Monday, December 28, 2009

It Sucks When...

... you manage to juice a whole show without burning yourself on a light, but spending the day baking cookies? You burn your hand on the oven. Twice.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Family.

The latest show I'm on is the longest I've ever worked with a crew. Sure, there are day players, sick days, and the occasional person may come and go, but the core people more or less stay the same. And the other day, as we said goodbyes for our holiday break, each hug I got showed me more and more how much we really were like a family.

My fellow grips were like my older brothers. Looking out for me, teaching me things I didn't know, and standing up for me when Production was trying to screw me over in terms of hours and pay. The juicers? They were more like the friends of my "brothers", playfully teasing me about the way I worked or how I have a soft spot for chocolate chip cookies.

The lady at Crafty, who always made the most delicious treats and usually hid an extra cookie or two for me was like an aunt who'd always be in the kitchen, telling me to eat something.

The DP, like a dad, with his hardened exterior, always gave me a warm smile in the morning and a squeeze on my shoulder at the end of each day.

The Make-up Girl, giving me advice on blushes and liners was like a sister, and Wardrobe, with their chic style was like the cool cousin that every family has.

The Transpo guys? Standing around, smoking cigarettes while telling tales of drunken debauchery is a little too much like the weird/crazy/embarrassingly un-politically correct Uncles that you can't help but love.

Then there was the Medic, who made sure we all ate right, stayed healthy and dressed warmly. She gave us medicine when we were sick, mended our cuts and bruises and always gave us a look of reassuring concern. I might as well have called her "Mom".

In a business made up of people from all over the world, we often have to find family wherever we can and I've been lucky enough to find one like this.

So Happy Holidays to you and your family, whoever and wherever they may be.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Just Ask.



It's impossible to know everything there is to know about the job of a set lighting technician. Or grip. Or any other job in this business for that matter. So if you don't know something, I don't care who you are (or who you think you are), I suggest you ask.

Some things you can figure out on the fly. For example, if you don't know where a specific cable run will go, you'll probably be able to work it out when you get to the location. Never used an HMI before? Lucky you, there's really only one way you can hook it up.

But there are just some things you can't fake. Need to tie a bowline but don't know how? The only way you're going to learn in time is to ask the colleague next to you. Don't know what settings the generator needs to be on? Ask someone who does.

I'm a strong believer in asking questions when you don't know something, especially if it concerns the safety and well being of others. That knot you just faked could send something crashing down on to someone's head, and a genny running too high can be a ticking bomb.

On the flip side of that, don't be a dick if someone asks a question you think they should already know the answer to. Some of us out there only know about what we've worked with, so unfortunately, what may be second nature to you may not be so clear to the rest of us. I have a friend who's been in this business way longer than I have, and yet he doesn't know how to properly use a GFCI, simply because he's never had to use them. Just like I don't know how to set up a piece of scaffolding because I've never been a grip when we had to use it.

The other day, I watched as a guy from the art department admitted to not knowing how to tie a bowline and his boss gave him shit for it as the rest of the department watched. "What do you mean you don't know how to tie a bowline? Anyone worth his salt knows how to tie one! Whatever. Go sweep up the other set." The guy, completely embarrassed, sulks off.

A little bit later, I return from the crafty table just in time to watch the rest of his co-workers start to raise the chandeliers they just rigged when one of them slipped and crashed to the ground. The culprit? A wrongly tied knot by one of the other guys who was prepping the chandeliers to be taken up. After watching his buddy get yelled at by his boss, there was no way he was going to admit to not knowing how to tie a bowline. Lucky for them, there was minimal damage and no one got hurt.

This time.

So for Pete's sake, if you don't know how to do something, ask. And if someone asks you a question, don't be an asshole.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Friday, December 11, 2009

Days Off.




For those of you who don't know, the working hours in this industry sucks. And I don't mean the "damn, I just did 18 hours in the rain yesterday!" kind of sucky. I mean the "damn, I can't make it to the grocery store/bank/dry cleaners/doctor's/auto shop/post office" kind of sucky.

Let's say your call time's 7am. With travel and breakfast time calculated in, you leave the house around 6am. You then work a full 12 hour day so you don't get off work until 7pm. Or 7:30 if you're on one of those productions where you don't get a paid lunch. Add on the travel time (hellloooo L.A. traffic!) and you don't get home until 8:30pm. You're gone for a good 14.5 hours each day. Add in 7 hours for sleep, and your 24 hours turns into just 2.5 hours of "free time" which you'll probably spend taking a shower, eating dinner and looking up directions to tomorrow's location. Times that by five days a week. And that's on a regular 12 hour day. I don't even want to do the math on a 14, 16, or 18 hour day.

Meanwhile, you have laundry you can't do, checks you can't cash, and packages you can't send (yes, I'm aware of ATMs and APCs, but sometimes, you need a real human behind the counter) because all of their hours of operation are after your call time and before your wrap time. That pushes all your errands to Saturday (sometimes Sunday if you have errands that don't include a bank, post office, or taking your car into the dealer's). Calculate the time you spend waiting in line at each place (don't even get me started on how much longer everything takes around the holidays) and there goes your weekend. What sucks is when you don't make it everywhere in time and fall mercy to their reduced "Saturday hours" and you now have to wait until next weekend to finish what needed to be done this weekend.

And if you have kids, a high maintenance dog, or a needy significant other? Forget it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

It's Shit Like This That Annoys Me.

The Gaffer calls over the radio that he needs all hands on deck. We're about to do a relight and he wants us to stand close by and wait for further instructions. There were as many lights on the ground as there were juicers, so my colleagues and I each position ourselves by a light, gloves on, ready to move and tweak it if necessary. My light just happens to be right next to a doorway.

AD: (to me) "Hey you, can you move this out of the way so people can use this doorway?"
Me: "Actually, this light might still be playing right now. Let me check with the Gaffer."
As I reach for the "talk" button on my walkie...
AD: (yelling across the room) "Hey Gaffer! Can this light move?"
The Gaffer nods his head. The AD grabs the stand, moves it to the side, gives me a look, and walks away.

Oh helllll no.

First off, unless you're a set electrician or there's some kind of emergency, keep your damn hands off any lights, cables and corresponding stands. I don't care if you're the all important AD.
Secondly, THERE'S A JUICER STANDING RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU. Even more reason to not fuck with the lights.
Thirdly, no one knows more about how important it is to have clear doorways and pathways than a grip or electric. We move large/heavy/awkward shit in a hurry all the time and hate it when there are unnecessary obstacles in our way. So believe me when I say that if that light doesn't need to be in the middle of everything, I'll gladly move it.

And don't even get me started on how he went over my head and straight to the Gaffer. It's annoying and frustrating when that happens in general, but for Pete's sake, I was willing to work with him on this. Had he waited another millisecond, he'd hear me on my walkie asking for permission to move the light.

Lastly, that smug look he threw at me was totally uncalled for. The whole ordeal is evidence of how unprofessional he is and the "How do you like them apples?" glance just shows how he isn't even aware of that fact.

People like that piss me off.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Stands And Bales, And Puppy Dog Tails...

I'm sitting at a house party somewhere in the valley, talking to my friend about the latest bullshit production we were on when I got distracted by something in the corner of my eye. It was a single yellow balloon, bobbing around amongst a crowd of people. How curious. I lean over a bit to get a better view and see that the balloon is tied to the collar of a beagle, who was eagerly following his owner around the party; tail wagging and everything.

"Oh my goodness. That's so cute!" I cooed in a typical girlish fashion.

My friend looks over to see what the hell I'm talking about and agrees that it's adorable. For some reason, a dog darting around a sea of legs with a balloon tied to him was more entertaining than the conversation we were having, so we watch him for a bit. Eventually, the dog's owner stops, feeds him a bit of something, and pets his head. The tail is now wagging back and forth so frantically that it's nothing but a blur.

"You can tell how good a person is by the way their dog behaves," says my friend, "A dog that follows his owner around like that? You know that dog's been treated well and the owner's never abused him or anything like that." Though I've never had a dog of my own, I nod in agreement. His logic makes sense.

It also got me thinking about how that's kind of true on a film crew. You can tell what kind of guy the Gaffer or Key Grip is by how the rest of their team behaves.

If they're hiding out in the truck most of the time, he probably yells at them when they're actually on set ("You're doing that wrong! Can't you get anything right?!" or "I needed that C-stand an hour ago!"). If they hang around on set but roll their eyes a lot, it's a sign that the Gaffer doesn't pay attention and takes it out on the crew ("That 10K you just set up where I told you to? That's going to be in the shot! Move it to the other side of the room, now!"). If someone is sent outside to tweak something and doesn't come back in for a while, it could be a sign that the Key is overworking the crew and the poor guy is using the chance to escape for a quick break.

