It's kind of a sucky day. Production added some shots we weren't prepared for, the Gaffer kept calling for lights that nobody would bring, and distro was set in all the wrong places, meaning that getting power to where we neeeded it had turned into a logistical nightmare. In short, things were getting pretty bad.
I was the one assigned to stay on set with the Gaffer, who was so frustrated and stressed about everything that he couldn't sit still. So I tried my best to calm him down, but in reality, I was beginning to get as frustrated as he was.
"What the hell is wrong with the Best Boy??" he said to me during a rare moment of peace during a turnaround. "Why would he put power drops in the way of everything and not where we actually need it??" I'm a big believer that venting is good for the soul, so I let him continue on with his rant as I sat there and listened. "And why doesn't he know where anyone is? And on that note, where is everyone in this department and why aren't they paying attention? It's been taking WAY too long for shit to get done, no one's listening to my orders and the mutherfuckin Best Boy can't even account for his crew. What the fuck is going on? This kind of shit has been going on for too long. I'm tired of it."
He finally pauses and takes a deep breath. Feeling sympathetic, but not wanting take sides between him and the Best Boy, I give him a look and an innocent shrug.
Feeling a little better after getting all that off his chest, he looks at me and asks, "You know what I'm talking about, right?"
I've been on set all day with him, so I saw first hand how shit just went to pieces because no one was paying attention or using common sense. And honestly, this kind of bullshit wasn't uncommon for this particular crew either, so I nod in agreement.
He smiles at me. "See, I know you get it, A.J. You and I... We're a lot alike."
I smiled back at him, knowing what he meant and enjoying our moment. I often know what he's thinking in terms of lighting a shot, and he knows that I know. We'll often have an unspoken working relationship on set; he knows that I'll see what he sees, and with a simple nod, I'll understand what he wants me to do. We're also similar in the way we work. We try to think one step ahead and study the call sheet in the morning so we more or less know what's up for the day. And when most Gaffers have a "do whatever it takes" mentality to get what they want, this guy will settle for something else if what you have to do is incredibly stupid and dangerous. He'll also make it known to the crew that no one's supposed to lift heavy cable by themselves and makes sure there's always at least two people to move around the bigger lights. He's the first and still one of the few Gaffers I know who puts our safety first and foremost and I admire him for it, so I was pleased to hear that he thought so highly of me.
But as we got back to work, I couldn't stop thinking about what he said.
Sure, the Gaffer knew his job well and came in every day, trying to do his best both for the production and his crew. And he did things the way they were supposed to be done, insisting that every light came with a scrim bag, every cart we had was appropriately organized and stocked, and that everyone "copy" him over the walkie when they hear an order. I'm glad to be working for a guy like him.
But as I watched him work, I realized that as much as I enjoyed working with him, I didn't want to end up like him. Pushing middle age, he was still stuck in the same low-budget, go nowhere world of indies that I was. Despite working on piece-of-shit shows, he always did his work as if he was on a big shoot. I'm actually often surprised at his professionalism and work mentality if all he's ever done are shoots like this one. He deserves a spot on something, anything, better. However, when given the opportunity to work on bigger things, he won't take it; opting instead to stay in a paycheck-to-paycheck world because it's steady and less risky. Although he may not exactly love his job, he's comfortable with it and that's enough for him.
I like working with him and appreciate him for what he brings to the job and his crew, but I hope I don't end up on the same path he did. I hope I always realize which risks are worth taking. I hope I never lose sight of what I'm aiming for. I hope I will always have enough good sense to know when I've become too good, too skilled and too valuable to stay where I am now, and know when I need to move on. I hope I will remember that hard and uncertain times now will mean a big payoff later.
I snap out of my thoughtful state as the company finishes another shot and my Gaffer gives me a "here we go again" look from across the room. I smile at him. He's a great guy to work for. And one day, when I move on to bigger and better things, I'll look fondly at our time together and miss him.
But until then, I'll look at whatever part of the set he's looking at, see what he's seeing, and grab whatever light he's thinking of...