Monday, October 14, 2019

Act Like You've Been Here Before.

"YES!!! It works!"
I was wiring up some fixtures on a job and this particular part was being a pain in the ass. After some struggling, we finally got it lit up and not only that, but it looked pretty cool. The Art Department on this job had some fun ideas going.

"Come on, A.J. Act like you've been here before," chided my boss.
"Act like you've done this before. This isn't your first time doing fixtures. Be cool," he said, shaking his head and moving on to the next item on our list.

I chuckled to myself, gathered up my tools, and followed after him. Little did he know, I was going to be excited about getting the next challenging piece to light up. And the one after that. ...And the one after that.

Because honestly, the day I stop being excited about this stuff is the day I should stop doing it.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

I Don't Know How To Say Goodbye.

Earlier this year, I was on a show. The show wrapped, we said our goodbyes and we left. We knew the show would return for another round later this year, but we also knew we wouldn't be returning with it. Between the changes in leadership, a scheduling conflict and the constant disagreements between my boss and a higher up, the writing was on the wall that we'd be replaced the second time around well before this first round finished shooting.

While the Gaffer was happy to bid good riddance to the show, I had no ill will towards the production. Sure, there were challenging moments to politically navigate, and a whole lot of shots that were called didn't really make sense, but most of the crew was pleasant enough to work with, crafty was always busting out with some good stuff, and production was based less than ten miles from my house. All in all, it seemed like a pretty standard production to me.

And like any other job I've done, I had to say goodbye to it and move on to the next one.

But here's the thing: I've never been really good at saying goodbye to the projects I've been on. No matter how standard, or even sub-par they are, something about them still has me invested in what happens to them. I can't just move on without a look back. I'm always curious to know who's working on it now. And who left. Where they're shooting this season. How many episodes did they get. Did things improve after I left or did things just get worse?

After this particular job ended, I was able to find other work rather easily. I bounced around on different shows and reconnected with some old friends and colleagues. But whenever I ran into someone from the aforementioned show, conversation would inevitably lead back to it. And since almost every department was returning to it but mine, I picked up a lot of info. Like, when production would start up again and where. And with who. And for how long. Details that any other person who wasn't returning to a show wouldn't give a rats ass about. But for some reason, I cared.

Eventually, the start date neared and they ended up building sets for it again. By pure coincidence, I got called in to day play on it and help put the rig in. It was so weird being back on sets that were so familiar to me and yet no longer mine. I kept noticing little changes they made, like closing off certain hallways or swapping one light fixture for another. I kept referencing last season so much that I was even starting to annoy myself. But I couldn't help it. I knew I should just lay the cable as instructed and go home. But for some reason, I cared.

My last day on it was their first day of shooting. It was so weird being back with a crew that was so familiar to me and yet no longer mine. The grips were as friendly as ever. The camera department was as surly as ever. Everything was the same, yet different. It was a weird mix of being in a place I was so familiar with, but as an outsider. I didn't quite know what to do with myself. Which is probably Hollywood's way of telling me to move on, but for some reason, I still cared.

I still cared what lights they used. If they ever fixed that weird untraceable short in the chandelier. If the grips ever switched to the bigger dolly they wanted. I still cared if the DP was still obsessed with the God awful yellow on every other light. If production finally started approving appropriate manpower. The show was absolutely, 100% no longer mine, but for some reason, I still cared.

But why do I still care? It's not an ego thing. I know the current lighting guys don't care that I was there before them and "Back when I was [insert irrelevant thing], things were different" comments make me want to barf. The show was pretty standard and formulaic.We weren't exactly making TV history. It wasn't as it if was something I hadn't done a million different versions of already. And it's not like I was abruptly kicked out and needed closure. I had known from nearly the beginning I wouldn't be back and I knew exactly why. By all intents and purposes, I shouldn't give a damn about this show that I'm no longer a part of, and yet, I'm low-key obsessed with it.

And it's not just this show in particular. I still hold some lingering curiosity about pretty much every show I've been on. No matter how much time has passed, if I run into someone currently working on one of my previous productions, I can't help but gather as much info as I can on it, like an old girlfriend who's not quite over her ex.

I suppose one of the big, on going lessons in life is not only knowing when to let go, but how. And if anyone has any thoughts on how to tackle the latter, let me know.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Job Perks.

Things I used to buy on the reg but haven't since I joined this industry:

- Stingers/extension cords.
- Batteries.
- Surge protectors and power strips.
- Manila envelopes.
- Printer paper.
- Post-Its.
- Pens.
- White out.
- Bananas.
- Sharpies.
- Binder clips.
- Bottled water.
- Light bulbs.
- Mints and gum.

*With the exception of the last one, most of this stuff I acquire at the end of a show (or end of the week re: bananas) when it's about to be tossed out anyway.** I'm not advocating for stealing from work.