On the other hand, if the crew is scrambling around to get things set up and keeps returning to the department head for more orders, that guy's got a crew that loves him. If you notice the juicers hanging out on set with one eye on the Gaffer, you know that they're paying as much attention to him as he is to them, which means those lights go up where they're supposed to the first time. If the grips don't mind doing a little bit of unpaid overtime, it's probably because the Key habitually stands up for them when other departments fuck up. A few minutes of extra work for a boss who has your back is a few minutes well spent.

Of course, this is all generally speaking. Sometimes you'll get the occasional grip or electric who hides in the truck or dilly-dallies around outside because they're lazy, or gets their asses handed to him because they simply weren't paying attention or following directions. And if there's a newbie trying to make a good impression, he'll probably keep returning for more orders no matter how many times he gets yelled at by an asshole Gaffer. But if you know what to look for, you can easily get a sense of what the day is going to be like if you're stepping onto a crew mid show.

Comparing a the crew to a dog and a Key/Gaffer to its owner probably isn't the most accurate analogy. After all, they don't feed us, walk us, or take us to the vet, nor do we live together (okay, I know of one or two exceptions to that last one), but we do spend a good amount of time with them every day, they're responsible for what we can or cannot do on set (and in turn, our safety as well) and it all comes down to whether or not he deserves our loyalty. I'll follow a great boss to the ends of the Earth, and I won't hesitate to leave a bad one in a ditch somewhere.

Plus, think about how cool it would be if everyone on set had a balloon.

Monday, November 30, 2009

It Sucks When...

...it's windy and freezing cold. The whole crew is sipping hot chocolate and soup from crafty while huddled around the heaters. Meanwhile, you're stuck in a condor 60 feet in the air.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"What Is It That You Do Again?"

Oh no... It's that time of year again... It's the Holidays.

The time when so many of us make the trek from Hollywood to Virginia, Minnesota, Arkansas, Orlando, Seattle, Sacramento, or wherever else it is where we have family. After some long days of maneuvering yourself around a forest of stands, lights, and producers on cell phones, you're now battling the roads and airways with thousands of other cranky travelers, just to immediately be thrown into another tricky situation: The big family dinner.

You're suddenly face to face with aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, family-in-laws, and an assortment of people you're not quite sure how you're related, but they're always at these events anyway, pinching your cheeks and lingering a little too long around the booze. These are people that you only see about once a year; usually at Christmas or Thanksgiving.

While I love my family (cheek pinchers and all), I don't always look forward to seeing them because all too often, they ask the question: "So, what kind of work are you in these days?"

Ugh. I hate that question. Although most people love watching movies, not everyone thinks about how they're made. And even when they do, the extent of their knowledge is limited to Directors, Producers and Writers and it's usually that they know they exist, without a clue as to what they actually do. But it's not that hard to figure out that Directors direct, Producers produce and Writer's write. Just like it's not that hard to figure out that Computer Programmers program computers, Interior Designers design interiors and Customer Service agents deal with customers.

But most jobs on a film set aren't so self explanatory. Script Supervisors don't sit around watching the script, making sure it doesn't misbehave. Assistant Directors don't assist the Director with directing. And Craft Service doesn't have anything to do with Popsicle sticks and glue. And unless you're in the industry, it's hard to know what Gaffers, Key Grips, Best Boys, Grips and Electrics do. It's even harder to explain.

I usually try to answer the question with a simple, "Oh, I work in movies" to try to keep it short and concise, but rarely will they leave it at that.

"Yeah? What do you do in them?"
"Uh... I move around the lights and stuff."

This obviously over simplifies the job, but I find this to be the quickest way to satisfy their curiosity. Any other answer would just sound more confusing, complicated, boring, and awkward as I try to explain things in laymen terms. Trust me, I've tried every other answer I could think of.

This is also the only time of year that I'll 100% identify myself as a juicer. Why? Because as hard as it is explaining what a Set Lighting Technician does, it's ten times harder to adequately explain what a Grip does. Because now, not only do you have to explain that there are special lights that they use in movies, but that there's an entire department dedicated to shaping and controlling the light. Try convincing your Great Aunt Margaret that the sliver of a shadow in the corner of the show she's watching didn't occur naturally. Yeah, not easy.

Even my parent's aren't quite sure what it is that I actually do. Whenever anyone asks them, "So what's A.J. doing down in L.A.?" they usually say, "Oh, she's shooting and directing movies." I still haven't figured out if this is because it's the easiest answer or if that's what they really think my job is.

Only the people who work on set everyday will know what you mean when you say "I'm a grip" and unless you're from Los Angeles, you probably won't find a lot of them at your family get-togethers.

I know of a DP who'll answer the question with, "I'm a photographer," and while I understand where he's coming from, I kind of feel like that's a cop out. We've worked so hard to get to where we are in the biz that it feels like a shame that we don't get to announce our official job title to relatives who you know are silently judging your success. Even "Coffee House Barrista" has a more authoritative ring to it than, "Uh... I move around lights and stuff."

I think this year though, I'll try a new plan. It involves stuffing my face with a steady stream of turkey, mashed potatoes and pie. I can't answer the question if my mouth's full, right? I'll let you know how it goes....


Ps.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Signs Your Shoot Is Going To Be A Bad One.



Sometimes you can tell how bad a shoot is going to be before you even get to set. If you see any of these signs, either quit now or brace yourself.

You get e-mails from a production that don't contain the name of the show. This means the people in charge work on shoots once in a blue moon. They don't need to use titles in correspondence because it's the only project they've had all year. In other words, they don't work on films for a living and will probably expect you do put in 18 hour days, eat pizza for lunch, etc, because they're doing it for "fun" and so should you.

When they e-mail you about your availability, they don't include a job title. It's most likely a copy-and-paste form letter and they're too lazy to throw in "grip" or "electric". If they can't even do that, imagine how they handle the really important stuff.

They expect you to pick up the truck and gear the day before for free. Because, you know, load in and prep doesn't take a whole day, so they shouldn't have to pay you for it.

They ask if you have any gear they can use. Notice I said "use" and not "rent".

They insist on having a pre-production meeting and/or tech scout, but when you get there, everyone else shows up late. They don't know what kind of shots they want or where the camera's going, and when you ask them a simple question, the answer is always "We don't know yet."

The location is on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere and they don't include a map. It's either because the thought didn't even cross their minds, they're lazy, or they assume that just because they managed to find it, 50 other people should be able to find it too. All bad signs.

The location is on a busy street downtown and the call sheet says "Street parking only." Not only will you spend half an hour hunting for a spot, but you'll have to park half a mile away and then move your car every two hours.

There's three company moves in one day. They're all more than ten miles apart. They don't give you a map. Four pages are scheduled for each location. And no, they're not reimbursing you for gas. Oh yeah, and it's street parking.

If they use the words "passion project." Run away. Far, far away.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

"You Better Get Used To It."


It's no secret that a film crew, especially in the grip and set lighting departments, is composed primarily of males. And despite this modern day world of political correctness and work place etiquette, a film crew is often exempt from such rules. In other words, if you throw a bunch of guys in a room for 16 hours a day, don't be surprised if you hear phrases that would make even a sailor blush. And don't think that the HR department (if there is one) gives a rats ass about it either.

That means that any woman working on a film crew would be crazy not to expect a slew of sexual innuendos, "your mom" jokes, and the ever popular "That's what she said." I mean, for Pete's sake, we handle equipment with names like "butt plug" and "bull prick". You'd have a hard time working in g/e if you have no appreciation for the occasional dirty joke or two.*

So if it's common knowledge that stepping into the back of a grip truck can be like stepping into a guys locker room, why is it that EVERY crew I work with has at least one guy who thinks I was expecting it to be as wholesome as an episode of Full House??

It never fails. Someone one will say something like, "Yeah, that stand's pretty fucked up. You just gotta force it like a prom date..." And whoever is standing closest to me will inevitably give me a look and say "Yeah, we tell a lot of dirty jokes. You better get used to it."

Yeah, no shit Sherlock.

Grip 1: "We need a new can of Pledge. I had to keep shaking the hell out of it before anything came out."
Grip 2: "Yeah, I'll bet you're good at that."
Grip 3: (to me) "You better get used to it."

Juicer 1: "Damn. If only that stinger was just three inches longer..."
Juicer 2: "Funny. That's what your girlfriend told me the other day."
Juicer 3: (to me) "You better get used to it."

