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.




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.
"What?"
"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?


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