Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy Holidays.


As previously mentioned, I've been ridiculously busy lately and haven't had time to update this blog as much as I'd like to. I really wanted to end this year with a super awesome, thought provoking and life changing post, but I could never find the time to sit down and churn out a fluff piece, let alone one that required deep thinking.

And as the days went on and the holidays drew nearer, it seemed like my To Do list kept getting longer while time was running out, and I ended up even more stressed out that I've ever been. Sisyphus had nothing on me; the my rock was bigger, my hill steeper, and I had more of them.

Eventually, I kinda stopped for a sec and realized that it's almost Christmas. Call me a Hallmarkien if you must, but I love this time of year. All the twinkly lights, the shopping, the food... I enjoy it all. Only, this year, it was passing me by and I was miserable.

So to put me back in a non-Grinchy spirit and back on a cheery one, I'm taking this blog off my To Do list until after the New Year. As much as I love writing these posts, they take more time and effort to put together than you may realize and the rest of this year is rapidly slipping away from me.

And 2011, despite it being a world wind of one surprise after another, was very good to me, and I want to be able to enjoy what's left of it.

I hope this year was a good one for all of you as well.
I hope 2012 will be an even better one.
I hope you find that perfect answer to the "What do you do?" question you get as you make the holiday party rounds this year.
I hope you are all spending time with your family, whoever it may be.
But most of all, I hope you guys have a very Merry Christmas and a spectacular New Year!

I'll see you all back here in 2012.



Thursday, December 15, 2011

Sometimes...

... I'm amazed at how much a co-worker will carry around on his tool belt: various kinds of tape (and colors!), multiple meters and testers, wrenches, screwdrivers, a knife, a multi-tool, a flashlight, a headlamp, several different kinds of markers, two sets of gloves, cotter pins, a laser pointer, a water bottle, cube taps, wire nuts, pieces of zip cord and connectors, C-47s, etc...

And yet they consistently ask to borrow a pen.


I'm even more amazed at how often that happens.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Riding High In April, Shot Down In May...


"Wrap, wrap, wrap!"

The familiar end of the night call over the walkie reminded me of a quacking duck. My colleagues and I share a surprised look and we all check the time. Today's work was ending around 6pm, well before the standard 12 hours from call that we've all come to expect.

Yay!

Then the P.A.s make their usual end of the night rounds and pass out call sheets for the next day, and with one glance at them, we suddenly realize the reason for our good fortune: we have a 5am call tomorrow.

Aww....

But a 5am call tomorrow means that we'll wrap before sundown, and it's always a good thing when you get to enjoy even just a little bit of daylight off the clock.

Yay!

Then we read further down the call sheet until we get to the location address. And damn, it's pretty far out there.

Aww...

But on the bright side, a bumfuck early call time means no traffic in the morning!

Yay!

But on the down side, that means we'll be hitting traffic on the way home. So much for enjoying the daylight...

Aww...

My eyes wander even further down the page and see that the day after next pretty much as us on the same kind of schedule.

Ya- Aww.....

Saturday, December 3, 2011

You Can't Help But Feel A Little Smug When...


... December is traditionally a time when the town slows down for the "Holiday Hiatus" but you're still steadily getting calls to day-play on various shows. And you can't help but feel just a liiittle bit smugger when you know people who have been in this business longer than you have who are getting bupkis.*


* Of course, having said this, I probably jinxed myself for the next few months.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!


It's been a crazy couple of weeks lately as I made an attempt to balance work stuff, personal stuff, and upcoming holiday stuff. And if my current schedule is any indication, I can expect the same kind of chaos as we head into December, only kicked up a few notches.

Yikes.*

Which means that I'm going to be lazy and re-post something I wrote a few years ago.

But hey, at least it's (kind of) Thanksgiving related! With an update at the end!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Already Thinking About Thanksgiving...

My mom called me today.

"So you'll be home on Tuesday, right? Because I just made a dentist appointment for you for the 26th."

Yeah, that was how the convo started. Mom's not big on pretext.
Meanwhile, I was caught off guard and didn't even know what to say. Probably because I hadn't even thought about when I'd be making the trek back home and was trying to figure out if she had gotten the date from something I've said or if she just made it up.

Anyway, after the conversation ended and I hung up the phone, I started thinking and counting back the months. I haven't been home since last January for New Years, making this the longest I've been away for. I usually at least pop in for a visit once or twice a year but I guess this year's been harder because of the lack of work.

It used to be that I'll have a month or two booked up and I'd drive up and spend some time with the folks before things got super busy. But now that I no longer have the luxury of knowing when I'll get my next paycheck, I'm pretty much stuck staying in town since most of my money these days have been from random last minute gigs, which can be kind of a bummer.

And now, for the first time that I can remember, I'm actually looking forward to going home. I mean really looking forward to it. And that is what I'll be thankful for this Thanksgiving.


 Three measly years later, and oh my, how times have changed...

This year is the longest I've gone without popping in to visit the parentals. Nearly a year will have gone by before I see my old stomping ground again, only this time, the lack of work isn't to blame.

Rather, it's the opposite. I've been working rather steadily this year (for a change!), which means that whatever time off I got between gigs was only long enough for me to catch up on all the stuff that I couldn't get to when I was busy. Not a bad problem to have, I suppose, but it's definitely a far cry from the situation I was in back in 2008.

I'm still never sure when I'll get my next paycheck, but I at least have somewhat of an idea of where it'll come from these days. And that's a big difference. And when I do get a check in the mail, it's definitely more than what I was getting paid back then. I guess that means I'm moving up in the world?

Anyway, I wanted to take this time to wish you all a  
Happy Thanksgiving! 

May it be filled with turkey induced comas and a side of pie.




* I hope you enjoy this post because it might be a little while before I around to writing another one.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

You Know It's Cold Season When...


...Every "cut!" is followed by a chorus of coughs.



And on that note...

That's how you're supposed to cough and sneeze, especially when you're around others.


Using your hands to cover your coughing and sneezing is just plain gross and passes your germs onto your co-workers.


Be considerate of others and let's all keep healthy this season!



Sunday, November 13, 2011

Be Careful What You Wish For.


Long after the bad day ended.
Long after all the anger and aggression faded away.
Long after the pity party wrapped...

I finally got the call for that 4/0 job I was craving for a week ago.
Two of them, actually.
And both in the rain.

Of course...

Monday, November 7, 2011

Know The Rules.





This post was a long time coming...

One important thing any freelance (and non-union*) grip, electric, camera person, set dresser, wardrobe, make-up, sound, P.A., etc, etc, should know is how to protect themselves when it comes to employer/employee relations. This is ESPECIALLY important if you're a Best Boy and/or in charge of a department since all the underlings will most likely turn to you when they have problems and questions regarding what's legal, what's not and what's the norm. You're the first line of protection against the dirty, evil, low budget "passion project" producers and what you tell them now is what they'll likely be telling others on the next job they're on. But ultimately, each person is responsible for themselves, because please believe me when I say that nobody knows anything.**

Case in point: everyone I know that started out in the nitty gritty non-union world has, at one point or another, had trouble getting paid. When I first started out in this biz, I was told again and again by various colleagues that employers had up to thirty days to pay, no matter what they may have promised you. Even if they say at the end of the night, "We'll mail out the checks Monday morning," and you don't get one in your mail box until three weeks later, you can't complain because they're still within the thirty days. I have no idea how, where or when this "common knowledge" started circulating, but it's accepted as "fact" by many of us in the non-union world and thus probably spread as so.

