Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Sorry, I Can't Stay.

I loved it here.

After spending a grueling three months on a show, I was back on the day playing market and couldn't be happier.

The first on my call list was a crew I've known for several years now. No matter how long I've been apart from these guys, they always welcome me back with big smiles and family style hugs.

And since they usually worked with the same production company, the whole crew would welcome me back with open arms as well, from the camera guys to the stand-ins to crafty. Even the Producers would give me a smile and a nod whenever I returned.

It was always easy to fall into a good work rhythm with these guys. They had a system down and it was like clockwork; when it came time to light the set, everyone had their purpose, and they did it in the most efficient manner. And yet, despite them working like a finely tuned military operation, I always found a way to contribute. Even as just a day player, I was one of the team.

And everyone got along really well, which can be a rare find. There was never any drama between anyone and when outside forces came knockin', everyone had each other's backs, whether it be emotional support or a physical one.

These guys were great. My favorite team to work with. I love them and whenever I'm on another show, I can't wait to work with them again.

But 100% of the time, if given the opportunity to work on another crew, I'd leave them in a heartbeat.

To me, this crew represents comfort and family and stability. I can always predict the hours because of the way production likes to run things. I can predict which lights will be called for and how they will be used because that's their style of lighting. I know I won't have to touch anything more than a piece of 2/0 because 4/0 is just unheard of around here. It's a great place to just come in, do your work, and clock out. No muss. No fuss. No challenge.

Me? I need the challenge. I need the hardships. The long hours. I need the (occasional) idiot on the crew that makes it harder on everyone sometimes. I (very occasionally) need the workouts that only 4/0 can provide. I need the curve ball lighting challenge that forces me to solve a problem creatively. I need the parade of DPs and Gaffers that make me look at things in a new way and think outside of the box.

I need the challenges, being uncomfortable, and the unfamiliarity. I feel like I still have, and need, room to grow and while everything is always great with these guys, it feels like something is missing here. There's a whole lot for me to learn in this business still and while these guys are industry vets in their own right, this isn't the place for me to learn it.

Home is a great place to come back to. Home is where they welcome you with open arms, whether you've been gone for two weeks or two years. Home is where you go when you need a break from the world. It's where you leave to find yourself. It's where you leave to become yourself.

These people are my family. My home. I love them. But I can't stay here.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Photo Of The Day.

I'm still trying to figure out what percent genius and what percent stupid this is.

(Thankfully, this wasn't seen at work. It was nabbed from Facebook.)

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Radio Silence.

When I was starting out - before the days when every juicer and grip wore a walkie on their belt - I marveled at the "set ears" of the veteran crew members. They'd hear things I didn't, and would immediately run to deal with whatever the issue was on set. It took me a while to develop my own set-ears, but when I did, it made me a lot more valuable on set. I wonder if the ubiquity of radios in modern times keeps on-set techs from hearing anything that doesn't come over those radios... and of course, cell phones are probably the worst thing to happen in terms of distracting the crew's attention from the business at hand. 
Of course, I fully understand saying this makes me Grampa Simpson waving my cane while yelling at the clouds...

I started to post a reply to his comment when I realized it was probably going to be a lengthy one. So I'll make a post about it instead.

Michael, scoot over because I'm going to be yelling at the clouds right next to you.

Wonder no more. Radios, do in fact, keeps on-set techs from hearing anything that doesn't come over them.

I've been a day player on too many shows to count where we're all sitting at staging during a scene when I hear a "cut" and some commotion going on set. As a day player, trying to follow the leads of the regulars, I'll usually ask something along the lines of, "Are we moving on?" or "Should we go see what's going on?" And 100% of the time (though I don't know why I keep asking the question) the answer always is, "If he (the Gaffer) needed anything, he'd call it over the radio."

Not sure how to argue with that. Especially with a regular crew member. They'd know better than a measly day player who's never been on the show before, right?

But nine times out of ten, if I get up and go investigate myself, I find the Gaffer moving or adjusting something on his own.

So why doesn't he call for a hand over the radio? Because by the time he's done transmitting and the guys wake up from their Facebook stupor (plus a second or two of the usual, "What did he just ask for?" looks and questions among the guys) and one of them makes their way to set, it's usually faster for the Gaffer to have done it himself anyway. Does it mean he needed help? No. Does that mean he didn't want help? Probably not.

