Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Juicer Math, Pt. 2 (or Why We Can't Just "Add More Cable" To A Run).

We all know (or at least we should) that Wattage = Volts x Amps. (Also known as Ohm's Law if you wanna get technical about it.) If you don't know what that means or why it's important, I suggest you look it up.

But how many of us know about line loss and voltage drop? And I mean, really know it?

Basically, your voltage is tied to the length and size of your cable and the amperage you draw. So the longer your cable run and/or the more amps you need, the lower your voltage will dip.

There are various problems associated with low voltage, such as equipment not running properly (HMIs won't run if voltage is too low and tungsten will dip in color temperature) and some safety issues as well. In fact, for our movie making purposes, the National Electric Code only allows us to a maximum drop of 3%. Math time: 3% of 120v* is 3.6v. Which means the lowest we could go voltage wise is (120 - 3.6 = ) 116.4v.

Now how do we calculate whether or now we're within those limits? By using the Voltage Drop Formula!


Where...   √3 = 1.73 (Duh)
                  K = Resistance of the conductor being used
                  I = Amperage
                  L = Length or Distance in feet
                  ACM = Area of Circular Mills (aka: a really scientific way of saying how thick the cable is. This number is based on the gauge of the cable being used)

Since the "K" we're usually dealing with is copper, and the resistance of copper is 10.8, we'll simplify the formula a bit. √3·10.8 = 17.82, so the new formula becomes...


There. Isn't that better??

Okay. So what does that mean? It means that if you're running 400ft of banded cable (aka: #2 gauge wire; aka: ACM of 66360) and pulling 100amps/leg, your voltage drop is...

(17.82·100·400) / 66360 = 10.74 volts

Guess what? That's way more than the 3.6 volts we've already determined you're allowed to drop and the fire marshall can totally shut you down.

But what if you switched to using 4/0 (which has an ACM of 211600)?

(17.8·100·400) / 211600 = 3.37 volts

Congratulations! You're still within code and you get to run 400 feet of 4/0!

But let's say your show sucks in the sense that it doesn't have the money for a rigging crew, the 4/0, or the money to pay you for a pre-call to lay out all that cable if you just happened to have the 4/0 anyway. Basically, you're stuck with whatever banded you have on the truck. And by doing some basic algebra...

(17.82·100·L) / 66360 = 3.6
[yadda, yadda, yadda...]
L = (3.6·66360) / 1782
L = 134'

... you know you can go 134 feet before being out of code.*** You lay in 150' of cable anyway because 1) you only carry 50' lengths on the truck and 2) when all is said and done, you've been averaging 90 amps/leg anyway which puts you right on the edge (at 90 amps/leg with 3% voltage drop, it comes down to be 148.9' if you want to be exact about it). So you're good! Yay!

So why am I giving you this mind-numbing lecture in mathematics (especially when there's surely an app for all this)? Because I'm trying to show there's a reason why we run the cable the way that we do. That the choices we make in placing the generator isn't based on our own personal whims, but is dictated by what's in or not in the shot, what production can afford, the amount of manpower we have, and what can be done safely. It's not that we don't give a shit about the sound department, but more often than not, this is as far as I can get the generator away from set based on the above criteria. We do the best with what we have, which is why it irks me to no end when conversations like this happen...

Locations/Sound Guy/Etc.: "We need to move the generator."
Me: "That's a little easier said than done..."
Them: "Why not? It's just another 50 feet."
Me: "Well, it's not just 50 feet. I have to go around that wall/building/can't just cut across that yard where the owner's sitting on his porch holding a shot gun. It may even only be 75 feet, but all my cable is in 50 feet lengths, so really, it's be at least 100 feet of cable."
Them: "Well, don't you have two more pieces of banded? I saw some on your truck when I passed by a minute ago."
Me: "Yeah, but-"
Them: "So what's the problem?"
Me: "The problem is that with banded and the amperage we're using on set, I can only go 134 feet before I'm breaking code and I'm already at 150 feet, so-"
Them: "Oh no no no no. Don't pull that number mumbo-jumbo shit on me. Just run the cable. Is that so hard?"


Don't people think there's a reason why we sometimes need 2/0 or 4/0? For Pete's sake, if it was always as simple as just slapping on another piece of cable regardless of the gauge, I'd just be running stingers with a cube tap on the end straight out of the generator to run the entire set!

Stupid mutherfuckers. (Can you tell I've been through this a few times?)

