Sunday, December 22, 2013

"O.C. Gaffer."

This has been making the rounds on a few sets I've been on lately. Can someone tell me if this is for real??

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Quote Of The Day.

Overheard on an open radio at the end of the night:

P.A. - "Hey, [Department Head]. What's your out time?"
D.H. - "Kid, my out time is when the ice hits the glass."

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Forget Me Not.

He felt like family.

We met on the second morning of a show I was on a few months ago. I was about to push the "up" button on our lift gate when he stopped me, taking the remote from my hands.

"Here, I'll do that," he said with a smile on his face.

I thanked him and we introduced ourselves; him being one of the drivers on our little show.

For the next several weeks, we got to know each other better, chatting when we both had some downtime. There was nothing romantic about it with him being a couple decades older than me and happily married, but we'd talk about this business and life and such while throwing in some witty and playful banter every now and then.

He quickly became one of my favorites and I was sad to see him go when the show finally ended. When we said goodbye and he gave me one last, heartwarming hug with a kiss on the cheek, he told me that while our crew was one of the best he's ever worked with (which is a high compliment coming from someone who's been doing this as long as he has), he'd miss me the most.

But the one good thing about this business is that you never have to really say goodbye. The industry's constant ebb and flow of new shows starting and old ones ending means that everyone's constantly shuffling around, so there's a damn good chance you'll run into the same people again somewhere down the line. Sometimes it's as soon as tomorrow, and sometimes it can be years down the line. But it takes the sting out of tearful goodbyes at the end of a show knowing there's the possibility you'll meet up again somewhere down the road.

I didn't have to wait years to see my favorite driver again. I ran into him a few months later when I got a one day call for a shoot. I stepped out of the pass van to see him parking a trailer for a different department.

A wide smile spread across my face as I walked up to him, my day suddenly brightening up exponentially. I stopped a few feet away from him, giving him a loud and enthusiastic "Hi!"

I expected to get a huge smile and a bear hug in return, as per our usual greeting, but instead what I got as a blank stare.

"Hi," he said, and resumed his attention back to his trailer.

"What? That's all I get?" I asked with the usual playfulness in my voice.

He squinted at me for a second, as if trying to place who I was. "You're an electrician, right? Didn't we do a show together earlier this year?"

I paused while still trying to keep the smile up on my face. "Yeah... I'm A.J."

"Oh, right. Good to see you. How've you been?"

I couldn't believe it. He had given me the standard, cordial greeting usually reserved for people you've either forgotten or barely know. Despite seeing each other every day for a month, he now didn't even remember as much as my name.

I finished up what has now become small talk and spent the rest of the day giving him a nod hello if I walked passed him.

I know working with someone for a few weeks doesn't exactly cement most people into memory, but our long work days essentially amounted to a few hundred hours together. Factor in the moments where we're actually having a conversation during down time and that's at least several hours of bonding right there.

That's more time than I've spent talking to my cousin's girlfriend at my aunt's Christmas party last year, yet I seem to remember her more than he remembered me...

I suppose that's one of the downfalls of this business*. We meet so many people that come and go in our line of work, that eventually, it gets harder and harder to keep them all straight and remember them all. And I guess sometimes, what I may see as a special bond, others might see as a way to kill time until the next show.**

I still think the friendship we had on the show earlier this year was real. But it was only real in the moment. I think he meant what he said during our goodbye, but he just failed to remember me. We didn't have an earth-shattering connection by any means; more like a mutual respect for one another at the time. One that got lost in the shuffle that is this industry and life.

I understand that, but it still stings a little since it's only been a few months and I remember him so well.

But he is still, and always will be, one of my favorites.

Be thankful for those you know will always remember you. 
Happy Thanksgiving.

* Or perhaps, life in general.
** And vise-versa.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Open Forum.

Blogging is hard. It's even harder when you somehow find yourself working full time on a show for 15 hours a day, plus drive time.

I want to write a new post, but it's late at night, I have to be up in eight hours and I just realized I've been staring at a blank screen for the past ten minutes, hoping inspiration will hit me. But I'm too tired to come up with anything interesting to write about right now, and if I'm not interested in what I'm writing, it'd be silly of me to expect anyone to read it.

So I'm turning the tables. Forget what I'm interested in writing about. Is there anything you would like to read about? Is there a topic or two you've been hoping I'd touch on? Is there anything you've been wondering about?

Some of the easiest posts I've ever written have stemmed from reader comments and/or questions, and further more, this whole blogging thing is more fun when other people get involved. It makes me feel a lot less like I'm talking to a dark void and more like I'm part of a dialogue.

If you have a question you'd like to ask, leave it in the comments or send me an e-mail. Or if you have something you'd like to get off your chest and/or bitch about, that's welcome as well. I may even join in on the griping fun. My only request is that it relates to the industry somehow.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

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

The guys on the low budget shows often carry around issues of magazines like American Cinematographer or ICG to read during down time because they live to work.

The guys on the big shows often read magazines like Motocross or Men's Fitness because they work to live.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Ah... Memories.

I remember a time when I'd work for the promise of "copy, credit and meals" (and only barely getting one of the three). 

I remember a time when I was barely paid minimum wage. If even that.

I remember a time when flat rates were the norm and overtime wasn't even a consideration.

I remember a time when I'd wonder if I'd ever see that check at all.

I remember a time when it was almost always pizza for lunch. Or a Subway sandwich platter. Or Panda Express.

I remember a time when crafty was usually just a couple of sodas and a variety pack of chips.

I remember a time when working grip and electric meant they expected me to also drive the truck to and from location.

I remember a time when I had to share the truck with other departments.

I remember a time when I was lucky to get a box truck instead of a cargo van for the equipment.

I remember a time when I'd get less than nine hours for a turnaround.

I remember a time when I'd have to bring my own expendables to work. 

I remember a time when I was expected to do my own job as well as the job of others.

But I also don't remember the last time I did one of those jobs. And that's a good memory to have...

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Sun Also Sets...

On the flip side of things, there's days when you barely see the sun at all. You pull into a parking structure before dawn and walk into the stage as the elephant doors roll shut. You stroll out six hours later for lunch, squinting from the harsh light and before your skin even warms from what's left of the afternoon sun, you're summoned back into work on the dark stage. By the time wrap's called, the sun has been long gone from the sky as street lights guide your way back to crew parking...

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Sun Also Rises.

The familiar, yet annoying buzz of the alarm stirs me from my sleep. Like nails on a chalkboard, I shrink away from the unpleasant noise, wondering if my head could sink far enough into the pillow to muffle the sound. No such luck.

I begrudgingly slap off the alarm as I slowly open one eye towards my window. Darkness awaits outside. Even the sun doesn't get up this early.

I peel back the warm covers of my bed and as the cool air hits my skin, I feel a slight shiver. "Oh yeah," I think to myself, "What I wouldn't give to curl back into the warmth of my comforter." But I trudge on, wiggling life into my toes before my feet hit the cold bedroom floor.

I go through my usual routine: turn on the coffee maker, get dressed, brush my teeth and other morning necessitates. By the time the last sign of sleep is erased from my face, the rich, warm aroma of coffee fills my apartment. I breathe the scent in as I pour the brown liquid into a travel mug and slip out the door.

My apartment complex is still enveloped in night; the remnants of a moon hanging low on the horizon. The air is crisp and chilly, but I'm now awake enough to find the cold invigorating rather than unpleasant.

I sip my coffee as I make the drive through the streets of Los Angeles. It may be just me, but the roads seem smoother when there's no other cars around to share the lanes with. I see the sun just starting to peek above the horizon, turning the sky around it a whispery blue. The hint of daylight before me provides a stark contrast to the trail of darkness I leave behind in the rear view mirror.

