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.


Michael Taylor said...

I've worked with that guy -- or somebody he probably trained -- and share your feelings about "the system." It has good and bad aspects, and I too got more-or-less accustomed to it, but much prefer the team approach. When a good crew is working in synch, everything from rig to shoot to wrap seems to get done with very little fuss, which I find enormously satisfying. Working on a good crew is one of the things I really like about this crazy business, and to me, "the system" leaches that communal, I've-got-your-back spirit from the day. To each his own, but One Man, One Light doesn't make much sense to me.

Nathan said...

Maybe I'm a cynic*, but I suspect the "system" makes it simpler for this guy to assign blame when something goes wrong ... a very different thing from knowing who is responsible for each task. Otherwise, I'm not sure where the benefit is.

*Maybe? Yeah, right.

Jesse M. said...

How do you even one-man (or one-woman) a BFL? I'm thinking using the truck's lift gate and stick it on a roller stand/roadrunner and then wheel into position? But still...

A.J. said...

Michael - I totally agree. Despite getting all our shots and "making our day" on time, I left the stage that night without the usual satisfaction I get at the end of a good day. It was a very odd feeling.

Nathan - I'm sure the guy has his reasons. It holds everyone accountable for what they did and I guess in a way ensures everyone's pulling their weight at some point. I just don't really think the positives outweigh the negatives.

Plus, if you can't trust your crew to do their job properly, you probably need a new crew. But maybe that's just my own cynical opinion. :)

Jesse - You can most definitely head up a BFL solo using the power of the lift gate and a pickle with a long enough leash. However, in this case, we were on a stage and most of the big lights were already headed up. I just had to wheel them into position by myself, which was no easy task considering the crowded stage created an interesting maze to maneuver roadrunners around. Not to mention a lengthy picket fence that stood between the row of lights and the distro...

C.B. said...

This "system" is like kindergarten type of thinking, to be able to nail whoever did what "mistake" (everybody makes "mistakes" anyway, so what's the point), because that person is responsible for the entire process.
Filmmaking is collaborative work, it's not about nailing such or such individual. It works much better when whoever is at the top can bring and maintain a great team, that's what's called leadership.
No wonder you had that odd feeling at the end of the day. There was something missing for sure.

JD said...

"The Blame Game" usually played by those at the top who are less competent than those who report to them.

Begs the question, "What idiot put you in charge?"

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