Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Decade.


A cool trick I've learned is if you're pressed for time you can do all your Christmas shopping at Costco. There is literally something for everyone. Tools and other household items for Dad, a new jacket and sweater for Mom, various speakers, head phones and other small electronics for various siblings, games and DVDs for friends, and a whole rack of gift cards for whoever that hard to shop for person in your life is, with enough samples in every aisle to keep you fueled as you steer your ridiculously over sized cart through the ridiculous sea of people.

Part two of the trick is to go on a random weekday and you just might make it out of there with all your goods (plus a hot dog and soda for $1.50) with your sanity intact. God help anyone who tries to navigate the store on a weekend.

Which is how I found myself there one Wednesday afternoon, pleased with myself for beating the system with one stop shopping at warehouse prices, when the cashier started to make small talk with me.

"So, what kind of work do you do that lets you shop at Costco in the middle of a weekday afternoon?"
"Oh, I kind of jump around to different TV and movie sets so my schedule can kinda be sporadic. I just thought I'd take advantage of the day off today and knock out some shopping at Costco."
"You work in TV and movies? What do you do?"
"Lighting."
"Lamp operator?"
"Yeah..." I look at him impressed he knew the term. "How did you know?"
"I used to be in the business."
"Used to be?"
"Yeah. I couldn't find enough work so I had to get a 'real' job and ended up here," he gestured to the warehouse. "Who do you usually work for?"

We traded Gaffer and show names as he continued to ring up my purchases, and then we wished each other a happy holiday and I was on my way to the parking lot.

Out interaction stuck with me for a little while and I couldn't stop thinking about it. He used to do the same job I did and had to leave because he wasn't finding enough work to make a living. Then I thought about the neighbors down the street from my parents' house. Their kid was also "living the dream" in LA but had to leave the business and move back in with his parents after being laid off from one show too many.

Then I thought about a conversation I had with my CPA. He was commenting the last time he did my taxes about how he wishes his daughter, who is also in the entertainment lighting business, was doing as financially well as I am. After a few years of struggling, he's not sure how much longer she'd be able to last on her own.

Then I thought about all the people I met when I started my career journey in Los Angeles and how many of them just kinda... disappeared. The guy who first taught me how to run cable had to go back to England shortly after we met because he had more contacts and offers for work there than he did here. His best boy ended up disappearing as well. The girl I used to compete with for jobs rode off to Arizona at some point on her motorcycle. There was another girl and we'd help each other find work, but she eventually left to fly drones. Another guy I used to work with left to become an insurance salesman so he could pay the bills and support his family. Another one became a massage therapist. And another a fireman. Another works for a dispensary. One even moved to another state to become a card dealer at an Indian casino. "I'm tired of barely making enough to survive," he told me before he left. And countless others just vanished to who knows where.

And those who managed to stay in this business aren't always thriving. One Gaffer I used to work for is still taking jobs that barely pay minimum wage, which was the same rate he was taking when I met him over a decade ago.

Meanwhile, I've been working pretty steadily for the past ten years. I'd been lying if I said I didn't have a roller coaster of rates, but for the most part, they have been pretty decent. I've also managed to land a few Best Boy gigs and even a Gaffing job or two. I'm constantly finding work that challenges me, and despite sometimes barely making it through by the skin of my teeth, I always make it through nonetheless.

I made some pretty solid contacts over the years and learned enough niche things to branch out to different specialties that would see me through the slow times. I even managed to have enough money saved that if I were to be hit with a dry spell, it'd still be a while before I have to move back in with my parents.

I wouldn't exactly say I've been lucky this past decade, but I will say it's been good to me. I may not have a clear goal or game plan for the next ten years, but I'm excited to see what it has in store for me.

Because if it's anything like the last ten years, I'm not only going to survive, but I'm going to thrive.


1 comment :

Michael Taylor said...

People don't realize how hard this business really is, especially nowadays with home prices and rents so fucking high. Rents were much lower when I was at the same career stage as you are now, but if I didn't have a great landlord in LA (until she got too old to landlord, and sold the place to a jerk) who refused to raise my rent for ten full years, I'd never have been able to buy a house 400 miles away from LA. Which means that now, in retirement, I'd probably be living on the concrete banks of the LA river in a cardboard condo underneath the Sixth Street bridge instead of my shack in the woods. Full union scale for juicers and grips is decent these days - something like $43/hour - but with apartments costing an arm and a leg to rent, people are still just scraping by - and God help those still working non-union, or who get hit with a serious dry spell. The only saving grace right now is all the competition going on among the streaming networks as they jockey for market-share. If not for all those shows, I think a lot more of the rank and file would be in real trouble these days. The thing is, this glut of production will not last forever. Remember, there were more than a hundred auto manufacturers early in the 20th century - fifty years later, only a handful remained. At a certain point, there will be serious consolidation among those streaming networks as many fail and are absorbed by the survivors. When that happens, and the remaining streaming networks cease throwing money around like confetti, things may get even tougher in Hollywood and beyond.

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