Another stupid request? "Can't you just bump up the voltage on the generator?" I can, but not as much as you think. 1) Going too high with the voltage on the generator can mess up the generator, which is never good; 2) Voltage goes up when amperage goes down, so when we start turning lights on and off, someone with some very expensive and sensitive equipment plugged into our system may get a nasty surprise along with a repair bill; and 3) Upping the voltage at the generator is not an appropriate way to make up for the fact that you're running the wrong sized cable to begin with. You should do it right the first time. And again, if cranking up the voltage regulator was an option, don't you think we'd say fuck it to 2/0 and 4/0 every time and just run a damn stinger to run the whole set and just "bump up the voltage"??

So no, it's not that hard to physically lay out another two pieces of banded. But electricity is a bit more complicated than just laying out pieces of cable, asshole.

Juicer Math, Pt. 1

* 120v being the standard here in the good ol' U.S. of A.
** This is a formula for a 3-Phase system only. Hence, the √3. The Single-Phase formula is 2KIL/ACM. If you don't know the difference between a 3-Phase system vs a Single-Phase system, you probably shouldn't be the one planning all this out...
*** And that's just on a good day. Heat causes resistance, so if it's particularly hot out and/or the cable is laying on some sun-baked asphalt, the voltage drop can be higher.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Filmmaker's Test.

The following is a simple test to see if you really are a filmmaker. Proceed with caution.

Raise your hand if you've ever...

...watched an action movie and wished you could kick ass like the hero.

...watched a scene unfold on screen and dissect how the camera was set up and where the lights were placed.

...felt bad for the crew when you watch a show that takes place mostly at night. Or in the rain. Or both.

...been so excited the night before your first day on a shoot that you can't sleep.

...known when Crafty would bring out new snacks and hover around the table in anticipation.

...hoarded the kind of soda or fizzy water you like from the coolers.

...skipped over the veggies at catering.

...played with props when the Propmaster wasn't looking.

...cleaned your sunglasses with supplies found on the camera cart.

...sat down on set and flipped through a "magazine" or book used for set dressing.

...sprawled across a bed on a bedroom set.

...gone through the breakfast line more than once.

...raided the set cart for batteries for your T.V. remote at home.

...taken a nap on company time.

...snuck a picture of a celebrity on set.

...sat in a pass van just for the air conditioning.

...gone "grocery shopping" at the craft service table.

...borrowed a belt or jacket from wardrobe because you forgot yours at home.

...had to explain to your mom a few dozen times what it is you do at work.

...had to explain to your dad what you do at work in hopes that maybe he can explain it to her (note: this never works).

...splurged on a phone or a tablet with the thought of, "It'll come in handy at work!"

...shown up for work an hour early because you looked on the wrong line of the callsheet.

...shopped for a present for someone while at work (thanks, cellphone!).

...stopped what you were doing, looked around and thought, I have a pretty cool job.

...put off a doctor or dentist appointment because of work.

...rolled from one shoot right on to another.

...never met your neighbors because you never see them.

...forgot your friend's birthday because you were so busy, you lost track of the days.

...lost a girlfriend/boyfriend/significant other because you never got to see them.

...missed out on a family event because you're booked on a job.

...gave up a pet because you're never home to take care of it.

...ever wondered how you'd be able to balance a career and a family with a job like this.

...had a day so good, you knew this is what you wanted to spend the rest of your life doing.

...had a day so kick-you-ass-brutal, you wonder if it's all worth it.

...been told that Hollywood's a hard town and you won't make it.

...left behind family, friends, and all you've ever known to move to a place you've never been to because you wanted to make movies.

...purposely forged ahead without the safety net of a stable bank account or back-up career because you want that fear to push you to succeed.

...come to a halting realization that this is harder than you ever thought.

...reached a stagnant point in your career and start to wonder what else you could do for money.

...wondered what'll happen if the calls for work stop coming in.

...have this nagging fear that maybe they were right and you'll never survive in this industry.

...ever wonder if you're good enough to rise out of the low paying gigs.

...been scared that this is as good as it gets and you've peaked in your field.

...feared that you'll have to return home to your parents' house because you couldn't make it and it's time to "grow up." 

...feared that you sacrificed it all for nothing.

...kept on forging on anyway because you have faith in yourself that it will all work out in the end because despite all the uncertainties, the pain, and the fear, you're passionate about what you do.

If your hand is still raised, congratulations. You are a filmmaker.

Bonus test.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Haters Gonna Hate.

A colleague who I work with on occasion called me up the other night, his voice nvervous and laced with concern.

"Do you have a minute to talk?"

