Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Most Horrendous Thing I've Seen On Set...

I've never been a fan of horror/slasher films, but I've worked on quite a few of them. Despite the pools of fake blood, dark lighting, and body parts everywhere, the set of a horror film isn't nearly as scary as what you see in the movie theater.

There are some exceptions, however.

Late last year, I was day-playing on a feature being shot in some old house east of downtown LA. The house itself was kind of creepy/cool looking and judging by the trails of "blood" on the floor, chains on the walls and weapons table in the corner, I quickly deducted that I was spending the day on a horror film. "Hm...," I thought to myself, "This should be awesome."

There were rumors floating among the crew that the house itself is actually haunted and after poking around some of the empty rooms, I kind of believed it too. It was obvious that no one had lived in the house for years, though it wasn't clear why. The details in the furniture, doorways, staircases, etc were beautifully carved in a way that you just can't find these days and the bathrooms were so classic that the tiled floors were checkered and the bathtub had feet. Despite the gray clouds outside casting dark shadows in the already dusty rooms, you could tell that at one point, the house was filled with color and life. But not anymore. Even the overgrown weeds on the front lawn were starting to die.

Anyway, being as this was an ultra low budget shoot, the film crew consisted of the usual mish-mash of film folk and Director's/Writer's/Producers' "I'm just here to help out" friends. That meant that no one in the wardrobe department knew how to sew, the Script Supervisor was taking notes with a Sharpie and the AD had a habit of calling "Action!" before sound and camera were rolling.

This also meant that a good chunk of the electric crew didn't know what they were doing either, and about four hours in, someone somewhere plugged in something they shouldn't have, and all the lights went out.

Did I mention this was a night shoot?

Needless to say, if working in a creepy abandoned house in the dead of night doesn't get your heart beating and your hair to stand on end, having the lights suddenly go out on you will.

After some shrieks from the freaked out make-up people and some fumbling around in the dark on my part, we managed to get the lights back up again and it was back to business as usual. Meanwhile, I made the rounds to make sure that everything else that needed to be on was still working.

Work lights for Wardrobe? Check.
Work lights for grip and electric staging? Check.
Coffee maker at crafty? Check.

I was just about to head back to set when I heard a faint scratching noise coming from the next room... Which was supposed to be empty. How odd...

As I slowly creep towards the doorway to investigate, a million thoughts of what it could be was rushing through my mind. Was it a ghost? Was it a rat? A tree branch against the window? A ghost? Please don't let it be a ghost...

Thankfully, it was just a little, white, fluffy dog. Since this was an "I'm just here to help out So-and-So" crew, lunch was being made by a friend of a Producer's who had just graduated from a prestigious culinary school. She also had just gotten a new puppy and didn't want to leave it alone at night, so she brought him to work.

After my heart stopped racing, I followed the puppy back to the kitchen where his owner was prepping for tonight's meal. I figured that since I needed to go back there to check the lights anyway, she might get a kick out of how her dog almost gave me a heart attack and maybe even give me a taste of what's cooking.

Only, when I got there, what I saw made my stomach turn.

As she was leaning over the counter, she had the fluffy puppy in one hand and was feeding him something with the other. Whatever it was, it must have been good because the dog was licking her fingers like there was no tomorrow. Then, without washing it (or even wiping it on her jeans), she used the same bare hand to mix the salad.

And that, my friends, was the most horrendous thing I've seen on set.

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"Shit Happens."

I was thinking of writing another post about absurd things that can happen on a set and/or the kinds of people I've worked for... And then I stumbled upon this article.

And yeah, that just about covers it. :)

It's written by a sound girl (some of you may even already follow her blog), but the experiences she lists/rants/talks about are things that we've all come across at one point or another no matter which department we're in (more or less anyway... I can't recall the last time I was on a set where the actor murdered his drug dealer...).

It's a pretty lengthy read, but check it out if you have the time.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

It Sucks When...

... your boss decides you should be the bearer of bad news because "girls can get away with a lot more than guys can."