Best Boy: "[Some lame joke about laying cable that I don't even remember because 1) it wasn't even very funny, 2) it was kind of a stretch, and 3) come on, a "laying cable" joke from an electrician? I'd like to think we can be a bit more creative than that.]"
Juicer: (to me) "You better get used to it if you want to work on a film set."

Even when I'm working with someone who's trying to be more of a gentleman, the conversation usually ends up something like this:

Grip 1: "There's not enough room here. We'll just have to go in from the back. It might be a tight fit though."
Grip 2: "Ha. You sound just like my date from last night... Oh, oops! Sorry A.J.! I didn't see you there."
Grip 1: "Eh, she's gotta get used to it eventually."

Sigh.

I think I've been on way too many shows to still be encountering crap like that. And keep in mind that it's not like I have a look of horror on my face every time someone makes a penis joke either. The weird thing is that I still get the "You better get used to it" line even when I'm laughing at the joke. Seriously.

So please, believe me when I say I'M USED TO IT. In fact, once I get settled into a crew, the raunchiest innuendo will probably come from me. So shut the fuck up about how I "need to get used to the jokes" already and give me a good one.

Or rather, that's what she said.


*And I'm not talking about lewd comments directed towards you (like, say, a highly inappropriate suggestion that involves you, his girlfriend, and tub of Cool Whip) but more along the lines of things meant to lighten the mood and make the day go by quicker ("That stand's not open all the way. Spread the legs more." "Yeah, that's what she said!").

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I'm My Own Worst Enemy.

There are some people who come to LA looking for their big break and never seem to find it. I'll sit there on the latest no-budget shoot and listen to their tales of struggle and doors shutting in their faces. I'll offer words of sympathy when they tell me about the time they almost landed the gig that would take them out of low-budget indie hell and how it got away at the last second. Some of them have been trying for over a decade to break into the unions (IA, DGA, SAG, what have you), big TV shows or large budget movies. To have their name in the credits of something that will be seen on thousands of screens (big or small) all over the country, if not the world. But for whatever reason, be it through lack of talent, lack of skill or just bad timing (but never for lack of trying) their big break never comes.

Just sitting there, listening to their stories about the life the gave up, the heart break they've caused, the things they've left behind, just for a chance to reach for that shiny brass ring is somewhat inspiring. Sure, I gave up another life to start this one in LA. I have my own list of things I left behind and paths I could have taken. But in all honesty, it was never my intention to stay in the small town I grew up in. And while I may have some roots there, they don't run very deep. But if I did, would I be able to leave it all behind? And ten years later, if I still haven't made it, would I be kicking myself for giving up a sure thing?

The answer? No, I probably wouldn't be brave enough. I'd probably convince myself to be happy in whatever 9-5 job I had, saying that a steady paycheck is better than the uncertainty of a freelancer's life any day.

So I'll sit there, listening to these people tell me everything they've given up just to give this movie thing a shot, and how time and time again, they keep getting knocked down. Yet they keep trying.

And what kills me is that time and time again, I'll come across the same opportunities that they've been waiting for, but I won't take it. Why? I guess it's because I'm a self saboteur. There have been times where I'd loose out on a big opportunity because I'd "forget" to return a phone call. I'd tell myself I'll call them back later, after I finished running my errands/doing my laundry/eating my lunch, only I'll never return that call, thinking that the job would've been taken by then. Or I'll choose a bad job over a career changing one simply because the sucky job called me first, and then curse their bad timing.

Most recently, a very well meaning friend pulled some strings to get me a phone number for a sure-fire gig. And it wasn't just any job. This shoot would put me on the roster for the union. No more running dinky little lights off of house power; we'd have more lights, toys, and amperage than we'd know what to do with. I'd be working on a real movie for a major studio with the paycheck to show for it. All I had to do was call that number and they'll practically hand me the job.

But I didn't call.

I've met dozens of people who would do anything for a chance like that, and I gave it up. Why? I don't know. There's no good reason for it. I hate it when I'm not working with no job leads on the horizon. I hate getting offered rates that are barely a living wage. And I definitely don't like it when I have to work horrendous hours with no overtime pay. And yet, I didn't call.

The best answer I could come up with is that maybe I don't feel ready. Sure, I want to eventually climb the ranks and work on the bigger and better shows. The ones with better working conditions, better pay, and better catering. Eventually. Because to me, those shows are intimidating. With crews ten times bigger than the ones I'm on now, with huge trucks filled with gear, finicky stars in their trailers and millions of dollars on the line... I'd feel like I'd be biting off more than I can chew. They're definitely out of my comfort zone where I can just kick back on a apple box and have a casual chat with an actor or a PA.

And while I may not feel ready to leave my crappy little indie world just yet, I do have to ask myself: When will I be ready? All the major moves in my life (from home to college to LA; from one job title to another) were scary, sure, but they also felt right. Will it ever feel right for me to move on?

You can call me stupid for giving up the opportunities that were handed to me. But I have to believe that each day I spend on another mediocre set will only give me more experience, drive, and confidence that I'll need to survive on the big jobs. And that eventually, one day, I know I'll be ready to move on.

Hopefully.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Overheard When I Was Working On Grip Side...

Best Boy Electric: "Hm... Since we're only going about 50 feet, I guess we could just use banded cable the whole way. But since we have the 4/0, we might as well use that."

I'm soooo glad I wasn't juicing that day.

*For those of you who don't know, 4/0 is a 100ft cable that weighs about a pound a foot (there are shorter lengths, but not on this shoot) and a complete set is five pieces. I don't know the exact weight of banded cable, but I've heard guesstimates of 60-70 pounds each... In this particular scenario, only one piece of banded would've been needed.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Thank You For Not Smoking.




Let's get one thing straight: I don't care if you smoke.

I don't care how many packs you smoke a day.
I don't care if you started when you were 13.
I don't care if you want to quit or not.

However, it'd be nice if you took other people (namely, your fellow g/e brothers and sisters who don't smoke) into consideration the next time you light up.

For example, try timing your cigarette breaks accordingly. Deciding you need a smoke while the rest of the crew is scrambling to get the next shot up? Not cool. Stepping off for a cigarette while we're waiting on you to finish that cable run? Or leaving the set without having anyone cover for you while you light up? That just makes your whole team look bad. And don't think running back and forth between the set and the smoking area will make you look any better either. All that does is make you smell like cigarettes and sweat, not to mention that you're now panting your nausea educing breath in everyone's face. Ew.

And be aware of your surroundings if you smoke. By the generator? Not a good idea. Standing next to racks of costumes? Still not a good idea. Around kids (or more specifically, the lead kid who happens to have an asthma problem)? That's an even worse idea.

And above all, just recognize when it is appropriate to smoke and when it is not. While it's nice that you'll occasionally say the words, "Do you mind if I smoke?" please take note that unless you're in the company of a pregnant lady, 99% of the time the people around you will say "no," even if they do mind. Why? Because if you're in a group of people, no one wants to be that guy.

So please just use your best judgment. Standing in the middle of a parking lot? Outside on the sidewalk a good few yards away from open doors and windows? On a rooftop babysitting a light? Those are all acceptable places to smoke a cigarette.

Sitting in a crowded pass van in the middle of stop-and-go LA traffic?

Not a good idea.


Ps.
And can someone please explain to me why smokers never seem to carry a lighter??

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Most Horrendous Thing I've Seen On Set...

I've never been a fan of horror/slasher films, but I've worked on quite a few of them. Despite the pools of fake blood, dark lighting, and body parts everywhere, the set of a horror film isn't nearly as scary as what you see in the movie theater.

There are some exceptions, however.

Late last year, I was day-playing on a feature being shot in some old house east of downtown LA. The house itself was kind of creepy/cool looking and judging by the trails of "blood" on the floor, chains on the walls and weapons table in the corner, I quickly deducted that I was spending the day on a horror film. "Hm...," I thought to myself, "This should be awesome."

There were rumors floating among the crew that the house itself is actually haunted and after poking around some of the empty rooms, I kind of believed it too. It was obvious that no one had lived in the house for years, though it wasn't clear why. The details in the furniture, doorways, staircases, etc were beautifully carved in a way that you just can't find these days and the bathrooms were so classic that the tiled floors were checkered and the bathtub had feet. Despite the gray clouds outside casting dark shadows in the already dusty rooms, you could tell that at one point, the house was filled with color and life. But not anymore. Even the overgrown weeds on the front lawn were starting to die.