It's like setting up a small light. I could do it myself, sure. But I would appreciate it if you ran power for me or grabbed the stand. Especially if you had free hands. And even more so since it's your job.

And even more to the point, if I had to do this repeatedly by myself despite knowing there are four other guys just sitting on their butts, scrolling through their phones, I would get annoyed after the first few times. And if I was the boss, I'd probably be annoyed before that.

Listen, I get that sometimes there's a lot of downtime in our day. But what I don't get how people don't think they need to pay attention during that downtime. Like, work is still being done somewhere by one department or the other and since all the departments are interconnected, don't you think there's a good chance that an SLT is needed on set? If the Gaffer's not adjusting a light between takes, Special FX needs a stinger for a fan or the dolly needs a bump or the food stylist needs power or etc, etc.

But for some reason, a lot of guys don't realize this and won't take their eyes off their phones unless they hear something being called for over the radio. And even then, there's often conversations like this...:

Me: "Can you grab the stand? I'll get the light."
Juicer: "Huh?"
Me: "Can you grab the stand?"
Juicer: "For what?"
Me: "...a Tweenie. Didn't he just call for one over the radio?"
Juicer: "Oh, I dunno. I wasn't paying attention."


Saturday, May 11, 2019

Sounds That I'd Recognize Anywhere.

I'm hanging out at staging with my fellow lamp operators when I hear a faint thump mixed with a slight metallic rattle coming from the direction of the set. Knowing exactly that causes that sound, I turn the corner and find the Gaffer setting a light by himself.

I give him a hand, and he walks away to look at the monitor so he can direct me on how to focus it.

"Pan it to the left a little bit...," he calls over the radio, "Stop. That's good right there. Thank's A.J."

The other guys, hearing the talk over the walkie talkie, decide to get up off their butts from staging to see what's going on. Seeing as how they all arrived "just in time," all but one of them turn right back around so they can go back to paying attention to their phones. The guy that stays behind gestures to his ear-piece.

"Did he call for that light over the radio?"
"No," I reply.
"Then how did you know he needed a hand?"
I give him a little shrug and say, "I heard a baby stand moving around."

Some cats recognize the sound of a can opener being used. Some dogs recognize the jingle of car keys. A mother might be able to recognize their baby's cry in a full nursery. Some people can recognize a lover's laugh from three rooms away. I, as someone who is forever single and alone, can recognize certain sounds from anywhere on a sound stage.

In the bustle of a set, I can identify the sound of the brake on a Roadrunner stand being released.
I can identify the unmistakable cranking sound of a Roadrunner going up (or down).
... Or anything involving a Roadrunner, really.
I know exactly what it sounds like when the handle of a lunch box falls over as it settles.
I know the distinct "buzz" that a surge of electricity brings to a BFL* that was just fired up.
And the distinct "buzz" an 18K makes when it fails to strike.
I know the rhythmic "click" of a Joker ballast that's about to go bad.
And the rattle a loose globe in a Par Can makes.
Or worse, the rattle a broken lens makes in a fresnel head.
I know when a dolly is charging even when I'm all the way over at Crafty.
Even the "plop" of a wrapped stinger hitting the ground or milk crate is something that I can pick out in a busy room.

I may not be able to recognize a baby's cry, but I sure can recognize the sound a baby stand makes.

I don't need to wait for a call over the radio to know that a light needs to be adjusted/added/moved. I know something's happening because I hear a stinger being dropped on the ground or the unmistakable squeak of a lunch box handle moving. I don't need to see that the light is moving before I rush over to help. I'm already there before it moves because I heard the creak and click of the brake being released.

I'll admit, it is a little weird to pick up on things like that. I don't expect my co-workers to recognize the sound a stinger makes and come running,** but I can't tell you how many times I've had to stop a conversation because of something I heard in the background and know I had to go back to set. Despite what I'd imagine to be eventual hearing loss due to people shouting in my ear-piece all day, my ears automatically perk up to any sounds of work related activity. I'm honestly not sure if it's a gift, a burden or an obsession. Or maybe it's all three.

It's like having eyes in the back of my head or a tingling Spidey sense. I can't help it. I mean, you can't exactly tell yourself to stop hearing things. But what I do know is that it seems to make me a better set lighting tech. The Gaffer may not have needed help with that light (or else he would've called for it over the radio) but I'm sure he appreciated me being there.

