Friday, April 30, 2010

Harassment.



What do you do when you work on a film crew and are being harassed?

Let's just pretend for a moment that you're a female grip/electric. You live a freelance life, hopping from set to set, from production to production, from crew to crew. And while you're weaving in and out of these shows, you meet a ton of people. Some of which are a little odd, but most of them are pretty great. It's inevitable that some of your co-workers become friends, and eventually, even like family.

But then one day, you meet this one fellow and everything seems normal so far. The show ends and after a while, the two of you grab lunch one day just to hang out as friends and catch up. Totally normal.

But that's where the normal part stops and the creepy part sets in. Shortly after that, you're getting text messages, voice mails and e-mails from the guy, saying he loves you. Saying that the two of you should be together. He's married, but that doesn't stop him from describing how he'd kiss you. He's twice your age, but insists that the two of you would "have fun" together. Needless to say, every message you get from him is highly inappropriate.

Let's say you never call, text, or e-mail him back, but he doesn't seem to take the hint. So you tell him flat out that you don't want to talk to him. He plays the "I'm sorry" and sympathy card in hopes you'll take the bait and finally reply. But you're smarter than that and still give him the cold shoulder.

After a while, the messages die down a bit, but they still don't disappear. Every once in a while, you'll find a text on your phone or an e-mail in your inbox from him, which you keep ignoring.

Things wouldn't be so bad (just kinda creepy and annoying) if you weren't once co-workers. Despite L.A. having a population of around 4 million people, it's still a relatively small town if you're in the Industry. Everyone either knows each other, or knows someone who does. There's no six-degrees of separation here. At most, it's more like three or four.

That means that not only likely to run into him again, but really, it's just a matter of time. Every time you go into a rental house, studio, or any other place where a large number of grips and electrics gather, you become on edge if you see a car similar to his in the parking lot. When you're deciding whether or not to attend an Industry related event, the probability of him showing up suddenly plays a huge part in your decision. The guy really makes you uncomfortable and the last thing you want to do is see him, or even worse, spend the next twelve hours working with him.

So, if this happens to you, what do you do?

It seems like a bad idea to ask the Best Boy on every show that calls, "Hey, will [insert creepy guy's name here] be on this shoot? Because I won't take the job if he is." That will only lead to more questions and gossip about something that is none of their business. And not only that, but the hard truth is that many Best Boys, Gaffers and Key Grips are still apprehensive about hiring females, and putting the idea into their head that they may have to worry about sexual harassment and the like is just one more reason for them to stick with an all male crew. Plus, if the guy in question has a more impressive resume and more experience in this business, he'll probably get hired anyway. After all, it's not like the Best Boy has to worry about getting messages about the two of them making out.

This whole situation might even be easier (though still sucky and complicated) if you were working for a big enough show with a real production company, office, public image and/or HR department. Those kinds of productions tend to be more "by the book" and may even provide certain protections, but let's face it, such a company is hard to find in the low-budget indie world. Most of the time, Producers just want to get their project made and after it's in the can, they disappear. They couldn't care less if you feel "uncomfortable" around a co-worker. They just want you to suck it up and "get used to it."

There doesn't seem to be any good way to handle this situation. All the options seem to put your job at risk. Sure, there are laws that say otherwise, but as we in the film industry know, what the rules are and what we do in practice can be very different; especially in the low budget world. People will gossip and even though you did nothing wrong, there's a chance you'll be branded as the girl who is offended by "innocent flirting", can't take a "compliment", and/or was kind of asking for it.

I hate to say it, but it's looking like there's no other option but to wait it out in hopes that he'll eventually stop. But what if he doesn't?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Hard Work Is In The Eye Of The Beholder.



I'm sitting on an apple box, enjoying the day. I'm working grip side and due to the small size of the house we were shooting in, most of us are banished to spending the next several hours hanging out in the huge back yard with the blue skies and cool, Spring breeze. Not a bad way to spend the last day of a shoot.

But apparently, not all of us got to sit back and enjoy the California sunshine.

"Damn, poor Jerry*," laments a fellow grip. "He's been running around all day."

I follow his gaze to a Juicer, who has in fact, been running around a lot more than his colleagues.

"Look at him. He's a hard worker, that one."

I sit there, kind of nodding my head in silence. Sure, he worked at a quicker pace than the other guys and seemed to be covering more ground, but something didn't seem quite right with the way poor Jerry was working.

So from the comfort of my apple box in the shade, I watched him work for a bit and the mystery was solved.