But guess what? That's absolute bullshit! Sure, I've had countless Best Boys, Gaffers, fellow grips and juicers all tell me the same thing over the years, but now I challenge any of them to find anything about a thirty day pay grace period rule in California labor law.*** At most they have two weeks. And if they're late, you're entitled to a "waiting time penalty." Aka: Your rate for every day it's late, up to thirty days.

That's a drastically different outcome than the "you'll just have to sit and wait for a month before you're paid" speech most of us have accepted as truth. It was a very rude awakening for me when I found out that what my colleagues and I had believed for so long was so false. It was like if you had avoided some really good food all your life because your parents told you you're allergic to nuts, only to find out that you're actually not. And sadly, that's only one of the many false "truths" out there that most non-unioners have accepted as "fact."

Some other things every non-union freelancer in this biz should know but generally don't?

- Meal penalties. You're entitled to them.

- Minimum wage. You're entitled to that too.

- Overtime? That depends.

Which leads me to...

READ YOUR FUCKING DEAL MEMO and KNOW WHAT THE FUCK YOU'RE SIGNING.

Some of them will say shit like "Employee agrees to work for a rate of $100/day." To them, that means you'll work for that much money no matter how long the "day" is, which sucks big time if they're prone to doing 16-18 hour days. Cross that last part out and write "$100 / 12 hours" (or whatever it is you agreed to before you came to work.) and remember to get a signed copy. Speaking of, negotiate that shit before you show up and for the love of puppies, get it in writing. It could be in a text message (just don't delete it or lose your phone), but I think e-mail is better. I usually send them something along the lines of, "Totally excited about the job! Just wanted to clarify the rate. It's $xxx for 12 hours, right?" And include anything that involves money: gas and/or mileage reimbursement, equipment rental, etc. Having it in writing has saved my ass countless times. Whenever there's a discrepancy, it's always great to be able to show the parties involved exactly what was agreed upon.

And while we're on the topic of wages, know how to calculate them! If you agree to work for $100/12 hours, what's your hourly rate? Hint: it's not $8.33, which is what most people think it is (100 divided by 12). It's $7.14 because the first eight hours of the day is straight time, plus time and a half for every hour after that... And not including lunch because that's technically unpaid. Why is this important? Well, first off, $7.14 is below California minimum wage. Secondly, double that and you'll get your hourly rate for if/when you hit overtime.****

Use this information to your advantage. I'm not saying to throw down a lawsuit every time one of these rules are broken (and we all know they get broken all the time and we let it slide... but that's another post for another time) because let's face it, you'll spend more time filling out claim forms than actually working. But feel free to bring them up at the appropriate time. If Production wants you to work without paying OT, you can bring it to their attention that you had already "overlooked" the fact that they didn't give you a meal penalty. If they want you to drive out to a middle of nowhere location without paying you anything for gas, feel free to bring up the fact that you agreed to accept a rate that's under minimum wage. Just knowing that you have some rights and protections will make you feel more empowered and less likely to be bullied (too much) by a production.

And on that note, Production might throw a few punches of their own, like...

- "Those rights don't apply to you because you signed a 1099 and therefore aren't an employee." Again, call bullshit. You can fill out as many 1099 forms as they'd like you to. But guess what? That doesn't make you an Independent Contractor. The Labor Commission doesn't care if you signed one or not. What matters is whether or not you fall into the category of one, and the tricky part about that is that there's no set guidelines. But just like Production can argue that you are one, you can just as easily argue that you aren't. (Does Production provide you with the equipment? Yes. Are you allowed to take breaks whenever you want? No. Is your work performed under supervision? Yes. Hm... That kinda sounds like you're an employee to me...)

- "This isn't a union show. Meal penalties and overtime doesn't apply to us." Wrong again. I always find this argument ironic since the Department of Labor has all these laws about meals, overtime, pay schedule, etc, for pretty much everyone but those who are working under a Union contract.

- "You obviously haven't been in this business very long. This is how we do things." This is a fun one to flip around and throw back at them, because if they're paying their crew late or not feeding them on time, they obviously haven't been doing this for very long. Besides, just because "this is the way we do things in this business" doesn't mean it's legal.

- "Our client hasn't paid us yet for the project so we don't have the money to pay you right now." From the Labor Commision: "Inability to pay is not a defense to the failure to timely pay wages."

- "This is a small town and people talk. I can make it so you'll never work in this town again." They all pull this card when they've got nothing left and are grasping at air. But just think about it for a second. Most of the time, you're hired by a Best Boy, Gaffer, Key Grip, DP or some other department head. Not a Producer. Do you think your bosses are going to listen to a snot nosed "Producer" who tried to screw you over? No. And if the Producer is a somebody, I guarantee you that they're not going to waste time broadcasting to their entire contact list that they're breaking all kinds of laws. And if they're stupid enough to do that, there are very few Producers who'll scrutinize every name on the call sheet of their next shoot anyway, just to blackball some "nobody" they've never met.

Again, I'm not saying to file a claim against every Production you don't like, but know your rights. And most of all, follow your instincts. I've let a majority of these violations slide in my time because I felt like the connections being made and experience was worth the sucky-ness and I was okay with that. Or I saw that Production was really trying hard to do right by the crew. Or the infringement was so slight that it wasn't worth my time to pursue it. Or I was really there as a favor to a friend more than anything else. Or I was just really tired. Or holy shit, who cares if they want to sneak an extra half hour of overtime from us when they're paying me 3x my normal rate? Whatever the reason, I didn't feel the need to "rock the boat."

But there have been once or twice where I walk onto a job and I know it's going to be hell. I know they're never going to call me for a job again and/or I wouldn't come back even if they doubled my rate. The kind where they're so unprofessional about everything that you know you're going to have a problem getting paid before lunch is even called (if it's called at all). In those extreme cases, I start to collect paper. I make sure I have a copy of my deal memo. A copy of the call sheet. A copy of my (signed by all parties) time card. A copy of any schedule they may have. Anything. Everything. And I make sure to still do my job as professionally as possible. That way, if/when my check doesn't come, I have everything I need to file a claim against them, prove my case, and serve them a nice slice of legal whoop ass.

The bottom line is that there's a lot of misinformation out there about what Production is allowed to do to us and interestingly enough, a lot of that misinformation is geared towards us below-the-liners getting the short end of the stick. I've learned these lessons the hard way, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. But I know that in this harsh reality that is freelancing in the non-union world, no one's looking out for me but myself, so I better damn well know the rules and play the game smart. And not only do I now know how to protect myself better, but this information empowers me to protect the crew working below me as well. After all, no one likes working under someone who lets Production push them around.

So now you know, and knowing is half the battle.






* If you're in a Union, your Union rep would be the one you'd turn to for all this. 

** Myself included. I could be totally wrong in this post. In all my posts. YMMV. Blah blah blah. Disclaimer. Blah blah. Quote me at your own risk. Do your own damn research.

*** If you're working in another state, this stuff may not apply to you. But the "do your own research" lesson still stands.

**** Check with Production first. I've had some luck on a show or two where they accepted the first method when determining my hourly rate, which meant 1) they probably weren't trying to nickel and dime me and 2) I get a better deal in overtime.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Therapy.


Photo courtesy of the 728 website.

Most experienced electricians, young or old, generally avoid working with 4/0 if possible. It's a monster beast of a cable, weighing in at about a pound a foot. Wrapping a hundred foot piece of it will make any man sweat, let alone someone like me who barely weighs more than the coil of copper to begin with.

But today, I craved it.