By the time I reach crew parking, the last drop of coffee is gone from my cup. I hesitate for a moment before opening the door and letting in a cool rush of Autumn air; a ritual not unlike the one I did when I crawled out of bed. The sun is climbing its way up the sky now, bringing a wash of pale blue with it, chasing away any remnants of night.

I head towards breakfast and eat my eggs as the sky brightens up above me. As if the heavens were slowly opening their blinds in anticipation for a new day.

When the company's in at crew call, the sky is light enough that I barely even remember it glittered with stars only moments ago. The air still sends a shiver through me, but I deny myself a jacket. I've done this dance enough times to know that I won't be needing one soon.

By the time the truck is unloaded and the first shot of the day is set up, the sun has warmed me up enough that my skin glistens with the threat of sweat; the chill of the morning already forgotten.

By noon, it's hot enough that my colleagues and I congregate around any shade we can find, guzzling waters from the cooler as if it were beer at a wrap party. The sun beats down on us from its perch high in the sky as we break for lunch. The sight of ice cream at the end of the catering line brings a smile of relief to our sun-kissed faces.

We shoot our scenes in the almost unbearable heat for a few more hours before the evening starts to creep in, bringing with it more shade and the occasional breeze. The sun stretching its legs towards the Western sky as the mosquitoes and moths come out for the night. They buzz around the lights, mistaking our man made version of daylight for the real thing.

A little while later, they finally call wrap just as the sun begins to touch the horizon, ignighting the land before us on fire with deep orange and golden light; blinding us all with it's glory as if to say it wasn't going down without a fight. We scramble around as we wrap our cable and load the carts, using the fading sun as our work light.

In a stroke of serendipitous timing, we close the doors of the truck just as the last whisper of daylight disappears.

With the darkness comes the familiar chill in the air. I climb into my warm cocoon of a car and pull out of crew parking. The sun's work for the day is done, as is mine.

The moon, taking it's turn, now hangs in the sky before me, and guides me back home.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Business.

"Buckle up for another long day, kid," the Best Boy told me as he stopped to check in with me at our staging. "I heard it'll be another fifteen hour day."

I groaned. "Again? We've been pulling these kind of hours all week." The entire crew was exhausted and it wasn't helping that the rate for this job was way lower than what we were all used to getting.

"Yup. And don't forget we have to wrap out of here tonight too."

I groaned again. Looking around at all the gear we had around, it'd take us at least an hour after they called wrap to get everything packed up and loaded on the truck before we could hit the road ourselves.

The Best Boy grinned at me and I couldn't tell if it was meant to be snide or not. "Hey, welcome to Hollywood. This is what we got into the business for."

I rolled my eyes, trying to think of a witty comeback that would cover me on the chance his comment was meant to be more joking than patronizing. But I was too tired to think of one.

Luckily, a Grip overheard our conversation and put in his two-cents.

"Actually," he butted in, "you're not in the film business. If you're in the film business, you certainly wouldn't be sitting in a crappy, old, dusty stage for sixteen hours a day. You'd probably be in an office somewhere making real money. I hate to break it to you but you're not in the film business. You're in the film industry."

And with that, he walked away leaving the Best Boy and me to ponder our career choices.

Monday, September 30, 2013

What's The Word I'm Looking For...?

The Grips were rolling around an 12x12 silk when one of the corners got caught on a teaser hanging from the perms. Unbeknownst to half of the guys moving the stands around, the other two guys started shouting words of warning.

"Hey! Hey! HEY!!!"
"Woah, woah, woah!"

Finally, everyone realized what was happening and stopped before any real damage was done. That's when the Key Grip walked up to his guys after seeing what all the commotion was about.

"First of all," he started, "It's not 'Hey' or 'Woah.' The word is 'Stop'..."

I could make the standard comment here about Grips not knowing simple words, but truth be told, I probably would've shouted out the same thing in that situation. It's a weird feeling when you realize how we all lack some of the most basic communication skills.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

"Best Job In The World."

This is not what I do all day.

It's kind of a nice day outside. L.A. has finally started to cool down after a heatwave. And I had just settled down in a shady spot under a tree with a bag of trail mix and a soda when the Sound Guy walks past me.

"Wow, A.J.," he smirked, "You have the best job in the world."

"What do you mean?" I asked, not sure what he was getting at.

"You get paid to do nothing but hang out all day."

I was too stunned at his comment to respond before he picked up his boom mic and walked away.

"Nothing but hang out all day??" WTF?? 4/0 doesn't run itself. Scenes don't light themselves. And I don't just "hang out" all day.

First off, the Sound Department primarily works during takes. Electricians typically do most of their work before the takes, setting up the scenes. Which means I'm working while he's waiting and vise-versa. I could just as easily and haphazardly make that same comment to the Sound Guy the next time I'm scurrying by with a hot 2K in my hand and he's sitting by his cart reading a newspaper as he waits for the scene to be lit. But I wouldn't do that because I know better.

Secondly, yes, I will admit that some days are easier than others (there's not a whole lot you can do on a day exterior in the middle of summer). But there's always something that needs to be done (video village still needs power, as do virtually every other department, and more often than not, so does the sound cart, you asshole.)

And not only that, but the house we were shooting at had about a dozen or so HMIs working; six of which were 18Ks; all of which were a struggle to place (on the porch without a ramp, in the maze of a garden, behind a fence with a narrow walkway, manuvering around an inconviently placed sound cart*, etc). How the fuck did he think all those lights got there? Did he suppose the garden gnomes came to life and moved them into place for us?

And last, but not least, I'm not "hanging out" between set ups. I'm "standing by." Which may just sound like semantics to some, but there is actually a real fucking difference between the two terms. I may be making small talk with the Props Guy or getting my snack on at the crafty table, but my first priority is paying attention to what comes over my walkie, not to mention making sure nothing is burning, melting or getting overheated. I may not be actively running a stinger or touching a light the entire time, but I'm not off the clock either. I get paid to pay attention.

I try damn hard at my job. I bust my ass on a daily basis, dealing with live power, hot lights and heavy equipment all for less pay that what the lowest guy on the totem pole in the Sound Department makes. So whether he was kidding or not, his stupid comment about how I do nothing but "hang out all day" was hurtful to me. And even more so, it pissed me the fuck off.

* True story.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Scapegoat.

"Oh, brother," moaned the Best Boy Electric of a show I'm day playing on as he walked through our pre-light for tomorrow's set. "I think Juicer1 fucked up again."

I followed him through the stage as he looked around, naming the mistakes as he passed by them.

"That Kino's facing the wrong way.... That tenner's supposed to be in the other window... Everything's supposed to have 1/4 CTO on it, not 1/2..."

"I swear, I don't know what I'm going to do with this guy."

I stood there, saying nothing because I knew exactly what he was going to do: Keep hiring him.

The guy was a "must hire" from the Gaffer, so despite several weeks of screw ups here and there, the BBE had no choice but to keep him on the crew. Even the Gaffer was starting to notice the errors more and more, but he and Juicer1 go so far back that loyalty trumps the occasional mistake.

And despite the fact that I'd probably be working with these guys more if Juicer1 wasn't taking up one of the highly coveted regular spots, I actually like working with Juicer1. He was the type of guy that didn't stress about much; even when our lighting set ups were getting a little frantic. He never rolled his eyes whenever something was too heavy for me to lift by myself; never even gave me as much as a sigh. Instead, he'd reply to my apologies with a sincere, "Oh, that's okay," give me a hand and then resume out task as if nothing's happened. He'd tell me about his girl problems or a new blender he bought with the same kind of thoughtful passion. A large, burly looking guy who was really more like a teddy bear than anything else.

