Saturday, August 29, 2009


Free stuff is supposed to be one of the best parts of working in this industry. It doesn't take that many page flips of a gossip magazine to find some starlet showing off the latest "gift" given from a fashion house trying to promote their newest line, nor does it take more than walking a couple of blocks in Santa Monica to spot an agent enjoying an al fresco lunch on the company card. But what a lot of people don't know is that below-the-liners get our own version of these perks as well.

There's free snacks to munch on at crafty, and depending on the show, we can get up to three catered meals a day (breakfast, lunch, 2nd meal). And occasionally, we get some swag tossed our way too. We don't get anything nearly as nice as what the latest "It Girl" does or anything, that's for sure. But over the years, I've gotten some great CDs from working on a music video or two, posters, DVDs, books, watches... Decent wrap gifts include a few multi-tools as well as a couple bottles of very nice wine.

However, most of the time, the swag comes in the form of a short sleeved t-shirt. From TV shows to movies, from student films to webisodes, most productions, at one point or another, will have some kind of souvenir crew shirt made and distributed among the departments. The same goes for rental houses, lighting and grip companies, dolly manufacturers, and any other industry related business. They'll all hand you a shirt with their name on it if you ask nice enough. In fact, if you pay any attention to the clothing worn on set, probably at least half of the grip and electric departments are dressed in a shirt they got for free. Which in a way, makes sense: If you're going to get dirty on a job (and you probably will), you might as well wreck a shirt you didn't have to pay for, right?

Unfortunately, I don't really have that luxury. Why? Because a film crew is comprised mostly of males so more often than not, those shirts only come in guy sizes, and well, I'm not a guy. And not only that, but for some reason, everyone only seems to order Large, X-Large and XX-Large sizes. Medium sizes are rare, and even rarer are the Smalls (X-Small? Don't even bother looking), which are usually still a bit too big on my girlish frame. So unless I want get snagged on every knob, hook and lever I walk by from wearing a shirt that's too baggy, I'm out of luck.

How unfair is that?? Women on set, especially in g/e, have to work ten times harder just to prove themselves to their male co-workers, and we can't even get a fucking t-shirt that fits. I only know of two companies who are considerate enough to have girl shirts (in sizes as well as cuts) but unfortunately they're only offered in white, which sucks because a) on a set, they get dirty fast, and b) they tend to be a bit... uh... see-thru.

Every now and again, I'll work on a show low budget enough that we get a few guys on crew that are on the inexperienced side, yet high value enough that vendors may send some swag our way. It's always fun to watch the newbies hold their new shirts up, checking out the size with a smile on their face. They always wear them the next day, and if you didn't know any better, you could almost swear the shirt has magical powers. The same guys who were full of self-doubt and running around set lost yesterday are now walking around with a sense of belonging. As if wearing a shirt given by a vendor was like a badge of honor, signifying that they're a real grip or juicer. Since you can't really get one of these cotton garments of coolness unless you had some kind of access to the company that's handing them out, getting that first shirt gives you a much needed sense of acceptance in an industry that you've been busting your ass for. Whenever I see these looks of accomplishment on the new kids' faces, I like to think back fondly to the first time I wore a film shirt to set....

Oh wait, never mind. Such a memory doesn't exist.

So guys, the next time you get a free shirt, whether it be from a company or a show, consider it a privilege that you can wear it to work the next day.

Some of us aren't so lucky.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

You Know You've Been Working Too Hard When...

... on your day off, you head to the kitchen to grab you and a friend some soda. You forgot to ask what kind he wants, so reach for your walkie and wonder why you can't find it.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

You Couldn't Pay Me Enough...

"Hey A.J."

I turn around to see who's calling my name. It's the writer/director/producer of the low budget feature I'm on.

"Can I speak to you for minute?"

We head over to the side of the garage as the rest of the crew shuttles lights and cables through the house for the first shot of the day.

"So..." he starts off with kind of a sigh. I can already tell this is going to be a good one. "So we don't have a boom op today, so I was wondering if you wouldn't mind doing it."

I'm Best Boy Grip on this show, and he's asking me to swing into sound. (Don't ask me where the mixer was. It was one of those shows.) I like (most) sound guys, but I have no interest in their job.

"Uh... Actually, yeah, I do mind," I reply.