I had a string of disappointments lasting about a week long, and yesterday's was the final straw. I won't get into the details of what happened, but by the end of the day, I was feeling dejected. And suddenly, I was re-living all those rejections and disappointments not only of the past week, but of my entire professional career. The assholes who didn't think I knew anything. All those times I've been accused of being hired because of my looks. All those times I've been denied work because of them. The kind looking man who ran the crew for a big show, telling me that I'd never make it in g/e because I'd never be "one of the guys." The scruffy looking old timer who'd tell me the same thing a few years later. All those times I've been called "lazy" and "useless" despite giving them my all...

All those voices and more just came flooding back at once; those memories filling my head like a bad song you can't stop humming.

You hear shit like that enough times and you start to wonder if it's true. You wonder if it's possible for all those people to be wrong. You start to wonder what the fuck you're doing in this town. You start to wonder what'll happen if you don't make it. You start to ask yourself why are you fighting so hard. Is it worth it? Are they right? Am I strong enough? What if I'm not? What will become of me?

It was feeling angry and confused and disappointed all at the same time. I was feeling all those things and more towards the people I was working with. At the situation. At no one in particular. At myself.

Honestly, I didn't know what I was feeling anymore. I know I just felt shitty.

I woke up this morning with those thoughts and voices still swirling around in my head. I was re-living every heart chrushing moment of it all. Again and again.

It's days like these I hope I get called for a 4/0 job.

Where it's no one but you and miles of cable that need to be wrapped. No need to pay attention to where your Gaffer is on the set. Or chasing around video village with a stinger. No making small talk with other departments. No sitting still in a corner while you wait for the next set up.

Just. Cable.

Best of all, you don't have to think. Once you get the hang of it, wrapping a piece of cable is nothing but a fluid, rhythmic motion. You pull with one hand as the other guides it into a neat coil. The only thing you need to concentrate on is how fast you're going and the size of your loops, and you're usually going at such a speed that nothing else but that occupies your mind. Meanwhile, with every length of cable you pull; every loop you make; every finished coil you tie up,* comes with a bead of sweat and somehow, all those bad thoughts that are swimming around in your head slowly ooze out of your pores. And all that anger and frustration you felt just hours ago evaporates with it.

It's cathartic.

And after a long day of nothing but cable, you go home tired as hell, but in a good way. All your aggressions have been worked out. You feel more at peace somehow. And the best thing is, negative thoughts no longer occupy your mind because all you can think about now is how badly you want a shower and start the next day fresh and clean...

Oh, how I long for a 4/0 job right now...




* That's usually as far as I'll go with it by myself.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Flashing.




Listen up, you motherfucker. You're an amateur. You've never worked on a real set your entire life. You wanna know how I can tell? Because you gave me shit every time I asked you to call out "flashing"* when you used your camera.

The fact that I even had to remind you shows how little experience you have. But that, I forgave and even took the time to explain to you why such a small gesture has such a big impact on my department. The fact that you still rolled your eyes every time I asked you to call it out? That shows me how little respect you have for the jobs of others.

 And for future reference, if by some miracle, you find yourself on another set, you're supposed to say "Flashing!" loudly, right before you use it, every time you use it.

Tapping me on the shoulder and saying, "Hey A.J. I just wanted to let you know I'm going to be using my flash in a few minutes," all while giving me snide look is not the proper way to do it.

Amateur.


*Some departments (ie: make up, wardrobe, set dressers, etc) often take flash photographs on set. It's customary for them to call out "Flashing!" before snapping a photo because a camera flash looks very similar to a bulb blowing out. If you want to be mean, go ahead and use the flash on your camera without calling it out, and watch the electricians suddenly looking up at all the lights, wondering WTF that just was.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Hmm... This Sounds Familiar...


Only reversed... And more awesome.*



(I don't know how to make this a more readable size and still have it fit in the Blogger allotted space, so here's the original link.)



*If you don't know what I'm talking about, then count yourself lucky that you haven't spent much time looking for work on Craigslist or Mandy.com.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Paradox Of 4/0.



On the first day of a new crew, we were laying out cable. When it came to putting down the first stick of 4/0, my seasoned coworkers promptly came to my side, gave me a mini lecture about how I should never pick up a coil of that stuff on my own (a rule a whole-heartedly agree with) and we continued our work by double-teaming the cable each time a coil needed to by lifted.

A couple days later, the job ended and I never heard from the Best Boy again. After running into a former colleague, I heard that the reason I never get called to work with that particular crew is because the Best Boy didn't think I could "handle the work." (Read: "I wasn't able to lift a coil of 4/0 by myself.")

Sometime later, I'm on another crew. We're counting in the cable. We get to the 4/0 and I ask my partner, who's been in this business for a long time, if we could two-man the hundred pound coils. He gives me a look and says he'll just do it himself. It's just easier that way. So I sit back, let him do his thing, and eventually, I'm assigned to other, non-cable related tasks.

Sometime after that, I find myself on another new crew peppered with seasoned veterans of the business. One of the "old timers" and I start chatting while we wait for the next shot and we land on the topic of putting in a cable rig. The first thing he says to me about it? "Don't you EVER pick up a stick of 4/0 by yourself." Again, I wholeheartedly agree.

But inside, I'm thinking, "If only it were that simple..."

It's one of those things where I feel like I'm in a no-win situation. If I lift it by myself, I fuck up my body and possibly my future in the biz. If I don't, I lose out on work. And while no job is worth the damage you could to do yourself, I also have a reputation on the line. Best Boys don't go around saying, "I never saw her lift a hundred feet coil of 4/0 by herself. She always had a second hand on it." Instead, they go around saying stuff like, "She couldn't handle the work load" or "She always needed help." That's a big difference.

And even if I'm on a crew where my colleagues are telling me that we should never handle the stuff by ourselves, that view may not necessarily be shared by our boss and vise-versa.

I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Pet Peeve.




Okay people, listen up.

"Electrocuted" means that you died from an electrical shock.

So if you're telling a story and you say something like, "I brushed my hand against the stupid bus bar on the generator and got electrocuted" you're lying. Yes, bus bars on a genny are generally stupid.* But unless you dropped down to the ground, your heart stopped and were declared legally dead, you weren't electrocuted.

You were just shocked.

So to recap: You may use the word "electrocuted" if you (or the person you're talking about) died. Otherwise, you were just shocked.

Please remember that and use the term properly.
Thank you.




*I've rarely seen them used and the placement of them in generators are stupid, in my opinion.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Hitting Pause.


I was invincible.

Hopping from show to show, a day here, a day there. I was on about as many different shows as there are days in the week. Such is the life of a day player. But this time, not only was the money rolling in pretty decent, I was also on a winning streak.

The calls I'd get were a mix of old friends and new contacts; each day was either filled with familiar faces or new friends. And just when I thought I'd finally get a day or two off, my phone would ring again with a new offering. It was busy and I loved it.

And each shoot was different. Commercials, features, music videos... Valley, studio, downtown... Call times at morning, noon, night...

It was hectic at times. It was often sleepless. And I was having a lot of fun.

Bouncing from crew to crew, from set to set, proving myself to the new crews and holding my own with the old ones, pushing myself to take the next job and do just as well on it. I was proud of myself. I was proud that I had built up enough of a reputation that my phone kept ringing. I was proud that I kept giving 100% to each job despite still being tired from two days ago. I was proud that where so many others would've taken the weekend off to recover from the craziness, I just kept on truckin. I felt like I was unstoppable.

And then, one morning, that all stopped.

I woke up feeling more tired than usual and my throat felt like it was on fire. I tried to shake it off. I went to work anyway, hoping that this crummy feeling I had would disappear as the day wore on; as I was distracted by cable runs and lamp placement.

I drank warm tea with my breakfast. Got some pills from the medic. But nothing seemed to help. And as the day wore on, I noticed my feet were dragging and I groaned at the thought of moving another light, no matter how small it might be.