"Sure..." I cautiously say. I know he's not calling me for work and therefore, not sure what kind of news he's about to drop on me.

"Well, first off," he starts before he takes a deep breath, as if he's trying to calm himself down, "I think you're awesome."

"Oookay...." I'm still not getting what he's going for, but I'm starting to get nervous, too. Whatever it is he's trying to say, it must be pretty bad.

"But..." he continues, pausing a bit to gather up some courage to soldier on, "I heard some stuff about you that I thought you should know."

More silence.

I'm getting anxious and frustrated at this point. If it's bad news about me, I wanted to know and I wanted to know now. There's no need to sugar coat it for me. I like my band-aids ripped off fast.

"For Pete's sake, stop worrying me and just spit it out."

"Okay," he said, taking one last breath. "Some guys I worked with today were talking about you. They were saying stuff like you don't know what you're doing on set, you flirt with everyone, and you're lazy, and you don't pull your weight and stuff..."

More silence.

"Is that all?" I calmly ask.

"That's the gist of it. I just wanted to let you know what's being said about you because I don't agree with them at all, but maybe you can be more aware of how you behave on set, you know? Like, watch who you hang around with and make sure you point out to the guys what work you're doing. Stuff like that."

"Um.... Okay...."

"I'm just saying, don't give them any more fuel for their rumors. Like I said, I think you're good and I don't want what they're saying to get around and sully your reputation."

I respond to his thoughts with a chuckle. "Thanks for the call and I appreciate the concern, but I'm not too worried about it."


"Yeah. Really."

And I mean it, too. The way he started the conversation had me thinking the worst while this was really just almost... pedestrian. 

I didn't even badger him to tell me who he was working with that day. Partly because 1) I know he probably wouldn't spill but mostly because 2) there have always been rumors about me.

I've heard tales about how I'm lazy, clueless, and shamelessly flirt with everyone in sight, and about how I won't do this, won't do that, etc, and all while planting my butt at crafty. Some which may or may not be true. I don't know. I don't judge my own work; I simply do the job the best I can.

But I've also heard some pretty off the wall rumors. Apparently, I'm a lesbian; I'm asexual; I've been through a horrible divorce recently; I own a motorcycle; I've been hired on a job only to refuse, REFUSE, to do any work when I get there; etc.

Right. Sure. That sounds like me. NOT.

I understand why anyone would be freaked out about rumors like that circulating around about them. Hollywood is a lot smaller than it seems and word can travel fast. Whether true or not, a few unfavorable words uttered when your name comes up can lead to being unemployed for a while. Even if you've never met some of these people, your reputation can easily precede you. Unfair, yes, but that's reality.

But as concerned my colleague was for me and my reputation, I found the whole situation to be more amusing than anything else. Because despite whatever is being said about me, I'm still working.

And not only am I still working, but I've been working. I haven't had a week without work (Holidays excluded) since I last summer and that was only because I chose not to work. Not only have calls for work increased for me every year since I started in this business, but the jobs have been getting better as well with no signs of stopping any time soon. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but as I'm writing this, things are falling into place that would have me working for the next several months before I get another chance at some R&R.

So I think I must be doing something right.

My colleague also expressed concern that he didn't want those rumors to squash my chances of advancing to bigger and better things in this business (isn't he sweet!), but I told him I doubt it would. Because the funny/interesting thing is, as I've been getting bigger and better jobs over the past few years, the rumors I've heard about myself have also escalated. The more work I get, the more ridiculous the rumors and/or the more rampant they've become. And yet, I'm still progressing in my field with each job being a step above the last, so go figure. I don't know if it's because the woman transcends the myths or if it's because I've been floating from one crew to the next at such a rate that the rumors haven't caught up to me, but whatever it is, it hasn't closed any doors for me yet (that I'm aware of, anyway).

And sure, I guess I could try to limit what's being said about me by not visiting crafty or not "flirting" with the prop guys, but if I've learned anything about human nature over the past few years, it's that with some people, if it's not one thing, it's another. They'll complain about how cheap the caterer is on one show, and then complain about how production is spending too much money on food and not enough in other areas on the next show. I may be "hanging around crafty too much" now, but I can also be seen as "having an eating disorder" if I visit the snack table less than often. Now, I'm "flirting with every department," but if I change my ways, I can be seen as "anti-social and doesn't get along with everyone."

Some people will just bitch and moan to anyone about anything. In fact, guys on set have been some of the gossipiest bitches I've seen since the girls' bathroom in Jr. High.