And more importantly, he'd do the jobs no one else wanted to do.

The fast shooting pace of this show meant that we always had to be one, maybe two steps ahead; lest we be the ones to drag down Production. That meant we usually had one or two people either pre-lighting a new set, or cleaning up an old one while the company was shooting. And more often than not, Juicer1 was that guy.

It's not because he necessarily volunteers for the job. Or because he's selected for it. He doesn't really care either way. But he's usually the one doing the not so fun jobs because no one else will. Either eager to impress the Gaffer or just plain lazy (or maybe both), none of the other regulars dare leave the Gaffer's side.

Which is probably why Juicer1 "fucks up" so much: The more work you actually do, the more mistakes you'll make. Even if you only mess up 10% of the time, that's still 100% more than someone who does nothing at all.*

Sadly, when it comes to work like this, department heads don't look at the ratios. They just care about why that 10K is placed in front of the wrong window. ("Because Juicer1 set it, that's why," was rapidly becoming the "joke" answer.)

I understand why the other guys don't want the pre-rig/de-rig/pre-load tasks. (It's thankless work; You get less face time with the Gaffer who's ass you're trying to kiss; There's no crafty there; etc.) But I don't understand how they can justify never doing those tasks.

I finally understood what was going on when I was day playing for these guys one day and Juicer1 had radioed for someone to please come give him a hand on task on the other stage. His request was met by silence. Assuming that one of the regular guys who knew the rigs better than I did went to go help him, I went about my business covering the set. Some time later, I left my post and headed towards crafty. I passed by staging and saw most of my department stationed there, faces hovering over their phones. The only one missing from the crowd was Juicer2, so I assumed he had gone over to help Juicer1.

So imagine my surprise when I ran into him at the crafty table.

"Hey, Juicer2," I asked him, "if you're here and the rest of the guys are at staging, who's helping Juicer1?"

"Oh," he laghed, "Probably no one. I was sitting with the other guys when the call came through. We just all looked at each other and then went back to what we were doing."

"What??" I was a little shocked but could tell where this was headed.

"Well, he didn't ask for help again over the radio, so he's probably doing okay."

I stood there for second in disbelief. We both knew, as did everyone else, that the job Juicer1 was doing on the other stage involves jockying around some pretty big lights. Definitely a two person job, minimum.

"Watch the set for me, will ya?" I sighed. I grabbed two bottles of water from the cooler before I headed out the stage door.

I found Juicer1 on the next stage, frustratingly trying to head up a 10K by himself. I gave him a hand and handed him a bottle of water when we were done.

"Sorry, Juicer1," I said. "I would've come over sooner had I known you were alone over here. I thought one of the other guys had come over."

"Nope," Juicer1 said, trying to disguise the bitterness in his voice. It was the kind of bitterness that could only come from seething as you did an unpleasant task on your own. He seemed like he'd finally had enough of this bullshit. "I know they make fun of me when my back's turned. But who the fuck else is going to do this stuff?" He took a drink of water before he continued. "Those guys over there are so scared to leave the Gaffer's side. As if they're going to lost their precious spots up his ass if they give me a hand for five God-damned minutes."

I laugh. "Yeah, you noticed it too, huh?" He nods, taking another drink of cool water to calm his nerves. "Well, listen. I'm just a day player on this. I will always just be a day player on this. In other words, I don't give a rat's ass about impressing the Gaffer like some of those other guys. If you ever need a hand and none of those other guys will help, just ask for me to come over and I will."

"I know you will, A.J." He was starting to calm down. "But it shouldn't have to be like that. It shouldn't have to be that I'm the only one doing this stuff all the time and it shouldn't be that you're the only one who will answer."

He's absolutely right. It really shouldn't. And despite my offer being sincere, I knew he'd never take me up on it. I knew that he'd keep taking all the shitty responsibilities and taking the crap when mistakes were made despite no one else ever stepping up to the plate. And I knew the other guys would continue to snicker about him behind his back and Juicer1 would try his best to ignore them.

He's right. It really shouldn't be this way, but it is. I just hope he at least found a little relief in knowing that he had some back up if he ever needed it. It's the only help could offer him, which is more than the others could say.

*Okay, so my math may be wrong. 100% of zero is still zero, or whatever. But you get my point and I was told there'd be no math.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Hot Nights. Cool Smiles.

It was that time of summer when the days are hot but the nights turn into a comfortable cool. Not having much of my own going on, I had agreed to help out a friend on a short film for a few days. The budget may have been low and the pressure for everything to go smoothly was high, but it was the kind of show where everyone got along and enjoyed each others company. Even the actors would enjoy hanging out on set and interacting with the crew between scenes.

But I was still a little surprised when one of them approached me just as I was swinging the last coil of banded on a now full cable cart one evening. As one of the leads in the film, to say he was easy on the eyes would be an understatement. He was the tall, dark and incredibly cute type with a mischievous smile; usually winning everyone over, guy or girl, with his genuinely friendly, boyish charm. I probably would have a crush on him if I wasn't so busy wrapping cable and setting lights on this show.

"Okay, so I had to come over here," he started, with that charmingly cute grin of his, "because I was watching you toss the cable around and it looks heavy."

I could embarrassingly do nothing but stand there and nod in agreement.

He looked at my cart of cable. "And you've been pushing this thing like it's nothing..." He paused for a second, still looking at the cart. He looks so cute when he's thinking. "So I was wondering," he politely continued, "if I could try pushing that for a bit to see how heavy it really is."

His request stunned me. No actor has ever asked me that before. "Sure," I said, stepping aside.

He grabbed the handles of the cart and pushed. The muscles in his arms tensed and bulged as his legs and body arched to get more leverage on the fully loaded cart; his skin glistening from the still warm night.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy watching him try.

And despite his, ahem, more than acceptable form, the cart didn't budge an inch.

"Wow," he said, after he decided he couldn't move the thing without possibly hurting himself. "That's really heavy. And you roll that thing around like it's nothing. I can't even get it to move!"

He looked at me with that smile of his, "You must be really tough. Thanks for letting me try." And with that, he turned and walked back to set.

I watched him walk away with a sly smile of my own.

Yes, the cart is heavy. But I didn't have the heart to tell him that the reason why he couldn't get the cart to move was because the brake was still on...

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

School's Out For Summer.

Hi All!

This year's been somewhat of a whirly, twirly, roller coaster for me, and the horizon looks about the same. Not all of it's been nauseating or scary. Part of the ride that is 2013 has been incredibly awesome and I can't wait to see what the second half of it brings.

But meanwhile, I've found myself having less and less time to devote to this blog, and in turn, found myself churning out mediocre pieces just to have something to put up; hating it in the process. That's not the kind of work I want to put out there and it's not the kind of stuff you deserve.

Writing something good takes a lot of time and thought (well, for me anyway), and right now, keeping up this blog has at times been more of a burden than a joy. I hate that.

So I'm taking a que from my elementary school days and taking the Summer off. I'm hoping taking a break from the constant demand to write something will turn it into a constant desire to write something. 

I will probably still put up a post here and there, but likely nothing with the regularity as I once had. I do expect to be back in the full swing of things come Fall, but in the meantime, I think I'll enjoy not staring into a computer screen every free moment I have. I may even run through a sprinkler or two.

I suggest you do the same.  :)

Have a great Summer!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

I was making my usual rounds on industry blogs when I got sucked into one that Michael Taylor recommended on his non-mid week mid-week post.