He's taken aback. Shocked. That's when I realized that he wasn't really asking me to do him a favor. He was expecting me to say yes because it's his money, his show. Apparently, my answer threw him off because he was at a loss for words for a second.

"Really? You can't boom op? Why not? There's really no one else to do it..."

"Well, because I really don't want to and it's not what I was hired to do. Can't you ask someone else?" I looked around set. Along with a few of his friends that were there to "help out" (read: eat up crafty and get in the way), there was a PA or two floating about.

"Well, I guess I can... But I figured I'd ask you since, well, a lot of people here are generous enough to be volunteering their time, and you're one of the few who are getting paid, so..."

Now it was my turn to be stunned into silence. It was true that I was getting paid, but it was so below my normal rate that it was laughable. Not to mention that his production manager had called me for this job twice: once when they wanted me to work for free, which I promptly turned down and the second when they finally offered me money. That second call meant that they couldn't find anyone else who'd take the job as a freebie, forcing them to finally dig up some cash.

But apparently, to this guy, that money didn't mean that they were paying someone to do the job that they're hired to do. He saw it as a reason for me to do his bidding.

That makes absolutely no sense to me. If you're paying good money for a plumber, you don't ask him to hook up your cable. You make damn sure he's fixing your clogged drain. You don't hire a babysitter to do your taxes. And you don't scrape up money that's barely there to begin with to hire a grip and then make her hold a boom all day.

Eventually, words found their way out of my mouth again. "I don't know what else to tell you other than I'm not doing it."

And with that, I walked back to the truck to do the job I was hired for.

Although I didn't look back while I walked away, I could still feel his eyes on me. He was in disbelief that I had said no to him not once, but twice. Sure, I could have tried to explain to him that he's only paying me to grip and if "helping out" with sound was part of the original deal, there's no way I would've taken this job. But all that would've done is waste time and energy, and he'd still be annoyed that I said no to him. In his mind, it didn't matter to him that I was being paid to grip. What mattered to him was that I was getting paid, and therefore, I should do whatever he asked. By my refusal to boom op, he saw me as someone who wasn't doing their job and wasn't a team player. If that's the case, then fuck him and his team.


A friend of mine ended up Besting on the next show the director was on. He called me up to to see if I could fill in for a few days while he was at his cousin's wedding, only to call back a little while later.

"Sorry, but the deal's off. I just happened to mention your name to the director and he said no way. He really doesn't like you. What did you do to him?"

"Oh, he asked me to boom op and I said no."

Now it was my friend's turn to be stunned into silence. The phone was quiet for a bit before he said, "Wait.... What??"

I told him the story.

"That's ridiculous," he said when I was done. "Luckily, he's been pretty good on this one about not asking us to do stuff that's not our job. He'll ask a PA or something for stuff like that."

Huh. Go figure.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Paycheck Love.

I hate chasing paychecks.

I hate it when they say "We'll send you your check Monday morning after wrap" instead of handing it to you at the end of the night.
I hate it when they don't send it out Monday morning.
I hate it when it's not in my mailbox yet and it's the Friday after.
I hate it when it's been weeks since wrap and I still haven't received my check.
I hate it when it's been months since wrap and I still haven't received my check.
I hate it when your Best Boy just happens to be out of town when you call to ask him what's going on with accounting.
I hate it when he says he'll deal with it when he gets back.
I hate it even more when he finally calls me, but says it'll be another week or so longer.
I hate it when a couple of weeks come and go and still no paycheck.
I hate it when I call up the Best Boy again, and he passes me off to someone in production. "He's in charge of it now, not me," he says.
I hate it when that person says he'll send it out on the 4th. It finally comes on the 11th, and you notice the post mark on the envelope is from the 8th.
I like it when I finally get paid.

I hate it when then the check bounces.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

"That's Not My Job."

It's a phrase that no one likes to hear, yet sometimes, we're forced to say it. Especially if you're working in grip/electric on a low budget shoot. For some reason, Production assumes that they can use us like PAs when they've run out of actual PAs to abuse. It's even worse when a different department assumes the same thing (whether it's because of stupidity or laziness on their part... usually both). So in case anyone wants to avoid hearing "That's not my job" from a grip/electric, here are a few guidelines...