**Okay, and maybe some select office supplies, but who doesn't do that?

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

"I Am Paying Attention."

I'm on set, watching everyone mill around, trying to get their own jobs done, when I see the Special FX guy roll in with a fan. Knowing what's coming, I already have a hot stinger waiting for him before he even lands.

But before that stinger even hits the ground, a Camera Operator taps me on the shoulder and asks if I can scooch one of our lights over a little so it's out of her shot.

I go over to where she's pointing to see which light she's referring to when the Gaffer sees me and asks me to adjust a different light.

I do so while simultaneously telling him about the Camera Operator's request.

When I'm done with the adjustment, he sends me over to the offending light to move it out of her shot.

While I'm there, the DP rounds the corner and asks me to dim the light next to it down a little, which I do no less than three times, as he squints and hems and haws with each touch of the dial.

Finally, it's to his liking and he returns to his seat at Video Village... just as another Special FX guy shows up with another fan that needs to be plugged in.


Eventually, everyone that needs power has power, and all the lights are in the appropriate positions and at the appropriate intensity levels.

Seeing as how everything seemed settled and we're about to do a take, I figured it'd be the perfect time to sneak off the stage and hit the crafty trailer.

I head over to our staging area where I find the rest of my department doing exactly what I figured they were doing while I was running around the set alone: scrolling through their phones.

I approach the closest colleague and ask him if he could cover me while I stepped out for a minute.

He looked up from his screen, confused.

"Cover you? Sure... Were you standing by the DP in place of the Gaffer?"
"So what do you mean 'cover you'?"
"I meant like, pay attention to the set and stuff."
"Okay...," he looked at me like I'm an idiot. "I am 'paying attention'. So you can go ahead and take your break if you need to."
"Look dude, I didn't mean to insult you. I didn't mean to imply that you weren't paying attention. But I just adjusted several lights and ran a handful of stingers to various departments all while you were sitting at staging 'paying attention.' It's not like the tasks were so difficult I needed a hand with them, but if you were paying attention you'd notice that there was work to be done while you're sitting here, scrolling through Instagram." least, that's what I wanted to say. But I'm alas, I'm just a day player on this crew, aka: a guest on their stage. And stirring up a fight with this guy would in no way be productive to crew morale, or my pay check. So instead, I just starred at him for a second at a loss for words while I held my tongue, and shook my head and walked away...


Saturday, August 24, 2019

This Is Why I Can't Stay Still.

A friend of mine spent many years working with the same Gaffer on the same type of shows. Almost exclusively. Which is great for him. The hours were never very long. The work was pretty predictable and easy. And the Gaffer liked what he liked and used a lot of tungsten lights. They were almost always shooting on a stage and those lights are affordable, reliable, and did what they needed them to do. They're a classic for a reason.

Unfortunately for my friend, his Gaffer is in a slump and hasn't landed a new show in some time. So out in to the pond my friend went, looking for a new crew and a new show to work with. What he found, he was shocked by.

"Oh my God A.J.," he started when we met up for lunch one day. "Things are so different out there."
"What do you mean?"
"I ended up on a rigging crew for a week and we had to set up these new [LED lights that have been out for a few years now]. There's so many pieces to them! And they're heavy! We had to hang a couple dozen of them. It was crazy."
"And it used to be that we just dropped some stingers, bates and splitters by the distro boxes. But guess what we have to put out now, too? DMX cable! DMX CABLE. Everything is controlled by the board now!"
"It's so different out there now. Not at all like when we started. Wait until you see. You'll get what I'm saying," he said, thinking I didn't understand what was going on.
"No, I get it," I tell him. "But it's nothing new."
"What do you mean? Things are totally different!"
"For you, yeah. You've been with the same Gaffer for the past several years doing the same kind of jobs. You do the same shit day in and day out and then brag about how easy your job is. Meanwhile, I've been out on different jobs with different Gaffers and yeah, this is how stuff is done now. Has been for a while."
"No, I don't think you get it. But you will. You'll see how much things have changed," he insisted.

I just shook my head and went on with our meal. This whole "new" world was such a shock to him that he might as well have been Columbus "discovering" America without noticing that the natives were here all along.

I'm not knocking him for staying with a Gaffer and crew he liked on the easy jobs. It was a system that worked for him and that's great. But to not realize that the world moves on outside of your bubble is absurd. To have that phone in your pocket be more advanced with each passing year but not even consider the fact that your own industry would be advancing as well is akin to sticking your head in the sand. To see your own shows being shot on film to video to GoPros and even cell phones and not even think twice about how technology is effecting your department shows a lack of self awareness.

