Wednesday, September 30, 2009

"I Tried To Show Them The Polaroids. They Wouldn't Look!"

It's interesting to see how the industry is portrayed on TV and in movies, so Sunday's episode of The Simpsons was a fun one for me.

For some reason, I found this part to be especially hilarious.

Monday, September 28, 2009

It's Lunch Time.

Do you remember what it's like to be the new kid in class? Or was there ever a day when your best friends all went on a field trip/stayed home sick/had a dentist appointment while you still had to go to school? Then you spend the morning sitting at your desk, wondering who you're going to play with at recess and even worse, who are you going to sit with at lunch?? You don't want to be the loser that sits by herself, feeling like a nobody and a misfit. How sad and embarrassing that would be!

And while I'd like to say those days are behind me, I'd be lying if I did. I don't know about you, but things have been pretty slow for me in terms of work. The only jobs I get called for is to day play, which means I'm only on a show for a day or two before I'm back on my couch, waiting for my phone to ring again. This also means that I've spent quite a bit of time being the "new kid" recently.

For the first six hours I'm on a new set, I'm usually rockin it. I've got a job to do and I (more or less) know how to do it. Everyone gets into a rhythm and things start clicking. Then we break for lunch and no matter how good of a job I did that morning or how well I'm getting along with the new crew, the moment I step into that lunch line, I'm worried about who I'm going to sit with. The obvious choice would be to sit with my the rest of my department, but it doesn't always work out that way. Sometimes by the time I get through the line, there's no more room at the table. Or they decide to try the burger place down the street instead of eating another day of mediocre catering. Hm... Now who do I sit with?

In the end, it usually works out well. I'll pick a seat next to a friendly looking person, have a lovely conversation while we eat our chicken and I'll have a new ally on set. Worst case scenario, the person turns out to be an arrongant dick, in which case I'll finish my meal and excuse myself to "return a phone call". What really sucks though, is when I end up sitting by myself. Then I revert to feeling like a nobody and a misfit.

I know I'm probably too old to be having these "high school cafeteria" anxieties. It's something that I should have outgrown, but I can't help it. There's something about the mix of new people, long tables and trays of overcooked food that revert me back to my young self, complete with any insecurities I may have had then as well.

Call me petty or immature, but I guess part of me is still seeking acceptance. And that's probably something that won't disappear, no matter how old I get...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Three Is Not A Crowd.

I've come to notice that when the topic of conversation turns to women on set (more specifically, those in g/e), there are two kinds of people: those who think there are very few of us and those who think there are a lot.

I'm on the side that thinks women are set are like finding an honest Agent; it's definitely not something you see every day. So it always baffles me when the conversation goes something like this:

Other Person: "So you're a chick working g/e? That's kinda cool."
Me: "Yeah, there's not a whole lot of women in these departments."
Other Person: (surprised) "Really? Because I know a lot of women who do what you do."
Me: "Oh?"
Other Person: "Yeah... [pauses for a moment] There's Girl Name #1, Girl Name #2.... Oh! And Girl Name #3."

And let me tell you, it's usually the same three names that come up. Which is definitely a testament to how much they rock if they're that well known. But come on, just three names? I can easily rattle off the names of ten male, union juicers without even pausing to think about it. Out of all the work contacts I have in my phone, the guys easily outnumber the girls 18 to 1 (yes, I counted).

So while there may be a number of female grips and juicers out there, please don't act like there's an abundance of us. If that was the case, we'd have shirts that fit.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Just Because You Have The Title Doesn't Mean You Know Shit.

I'm having lunch with an old friend from high school. We weren't great friends back then, but ever since we found out that we both live in LA now, we've made more of an effort to keep in touch and hang out. We still aren't great friends, but I guess we remind each other of home, keeping us grounded in this crazy, smog filled town.

Anyway, she mentions that a friend of hers is producing a short film and is looking for crew. Would I mind helping him out? (read: work pro bono) Her friend, I should mention, apparently went to school with us as well. He graduated a year or two behind us and I never even met him, but I'm a sucker for loyalty and school pride. It doesn't matter if he was one year behind us or ten; if we have the same alma mater, chances are I'll help him out.