Anyway, being as this was an ultra low budget shoot, the film crew consisted of the usual mish-mash of film folk and Director's/Writer's/Producers' "I'm just here to help out" friends. That meant that no one in the wardrobe department knew how to sew, the Script Supervisor was taking notes with a Sharpie and the AD had a habit of calling "Action!" before sound and camera were rolling.

This also meant that a good chunk of the electric crew didn't know what they were doing either, and about four hours in, someone somewhere plugged in something they shouldn't have, and all the lights went out.

Did I mention this was a night shoot?

Needless to say, if working in a creepy abandoned house in the dead of night doesn't get your heart beating and your hair to stand on end, having the lights suddenly go out on you will.

After some shrieks from the freaked out make-up people and some fumbling around in the dark on my part, we managed to get the lights back up again and it was back to business as usual. Meanwhile, I made the rounds to make sure that everything else that needed to be on was still working.

Work lights for Wardrobe? Check.
Work lights for grip and electric staging? Check.
Coffee maker at crafty? Check.

I was just about to head back to set when I heard a faint scratching noise coming from the next room... Which was supposed to be empty. How odd...

As I slowly creep towards the doorway to investigate, a million thoughts of what it could be was rushing through my mind. Was it a ghost? Was it a rat? A tree branch against the window? A ghost? Please don't let it be a ghost...

Thankfully, it was just a little, white, fluffy dog. Since this was an "I'm just here to help out So-and-So" crew, lunch was being made by a friend of a Producer's who had just graduated from a prestigious culinary school. She also had just gotten a new puppy and didn't want to leave it alone at night, so she brought him to work.

After my heart stopped racing, I followed the puppy back to the kitchen where his owner was prepping for tonight's meal. I figured that since I needed to go back there to check the lights anyway, she might get a kick out of how her dog almost gave me a heart attack and maybe even give me a taste of what's cooking.

Only, when I got there, what I saw made my stomach turn.

As she was leaning over the counter, she had the fluffy puppy in one hand and was feeding him something with the other. Whatever it was, it must have been good because the dog was licking her fingers like there was no tomorrow. Then, without washing it (or even wiping it on her jeans), she used the same bare hand to mix the salad.

And that, my friends, was the most horrendous thing I've seen on set.

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"Shit Happens."

I was thinking of writing another post about absurd things that can happen on a set and/or the kinds of people I've worked for... And then I stumbled upon this article.

And yeah, that just about covers it. :)

It's written by a sound girl (some of you may even already follow her blog), but the experiences she lists/rants/talks about are things that we've all come across at one point or another no matter which department we're in (more or less anyway... I can't recall the last time I was on a set where the actor murdered his drug dealer...).

It's a pretty lengthy read, but check it out if you have the time.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

It Sucks When...

... your boss decides you should be the bearer of bad news because "girls can get away with a lot more than guys can."

*sigh*

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Most Annoying Guy On Set.




If I wanted to spend time in front of a camera, I wouldn't be lugging around cables and stands all day. I'd be going to auditions and looking for an agent. In fact, despite working around a camera all the time, being in front of one makes me ridiculously uncomfortable. So to me, the most annoying guy on set is the EPK guy, aka: the guy who's shooting the "behind the scenes" video.

In case you haven't noticed, most of the stuff I work on are low budget projects that aren't good enough to be listed on IMDB, let alone be seen outside of a cast and crew screening. So it always perplexes me when Production brings on a guy to shoot behind-the-scenes footage all day, every day.

For example, a job I was on earlier this year shot for 5 days. The EPK guy was there the whole time. Give or take a few breaks here and there, that's about 40-50 hours of behind-the-scenes footage.

For a 15 minute short.

Is that really necessary??

Now normally, I wouldn't care who Production hired to do what... Unless it effects my ability to do my job. And this is where the "annoying" part comes in.

This guy (and the many others like him I've encountered over the years) was always in the way. With his eyes behind a view finder the bulk of the time, his focus is only limited to whatever is in front of the camera. Forget the crew dodging all around him, trying to set up a scene. Forget the cables he's about to trip over, or the stand he just kicked. He's so focused on getting the interesting "action" shots of everyone working that he doesn't notice he's on a ladder that the grips need to use or standing directly under a lamp that needs to come down.

Plus, the "interviews." Oh dear lord. That's the most annoying part of it all.

I'm handling a really hot light. He comes up, totally invading my personal space with a camera in hand, and asks a stupid question like, "So, can you tell me a little bit about what you're doing?" Dude. I'm trying not to burn myself and you're not making it any easier. Go away.

We're about to roll, and everyone's waiting on a last minute tweak. But I can't rush onto set because the EPK guy, totally invading my personal space with a camera in hand, is standing right in front of me, trying to get me to say some words of praise about this wonderful production I'm on.

There's a call over the walkie for a light. I hop onto the truck, grab whatever it is I need to grab, and turn to hop back out. Only I can't. Because the EPK guy is there. Totally invading my personal space. Camera in hand. Cornering me between the shelves and equipment carts. "Hi. Can you tell me your name and occupation on this shoot?"

Ugh. Really? Can't you harass me when I'm not working??

I'm usually a nice person. I can be sweeter than an ice cream sundae. But I do have to wonder how many times the guy has me on camera saying "Get out of the way," "Not right now," and "Get that fucking camera out of my face."

Monday, October 19, 2009

Video Break.

Because it's Monday and I could use a bit of fun.
Because I had kind of a rough weekend.
And because I'm tired of Productions thinking "more is better."
And because I think sometimes "less is more."

I leave you with this music video from Donora. It's charm and simplicity at its best... with hula hoops.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

We're More Than Alright...

Earlier this week, Michael Taylor of Blood, Sweat, and Tedium fame wrote a very insightful post about the generation gaps that occasionally occur on a crew. It's no secret that I've had a few issues from being the youngin' surrounded by a group of seasoned veterans, so I was very pleased to find that at least one guy out there won't automatically assume we don't know the difference between a c-stand and a combo.

Reading Michael's post reminded me of another incident that occurred on a shoot not too long ago. It was a low-budget indie (as if there was any other kind) and thanks to a seasoned Producer and a relatively young DP calling in a few favors, we ended up with a mish-mash of crew. Some of us were young enough to be mistaken for college students and the rest were old enough to be our fathers. This led to an obvious generation gap and as a result, the older guys took it upon themselves to lead the pack, using us kids to do all the tedius work, like taking out all the fluorescent tubes in a supermarket (if you've never done it, take a look at the ceiling the next time you go grocery shopping).

While this was mildly annoying, my buddies and I didn't mind it too much. I'll take setting up a few c-stands over running a maze of cable any day. Plus, the older guys felt it was easier just to do things themselves rather than explain it to us in layman terms, which meant more time for us "newbies" to raid crafty. Hey, call use lazy if you want, but if you're getting paid in peanuts, letting the guys who think you don't know anything do most of the hard work doesn't sound like a bad idea.

The funnest part of the shoot for me was towards the end. A new grip was joining us for the last couple of days and the boy looked like he was still in high school. As the older guys stood around, rolling their eyes thinking that they have to "train" yet another kid on how to work on a set, the new kid and I chatted a bit over breakfast and I quickly discovered that he definitely knows his stuff. Anyway, the first task he got assigned was this:

Older Guy: "I need you to take the top and the stick part off of that stand and a black flag about this big, put it on that board with the pin in it, and place it next to that light over there."

My new friend looks at me with the most confused "WTF is this guy talking about??" face I've ever seen.

Try as I might, I couldn't help the slight grin spreading across my face as I said, "Head, arm, beaver board, 18-24 solid, lamp right, tweenie."

The new kid nods and does the task with the grace and precision only a well experienced grip has. The older guys could only stand and watch, amazed that the "kid" they had written off just moments before could so expertly complete the assignment after being given such bare-bone instructions.

After catching on that the kiddies probably know more about the job than they previously assumed, they stopped babying us and before long, things were finally running like they were supposed to: all of us as one crew. By the end of the shoot, we knew we had gained the respect of our older colleagues. While that may not have been enough for them to give us a call the next time they have spots to fill, I hope it at least makes them think twice about writing off the next young crew they work with.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Who Wants Pizza?



Fresh Out Of College Kid: "Ever try the Dominos pizza tracker? That thing's kinda cool."
Me: "No... I don't order pizza."
FOOCK: "So what pizza place do you order from then? Pizza Hut?"
Me: "No, mean 'I don't order pizza' as in I never order pizza."
FOOCK: "What? Why not?"
Me: "Because I work on too many damn productions where lunch is pizza so I can't stand to eat any on my days off."
FOOCK: "You get that much free pizza? Lucky you!"