And even if I do "watch myself" on set to try to limit what's being said about me, what am I supposed to do about all the other stuff that comes out of left field? Okay, hearing that I have a motorcycle made me sound kind of bad-ass, but never once have I shown up for a job only to refuse to do it. Or been divorced. Or even married, for that matter. Or even bring up my personal life on set.

It just goes to show that they'll probably always be rumors about me, no matter what I do. That's one of the (many) downsides of being a woman in a male dominated business. It puts an invisible target on your back. Everyone will put you under a microscope and people will talk about you.

If it's not one thing, it's another. And if it's not me they're talking about, it'll be someone else.

Hollywood likes to talk, which can be scary since a lot can ride on your reputation in this town. But you can't stop people from talking and I can't/won't/don't want to change who I am just to try to please them. And I can tell you right now, there is no pleasing them.

As the saying goes, haters gonna hate. And the only thing I can do about it is take a cue from my girl Taylor...

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Importance Of Saying Goodbye.

Shows can be a magical place to work. You cram some awesome people together in a centralized location for twelve to fourteen hours a day and some fun will be had, no matter the situation. Some of my best memories are from working on low budget shows and/or remote locations and/or shooting through the night.

It's often not the work that makes this job worthwhile, but the people involved with it.

On the last day of the show I was on recently, I found out that it was also the sound mixer's last day ever in this business. He was officially retiring when they called "wrap." As he was packing up his gear for the last time, I asked him, after working in this business for most of his life, what was he  going to miss the most? He paused what he was doing and looked at me thoughtfully.

"You know, I don't think I'll miss the hours we do, or the shows, or even the work itself. It's the people that I'll miss most of all." And with that, he gave me a kiss on the head, gave me some final words of wisdom, and quietly walked out that stage door for the last time.

While we weren't particularly close, he was a part of my life for several months. And his departure was even more meaningful to me because we got to say goodbye.

All too often, I make these connections with these fun and awesome people,* and at the end of the day/show/and even scene, we gather our things and disappear into the night with hardly a look back. When they call wrap, everyone's in such a hurry to clear out of there that before you know it, you're in your car, alone, and you never got to exchange one last joke with the prop guy or high five the on set dresser one last time. Those little things that seem like nothing, but are really what aknowledges that a bond was formed and that it meant something to the both of us.

It sucks not being able to say a proper goodby. I makes me feel like I'm lacking a sense of closure. That we've been through such long days and grueling work without as much as a handshake and a "see ya around" makes me sad.

Sure, the flowing nature of this business means there's a good chance I could see them again down the road, but it could be years, or even decades down the line, if at all. And who's to say we'll even remember each other by then?


I guess what I'm trying to say is that at the end of the day/show/career, what we take away from it all isn't the show itself, but the people we spent the time with. The people we got to know. Shared jokes with. Broke bread with. Rode in pass vans with. A sense of camraderie is shared and when it's over, the relationships we form don't always get the proper ending they deserve. It just fades away as if it meant nothing at all...

Endings like that have never sat well with me. And the day it does is the day I shouldn't be doing this anymore. Because when all is said and done, it's not the shows we make, the hours we work or even the work we do that we take away with us.

It's the people that make this business worthwhile.

* And I'm talking about the good people here. Not the inevitable asshole(s) on every set.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Happy Labor Day.

Just a little something to think about while we're enjoying a BBQ and hitting the sale at Macy's this weekend.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

How To Negotiate Like A Boss.

Raise your hand if you've ever wished you could be paid more for a job.

And keep that hand raised if you've actually asked for more.

And only put that hand down if you've walked away from the negotiating table with less than you wanted.

Still have your hand up? Good. You know how to work a negotiation.

Everyone else should listen up...

I used to be consistently paid less than minimum wage. When you're just starting out, you kind of have to take what you can get and while I was grateful for every opportunity I got, eventually you reach a point where you know you're worth more. The hard part is figuring out how to get it. But once I did, I never worked a job where I felt like I was being totally screwed ever again. Here's a few tricks I learned over the years...

First off, know what you're worth. If it's your first job on a set, ever, you're probably not going to get much. That's not to say you shouldn't try, but it's important to know and be aware of your limitations. A producer probably won't offer you union scale if you don't even know how to properly wrap a stinger yet. In fact, they'll probably think you're delusional and move on to the next name on their list without a backward glance. Once you figured out a fair price for whoring yourself out... 