So I agreed and ended up on a phone call with the Producer. He ran down the basics with me and thanked me about a zillion times for being the Best Boy... And then he let it slip that the Gaffer was being paid while I was only getting "copy, credit, meals". Hm... Interesting. But I brushed it off, rationalizing that the Gaffer is higher ranking and probably the only one they could afford to pay.

A little while later, I got a call from the Cinematographer who wanted to go through some details. Everything sounded fine and dandy... and then he brought up the Gaffer.

"So... Just a word of caution, the Gaffer's really green. Actually, I think he's fresh out of film school and this is his first gig since graduating. You'll kind of need to keep an eye on him."

... What?

I took a moment to process what he just said. "Wait... Let me get this straight... So, the Gaffer's getting paid, which is fine, he should be getting paid. But I'm working for free and I have to babysit him??"

"Yeah... I know it's kind of screwed up, but that's something you'll have to take up with the Producer, you know?"

So I call up the Producer who says there's nothing he can do. There's no money in the budget to pay anyone else, and asked if it was a problem. I told him that while I do think it's fucked up, I already said I'd help him out and I'll stick to my word. Damn my sense of loyalty.

And let's just say that'll be the last time I agree to a deal like that. The Gaffer ended up creating more work for our tiny crew due to his inexperience and problems arose where a more seasoned Gaffer (or even a regular grip or electrician) could have easily avoided. To make matters even worse, he wouldn't take any of my suggestions on how to make things run smoother and more efficient. Instead, he pulled rank on me every chance he got.


I know there are a lot of knuckle headed Gaffers and Key Grips out there, but at least they usually come with a paycheck to take the sting out a bit.

This goes to show that just because someone is a department head doesn't mean they know shit. I've worked for too many Key Grips that don't know what grid cloth is and too many Best Boy Electrics that don't know how many lights you can plug into a 20 amp circuit. One guy didn't even know how to work the lift gate on the back of the truck.

Unfortunately, things are never fair in the film world (or in any other industry, I'd imagine). For some reason, guys that don't know the difference between a single and a double scrim often climb up the chain of command faster than those who do. And the scary thing is that this stuff doesn't just happen on low budget indies. Guys like that Gaffer are hired all the time on big budget studio produced shows, where the toys are bigger, more expensive, and more dangerous. A couple of the guys from a previous post are Local 80 members and through a string of flukes, loopholes and luck, a former colleague of mine is now on the Local 728 roster. And this is someone I wouldn't trust to set up anything bigger than a 2K (if that... the last one I saw him put up almost fell off the stand).

Meanwhile, I'm still lugging around cable and sandbags on shows that are barely good enough for Youtube. I'm not going to lie. It bothers me how time and time again, people who don't know shit about the job somehow end up being my boss. The only thing I can do is take solace in the fact that at least I know what kind of cable I'm holding and how to properly rig that point so when the day finally comes where I get promoted through the ranks, the paycheck will be that much sweeter.

Friday, September 18, 2009

It Sucks When...

... a PA thinks it's a good idea to drain the coolers right next to the generator and distro.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

"I Will Not Watch Your Fucking Film."

There was an excellent commentary last week in the Village Voice titled "I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script," written by screen writer Josh Olson of A History of Violence fame.

If you don't have the time to read it, it's basically a rant of why you shouldn't ask someone for notes on a script if you're a wannabe writer. Not only is it an imposition, but it puts the reader in an awkward position: you'll piss off the writer if you say it's bad, yet you're not doing him any favors by saying it's good. You could sugar coat the truth, but that might not go over too well either. Plus, it takes forever to get the wording right on a well crafted "you-suck-but-don't-feel-bad" email without the other person thinking you're a condescending jack-ass. You're basically screwed no matter what you do.

Though I may not be a writer, can definitely sympathize with Mr. Olson.