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Most Annoying Guy On Set.

If I wanted to spend time in front of a camera, I wouldn't be lugging around cables and stands all day. I'd be going to auditions and looking for an agent. In fact, despite working around a camera all the time, being in front of one makes me ridiculously uncomfortable. So to me, the most annoying guy on set is the EPK guy, aka: the guy who's shooting the "behind the scenes" video.

In case you haven't noticed, most of the stuff I work on are low budget projects that aren't good enough to be listed on IMDB, let alone be seen outside of a cast and crew screening. So it always perplexes me when Production brings on a guy to shoot behind-the-scenes footage all day, every day.

For example, a job I was on earlier this year shot for 5 days. The EPK guy was there the whole time. Give or take a few breaks here and there, that's about 40-50 hours of behind-the-scenes footage.

For a 15 minute short.

Is that really necessary??

Now normally, I wouldn't care who Production hired to do what... Unless it effects my ability to do my job. And this is where the "annoying" part comes in.

This guy (and the many others like him I've encountered over the years) was always in the way. With his eyes behind a view finder the bulk of the time, his focus is only limited to whatever is in front of the camera. Forget the crew dodging all around him, trying to set up a scene. Forget the cables he's about to trip over, or the stand he just kicked. He's so focused on getting the interesting "action" shots of everyone working that he doesn't notice he's on a ladder that the grips need to use or standing directly under a lamp that needs to come down.

Plus, the "interviews." Oh dear lord. That's the most annoying part of it all.

I'm handling a really hot light. He comes up, totally invading my personal space with a camera in hand, and asks a stupid question like, "So, can you tell me a little bit about what you're doing?" Dude. I'm trying not to burn myself and you're not making it any easier. Go away.

We're about to roll, and everyone's waiting on a last minute tweak. But I can't rush onto set because the EPK guy, totally invading my personal space with a camera in hand, is standing right in front of me, trying to get me to say some words of praise about this wonderful production I'm on.

There's a call over the walkie for a light. I hop onto the truck, grab whatever it is I need to grab, and turn to hop back out. Only I can't. Because the EPK guy is there. Totally invading my personal space. Camera in hand. Cornering me between the shelves and equipment carts. "Hi. Can you tell me your name and occupation on this shoot?"

Ugh. Really? Can't you harass me when I'm not working??

I'm usually a nice person. I can be sweeter than an ice cream sundae. But I do have to wonder how many times the guy has me on camera saying "Get out of the way," "Not right now," and "Get that fucking camera out of my face."

Monday, October 19, 2009

Video Break.

Because it's Monday and I could use a bit of fun.
Because I had kind of a rough weekend.
And because I'm tired of Productions thinking "more is better."
And because I think sometimes "less is more."

I leave you with this music video from Donora. It's charm and simplicity at its best... with hula hoops.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

We're More Than Alright...

Earlier this week, Michael Taylor of Blood, Sweat, and Tedium fame wrote a very insightful post about the generation gaps that occasionally occur on a crew. It's no secret that I've had a few issues from being the youngin' surrounded by a group of seasoned veterans, so I was very pleased to find that at least one guy out there won't automatically assume we don't know the difference between a c-stand and a combo.

Reading Michael's post reminded me of another incident that occurred on a shoot not too long ago. It was a low-budget indie (as if there was any other kind) and thanks to a seasoned Producer and a relatively young DP calling in a few favors, we ended up with a mish-mash of crew. Some of us were young enough to be mistaken for college students and the rest were old enough to be our fathers. This led to an obvious generation gap and as a result, the older guys took it upon themselves to lead the pack, using us kids to do all the tedius work, like taking out all the fluorescent tubes in a supermarket (if you've never done it, take a look at the ceiling the next time you go grocery shopping).

While this was mildly annoying, my buddies and I didn't mind it too much. I'll take setting up a few c-stands over running a maze of cable any day. Plus, the older guys felt it was easier just to do things themselves rather than explain it to us in layman terms, which meant more time for us "newbies" to raid crafty. Hey, call use lazy if you want, but if you're getting paid in peanuts, letting the guys who think you don't know anything do most of the hard work doesn't sound like a bad idea.