Ask for a higher rate. Sometimes, it really is that simple. Most of the time, if your employer is willing to play with the numbers, you'll end up going back and forth until you reach something you both can agree on. Therefore, feel free to always ask for a little more that what you want. Each negotiating side generally has two numbers in their head. The one they want to pay/get and the one they're willing to pay/get. Know what your numbers are before you start that part of the discussion. There's no faster way to lose a negotiation than to answer with a blank face and an "Uh..." when they ask you what you want.

Every once in a while, you'll get lucky and they'll accept your "want" number right off the bat, simply because they have no idea what the going rates are and just spitballed out an initial offer. So if you don't like the rate they're offering, simply start by asking for a better one.

That said, and this is the tricky part, don't be the first to throw out a number. Just say you normally work for more and ask if they can up the rate. If they ask you what your normal rate is, respond by telling them that every show is different and ask them a shit load of questions. What are they shooting? Is it a commercial? Feature? Music video? How long is the job? What are the locations? Is there a lot of night work? Is it a period piece? How many days a week will we be working? How big is the crew? What size is the budget? All these questions will help you form a better idea of what you'll be getting yourself into the next time you answer a call for work that simply says "grip wanted" and help you figure out a fair price for yourself. Then ask them what number they have in mind for you. That gives you an idea of what they're going for and a ballpark figure to work with. Then you can go in with a decent counter offer. Again, if you go too high right off the bat, they'll think you're delusional and walk away. It's better for them to start the number game.

Sometimes, it's about the right numbers. They can't go any higher with your rate? Well, what can they go higher on? Sometimes, they can't move on certain numbers because of some accounting thing, but they may be able to play around in other columns. Can they pay you a kit rental? Can they rent your gear (and by "rent," I don't mean "borrow")? Can they up your overtime rate? Can they add an extra hour of pay each day? Can they give you an extra prep/wrap day? Can you be on an hourly rate instead of a flat one?

More often than not, it's about finding where else they can add more money rather than inflating your base rate.

What else do you want? The previous tips still leave you wanting more? Think about what else other than money will make you take the job and the information you gleaned from all those questions you asked about earlier can come into play here. Again, it's all about hitting the right accounting columns. Can they pay for your travel and mileage? Can they up the expendables budget (and round out your own personal kit in the process)? Can you add extra guys to help ease the work load? Can they guarantee you 12 hour turnaround each night? Can they make sure Crafty provides you with all the Red Bull you can drink?

If you're just starting out as a P.A., but really want to shoot, can you shadow the camera department? If you're a grip who wants to be a dolly grip, can they let you work a shot or two?*

The possibilities are endless here.

There's no need to go in for the kill. You can, and should, always start out asking more than you'll settle for, but just because you don't bleed them dry doesn't mean you walk away a loser. I never really understood those people who get upset because they didn't get every cent production had. If you get a deal that you're satisfied with, pat yourself on the back. The goal wasn't to screw production over, but to get yourself a fair rate. If both sides walk away from the negotiating table satisfied with what they're giving up/gaining, it's a win-win situation that paves the way for a better working relationship in the future. That's priceless.

Know when you need to walk away. Can't come to an agreement? Maybe you should walk away. Can't afford to? Then I think you just found your new rate. And don't say things like, "I've got a cabin in Big Bear to pay for and a kid to put through college. I can't pay my bills with what you're offering." It's really not their problem. Their problem is finding a crew that fits their budget. They don't give a rats ass that their rates aren't enough to cover your AC bill in the summer.

But what they do care about is what you can do for them. If they're balking at the terms you're offering, tell them why it'd be the best decision they ever made in their entire life if they hired you. Did your last few shows win awards? Do you usually come under budget? Are you always on time? Are you the Queen/King of "making it work" no matter what the challenge? Do you come with top notch crew of your own? Would they get the best deal in Hollywood if they rented equipment from you? Have you done a show similar to what they're doing? In other words, why are you worth the rate you're asking for?

Don't bitch about the deal you made. Once you agree to the terms, don't whine about them. You agreed to them. Don't make a deal and then complain the rest of the show about how you deserve more. You deserve what you negotiate. Don't like what's offered? Then don't take the deal. Walk away and move on. Let production find someone that'll be happy working for them and vise-versa.

That said, if you take the deal and things aren't as promised (ie: you're suddenly shooting nights out on the beach in San Pedro for six days a week when you were told you'd be on a stage in Hollywood the whole time), feel free to go back to the negotiating table. The terms have changed and so should your deal. 

And lastly, once you reach an agreement, get it all in writing. And know the rules.

* You probably can't negotiate this one with production on a bigger show, but who's to say you can't negotiate within your own department?

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