Sunday, August 23, 2009

You Couldn't Pay Me Enough...

"Hey A.J."

I turn around to see who's calling my name. It's the writer/director/producer of the low budget feature I'm on.

"Can I speak to you for minute?"

We head over to the side of the garage as the rest of the crew shuttles lights and cables through the house for the first shot of the day.

"So..." he starts off with kind of a sigh. I can already tell this is going to be a good one. "So we don't have a boom op today, so I was wondering if you wouldn't mind doing it."

I'm Best Boy Grip on this show, and he's asking me to swing into sound. (Don't ask me where the mixer was. It was one of those shows.) I like (most) sound guys, but I have no interest in their job.

"Uh... Actually, yeah, I do mind," I reply.

He's taken aback. Shocked. That's when I realized that he wasn't really asking me to do him a favor. He was expecting me to say yes because it's his money, his show. Apparently, my answer threw him off because he was at a loss for words for a second.

"Really? You can't boom op? Why not? There's really no one else to do it..."

"Well, because I really don't want to and it's not what I was hired to do. Can't you ask someone else?" I looked around set. Along with a few of his friends that were there to "help out" (read: eat up crafty and get in the way), there was a PA or two floating about.

"Well, I guess I can... But I figured I'd ask you since, well, a lot of people here are generous enough to be volunteering their time, and you're one of the few who are getting paid, so..."

Now it was my turn to be stunned into silence. It was true that I was getting paid, but it was so below my normal rate that it was laughable. Not to mention that his production manager had called me for this job twice: once when they wanted me to work for free, which I promptly turned down and the second when they finally offered me money. That second call meant that they couldn't find anyone else who'd take the job as a freebie, forcing them to finally dig up some cash.

But apparently, to this guy, that money didn't mean that they were paying someone to do the job that they're hired to do. He saw it as a reason for me to do his bidding.

That makes absolutely no sense to me. If you're paying good money for a plumber, you don't ask him to hook up your cable. You make damn sure he's fixing your clogged drain. You don't hire a babysitter to do your taxes. And you don't scrape up money that's barely there to begin with to hire a grip and then make her hold a boom all day.

Eventually, words found their way out of my mouth again. "I don't know what else to tell you other than I'm not doing it."

And with that, I walked back to the truck to do the job I was hired for.

Although I didn't look back while I walked away, I could still feel his eyes on me. He was in disbelief that I had said no to him not once, but twice. Sure, I could have tried to explain to him that he's only paying me to grip and if "helping out" with sound was part of the original deal, there's no way I would've taken this job. But all that would've done is waste time and energy, and he'd still be annoyed that I said no to him. In his mind, it didn't matter to him that I was being paid to grip. What mattered to him was that I was getting paid, and therefore, I should do whatever he asked. By my refusal to boom op, he saw me as someone who wasn't doing their job and wasn't a team player. If that's the case, then fuck him and his team.

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A friend of mine ended up Besting on the next show the director was on. He called me up to to see if I could fill in for a few days while he was at his cousin's wedding, only to call back a little while later.

"Sorry, but the deal's off. I just happened to mention your name to the director and he said no way. He really doesn't like you. What did you do to him?"

"Oh, he asked me to boom op and I said no."

Now it was my friend's turn to be stunned into silence. The phone was quiet for a bit before he said, "Wait.... What??"

I told him the story.

"That's ridiculous," he said when I was done. "Luckily, he's been pretty good on this one about not asking us to do stuff that's not our job. He'll ask a PA or something for stuff like that."

Huh. Go figure.

12 comments :

Joel said...

Great post. This happens way to often on low-budget sets.

Desterado said...

What's so shitty about this is no matter what option you choose you're getting screwed.

You say yes and presumably you're now doing two jobs and getting paid the same.

You say no and he holds it against you.

I'd be ruminating about this for weeks. Hell, I'm still mad about the crappy stuff that happened to me back in February, but what can you do?

You could've been the best grip ever too and he wouldn't have notice cause he was mad about you not wanting to shoulder more burden for free.

If I were him I might've asked you but I certainly wouldn't be mad if you said no.

John said...

It's a crappy situation like that in reality your trying to do your job while some one higher up looks at it like you shitting the bed and ruining the whole show by saying no.

All you can do is let it go and hope they grow the fuck up, or at least sink in to the ever darkening abyss of low budget indie hell.

Richard Ragon said...

More than likely, they wanted you to do both jobs of grips and sound since they are not 'working' at the same time. Grips are working at the set ups, and sound is working at the takes..

The #uc*ing nerve of some people who think that paying people is somehow a privilege...

.. and too all those idiots working for free.. there are suckers born every minute for sure.

-Richard (good4sound[dot]com)

Nathan said...

Actually, in that instance, I might have said, "Well, I'm a really crappy boom op, but I'll give it a shot." There are just so many delicious ways to screw it up.

Maybe during one shot you purposely position the boom so that a shadow is falling on the actor's head?...and you get to say, "Sorry, the light was flaring off his scalp and I thought I'd flag it for you."

A.J. said...

Joel - Thanks. I wish I could say this happened to me only once, but then I'd be lying.