Most of us out there who are doing the dirty work on a film set aspire to be something else. A PA usually wants to be a director or a writer or a producer. Camera assistants often want to become operators or DPs. Ask a young electric if they plan on pulling cable for the rest of their career and 99.9% of the time, the answer is "Fuck no." Which means that most of us are there to just pay the rent. Meanwhile, there are a lot of side projects going on, in hopes that one of them will be our big break and take us out of our way-below-the-line misery.

And if you have a bunch of film industry friends, you'll inevitably be asked to watch one of their films or take a look at their latest script. And that's when you feel like directing them to the previously mentioned article.

Let's be honest. Most of the time these "personal projects" are crap. All too often, they're based on what happened when the writer was on the high school track team or the summer they spent driving across the country. In other words, stories that are only interesting to them.

And then there's the dialogue. It's rarely ever natural and the characters usually end up too much alike and bland or too off the wall and unrelatable. 9 times out of 10, it's obvious that they're trying too hard to be the next Juno or Little Miss Sunshine. Yet interestingly enough, if its a script, it's usually riddled with spelling mistakes and punctuation errors. If they're not going to take the time to read their own writing over, why should I spend my own time reading it?

And it's best not to get me started on the films. Most of the ones I'm asked for my opinion on are shot horribly. The sound is bad, continuity is all wrong, the lighting's too dark, and the stylistic choice of having mirrors and "reflections" in every shot is more of a distraction than an artistic commentary. Not to mention the laughable dialogue, bad acting, and the obvious use of your mom's basement for every set.

So what are you supposed to do the next time you get an e-mail that says "Hey Friend! Attached is my latest script/short film/'passion project'. Let me know what you think!"? You know it's going to be bad. At best, it'll be "just okay". You could probably get away with non-comments like "I really like that opening song. Who sings it?" but you can't get away with notes like that forever. You can try to give actual notes that might be of use, but good luck trying to do that without sounding like a pretentious know-it-all. If you're really nice, you could take the time to make bad criticisms sound good ("Bill's character's so funny that I think he should belong in a comedy! He's such a strong contradiction to Janice's character... Was that what you were going for?") but if you've got three pages of notes on a 5 minute project, you'll probably end up spending more time on it than they have. Plus, they probably won't get your subtle hints to read between the lines.

I actually have no problem with giving you my brutal, honest opinion if you really want it. But I'm smart enough to know that while most people may say "give me an honest opinion," they really don't want to hear it. They just want you to tell them that it's the best thing you've ever seen so they'll feel accomplished and awesome. They just want the validation. In that case, why should I even bother looking at the thing? It's a waste of my time.

So let's review. If your project sucks (and it most likely does), there's no way for me to gracefully say so without sounding like an ass. If I lie and say it's good, I wouldn't be a very good friend and a little part of me dies inside, thus, again, I'm an ass. If I refuse to look at it right off the bat, then I'm the ass who won't take time out of my day to help a friend. All three options make me look/sound/feel like an ass. But since the last option is the most efficient in terms of time, we'll go with that one.

And hey! Here's an idea. Since the answer is no, I will not watch your fucking film, how about you don't even bother asking me in the first place?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Keep It Simple, Stupid.

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler."
- Albert Einstein

I'm meeting with the Gaffer to discuss an upcoming shoot. Due to some scheduling mishaps, I'm unable to scout the locations with him, so he's drawing them out on a coffee shop napkin.

"So on day three, we're going to be at a school downtown. We're inside for most of the day, and it's pretty simple stuff. In fact, we can probably just go off of house power and not even worry about the generator until night... That's when it starts to get interesting..."

"Um... Okay..." I hate it when they say "interesting" like that.