That's when I admitted defeat.

I told my Best Boy I needed some time off, and thus ended my stellar run.

I finished out the day as best as I could and when I got home, I immediately took a hot shower and went to bed, where I slept... and slept... and slept...

It was as if everything had caught up with me at once. All the short turnarounds and missed sleep. All the heavy cable and late nights working in the cold. All those times I didn't rest when I should've... It all came back to bite me in the ass.

I was invincible. I was unstoppable. I was in demand. I was on a roll.

But that all came to a crashing stop with a sneeze...

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Oh, Those Pesky Interns...




This may be old news by now (hey, I've been busy) but I stumbled upon this article the other day and it piqued my interest.

Basically, two "unpaid interns" who worked on the movie Black Swan are suing Fox Searchlight for unfair labor practices. From the article:
“Fox Searchlight’s unpaid interns are a crucial labor force on its productions, functioning as production assistants and bookkeepers and performing secretarial and janitorial work,” the lawsuit says. “In misclassifying many of its workers as unpaid interns, Fox Searchlight has denied them the benefits that the law affords to employees.” 
Some of the tasks the interns were asked to do included making coffee and ordering lunch.


I gotta admit, I'm kinda torn on this one.

On the one hand, I'm all for getting paid for your work. Obviously.

But on the other hand, I kind of get the feeling that these guys don't really get how things work and/or are throwing a hissy fit because the experience wasn't what they were expecting. I mean, it's an unpaid internship. You're supposed to get college credit. If they didn't, then that's a different conversation.

It's also an internship. A position that's widely understood in this industry as being below P.A. level, which is (no offense) pretty low to begin with. So these guys should've expected to run the occasional errand, make coffee or pick up lunch. And in exchange for such "grunt work," they get to work on a major motion picture. They get to put "Fox Searchlight" on their resume. They get to brag to their family and friends that they "worked" with Natalie Portman. And even more importantly, they see how the business works firsthand (because let's face it, film school does a poor job of this) and get the opportunity to meet new people who might further their careers.

Sure, I guess if they're doing work, the company could afford to pay them minimum wage. But you know what? If the company was putting them on payroll, they might as well just hire another P.A. The way I see it, interns are the ones who come in without any experience at all. And I'm sure I'm not the only one who has an issue with being paid the same as the guy with less experience.

Also from the article:
Fox Searchlight acted illegally, the lawsuit asserts, because the company did not meet the federal labor department’s criteria for unpaid internships. Those criteria require that the position benefit the intern, that the intern not displace regular employees, that the training received be similar to what would be given in an educational institution and that the employer derive no immediate advantage from the intern’s activities.
Given those guidelines and the description of the tasks the interns were asked to do (basically, P.A. work), then yeah, I'd say they have the makings of a lawsuit there. But at the same time, I'm confused by the guidelines themselves. What's the point of having an intern if the company doesn't benefit from it? If I was an employer, I'd see no advantage of having a snot nosed kid hang around me all day, asking me questions and trying to learn "the biz" if he didn't at least bring me a cup of coffee now and then.

When I was in college, you bet your ass I had unpaid internships. And yeah, I answered phones, made coffee runs, took lunch orders and filed a bunch of stuff. Does this mean I was taken advantage of? Yeah. Was I aware of it at the time? Yeah. Did I complain? No. Because I like to think I was taking advantage of the situation as much as it was taking advantage of me. I learned everything I could at my internships. I asked questions (at appropriate times, of course). I made great contacts (not every one was able to get me anywhere, but it was still a start. There are some that I still keep in touch with). I even gained a few office supplies.

I guess another thing that rubs me the wrong way about this whole thing is what one of the plaintiffs say:
“The only thing I learned on this internship was to be more picky in choosing employment opportunities,” Mr. Footman, 24, said in an interview. “ ‘Black Swan’ had more than $300 million in revenues. If they paid us, it wouldn’t make a big difference to them, but it would make a huge difference to us.” 
First off, if you're starting out in the film business, there's no such thing as being "picky in choosing employment opportunities." Hollywood has a loooooooooooooong line of people outside her door, just waiting for a chance to stick their foot in. If you really wanted to work in this business, you take any and every opportunity you can get if you're just starting out. Save the being picky part for when you have more than one internship under your belt.

And secondly, "Nobody knows anything." The fact that the movie made that much money is moot. If you're on a production, there's no telling if the movie's going to be the next big thing or the next big flop. So it's kind of tacky in my opinion to say, "Well, they ended up making a lot of money, so now I'm saying they should've paid me." Unless, of course, they signed up for back end points, which again, is an entirely different conversation.

But I do agree that if Fox Searchlight had given them something, it would've made a difference. In this business, a little respect goes a long way.

Like I said, I'm kinda torn on this one.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Difference Between A Big Show And A Low Budget One...


... If you're on a big show, there's plenty of food at lunch for everyone, no matter how picky of an eater you are.

If you're on a low budget one and happen to be a vegetarian, you're usually S.O.L. because they either a) didn't account for any special dietary needs on set* or b) put the vegetarian entree out with the meat filled ones not realizing that omnivores can eat vegetarian dishes too, so by the time you get there it's nothing but an empty pan.


*And by "special dietary needs," I don't mean stuff like peanut allergies, Celiac's disease, or an abnormal aversion to brown food. I live in Tinsel Town where vegetarians are as common as a lost quarter at the Laundermat.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Where's Here??




This is a note to all the Gaffer's out there.

In case you never really considered it, walkie-talkies are pretty much made for you to communicate with people who aren't right next to you. Like between cars going on a road trip. Or between two eight-year-olds who live down the street from each other.

And when you're on set, they're made so you can communicate with your fellow colleagues, and if you're gaffing, they're a great way to get stuff done. All you have to do is get on the radio and start calling for things.

"I need a zip over here, and a tweenie over there," is all you need to say before the desired lights start flying into the set.

The problem with that though, is that these lights will rarely land where you want them because none of us actually know where "here" is. Most of us are behind the set walls, by staging, crafty, or just coming back from a bathroom and/or cigarette break when we hear your voice transmitting from your microphone to our ears, and not only are we not sure where you are, but we sure as hell can't see where here or there actually is.

The same goes for when we're doing things like adjusting a light outside a window while you're inside, behind a curtain, deep into the room. The phrase, "give me some light on this thing over here" isn't very helpful if I can't see you or the thing you're referring to.

Bottom line: we're not always within eyesight of you so when you're calling for things, please be more specific.

"I need a zip camera right and I need a tweenie by the window, inside, giving our actress an edge."

Since we're not on set just yet, we may not know where the camera is or where the actress will be, but with instructions given like that, there's a very good chance we'll figure it out once we get there.

Please keep this in mind. Nothing's more frustrating than carrying a heavy light onto an already crowded set, fighting your way through the sea of Camera Assistants, P.A.s, Vanities*, Grips, etc, frantically searching for the Gaffer to get placement for your light, only to discover that you're totally nowhere near where you need to be.

So remember, Gaffers: We can't see you. Use your words.

Thank you.



* Hair, Make-Up, Wardrobe.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Two Strikes.


If you really wanted the job, your phone would be like this...

One of the hardest parts I deal with in this business is simply just picking up the phone and asking for work. It's weird. I don't know why I have a problem with it. It's a pretty common industry practice to leave a message every now and then with colleagues saying you're available if they're looking for crew. It's just part of the biz. But for some reason, I have a hard time doing it.

Which is why I give props to those who do. Every so often, I'll get a message from a former co-worker who's looking for work. And honesty, I'll do my best to pass their name along if the opportunity arises.

