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."



Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Decade.


A cool trick I've learned is if you're pressed for time you can do all your Christmas shopping at Costco. There is literally something for everyone. Tools and other household items for Dad, a new jacket and sweater for Mom, various speakers, head phones and other small electronics for various siblings, games and DVDs for friends, and a whole rack of gift cards for whoever that hard to shop for person in your life is, with enough samples in every aisle to keep you fueled as you steer your ridiculously over sized cart through the ridiculous sea of people.

Part two of the trick is to go on a random weekday and you just might make it out of there with all your goods (plus a hot dog and soda for $1.50) with your sanity intact. God help anyone who tries to navigate the store on a weekend.

Which is how I found myself there one Wednesday afternoon, pleased with myself for beating the system with one stop shopping at warehouse prices, when the cashier started to make small talk with me.

"So, what kind of work do you do that lets you shop at Costco in the middle of a weekday afternoon?"
"Oh, I kind of jump around to different TV and movie sets so my schedule can kinda be sporadic. I just thought I'd take advantage of the day off today and knock out some shopping at Costco."
"You work in TV and movies? What do you do?"
"Lighting."
"Lamp operator?"
"Yeah..." I look at him impressed he knew the term. "How did you know?"
"I used to be in the business."
"Used to be?"
"Yeah. I couldn't find enough work so I had to get a 'real' job and ended up here," he gestured to the warehouse. "Who do you usually work for?"

We traded Gaffer and show names as he continued to ring up my purchases, and then we wished each other a happy holiday and I was on my way to the parking lot.

Out interaction stuck with me for a little while and I couldn't stop thinking about it. He used to do the same job I did and had to leave because he wasn't finding enough work to make a living. Then I thought about the neighbors down the street from my parents' house. Their kid was also "living the dream" in LA but had to leave the business and move back in with his parents after being laid off from one show too many.

Then I thought about a conversation I had with my CPA. He was commenting the last time he did my taxes about how he wishes his daughter, who is also in the entertainment lighting business, was doing as financially well as I am. After a few years of struggling, he's not sure how much longer she'd be able to last on her own.

Then I thought about all the people I met when I started my career journey in Los Angeles and how many of them just kinda... disappeared. The guy who first taught me how to run cable had to go back to England shortly after we met because he had more contacts and offers for work there than he did here. His best boy ended up disappearing as well. The girl I used to compete with for jobs rode off to Arizona at some point on her motorcycle. There was another girl and we'd help each other find work, but she eventually left to fly drones. Another guy I used to work with left to become an insurance salesman so he could pay the bills and support his family. Another one became a massage therapist. And another a fireman. Another works for a dispensary. One even moved to another state to become a card dealer at an Indian casino. "I'm tired of barely making enough to survive," he told me before he left. And countless others just vanished to who knows where.

And those who managed to stay in this business aren't always thriving. One Gaffer I used to work for is still taking jobs that barely pay minimum wage, which was the same rate he was taking when I met him over a decade ago.

Meanwhile, I've been working pretty steadily for the past ten years. I'd been lying if I said I didn't have a roller coaster of rates, but for the most part, they have been pretty decent. I've also managed to land a few Best Boy gigs and even a Gaffing job or two. I'm constantly finding work that challenges me, and despite sometimes barely making it through by the skin of my teeth, I always make it through nonetheless.

I made some pretty solid contacts over the years and learned enough niche things to branch out to different specialties that would see me through the slow times. I even managed to have enough money saved that if I were to be hit with a dry spell, it'd still be a while before I have to move back in with my parents.

I wouldn't exactly say I've been lucky this past decade, but I will say it's been good to me. I may not have a clear goal or game plan for the next ten years, but I'm excited to see what it has in store for me.

Because if it's anything like the last ten years, I'm not only going to survive, but I'm going to thrive.


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