Monday, February 14, 2011

Ego Check.

I like to think of myself as a pretty valuable player in this game of Hollywood Freelancing. I know what I know, I know what I don’t know, and what I don’t know, I’m pretty confident I’ll learn. I pay attention to the details, think tasks through, and am an absolute delight to be around.

In short, I’m awesome and you want me on your crew.

Well, if you’re a low budge indie production anyway. I’ve been in this world for a while now and know how things work. I know what your low budget options are if you want a particular look without spending the cash. Need something ghetto rigged? I’m your gal. Want the inside scoop on new or specialized gear? I’m on a first name basis with a lot of the vendors and have amassed a sizable collection of product catalogs. And I, more or less, know how this stuff is put together and I know how it works (well, more than the average person on the crew anyway).

Over the years, I like to think that I’ve built myself a pretty solid reputation as someone who’s dependable and knows her shit. And in turn, I’ve made an okay living for myself in the low budget world and eventually, I found a tribe who took me in. Sure, there would be the occasional side job here and there, but I soon found myself in a situation where a good majority of my work came from them and it was a good situation to be in.

I felt like I had found a really, really good group of people to work with and I felt accepted and loved. I looked forward to working with them and other departments seemed to like having me around as well. There were times when my bosses would even turn to me for input on a particular rig and bounce ideas off of me. I even turned down some really choice jobs for them because I'm just that loyal.*

Eventually, there came some jobs that I absolutely couldn’t turn down and my Best Boy encouraged me to go after them. “Don’t worry about your spot here. You’ll still be my first call on the next one.” And true to his word, it was. But the amazing opportunities kept coming and he kept telling me to take them, assuring me that I’d always be welcomed back whenever I wanted.

Soon, the sweet sugar rush of new work ended and I crashed into a state of unemployment. Or rather, near unemployment. Because thank goodness for my old low budge crew, who had a spot for me when I needed it. And I fell back into the familiar rhythm of working with these guys who I had missed. It’s as if I had never left, but even better, I felt like I was even more valuable to this tribe now. During our time apart, I was on bigger, better shows with more equipment and different techniques and I soaked up a lot of knowledge and came back with a lot more experience under my belt.

The new production names added to my resume meant that I was now worth more, and seeing as how I was still willing to work for the same low rate on the same crew as before, a crew that enjoyed working with me as much as I them, keeping me on the payroll seemed like a no brainer.

Then, I got a call.

Actually, I was expecting the call. After going dark for a couple weeks, I had heard through the grapevine that these guys were preparing for another gig to be coming up soon and I was looking forward to slinging cable and touching lights again. I was anticipating getting a call any day now with a call time and location. What I wasn’t expecting, however, was the call I actually got.

"Hey A.J.," the Best Boy started out with. It was good to hear from him and I was excited to get back to work. "Here's the thing..." And as he continued to talk, the smile faded from my face and my heart sank.

I was being dropped from the crew.

The Best Boy tried to explain to me the best he could that it wasn’t personal. Some of it was political and blah blah blah, but all I could focus on was the part where I wasn’t coming back. At least, not for a little while. He had mentioned something about day playing, but I think we both know how that will work out. If I can't get work from him, I need to get it from somewhere else, which will make it hard to sync my "available" days with his "extra man" ones (that is, if I'm able to find work elsewhere).

After the call ended, I sat there for a minute or so, staring at my phone, thinking, “Did that just really happen? Did they just dump me?!?"

I was in disbelief. I felt like the rug had just been pulled out from underneath me. I was crushed, confused, and kinda pissed at the same time. Working with these guys, these low budget indie guys, was supposed to be a sure thing. Not only did we mesh well and have a good working rhythm down to a tee, but I'm the one who was able to land some pretty high end gigs last year so to dump someone of my caliber doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Sure, I could easily just roll my eyes and tout it as the whole thing being their loss, but in reality, this was a good ego check for me. I thought I was going for a touch down, but instead, I got body slammed so hard I’m having trouble remembering which team I’m on. It’s a cold, hard reminder that no matter how good I think I am and no matter how much I think I’m an integral part of a team, nothing’s a sure thing in this industry. Things change all the time, often without warning. You’re hot and in demand one minute, and you’re in the unemployment line the next.