It's basically a tumblr blog run by a 1st AD posting gifs as it relates to our industry. Whether you're in the AD department or not, you'll find most of them entertaining and relatable as hell.

I've spent the better part of the morning browsing around on her site, and found this one to be the most amusing so far:
This is why you never volunteer to touch the electric equipment. Ever. Even if they say it’s ok. They’re just trying to fuck you over.

[Ed Note: I've never, ever said it's okay.]

Sunday, June 23, 2013

"They Keep Track Of All That For You."


One of the most important things the Best Boy is in charge of (in my opinion anyway) are the time cards for his (or her!) department. Despite what we may say about doing this "for the love of the game" and/or how we'd rather "work for a low rate with good people than the other way around," the bottom line in this industry (and I'm sure in most others) is all about the Benjamins. In other words, at the heart of it all, we're doing a job so pay us for it.

Which is where the time cards come in. That little slip of paper bearing your name, Social Security number and signature is how you get paid. No time card = no money, no matter how long you were there that week. And not only that, but you better damn well make sure everything on there is correct. Despite Production keeping multiple records of everything (daily time sheets for each department, production reports, callsheets, etc), Accounting doesn't always match the numbers up, so if any of the times on the card is off by even one number, you're likely to end up getting less than you're supposed to no matter how many slips of paper are floating around the office saying you were in at 6am instead of twelve minutes later.

Which is why I was flabbergasted to have this exchange take place the other day:

I was playing the role of Best Boy Electric on a shoot when I was having trouble figuring out how to properly fill out the time cards Production had handed me for our department. The wording and designated spaces on these half sheets of paper weren't what I was used to, and this being the way we get paid and all, I didn't want to fuck it up. And seeing as how the accounting department wasn't in yet, I turn to who most BBEs turn to when there's a question about time cards*: The Best Boy Grip. Plus, he was on the last show this company did and therefore has surely has filled out the forms in question before... Right?

I find the BBG in his truck, smoking a cigarette while checking his Facebook page on his phone.

"Hey, BBG. I have a question for you."

"What's up, A.J.?"

I show him the blank time card I'm holding in my hand. "Have you done your time cards yet? I'm not sure what they mean by this part here," I gesture on the card, "...and it looks like they're asking us to put down real time. Not military time.** Is that right?"

The BBG looks at the time card in my hand, then shrugs while letting out of puff of smoke.

"Eh, I never know what they're asking for on that stuff. I just have my guys put in their name and Social, and then sign it."

"Oh..." I say, somewhat taken aback. But I guess those parts plus the in and out times are what's really important on time cards anyway. I suppose the other details they ask you to write down can be seen as less than important fillers."Well, how did you write down your in and out times?"

Another puff of smoke. "Oh, I never fill out that part either."

"You don't?" I'm definitely confused at this point.

"No. You don't have to keep track of all that stuff. They keep track of all that for you."

"Oh..." I say, slowly backing out of his truck. There's no use in asking him for help on the matter if that's his method. "Thanks..."

I return to my own truck and shake my head.

"They keep track of all that for you"?

"They keep track of all that for you"??


I can't tell you how many times I've been shortchanged on my paychecks over the years. And every time I call up Accounting to do something about it, THE VERY FIRST THING THEY DO IS PULL UP MY TIME CARD.

That's the first thing they look at to see if an accounting error has been made, and if it's blank, guess what? I'm out of luck and it looks like I just worked for free.

Sure, if they really wanted to, I guess they could pull up Production Reports for the day(s) in question and get the in/out times for our department, but sometimes those reports are done by lazy people who just copy and paste the same times for everyone without taking into account who had a pre-call, who didn't NDB, who had a rate change, who really worked that day (hint: the names on callsheets are often wrong), etc.

It's a slippery slope when we put the accuracy of our own paychecks in the hands of those who are penny pinching every chance they get, and it's even more reckless when it's the checks for our entire department we're talking about.

In the end, since it's such a small shoot and all, I suspect that the Grips will have no issue getting paid what they're owed despite the blank time cards. But better safe than sorry in my book; especially when I'm responsible for half a dozen people.

"They keep track of all that for you"??

No thanks. I think I'll wait for the Accounting office to open after all...

* Usually, the discussion is about out times so they kind of match up. That's a different post for another time.
** Most in/out times on a time card are done in a form of military time with 1/10th of an hour increments. Once in a while, I'll come across a show that wants use to put down "real times" (ie: "3:30pm" instead of "15.5"). It's really rare though, hence the double checking.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Safety First.

At least he's not on the top step...

"Hey, A.J.," my Gaffer turns to me as we finish tweaking the lights on our next set. "Tilt that Kino up a little bit and I think we're set here." He gives me a nod and walks out of the room.

I look at the Kino several feet above me and turn to the Key Grip. "Hey, Key Grip. Can I get a ten step in here please?"

The Key Grip turns to the Grip behind him. "You heard the lady." The Grip nodded and they both leave the set: the Key Grip headed to crafty for his umpteenth cup of coffee and the Grip headed in the opposite direction where the ladders were staged.

A couple minutes later, the Grip shows up with an eight step; two feet shorter than I had asked for.

I look at the ladder. I look at the light.

"Thanks, but I don't think I'll be able to reach that with anything shorter than a ten step."

The Grip looks at me. Looks at the light.

"Yeah, you'll be able to reach it with this."

Uh... Okay. The guy's about as tall as I am, so his judgement call on the matter should be as good as mine. So I set up the ladder, climb up it and find that indeed, I am just shy of being tall enough to reach the Kino.

"Nope," I say, waving my arms above my head to demonstrate that while I'm close, my hands are still grasping at nothing but air.

"Oh, come on," sighed the Grip. "There's another rung left."

I glance down just to make sure I'm not in the embarrassing situation of actually having missed a rung and realize that the "rung" he's talking about is the top step.

I look back at the Grip standing below. "No. I don't top-step ladders."*


"Yes. Seriously." I climb back down.

He rolls his eyes as he shimmies up the ladder all the way to the top step and fiddles with the Kino.

"You know," he said with a smirk, "They wouldn't put a step up here if they didn't want you to use it."

"Huh. Interesting," I thought to myself, "I didn't know that was a step. I always thought that's what held the ladder together."


* That's a lie. I will sometimes top step a ladder, but the highest I'll do is a double sided six step (and even that's a rare occasion). This was a single sided ladder, which I hate no matter what the height.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Thank You, Concrete Walls.

I got a call from a number I didn't recognize, but I answered it anyway. Turns out it was a from a colleague of mine asking if I was available for a job the next day. I was. He gave me an address and a call time, and I thought nothing else of it as I hung up the phone.

I show up to set the next day to find that it was in the basement of a building. And we weren't using the basement as a location. The basement had basically been turned into a sound stage with built sets and everything. Huh. Interesting. 

Anyway, after ingesting a bowl of powdered scrambled "eggs" and some potatoes from crafty/catering, we got to work and lit the first scene of the day. Not terribly difficult as a lot of the lights were still in place from when they shot a different scene the day before.

And as usual, once we got the first shot all set up and the cameras were about to roll, I found myself a nice apple box to sit on and pulled out my phone to check my messages... and saw that for the first time in a while, I had no reception.

"Well, duh," I thought to myself. "We're in a basement."

I looked around to see if I can spot the usual sight of crew members hunched over their phone; their faces illuminated by their Facebook page. I saw none.

Because, duh, we're in a basement.

Then I realized why I had gotten a call for the job from a number I didn't recognize. My friend had used a land line in one of the offices that had been set up down here.

Because. We're in a basement. With no cell reception. Duh.