Jerry was an idiot.

Why did it seem like he spent an hour running a bunch of cable? Because he accidentally ran the cable backwards and had to redo the whole thing.

Why did it look like he was the only one bringing a bunch of lights from their equipment staging into the house? Because he'd often forget things like the scrim bag or barn doors and would have to go back for them.

In short, he looked like he was doing twice the work of his co-workers because he was doing everything twice.

But to the naked eye (or rather, anyone who doesn't know the job of a set electrician and/or isn't really paying attention), it looked like this guy was doing a lot. Sure, he may be a hard worker, but probably not a very good one and there's a big difference between the two.

At the end of the day, one of the Producers came around and thanked everyone individually for their work. I watched as he shook Jerry's hand.

"Good job today, Jerry. I was impressed with how much you were running around. You're a hard worker. I'll see you on the next one." The Producer then turns to me. "Thanks A.J. I hope you had fun."

Hm... On second thought, maybe he's not such an idiot after all...



*Not his real name.

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...?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Evidence That The World Is Not A Fair Place.

In one of those weird "I need a crew at the last minute and got your name through a friend of a friend" types of calls, I ended up Besting on Electric side for a few days on a short film with a crew I was totally unfamiliar with. It's a little odd, but eh, work's work.

Most of my crew members were fine. It was a mish-mash of experience levels, but overall, we weren't too bad for a rag-tag team of strangers thrown together at the last minute....

Except for one guy.

You'd give him an order, and he'd stand there and stare at you for a while, as if you just ordered lunch in Italian instead of asking him to unload the truck or grab some tape. Ask him to get a light, and it wouldn't occur to him to bring along the scrim bag and a stand. Ask him for a 100amp cable and he'll bring you a 60amp. He'll bring you a 4 bank kino fixture with a 2 bank ballast...

I'd be willing to chalk those mistakes up to inexperience, but even non-industry related tasks seemed to baffle him. While going through his paperwork, I noticed a few pages where his signature was missing, despite bold, red letters stating "SIGN BOTH PAGES."

On one form, instead of writing in his name as it was asked, he wrote in his e-mail address.

The kicker?

He's a member of Local 728.

This guy is a member of the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees as a Studio Lighting Technician. In other words, this guy is a Union member and therefore eligible to work on big, multi-million dollar, studio funded productions (and he has) as a juicer. Which means that he'll often make more money in a day than I will in a week... For the same exact job.

I know of some pretty kick-ass grips, juicers, etc who do nothing but live, eat and breathe their jobs. They work hard, know their craft inside and out and have been trying to reach the holy grail of Union life longer than I have. And yet, they've never been able to reach it.

Those are the guys that should be in the IA. Not the kid who was with me the other day, tying the wrong knots onto cables.

This was just another reminder of how unfair this Industry is. How every day, the blind powers that be pass over talent, skill and training in favor of those with plain, dumb luck.

Welcome to Hollywood.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

So Close, Yet So Far...



It was the Friday of a very long week. Due to some location mishaps and actor scheduling conflicts, production had us running around since Monday, cramming what was essentially five or six days of work into four.

But ahh... Today was Friday.

Due to the very same location mishaps and scheduling conflicts, it was supposed to be an easy day. Just a couple of scenes in a house. So easy in fact, that all the department heads were expecting to be out of there before ten hours. The day was peppered with people on their phones, making plans for the rest of the night. A rare event in which we actually had a Friday night we wouldn't be too exhausted to enjoy.

I watched with glee as the Gaffer crossed off completed scenes on the day's call sheet, one by one as we finished them; slowly but surely inching towards the bottom of the list. And when he took a pen to the last row, my hand was already on a light switch, waiting for the magic words which would grant me permission to turn the sucker off and go home.

But alas, it'd be a couple more hours before I heard those words. Because right before the Gaffer reached for his walkie to announce the end of the day, the Director had a hope shattering thought.

"You know, since it's so early, why don't we cover this scene like sweat on a fat kid."

And just like that, four more shots were added...

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Blind Leading The Blind?


"See that girl over there?"

I look up from the gels I'm labeling to see who my colleague is talking about. He's referring to a girl a few years younger than me, getting into her car.

"The redhead? Yeah. What about her?"
"She's one of the office P.A.s. I was talking to her earlier and she said you inspired her."
"What are you talking about?"
My friend explains. "She's thought about getting into the G&E game for a while now, but she didn't think she could do it. All that heavy shit we carry around, I guess. But then she saw you running around and stuff and she said you inspired her to give it a shot."
"Oh... Okay..."

