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.


Thursday, November 28, 2019

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!


Not sure why, but this kinda hit home for me...




HAPPY THANKSGIVING, EVERYONE!
I hope you survive the holidays with your family.  ;-)


Thursday, November 21, 2019

My Severance Pay Is In The Form Of A T-Shirt.




I'm the only one in my TV and movie obsessed family that works in this silly business, so last year when I made the trek home for Thanksgiving, I schlepped up a bag of swag I've accumulated from the past couple years of work. In it were a few mugs, t-shirts that don't really fit, and various miscellaneous show items that I didn't want to keep for myself and no longer wanted taking space in my apartment. I brought the bag to dinner and let my cousins have at it. The t-shirts went quick, but the most popular items in the bag were a couple of jackets and hoodies.

Later on at dinner, a couple of my relatives were talking about what a cool job I have, namely because of all the "free" stuff I got.

"I wish my job gave us shirts and jackets," a couple of them lamented. "We never get anything."

I thought about that for a sec. Yeah, I guess it is pretty cool that we usually get gifts from the shows we work on! But then, I remembered why we typically get presents.

"Actually, most of that stuff were wrap gifts, which happens at the end of a job," I explained. "So whenever we get something, it's kind of like them saying, 'Thanks for doing a great job! Now you're unemployed.'"

Everyone then proceeded to look at their newly procured goods, realizing that each one symbolized a time I was essentially fired. All my cousins of working age have a steady 9-5 job with benefits and paid vacation time and have been at their perspective jobs for years now. Suddenly, my job perk didn't seem like such a perk anymore.

"Yeah, okay," one of my cousins said, "That does kinda suck."

I suddenly realized that all my hard work over the years essentially amounted to a bag of ill-fitting tees. Though if I ever was given a shirt that says "I worked on [insert show name] and all I got was this lousy t-shirt", that one, I would happily keep.




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