Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Kids Have It Easy.

I've worked really hard to get to where I am today.

I came into this town not knowing anyone. I didn't know a thing about mambo-combos, 10Ks, or HMIs. I didn't know how to use a walkie-talkie or work a lift gate.

I didn't have a fancy school teaching me these things either. Instead, I worked my way up from horrible, non-paying, run and gun guerilla style, low-budget shorts to official feature films, commercials and music videos.

I'm not ashamed to say that I worked for free a lot longer than I probably should have. And while I may not be rolling around in money right now, what I do get paid these days is miles away from what I was getting a year ago.

And I'd like to think that I earned every single penny of it.

Which is why it kind of frustrates me when all of a sudden, I'm working with a guy who stepped into this business a little over a month ago.

Still fresh and green, he doesn't know how to use a walkie. Doesn't know how to use the controls on a lift gate. Ask him the difference between a 1K and a 2K and he's at a loss for words. And you have to tell him twice in the same day that you should always wrap cable clock-wise.


I know that everyone has to start somewhere. That at one time, I was the one running around lost on a film set. But in all fairness, I was never the one who did less work and got paid the same, which is essentially what this guy was doing.

This guy happened to get onto this particular crew because he was a friend of one of the grips. When we needed an extra guy at the last minute, he was called in and kinda stuck around as a day-player. No problem. Happens all the time. The days were pretty slow on this shoot, so the extra pair of hands was nice, but not really necessary.

But then, as the days went by, we were getting peeled. The director kept changing his mind and would constantly add shots. The DP kept adding lights. The sun never lasted as long as we were hoping it would. Miles of cable would have to be run at a moments notice. Lights would be called off the second we got them running. And there would be more orders coming over the walkie than we had manpower.

This is where I got frustrated and annoyed with the newbie.

I understand the "trial-by-fire" way of learning. There's really no other way to learn this business than to be in it. You can sit in a classroom all you want. Have all the "simulated shoot days" you can at whatever school you're at. But nothing, and I mean nothing, comes close to being on a film set other than actually being on a film set.

Which makes it even more frustrating when you're mad at someone for being new, because now you feel guilty since you shouldn't be mad at the guy for learning things the only way things can be learned.

(Wait. Did that make sense?)

Anyway, so while my other cohorts and I were running around, pulling cable, bringing in lights, and rolling around 18Ks all day, this guy didn't really do much. I understand he's new and all and may not know to bring barn doors and scrims with every light, or how the locks work on a Road Runner, but when you're kind of shorthanded as it is, you can't help but wish for a co-worker who knew what he was doing. (Or at least knew enough to work while you chat with the cute girl from Props, especially when everyone else is working and/or waiting on him.) And while under normal circumstances, you'd probably take the time and teach the guy some of this stuff, but with the Gaffer shouting in your ear about "Where the fuck is that light??" it's often easier and faster to do it yourself than to just stand there, coach, and supervise the new guy.

Which then means you're doing more work. Now you're doing the work of two people and you're still getting the same pay. Which also means that the exact same rate you worked so hard for years to get is also being paid to the new guy you're covering for. Ugh.

Part of my frustration also lies with the Best Boy. He's a teacher in the sense that he loves imparting his knowledge to anyone even remotely curious. So while the rest of us are scrambling around the set during a re-light, the Gaffer's usually yelling at whoever is closest to him at the time, which was often me.

Gaffer: "Where's that damn Blonde??"
Me: "You just yelled at me about the Kino, so I'm doing that right now. I'll get to the Blonde in a minute."
Gaffer: "No, you won't. I just called for three lights. I have three juicers. You got the Kino, you're staying with the Kino. Now where's that damn Blonde?!"
Me: "How the fuck should I know? I'm working with the Kino."
Gaffer: "Who's getting the Blonde??"
Me: "I don't know."
Gaffer: (over the walkie) "Where's the Blonde??"
Other Juicer: (over walkie) "I dunno. But I'm working on the Tweenie you asked for outside."
Gaffer: (over walkie) "Somebody get me a damn Blonde to set, now."
Me: sigh. "Fuck this."

