Sunday, March 2, 2014
I've been mulling over in my head the past few days how to write this post. What to say. How to say it. What it all means...
I wanted to say something insightful. Meaningful. Beautiful.
But the truth is, I'm at a loss. I still don't know what to say. How to say it. What kind of structure or format to use to give it life.
So I'm just going to ramble. All these thoughts and more have been going through my mind this past week.
Sarah Jones will be missed. I didn't know her. Never met her. Never heard her name until last week. But I mourn her passing anyway. She was one of us. She toiled away below the line; one of the many thousands of unsung heros of the film industry. Those who help enlighten and entertain the rest of the world without ever being in the spotlight; without any more acknowledgement for a job well done than a paycheck. She was one of us. A family member I had yet to meet.
She deserved better. Her death was 100% preventable. It wasn't an accident. It was negligence. It was entirely stupid. I don't think I have to go into the reasons why. It's pretty obvious which idiotic decisions were the ones that led to her death, which makes this whole thing even more shocking. THE POTENTIAL FOR SOMETHING TO GO WRONG WAS. SO. OBVIOUS. I first heard about the incident when a co-worker showed me a Google image of the tracks and trestle.
"Do you think it'd be a good idea to be working on those tracks if it was live?"
"Do you think it'd be a good idea to be working on that truss?"
"Good. Because someone thought it'd be a good idea. And then a train came trough when they were shooting. Some crew members got sent to the hospital and a girl died."
Those were all the details I knew at that point. But I knew enough to see that the whole situation was stupid. I was thousands of miles away and looking at a satellite image on a damn iPhone, and even I knew the situation was as stupid as it could get. Who in their right mind there thought it was a good idea? That it was worth the risk? Why didn't anyone speak up? Why didn't anyone stand up for their fellow brothers and sisters? Somebody failed her. And it wasn't just the Producers, AD or whoever it was that told them to set up the shot on the tracks. It was also everyone on that crew who saw the potential for danger and didn't say a damn thing. It was everyone who continued to work on those tracks after two trains had already barreled through. It was everyone who didn't care enough to ask the appropriate questions; everyone who thought they were immortal to life's tragedies. We're supposed to take care of our own. We failed.
And what angers me even more is the fact that this wasn't some "student film" or someone's "passion project" where the majority of the crew is just starting out and trying to get their foot in the door. This was a fucking professional project with an experienced crew, production team and studio backing with notable talent attached. They make movies for a living; it's not a hobby. If anyone should have known better, it was them. All of them.
While I don't necessarily agree with the campaign that's been going on to get Sarah Jones an "In Memoriam" mention in tonight's Oscars, I do hope that her passing will be mentioned during the broadcast. The majority of us do the jobs that we do because we love movies. We love this industry. We're passionate about what we do. We wouldn't be able to survive in this business if we didn't. And most of us are hurting right now. We lost part of our family in a tragically senseless way and if tonight progressed as if something wasn't missing; as we didn't have a hole in our collective hearts, then it'd be like a slap in the face. It'd feel like nobody "important" cares about what we go through. We can't pretend this didn't happen. We can't pretend that movie making is all fun and games, despite what the general public may believe. Our jobs, what we do, and the sacrifices we make are just as important to a piece of film as what you see on screen and now would be a good time for the "glamorous" part of the industry to acknowledge that.
And I'm sad to say that she will be forgotten. Unless you knew her personally, the majority of us won't remember her name in a few years. Who, without looking it up, remembers the name of the kids who were killed on The Twilight Zone?* And even more recently, who remembers the name of the camera assistant who crashed his car and died after too many hours working on Plesantville?**
The truth is, a few years down the line, we may remember the incident, but we won't remember the name, which saddens me. For most of us, we'll refer to her as "that girl who died on the train tracks". For those that come into this industry after us, they won't know who she was at all.
But hopefully, her legacy will live on. There are rules already in place to prevent tragedies like this, but those rules were obviously ignored. The only saving grace in all this is that hopefully stronger and more stringent rules and regulations will be in place so something like this won't happen again, ever. Maybe now, it'll be harder for those in charge to say "yes" to stealing shots and putting crew in dangerous situations. Maybe now, it'll be easier for those of us below the lines to say "no" when something is unsafe.
I don't know what will happen in the future. I don't know who will be held responsible for her death and I don't know how they will be punished. I don't know if Sarah's death will actually change the way we work on set. But I do know that most of the safety rules we have now are written in blood. Somebody had to die or become seriously injured (and/or prompt a lawsuit) before any of the powers that be would acknowledge there was a problem. I just hope Sarah's passing wasn't in vain. I hope that whatever may become of all of this, that her story is what prevents this from happening again.