Oh, to be that innocent again...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Think Before You Leap.

It's a cool summer evening. The kind that makes you want to sit on a porch, drinking a tall glass of sweet tea; savoring every sip as you watch the neighborhood kids run around their yards. There's a slight breeze blowing as I stand on the edge of a roof top, surveying the ground below. My toes are dangling over the side as I contemplate whether or not I should jump...

On the other side of the house, the cameras are getting ready to roll. I was on the roof tweaking a light when the AD shouted that we were "ready for a take!" and with those four words, the ladder I had used to climb up here was swept away. I'm now stuck. Damn.

"Sorry A.J." I heard over the walkie. "You can either look for a safe way down or wait until we're done with the scene. But I gotta warn you it looks like it's going to be a long one."

With a groan, I look around. Luckily, it's a one story building, but it's still one story too tall for me to hop off of. I notice that there's a part of the roof that seems to slope down a little more than any of the other parts, so I head over to check it out.

On that side of the house, there was a rather large, raised planter hugging the wall with nothing in it but soft looking dirt. Hmm... If I maneuver this just right, I could land in that patch of dirt and from that, I can easily hop to the ground and be at crafty, munching on a bag of Doritos in no time.

But on the other hand, if I miss the planter, I could potentially break a leg and/or twist my ankle. Not only would that take me out of commission for a while, but the loud thud of me hitting the ground followed by screams of pain could potentially ruin the sound during a take. And forget about me ever being hired by these guys again. No matter how safe that drop looked, I'd always be the idiot dumb enough to jump off a roof.

I look over to the back of the house where they were shooting. They had just started rolling and the Gaffer was intently watching the monitor. He's a good guy. He's one of those bosses that will help the crew pack up gear at the end of the night and doesn't leave until we're all in our cars, engines started. And when he heard I was getting desperate for work, he pulled a few strings to get me hired. I thought about what would happen to him if I jumped and landed wrong. He'd probably have his ass handed to him by Production for hiring such an idiot and "allowing" me to jump off a roof. They probably won't hire him again either.

Then I thought about how I met the Gaffer. I was sent to him on a recommendation from a DP friend of mine. Even though he wasn't on this shoot, his reputation was at stake as well. If the Gaffer was going to get shit for something that I did, you can bet money that my friend was going to hear about it. Any recommendations he gives from there on out would be either highly questioned or even ignored.

Then there was the money. How much was I getting paid for the day? Is the amount worth risking getting seriously hurt for? (The answer's always no.) Add in the cost of at least three ruined reputations, and the answer is a no-brainer.

Sure, the jump looked safe enough. It wasn't too far from the sloped roof to the planter, but one wrong move on my part, one caught shirt sleeve or even one strong breeze catching me off guard, and my ass would be in the emergency room.

A lot of guys I know (mainly the young ones) would have opted to jump. While they're fully prepared to take responsibility for whatever happens, they don't take the time to think about who they're really representing. Not only are you representing yourself when you step onto a set, but you're also representing whatever department you're in, the Key Grip/Gaffer or Best Boy who hired you, whoever recommended you to them, whatever film schools you attended... The list can go on. If you screw up, a lot of careers are on the line; not just your own.

I step back from the ledge and make myself comfortable for the long scene ahead. A little while later, I heard over the walkie, "Hey A.J. How are you doing up there? Do you need anything?"

"I'm doing fine, but I wouldn't mind it if a bag of Doritos from crafty found its way up here."

A few seconds later, a bag of chips landed by my feet. I happily munched on them as I watched the camera roll below me. Somewhere in the distance, I could hear the happy laughter of children, running around their yard. I guess there are worse places I could be...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

You Know You've Been Working Too Hard When...

... you're visiting your parents and your mom asks you to take out the trash. Your immediate response is, "That's not my job."

Oops. Sorry Mom!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

You Better Be Worth It.



His eyes are a brown so deep, you'll feel lost just gazing into them. Yet there's a sense of security and comfort when he wraps his arms around you. He'll give you his jacket when you're cold; he'll hold doors open for you; he'll call you to make sure you got home okay.

On your first date, you'll go to the movies. You hate horror films, but agree to see one anyway because you don't want him to think you're a wuss. You wince every time there's blood on screen and by the third slaughter, you notice him watching you. You feel embarrassed and vulnerable, but he smiles that boyish smile of his and holds your hand. He agrees to never take you to see a slasher film again and the two of you go out for ice cream. He gets mint chocolate chip. You order cookie dough.

A job comes up that takes you out of town for a few days. He watches as you pack, wondering why you need to carry around four different kinds of screwdrivers, and do you really need that many wrenches? His questions are annoying, but in a way, also endearing. There are no phone calls exchanged when you're gone, but he'll send you text messages. Silly ones at first ("Marco Polo never learned to swim! Ironic, isn't it?") but they get more personal as the week progresses. ("My favorite shirt just shrunk in the dryer. :(" and "I miss you.") The two of you spend the day together when you get back.

He wants to know everything about you. Family, school, friends, how your first pet died. You tell him your story; he tells you his. He'll talk about how his day was. How his boss accidentally hung up on an important client, or how his coworker spilled split pea soup on the carpet. It took two janitors and a steamer to clean it up. You tell him stories of how the gaffer read the lighting plot backwards and what happened when the dolly grip wasn't paying attention and almost ran off the track. Then you explain to him what "gaffer," "light plot," "dolly grip," and "track" is. He sits there, listening, entranced. You don't know if he's in awe of you or the business you're in, but you don't care. You keep talking because you love the look on his face.

But one day, that look on his face isn't there anymore. You finish your latest story and ask him if something's wrong. "You work with a lot of guys, don't you?" he asks. It's then that you realize that most of your stories features men with the occasional cameo from a woman. That's just the way the job is, and they're more like the brothers you never had than anything else. But you sense that it's making him uncomfortable, so you begin to censor your tales of set antics. Instead, you prod him more about his job, hoping to draw attention away from your own line of work.

Eventually, you begin to notice that he gets jealous at more than just your coworkers. He glares at the guys sitting the next table over when you're out to dinner and makes snide comments about how chummy you are with the man you buy your morning latte from. You try your best to reassure him and no longer exchange witty banter with the barrista. The subject of work doesn't even come up anymore.

Then one day, you'll realize you're no longer yourself around him. You two have a long talk and break up. "I always knew you'd leave me," he says, "I never felt like I could trust you." His words hit you like a rock. But as much as they hurt, you're too tired to explain yourself. There's no reason to. So you walk away.

This is the point where you'll usually eat a bag of cookies and play "I Will Survive" on repeat. But you'll get called for a job instead. You'll spend the next couple of weeks in New York, eating pizza and hot dogs, taking pictures of the dizzying lights in Times Square and walking (and working) around in the cold. You're a California girl, born and raised, but the numbing cold feels good. When the shoot's done, you feel ready to go home again. You curl up in your own bed and sleep better than you have in a long time. In the morning, you'll wake up to a very quiet apartment. It's almost too quiet. You open a bag of cookies and put Gloria Gaynor on repeat.

After some time has passed, you'll come home to find him waiting for you on your doorstep. He'll have a movie and microwave popcorn in one hand and a single red rose in the other. You invite him in and the two of you watch the movie and eat the popcorn. The movie ends, the credits roll, but neither of you move from the couch. Instead, he takes your hand as you lean your head on his shoulder, and just as you drift off to sleep, he tells you how much he missed you.

The next few days are filled with awkwardness. Like two teenagers on their very first date, your time spent together will be filled with long pauses and nervous twitching. But eventually, things will get back to normal. He'll send you silly text messages ("Did you know that ducks can't digest rye bread?") and you'll bake him cookies (chocolate chip). The nights are often filled with good chicken wings, bad Karaoke, and lots of laughter.

Things will get so good, you'll talk of moving in together. Nothing's definite, but the two of you decide to look at apartments anyway. He wants a pool; you just want air conditioning. The first few places the two of you check out are dumps. You learn that "fixer-upper" and "cozy" are just code words for "run-down" and "cramped". The next place you're scheduled to look at sounds more promising, but you never make it there. Your friend calls you last minute to best on a music video and you have to leave immediately.

Sixteen hours later, you'll come home tired, dirty, and in desperate need of a shower. But that shower will have to wait. He's sulking on the couch, upset that you bailed. You try your best to explain to him the concept of day-playing and how a lot of jobs you get are last minute calls, but your mind's so fried you don't know if you're making any sense. Finally, he says, "Why don't they just plan these shoots better?" To which you'll reply, "That's what I ask myself every day." The two of you share a slight chuckle and as you finally step into that hot shower, he's in the kitchen making you a sandwich. You never end up looking at that fourth apartment.