The funnest part of the shoot for me was towards the end. A new grip was joining us for the last couple of days and the boy looked like he was still in high school. As the older guys stood around, rolling their eyes thinking that they have to "train" yet another kid on how to work on a set, the new kid and I chatted a bit over breakfast and I quickly discovered that he definitely knows his stuff. Anyway, the first task he got assigned was this:

Older Guy: "I need you to take the top and the stick part off of that stand and a black flag about this big, put it on that board with the pin in it, and place it next to that light over there."

My new friend looks at me with the most confused "WTF is this guy talking about??" face I've ever seen.

Try as I might, I couldn't help the slight grin spreading across my face as I said, "Head, arm, beaver board, 18-24 solid, lamp right, tweenie."

The new kid nods and does the task with the grace and precision only a well experienced grip has. The older guys could only stand and watch, amazed that the "kid" they had written off just moments before could so expertly complete the assignment after being given such bare-bone instructions.

After catching on that the kiddies probably know more about the job than they previously assumed, they stopped babying us and before long, things were finally running like they were supposed to: all of us as one crew. By the end of the shoot, we knew we had gained the respect of our older colleagues. While that may not have been enough for them to give us a call the next time they have spots to fill, I hope it at least makes them think twice about writing off the next young crew they work with.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Who Wants Pizza?

Fresh Out Of College Kid: "Ever try the Dominos pizza tracker? That thing's kinda cool."
Me: "No... I don't order pizza."
FOOCK: "So what pizza place do you order from then? Pizza Hut?"
Me: "No, mean 'I don't order pizza' as in I never order pizza."
FOOCK: "What? Why not?"
Me: "Because I work on too many damn productions where lunch is pizza so I can't stand to eat any on my days off."
FOOCK: "You get that much free pizza? Lucky you!"

Oh, to be that innocent again...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Think Before You Leap.

It's a cool summer evening. The kind that makes you want to sit on a porch, drinking a tall glass of sweet tea; savoring every sip as you watch the neighborhood kids run around their yards. There's a slight breeze blowing as I stand on the edge of a roof top, surveying the ground below. My toes are dangling over the side as I contemplate whether or not I should jump...

On the other side of the house, the cameras are getting ready to roll. I was on the roof tweaking a light when the AD shouted that we were "ready for a take!" and with those four words, the ladder I had used to climb up here was swept away. I'm now stuck. Damn.

"Sorry A.J." I heard over the walkie. "You can either look for a safe way down or wait until we're done with the scene. But I gotta warn you it looks like it's going to be a long one."

With a groan, I look around. Luckily, it's a one story building, but it's still one story too tall for me to hop off of. I notice that there's a part of the roof that seems to slope down a little more than any of the other parts, so I head over to check it out.

On that side of the house, there was a rather large, raised planter hugging the wall with nothing in it but soft looking dirt. Hmm... If I maneuver this just right, I could land in that patch of dirt and from that, I can easily hop to the ground and be at crafty, munching on a bag of Doritos in no time.

But on the other hand, if I miss the planter, I could potentially break a leg and/or twist my ankle. Not only would that take me out of commission for a while, but the loud thud of me hitting the ground followed by screams of pain could potentially ruin the sound during a take. And forget about me ever being hired by these guys again. No matter how safe that drop looked, I'd always be the idiot dumb enough to jump off a roof.

I look over to the back of the house where they were shooting. They had just started rolling and the Gaffer was intently watching the monitor. He's a good guy. He's one of those bosses that will help the crew pack up gear at the end of the night and doesn't leave until we're all in our cars, engines started. And when he heard I was getting desperate for work, he pulled a few strings to get me hired. I thought about what would happen to him if I jumped and landed wrong. He'd probably have his ass handed to him by Production for hiring such an idiot and "allowing" me to jump off a roof. They probably won't hire him again either.