* Big Fucking Light.
** Also, let's acknowledge that there's a difference between recognizing and registering. I'm sure every SLT worth their salt knows what a crank stand sounds like, but not everyone registers that the sound means work is being done when they're distracted by Facebook and the sound becomes nothing more than background noise.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Technology Is Our Friend.

"I'm not a big fan of newer vehicles. I mean, all the new amenities and features are great and all, but that just means there's more shit that can go wrong and break."
                                                                       - The guy at the car rental place.

"Shit," my colleague mutters above me.

I look up at him from the bottom of the ladder I'm holding as he hangs a light and ask him what's wrong.

"I can't get the damn thing to turn on," he says.
"Stupid question, but is the stinger hot?"
"...And you hit the power button?"
"Yeah. Do you think we have the right address?*"
"It doesn't matter," I reply. "The Gaffer wanted us to run this one manually."
"So maybe we should make sure it's in the right mode? He wanted to run it full daylight, so it needs to be in bi-color or color temp mode and not RGB. And not in DMX control."

My co-worker just stares down blankly at me.

"Do you want me to go up there and look at it?"

"Yes," he says with a relieved sigh.

We switch places on the ladder and now I'm staring at the control panel of this fancy new light.

I go through the usual steps:
Is the line hot? (Check.)
Is the unit turned on?** (Check.)

Still nothing.

I start to toggle through the numerous menu and setting buttons.

Is it out of DMX control? (Check.)
Is it under manual control? (Check.)
Is it out of RGB mode? (Check.)
Is it out of gel mode? (Check.)
Is it out of FX mode? (Check.)
Is it in color temperature mode? (Check.)

Still nothing.

I start getting a little creative trying to find a solution. I clear out all the DMX settings. I revert the address back to zero just in case. I even do a factory reset in the off chance that there's something deep within the menu system that I don't know about but someone had activated. I channel all the tech support help lines I've ever called and unplug the power and re-boot the system a few times. As a last ditch effort, I make sure the magenta and green setting are set at zero because I am officially out of ideas on what to do.

Still nothing.

I'm about to give up when I notice something on the corner of the display. I fiddle with a knob and the light comes on.

"You did it!" my colleague exclaims. "What was the problem? I can never figure out this new LED shit. Too many options on them."

I climb down the ladder so I can see the expression on his face as I tell him what the issue was.

"The dimmer was turned down all the way on the dial."

Damn technology.

* Most lights these days, unless they're a tungsten light, have a DMX-able option where the unit can be controlled from a lighting console. The address is how the board knows it's communicating with the correct light.

** Fun Story: We had learned the day before that with this particular model, just because the display was on does not mean that the light is turned on. It took a couple of us quite a few minutes to figure that out. Though when the next guy couldn't figure it out, it was a lot of fun to be "that person" who just walked right up, pushed a button and saved the day.  :)

Monday, April 15, 2019


Image result for fuck you money

As everyone in this business knows, you gotta stock up for the lean times. You work when you can, especially if you live the life of a day player because you never know where your next paycheck is coming from. Between the unpredictable highs and lows of production schedules, it's just good planning to save up some money during highs so you can still survive during the lows.

In addition to this "Unemployment" fund, I like to stockpile a little extra for what's fondly known as "Fuck You"* money. "Fuck You" money is a reserve in your bank account for when you encounter a job you don't want, whether it be because of shitty conditions, a ridiculously far commute, a company that doesn't align with your moral beliefs, or, as is usually the case, the people you'll be working for are assholes. This money allows you to say "Fuck You" to the job and gives you the ability to turn it down. It's what makes it possible for you walk away from a job simply because you don't like it.

The beauty of my "Fuck You" money is that it comes from what I like to believe is hard work. For the longest time, I took every job that came my way, whether the pay was great or not. I'd swing from crew to crew, earning my keep with each one and in the end my "Fuck You" stash not only gives me financial security to walk away from a shitty job, but ironically enough, it comes with job security as well. The list of people I could work for grew with my funds, so even if I turn down a job, I have a pool of potential bosses to pull from before I even have to dip into my "FY" fund.

And above all that, just knowing you have the power to walk away from something is a beautiful thing and one of the Best. Feelings. EVER.

Image result for fuck you money

* Not to be confused with its cousin, the "Oh Shit" fund that's meant to cover unexpected emergencies like a broken leg or broken roof.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Value Of A Stinger.

