After all this talk about the deadly accident that happened last year on a student film out in Georgia, one important thing that has been pointed out on D's post from Dollygrippery is that it could've been him once upon a time. Michael Taylor also mentions that thirty years ago, that guy lying on the ground dying could've been him. And I have no doubt in my mind that it could've been me three years ago... or yesterday... or even tomorrow (but not today. I have the day off.).
We do stupid stuff every day at work, especially at the low-budget / non-union level. I've been guilty of flying 12'x12' rags outside on a windy day without tying them down. I've moved Road Runners with 18Ks at top stick. I've ridden on dollys like a soap box car going down hill. Working in a condor at full height without a safety harness? Been there, done that. Some of the stupid stuff we did was because we didn't know any better. Or because we didn't have the proper gear. Or because if we didn't do it, Production would find someone even less qualified who will. Or a mix of all of the above. (Except for the joy riding dolly. We were bored.)
One comment on D's post that I was particularly surprised by was from The Grip Works: "Are you telling me a student was operating the Condor???" Every once in a while, I'll meet an old school union guy who learns that I do non-union work, and they'll look confused and ask, "That stuff still exists??" Yes, non-union work does exist. Sometimes I forget that not everyone out there realizes that low budget indie shoots still happen, and when you're not immersed in it all the time, it can be hard to see how utterly fucked up it can be. And no, a student wasn't the one operating the condor that night; but unlike The Grip Works, I'm surprised that it wasn't a student up there.
Though I haven't personally rented a condor myself, I've been on plenty of shows that had them. Including ones where the whole crew was working for free (and the "you get what you pay for" skill level that comes with it). There's no "safety/competency test" you need to pass to rent one. There's no one making you prove you know what you're doing before going up in one (though there should be). And there's certainly nothing from stopping a young teen from operating one, let alone a twenty-something college student.
The first time I ever went up a condor was a few years ago when I was fresh out of college with almost no experience. It was a night shoot in the middle of nowhere. It was miserably cold and the wind wasn't helping. The ground was so unlevel that the condor refused to move at certain points when we were driving it to where it needed to be on set. I had no idea how to operate one, and was given a three minute run-down on the controls by the Gaffer who had just figured it out himself a few minutes ago as I watched nervously from the ground. The harness they gave me to wear was too big. It was a crew I've never worked with before, so trusting them with my safety was certainly a leap of faith. And when I got the basket and lights into position up in the air, I noticed that there was some extra grip gear laying around before I realized that it was the stuff that's supposed to be securing the lights and gel frames into place.
From the moment I pulled up to set and noticed the old, rickety condor to the moment I finally got in my car again to go home, there was a voice in my mind screaming, "THIS IS STUPID. THIS IS UNSAFE. I CAN'T BELIEVE I AGREED TO DO THIS. THIS FEELS WAY TOO UNSTABLE. THIS IS STUPID!" And yet, I did it anyway. I don't really know why. Maybe because I needed the work. Maybe because I convinced myself that I'm probably overreacting. Maybe because I wanted to see if I really could do it. Maybe because once I got up there, I felt like it was too late to wuss out and come back down.
I eventually made it back to the ground safely, despite shivering uncontrollably and unable to feel my fingers due to the cold. But looking back, I could have easily not made it home at all that night.
There are so many stupidly unsafe things that I've done in my short career as a grip/juicer. Some I knew at the time were dumb but took the gamble anyway; others I just didn't know any better. And as long as I keep surviving these stupid choices, I have no doubt in my mind that somewhere down the line, despite all the knowledge I've gained or the training I've had, I'll say "fuck it" and do something else that's ill advised.
But despite me admitting to continually putting my own health and safety on the line, I'm not saying it's a good idea. And I'm definitely not saying that those students out in Georgia had any business being out there, with a crew as inexperienced as the one they had and with the equipment they decided to use. I guess what I'm trying to say is that despite all the stupid, stupid choices they made, I understand where they were coming from and how the worst case scenario ended up happening.
We cheat death so many times in this industry, that sometimes, I don't think we realize how lucky we really are.