Then I thought about how I met the Gaffer. I was sent to him on a recommendation from a DP friend of mine. Even though he wasn't on this shoot, his reputation was at stake as well. If the Gaffer was going to get shit for something that I did, you can bet money that my friend was going to hear about it. Any recommendations he gives from there on out would be either highly questioned or even ignored.

Then there was the money. How much was I getting paid for the day? Is the amount worth risking getting seriously hurt for? (The answer's always no.) Add in the cost of at least three ruined reputations, and the answer is a no-brainer.

Sure, the jump looked safe enough. It wasn't too far from the sloped roof to the planter, but one wrong move on my part, one caught shirt sleeve or even one strong breeze catching me off guard, and my ass would be in the emergency room.

A lot of guys I know (mainly the young ones) would have opted to jump. While they're fully prepared to take responsibility for whatever happens, they don't take the time to think about who they're really representing. Not only are you representing yourself when you step onto a set, but you're also representing whatever department you're in, the Key Grip/Gaffer or Best Boy who hired you, whoever recommended you to them, whatever film schools you attended... The list can go on. If you screw up, a lot of careers are on the line; not just your own.

I step back from the ledge and make myself comfortable for the long scene ahead. A little while later, I heard over the walkie, "Hey A.J. How are you doing up there? Do you need anything?"

"I'm doing fine, but I wouldn't mind it if a bag of Doritos from crafty found its way up here."

A few seconds later, a bag of chips landed by my feet. I happily munched on them as I watched the camera roll below me. Somewhere in the distance, I could hear the happy laughter of children, running around their yard. I guess there are worse places I could be...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

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

... you're visiting your parents and your mom asks you to take out the trash. Your immediate response is, "That's not my job."

Oops. Sorry Mom!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

You Better Be Worth It.

His eyes are a brown so deep, you'll feel lost just gazing into them. Yet there's a sense of security and comfort when he wraps his arms around you. He'll give you his jacket when you're cold; he'll hold doors open for you; he'll call you to make sure you got home okay.

On your first date, you'll go to the movies. You hate horror films, but agree to see one anyway because you don't want him to think you're a wuss. You wince every time there's blood on screen and by the third slaughter, you notice him watching you. You feel embarrassed and vulnerable, but he smiles that boyish smile of his and holds your hand. He agrees to never take you to see a slasher film again and the two of you go out for ice cream. He gets mint chocolate chip. You order cookie dough.

A job comes up that takes you out of town for a few days. He watches as you pack, wondering why you need to carry around four different kinds of screwdrivers, and do you really need that many wrenches? His questions are annoying, but in a way, also endearing. There are no phone calls exchanged when you're gone, but he'll send you text messages. Silly ones at first ("Marco Polo never learned to swim! Ironic, isn't it?") but they get more personal as the week progresses. ("My favorite shirt just shrunk in the dryer. :(" and "I miss you.") The two of you spend the day together when you get back.

He wants to know everything about you. Family, school, friends, how your first pet died. You tell him your story; he tells you his. He'll talk about how his day was. How his boss accidentally hung up on an important client, or how his coworker spilled split pea soup on the carpet. It took two janitors and a steamer to clean it up. You tell him stories of how the gaffer read the lighting plot backwards and what happened when the dolly grip wasn't paying attention and almost ran off the track. Then you explain to him what "gaffer," "light plot," "dolly grip," and "track" is. He sits there, listening, entranced. You don't know if he's in awe of you or the business you're in, but you don't care. You keep talking because you love the look on his face.

But one day, that look on his face isn't there anymore. You finish your latest story and ask him if something's wrong. "You work with a lot of guys, don't you?" he asks. It's then that you realize that most of your stories features men with the occasional cameo from a woman. That's just the way the job is, and they're more like the brothers you never had than anything else. But you sense that it's making him uncomfortable, so you begin to censor your tales of set antics. Instead, you prod him more about his job, hoping to draw attention away from your own line of work.