Eventually, you find yourself on the crew list for a feature. You start shooting on Thursday and couldn't be more ecstatic. Two months of solid work compared to the ridiculously few days you've had all year. That night, he surprises you at dinner with a weekend getaway. You hate the look on his face when you tell him you can't go. It breaks your heart. "Can't you take a couple of days off?" You tell him it doesn't work that way. It's been a slow production year and you need the money. In this line of work, there's no such thing as paid vacation or sick days. He says he understands, but you can tell he's crestfallen. You order his favorite dessert to cheer him up (apple pie, a la mode).

The job starts. The hours are long, the days are hard, and no one can seem to figure out why the bulb keeps blowing out on that 5k, but you love every second of it anyway. Only you don't get to see him as much anymore. You leave early in the morning only to come home late at night, wanting nothing more than to crawl into bed. Your weekends are filled with laundry, grocery shopping, going to the bank, and other mindless errands that you don't get to do during the week. But he'll say he understands. He'll sit with you at the Fluff 'N Fold and wait in lines with you. You'll bake him cupcakes which will still be cooling on the counter as you fall asleep on the couch.

Before you know it, it'll be your anniversary soon. He wants to celebrate with a romantic picnic on the beach. You tell him you're working that day. He'll plan a late dinner instead. But an actress will forget her lines, a stunt car will crash into a street light, and you'll end up working overtime. You leave an apologetic message on his phone, explaining the situation. It's no use though. When you finally make it home, he's waiting for you; not pissed off or annoyed, but disappointed. He'll say he's tired of only seeing you on the weekend and he's tired of all the times you had to cancel on him. And he'll accuse you of choosing work over him. You'll say that you're not, but staying late is part of the job and if he can't understand that...

He cuts you off before you can finish. "But it's just a job."

His words stop you. Working in the film industry isn't just a job; it's a lifestyle choice. Endless hours on a moment's notice, often working from sun up to sun down and vise versa. You can go days without eating a home cooked meal. And yet it's a job that you'll fight for because this is something you want to do. Hollywood's a creaky, shaky, unstable roller coaster, but you love to ride it.

You realize that if he doesn't understand your line of work, then he'll never understand you.

You will say good-bye for the right reasons. The days are just going to get tougher as you fight tooth and nail to climb that industry ladder to reach the top. You'll need someone who will trust and support you; someone who'll help you back up if you fall. Not someone who will make you feel guilty for choosing this life. Not someone who will resent you for it.

But until you find that someone, you find comfort in the fact that you'll always have a bag of cookies, Gloria Gaynor playing on your stereo, and a family waiting for you on set...

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

"I Tried To Show Them The Polaroids. They Wouldn't Look!"

It's interesting to see how the industry is portrayed on TV and in movies, so Sunday's episode of The Simpsons was a fun one for me.

For some reason, I found this part to be especially hilarious.

Monday, September 28, 2009

It's Lunch Time.





Do you remember what it's like to be the new kid in class? Or was there ever a day when your best friends all went on a field trip/stayed home sick/had a dentist appointment while you still had to go to school? Then you spend the morning sitting at your desk, wondering who you're going to play with at recess and even worse, who are you going to sit with at lunch?? You don't want to be the loser that sits by herself, feeling like a nobody and a misfit. How sad and embarrassing that would be!

And while I'd like to say those days are behind me, I'd be lying if I did. I don't know about you, but things have been pretty slow for me in terms of work. The only jobs I get called for is to day play, which means I'm only on a show for a day or two before I'm back on my couch, waiting for my phone to ring again. This also means that I've spent quite a bit of time being the "new kid" recently.

For the first six hours I'm on a new set, I'm usually rockin it. I've got a job to do and I (more or less) know how to do it. Everyone gets into a rhythm and things start clicking. Then we break for lunch and no matter how good of a job I did that morning or how well I'm getting along with the new crew, the moment I step into that lunch line, I'm worried about who I'm going to sit with. The obvious choice would be to sit with my the rest of my department, but it doesn't always work out that way. Sometimes by the time I get through the line, there's no more room at the table. Or they decide to try the burger place down the street instead of eating another day of mediocre catering. Hm... Now who do I sit with?

In the end, it usually works out well. I'll pick a seat next to a friendly looking person, have a lovely conversation while we eat our chicken and I'll have a new ally on set. Worst case scenario, the person turns out to be an arrongant dick, in which case I'll finish my meal and excuse myself to "return a phone call". What really sucks though, is when I end up sitting by myself. Then I revert to feeling like a nobody and a misfit.

I know I'm probably too old to be having these "high school cafeteria" anxieties. It's something that I should have outgrown, but I can't help it. There's something about the mix of new people, long tables and trays of overcooked food that revert me back to my young self, complete with any insecurities I may have had then as well.

Call me petty or immature, but I guess part of me is still seeking acceptance. And that's probably something that won't disappear, no matter how old I get...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Three Is Not A Crowd.




I've come to notice that when the topic of conversation turns to women on set (more specifically, those in g/e), there are two kinds of people: those who think there are very few of us and those who think there are a lot.

I'm on the side that thinks women are set are like finding an honest Agent; it's definitely not something you see every day. So it always baffles me when the conversation goes something like this:

Other Person: "So you're a chick working g/e? That's kinda cool."
Me: "Yeah, there's not a whole lot of women in these departments."
Other Person: (surprised) "Really? Because I know a lot of women who do what you do."
Me: "Oh?"
Other Person: "Yeah... [pauses for a moment] There's Girl Name #1, Girl Name #2.... Oh! And Girl Name #3."

And let me tell you, it's usually the same three names that come up. Which is definitely a testament to how much they rock if they're that well known. But come on, just three names? I can easily rattle off the names of ten male, union juicers without even pausing to think about it. Out of all the work contacts I have in my phone, the guys easily outnumber the girls 18 to 1 (yes, I counted).

So while there may be a number of female grips and juicers out there, please don't act like there's an abundance of us. If that was the case, we'd have shirts that fit.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Just Because You Have The Title Doesn't Mean You Know Shit.




I'm having lunch with an old friend from high school. We weren't great friends back then, but ever since we found out that we both live in LA now, we've made more of an effort to keep in touch and hang out. We still aren't great friends, but I guess we remind each other of home, keeping us grounded in this crazy, smog filled town.

Anyway, she mentions that a friend of hers is producing a short film and is looking for crew. Would I mind helping him out? (read: work pro bono) Her friend, I should mention, apparently went to school with us as well. He graduated a year or two behind us and I never even met him, but I'm a sucker for loyalty and school pride. It doesn't matter if he was one year behind us or ten; if we have the same alma mater, chances are I'll help him out.

So I agreed and ended up on a phone call with the Producer. He ran down the basics with me and thanked me about a zillion times for being the Best Boy... And then he let it slip that the Gaffer was being paid while I was only getting "copy, credit, meals". Hm... Interesting. But I brushed it off, rationalizing that the Gaffer is higher ranking and probably the only one they could afford to pay.

A little while later, I got a call from the Cinematographer who wanted to go through some details. Everything sounded fine and dandy... and then he brought up the Gaffer.

"So... Just a word of caution, the Gaffer's really green. Actually, I think he's fresh out of film school and this is his first gig since graduating. You'll kind of need to keep an eye on him."

... What?

I took a moment to process what he just said. "Wait... Let me get this straight... So, the Gaffer's getting paid, which is fine, he should be getting paid. But I'm working for free and I have to babysit him??"

"Yeah... I know it's kind of screwed up, but that's something you'll have to take up with the Producer, you know?"

So I call up the Producer who says there's nothing he can do. There's no money in the budget to pay anyone else, and asked if it was a problem. I told him that while I do think it's fucked up, I already said I'd help him out and I'll stick to my word. Damn my sense of loyalty.

And let's just say that'll be the last time I agree to a deal like that. The Gaffer ended up creating more work for our tiny crew due to his inexperience and problems arose where a more seasoned Gaffer (or even a regular grip or electrician) could have easily avoided. To make matters even worse, he wouldn't take any of my suggestions on how to make things run smoother and more efficient. Instead, he pulled rank on me every chance he got.

*sigh*

I know there are a lot of knuckle headed Gaffers and Key Grips out there, but at least they usually come with a paycheck to take the sting out a bit.

