Sunday, January 30, 2011

It's Kind Of Funny (In A Sad Way) When...

... you're working for a sucky rate that seems even suckier when you realize that your expendables are essentially getting paid more than you are.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

And All It Took Was A Phone Call...

This has been the best day of work I’ve had so far this year. I’ve never worked with these guys before, but they’re fantastic. Super friendly and professional, they’re a joy to work with.  And the gig itself is a pretty easy one. Production has everything under control and the DP’s shooting and lighting style is simple, but awesome. Everyone involved seems to be efficient in the way they work. In other words this was exactly how a shoot should be, and to top it all off, we were in and out of the location in under twelve hours with no muss and no fuss.

And since we were guaranteed to be paid for twelve hours of work anyway, we essentially “beat the clock” and got to enjoy the rest of our Saturday on the company’s dime. It rarely gets any better than this…

And to think that I almost missed out on it all because I was too chicken to make a simple phone call.

I don’t know what it is with me and phones, but I hate dealing with anything over a call. Especially since the only line I have is a cellular one, I’m often held captive to bad reception and sound quality leading to a lot of, “Wait, what did you say?” and “I’m sorry, but can you repeat that for me again?” And when the person on the other line is a source for future potential work, I can’t help but cringe and feel like I’m being annoying and difficult to deal with when I ask them to repeat something for the third time in a row. I can usually feel the exasperation in their voice.

And when they don’t pick up, I have the dreaded voice message to deal with. I don’t know about you, but I usually end up sounding like an awkward dork in voice mail, often leaving messages in non-sensical sentences with oddly placed info. Beeeep. “Hey, uh, Carl. This is A.J…. We, uh, met on that web shoot thing job and um… yeah. So anyway, I saw that I missed your call and so I’m just calling you back and yeah… I guess… um… Just give me a call back when you can. It’s about, uh, one…. thirty-ish on Tuesday. So… yeah. I guess I’ll talk to you later. Bye. [awkward rustling as I try to hang up].”

Ugh. I can be a mess on the phone.

Which I think can be why I just “happen” to pass up a number of jobs that require me to return a phone call. Sounding like an inarticulate dolt is not the first impression I like to make to a potential employer. And while not returning a call is probably a bad offense in itself, I’ve convinced myself that it's "better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” Logical? Maybe not. But my nerves seem to trump logic most of the time.

Which brings me back to this gig.

Long story short, through colleagues and friends, I’ve heard of this particular Gaffer for a while now. And he’s heard of me. It’s always been one of those “oh you two should totally work with each other” and “I can’t believe you haven’t met him/her already” type of situations.* But in one way or another, we just never had, whether it be that he’d already be crewed up or I’m already working.

Then one day, I got a message on my phone from him. He was looking for a crew. And low and behold, I wasn’t working at the time.

I stared at my phone in disbelief and conflicted about what I should do next. Despite many of my friends working right now, I haven‘t been on a set for quite a while and the job itself seemed pretty straight forward with no strings attached and the pay was actually rather decent. But on the other hand, I’d have to call the guy back in order to get the job and risk sounding all frazzled and incompetent. Damn. Hasn’t this guy ever heard of e-mail or text messages?

In the end, I realized that I’d be crazy to not take this gig, sucked it up, called him back, and after a few minutes of semi-awkward me on the phone, I had booked a job.

A couple days later, I’m on this set with an amazing crew and having a kick-ass (short) day and I can’t help but think how close I was to not being there all because I freak out about having to make a phone call. And on the flip side of that, I was also amazed that my next decent paycheck is a result of a simply just picking up the phone.

I know this may seem like a silly blog post (“A.J. puts in a phone call and books a job” isn’t exactly a thrilling tagline) but I guess it also goes to show that the simplest actions can have great rewards. And when that action is somewhat of a personal phobia, getting over that hurdle can make the benefits even that much sweeter.

*In a purely professional sense. No Mom wanting grandkids matchmaking here.

Friday, January 21, 2011

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

... If you're juicing for the day on a low budget show and you need a ladder that's at least an eight step, the grips will bring you a six step because they don't feel like lugging in anything bigger and "you can just top step it."

If you're juicing for the day on a big show and you need a ladder that's at least an eight step, the grips will bring you a ten step. When you thank them for their efforts, they look surprised and say, "Of course! We're not going to make you top step a ladder!"