R.I.P. Sarah Elizabeth Jones.
*Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen.
Monday, February 17, 2014
This year started with a vengeance and hasn't let up. In less than 48 hours after the clock stuck midnight on December 31st* I was back at work and haven't stopped since. I've been fortunate enough to roll from one show into the next, but the steady work means I haven't had time to do much else.
As such, I've been behind on a lot of things lately. Behind on getting an oil change for my car. Behind on keeping up with the mail that's piling up on my kitchen table. Behind on doing my taxes. Behind on updating this blog (sorry!).
I'm also behind on my television watching, but thank goodness for the internet or else I'd never been able to see the Simpsons episode that aired shortly after the New Year. Called "Steal This Episode," the story centers around Homer and his bout of movie piracy. I thought this was a very well done episode, managing to deal with a serious issue in our business with humor and thought. And while I agreed with much of what this episode had to offer (especially this tid-bit), one part did make me chuckle more than the rest.
Despite most shows (and commercials) that aim to give the viewers a glimpse into life on set and below the line portraying us rather unrealistically, I think this one nailed it. :)
* Or January 1st, if you want to be technical about it.
Sunday, February 2, 2014
“And they didn’t even give us a t-shirt!”
I stared at the ranting electrician standing before me in awe. Not because I couldn’t believe he didn’t get a t-shirt, but because he was bitching about it.
Get a couple of grips or electricians in a room together long enough and it won’t be long before the work horror stories come out, with each one trying to top the last like some kind of production fueled pissing contest.
While the theme of these
He’s the oldest one out of all of us on this particular crew, which mainly consisted of people my age just starting out in the industry, and had far more years and sizable shows under his belt than most of us combined. He had just spent the better part of last year working on a hit show. One big enough that it was consistently near the top of the ratings list each week, sending talk shows and gossip blogs into a frenzy after each time it aired. It was a show popular enough that other countries had their own versions.
Needless to say, the show was big and made a lot of money.
Unfortunately, they didn’t spread that wealth around to my coworker’s liking. But his anger wasn’t towards the quality of the food or the lack of manpower for the rigs they’d put in, but with the fact that they didn’t get a wrap gift at the end of the season.
“Can you believe that?” he huffed, “Not even a t-shirt!” He was pretty worked up about it now.
I, on the other hand, was flabbergasted.
Sure, I can understand where he’s coming from. If the way he was performing on set today was any indication, he probably worked his ass off for that show and just wanted some kind of acknowledgement for his hard work. However, a show t-shirt is usually a wrap gift, which is something that’s, at best, an obligatory “thank you” from the powers that be, but in no way is such a gesture mandatory on any show.
While I’ve never personally worked on the show in question, I’ve done a day or two on shows just like it, and if the shows’ operating procedures were even remotely similar, the guy had it good.
Decent catering, real soundstages, good rates and a fully stocked coffee bar are just a few of the perks shows like that enjoy. Not to mention enough guys you could possibly need, that, on average, work for eight hours but get paid for ten; some days without even breaking a sweat.
The fact that he’s whining about the lack of a free shirt tells me that there’s nothing else worth complaining about on that show.
And while I agree that it’d be nice if we got some kind of token of appreciation from the people we toil for, nowhere does it say they can’t be dicks about it and send us off with nothing more than one last paycheck. It is, however, mandatory that we have safe working conditions and get paid on time, all of which was met on that show and then some. Not getting a t-shirt, though surprising for a show with such a big name, isn’t something worth raising your blood pressure over.
Especially when you’re following a story about how one show never had anything but pizza for lunch and three departments had to share a truck.
I think some guys, mostly ones who have been doing this longer than I have and perpetually work on big things with real budgets like the way it’s supposed to be done, often get too comfortable and seem to forget that on most shows, Production isn't your friend. They're your employer. You’re exchanging work for money; not gifts. Guys like that also tend to take simple courtesies for granted. Like twelve hour turnarounds, snacks at crafty that eat like a meal, and meals at catering that eat like a feast. They often forget that the minimum required turnaround is nine hours, crafty isn’t obligated to get that hummus you like, and catering can be done by El Pollo Loco if Production chooses to do so.
It wasn’t that long ago that I found myself on sets like that (and far worse) every day, and as I climb my way up to bigger and better things, I hope I’ll still remember the shit shows that I came from. I hope I don’t get complacent enough to take for granted the niceties that production does provide us with.
And above all, I hope I never get to the point where I’m spoiled and feel entitled enough to complain about not getting t-shirt at wrap from a show. Because really, if that’s all you have to complain about, you have it pretty good.