I leave my post by the Kino (with the Gaffer still yelling as I walk away) and head over to our staging area to grab a Blonde. And it's there that I find the new guy and the Best Boy. They were so engrossed in going over the different types of gel that we carry that the Best Boy was either oblivious to the fact that we needed all hands on deck, or simply figured the other juicer and I could handle it while he gave lessons on color correction.


Like I said, it's frustrating. And you can't be mad at the new kid. He's trying. And it's not his fault that his presence is an inconvenience. And you can't be too mad at the Best Boy. Sure, he keeps calling a newbie back to day-play on a shoot that requires a more experienced crew. That's definitely annoying. But you can't be mad at a guy who's going out of his way to teach someone about the equipment. It's something I would be thankful to have when I was crawling up that shiny new ladder.

But there comes a point, usually at the end of the night when you're wrapping 4/0 in the mud by yourself and the new kid's practicing wrapping a stinger, you can't help but feel some resentment. And that resentment will grow when you realize that your paychecks are the same.

I hope the kid knows how lucky he is.


Nathan said...

I wish you weren't being so reasonable about this. You make it difficult for me to get all snarky about it.

(That being said, when I started at a rental house, they made me carry a 50' length of banded everywhere I went until I could name everything in the shop made of wire. It was one hell of an incentive.)

A.J. said...

Sorry Nathan. I'll try to be more irrational in the future. ;)

And how long did you end up carrying that banded for?

Michael Taylor said...

AJ --

What a great post, perfectly capturing the multiple (and often contradictory) frustrations of working a tough day on set under very trying circumstances. It's a push-pull tug of war that nobody really wins -- in the end, you're just grateful the day is finally over.

A few years ago I had a week like that working a TV pilot with two permits on the lighting crew -- one the best boy's brother, the other a friend of the gaffer -- who wanted to help, but just didn't know anything. I had to do my work and most of theirs, all the while trying to remain patient enough to teach them a little something every day. And yes, they were getting paid the same rate as me.

Very frustrating, that.

But I too was once where they were, with a vastly more experienced crew carrying me until I learned enough to pull my own weight. The big wheel keeps on rollin'...

Nathan --

I'll bet that was the old user-friendly three-wire banded made of #2 welding cable. You wouldn't want to try the same stunt with the today's banded cable, which comes with five wires -- three hots, a neutral and a ground -- braided into a 76 pound monster the size of a dragster tire. When I pick one of those up now, it knocks me two steps sideways before I can take one step forward...

Nathan said...


I think it took me about a week to get enough things right. They made me treat the thing like it was my baby or something. I was allowed to put it down long enough to hump things that needed two hands, but I was required to go back and get it before moving on to the next task.


For some odd reason, it was 4-wire. (Single phase with ground). When people ordered 3-phase, we sent the additional single wire. Yeah...5-wire woulda sucked even more.

Niall said...


I see and have experienced the frustration of having to work an f-ed day and hand hold a newbie as a best boy, it sucks. It take the task of telling them to grab that in front of you or take this to this person. over time they get what is what and how to do it. Babying gets old real fast somedays.

A.J. said...

Michael - I was definitely grateful when that day was over. It also has me wondering if anyone has ever felt that way about me.

Nathan - I'm slightly disappointed. I had a lovely time picturing a you dragging around the kind of 5 wire banded Michael had described. :)

Niall - Yes, it can get very old. Which is why it puzzles me even more when a Best Boy brings back a newbie on a difficult shoot three looooong days in a row.

Nathan said...


50' of 4-wire for 10 hours/day over 5 days was entirely adequate.

D said...

Your Best Boy should know tht a scramble is going on first of all. He's peeling you and the gaffer. Even a newbie should make himself available (at your beck and call) to pick up whatever you point at. I did.

A.J. said...

D - I couldn't agree more. I was pretty surprised that the Best Boy didn't stop his lectures with the newbie when the rest of us were getting creamed. But I also didn't feel like it was my place to tell my boss how to do his job, nor did I feel like I had the authority to start ordering the new kid around, especially when he's sticking around the Best Boy. Which makes the situation all the more frustrating...

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