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.