Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Question To All You Seasoned Vets Out There...

Despite my snarky and sarcastic demeanor, I'm actually a pretty shy person. Before I moved to L.A., I spent most of my nights sitting at home, watching re-runs of Friends and eating ice cream and that was perfectly fine with me. I'd get invited to parties and other miscellaneous gatherings, but I rarely ever went. I wasn't anti-social; just not a fan of big, loud groups.

But then I moved to the land of broken dreams and hazy air and I quickly discovered that you have to know people in order to start anything remotely resembling a career here. And since I didn't know anyone at all in Los Angeles, this meant that I had to start meeting people. Or more specifically, the right kind of people. I didn't need a drinking buddy; what I needed was someone who could get me working on a film set.

So I started doing what they call "networking" in this town. Through one way or another (topics for a whole different post) I started meeting people. Grips, juicers, Producers, P.A.s... I met them all. Eventually, I got the point where I wasn't so shy anymore. Talking about this business became second nature to me. I was no longer the quiet one, just nodding along to the conversation. Instead, I'd contribute to them with my own anecdotes and observations.

Overtime, I found myself in some very fortunate situations. Whether it be working on a set with big time guys, at an industry event surrounded with Hollywood's elite (in a "below the line" sense) or just randomly running into an industry person of interest while standing in a line somewhere, I got to meet some pretty awesome people. They were the kind of people that everyday civilians may not have heard of, but a few of them are pretty well known in the grip/electric world. In other words, these guys have made a successful career from this town and have been around long enough to know what's what.

For the most part, like I said, I've been very fortunate. I've been meeting these people in situations where I shouldn't even be there. A young newbie like me mixed in with a seasoned crew that's used to working on big budget blockbusters? Many of my usual co-workers have never even met people like these, let alone work or hang out with them. And in situations like that, the conversation usually can't help but steer itself to me. Such a sight can be considered to be an oddity; the lone twenty-something girl in the midst of old school juicers/grips/cameramen. And after asking me where I'm from and how I got here, they inevitably ask me where I ultimately see myself in this industry. I usually give them one variation or another of the line, "Right now I'm just a grip/juicer but one day I hope to be a [insert dream job here]." The response I get is often something along the lines of, "You'll definitely make it. I can usually tell these things and you'll do just fine in this business."

Just the other day, I was having a conversation with another guy who's been in this industry for a while and before he even knew my name, he said, "Let me guess. You want to be a [insert dream job here] someday." I was kind of flabbergasted. "Yeah... How did you know?" "You have this air about you I guess. I think you'll make a good one."

Now, my question is, are these guys for real? (And when I say "guys," I really do mean guys. Since this is still a male dominated industry, most of the people I meet are men.) Or are they just trying to get into my twenty-something pants?

When I first started hearing these predictions for my future, I have to admit, it felt good. It felt like someone was acknowledging that I have what it takes. It's definitely an ego booster. But as time passed, the ratio of "you'll be awesome" comments compared to where I actually am right now in this industry doesn't really match up. Which makes me start to think that maybe these guys were bullshitting me, and just telling a young girl what she wanted to hear.

So, to anyone who's been in this industry for a while now (and also, anyone who may have an opinion on the matter), can a person really tell who will or will not make it? Can you really see who has the potential? Can you determine future success based on a certain je ne sais quoi? Or is it all just a line...?


Michael Taylor said...

(I just woke up from a 15 hour shoot that went deep into the night, so forgive me if I'm a little fuzzy in this reply...)

Was it just a line or a crystal ball?

Maybe a little of both.

Once you've worked in any business long enough, you begin to recognize the personal qualities and traits that lead to success. With that understanding, spotting rising talent -- young people who have what it takes to catch their Hollywood dreams -- isn't hard. I've met many young PA's who were clearly on the path to much greater things -- writing, producing, and/or directing. These kids had a degree of maturity, focus, and situational awareness beyond their years. Rather than flirt with everyone in sight when not staring into their cell phones, they kept their "eyes on the prize" and really paid attention to what was happening on set. I've seen the same qualities in young grips and juicers.

