Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Choosing Sides.

Ladies and gentleman, I am a juicer.

For years, I've classified myself as a grip AND electric kind of gal. Whenever anyone inquired about my juicing or gripping capabilities, I'd make sure they knew I could do both jobs. The two positions are so intertwined (more so in the indie world than the Union one) that saying I could do both was a way of keeping my options open and accepting more work. But like any other facet of this industry, things started to shift and change, and I unknowingly found myself geared towards one department more than the other. This occurred to me a little while ago when I was doing my annual ritual of digging through pay stubs and sorting W-2s in anticipation of the upcoming tax deadline. I noticed that most of my jobs in 2010 consisted of me lugging around lights and cable and come to think of it, other than the occasional “swing” job on an ultra low budget/friend’s project/European crew, I haven’t been a grip for quite a while now.

This doesn’t mean that I’ll never (Kinos aside) touch a c-stand again, but it seems like I rarely, if ever, get those kinds of calls anymore. Most of my Key Grip/Best Boy Grip contacts have faded away into the ether during the will-they-won’t-they strike phase a couple of years ago when no one was even calling around for work anymore because it was a known waste of time to do so.  And apparently, my lighting contacts stuck around because I guess I make a better juicer than a grip (or maybe none of my grip contacts were strong enough to survive the work shortage). Whatever the reason, since it’s been a while since I’ve worn the grip hat and my skills in that area are pretty rusty, unless the job is really sweet, it only makes sense to market myself as a juicer here on out.

And so here I sit. An official juicer.

Is this a step forward? I think so. Not because I think juicers are better than grips (no comment!) but because this industry seems to have a job classification thing going on where the more “specialized” you are, the better the jobs you get.

I remember when I was just starting out, fresh out of college and so naive of the what this business is really like. I had just moved to L.A. and was replying to every crappy job listing there was as long as it put me on a set. P.A., grip, electric, 2nd AC… It didn’t matter how much experience I had in any of those positions. Shows that replied back to me after seeing my anemic resume were usually ones that were desperate for a warm body to fill those spots, actual skill be damned.

Eventually, I found myself landing more g/e jobs than anything else. I guess a P.A. who can’t drive a truck over 15 mph doesn’t really have a place in the indie world of low budget shoots, and well, let’s just say that camera never worked out for me either. All that was left for me was grip and electric, which were the departments that were usually scrambling to find enough people anyway.

 A turning point for me came one day when I got an e-mail from a Producer. An alum of my previous school, she was looking to crew up her next project and in a search for P.A.s, found my name through a directory of recent grads. She offered me a P.A. job. And despite work still being scarce at the time, I politely turned it down, citing that I was trying to focus on being more in the g/e departments. She kindly wrote back saying that while she couldn’t offer me a spot in another department, she understood where my answer was coming from. She ended her e-mail with, “It’s important to make those distinctions.” And she was right. How was I going to move up on the ladder of things if I was forever running around on the ground to whoever was calling? Sure, having multiple job titles under your name may land you more work in general, but as a guy who saw my overly cluttered first business card once said, “Jack of all trades. Master of none.”

From that day forward, I never took a job that didn’t involve a c-stand or a stinger in it’s job description, and the rest, I guess, is history. I started enjoying the work I did more. I started landing more jobs since I was no longer trying to schmooze everyone that was in a hiring position. I didn’t have to worry about impressing anyone but the Best Boy. And, more importantly, despite the jobs still sucking, they at least were getting a little better, bit by bit.

And the best jobs I had in the past year were the ones that classified me as an electric before I even knew I really was one. It seems like the higher you get on the food chain of productions, the less the lines between departments are blurred. To put it another way, if you’re on a show where a juicer only juices and a grip only grips, it’s probably a higher budget show that’s paying a better rate than another show that has it’s g/e crew do both grip AND electric.

Either way, it only seems logical that distinguishing myself as belonging to the “set lighting” department of things is a step forward. And despite the decision kind of being made for me (the transition from “g&e” to just “e” happened so organically that I didn’t even notice it until recently), I feel okay with it.


Michael Taylor said...

When you come up through the hard way, through non-union ranks -- as I did too -- that's pretty much how it works. You take whatever comes until circumstance and opportunity narrow the field, then one day wake up to realize that nineteen of the last twenty jobs were all in the same job classification.

And voila, you're a juicer.

You've walked into the light. Welcome, Sister Juicer -- now go get that union card, and the benefits that come with it...

A.J. said...

Thanks Michael! Although I'm not too sure about those benefits that come with the Union card. The initial 600 hours needed to qualify for health insurance, plus 400 to maintain it? I have a feeling that even if I did get my 30 days and pay off the initiation fee, racking up that many hours in the allotted time frames may be an impossible dream for this juicer... At least for now.

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