Friday, June 29, 2012

Friday, June 22, 2012


Bernadette sighed as she looked at herself in the mirror. Her faux vintage tee seemed to clash with the color of her sneakers, but a quick glance at the clock told her there wasn't anything she could do about it now. She grabbed her phone and keys off the kitchen table and ran out of her apartment, taking care not to slam the door this early in the morning.

With the sun barely starting to glow over the horizon, there were only a few other cars on the road. But that didn't stop her from stepping on the gas pedal just a little bit more than she needed to. After every exit she passed, she glanced anxiously at the clock on her dashboard.

6:13... 6:14... 6:16...

She knew without a doubt in her mind there was no way she could be late, but that thought did little to calm her nerves. Her anxiety was the kind every newbie starting out in this industry has. One that feeds off the desire to succeed in this town. Like a kid on their first day of a new school, this was a nervousness that cannot be quelled.

After moving to L.A. a few months ago, Bernadette didn't seem to be able to fit in with anybody. Despite her doe like eyes, petite frame and fair skin, it wasn't her dream to come to Hollywood to make it as an actress, like so many other girls her age who come to this town. No; for reasons that only she could know, she wanted instead to be behind the camera doing one of those thankless jobs the rest of the world doesn't have a clue about.

But after being in this city for some time now, this small town girl couldn't find a paying gig as a crew member. "Yes, I'm new," she'd often think to herself as another day of submitting resumes ends in disappointment, "but I've got passion and a willingness to learn. Doesn't that count for something in this town?"

But instead, the only few meager offers she'd get were for non-paying student projects or micro-budget productions that at most, only lead to other non-paying projects. Bet that never deterred Bernadette, who would take every opportunity that came her way. "You never know where it may lead," she'd tell herself. So when a Producer finally replied to her eager e-mails and asked if she could "help out" on their shoot, it didn't take her long to say yes.

As Bernadette pulled into the parking lot of the location, she glanced at the clock one last time. 6:32. She was twenty eight minutes early.

She turned off her engine and took a deep breath; taking in the few moments she had before she stepped out of the car. She was always nervous before starting a new shoot and today was no different.

But it wasn't long before she heard the familiar sound of a lift gate being lowered. 6:38. Still a little early, but Bernadette climbed out of the car anyway. Never to be one who just sits there while others are working, she grabbed her gear and headed towards the grip truck parked on the other side of the lot.

The day went by rather quickly. Partially because production was on a very tight schedule, but also because she got along rather well with the crew. They all met as strangers in the morning, but left that night as friends.

But even more surprising was the call Bernadette got a few weeks later from her boss on that job.

"Hey, Bernie. Remember me?" Of course she did. He offered her a spot on an ultra low budget shoot he was booked for the following week. "The pay is less than minimum wage, but at least it's something," he sheepishly offered. And of course, Bernadette took it. The pay may have been insulting, but it was a start.

The job came and went. It was brutal. The crew was grossly understaffed for what it was, but Bernadette was just happy to get through it and finally get her first paycheck for doing a job she loved. And even better yet, a week later, she got a call from the boss again for another paying job; this time with a slightly better rate.

Once that job ended, it wasn't long before he'd call again, offering this hard working girl a spot on his crew for the next job. And the next. And then, the one after that.

The work from him wasn't exactly steady, but it was money. And the rest of his guys were usually gems. All old pals before they became co-workers, they welcomed this girl aboard with open arms. For the first time since she moved to this town, she felt like she belonged somewhere. But most of all, it finally seemed like her career was gaining momentum. She knew she had a lot to learn still, but she was no longer a stranger and was being accepted as a colleague.

"Oh yeah," she'd sometimes think to herself after a particularly good day on set, "I'm going to be just fine in this business."

But it wasn't before long that it all went to shit. One night, Bernadette got a call from the boss. After some chit-chat, she wondered when he'd get around to telling her about their next gig. Only, he never did. Instead, he asked her if he could take her out to dinner sometime.

She sat there in silence for a second, stunned. "But don't worry," he continued, sensing her concern. "Even if you say no, I'll still hire you. You're an awesome tech and a good part of the team."

She turned him down as gently and diplomatically as she could. "No worries," he answered. "I understand. I figured I'd at least give it a shot though. And don't worry. Like I said, I'll definitely still call you for work. There should be something coming up real soon," he promised.

They ended the conversation as they normally did; sounding like nothing more than colleagues, and as she hung up, Bernadette breathed a sigh of relief. Turning down a guy you're not interested in is tricky enough, but it's even more treacherous when it's your boss. But she believed him when he said he'd still call her for the next show.

A few weeks came and went without another call from him. Then a whole month passed by. Then a few months. Then a whole year. Then a few years.

It soon became very obvious to her that despite his promise, she'd never hear from him again. And as time passed, she eventually found other crews to take her in and other jobs that paid. Though she still frets about her sneakers and the theoretical traffic in the mornings, she now walks onto each set with a sense of purpose. She no longer worries if she'll ever get a paying job. Her schedule is filled with work. She's come a long way from who she was a couple years ago and she's proud that she's made it this far by herself.

But every once in a while, as Bernadette sits and reflects on how far she's come, her mind inevitably always goes back to the first Key who's ever hired her for a real job. And she'll think back to their last conversation. And she'll wonder about the real reason why she never heard from him again. Was it because of his bruised ego? Was he afraid things being awkward on set? Did he lose his phone?

Eventually, her mind will ask the question she isn't sure she wants to know the answer to: Did he hire her in the beginning because she's good at what she does, or did he only hire her because he thought she was cute?

And despite where she is now and what she may accomplish in the future, that question that will haunt her for the rest of her career.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The "System".