These aren't any guarantee of success, but simply the high-quality raw materials required to build any successful career. You still need to work your ass off and run into a little luck in the form of a timely break or two -- but such "luck" really does have a way of coming to those who are prepared.

Once I began spotting such talented young people on set, I tried to encourage them. At that stage, most people are still a bit unsure of themselves, unable to realilze just how good they really are or the potential they possess. The right word at the right time can make a difference.

Since I don't know the guys you've talked to, I can't say whether or not they were just feeding you a line while staring at your twenty-something pants. On a certain level, all guys are wired alike -- it's Darwin, darlin' -- but that doesn't mean they weren't speaking the truth or were simply feeding you a line. It's not a black-and-white, absolute truth vs. conniving lie situation. As one of the characters in "Southland" (a cop show) said in one of the final episodes: "We live in the gray."

So do we all. But in entering the world of grip/electric -- the infantry of the film industry -- you've already proven you're not just another pretty face, and that you've got a lot more going on than what's in your pants. Although some knuckle-draggers still resent seeing a woman in their "man's world," most will respect the woman who pulls her weight, takes no shit, and gets the job done.

Nobody knows for sure if you'll eventually land your "dream job" -- or that if/when you do, it will turn out to be quite as dreamy as you hope -- but since experienced people keeping saying you've got what it takes, I'd suggest you take them at their word. You've probably got a good shot.

But the rest -- actually making it happen -- is all up to you.

Galen said...

I am a twenty-something guy and I started in this industry at the age of 20 first in camera and then as an electric. Back then I was often told that I would move up quickly and I'm pretty sure the guys telling me weren't trying to get in my pants. The journey wasn't easy but I worked my ass off and it turned out to be true. 6 years later I am very happy where I am now (although still fairly broke) and I plan to continue moving up. My goals weren't necessarily in the lighting department but it was a good way to get into the industry and make some money while pursuing my dream.

As Michael says there are signs that someone has the potential but it still takes a huge amount of work, commitment and luck. My feelings about luck are basically that hard work, dedication, and good karma allows you make your own and then take advantage of the situations when they arise. Things may not happen quite as you expected but if you don't give up and are able to stay focused you will get where you want to go.

I don't know if I am quite qualified to give advice but my suggestion to you would be to figure out exactly where you want to go and then map out all of the ways you can get there. If you learn from others mistakes and pay attention to the people you admire who are where you want to be then you are already ahead of the game. Finding a group of colleagues or a crew who wants the same thing isn't bad either as you can work together to pull each other up over each hurdle.

Relationships are everything in this business so make sure to keep the good ones.

Hope that helps somewhat.

Ed "sloweddi" said...

(after a long week of little sleep)

In any industry, I think it comes down to a good work ethic. While doing the classic "going from a high pay computer job to working in a video store", I had a manager who just made everything run smoothly. This carried on to every other job she has had, as she moved up the ladder. And yes, there have been those that tried to screw her over because they realized she was doing a better job than they were, but consistant good work has a way of also attracting the right attention.

Due to boardum in my retirement, I volunteer at a computer recycling company that also does computer repair and trains people in that occupation as part of a program at the local JC. Some show up and do their minimum hours and never say a word, will do things their way as opposed to the right way, and never be seen again. Some rare others, will be like a spounge, stay long hours, ask questions and take notes, and are not afraid to admit mistakes and learn from them. We will go out of our way for these people and give them additional training in areas they will need for the job market.

And, for the past 15 yrs., I have still supported my former manager, now my dear friend, with any help I can give her as she continues up the ladder


A.J. said...

Michael and Galen - Thanks for the insightful comments. I find it interesting that the two of you are basically saying the same thing in regards to "luck." As an old school Key Grip I know always says, "Luck is when opportunity meets preparation." Maybe those who aren't trying to get into my pants have a feeling that it's just a matter of the right opportunity coming my way...?

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