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.



Niall(John) said...

AJ- I just went through the same thing your struggling with now. I worked a few days on a big feature in town and it was a major change of pace but the basic skills needed are the same. The only difference is there's a bigger team dynamic with in the departments.

You've been doing this as long as I have if not longer. You got the basics needed it's just that scary adjustment period. I got my ass chewed out once or twice by the gruff old timer on set but I got the point of what he was saying and I was thankful for him telling me what I was doing wrong. You'll go through the same. We all do, it's the nature of moving up you kind of start all over again. Just take the chance next time, your ready.

Michael Taylor said...

John is right -- and remember, every gruff old-timer was once a scared kid on set, afraid of doing something wrong. One way or another, we all went through it.

Once you get accustomed to the rhythm of a bigger show, you'll find it's actually a lot easier than working in the hardscrabble non-union world, where so often two or three people end up carrying the full load. There won't be any well-meaning but utterly incompetent friends of the director "helping out" on set -- instead, you'll be part of a team of experienced pros. Every now and then you'll run into an asshole -- life is full of them -- but for the most part, IA grips and juicers are good people. If you ask, they're happy to teach you what you don't already know.

Besides, the craft service table is a lot better...

A.J. said...

Niall (John) and Michael - Thanks for the encouragement! While most of the IA grips and juicers I've met are awesome people and I feel like I'm getting closer and closer to making that jump, I'm still a bit reluctant to just dive in. I don't know what it's like for the guys, but women often get treated differently on set, especially if they're "new". We're immediately put under the microscope and have to be 5x as better as the guys out there just to get the same amount of respect and one slip-up and can deem us incompetent. I would hate for that to happen to me on a big set when I didn't feel ready to take the risk.

But I do dream about that craft service table though...

Gabby said...

A.J. I think you need to just go for it! You're already busting your ass for a living, you clearly love the work and it took a lot of risk to get where you are, so why hold yourself back now?

You're totally right about the challenges of being a woman in this business. It's something that I've run up against a lot and we actually had a great discussion about this recently at a WIF meeting (which you should totally join if you haven't already). One thing I've noticed is that woman are really reluctant to jump to the next level or 'brashly' consider themselves a 'real' DP/Director/Grip etc. even when they clearly have the experience and body of work to feel confident. It sucks and honestly how often do you see just the opposite trend in men? But ready or not (assuming they don't royally screw up) that boldness will move them up the ranks quicker.

You've got to do things that scare you in order to progress and it seems like you are definitely ready to move up. I feel like I need to remind you of all of your previous posts that broadcast how highly capable you are! One trick I do when I don't want to make calls or like you I'm afraid of actually succeeding in getting a bigger job is to just dial the number and immediately press send. I don't give myself anytime to think about it at all and I have that oh shit feeling for like 3 seconds before they answer or I leave a message.

A.J. said...

Gabby - Thanks for the awesome comment! You definitely have a valid point in that women often don't consider themselves to be real DPs/juicers/Gaffers, etc. Now that I think about it, I notice that when asked what they do, women tend to answer something along the lines of, "I kinda do ___, and sometimes I ___," whereas guys will straight up say "I'm a gaffer" when really they juice most of the time.

And I've definitely used that phone trick more than a few times. Now I just need a trick that will make me not sound like a deer caught in the headlights when they actually answer...

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