The Gaffer begins to draw a diagram. "It's not too bad... It's just a bunch of wide shots of them coming into the parking lot. But we will need to run a bunch of lights and the problem is with the generator. It's going to sit here (he points to a corner of the napkin) which means we'll have to run cable all along this wall, all along this side, and around this part. We're also going to be setting some lights up on the roof, so we need to get enough cable to go from here (points to a spot on the napkin... He's drawn so many squiggles and lines that I have no idea what that spot's supposed to be) to up here (points to another spot; I'm assuming the roof). The generator may be in the shot, but I'm going to talk to the DP to see if he can frame it out. If not, then we need to somehow cover it up with a solid or duvetyne or something... Whatever. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it. The main thing is figuring how much more cable we're going to need since there's not going to be nearly enough in the equipment package we're already getting. I'll need you to put in a separate order for that and some extra cross-overs. Production's trying to cut costs and they don't want to pay for a week's rental on something we're not going to need until Tuesday... And unfortunately, because the budget's so tight, they're not letting us hire an extra guy to help you with the cable, so..."

I look up at the Gaffer who's giving me his "I'm-sorry-but-this-day's-going-to-suck-for-you" look. I hate that look.

I turn my attention back to the napkin.

"You said these are all wide shots?"


"Are they running sound on the wides?"

".... No."

"Can we put the generator here instead?" I point to a spot on the napkin that's closer to all the action, closer to where the lights need to land, and definitely out of frame no matter where the camera looks.

The Gaffer thinks for a minute before he begins to chuckle. "Sure. You can also forget about everything I just said too."

I look at the Gaffer who's giving me his "why-the-hell-didn't-I-think-of-that-sooner" look.

I give him a "it's-because-I'm-a-genius" nod.

He pulls out a fresh napkin and starts drawing another set...

Monday, September 7, 2009

I'm Not Your Mom.

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have an announcement to make: If we're ever on a set together, please note that I am not your mother.

I know it may be a confusing concept to grasp at times, especially if I'm Besting and part of my job is to take care of you. Like, making sure you get a call sheet and know where the location is. Or making sure that you're paid correctly, go home on time, and that you're not over worked. I may even make sure you get fed every six hours.

However, some things are up to you to take care of, such as...

Getting yourself to set on time. You have an alarm clock. Use it. Do not expect me to call you every fucking day to wake you up (true story).

Wearing sunscreen. If it's 90 degrees outside and we're doing exterior shots all day, it's a damn good idea to use sunscreen. I don't care if you "don't burn easily," but I do care if I have a grip who's in too much pain to do anything the next day. Just humor me and slap some on. Better safe than sorry. Plus, I don't want to have to spend the next week watching your skin peeling off. Eww.

Staying hydrated. 90 degree weather or not, if you're sweating, you need to drink some water. And if you're not sweating, then you're either not working hard enough or you're already way too dehydrated. Either way, you're not coming back tomorrow, so drink up.

Eating your veggies. Staying healthy on a film set is important. Long hours and crappy conditions don't exactly equal a healthy immune system, so everyone should do the best they can to at least eat right. We spend so much time together in cramped sets/trucks/pass vans that one sick person can easily infect the whole crew. You may not like the steamed broccoli that's being served at lunch, but a couple of bites won't kill you.

Putting on a jacket when it gets cold. Even in the middle of summer, night shoots can get chilly. See above about why it's important to not get sick when you're working. And none of this macho "I'm not cold" crap either when your arms are clearly covered in goosebumps. Who are you trying to impress?

Cleaning up after yourselves. I think we're all capable of throwing away our own trash and not leaving candy wrappers in the back of the truck or empty coffee cups on the head carts.

Staying off drugs. I don't really care what you do on your time off, but just don't bring it on set. Not only does it make you a liability to work with, but if caught, it makes your whole department look bad. Even worse is when you have the rest of your team cover for you when you're "on a break."

Going to bed on time. Sleep is important. Don't be the guy who goes straight from a day job into a night shoot, tells me he doesn't need sleep, goes hangs out with his friends all day, and then gets so disoriented from the lack of rest that he can't even form a complete sentence when I call him up to work the next day. Not only does that make you a safety hazard, but more importantly, that shows me what an idiot you are.

Playing well with others. You may not like everyone that you work with, but you're stuck with them for 14 hours a day anyway. I don't have the time or patience to play mediator, give time outs, or send people to opposite corners of the set. Don't be a jackass. Act like a professional, suck it up and play nice.