"... And here's where another distro box is hidden. I think that about does it. Any questions?"

I shake my head. I'm day playing on a new-to-me-crew on a new-to-me set, and one of the regulars is giving me a quick and dirty run down of the where everything is on the stage before the day officially starts. So far, nothing seems out of the ordinary. Just then, the Best Boy makes his way from around the corner.

"How's the tour going? Did you show her where everything is?"
"Good. What about the 'system.' Did you explain that to her?"
"Oh... No, not yet."
The Best Boy turns to me, suddenly serious, "So, our Gaffer has a particular way of working. When he asks you for a light, it's your light and yours only."

At this point, I'm a little bit confused by what he meant. Isn't that how it is on other crews? The Gaffer calls for a light, someone replies to him and they bring in the light. Meanwhile, others help him out by running him power and whatnot, but the placement and focusing of it is often the responsibility of the person who answered the call. That's the way I've been working a set for years now. Have I been doing it wrong all this time? As I pondered this, I must've had a perplexed look on my face because Juicer 1 jumped in to elaborate.

"So if he asks you for a tweenie,* you head it up, bring it in and find power for it yourself. No one else but you. He'll get mad at us if we help each other out."

"Wait... what??" I understood what they were saying, but I didn't understand it. "I can't even help someone run power?"

"Nope," replied Juicer 1. "He'll get mad."
"I know it seems weird, but you'll get used to it," offered the Best Boy.
"Don't mess with the system. It's actually pretty efficient," said Juicer 1. And with that, we got our first orders over the walkie from the Gaffer and our day had officially begun.

I've never worked on a set before that was run like that, and I'll admit the idea piqued my interest. Especially the closing remark where the guy said it was "pretty efficient."

After wrap, I reflected back on my first (and so far, only) day working this way. Was it more efficient than the "traditional" way of working the lights? I wouldn't say so. But interestingly enough, it didn't take us any longer to light a scene either. It was kind of a wash in terms of saving time.

What I didn't like about it though, was how strenuous it could be. During our "daytime" scenes, our house set was lit by what we dubbed to be "10k Alley"; a series of big lights, one lined up after the next, pointed through the large living room windows. And guess who ended up assigned to the row of BFLs?** Little ol' me. It was a bit of a bitch to move, power up, and tweak each and every one of those lights by myself while the other guys could do nothing but hang around staging, playing with their iPhones.

But once those tenners*** were set, it was good to not have to run around setting other lights. Those were now being assigned to the other guys. Well, it felt as good as it could get anyway. I'm not a fan of sitting around with free hands while other guys are scrambling to get their assigned project done, no matter how much I just busted my ass.

In the end, while it was an interesting way of working and I can see the advantages of it, I just couldn't fully get on board with the idea. I'm used to working as a team with my co-workers. With everyone taking a little bit of the burden (one guy bringing in the light, one guy running power, another cutting a piece of gel for it, etc,) the job seems a little bit easier. No one's sitting around, twiddling their thumbs while their colleague gets peeled. No one's moving BFLs by themselves.

Also, the problem with "the system" is that it assumes everyone is built the same way with the same capabilities. If I'm called to bring in a 5k, I'm expected to bring it in myself. Never mind that to me, it's heavy-ass piece of gear, and never mind that most of the guys I work with can throw it over their shoulder without a problem. And it doesn't matter that I can aim and cut a Source4 like nobody's business. If another Juicer if having an issue with getting it to hit juuuust the right spot, I can't help him out.

I guess I just like the option of working as a team and playing to our own strength and weaknesses, no matter how "efficient" the other way may be.

* By the way, anyone else annoyed by the fact that Mole Richardson started putting latches at the top of their Tweenies??
** Big Fucking Light.
*** Not my Flickr stream.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

It Sucks When...

... you struggle to get a heavy light from one side of the set to the other, all while carefully fighting through a sea of actors, grips, camera people and unfortunately placed set dressing; send up said heavy light top stick on the stand, only for your Gaffer to tell you to "add a double" after it's set; all the grips are busy, so you struggle to carry a ten step ladder by yourself, again across the sea of actors, grips, camera people and unfortunately placed set dressing; and when you finally get up there, you burn yourself trying to shove that goddamned double in.

Once you're done, you radio to Gaffer to see how he likes his newly tweaked light that you just poured all your best effort and energy into and he says, "Eh... Yeah, it's okay."


Sunday, June 3, 2012

Cinegear 2012.

Cinegear was this weekend, and for those of you who don't know, the expo is the place to be if you want to check out what's new in the grip, electric and camera departments. A crap load of companies are there showing off their latest toys, plus it's a good place to run into old friends and score a free t-shirt or two.

While I don't really know what's new in the grip and camera world, the big thing in lighting is officially LEDs. They were everywhere. Practically every lighting company had them. And while I can sit here all day bitching/praising about each individual company and their product line, one running theme among all the companies is that LEDs consume less power and run cooler to the touch.*

That said, my favorite part of the expo was when my friends and I were checking out the new LED Source 4s from ETC. One of their reps came over and chatted with us for a few minutes about them, and gave us the rundown on the specs of their new light. At one point, he demonstrated how much "cooler" the new model ran versus their more traditional one by putting his hand on it. "With our new light, I can grab it anywhere and easily make adjustments to it. I can't do that with our old model without a pair of thick gloves on. That means we no longer have to burn ourselves every time we use one."

That was the moment when we all looked down at our own arms in unison, and realized each and every one of us had scar from a Source 4 burn in one form or another.

Ah... The marks of camaraderie among strangers.

* Although, I do have to say that part is somewhat debatable. Most of the lights I saw heavily rely on a heat sink and/or a fan to keep cool.
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