Monday, January 17, 2011

Book Smarts Vs. Street Smarts.

I've known this guy for some time now. He was just short of brilliant when it came down to things related to lighting and power theory. I had never worked with him directly, but I'll run into him every once in a while since we know many of the same people. He was always able to provide reasonable theories to problems that have stumped us on set. Like why my meter was giving me a funky reading, or what kind of light was giving us that weird color. He'd stand around and talk as we would listen like Socrates in a forum. He was a plethora of electrical wisdom and always explained things with great detail and confidence. It wasn't all that uncommon for someone who just met him to go, "Damn. That dude really knows his stuff."

Then one day, I showed up for work and he was there too. "Awesome," I thought to myself, "It'd be cool to learn from him on the job."

Only, it wasn't that great. In fact, we had to carry his ass all day and he was just horrible to work with. The first thing he did when we started laying out cable was mess up the knot code system.* And not only that, even with the rest of the department in agreement with each other and pointing out to him that he was mistaken, he kept insisting that his way was the right way. It finally took someone digging up a tattered version of the SLT Handbook and showing him the picture before he conceded (and based on his grumbling afterward, I'm pretty sure he was still convinced he's right).

Once we finally got all the cable done and everything was up and running, he made a big stink about how we needed to bond the generator to the house power.** Now, while this is true in many cases, sometimes we don't do it because it isn't really necessary (but don't tell OHSA that!), and this was one of those times. We were shooting outside of a warehouse with the nearest house outlet being inside where it was impractical for anyone to use. But that didn't stop him from leading a ten minute "discussion" on why it was important for us to do it anyway.*** Finally, the AD, who was getting impatient as to why we couldn't shoot yet, came over, heard what was going on, and made an announcement that no one was to plug anything in without asking an electric first (as it should be anyway), which finally shut the guy up and got us working again.

The rest of the day was filled with little... "eccentricities" of his, such as not being able to tell "lamp left" from "lamp right" and taking it upon him self to color mix the tubes in the Kinos.

By the end of the day, most of my colleagues and I were over working with him. It didn't matter how much knowledge he had if he couldn't manage to translate that to the practicalities of working on a real set and his know-it-all attitude made for a horrible work day.

I've never worked with him again after that, but I'll still see him around every now and then. And each time, he'll solve some kind of electrical mystery or sprout out some kind of knowledge, and while I'll listen to him and take what I can from what he's saying, inside, I can't help but shake my head and think, "Dude, you talk a big game but you had trouble hanging a light right side up."

*We tie a specific knot on each cable to easily identify what they are.
**Long electrical mumbo jumbo short, it's common practice (or rather, it's supposed be) to connect two different sources of power to each other with a cable to eliminate any difference in potential, yadda yadda yadda...
***In situations like these, we'd just refer to the Best Boy and whatever he says goes, but in this particular case, the usual Best Boy was out for the day and his substitute (at least seemed to) lack the authority to put the guy in his place.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

My Two Cents.

This blog is primarily about me and the industry. It's also no secret that I'm a female in a male dominated field, and so, a number of my posts relates to my experiences in regard to that fact.

And interestingly enough, I usually get two types of responses (whether it be from e-mails or comments) from those posts: The girls who go, "Yes! That's exactly how I feel / That's what happened to me too!" and the guys who go, "It's weird that being a girl is such a big deal."

The latter group usually mentions something about how it's weird I'm having all these problems because they see women on set all the time. Or they don't understand why some guys would find it so unusual to see a female juicer. And while those comments are awesome because it tells me that not all of the guys out there are sexist pigs, I feel like it kind of over generalizes the industry as a whole, because yes, while there are a number of women grips and electrics out there, they're still not as common as you may think.

To be put another way, the last time I heard, women make up about 3% of my respective departments. And if you're a follower of Michael Taylor's blog, you'll know that Hollywood is primarily a tribal industry in the sense that you work with the same people (more or less) a majority of the time. Pair that up with my observation that women in this field tend to hire other women, and it means that if you've ever worked with a female in the g/e department, then chances are, you've worked with others. Therefore, it may be odd to you that other tribes find it unusual when a woman is in their mix when your own cave is populated with them.