I'm not trying to say that he needs to go out and work on new crews. Or learn every new light that's out there. That's pretty much impossible. Every time I think I've at least gotten the basics down of one unit, another one pops up with a whole new set of buttons and operating menus. But what I am saying is maybe he should poke his head out of his shell every once in a while. Just because he doesn't work with LEDs and console controlled lights doesn't mean there isn't a growing demand for them, and just because he doesn't know how to work with them doesn't mean that I don't know either. The world continues on with or without him.

While I myself sometimes miss the days when lights were just things you plugged in and flipped a switch without having to scroll through a menu system, I understand that this industry is one that doesn't stand still. And I choose to move with it or risk being left behind.


Thursday, July 18, 2019

This Is Why We're All Doomed.

Actual photo of our background from the other night.

It started out as a rather nice evening for our night exterior. The weather was warm enough that you didn't need a jacket, yet cool enough that you weren't sweating. The sun hadn't totally set yet when the company moved outdoors, giving us enough time to set up our staging area and a few lights before we really needed them.

Thankfully, we had a lighting balloon scheduled for the night, making out workload that much easier.

Balloon lights are magical things. They come in all shapes and sizes, they can light the middle of the set without having to hide a stand (just the occasional tie line that that keeps it from floating away), they come with their own operator/tech so other than running them power, you pretty much don't have to do anything with them, and since they're their own thing, we don't think twice about leaving them up at the end of the night as a giant, soft work light during wrap (okay, this part, I do feel a little bad about... But not bad enough to stop taking advantage of it. Sorry!).

An example of a helium filled balloon light at work.

Our balloon light was already set up and in position by the time we moved outside and our tech was tying down the last of the support lines to a pipe running along the side of a building. Everything seemed to going smoothly. But as the night wore on, the wind picked up...

So the thing about giant balloons, as you can imagine, is that they don't do particularly well in the wind. At some point, even a light breeze can turn even the smallest of these things into a sail, slamming it every which way, and it becomes unsafe to fly. And we were well past the light breeze.

"What do you think, Balloon Tech?," our Gaffer asked over the radio as he watched the balloon bob and sway in the wind, "Do you think keeping you up is a good idea, or should we bring it down?"

"Well, I wouldn't exactly call keeping this thing flying a good idea, but it's holding okay for now," replies our Tech. "We can keep going and see if the weather gets worse."

"10-4, sounds like a good plan." While he would've pulled the trigger without hesitation, our Gaffer is obviously relieved to get the okay to keep using the balloon. Plan B for our lighting set up would've involved more work on our end for not as good of a result, not to mention stopping production for several minutes to do so. Plus, it's always a painful conversation with the UPM about why they're paying a lot of money for a piece of equipment we can't even use.

So we continue on with the shoot, and other than the occasional jostle by the wind, our balloon keeps floating on with the Balloon Tech trying her best to steady it.

Another thing to note about balloon lights is the way they're tied down. There's usually three or more tie lines coming from them depending on their size, so they can be anchored. And obviously, it's best to spread the points out so the wind can't tug it too far in any particular direction. But while the tie lines are great for keeping the balloon from going left, right and up, unless you can position the lines to be perpendicular from the balloon (which in this case not gonna happen as it's 30+ feet up in the air), there's not a whole lot keeping the balloon from going down, other than the helium itself. So the system usually works... Unless it's windy. Which, in case you forgot, it was.

A few minutes later, I'm over at staging when I look over at the balloon just as a huge, down gust of wind hits it and pushes the thing right towards a herd of background that are standing directly underneath it! 

Just before it could do any damage though, our Balloon Tech weaves through the crowd and manages to keep the balloon from smacking down on anyone. A second later, the swell lets up and the Tech releases her hold on the balloon, sending it back up again and we resume shooting. I walk over to see if the Tech needs a hand.

"No, I got it. But thanks," the Tech says and she re-ties a line while shaking her head in disbelief.

"Is everything okay?" I ask. "That was a close one."

"Yeah, it's just..." she looks around and her voice lowers, "People can be so stupid. You saw what just happened, right?"

"Yup. The balloon was coming down and you saved it before any damage was done or anyone got hit by it."

"But I almost didn't get to it fast enough because everyone was in the way and not moving. I mean, a giant ball of light comes speeding at them from the sky and all they could do is STAND STILL. AND STARE AT IT." She shakes her head again. "I mean, seriously? Two dozen people and not one of them moves out of the way. They're all idiots!"

"Well," I quip, "isn't that how the dinosaurs became extinct?"

"Ha. Ha," she deadpans with a slight smirk on her face.

The winds died down towards the end of the night with thankfully, no more near incidents. But the event from earlier on in the evening stuck in my mind. A ball of light comes hurtling out of the sky and no one moves out of its path. Basic survival instinct doesn't seem to exist. If Darwinism came in to play, no one would have survived. The general population is stupider than I originally thought (and that's saying something).

We, as a civilization, are all doomed.

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