-- Just because it's on the truck doesn't mean we're responsible for it. This is a continuation of my previous post. We understand that there's not enough money for each department to have its own truck and we all have to share. And while grip and lighting gear may take up most of the space, that doesn't mean it's our job to load on the wardrobe/props/tables/chairs for you. While most of us are nice enough to do it anyway, it really bugs me when people just expect you to. On that note, just because there's wardrobe/props/crafty stuff in the truck doesn't automatically make us part of that department. I shit you not, I once had a sound guy ask me if a specific microphone was in the case he had me put in the back of the truck. "Uh... I dunno. It's really not my responsibility to know exactly what's in that case." Without missing a beat, he gives me a stare down and says "Yeah, it is." Um... What??

-- It's not our job to do lock down. Find someone else to keep people from walking by that window when we're rolling. Don't have enough PAs? That's not my problem. I'm too busy setting up for the next shot, wrapping up the last one, or tweaking the lights between takes to fix your lack of foresight.

-- If we're running put-puts, believe it or not, it's not our job to get gas for them. Yes, we're the ones who operate them. We turn them on, run the cable, and make sure they're working properly. And while we do keep an eye on the fuel gauge, someone else needs to be the one making the drive to the gas station to fill up the gas can. In fact, a good rule of thumb: if it requires leaving the location, don't ask us to do it.

-- If it's not grip/lighting gear, we're not touching it. I'm sorry if there are boxes of props and a camera case in the shot, but it's not our job to move stuff that belongs to another department. It's not that we're lazy and unhelpful, but it's because some of that stuff is worth more than my car. Or someone worked really hard to get that futuristic ray gun just right and one wrong move could reduce the all important prop to broken pieces on the floor. I have enough worries trying not to damage my own gear, thankyouverymuch. And inversely, if you're not in g/e, don't touch our stuff.

-- It's not our job to be extras. We're not the ones who insisted on doing a big party scene. We're not the ones who couldn't get thirty of our closest friends to show up. And it's not our fault you didn't think to cast someone to be "Girl On Bus" when she was clearly written in the script. Again, it's not our job to fix your lack of foresight. (And don't act like you're doing us a big favor when asking us to be in the scene. You're not.)

Some of this may sound like whining, yes. I mean, how hard can it be to keep civilians from walking on the sidewalk during a take? Or going down the street for a can of gas? But the point is, that's not what I was hired to do. My own job is keeping me busy enough without having to explain to my boss that no, I can't tweak that light/adjust that flag/fly in a stand because I'm setting up chairs/moving cans of paint/watching a dog piss on a tree outside. And don't pull that "This is a low budget film. Everyone helps with everything" crap either. I'm all for lending a hand where it's needed, but there's a big difference between working together and flat out doing someone else's job. Being low budget is not an excuse for being unprofessional.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

If You Give A Mouse A Cookie...

With so many different jobs on set, many of them with obscure names (grip, best boy, crafty), it's common for the newcomers to be confused on who does what, especially in the indie world where the lines tend to blur. And every so often, you're asked to do a task that isn't in your job description.

That's when you have two choices: Be nice and do it anyway or decide that this shoot's already too much of a pain in the ass and being asked to do something that doesn't involve a light or a c-stand is the last straw.

On one such occasion, I choose the latter. A stand-off ensued and threw off the production schedule by a good hour.

Like so many low-budget productions, the grips and electrics had to share a truck with production, and the last thing that was loaded into the truck the previous night was a couple of coolers as well as some wardrobe and props. So in the morning, after the truck arrived and parked for the day, we opened up the back and waited... and waited...

"Why aren't you guys unloading the truck?" asked the DP as he wandered by. "Because we're waiting for someone to move the coolers," explained the Best Boy. "We can't unload our stuff until that's cleared." "Oh. Okay." And the DP walks away.

The same exchange happens a few minutes later, this time it's with the AD. "Oh, okay. Let me go find someone to get started on that," he says.

So we waited... and waited...

Finally he comes back and is surprised to see that nothing's been touched. Apparently, he never did find someone to move them and just assumed that we'd get tired of waiting and do it anyway. "Can't you guys just unload it all?" he asks. "No," says the Best Boy. "We don't want to be held responsible for stuff that's not ours. Someone else is going to have to move them."