On the flip side of that, if you've never worked with that 3%, then you're likely to be part of the population that finds it rare to see a chick on set. And since 3% is a pretty small amount when you think about the thousands of grips and juicers out there, it's not all that hard to find those people.

Now here's another thing I've observed over the years: Even if you're in the "I work with women all the time" group, you may not be as accepting as you think you are.

For example, a friend of mine who I often exchange "war stories" with, often doesn't seem to take me seriously when I bring up the topic of there being fewer females than males in this business. "The gap's not as big as you're making it out to be. I know so many women grips and electricians," he once said to me, eyes rolling. "Oh really?" "Yeah, there's ---" and he proceeded to name a handful of them after a couple seconds of thinking. Which, to his credit, is more than a lot of guys can do. But then, as the chat fest continued, we started talking about the show I was on. While we may not exactly run in the same circles, we do know a lot of the same people and he thought it'd be fun to try to guess who the Gaffer was. And without missing a beat, he fired off at least a dozen names in the time it took him to name the handful of women just moments ago. Amazing. In the time it took him to name about five women who work in grip and electric, he could name over a dozen male names in an attempt to guess who was in a very specific position in a specific show I was on. I don't know how you can argue that our respective genders are considered equals in Hollywood after that.

Then there's the tale from a fellow female juicer I know. She has a (male) friend who works with women all the time and has no problem with it. In fact, he often recommends her to others who are looking for good crew. And even he's confessed to her that one time, while he was calling around piecing together a crew of his own, he looked down at the list of names and wondered if he perhaps had too many women on there and had concerns about whether or not he should add more men to handle the workload. That's when he paused what he was doing and had a "Wait, did I really just ask that?" moment. He ended the story with, "You just do that kind of stuff without realizing it. It's just so ingrained that you actually have to stop yourself."

I'm not saying that all guys think this way. But I am saying that even if you're completely comfortable working with women, you may still be biased (whether you believe they're everywhere or they're just as good as their male counterparts) and not realize it.

And then there's the "bulk factor". Most women (though definitely not all) who work in grip/electric are beefier than I am. These types of women are usually more accepted by the boys in the biz because they look like they can handle the heavy work load better. Send in someone with a vagina and weighs less than 150 pounds and/or stands under 5'9, and all of a sudden those guys are changing their tune about being okay with working with a chick. And, as offensive as this may sound, if you're a 130 pound female that stands at 5'4, you still have a pretty good chance of being accepted by your male peers right off the bat if you're a lesbian. I shit you not. I can't tell you how many times I've been approached by a guy on set who asks me if I, ahem, "play for the other team." "No... Why?" "Because all the other girls I know who do this job are either butch or a lesbian, but you're neither and I can't figure you out." While this type of question doesn't come up every day, as insulting as it is, it's happened to me often enough that it really doesn't surprise me anymore.

So yes, there are a number of women out there working grip/electric, and due to the nature of the business, some of us see them pulling cable and setting flags all the time. But since the pool of females is so small compared to the males, most people don't work with women often, and even when they do, there's a bunch of other factors to contend with, such as subconscious preconceptions, physical appearances and other stereotypes. This is the kind of stuff I've noticed over the years. So if you're a reader of this blog and continuously wonder why I keep having problems with sexist idiots, I hope maybe this sheds a bit of light on the situations that I deal with on an almost daily basis.

That's just my two cents on the topic. Feel free to add your own in the comments.

Friday, January 7, 2011

"Hey! You're Not Useless Afterall!"

It's been a rough couple of days and this morning was no easier. We've been pre-rigging day in and day out, often re-doing things we've already done to meet the last minute changes from Production. So when the chance arises for us to take a break, no one has to tell us twice. My Brothers for the day and I immediately drop what we were doing and head out to the truck for some water and snacks.

So there I am, just chilling on the back of the lift gate, cold soda in my hand, enjoying the morning breeze against my damp skin. This was essentially a new crew that I was on, but I had been called back to play with them enough times that I was starting to really feel like one of the guys.

Just then, one of my coworkers who I've been primarily working with takes a seat beside me.

"You know," he starts off, "You really impressed me yesterday and this morning. You're starting to prove not to be useless afterall."