Except, however, when it's a certain someone who shall remain nameless.

He's been hounding me for months now to hook him up with work.

And by hounding, I mean leaving me messages to call him "ASAP!!!" only when I call, the conversation is nothing more than small talk with the standard "By the way, I'm looking for work" phrase slipped in.

And by hounding, I mean sending me texts along the lines of, "Hey A.J. How's it goin You got NEthing goin on this week???" every other week.

Now, here's the thing about hooking people up with work: unless you're a Best Boy, you can't always bring whoever you want on a job with you. And even then, the job is often so riddled with political hires and a reduced budget for manpower that your hands are often tied. Every so often though, whether it's because you're a trusted confidant of the Best Boy and/or you just happen to be at the right place at the right time, the opportunity arises where you can say, "Hey, I know someone who's available. Want me to give him/her a call?"

One such occasion arose not too long ago, so I decided to give this guy a chance and left him a message asking if he was available the next day.

Only, he didn't respond until the next day, well after call time and definitely well after the spot was filled.
"Oh, sorry! I didn't notice the message on my phone til just now!"

Uh huh. Sure, buddy.

But still, the hounding continued. "I just Best Boyed on a feature! lolz. You got any work this week??"

Eventually, another opportunity came up for me to bring someone onto a job, so I shot the guy another message. I'd be lying if I said I caught every text that landed on my phone the second it was sent, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt as well as another chance.

Only, this time, he didn't respond until the next evening. "SO SORRY. I DIDN'T SEE UR MESSAGE TIL NOW. U STILL NEED SOMEBODY??"

No, fuckwad. We're already half way through the day. The spot's already been filled.

I give him shit for missing TWO calls in a row now with the same stupid excuse. He apologizes profusely and sticks to his story.
...And to this day, he still hounds me for work.

And here's the thing: I barely know the guy. He got my number from some show we worked on together a little over a year ago, and in all honesty, I don't remember him. Which I guess could be good or bad. Good because he didn't fuck up on the job enough for him to be memorable and bad because he wasn't stellar enough that I'd remember him either. So at most, he was "just okay." So for me to bring on someone who I barely don't know who is "just okay" at their job is a pretty big risk. I'm putting my reputation on the line for you. So if after months of begging me for work, you blow me off TWICE IN A ROW, you might as well lose my number because I sure as hell won't be giving you a third chance. And I like to think I'm a pretty understanding and generous person.

But at least I'll remember who he is now...


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Advice, Part II.


Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.


This guy was impossible to work with.

He'd fuck up everything he touched. Talked to us like we were little kids. Didn't communicate his ideas with the rest of the group. And worst of all, he was one of those "I know everything" types that didn't know anything at all.

What made things even worse was that he was assigned to our group for a class project. And if you haven't gone to film school, let me tell you that there's not much you can do when you don't get along with one of your "crew members." You can't "fire" the guy because it's a class and everyone needs a grade. Instructor's usually can't give someone an "incomplete" on a project because generally speaking, it's pretty much impossible for an individual to make up an assignment that involves multiple partners (you'd need a DP, Director, Producer, UPM, G/E, etc...).

Anyway, so we're doing this one-day project and this guy's acting like an insufferable ass. I forget what it is he does exactly that set this conversation off, but whatever it was, it was the last straw.

"Get out."
"What?" asked the stunned, bullheaded classmate.
"I said, get out. Leave the room. You're fired." These words were coming from one of our more outspoken group members.
"You can't fire me. This is a group assignment."
"I don't care. We're done trying to work with you. Please leave."
"You think you can do this without me? Fine. I'm out of here." He grabs his stuff and marches out of the classroom we were using, slamming the door behind him.
"Good riddance," we all mutter, under our breath.

The remaining teammates and I all share a relieved look before we get back to work. Things were going more smoothly now without the giant ass in the room. We were gaining momentum, working as a team, and making up for the time we lost dealing with the jerk.

Then suddenly, the door opens and in walks our instructor with a concerned look on his face. Uh oh...

"Hey guys," he starts off. "I just saw [jackass] out in the hallway... What happened?"

The tone in his voice and the look on his face told me that he wasn't okay with a student not participating in an assignment. This is, after all, a film class and what is a film without collaboration?

"Well, he was being impossible to work with," started the Outspoken Girl, before she cited an example or two of the guy's bullheadedness. "... So we fired him."

There was silence in the room for a few beats as we all turned to our instructor to see how he'd react to our executive decision of excluding a "teammate." I was pretty sure he'd "discuss" the issue with us, saying how we don't always get to choose who we work with in this business; or how part of being in the real world is having to deal with people we don't like; etc etc. And then he'd try to mediate the situation before bringing our former collaborator back into the room and making us all play nice. I can already imagine the "I told you so" smirk on the arrogant ass' face as he stepped back in.

But what really happened surprised me and the rest of the team as well.

Our instructor stood there silently as he thought about the situation, then shrugged his shoulders and said, "Okay. You gotta do what you gotta do." And with that, he shut the door, leaving us to carry on with the assignment.

I thought it was rather cool that he let us go on with the project minus a member (I remember us getting a good grade on it in the end, although I'm don't know what kind of marks our former partner ended up with). But interestingly enough, the most valuable lesson I got out of that day wasn't how to deal with difficult colleagues or how to deal with exposure (I think that was our assignment?). It was our Instructor's last words that echoed into the room:

"You gotta do what you gotta do."

To this day, I remember these simple words because he's right. It may sound a bit trite, but there are some things that just must be done if you want to move up in this business.

I may feel bad about bailing on a friend's project because I got a last minute call to work on a bigger thing, but at the same time, the latter project will open a whole world of opportunities for me.

I may be tired and want a day off, but when a call comes in for work, I'll take it anyway because who knows what great things this job may lead to.

I may have to cancel on plans with a friend instead of giving up a work call, but this extra work will pay the bills for another day and thus keeping me from moving back into my parent's house, hundreds of miles away from this business.

I may have to wear dirty clothes to work because I haven't had the time to do laundry, but keeping up this hectic schedule will ensure that one day, I'll be able to take time off when I want to and not because I have to.

I may have to reschedule a dentist appointment I've had for the last two months and risk not having my teeth checked out for another two months because the job I'm on now is too much of an opportunity for me to give up even a day on.

In the end, I gotta do what I gotta do.

I need to do whatever it is I need to do to survive and make it in this business.* Some of it may suck, but they need to be done if I'm going to climb that virtual ladder and I'm not going to apologize for it.

And in order to finish our project and get a decent grade, we had to get rid of what was holding us back.

It was what we had to do.



Previously.

*Ethically and morally anyway. There are some things I won't do for a job, if you catch my drift.


Friday, September 9, 2011

Hands.




Back in the eighth grade, a lab partner and I did exceptionally well on a project and high-fived each other.

"Wow," I remember her saying immediately after our celebratory hand-slap, "Your hands are really soft."

It was a nice compliment from one of the more popular girls in school, which is probably why I remember her words after all this time, and I smiled at her comment.

She was right; they were soft. Fourteen years old and never experienced an honest day's work in their life, my hands were baby smooth and super soft.

Flash forward a bunch of years later to the present day. I'm sitting on an apple box on set, killing time until we turn around, when I look down at the hands in my lap.

No one would dare say such nice things about my hands now. Repeated washings over the course of fourteen hour days has left them dry and rough. Lifting, carrying and dragging around equipment has thickened the skin on my hands and made them partly calloused. They're no longer baby soft like they once were. Cracked cuticles aren't uncommon these days and neither are minor scrapes, cuts, bruises or the occasional hangnail. And they're in desperate need of a good manicure.

