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.


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.


Michael Taylor said...

Oh yeah, feel the burn... and believe me, I feel your pain. Early in my career, I took a job as a juicer on a low-budget feature. The gaffer was a good guy who knew his stuff (and has since become an excellent DP), but the problem lay with our best boy -- an old pal of his who blew into town from back east looking for work.

This clown was a good talker with a million funny jokes, but he didn't know shit about juicing, much less being the BB. Our first day on location, I caught him running the cable to the genny backwards -- female connections towards the power plant, male pins towards the set.

I ran the cable from then on.

This was bad on every level -- not only did I have to watch this fool like a hawk and keep this metaphorical ass wiped so that our department wouldn't look bad, but the whole ordeal soured my relationship with our boss. One reason I took the job in the first place was in hopes of getting in with a new gaffer, but the fact that he could hire such a clueless idiot in the first place became too big an obstacle.

And the idiot best boy? The next time I saw him was 20 years later while I was gaffing a day of pick-ups for a Dino de Laurentis movie. And who drives up to the set with Dino himself -- the IBB, of course, now a producer.

Why was I not surprised...

Everybody's got at least one tale like this, but I hope yours was the last you'll have to endure.

John said...

Your going to run into it. It's even better when you have to best both side because the other best boy doesn't know a a full apple from a piece of fruit.

On those shows you really never see anything but the inside of the truck. You think the sky is a big piece of plastic and the sun a cheap shop light attached to the sky.

But as Michael said it will happen again and again.

A.J. said...

Michael - Unfortunately, the above incident I wrote about wasn't the first or the last of it's kind. It's actually in the middle of a lengthy, and sadly, still growing list.

John - Been there, definitely done that. I was once besting grip side on a show and I soon discovered that no one on the electric side knew how to operate a put-put.

Ed said...

My one and only time, when the boss "volunteered" me to help at a "party" location. Think of studio heads in the desert.

A very kind gaffer told me how to run the cables with a very simple sentence "Always F#$% the truck."
Which has stuck with me for for the last 30 yrs and worked in a lot of technical situations.
And after it was all over, I made sure to get the first two rounds at Pappy and Harriets.

Anonymous said...

welcome to the world of working for people who don't know shit. People readily assume job titles they have no qualifications for. It isn't always like that, tho. I've been a gaffer for over ten years in this town. I've run into dp's who couldn't light their way out of a paper bag. Unfortunately, this is not the meritocracy that we want. But for the most part, i do work with experienced people who r both kind and thoughtful. (at least i tell myself that). Usually, the people who know the least ACT like they know the most. No mystery there. Re: Pro Bono work. It's for the birds. I still do it occasionally. ONly for a buddy or if there is a tangible pay off like meeting a new, viable contact. Or if I can step up and shoot. Otherwise, it's a waste of time. An elder statesmen once told me, "the few freebee's you accept, the fewer you'll do."

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