This goes to show that just because someone is a department head doesn't mean they know shit. I've worked for too many Key Grips that don't know what grid cloth is and too many Best Boy Electrics that don't know how many lights you can plug into a 20 amp circuit. One guy didn't even know how to work the lift gate on the back of the truck.

Unfortunately, things are never fair in the film world (or in any other industry, I'd imagine). For some reason, guys that don't know the difference between a single and a double scrim often climb up the chain of command faster than those who do. And the scary thing is that this stuff doesn't just happen on low budget indies. Guys like that Gaffer are hired all the time on big budget studio produced shows, where the toys are bigger, more expensive, and more dangerous. A couple of the guys from a previous post are Local 80 members and through a string of flukes, loopholes and luck, a former colleague of mine is now on the Local 728 roster. And this is someone I wouldn't trust to set up anything bigger than a 2K (if that... the last one I saw him put up almost fell off the stand).

Meanwhile, I'm still lugging around cable and sandbags on shows that are barely good enough for Youtube. I'm not going to lie. It bothers me how time and time again, people who don't know shit about the job somehow end up being my boss. The only thing I can do is take solace in the fact that at least I know what kind of cable I'm holding and how to properly rig that point so when the day finally comes where I get promoted through the ranks, the paycheck will be that much sweeter.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

"I Will Not Watch Your Fucking Film."

There was an excellent commentary last week in the Village Voice titled "I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script," written by screen writer Josh Olson of A History of Violence fame.

If you don't have the time to read it, it's basically a rant of why you shouldn't ask someone for notes on a script if you're a wannabe writer. Not only is it an imposition, but it puts the reader in an awkward position: you'll piss off the writer if you say it's bad, yet you're not doing him any favors by saying it's good. You could sugar coat the truth, but that might not go over too well either. Plus, it takes forever to get the wording right on a well crafted "you-suck-but-don't-feel-bad" email without the other person thinking you're a condescending jack-ass. You're basically screwed no matter what you do.

Though I may not be a writer, can definitely sympathize with Mr. Olson.

Most of us out there who are doing the dirty work on a film set aspire to be something else. A PA usually wants to be a director or a writer or a producer. Camera assistants often want to become operators or DPs. Ask a young electric if they plan on pulling cable for the rest of their career and 99.9% of the time, the answer is "Fuck no." Which means that most of us are there to just pay the rent. Meanwhile, there are a lot of side projects going on, in hopes that one of them will be our big break and take us out of our way-below-the-line misery.

And if you have a bunch of film industry friends, you'll inevitably be asked to watch one of their films or take a look at their latest script. And that's when you feel like directing them to the previously mentioned article.

Let's be honest. Most of the time these "personal projects" are crap. All too often, they're based on what happened when the writer was on the high school track team or the summer they spent driving across the country. In other words, stories that are only interesting to them.

And then there's the dialogue. It's rarely ever natural and the characters usually end up too much alike and bland or too off the wall and unrelatable. 9 times out of 10, it's obvious that they're trying too hard to be the next Juno or Little Miss Sunshine. Yet interestingly enough, if its a script, it's usually riddled with spelling mistakes and punctuation errors. If they're not going to take the time to read their own writing over, why should I spend my own time reading it?

And it's best not to get me started on the films. Most of the ones I'm asked for my opinion on are shot horribly. The sound is bad, continuity is all wrong, the lighting's too dark, and the stylistic choice of having mirrors and "reflections" in every shot is more of a distraction than an artistic commentary. Not to mention the laughable dialogue, bad acting, and the obvious use of your mom's basement for every set.

So what are you supposed to do the next time you get an e-mail that says "Hey Friend! Attached is my latest script/short film/'passion project'. Let me know what you think!"? You know it's going to be bad. At best, it'll be "just okay". You could probably get away with non-comments like "I really like that opening song. Who sings it?" but you can't get away with notes like that forever. You can try to give actual notes that might be of use, but good luck trying to do that without sounding like a pretentious know-it-all. If you're really nice, you could take the time to make bad criticisms sound good ("Bill's character's so funny that I think he should belong in a comedy! He's such a strong contradiction to Janice's character... Was that what you were going for?") but if you've got three pages of notes on a 5 minute project, you'll probably end up spending more time on it than they have. Plus, they probably won't get your subtle hints to read between the lines.

I actually have no problem with giving you my brutal, honest opinion if you really want it. But I'm smart enough to know that while most people may say "give me an honest opinion," they really don't want to hear it. They just want you to tell them that it's the best thing you've ever seen so they'll feel accomplished and awesome. They just want the validation. In that case, why should I even bother looking at the thing? It's a waste of my time.

So let's review. If your project sucks (and it most likely does), there's no way for me to gracefully say so without sounding like an ass. If I lie and say it's good, I wouldn't be a very good friend and a little part of me dies inside, thus, again, I'm an ass. If I refuse to look at it right off the bat, then I'm the ass who won't take time out of my day to help a friend. All three options make me look/sound/feel like an ass. But since the last option is the most efficient in terms of time, we'll go with that one.

And hey! Here's an idea. Since the answer is no, I will not watch your fucking film, how about you don't even bother asking me in the first place?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Keep It Simple, Stupid.

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler."
- Albert Einstein


I'm meeting with the Gaffer to discuss an upcoming shoot. Due to some scheduling mishaps, I'm unable to scout the locations with him, so he's drawing them out on a coffee shop napkin.

"So on day three, we're going to be at a school downtown. We're inside for most of the day, and it's pretty simple stuff. In fact, we can probably just go off of house power and not even worry about the generator until night... That's when it starts to get interesting..."

"Um... Okay..." I hate it when they say "interesting" like that.

The Gaffer begins to draw a diagram. "It's not too bad... It's just a bunch of wide shots of them coming into the parking lot. But we will need to run a bunch of lights and the problem is with the generator. It's going to sit here (he points to a corner of the napkin) which means we'll have to run cable all along this wall, all along this side, and around this part. We're also going to be setting some lights up on the roof, so we need to get enough cable to go from here (points to a spot on the napkin... He's drawn so many squiggles and lines that I have no idea what that spot's supposed to be) to up here (points to another spot; I'm assuming the roof). The generator may be in the shot, but I'm going to talk to the DP to see if he can frame it out. If not, then we need to somehow cover it up with a solid or duvetyne or something... Whatever. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it. The main thing is figuring how much more cable we're going to need since there's not going to be nearly enough in the equipment package we're already getting. I'll need you to put in a separate order for that and some extra cross-overs. Production's trying to cut costs and they don't want to pay for a week's rental on something we're not going to need until Tuesday... And unfortunately, because the budget's so tight, they're not letting us hire an extra guy to help you with the cable, so..."

I look up at the Gaffer who's giving me his "I'm-sorry-but-this-day's-going-to-suck-for-you" look. I hate that look.

I turn my attention back to the napkin.

"You said these are all wide shots?"

"Yeah."

"Are they running sound on the wides?"

".... No."

"Can we put the generator here instead?" I point to a spot on the napkin that's closer to all the action, closer to where the lights need to land, and definitely out of frame no matter where the camera looks.

The Gaffer thinks for a minute before he begins to chuckle. "Sure. You can also forget about everything I just said too."

I look at the Gaffer who's giving me his "why-the-hell-didn't-I-think-of-that-sooner" look.

I give him a "it's-because-I'm-a-genius" nod.

He pulls out a fresh napkin and starts drawing another set...

Monday, September 7, 2009

I'm Not Your Mom.



Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have an announcement to make: If we're ever on a set together, please note that I am not your mother.

I know it may be a confusing concept to grasp at times, especially if I'm Besting and part of my job is to take care of you. Like, making sure you get a call sheet and know where the location is. Or making sure that you're paid correctly, go home on time, and that you're not over worked. I may even make sure you get fed every six hours.

However, some things are up to you to take care of, such as...

Getting yourself to set on time. You have an alarm clock. Use it. Do not expect me to call you every fucking day to wake you up (true story).

Wearing sunscreen. If it's 90 degrees outside and we're doing exterior shots all day, it's a damn good idea to use sunscreen. I don't care if you "don't burn easily," but I do care if I have a grip who's in too much pain to do anything the next day. Just humor me and slap some on. Better safe than sorry. Plus, I don't want to have to spend the next week watching your skin peeling off. Eww.

Staying hydrated. 90 degree weather or not, if you're sweating, you need to drink some water. And if you're not sweating, then you're either not working hard enough or you're already way too dehydrated. Either way, you're not coming back tomorrow, so drink up.