Overheard on the set the other day from a Special FX* guy:
"So I was on this one show, and the electricians kept messing with my fans. Burning out the motors, you know? So to get them back, I started stealing their stingers.** Just like, one a day until I ended up with about fifteen or so of them. And they're like, $250 a pop! That's over $3500 I got from them! And those things are great to have around the house. They're totally waterproof, you know? Totally waterproof. And when you burn them up, you just replace the connectors on them and keep going! And that's so easy to do. Even an idiot can do it. Literally. Something's wrong with you if you mess it up."

Okay. Soooo much wrong to unpack there.

First off, unless you're plugging your fans somewhere you're not supposed to (like a 220v line or a dim channel, etc) I have absolutely no idea how we can "burn out the motors." Like, I'm having a hard time trying to think of an intentional way to do this, which means that if it was done on purpose, you must've been one helluva dick to warrant that type of effort in retaliation. Repeatedly.

Secondly, stingers are one of the cheapest things we rent. And one of the most of. There's nothing with a higher count on our equipment rental list than stingers. Which means we lose them. A lot. One a day might be on the high side, but between every department borrowing a couple (and often when we're not looking), it's definitely not unheard of. So it's not exactly a big deal. I mean, I've been on more than one crew who refers to them as "expendables."

"What? Losing $250/day isn't a big deal??" you might ask? It might be, if the guy wasn't a clueless moron. I don't know where he's getting his figures from, but I have never seen a rental house charge more than about $100/stinger lost. And that's for the fifty footers. The twenty five footers go for even less and based on this guy's apparent IQ level on the subject matter, there's a more than great chance he didn't go for the gold and only target fifty foot pieces for his collection. But let's give him the benefit of the doubt and say he did. His bounty would've still only netted him about $1500 of stingage, not over $3K. And keep in mind, that's the replacement cost rental houses charge. It costs waaaaay less for them to actually get another one. Just because you're paying $X amount doesn't mean something is actually worth $X. If you tried to turn around and sell the lot to someone who actually knows what they're doing for that amount, they'll laugh in your face.

"What? A $1500 replacement fee isn't a big deal??" you might ask? No, not really. On a bigger show, no one's even going to blink an eye at that L&D.*** And figures can almost always be talked down. Rental agents try to keep everyone happy. I've seen them write off the smaller items (ie: stingers) to help the bottom line, which makes the Best Boy happy (because the numbers look better, and in turn, makes them look better), Production happy (they get a lower L&D bill), and the Rental House happy (they're still charging us for something and in the end, the house always wins anyway). And happy people mean repeat business in the future. So even if Mr. SPFX thinks he's shoving it to the Electricians, honestly, I don't think anyone really gives a damn (or for that matter, thinks twice about why a few extra stingers are missing).

Thirdly, and most importantly, STINGERS ARE NOT WATERPROOF. Like, at all. The connectors are technically not even water resistant (and yes, there's a difference between the two terms). When we use them in wet conditions, we use all kinds of protections, from wrapping and elevating the connections to using GFCIs, because, and I can't stress this enough, STINGERS ARE NOT WATERPROOF. Do waterproof ones exist? Sure. But I guarantee you the ones he has are not it. I've honestly never actually seen one on set, and I'm pretty sure the standard rental houses don't carry them for liability issues.

And lastly, what the hell is he doing that he's "burning up the connectors"?? We may fry them all the time on set because we sometimes have faulty equipment running sizable electrical loads, but this guy was talking about using them around the house! If you're burning them up even semi-frequently, you've got a bigger problem than the delusion of a few stingers costing more than my rent.

Listen, if this was a P.A. or even a Grip or someone else that I overheard, it barely would've registered on my radar. I wouldn't expect them to know all this. But this was a SPECIAL EFFECTS guy. The guy on set in charge of blowing things up. And burning things down. And a whole slew of other things that often include electricity, water, high voltage, fast things, and fire; often all at once and all while keeping the crew safe. To hear such misconceptions come out of this guy's mouth is very concerning, to say the least.

But, he did get one thing right though. He's proof that even an idiot can change the plug on a stinger.

*Special Effects/FX is the department in charge of most "movie magic" that's done in real time on the set. Everything from smoke, fire, atmosphere, wind, explosions, etc, to making the leaves on a tree outside a window move from the "wind" and, literally, the kitchen sink.

**Fancy movie talk for "extension cord."

***Loss and Damage.
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