Thursday, January 16, 2014
I could write an entire paper on this music video.
I'm told it's done "live" with two cameras doing twenty second shots; each crew "leap frogging" to set up the next shot before the previous one finished. And as such, you catch glimpses of them scrambling around in the background (though I'm pretty sure the one with the bikini clad girls was fake :).
It shows the things we (usually) try to hide while, at the same time, attempting to keep up the "traditional" framing of standard music videos. Even if it only lasts for mere seconds per twenty second shot.
It's self-referential all while simultaneously telling two stories: The one in front of the camera and the one behind, which incidentally, is also in front of the camera.
All while trying to be cool.
Friday, January 10, 2014
It's the end of a couple of long, thankless days and all I want to do is go home.
During a time when I had no work on the horizon, I had agreed to work for free on the "passion project" short. Little did I know that as soon as I signed on, the calls would start coming in, and thus, I started my two day commitment on this thing already pretty beat up. Thank goodness I had tomorrow off.
...Or would I?
"Hey, A.J." I turned to face the show's Gaffer as I finished closing up the truck for what was hopefully the last time. "What are you doing tomorrow? You want to come in?"
Honestly, I was a little surprised by his question. For the whole two days I was on the show, this guy had been a condescending asshole to me. He kept "teaching" me things I already knew; telling me how to do my job; berating me for not answering him on the radio when his own volume was turned down, etc. It seemed to me that we had a mutual dislike for each other, so it was odd that he was asking me back when the two days I had told the DP I'd do were up.
I pretended to think about it a bit in an attempt to at least seem cooperative and civil. "Hm... No, thanks. I think I'll pass. I have too much stuff I need to get done tomorrow."
"What's the matter? You don't feel like getting paid?" he sneered.
Okay. Now he had my attention.
"What do you mean? I didn't think anyone was getting paid on this."
"Yeah, but tomorrow's an extra day. We were supposed to wrap today, but we have some stuff that still needs to be shot. So to keep everyone on board, they're offering to pay us."
"They're giving each of us [amount that's below minimum wage. AKA: It might cover my gas money for the week.]," he said proudly. Judging by the look on his face, you'd think he was throwing a starving dog a bone.
"Oh... Hm..." I had lost interest again and was back to pretending to think about it.
"Oh, come on," the Gaffer sighed, rolling his eyes at me. "How often do you get paid for work?"
I raised an eyebrow at him, wondering where he was going with this. Just who did he think I was (or wasn't)?
"I mean," he continued, "when was the last time you got offered [amount that's more than five times the rate he just quoted me a second ago]? These are the kind of jobs you do to get yourself up to that rate. You have to work your way up, A.J. You need the experience. One day, you'll be at my level. But for now, you should take whatever you can get, you know what I mean?"
He looked so smug and full of himself that I didn't know how to tell him I got paid that rate on a job last week. And again just a few days ago. And that working for free on a job wasn't something I did very often anymore.
And rubbing money in someone's face, not matter how big of a douche he is, just isn't my style. So I kept my mouth shut.
But just who the fuck did this guy think he is?? He's gaffing a student film for free. It's not like he's years ahead of me in his career. And did he really think I sucked so badly at my job that he just assumed I was still working for free all the time just to learn the ropes? WTF? There was just so much wrong with what he just said, namely, WHO THE FUCK DID THIS GUY THINK HE IS??
And the worst part? He spent the whole day gaffing while wearing Crocs. CROCS!!! I was getting talked down to and getting career "advice" from a guy WHO WEARS CROCS ON SET.
In the end, I'm somewhat ashamed to say, I took that extra day.*
* And no, I never got paid for it.**
** Because when I went to collect at the end of the night, Production said they never agreed to pay me. And the Gaffer, and his Crocs, were long gone at that point.
Wednesday, January 1, 2014
... learned to be happy with myself.
... realized that I've come a long way.
... stayed busier than I thought I would.
... had a few adventures.
... missed some old friends.
... made some new ones.
... learned some hard lessons.
... had a few good laughs.
I'm not going to lie. 2013 was a roller coaster of a year filled with lots of surprises and no part of it happened like I thought it would. I realized a lot about myself and this industry. I got a year older whether I liked it or not. There were some really fucking, shitty, bad times. But there were also some really good ones too.
Do I wish I could change any of it? Maybe. Probably. Absolutely.
But what's done is done and I can't go back and change the past. I can only move forward into the future and hope for the best. I can honestly say that I'm eager to see what 2014 brings. But if last year was any indication, I better prepare myself for one helluva ride.
Here's to a great 2013 and an even better 2014.
Happy New Year.