These are working hands now. Hands that have seen so many days of hard labor, that even wearing work gloves doesn't seem to protect them. Hands that often get so dirty from moving lights or wrapping cable, that no amount of scrubbing can clean the grime that has settled into the cracks of their skin.

These are no longer the hands of a young girl who's biggest problem was completing a lab assignment. They are now the hands of a lighting technician, toiling away below-the-line in the belly of the Hollywood beast...

Monday, September 5, 2011

When Hard Working And Stupid Is Worse Than Just Being Stupid.


Thunk!

I'm standing by the truck while I watch my colleague chuck pieces of cable halfway down our truck into a large bin; each one each one making a loud noise as it lands.

Thunk!

"Shouldn't you be helping him?" the driver of our truck asks me as I just stand there, staring while my co-worker do all the work.

Thunk!

Another fifty pound coil hits the pile.

I shake my head. "No. He can be the hero if he wants to."

It was the end of the night and like all normal people, we all wanted to just finish packing up the truck and get the hell out of there. But standing between us and the road home was a line of carts waiting to be strapped down and that pile of cable that needed to be put away.

Unfortunately, one of the guys was having an issue with a ratchet strap, causing a line of carts to block the bin of cable, preventing us from any easy access to it.

So instead of doing the smart thing and waiting until we could actually get to the bin, this guy decided to hurl the unruely cable over all the obstacles instead.

Did this get the job done? Sure.
Did this get us home maybe a minute or two faster? Maybe.
Was the a stupid thing to do? Definitely.

One of the clich├ęs you hear in our line of work time and time again is "Work smarter, not harder." It's generally the working hard part, the physical labor of it all, that eventually leads to juicers and grips complaining about various aches, pains and bad joints in their 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond (that is, if you don't injure yourself right then and there). You won't feel it today, but it'll all catch up with you eventually.

Another reason why what he's doing is stupid is because of the way it makes the rest of us look. To anyone passing by (like our driver just demonstrated), this ape is the "hard worker." The "hero." He's the only one doing any real labor while the rest of us just stand around and watch.

Our only option in this situation is to either join in on the stupidity and end up injuring ourselves, or accept that we're being labeled as "lazy." It's a lose-lose situation.

And further more, while I like to think that I bring many skills to the table (alertness, technical knowledge, perfect size to fit into tight spaces, ability to provide general amusement...), I'm the first to admit that brute strength is not one of them. So if hurling that cable fifteen feet has got this guy grunting and sweating, imagine how much harder it'd be for someone less than half his size to do the same thing.

If he's in such a hurry to leave that staying an extra couple of minutes because of stalled carts was such a nuisance, I would've gladly dove right in and given him a hand once the pathway to the bin was cleared. Hell, I probably wouldn't have complained if I was left to do it all on my own while he went home.

Thunk!

But to handle it the way he was?

Thunk!

Fuck that. He can give me all the dirty looks he wants for not "helping" him (and believe me, he was). He can talk shit about how I'm not a "team player" to whoever (I'm sure he has). People passing by can praise him for his "hard work" and condemn me for just standing around if they so please (and they are).

Thunk!
 
But I'm not joining in on the stupid.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

You Know You've Been Working Too Hard When...

... It's your day off and you're mostly dressed before you realize you had absentmindedly grabbed your work clothes.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Job Titles: Best Boy vs. Best Girl.




The call sheet for my next job comes in and the first thing I do is scan my department to make sure the appropriate names are there. I already see an issue two lines in with my own name: Electric: Best Girl.

Sigh.

I can see why they changed the wording of the title, but let me give you my take on it.

Sure, the "Boy" part in "Best Boy" stems from the fact that the role was traditionally male, so it only makes sense that some would change it to "Girl" when it's a female taking the lead.

But to me, the title of "Best Boy" is no longer a gender specific term. Yes, it may have started out that way, but decades of usage has turned it more into a very specific job title than the casual description it once was.

So much so, that when you think of your possible career path in this biz, you think "Okay, I'll start as a lamp op, then move onto being a Best Boy, then Gaffer..." Even if you're a chick, the thought of referring to yourself as a "Best Girl" doesn't even occur to you.

It's also a title that's so steeped in tradition that I feel as if I've worked really hard to achieve it. Like reaching it would be somewhat of a milestone. Something that finally ties me in with the old school ways of filmmaking past. And to have that title changed when I get there seems a bit... dejecting.

Plus, seeing as how there's so few girls on the team to begin with, if there's only one in your department, isn't she the "Best Girl" by default?* So it's pretty much a meaningless title to begin with.

But most of all, being called a "Best Girl" instead of a "Best Boy" just feels... wrong.




*Admittedly, if it was an all girl crew, I don't think I'd have a problem with there being a "Best Girl."

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Directors.


I'm on a tech scout for an upcoming job. One of the locations we're in is a hole-in-the-wall bar, and as the scout went on, the laundry list of "issues" we have with the place keeps growing...

- It's a VERY small space. Cramming an entire crew, talent and equipment in there all while keeping everything/everyone out of the shot would be nothing short of a miracle... And very uncomfortable for all involved.

- Because of the space issue, most of the lights we'd use would have to be hung from the ceiling or on the wall... And no, we aren't allowed to drill into anything.

- The layout of the space doesn't quite fit in with the layout of the scenes, so the Art Department is going to have to get a bit creative and create spaces where ones don't exist.

- Despite a good chunk of the day now having to be devoted to the extra set up time needed by our departments, we only have a very limited amount of time to shoot in there since we can't afford to buy the place out entirely.

- It's facing a very busy street. (Sorry Sound Department!)

- The two main walls of the place (the longer ones that are facing each other) are mirrored.

- Etc, etc...

So I ask one of the Producers/Locations person (Yeah, it's that kind of job) why the hell we're shooting here at all when there's so many other bars in the area that better fit the needs of our production. I mean, come on, who chooses to shoot in a place with MIRRORED WALLS if they can avoid it?

Her response? "Yeah, I know... But the Director comes here all the time and he really likes the look of the place."

Sigh... Of course he does.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Nap Time.



Once we're in at call time, the film set is a very busy place to be. Juicers and Grips are hustling and bustling about, carrying lights, stands and flags around, shouting things like "Hot points!" and "Watch your head!" Transpo is busy shuffling vans, cars and trucks around and driving people too and from set. Camera people are running back an fourth with various camera pieces and video cables while sound is trying to mic up the actors. P.A.s are making their daily rounds, ordering breakfasts and passing out walkie talkies and call sheets while the Art Department is busy putting the finishing touches on the set all while moving furniture out of the way for the onslaught of people in the room.

When we're finally ready to shoot, the time between takes is filled with Make Up, Hair and Wardrobe fawning over the talent, doing touch ups. Juicers and Grips are doing minor tweaks. Props is scrambling to reset drink glasses/pens/books and the Camera people are still running back and forth with various pieces.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Then six hours into the day, lunch is called and the silence follows. The set suddenly becomes a ghost town as the whole crew is herded like cattle into the catering line. And once everyone has eaten, many of them disperse into whatever dark corner or hole they can find.

And the napping commences.

One or two people can usually be found laying down on the floor of their respective trucks. Someone usually claims the couch on set. If there's any kind of risers or platform on your stage, don't be surprised to find that someone built a "nest" under there. Makeshift hammocks are hung from wherever they can. Furniture blanket sleeping bags can be found everywhere if you look hard enough. If it's a clean enough looking place where someone can comfortably lay down, chances are, someone already is.