Eating your veggies. Staying healthy on a film set is important. Long hours and crappy conditions don't exactly equal a healthy immune system, so everyone should do the best they can to at least eat right. We spend so much time together in cramped sets/trucks/pass vans that one sick person can easily infect the whole crew. You may not like the steamed broccoli that's being served at lunch, but a couple of bites won't kill you.

Putting on a jacket when it gets cold. Even in the middle of summer, night shoots can get chilly. See above about why it's important to not get sick when you're working. And none of this macho "I'm not cold" crap either when your arms are clearly covered in goosebumps. Who are you trying to impress?

Cleaning up after yourselves. I think we're all capable of throwing away our own trash and not leaving candy wrappers in the back of the truck or empty coffee cups on the head carts.

Staying off drugs. I don't really care what you do on your time off, but just don't bring it on set. Not only does it make you a liability to work with, but if caught, it makes your whole department look bad. Even worse is when you have the rest of your team cover for you when you're "on a break."

Going to bed on time. Sleep is important. Don't be the guy who goes straight from a day job into a night shoot, tells me he doesn't need sleep, goes hangs out with his friends all day, and then gets so disoriented from the lack of rest that he can't even form a complete sentence when I call him up to work the next day. Not only does that make you a safety hazard, but more importantly, that shows me what an idiot you are.

Playing well with others. You may not like everyone that you work with, but you're stuck with them for 14 hours a day anyway. I don't have the time or patience to play mediator, give time outs, or send people to opposite corners of the set. Don't be a jackass. Act like a professional, suck it up and play nice.

Personal hygiene. Enough said.

If you're old enough to work on a film set, I'm too young to be your mom, so please don't make me feel like one. In fact, if you're old enough to work on a film set, you're old enough to take care of yourself. I shouldn't have to nag you about eating right or follow you around with a bottle of sunscreen and an extra sweater.


Sincerely,
-Not Your Mom.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

It Sucks When...

... you're shooting out in the middle of nowhere and for one stupid reason or another, there's no restrooms around. It sucks even more when the rest of the crew and actors are male, and don't understand why you think this is a big deal.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Nobody Knows Anything.

"Hey, I need a low boy combo over here!" yells out the Key Grip.

It's kind of a slow day, so both my colleague and I get up from our apple boxes and head for the truck. I beat him to it though, and pull out a low boy. Not too far behind us is another grip, who pulls out a Coleman stand.

"Take him this one," he says, handing it to me.

I set down the stand I'm holding and reach for his. "Why? Did he change the order?"

"No. But this is a low one."

I glance at the other grip standing next to me, and I could tell that he was just as confused about this as I was. "Yeah, but he said combo," and I continue on my way back to set with a low boy in hand.

"But that's not a low boy!" says Grip #3. This guy's older than my dad, and I sure as hell didn't feel comfortable yelling back at him that he's wrong, so I pretended not to hear him. That's when he starts to follow me with the Coleman.

I'm almost to set when I pass by Grip #4 who takes one look at me, rolls his eyes, and says "No, not that one. He asked for a low boy combo."

I stop walking. Now I'm even more confused. Wasn't I already holding one?

"So... If this isn't a low boy, what is?"

Grip #4 rolls his eyes again, and this time adds a sigh. "Just take that to him. He might use that too. I'll go get a low boy combo." And he walks away, leaving me with a stand in one hand and a weird look on my face. This is my first day working with this particular crew, but I'm pretty sure "low boy combo" means the same thing no matter who you're working with... Unless you're working with these guys, I guess.

A few seconds later, the other two grips (and the Coleman) find me still standing there in my perplexed state. I hand off my stand to Grip #3 who takes it, along with the Coleman, to set. I turn to Grip #2 who was with me at the truck. He asks me what just happened.

"Well, the Key Grip asked for a low boy combo. I went and got a low boy combo. But then Grip#3 said not to take the low boy and tried to hand me a Coleman instead. And then Grip #4 says that the low boy I'm holding isn't a low boy, and the Key called for a low boy, but I should take the stand I'm holding to set anyway while he goes and gets a low boy from the truck. And Grip #3 just took the low boy that isn't a low boy and a Coleman that wasn't asked for to set."

"Oh... okay..." I could tell Grip #2 was still trying to make sense of it all, and so was I.

This is the part where I start doubting myself. I hate doubting myself, but when someone's so insistent on you being wrong, you can't help but have at least an inkling of a thought that they might be right. And in this case, there were two people saying I was wrong (although they didn't exactly agree with each other either) and not only that, but these were guys who work on shows a lot bigger than the ones that I do and have been doing this job a lot longer as well. Does this mean that I've been grabbing the wrong stand on every set I've been on??

Anyway, after another moment or so of the two of us standing there like a pair of idiots, I break the silence.

"So... If the stand I was holding wasn't a low boy combo, then what was it?"

Grip #2 looks at me, shakes his head, and shrugs. "I dunno. If I had beaten you to that truck, I would've grabbed the same thing."

And this was coming from a guy who's been a grip longer than I've been alive.

We didn't hear the Key screaming over the radio for another stand, so we assumed that one of the stands Grip #3 brought him was either exactly what he wanted or close enough. A little bit later, I poked my head onto set and saw that both stands were being used so I guess we'll never know which one he would consider to be a low boy combo.

As for Grip #4 and the "low boy" he went to go get? He disappeared for a good ten minutes or so only to reappear again wearing a different shirt and eating a sandwich from crafty.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Swag.

Free stuff is supposed to be one of the best parts of working in this industry. It doesn't take that many page flips of a gossip magazine to find some starlet showing off the latest "gift" given from a fashion house trying to promote their newest line, nor does it take more than walking a couple of blocks in Santa Monica to spot an agent enjoying an al fresco lunch on the company card. But what a lot of people don't know is that below-the-liners get our own version of these perks as well.

There's free snacks to munch on at crafty, and depending on the show, we can get up to three catered meals a day (breakfast, lunch, 2nd meal). And occasionally, we get some swag tossed our way too. We don't get anything nearly as nice as what the latest "It Girl" does or anything, that's for sure. But over the years, I've gotten some great CDs from working on a music video or two, posters, DVDs, books, watches... Decent wrap gifts include a few multi-tools as well as a couple bottles of very nice wine.

However, most of the time, the swag comes in the form of a short sleeved t-shirt. From TV shows to movies, from student films to webisodes, most productions, at one point or another, will have some kind of souvenir crew shirt made and distributed among the departments. The same goes for rental houses, lighting and grip companies, dolly manufacturers, and any other industry related business. They'll all hand you a shirt with their name on it if you ask nice enough. In fact, if you pay any attention to the clothing worn on set, probably at least half of the grip and electric departments are dressed in a shirt they got for free. Which in a way, makes sense: If you're going to get dirty on a job (and you probably will), you might as well wreck a shirt you didn't have to pay for, right?



Unfortunately, I don't really have that luxury. Why? Because a film crew is comprised mostly of males so more often than not, those shirts only come in guy sizes, and well, I'm not a guy. And not only that, but for some reason, everyone only seems to order Large, X-Large and XX-Large sizes. Medium sizes are rare, and even rarer are the Smalls (X-Small? Don't even bother looking), which are usually still a bit too big on my girlish frame. So unless I want get snagged on every knob, hook and lever I walk by from wearing a shirt that's too baggy, I'm out of luck.

How unfair is that?? Women on set, especially in g/e, have to work ten times harder just to prove themselves to their male co-workers, and we can't even get a fucking t-shirt that fits. I only know of two companies who are considerate enough to have girl shirts (in sizes as well as cuts) but unfortunately they're only offered in white, which sucks because a) on a set, they get dirty fast, and b) they tend to be a bit... uh... see-thru.

Every now and again, I'll work on a show low budget enough that we get a few guys on crew that are on the inexperienced side, yet high value enough that vendors may send some swag our way. It's always fun to watch the newbies hold their new shirts up, checking out the size with a smile on their face. They always wear them the next day, and if you didn't know any better, you could almost swear the shirt has magical powers. The same guys who were full of self-doubt and running around set lost yesterday are now walking around with a sense of belonging. As if wearing a shirt given by a vendor was like a badge of honor, signifying that they're a real grip or juicer. Since you can't really get one of these cotton garments of coolness unless you had some kind of access to the company that's handing them out, getting that first shirt gives you a much needed sense of acceptance in an industry that you've been busting your ass for. Whenever I see these looks of accomplishment on the new kids' faces, I like to think back fondly to the first time I wore a film shirt to set....

Oh wait, never mind. Such a memory doesn't exist.

So guys, the next time you get a free shirt, whether it be from a company or a show, consider it a privilege that you can wear it to work the next day.

Some of us aren't so lucky.
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