And it was a weird day, not because we're in a sound stage that was basically underground, but because I realized just how attached to my phone I was. (Though definitely still not as attached as others are.)

I lost count of how many times I pulled out my phone just to be greeted by a reminder that I have no cell signal. And I was surprised by how often I caught myself just automatically looking at my phone throughout the day.

And it did take some time getting used to, but I eventually learned to stop myself whenever I started to reach for my phone for any reason other than to see what time it was.

And even more interesting was what was happening around set. Without the use of a phone to occupy our time underground, we started talking (or rather, whispering when we're rolling) to each other more. I had conversations with more grips on that first day than I usually do over the course of a whole show. People were reading real magazines and newspapers, passing them on when the last page was read. It seemed like this is what work would be like ten years ago in this industry.

I will admit, it was a little nerve wracking to not use my phone all day. After all, the success of a day player is reliant on how quickly you can return a call. But part of me felt it was somewhat freeing in a way.* I'm old enough to remember the days when cell phones weren't that common. When I could just go about my business without being attached to a digital leash. Without this thing in my pocket I had to constantly check.

Owning a cell phone meant that you can be reached anywhere at any time, but sometimes, I miss being unreachable.

Wrap was eventually called, and one by one, we made our way from the basement into the night air. As my phone gained reception again, it buzzed with the slew of incoming messages that hadn't been able to find me all day in the digital ether.

I browsed through them and answered the ones that needed answering. Then I promptly shut my phone off for the night...

* However, the most amusing part was when I learned that the Best Boy couldn't stray too far from the office or else he'd be out of range for the cordless phone Production had set him up with that he had to carry around with him. This "no cell phone thing" probably wasn't very freeing for him.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Just Another Day At The Office.

My assignment seemed like a simple one: wire up all the practicals on our newest set before production was scheduled to shoot on it later today. Easy peasy...

...Until I saw the set.

It was an odd shaped room about a 100 feet long built on a stage and set dressing had amorously peppered it with sconces, lamps, televisions and computers every few feet... And not a whole lot of options when it came to plugging these devices in and making them work. Most of them would require a hole being drilled in the set somewhere just to able to feed a stinger through where the camera won't see it. And if you've ever fed power through a set wall (especially a double layered one), you know it can involve a lot of blind and frustrating finagling as you try to reach the other side. Not to mention that a number of these practicals didn't have a plug on them, which added an extra layer of "fun" to this challenge.

And I only had a couple hours to make it all work.

The first thing I did, as is with any kind of mission, was to gather supplies. I emptied out a nearby milk crate and filled it with cube taps, power strips, hand dimmers, wire nuts, sash, tape, zip cord*, add-a-taps, bailing wire, and anything else I might need. And then I went to work.

I spent the next few hours on my hands and knees, crawling around the floor trying to plug stuff in, or on a ladder as I tried to feed wires through the ceiling; only pausing to chase down other departments for more tools and supplies (a drill from construction, N.D. from grips for a light that can't dim, a wire hanger from wardrobe so I can fish cable through otherwise impossible walls, etc).

Eventually, my boss wandered to my set to check up on my progress. He saw how much I had left to do and how little time we had left, and immediately sent a colleague in to help me.

Two people tackling this job was better than one, but we soon encountered another road block: we were running out of supplies. My once filled milk crate was almost empty, leaving us with a dozen or so practicals left with no way to wire and power them.

That's when we started scrambling. With the shooting crew almost on their way, we pillaged and stole stingers, dimmers, zip cord*, etc from other sets. We dove into our own personal supplies of cube taps and ground lifts. It became a "do what you gotta do" moment.

And we had just gotten the last practical plugged in and burning when the company started rolling in...


I had scrapes on my arm from reaching between set walls; bruises from various pieces of furniture; a minor wound from being stabbed by a stray wire; my knees hurt from crawling around and I desperately wanted a snack from crafty. But I was proud of what we had accomplished. It was not a lot of time for the task at hand, nor did we have the proper tools to make it work, but we pushed through, did our best, and despite some frantic moments in the last hour, we got the job done.

There were just a couple of final touches that needed doing, like labeling the lunchbox where we plugged the last few practicals in. So I was just on the other side of the set wall when I heard the Director say this as he was trying to figure out his first shot on this new set: "Can I see what this looks like with all the practicals off?"

And they stayed off for the entire scene.

*...or not.. ;)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Owning Gear.

In the comments for a previous post, Anonymous writes:
Why is it that on the lower rung/entry level of electric, NO ONE seems to talk about equity/assets/ owning gear? I've noticed on the top tier of features, a LOT of the guys (and girls) either own their own gear or have access/ good relationships with people who have access to gear. [...] It's a bargaining tool. It's something that a young electric could work on, which allows them to up their rate, gain a good reputation, etc yet no one talks about it. Yes, there is a risk in owning gear (it may sit around and not get used) for the most part I've noticed this hasn't been the case. A lot of people who work quite often have either owned their own gear or even also custom made specific lights [...] which can be used a bargaining tool with an APOC on productions..just saying. Rather than 'just wanting to get on a bigger set/shoots', I wish there were people who would be educating the new crop of G/E that they have SO many options to getting to the next rung! They don't just have to sit there and cling to the hope that someone will just 'notice' them..they can make things happen for themselves, too! 

Fist off, I think it's a pretty incorrect statement to say that NO ONE talks about owning gear when they're just starting out. I know I've personally been involved with discussions about it multiple times. Personally, I don't own gear because it's not worth it for me. As basic as some of our equipment may seem, it all costs a surprisingly high amount. Just one C-stand or baby stand alone costs somewhere in the $200 range, brand new. Carts are four figure prices. Even a humble milk crate is around $20. Hell, bags of sand are about $40. And that's not even getting into the expensive stuff like lights. It's all a pretty hefty price for someone, anyone, to pay, let alone someone who's just starting out in this business. Sure, you can probably score some gear used or 2nd hand, but the still decent stuff isn't that much cheaper. I'm a firm believer in you get what you pay for, and I don't believe in owning crap.

Not to mention all the work and cost that goes into maintaining the gear, storing it*, transportation, and obtaining insurance. Or that part about creating an LLC and the extra paperwork when it comes to tax time.

Even if I were to invest in my own equipment, I'd invest in grip rather than electric.** A large chunk, if not most, grip stuff has been the same for decades, holding its value over time. Stands, frames, sand bags, apple boxes, furniture blankets, clamps, etc, have remained pretty consistent through the years and are all pretty easy to maintain compared to other departments. Lighting is constantly evolving (arc lights and LEDs, anyone?) as are cameras (that super expensive camera you just bought will be out of date in six months... or less). Not to mention the abuse*** we put everything through. You can grease your fingers and drop a gobo head on the concrete ground all day and it'll still work as advertised. You can't say the same about lights and definitely not cameras.

But more the point of the original comment: There's a HUGE difference between a big show and an entry level one.

Let's say I landed on the sweet, sweet gig of being a lamp op on a totally fictional and made up big budget feature (like, Tom Cruise playing a Mavel superhero big). If I own any gear, it's sure as hell not going to end up on this show. I'm just a lamp operator with no bargaining power when it comes to getting me hired.**** Hell, Production doesn't even hire me. The Best Boy does. And he's going to hire me because I'm a good lamp op. He doesn't give a rats ass if I own any gear or not. If anyone's getting gear on the show, plus the rental fee that goes along with it, it'll likely be the Gaffer or the Best Boy.

