week, all with good rates and good people, bouncing around from various show to various show. I finally had a day off with nothing booked and was just about to settle onto my couch for a glorious evening of couch potato-ing when a text came in from a phone number I didn't recognize. 

"Are you available tonight? Crew call is 6pm and we'll shoot until sunrise."
"Who is this?"
"This is [name of guy I didn't know]. I'm the Best Boy for [Gaffer I didn't know]. I got your number from [someone I met on another job]."

I sat there, looking at the screen with a groan, deciding what to do. 

Did I need the work? Hell no. I was in the middle of a really good run and I could really use the day off. I was totally looking forward to having a night of Netflixing and chilling, and the last thing I wanted to do was put on work clothes and be all the way across town in an hour. Plus, factor in that it's a night shoot, a one day call at that, and anyone in their right mind would have said, "Thanks, but no thanks."

But this was with people I didn't know, and in the freelance world, that meant this could be a potential new contact for future jobs.

Still, I was on the verge of being overworked and had started my day early enough that I knew I'd be up for almost 24 hours by the time wrap would be called on this new gig. Plus, I never heard of these guys before and I only vaguely remembered the guy who passed him my number. Given that cold-calling acquaintances of friends is usually the last resorts of last resorts, the chances of me getting called back once their hiring pool wasn't dry anymore was pretty slim.

I looked at my phone and sighed. Random night shoots with strangers when I'm already tired is not my idea of a good time. Then I typed in the words, "Yes, I'm available," and hit send. 

Was it a stupid choice? Probably. Would most people have turned it down? Yup. Was I thoroughly exhausted and too messed up afterwards for me to have a decent weekend? Absolutely. 

But was that job with the same Gaffer that not only managed to find work in the middle of a global shutdown but also brought me along for the ride?

Also yes. 

So I guess the question now is: Is it fair to say that I'm lucky? To equate my employment to just a game of chance? Or did I get here because I saw and opportunity took it, even if it was the hard road?

"You're lucky."
"You're lucky."
"You're lucky."
"I'm glad all your hard work over the years is paying off right now," said no one, to me.



Previously.


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.

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