Sunday, August 15, 2010

Is This A Good Sign...?

Something interesting happened the other day. I got a phone call from a friend who's Besting on a low budget feature.

"Hey, a couple of my guys canceled on me for tomorrow. I'm having some trouble finding people to take their spots. I know you're already booked, but do you know of anyone who's looking for work?"

I told him not to worry and that I'd take care of it. This wasn't the first time he's come to me to make a few calls when he's short on guys and I usually have no problem sending quality people his way. With all the Union negotiations, strikes, and runaway productions* in recent years, this town, and my contacts list, is brimming with people looking for work. At one point, it wasn't all that uncommon for me to find a few "I'm looking for work. Do you know of anything?" messages on my phone a week.

But this time was different. I went down the list of usuals. The people I call first when I need a crew to make me look good. They were all booked. Okay. No problem. They're all stellar people and this was a last minute deal. No surprise there that they can't take the job.

Next on the list were the guys that I called when the usual suspects are already booked. They're usually the ones who haven't been in the game very long and while they're great on ultra-low budget, paid-in-peanuts shoots, they've never been on a job that fed them anything other than pizza for lunch. In other words, my friend's shoot would've been the biggest thing they've ever worked on. Which ultimately, would be good for them as they'd be moving up on the totem pole of movie-making.

Only, they were all unavailable as well.


So now I was scraping the bottom of the barrel. The guys that are fresh and new on the scene who've done nothing but a few days on a student film. I made a few calls to them and eventually found two guys who were free to work the next day.

I gave them the info they needed, hung up, then sat down for a breather. It was getting kind of late and I was starting to panic about not being able to come through for my crew-challenged friend.** Which made me realize how long it's been since I had this much trouble finding someone to take a job. Granted, it was a bit last minute, but I usually don't have to go past Name #3 on my list to fill a spot.

That got me thinking: Are things really that busy right now? Or did I just catch everyone at a busy time? Sure, the people I called aren't free the next day, but is that the only day of work they had booked that week? Or are they unavailable because they're on a show, Monday through Friday?

I had lunch with a cohort the other day who said he had the same problem filling his spot as well when he got called for a better gig. "I guess it's just really busy out there," he said, "That's good."

And yes, it definitely is a good thing if things are picking up, especially after how sucky the past few years have been. But at the same time, it feels a bit odd to me that things are suddenly so busy...

*A production that shoots outside of California to take advantage of the tax incentives.
**Yes, I know it wasn't really my job or responsibility to fill out my friend's crew, but he asked me for a favor and I like to see those kinds of things through. Plus, I'd rather have my friends working than a random stranger.


Michael Taylor said...

The TV season is now in full swing, with all the returning shows up and running while the new shows work out the kinks in shooting their first few episodes. Since nobody's been canceled yet, lots of people are still working.

TV is the big employer in Hollywood, and although much of television is union, the late summer TV season puts thousands of people to work, thus taking them off the market. When things are slow, union workers are happy to take non-union jobs -- which is a raw deal for non-union people who have no other source of work -- but right now, they're busy.

That doesn't explain everything, though. There must be a lot of non-union work happening too -- features, videos, commercials -- to keep so many people busy. Maybe California's anemic attempt to lure production back (via our own tax subsidies) is actually working.

Enjoy the fat times while you can -- winter is coming...

A.J. said...

Michael - Oh believe me, I'm taking all I can get right now as I stock up for Winter. But saddly, my plate is so full right now that I even had to throw some of the offers back. Curse the Hollywood Gods! Where was this flow of work last year??

Either way, your explanation does shed light as to why everyone seems to be working right now... Thanks!

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