Okay, so now let's pretend I'm the Gaffer on Tom Cruise Wears Tights And A Cape And Saves The World (aka: TCWTAACASTW for short), and I have gear for rent. Production has money. Are they going to rent from me? Not necessarily. On a show that size, they're hiring me because they want me as a Gaffer. The equipment factor is secondary, if it's even a factor at all. At this level, they're not looking for a "Gaffer that comes with gear." They're looking for a Gaffer that can do the job. Period. One thing has nothing to do with the other. In this case, it'd be more beneficial to me than them if I get my gear on this show. Production isn't getting the perk of getting equipment with the Gaffer; the Gaffer's getting the perk of getting their gear onto the show.

And how much gear do I have? Is it enough to supply the bulk of this show? Just owning an Arri Kit and some clip lights isn't going to cut it. We're talking 48 footer territory here. And, how much is Production willing to pay? Is it enough to cover my expenses/worth the hassle? Not only that, but how much are other rental houses willing to pay? Because I guarantee you they will at least poke around for other bids, and if someone can do it for cheaper, you're out of luck. All those questions are deciding factors to whether or not you can get your gear on a big show... If such a thing is even possible.

Yup. You read that right. IF it's possible. Big shows come attached with big studios and big contracts and sometimes, a "conflict of interest" arises. For example, some studios let you bring in your own equipment. Great! Some studios, however, require that you get gear from them. You want to shoot on their lot and use their stage? You have to use their gear (and write them a check for it). Bringing in your own stuff, especially if it's something the studio lamp dock already has, can be considered "a conflict of interest."

And it's not just studios or the big shows. I've been on more than one "medium" sized show where  Production had struck an exclusivity deal with a rental house: The rental house gives Production a sweet, sweet rate and in exchange, Production promises to not rent from anyone else. Ever. Meanwhile, despite me working on the show, my hypothetical gear is still gathering dust in a storage unit somewhere, hemorrhaging money by the minute.

Ask anyone who owns a complete lighting package (as in at least a truck's worth and not just enough to fill a cargo van): It's getting harder and harder to get your gear on a job.

Now, let's get to the "lower rung/entry level" shows. I will admit that having your own gear can be a bargaining chip here. There are countless "passion project" production companies out there looking for crew that can bring their own gear, but the question is, are they willing to pay for it? And if so (and that's a big "if") how much? Is it worth it? I can pretty much guarantee that you won't recoup your initial investment with just the one job, but yes, it might get you more work. But chances are, it'll be a lateral move from job to job. You can only get that gear onto shows that fit the job. That cargo van of miscellaneous gear you have isn't going from an ultra low budget shoot one weekend to TCWTAACASTW the next. It's going on to another ultra low budget film.... And another... And another. There is very little crossover from having your own gear on a low budget show to getting it on a high budget one. (Exception: You're already doing the big shows with your own gear and are "slumming it" during slow times on smaller jobs.)

There is, however, another option to owning gear that is often overlooked: Co-ops. There are (small) rental companies out there where the equipment is owned by a group of people. That way, not any one person is holding the burden of investment, and the gear has a higher chance of being rented out. Sometimes, you don't even have to be a member of a Co-op to reap the benefits. Often times, if you get their gear on a show (and this is true for a number of companies, especially the smaller ones) you get a cut of their profits. A win-win situation. However, the same questions asked above applies (how much gear is available; cost; insurance; etc.).

Owning your own gear at the beginner level probably won't be a big money maker, but what it might do is expose you to more (still low paying) jobs and in turn, more contacts. However, more contacts doesn't necessarily mean you'll climb up the ladder faster. After all, it's often about being at the right place at the right time meeting that right person who can get you on a bigger job. It's kind of like playing the lottery: You can up your odds by buying more tickets, but really, all it takes is one.

I'm not saying it's a bad idea to own your own equipment and I'm definitely not saying there aren't any benefits to it. These are just my own personal thoughts on the topic and are based on nothing but observation and my own experiences over the years. And, as always, there are a few exceptions to all of this. Basically, it all comes down to whether or not the risks outweigh the rewards and whether or not it's worth it to you.

For me, it's just not worth it.

* It might not be a problem if you have a garage, but most people I work with either live in an apartment or have a family that actually uses the garage to store cars. It used to be that you could store gear in certain rental houses, but I hear that's becoming more and more rare.

** But I'm not a grip. It wouldn't make much sense for me to invest in grip gear.

*** Don't be gentle. It's a rental!

**** Board Ops are a different story. As are kit rentals.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Nothing Is Free.

A colleague walked to set one morning wearing a hoodie emblazoned with the name of his last show. No doubt a wrap gift from Production.

I couldn't help but laugh when I saw it.

"You worked on that?" I asked him, gesturing to the name on his sweatshirt.

"Yeah. Why?"

"I knew a lot of people on that show. Even got called a few times to work on it, but I was always already booked on something else. I did hear a lot of horror stories from set though," I replied, with a sly smile on my face. The thought of my friend toiling on the hell that was that show was entertaining to me the same way you'd find it hilarious if a friend got hit in the balls.

"Sure, you laugh now," my colleague said with his own smirk on his face, "but I did get a pretty sweet free sweater out of it!"

I looked at his sweater and then back at him. "No.... You didn't get a free sweater. One way or another, you paid for that sweater."

He stood there for a second, confused. Then he laughed. "Yeah, I guess you're right. I fucking earned this stupid thing."

And that, he did. They worked ridiculously long hours on that show. And at locations that took a better part of a gas tank to get to. With a Production that kept changing its mind at the last minute, causing every department to perpetually scramble. All while being undermanned and paid what essentially amounts to a few dollars more than minimum wage. Those guys ended the day, every day, tired and exhausted as all hell, and often only got nine hours of turnaround before they had to do it all over again.

That sweater, as simple as it may be, wasn't free.

Nothing in this business is.

We may be envied by outsiders because we get "free" snacks on set all day, every day. But we also work six hours straight before we get a break. My Mom thinks I'm lucky that the company provides us lunch every day, not knowing about a California Labor Law that states "a suitable place for [eating lunch] must be designated," and "facilities must be available for securing hot food and drink or for heating food or drink." It's probably easier in terms of budget and time management for Production to just bring in a caterer if we're on location. And no one that thinks we have it made seems to remember that while they only work eight hours a day, a standard day for us is twelve.

And has anyone ever noticed that often times, the shittier the show, the better the food is? Productions have figured out long ago that we'll put up with a lot of crap as long as our taste buds are satisfied.

We may get catered meals, craft service tables and the occasional wrap gifts, but those all, in some way or another, come with a price. Nothing in this business is free.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

False Idols.

I remember when I was just starting out in this business, sometime between eons and not too long ago; back when I didn't know what labor laws and 4/0 were; back when all I carried on me was a pair of gloves and a pocket knife. I remember it'd be a rare treat to get a real "professional" on our crew. A guy who not only made more than minimum wage on a regular basis working on set, but managed to eke out a pretty livable income.

These guys were usually on these "passion projects" (aka: no pay gigs) as a favor to a friend while we were there because we needed the work experience (and "copy, credit, meals"), and oh, how my colleagues and I would clamor towards them. We'd often try to network with them and chat them up in our downtime in hopes that they'd like us enough to bring us on to their next paying gig. We'd work harder if we knew they were around, possibly watching.

These were the guys you wanted to impress. Not because you thought you had something to prove, but because you kind of idolized them. They were doing what you've dreamed of and have been striving for years to do: make a living from this business.

These guys were viewed as knowing their shit. Hell, they have to if they're good enough to be generating an income, right?

(You can kinda see where I'm going with this...)

As time went by and I climbed the ranks, I found myself often surrounded by idiot colleagues. Some of them above me in rank, and some who are considered my equals. But the cool thing was that I was finally reaching that part in my career where I was making money. And not just any money, but enough to live on.