Desterado - Yeah, it's kind of a no-win situation when the director/producer doesn't understand why you said no. I guess the only thing you can do is refuse to be taken advantage of, finish the job you're actually paid to do, then write a blog post about it. ;)

John - It always amazes me how higher ups can blame those below them for not coming to the rescue when they fuck up. Although it does sound like this guy learned a lesson or two by the time the next show came around, I guess only time will tell if he's changed his ways.

Richard - That's exactly what he wanted me to do.

Nathan - That's just too funny. But knowing my luck, that'd just prompt them to do more takes and prolong my agony. Although I'd be very tempted to aim the microphone at the sky when planes are flying by, or "accidentally" drop the boom when the director's wearing a Comtek...

Michael Taylor said...

Excellent post. Very few directors -- and almost none of the earnest, wannabe-autuer, ultra-low budget variety -- have any clue what grips and juicers do in the first place. They don't seem to understand that while they're having a third cup of coffee and consulting their inner Orson Welles, we're busting our asses getting the set (the director's personal sandbox) lit and ready so he can play. When the actors and camera/sound crews are filming the shot, we fall back to rest, watch, and prepare for the next shot. But to a punk-ass director who doesn't understand the rhythms of a working set, all we're doing is loafing -- so why not put one of us back to work?

If you'd agreed to work the boom, you wouldn't have been able to do your own job properly -- the job you were being paid (however little) to do. In effect, they hired a professional, then asked her to perform a very unprofessional act. This left you in a no-win situation, but if you made a Hollywood enemy for life, to hell with him.

He should have asked a PA to work the boom -- that's one reason young people sign on as PA's, to get a chance to expand their set skills. A PA probably would have been thrilled to be so close to the "action."

Given the success of so many above-the-line jerks in this town, you should be mentally prepared to see this clown become a very successful Hollywood director.

Maybe even the next Michael Bay...

Mike, Boom op said...

It makes you wonder if he would ask the boom op to pull focus if camera was short an AC? And only assume that just anyone can "hold that thing over your head" with good results.
Often times people just think that anybody can do any job on set, and properly. You won't find me trying to do a tie in or rig a 20 x with a green screen (read: I can't and don't know how). I'm paid to hold the microphone so that's what I'll do.

Clayton said...

Well, Grips are called Grips because they carry stuff, right? They just carry everyone's stuff? What's the big deal? It's lighter than what you normally carry...

This reminds me of a recent encounter I had with a production coordinator. My AC was an intern from the production company, so I was simultaneously shooting and teaching him. I figure he's going to be doing this for a month, might as well do it right. After day two or so, the coordinator realized that the scene the next day called for the actor to be covered in dirt. Now, one would think that Art or HMU would be better suited to take care of this, but the coordinator thought the best thing to do would be to send my poor AC out at 11pm to go to the nearby park with a shovel and a bucket and get some dirt.

When I found out they had done this I immediately went to her and demanded to know why this was happening...the line producer stepped in and told me to back off because he was THEIR intern...but they hadn't hired an AC in the first place and the only condition I stated for having an intern AC is that he would NOT be a PA as well.

Luckily, I think my argument landed because he was never asked to do anything like that for the rest of the shoot. But isn't that just the quintessence of low-budget? "Hey, AC. Go dig some dirt out of the ground."

A.J. said...

Michael - Very well put. Though most directors I've worked with have treated the crew with nothing but respect, very few seem to actually know what we do. And if what I've been hearing is true, it does seem that the director mentioned in my post is working more than I am these days... I guess that's Hollywood for ya.

Mike - It always amazes me how productions think they can mix and match crew. Grips become boom ops, juicers turn into dolly grips, wardrobe's restocking crafty... Meanwhile, the sound is terrible, the camera move is all wrong, there's no more water in the coolers and the producer/director/whoever's in charge is bitching about why this always happens to him/her.

Clayton - As Joel said in a previous comment, this kind of stuff happens way too often on low-budget sets. Producers try to get away with it by using the "it's low budget so everyone helps with everything" line, which to me is like saying "we don't care about professionalism, and we're sooo gonna take advantage of you."
But good for you for standing up for your AC. More department heads need to do that.

Jesse M. said...

Huh. Maybe I'm in a different place in my career than you were, but frankly I would relish the opportunity to be asked to work in a different department.

While I'm certainly dedicated to making crew work my livelihood, I also love to work on sets, period. I often find myself with free time during which I work for below my rate - or for free even - on low budget shorts shot over weekends and the like.

I came in as an unpaid PA on one such shoot, and ended up busting my ass as both a grip and a 2nd AC. I enjoyed the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and explore other aspects of filmmaking. (Not to mention being able to do so in the safety of a shitty little short nobody will ever see where any fuck ups would have little consequence.)

While I was never paid, my only regret is that I never negotiated a better credit (I was still billed as a PA, all evidence to the contrary.) I met some cool new people, had some good food, and it beat sitting at home twiddling my thumbs all weekend, which is what I would have otherwise been doing.

A.J. said...

Jesse M. - While I'm not exactly adverse to dipping a toe in other departments (even more so then than I am now), 1) I have absolutely zero interest in working in sound (no offense to the sound guys and gals out there) and 2) I was more appalled at the fact that he expected me to pull double duty.

Although you may be right; we're just at different parts in our careers. At that point, I had enough experience on set to know I absolutely hate being a boom op.

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