After some back and forth, someone finally gives in and the coolers get unloaded. By the time that happened though, the schedule had been seriously thrown off. Later on, an extra was hanging out by the truck and was remarking how ridiculous the whole scenario was.

Him: "Were you guys really arguing for an hour about who was going to unload the damn coolers??"
Me: "Yeah."
Him: "But they're coolers. They're not that heavy and it takes ten seconds to get them off that truck."
Me: "True, but have you ever read If You Give A Mouse A Cookie?"
Him: "The kids book? What does that have to do with anything?"
Me: "Well, if we unloaded those coolers, who do you think they're going to turn to when its running low on ice? Granted, it's not all that hard to dump a bag of ice in there, but if we do that, they'll expect us to fill it up with water and sodas as well. And when that happens, who do you think people are going to turn to when crafty is running low on chips and crackers? And when you're rummaging around for the crackers, would you mind looking for the coffee as well? Oh, and since you're the one who found the coffee can, you might as well brew a nice big pot of it. Then, before you know it, we end up being responsible for an entire department that's not ours. And what happens when there's no more ice? Or we run out of water? Or the coffee's bad? All of a sudden, we're taking shit for stuff we shouldn't even have to be doing in the first place."
Him (nodding his head in thoughtfulness): "Yeah... I guess you have a point. But come on man, they're just a couple of coolers."
Me: "Oh really? So you wouldn't mind unloading them tomorrow then?"
Him: "Me? No... That's not my job."

My thoughts exactly.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Nice Guys Finish Last.

Once upon a time, there were two Key Grips. One was a jack ass. He'd make loud, inappropriate comments, hit on all the ladies on set, bad mouth the AC when her back is turned, steal your work gloves and hide them, and would probably spit in your coffee when you weren't looking as "joke".

Meanwhile, Key Grip #2 was a prince. He'd swap jokes and stories with you like an old buddy and made sure you stayed warm on night shoots. He'd thank you for your help and tell you you're awesome at the end of every day and whenever you brought a c-stand onto set, he'd act like you were doing him such a huge favor. An absolute peach to work with.

But if you plopped me down between the two and told me to pick one to work with, I'd pick Mr. Jack Ass. Every time.

Why? Because despite all the frustrations, embarrassments and headaches this guy causes, he's a better boss than Key #2. He may be an ultra douche bag, but he never directs his verbal abuses to his crew. He thinks two steps ahead and keeps everyone informed. And if someone drops the ball and makes our jobs harder (like a certain "AD" who doesn't know what the shots are and will just guess) he'll let him have it. The words "holding back" aren't in his vocabulary and he doesn't take shit from Production. More importantly, while we all enjoy what we do, he knows that at the end of the day, it's just a job. And at the end of the day, when production can't pay you a dime for OT, he'll go around and start taking stands and rigs apart, effectively ending the shoot and sending you home on time.

The second, more well behaved Key Grip was also a good boss, but he just didn't stick up for his crew like the other one. No money for overtime? Eh... He's so chummy with his crew that he knows no one would object too much to staying a just a little longer. What? We have to re-stage everything because the AD lied about what the shot was? He'll just shrug his shoulders and do it. Oh, you haven't gotten paid yet and it's been two months since wrap? Hm... Give it another couple of days.


In this non-union, low budget, indie world of film production, things are tough as it is. You're overworked, under paid and around every corner is another Producer trying to cut costs and sees crew and safety as expendables. You have to learn how to put your foot down and take care of yourself ("The only way you'll get that shot right now is if you agree to over-time pay." "No, I won't run the distro without a ground!"). But how do you do that when your own boss is willing to be walked all over?

You could say it's the motherly instinct in me that makes me want to protect those working below me, or maybe it's a female thing where I want to feel protected. But either way, being a good boss isn't about being nice to everyone and making sure people like you. It's about getting the job done the way it's supposed to be done. It's about making sure that everyone involved is holding up their end of the bargain. It's about standing up for the crew who's busting their asses for you, no matter who you may piss off.

In this world, nice guys finish last.

Choosing to work with Mr. Jack Ass over Mr. Prince Charming may not result in a happily ever after. In fact, he'll probably end up pissing me off most of the time and I might "accidentally" beam him with a piece of speed rail, but at least I know I'll get home on time, my check will clear, and more importantly, I'll make it through this shoot alive. In the end, that's all that really matters.
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