Eventually, I was making enough where I could offer to work on a friend's "passion project" without feeling burnt out and resentful. I was now doing those freebie jobs as a favor, and more importantly, a choice; no longer having to to pay tribute to the Hollywood Gods by working for free in order to "pay my dues."

The funny thing is that when I got there, I found a whole crew of electricians and grips who are just starting out, looking up at me with wide eyes and hopeful dreams that one day, they could be like me. I found them working harder when they knew I was watching and passing me their phone numbers at the end of the night in hopes that I'd bring them on my next job. They were trying to impress me.

Somehow, I had become the hero I had idolized not that long ago.

Realizing this was a weird feeling. Sure, I'm making an okay living, but I still never know where my next paycheck is coming from. Or what my next career move is. And I'm still trying to impress others when I'm on the job, hoping they'll bring me on to their next one.

And even scarier, while on a "big show," I'll notice my colleagues doing something stupid and think to myself, "Really? How did this guy make it so far?" And I'll realize that someone just starting out may idolize him because he's set foot on jobs that they've only dreamed of. I know I would've all those years ago.

And I'll wonder if those guys I used to admire and tried to impress with my work were just as clueless as I am now.

These kids just starting out look at people like me as someone they want to emulate. And I look at them, paycheck aside, still feeling the same way I did when I was in their shoes. Not knowing what's going to happen. Looking busy if my boss is around; trying to network myself into the next big job... Only I don't tell them that. That I'm just as lost as they are, but only on a different level.

No one ever does.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Hitting Pause.

I've been busy. Extremely busy.
I was just starting a four week long show during one of the busiest times of the year.
And then a family issue arose.
And shortly after that, a medical issue reared its ugly head.

All the while, I kept on truckin' on set, doing my job as best as I could. I couldn't take any time off work now. Not when the getting was so good. And not when I could use the distraction. I kept telling myself that I'd have plenty of time to deal with things later. That the issues that haunt me will still be there after show is over and the truck is wrapped. But right now, I needed the job, the work, that fed my wallet as well as my soul.

Now the show's over, and I must deal with the thoughts that have been swirling around in my head for the past few weeks. As well as the stuff that life's made of, like the never ending piles of dirty dishes and laundry and unpaid bills. And the occasional job. Needless to say, it can all get a little overwhelming.

So as I overcome these mental, professional, and household obstacles, there may be a slight pause in my posts here. I've tried to put together some decent pieces these past few weeks, but it's hard to be inspired when your mind is elsewhere.

I'll try my best to get back to making this blog worth reading again soon, but until then, please enjoy this video I found of a hedgehog getting a bath:

Also, my thoughts go out to those who are affected by what happened in Boston... Which, come to think of it, is all of us.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Blinded By The Light.

"Hey guys," the Gaffer's voice came over the radio. "We're getting some complaints from people about being blinded when we turn on the lights. Can we please try to remember to call it out when we're hitting the switch? Thank you."

His very pleasantly phrased criticism didn't surprise me. I was more than halfway through the day on this new-to-me crew and I noticed early on that the other lamp ops almost never called out "Striking!" or "Watch your eyes!" before they turned on a light they just set.* I guess we've just been so busy that none of the guys thought anything of it. Besides, anyone who's been on set for a while (and I mean, on set. Not watching from the safe confines of video village.) knows not to look directly at a light right after it's been put down and plugged in. Of course we're going to turn it on. It's not like we're putting them on set because we thought the lamps could use a change of scenery.

Anyway, we acknowledge the note and got back to business as usual. A few minutes later, I bring a blonde in and aim it at the set as instructed. I plug it in and right before I hit the switch, I belt out a hearty and courteous "Striking! Watch your eyes!"

To my surprise** almost everyone on the set looked over just as I snapped on the 2K light; blinding them all in what was essentially a pretty dark room.

Sigh. I shook my head. Announcing you're going to turn on a light is like walking into a room and telling people not to look. Of course everyone's going to look! And then half of them realize what a stupid mistake they just made as they blink furiously in an attempt to regain their vision, while the other half complains to the Gaffer that they keep getting blinded.

You're damned if you do and damned if you don't.


* We're supposed to call out a warning as a courtesy so people can look away instead of being blinded by the light.

** Not really. This happens way more than you'd think.

Okay, so there are a few ways around this:

1) You could give a slight pause between the warning and flipping the switch. People will still look over at you, but hopefully they'll realize what's about to happen and quickly look away.

2) If possible, turn on the light with the barn doors closed and open the leaves one by one so the light doesn't hit people all at once. (Note: Some Gaffers will hate this and some colleagues will think you're an idiot who forgets to check the barn doors before turning on a light.) Alternatively, if the light's small enough, you could put your own hand in front of it and remove it once it's on.

3) Specifically warn the person who's in your line of fire ("Hey Samantha. Close your eyes/look away because I'm about to turn on this light."). But that's a kind of time consuming and harder for a new dayplayer to do if he/she doesn't know everyone yet.

4) Some Gaffers will let you wait (or even prefer) until the Grips throw some diffusion in front of the light before you turn it on to soften the blinding. However, some Gaffers don't like having anything in front of the light at all before they get a chance to focus it in.

5) Just blind them. They'll eventually learn to look away before it's too late.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

You Don't Know Everything.

The show I'm on doesn't have a permanent home during shooting, so we mostly shoot on location with a few days here and there on borrowed stages. On this particular week, we're borrowing a few sets from another show that isn't using it for a few days. However, to keep us from totally destroying it and/or running around with our heads cut off not knowing where anything is, we have a guy from the other show "babysitting" us for the duration of our stay.

While under normal circumstances, he's probably a pretty friendly guy, he didn't seem too keen on having us around. For one thing, the average age of our crew was much younger than he is, and I have a feeling he stepped into this gig with a little prejudice; thinking that we didn't know what we were doing and would cause him headaches down the road. That said, it probably didn't help that our crew consisted of a few sloppy electricians who left uncoiled stingers everywhere and didn't bring lights back to staging when they were done.

Anyway, the Older Guy seemed to grow more and more disgruntled as the week wore on. I tried to tidy up and organize the gear the best that I could, but seeing as how I was the dimmer board op on this show, I couldn't stray too far away from my station. Plus, everyone else seemed to be okay with the lack of an organizational system, so I let it go. After all, they were working the floor; not me.

On the last day we were there, the Older Guy seemed to just about had it. He was tossing around scrims and muttering about how we were mixing them up and not keeping them with the proper lights, and was just basically bitching about how unprofessional we were. Which, granted, was true at this point. I was embarrassed to be associated with a crew who seemed to have no problems working in a pig sty.

But what left me flabbergasted about his rant was that he was making it while he was re-globing a light... With his bare hands. And he didn't even wipe it down afterwards! Instead, he put it back into the assortment of working lights at our staging.

One of the very first things I learned when I started in this business was that if you touch a globe with your bare hands, you need to clean it (usually with an alcohol wipe) before turning the sucker on. Reason being that the oils on your hands will leave a residue on the bulb, and when that light heats up, the oil will cause the bulb to bubble and break like so:

On the top two globes, you can clearly see how they were grabbed.

So it amused and horrified me very much that this man, who holds himself in much higher regard than the rest of us, and has probably been in this business longer than all the working years of my colleagues and I combined, bitched about us being so "unprofessional" while he was committing a cardinal sin of lamp opping himself.

And since he has so many more years under his belt than the rest of us, I wondered how many times he's globed up a light without cleaning it afterwards in the decades he's been a juicer.