I turn to look at his face to see if there was any hint of joking at that last part. There wasn't.

"Um... What?"

"I mean it," he continues. "Yesterday was rough, but you just kept going without stopping. That was really great. You're helpful now."

I sit there, staring at him, jaw wide open and flabbergasted. Finally, I ask him, "So you're saying I've been doing nothing but fucking up all this time?" I spit out the question as lightheartedly as I could, hoping I could spin it into somewhat of a joke to give him a way to back peddle out of the insult he just threw at me. But he didn't take it.

"No, no, no... I'm serious. You're doing really well right now. Keep it up."

I take a good look at the guy. This was his way of genuinely paying me a compliment. What the fuck...?

So instead of going off on the guy, I tried to handle the situation as professionally as I could.

"You know," I said to him, "Thanks, but I really don't need to hear this from you."

"What?" He seemed confused now. He honestly didn't seem to think anything was wrong with what he just said to me.

"I'm saying, I don't need to hear this from you. So you can just save it."

Finally sensing that something he said had rubbed me the wrong way, he tried to "validate" me even more. "I don't think you understand. I'm saying it's a good thing that you're useful now. I really mean it!"

I try to find the right words to make him understand why saying "You're finally good after working with us for so long" can be insulting. "I know you mean that as a compliment, but by saying that, you're also saying that I've been useless for the past few weeks I've been with you guys."

"Yeah, but you were helpful yesterday and today. I mean it too. Don't worry. It's a good thing."

I give up. He wasn't getting it. And the more I tried to explain it to him, the more aggravated I was getting. I wanted this conversation to end. "I get that it's a good thing that I don't totally suck right now, but you know what? I don't want to hear it."

And with that and a curt "Fine. Have it your way," he gets up and leaves me alone with my now flavorless soda.

Who the hell does he think he is to be talking to me like that? Sure, I'll admit that he's been on this crew way longer than I have and he does have more experience with bigger shows than I do, but I've also been in this business longer overall. On this specific crew, he does have seniority over me, but I've also proven to have some skills that he doesn't. Despite me still learning the ways of this group, I feel like I've done enough to earn my keep.

I may not be the best at my job, but I'd like to at least think I'm a hard worker and at the very least, I'd like to think I'm not counterproductive to the team. In fact, early on in my days with this crew, I've gotten comments from some of the less cocky members about how I've surprised them (in the good way).

So where the hell does this guy get off by telling me, "Hey! You're not a total fucktard afterall!" and expecting me to be grateful for it?

As our break ends and we head back to work, I could tell he was insulted that I wouldn't take his "compliment." Whatever. He's not the Best Boy on this crew. He's not the Gaffer. And those two are the ones who keep bringing me back.

So I must be doing something right...

Monday, January 3, 2011

What Defines Me?

After having just gotten back into town with a few days to settle in before I go back to work, I take my friend up on his offer to visit him on his set. When I get to the location, he and his crew are pre-rigging a house while first unit's out shooting some driving stuff, which made it the perfect opportunity for him to show me around and introduce me to the rest of the crew.

The introductions, however, go something like this:

My Friend: "And this is Juicer #1 and Juicer #2. Guys, this is A.J. She's a friend of mine who worked with me on [previous show]."
Juicer #2: "Cool. Nice to meet you. Wasn't there a chick in the grip department on that show too?"
Me: "Yeah... So?"
Juicer #2: [looking kind of embarrassed] "Nothing..."

Although I'm sure Juicer#2 had good intentions when he brought up the subject of another female who works g/e, the fact that it was the first thing he brought up bothered me. Yes, I am a girl in a male dominated field. And no, I normally don't mind when people mention it during a conversation (usually it's because they wonder what it's like for female in my department). But sometimes, it sucks when that's all anyone notices about you, because then, you're not being defined as a bad ass grip or electric who just happens to also be a chick. Instead, you're first and foremost being seen as a girl... who just happens to have a day job being a juicer. Which means that it doesn't really matter how hard you work at your career, or how well you do your job. No matter what you do, you'll always be noticed for being the chick in a group of electrics.

Am I being a tad touchy on the subject? Maybe. But at the same time, if I ever get the privilege to meet Morgan Freeman, the first words out of my mouth isn't going to be, "Nice to meet you. One of my best friends is black!"
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