After a few minutes of quiet mixed in with a few light snores, the shrill cry of the P.A.s cut through the calm air like a dog chasing a ball; "We're in!"

And then, like zombies rising from the dead, they slowly awaken, one by one. Suddenly, they appear from every corner, staggering out of dark and shadowed corners, blurry eyed and bed headed, all standing to do one last simultaneous yawn and stretch. They stagger to their respective departments, rubbing the sleep from their faces, and get back to work.

In almost an instant, the set comes to life again, buzzing with action. The Juicers start moving lights around. The Grips follow with their flags and stands. Props is digging through bins looking for the appropriate item. And the Camera people are running back and forth with various camera pieces...

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Bus Is Coming.




My fellow colleague was given notes on the cable run we're supposed to put in and my job was to fall in line and give him a hand. Five minutes in, and he asks me whether or not we should phase tape the cables (the right answer is technically "yes," but this crew likes to run things a little... differently.). I say sure, and as we're wrapping the connectors in the appropriate colors, the Best Boy walks by us and asks us why we're wasting our time and his tape on phase taping when we could just do the knots. My colleague's reply? "A.J. told me to."

Uh... What?? You got the notes for the rig, which makes you in charge of it. Plus, you asked me whether or not we should phase them with tape!

Later on, I find the Juicer on set, clutching the tub of household globes, looking lost. I ask him what's up and it turns out he had just finished globing up some lamps on set and tried to take the extra bulbs back to our staging when he was trapped in by the sudden the wave of talent, stand ins, camera people, make up people, and art department that came flooding into the room. "Here, can you hold these for a second?" he asked, handing me the box. And soon after I grabbed it, I noticed an opening in the crowd and started to make my way towards the door, only to be caught by the Gaffer seconds later. "What are you doing? Don't take those away! Keep them in the room!" Like a puppy with its tail between its legs, I put them back.

The Juicer whose idea it was to clear them out in the first place? He just stood there, saying nothing.

We're setting up lights for the next scene and I get a list of what goes where. Juicer's supposed to assist and I give him a run down of the notes. Part way through the task, I absentmindedly set a Tweenie down where a Baby should go, and the next thing I hear is Juicer shouting across the room, "Hey, Gaffer! Isn't a Baby supposed to go here instead?" The boss takes a look over here (and at me, standing with the wrong light), and confirms.

Yes, I had made a mistake. But you know what, Juicer? Next time, bring it to my attention first and if I'm being a stubborn bitch about it, then bring it up to the powers that be.

Don't shout it across the room to the Boss and make me look like an idiot.

Don't ask me for my opinion on something, and then blame me for it when it's not to the Boss' liking.

Don't make me take the blame for something that was your bad idea.

Don't throw a fellow colleague under the bus.

Yes, some of these things may sound a bit petty, but little mistakes in the boss' eyes tend to add up. Plus, we're supposed to be working as a team, and singling me out is just poor form. I know you're trying to cover your own ass and make yourself look good, but there are other ways to go about that other than  making everyone else look bad. And if you are constantly looking for scapegoats for your own fuck ups, then maybe you should stop fucking up so much to begin with, or GTFO.

And call me old fashioned, but if I screw up, I'll man up and take responsibility for it rather than have someone else take the fall. But I also would've happily accepted the "we" defense from the Juicer. "Sorry Gaffer, but we thought it'd be a good idea to clear the room of our gear." "Yeah, it takes more time, but we figured it'd be a good idea to phase tape as well as knot the cables."

Leaving me out to dry like that though? Not cool.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Can You Believe He's Still Single?


I'm filling in for a friend on some job out in the Valley when the Gaffer instructs me and another Juicer to prep a 6k Par with a medium lens in it.

After the Juicer and I head the lamp up and round up the corresponding accessories, we pull out the medium lens from its case and discover that some gunk has melted onto it from whenever it was used before.

We obviously have get this stuff off before we put it in the light, and the Juicer sighs as he ponders how to go about this.

"Do you have a razor blade?" I offered, trying to be helpful. "We could just scrape it off."

"No no no... That won't work," was his immediate reply. Then after some more thinking he turns to me and goes, "What we need is something like nail polish remover. Do you have any?"

"Um... What?"

"Nail polish remover. You're a girl, right? Don't you carry some?"

I stare at him blankly for a moment, not quite sure how to answer that.

"No... I don't have any nail polish remover. I'm telling you, just take a blade to it and scrape the stuff off."

He then asks the Make-Up girl who just happens to be passing by. "Hey, do you have any nail polish remover in your kit?"

The girl thinks for a minute and kinda paws through her stuff before giving him the same answer I gave him and goes about her business.

Finally, the guy digs through his own tool pouch and emerges with an alcohol wipe in his hand.

"Ah... This will do." And with that, he proceeds to try to wipe the gunk off.

After a few minutes of wiping and scrubbing, no progress was being made. It was the equivalent of using a moist towelette to remove old gum from hot asphalt: not gonna happen.

Eventually, the Gaffer came over the radio again and asked for another light. And despite there being other guys inside to man the set, the Juicer copied the boss' call over the radio. "Here," he said, handing me the alcohol wipe, "You continue at it while I go inside." And just like that, he left me holding the bag on what was hit shotty idea.

Great co-worker I have, huh? He refuses to take advice from a female co-worker, then proceeds to insult her by implying that all chicks carry nail polish remover (note: my nails weren't even painted), and comes up with a shitty idea that in no way would work. Then, when it's very apparent that his plan is going no where, he removes him self from the job and runs away, leaving me now solely responsible for the task all while still insisting that I stick with this useless idea. That, my friends, is male stubborn sexism at its finest.

But whatever. The second he rounded the corner, I tossed out the useless wipe, whipped out my razor blade and in less than a minute, the lens was as good as new.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"I Don't Like Change..."



As many of you probably know by now, Google has been making a bunch of changes lately and there's just no stopping them. And it's not just little tweaks here and there, either. The internet giant has been swooping down on all branches of their services and making major "improvements." While I like a couple of the new offerings, most of them have left me frustrated and thinking, "Really, Google? WTF."

And as the changes keep rolling out, the more annoyed I get. Then, today, I sign into Blogger to work on a post and find that any previous drafts I've done are not as I've left them. Obviously, these wonky posts are a result of some kind of changeover gone wrong on Google's end.

Am I mad? No. After all, you get what you pay for so I can't complain too much about what they're doing to their free services. Am I frustrated? Yes.

But what this really means is that posting on here might be a little more irregular than usual while I try to sort out the mess that was once my hard work back into readable form.

I know that eventually, as with all changes, things will settle down, I'll adapt to the new format, and things will return to "normal." But until then, please bear with with me.

In the meantime, I hope that everyone's been too busy working to notice anything different around here anyway. :)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Stop Helping.




Hey people in other departments,

I like that you want to be nice and a "team player" and realize how miserable a Juicer's job can be, but please, stop "helping" us.

It's really considerate and all that you try to do little things that make our lives easier, like wrap a stinger when you're done with it. But did you know that there's a right way and a wrong way to coil the cable?* And when it's done backwards, not only does it throw us off the next time we use that stinger, but it also screws around with the insides, eventually making it unusable?

And when it's not just the right size with the right amount of loops in it, it doesn't pack well into the crates, and we have to re-do it all anyway.

And yes, sometimes we can be kind of inconsiderate and leave piles of banded or 4/0 in the middle of the floor in anticipation of coming back with a cart to pick it all up later, and we understand that sometimes those coils may end up in your way. But please just wait the thirty seconds it takes for one of us to get over there and move it for you. It's great that you'll sometimes save us the hassle and stack it into piles for us, but if you must do that, please, can you at least check to see if the coils are tied before moving them? Because let me tell you, trying to discern between one hundred pound coil of cable from the next when they're untied and stacked on top of one another is NOT fun and usually ends up in us having to re-do it all.