I played it off cool, but secretly, I thought it was great. When I first got into this business (more specifically, into my chosen departments), I was well aware that this was a boy's club. I knew it was going to be tough, both in terms of breaking in and the actual work. But I didn't care. The young, naive me, the one who still practiced her Oscar acceptance speech in the shower, thought about how great it would be if I ended up being a pioneer. I would be forever recorded in the history books as the one who changed it all and opened up what was once a male dominated field to women everywhere. Someday, because of me, it wouldn't be too far fetched for a little girl to dream of one day being on a film set without having to be an actress or working in the hair/make up/wardrobe departments.

But then, as the day wore on, I found myself wrapping up heavy cable in a dark and piss filled alleyway downtown. And like all sane grips and electrics who've encountered rigging and wrapping in disgusting locations, I thought to myself, "Ugh. I hate my job."

And that's when it hit me. What have I done??

As Michael Taylor has pointed out time and time again, this is a hard profession to be in. Long hours and back breaking work with too small of a paycheck to go with it. Especially now with the advent of video cameras, home editing systems and "New Media" contracts. What was once a lucrative business open to a select few is now accessible to everyone, resulting in more productions with smaller budgets, and with them, smaller rates for the those "in the trenches." The only thing that stayed the same is the amount of work that can often only be described as "exhausting" and "Blue Collar."

This is the world I just "inspired" an innocent young girl to pursue a career in. I mean, few parents dream of a job for their daughter that involves excrement filled alleyways mixed with high voltage cables. In other words, I feel like I just convinced a girl to live a tough and brutal life and that makes me kind of sad.

Sure, despite my many complaints and rants about the job, part of me really enjoys what I do. But while I may (at least for now) be the "you should chase your dream!" kind of gal, I do heavily caution that this job isn't as glamorous as it may seem and often not as fun as my co-workers and I might make it appear to be. For every grip fort that's built, every dolly taken for a joy ride and every electrical tape art project we do, there comes a price. I make sure that every bright-eyed and awestruck kid is aware of the ridiculously long hours; incompetent ADs, directors and department heads; heavy cable; scorching hot lights; lugging around sandbags in the desert; dragging distro through a trash pile; condor duty in the dead of winter; pizza for lunch... And if after all that, they still give a hearty "Hell yeah!" to being a grip/electric, only then do I give them my blessing and tell them to go for it.

This is a tough life and definitely not for everyone, especially if you're a female. And you have to really want it or be reeeally lucky (or both) to make it. It's enough stress and uncertainty to even make me question how much longer I can last myself.

A huge part of me still wants to reach that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, though. I want to make it not only for myself, but also because few women have. I smile at the thought of one day being able to point my finger at those who said I would never make a good grip or electric or whatever because I'm a girl and say "HA!" And the fact that I'm just starting out and am already inspiring women to give this industry a try kind of has me in awe. I'm humbled and flattered by it. But in the back of my mind, I'm questioning whether or not I'm even something or someone that young women should aspire to be.

How can other people follow my path when I'm not sure where I'm even going or where I'll end up? In all honesty, I'm just making it up as I go along. I could be running around in circles for all I know.

The last thing I want is for people to be following my lead and end up like this. While I know that I can't be held responsible for what people choose to do in their life, I can't help but wonder what other opportunities they may be missing out on because they decided to follow in my footsteps. Instead of spending 80 hours a week at work, would they have started a family? If their back wasn't hurting from lugging around c-stands and 18ks, would they be traveling around the world? Would they have ended up as a writer or a producer with a bigger paycheck?

Inspiration can be an awesome thing. Every great movie, art piece, literature, historical movement, etc, was started by one brief moment of inspiration. But every bad painting, horrible film, and broken dream also stemmed from a moment of inspiration. Nobody thinks anything they do is a bad idea at the time.

So, which end of the spectrum do I and the innocent redhead fall under? Will my persistence, hard work, and bitching on the internet one day land me a spot in the history books? Will that girl follow my lead and succeed? Will she fall flat on her face and cry? Or will she pass me on her way up to the top? I guess only time will tell.

When you're in elementary school and you're assigned to do a report on an inspirational hero, most kids will pick an exceptionally skilled sports star, influential politician or a noted historical figure. Well established people with a long list of accomplishments who deserve legions of fans and people aspiring to be like them.

But I'm no Amelia Earhart. For now, I'm just a juicer, trying to follow a dream.
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