Personal hygiene. Enough said.

If you're old enough to work on a film set, I'm too young to be your mom, so please don't make me feel like one. In fact, if you're old enough to work on a film set, you're old enough to take care of yourself. I shouldn't have to nag you about eating right or follow you around with a bottle of sunscreen and an extra sweater.

-Not Your Mom.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

It Sucks When...

... you're shooting out in the middle of nowhere and for one stupid reason or another, there's no restrooms around. It sucks even more when the rest of the crew and actors are male, and don't understand why you think this is a big deal.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Nobody Knows Anything.

"Hey, I need a low boy combo over here!" yells out the Key Grip.

It's kind of a slow day, so both my colleague and I get up from our apple boxes and head for the truck. I beat him to it though, and pull out a low boy. Not too far behind us is another grip, who pulls out a Coleman stand.

"Take him this one," he says, handing it to me.

I set down the stand I'm holding and reach for his. "Why? Did he change the order?"

"No. But this is a low one."

I glance at the other grip standing next to me, and I could tell that he was just as confused about this as I was. "Yeah, but he said combo," and I continue on my way back to set with a low boy in hand.

"But that's not a low boy!" says Grip #3. This guy's older than my dad, and I sure as hell didn't feel comfortable yelling back at him that he's wrong, so I pretended not to hear him. That's when he starts to follow me with the Coleman.

I'm almost to set when I pass by Grip #4 who takes one look at me, rolls his eyes, and says "No, not that one. He asked for a low boy combo."

I stop walking. Now I'm even more confused. Wasn't I already holding one?

"So... If this isn't a low boy, what is?"

Grip #4 rolls his eyes again, and this time adds a sigh. "Just take that to him. He might use that too. I'll go get a low boy combo." And he walks away, leaving me with a stand in one hand and a weird look on my face. This is my first day working with this particular crew, but I'm pretty sure "low boy combo" means the same thing no matter who you're working with... Unless you're working with these guys, I guess.

A few seconds later, the other two grips (and the Coleman) find me still standing there in my perplexed state. I hand off my stand to Grip #3 who takes it, along with the Coleman, to set. I turn to Grip #2 who was with me at the truck. He asks me what just happened.

"Well, the Key Grip asked for a low boy combo. I went and got a low boy combo. But then Grip#3 said not to take the low boy and tried to hand me a Coleman instead. And then Grip #4 says that the low boy I'm holding isn't a low boy, and the Key called for a low boy, but I should take the stand I'm holding to set anyway while he goes and gets a low boy from the truck. And Grip #3 just took the low boy that isn't a low boy and a Coleman that wasn't asked for to set."

"Oh... okay..." I could tell Grip #2 was still trying to make sense of it all, and so was I.

This is the part where I start doubting myself. I hate doubting myself, but when someone's so insistent on you being wrong, you can't help but have at least an inkling of a thought that they might be right. And in this case, there were two people saying I was wrong (although they didn't exactly agree with each other either) and not only that, but these were guys who work on shows a lot bigger than the ones that I do and have been doing this job a lot longer as well. Does this mean that I've been grabbing the wrong stand on every set I've been on??

Anyway, after another moment or so of the two of us standing there like a pair of idiots, I break the silence.

"So... If the stand I was holding wasn't a low boy combo, then what was it?"

Grip #2 looks at me, shakes his head, and shrugs. "I dunno. If I had beaten you to that truck, I would've grabbed the same thing."

And this was coming from a guy who's been a grip longer than I've been alive.

We didn't hear the Key screaming over the radio for another stand, so we assumed that one of the stands Grip #3 brought him was either exactly what he wanted or close enough. A little bit later, I poked my head onto set and saw that both stands were being used so I guess we'll never know which one he would consider to be a low boy combo.

As for Grip #4 and the "low boy" he went to go get? He disappeared for a good ten minutes or so only to reappear again wearing a different shirt and eating a sandwich from crafty.
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