And ADs, yeah, we get that sometimes we may fall behind schedule, resulting in a mad rush for us to wrap out of a location before Production gets slammed with overage charges, but please stop sending your PAs to "help" us out. You may think you're just sending them over to move things around, and hey, how hard can that be, right? But did you know that we often leave the latches open on some of the lights and if they're not closed when you move the heads around, the lens can fall out and shatter into a million little pieces? I know a few PAs who learned that the hard way (as well as a few Best Boys who weren't to pleased with the L&D**).

While we're at it, I love that on a smaller shoot, even the Director wants to jump in and lend a hand. That shows passion and dedication. But guess what? Live power is no joke. What you see us doing may look kinda simple, but we also (more or less) know what we're doing. That distro box I caught you disconnecting the other day (true story)? That had live power going through it. And that camlock*** you took out first? Yeah, that was the ground. Long technical mumbo jumbo short, that could have ended in a very bad day for you.

Sure, to the naked eye, what we do on the job every day may seem simple and require nothing but brute strength. "Drop this cable here and match the colors together." "Put that light there and plug it in." Etc, etc. But let me tell you, the Devil is in the details. For every simplistic action you see us do, there are about a dozen thought processes involved that you don't see. Picking up a light? Are all the scrims out of it and accounted for? Are the barn doors on right? Is the lens still in there? And while we're at is, where's the lens case? Is the latch closed? Is the rocky mountain leg retracted? Is it unplugged? Are all the knuckles locked down? How hot is the head still? And that's just what goes on in our head for simply moving a light. It gets even more complicated when we're dealing with distro and live power.

Bottom line, our jobs are more complicated than you think and one wrong move on your part (no matter how well meaning may be) could mean disaster on our end.

To sum it all up, I really appreciate the fact that you all want to help. I really do.

But please, stop helping.



* Go clockwise.
** Loss and Damages. Basically, shit that breaks and need to be paid for.
*** Normally, I'd include a link to help explain the more technical terms in my posts, but in this case, if you don't know what I'm talking about, then you really shouldn't be helping. :)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

"Back In The Good Ol' Days..."


Despite having a lot of fun on crews made up of my own peers, I often feel more comfortable on jobs where I'm the youngest member of my department. Maybe because I feel safer when working with high voltage power around people who are more experienced and have been in the business longer. Or maybe I just like the maturity that comes with a well seasoned crew.* Or maybe we just get along better for no apparent reason. Regardless, it's sometimes refreshing to roll with a crew that's been around long enough that time has weeded out the slackers and inflated egos, unlike the sets I often find myself on, riddled with know-it-all fresh film school grads.

But with these more mature colleagues, there's usually at least one guy who feels it's their duty to tell you to get out while you can. "You're too pretty to be doing this." "Get out while your back's still in tact." "You're still young enough to change departments." Etc, etc. And no matter what their reasoning for you to run as far away from Hollywood as you can, their impassioned speech always ends the same way: "This business isn't what it used to be."

No matter where I am or what I'm working on, if there's a guy on set who's old enough to be my father, they'll always say the same things: That things were better back then; Production was more generous with their money; The town was flooded with work all the time; You could easily make a good living. But now? Things suck; We work longer hours for less money; Every year they cut away at the perks and benefits; It's harder to find work; Productions are moving out of state; Things were better back then.

The wording may be different. The examples may be more specific. But the story stays the same. The industry is changing, and it appears to be changing for the worse.

The last time I heard such a speech about how this business has been declining over the course of their career, it was from a Camera Assistant in the back of a pass van on the way to set one morning. A worn and weathered Grip overheard the conversation and piped up, agreeing with the salt and pepper haired AC. "Producers used to fly us first class out to location and put us up in nice hotels, but now they won't even hire you if it's out of state." "I used to be able to survive only working about six months out of the year, but now I need to be constantly working..." "Things were better back then."

These two guys now had these wistful looks on their faces as they reminisced about the past. Days that were long gone and never to return. Back when they were younger, carefree, and rolling in good times and good work for good pay.

And when they were done looking back at how things have changed over the years, I couldn't help but ask a simple question: "When you were about my age and starting out in this business, did the old timers give you speeches about how much better it was when they first started?"

The kind AC paused for a moment before looking at me with a slight grin on his face. "Yeah, they did." The Grip in the front seat chuckled in agreement.

And I think that's when they knew that no matter what they said, I wasn't going to head their warnings of an industry going down hill. They sure has hell didn't listen when they were given the same speeches a decade or two ago, and they had no reason to believe that I would either. Despite how good it was back then, I don't think I have it all that bad now. Sure, I may have a shitty gig every now and then, but for the most part, I get paid decently enough, the food's usually pretty good, I get to go to some interesting locations from time to time and I get to snack on crafty all day. As far as jobs go, I'd say I have a pretty good one.

But they know as well as I do that it won't be long before I'm giving the same speech to some new kid in the back of a pass van. "We used to go to some pretty bitchin' places to shoot, but now it's all green screen in a studio." "We used to get three square meals a day on set, plus mini-meals from Craft service. Now all they have are bags of potato chips to snack on and lunch is a walk-away." "It used to be that the Best Boy could bring on whoever they wanted. Now, they've got all these rules about who you can and can't hire." "Kid, things were better back then..."



*Generally speaking, of course. It's no secret that I've run into my share of clueless douchebags.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Nepotism.

This post reminded me of a conversation I had with a co-worker over breakfast one morning:

Juicer: "So I heard that on one lot, nepotism is so rampant that they don't allow you to hire family members anymore."
Me: "Really? None at all?"
Juicer: "Yup."
Me: "Huh... I can see why they'd implement a rule like that, but what if the family member is actually good at what they do? I mean, they could totally deserve the job but get shafted instead just because of a last name? That kind of sucks and doesn't sound very fair."
Juicer: "Yeah. I guess. But when was the last time you worked with a guy who's related to your boss that was actually worth their weight?"
Me: (Slight pause.) "Good point."



*I'll admit, I do know of some family names who have deep roots in this industry and for good reason, but they're also people who are good enough to get work on their own without their Daddy/Brother/Uncle bringing them onto jobs. The ones who depend on their relatives to get hired suck 99.99% of the time.

Monday, July 11, 2011

"Stay Cool."


Seen on my way to work the other day. (Please excuse the poor picture quality and the window glare.) Usually, signs like these* around town aren't uncommon as they're often found at exit off ramps and intersections, directing crew members to their respective shooting sites.** However, this one was found while I was driving (or rather, slowly creeping along in traffic) while on a freeway interchange.



* Hey Nathan, is there a specific name for these things? Crew signs? Production signs? Yellow thing-a-ma-bobs?
** They're usually printed with something show specific, like the name of the Production Company, an abbreviation of the show name, a character's name, etc. The most interesting one I've encountered up until now was one that said "Exit." I've always wondered if that one ever confused any non-filmy people driving around...

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

"Anyone Can Do It."

The Worlds First Wedding Photo + Video shot 100% with an iPhone 4






"Shooting in DV (digital video as opposed to film or Hi-Def)* has really democratized film making. Anyone with a video camera can go out and make a movie. That means, unfortunately, any idiot can go out and make a movie. It lowers the entry fee."  
- Michael Schwartz (Sales and Marketing coordinator for the Sony Pictures High Definition Center)



*This quote is a few years old, but if you replace "DV" with "Hi-Def" it's still a very valid point.
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