I thought about bringing this up to him, but decided against it. We were a guest on his stage and leaving a bad taste in his mouth as it is. It probably wouldn't do much good to have a young whippersnapper like me best him on something so basic as putting a globe in a light.

As the saying goes, you can't teach an old dog new tricks. Especially one as bitter as this guy.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Visual Cues.

"Hey, is this a day or night scene?" my colleague asks me, standing next to desk lamp on the set we're lighting. His thought process was a good one; if it's a day scene, the lamp doesn't need to be turned on. If it's a night scene, it's be a good idea to power it up.

However, I couldn't help but stare at him in confusion for a second, wondering if he really had just asked me that. He could've gotten that information off the day's callsheet. He also could've remembered our conversation with the Best Boy this morning when he said today's work consisted of all day scenes. Or, better yet, he could've remembered that we just set two BFLs* outside the set windows not thirty seconds ago.

"Sunlight" was streaming in from every window on our small set, and there he is, standing in the middle of the room, asking if it's supposed to be day or night. SMH.

I'm one of those people who try to live by the "There are no dumb questions" rule, but sometimes, this job makes it hard. I'm constantly surrounded by people who don't do the bare minimum of just looking around before they ask something.

No, we can't run cable that way. Can't you see the camera pointing exactly in that direction?

No, that light isn't going direct. Didn't you notice that huge bounce card the grips set up behind you?

Since everyone's talking loudly and the Art Department is still moving furniture around, I'd say no, we're not rolling right now.

Seeing as how we're doing exterior work and it's noon, yes, we're leaving our tungsten package on the truck.

Yes, the Kino you're about to bring in needs to be tungsten tubed. We're on a stage. All the other lights we've used so far are tungsten. Why would the Kino be any different?**

Are you standing between two light stands with the camera pointed in the opposite direction and wondering if you'll be seen during the take? I'm going to go out on a limb and say no, you won't.

Sigh. Sometimes, I feel like I'm in Clerks.

*Big Fucking Lights.
**There are a few scenarios where it would be different, so before I get bombarded with comments about how that one time you guys did it differently, I'm talking about "normal" situations here.

Monday, March 11, 2013


"Thank goodness it's Friday, amirite???" The often overly enthusiastic Crafty guy is beaming at the thought.

Honestly, I'm a little taken aback by his comment and a little confused. Is today really Friday? Huh. I guess it is. Partial unemployment has this way of making you lose track of the days.

After I snap out of running a mental calendar through my head, I offer him a meek smile, sad I can't share this enthusiasm of having the next two days off. The life of a day player, especially during the slow times, often means that I have the next day off... And usually, the day after that. So I just shrug and say, "Yeah, I guess so. But I'm a day player. Every day is like a Friday for me."

"Damn!" the Crafty guy says, still beaming. "Aren't you lucky?? I wish I had that going on. Every day is a Friday for you! How awesome is that??"

I smile, but then a thought crosses my mind. "Yeah... But at the same time, every day is also like a Monday."

"Oh...," says Crafty guy, as he walks back to his truck, "I do not like that. Touché." 

Thursday, February 28, 2013

You Know You've Made It Big When...

... you agree to help out a friend on a low budget thing, and when you're wrapping the gear, you have trouble fitting the correct pieces into the Kino Coffin. You wonder why you're having such a hard time with such a simple task* when you realize it's been years since you've packed one because most shows you've been on recently have Kino carts instead.


* Simple in the sense that it's common knowledge for those who work all the time in low budget stuff. In reality, it can be like a game of Tetris just to get everything to fit back in there, only less fun.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Freelancer Justice.

I was poking around the internet the other day, catching up on my reading, when I stumbled upon an article about how a web developer hijacked a client's website and publicly shamed them because they didn't pay him for his work. 

(Click to see it in a readable size.)

While I know there's two sides to every story and the client's saying they did pay him and blah blah blah, a little part of me couldn't help but do a fist pump after the first couple paragraphs because what freelancer, no matter the industry, hasn't wanted to do something like this? But the difference between us and a web designer is that we can't take back control over our work like this guy did when we get stiffed.*

And then it got even better. Further down the page, our little industry got a shout out.

 What really got me was this line:

"You don't get to sleep for days on end, but you do get to wait on your money forever."

 That definitely hit close to home on more than one occasion.

Previously. And previously.

* Although I did hear of a guy who hijacked the camera truck until the Producers finally paid everyone something, but that's another story.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

I Am Alone, But I Am Not Lonely.

From PostSecret.

"So," my co-worker started, trying to fill in the time between set ups, "how come you don't have a boyfriend?" This question was then followed by "When was the last time you went on a date?" and "Do you want me to fix you up?" [Note: He's totally serious.] and then followed by the even more embarrassing and infuriating situation of him explaining to me the importance of "getting out there," the miracle of online-dating and, believe it or not, how my biological clock was ticking.

Thanks, dude, for the biology lesson about my own body.

And I wish I could say this was just a one time incident, but sadly, it happens more than you'd think and way more often than I'd like.

It'd be bad enough if I was a regular on a crew and just had to face the same people everyday, but at least there's the hope that they'd tire of the topic sooner or later. But I'm not a regular on a crew. I'm a day player, working on different shows all the time and I feel like that kind of "conversation"* happens on any show I've been on for more than a day.

It's worth noting that none of these guys are bringing up my relationship status because they want to get in my pants. Oddly enough, the ones usually bringing the subject to light are either married, have a girlfriend, or I'm obviously not their type. They're bringing it up because they're "concerned" (their word, not mine) that I'm going to end up shriveled and alone.

But what I don't get is that if I'm not worried about my perpetual singledom, why are they so concerned with it?

No, I'm not dating anyone right now, and no, I'm not actively looking for a boyfriend. I have more important things to deal with in my life right now. And yes, I am alone, but more importantly, I am not lonely. I do not wish I was married right now. I do not wish to be barefoot and pregnant right now. I am okay with not having a boyfriend. And I do not need a man in my life to help define who I am, be it a significant other or a "helpful" colleague offering unsolicited "advice."

And no, I'm not a lesbian.

I did not think any of this made me a freak, but apparently, it does in the eyes of my male co-workers. I guess to them, if I don't have a man and I'm not desperate to get one, I must need help.

But all these "Why are you single?" talks don't help at all. Instead, they make me feel like there's something wrong with me. Like it's now or never if I want to have a kid. Like I should date an asshole because dating anyone is better than not dating at all. Like not being in a relationship is unhealthy.

But it's simply not true. And I hate that I have to remind myself that it's not true after every single one of those conversations.

I don't ask my male counterparts if they own or rent, and then promptly tell them that they need to buy a house. That time's running out and they must act now if they ever wish to own property and that there are even websites to help them with the search. I especially don't mention these things if they've never even said anything about real estate or wanting to stop being a renter. It's their life. They're adults. And who am I to tell them what they should and shouldn't do with their personal life? Is it too much to ask that they extend me the same courtesy?

So in case you're "concerned" about me, this Valentine's Day, yes, I will be alone. But I will not be lonely. I will spend the evening sitting on my couch, eating a box of chocolate while watching chick flicks and romantic comedies. I know that may sound sad and pathetic to some of you, but fuck you. Who are you to judge me? I love doing shit like that. And despite being single, I love Valentine's Day and what better way to celebrate than watching two people fall in love, even if it's just in a cheesy movie.

Please do not try to "fix me" or fix me up. Or recommend a website. I am fine. I'm one of the few people I know who can say I like where I am right now. There is nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with me.

And for the record, my biological clock is none of your damn business, thankyouverymuch.

Ps. Happy Valentine's Day!

* Is it a conversation if I feel like I'm getting lectured?
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