I guess in a way, I kind of saw this coming. While this business, as Michael Taylor says, is a tribal one, it's rare to find someone who's been a part of the same tribe for their entire career. Hollywood is comprised of a river of people, always flowing. People come, people go. We're always on the move, trying to find a place for ourselves and at the same time, trying to move up in the world. We linger in our familiar groupings until something changes; whether it be a Best Boy trying to be a Gaffer or you're the one who decides to make the jump. While I enjoyed my time with these guys, I always knew things couldn't be this way forever. I'd have to leave at some point. But I always thought it'd be later rather than sooner, and I always thought I'd be the one to leave them; not the other way around.

*... or stupid.


JesseF said...

I had a rather off kilter question for you, ive been gobbling up every industry blog I could locate for the last month and im just starting out in the grip field (Coming from all sorts of things, mostly tech)
Having yet to land a gig I have one concern and thats that most of the blogs I see flat out state most everyone is under the age of 30. I happen to BE 30, and though im sure not old (and I look much younger) would people look askance at me for being "over the hill" in terms of starting out fresh in Hollywood? I have no desire to write, direct, etc I really REALLY want to get my hands dirty and grip but having just moved into Los Angeles last year obviously and industry career was impossible.

Now that the realization of where I live has settled in im throwing myself at it full tilt, doing whatever it will take to land a spot no matter what I have to climb over on the way there.

Maybe age gave me more confidence and clarity, but my only worry now is could it hold me back in how others perceive me? Regardless im going to still try, but advice is always welcome!

Niall said...

JesseF- Age has nothing to do with it, not all of it. I work with a guy in his late forties early fifties and he started like five or six years ago so don't worry. Age just allows you to slog long days with out hurting as much at the end. the less you have the more you can do. Learn what you can, work hard, be appreciative.

AJ- I know exactly how you feel. Ive had a key drop me as his best before and it's infuriating, humbling, and confusing. I landed on my feet and eventually worked with some union level guys and got a true lesson in what it means to be a grip and electrician. You'll survive, and grow from it.

Though i do have a new work related craziness to add to my list. I had a rental house call my key to inform him that productions deposit cheque bounced and that the gear has to come back, right now. We were set up to live at this location for six more days of shooting. It was long, wet, and kind of a moral killing to pack up the truck. Five weeks of paid work, gone.

We're waiting to see what happens but who knows. Goes to show nothing is certain, even when your standing on set holding a stand/light.

Michael Taylor said...

AJ --

Oh do I feel your pain... And it really does hurt -- having been there more times than I care to admit, I can attest to that. But it's also an inevitable part of moving ahead to the next phase of your career. There are crews I was very tight with fifteen years ago who I never see anymore, on the job or off. That's just the way it is.

Like they say, you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs -- and the omelet of your career is still in the making...

JesseF --

Niall's right -- up to a certain point, age is just a number. Given that ours is a business built on image, looking younger than you really are can be a very real plus when starting out. I didn't get my first paying job in Hollywood until I was 27, making the present-day equivalent of $175/week. You're still young and strong enough to endure the seemingly endless flat-rate beat-downs you'll have to take on your way up the grip ladder. But every one of those beatings will teach you something, and you'll emerge that much stronger.

This would be a lot harder if you were ten years older, but you're not -- so don't worry about it. At 30, age is a non-factor.

It's a cliche, but a good attitude is the most important thing to have when getting started -- everything else can be learned. You seem to have that kind of attitude, along with some real-world experience that may prove valuable in the film biz.

Just keep your eyes open, put your head down, and go...

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