Eventually, you begin to notice that he gets jealous at more than just your coworkers. He glares at the guys sitting the next table over when you're out to dinner and makes snide comments about how chummy you are with the man you buy your morning latte from. You try your best to reassure him and no longer exchange witty banter with the barrista. The subject of work doesn't even come up anymore.

Then one day, you'll realize you're no longer yourself around him. You two have a long talk and break up. "I always knew you'd leave me," he says, "I never felt like I could trust you." His words hit you like a rock. But as much as they hurt, you're too tired to explain yourself. There's no reason to. So you walk away.

This is the point where you'll usually eat a bag of cookies and play "I Will Survive" on repeat. But you'll get called for a job instead. You'll spend the next couple of weeks in New York, eating pizza and hot dogs, taking pictures of the dizzying lights in Times Square and walking (and working) around in the cold. You're a California girl, born and raised, but the numbing cold feels good. When the shoot's done, you feel ready to go home again. You curl up in your own bed and sleep better than you have in a long time. In the morning, you'll wake up to a very quiet apartment. It's almost too quiet. You open a bag of cookies and put Gloria Gaynor on repeat.

After some time has passed, you'll come home to find him waiting for you on your doorstep. He'll have a movie and microwave popcorn in one hand and a single red rose in the other. You invite him in and the two of you watch the movie and eat the popcorn. The movie ends, the credits roll, but neither of you move from the couch. Instead, he takes your hand as you lean your head on his shoulder, and just as you drift off to sleep, he tells you how much he missed you.

The next few days are filled with awkwardness. Like two teenagers on their very first date, your time spent together will be filled with long pauses and nervous twitching. But eventually, things will get back to normal. He'll send you silly text messages ("Did you know that ducks can't digest rye bread?") and you'll bake him cookies (chocolate chip). The nights are often filled with good chicken wings, bad Karaoke, and lots of laughter.

Things will get so good, you'll talk of moving in together. Nothing's definite, but the two of you decide to look at apartments anyway. He wants a pool; you just want air conditioning. The first few places the two of you check out are dumps. You learn that "fixer-upper" and "cozy" are just code words for "run-down" and "cramped". The next place you're scheduled to look at sounds more promising, but you never make it there. Your friend calls you last minute to best on a music video and you have to leave immediately.

Sixteen hours later, you'll come home tired, dirty, and in desperate need of a shower. But that shower will have to wait. He's sulking on the couch, upset that you bailed. You try your best to explain to him the concept of day-playing and how a lot of jobs you get are last minute calls, but your mind's so fried you don't know if you're making any sense. Finally, he says, "Why don't they just plan these shoots better?" To which you'll reply, "That's what I ask myself every day." The two of you share a slight chuckle and as you finally step into that hot shower, he's in the kitchen making you a sandwich. You never end up looking at that fourth apartment.

Eventually, you find yourself on the crew list for a feature. You start shooting on Thursday and couldn't be more ecstatic. Two months of solid work compared to the ridiculously few days you've had all year. That night, he surprises you at dinner with a weekend getaway. You hate the look on his face when you tell him you can't go. It breaks your heart. "Can't you take a couple of days off?" You tell him it doesn't work that way. It's been a slow production year and you need the money. In this line of work, there's no such thing as paid vacation or sick days. He says he understands, but you can tell he's crestfallen. You order his favorite dessert to cheer him up (apple pie, a la mode).

The job starts. The hours are long, the days are hard, and no one can seem to figure out why the bulb keeps blowing out on that 5k, but you love every second of it anyway. Only you don't get to see him as much anymore. You leave early in the morning only to come home late at night, wanting nothing more than to crawl into bed. Your weekends are filled with laundry, grocery shopping, going to the bank, and other mindless errands that you don't get to do during the week. But he'll say he understands. He'll sit with you at the Fluff 'N Fold and wait in lines with you. You'll bake him cupcakes which will still be cooling on the counter as you fall asleep on the couch.

Before you know it, it'll be your anniversary soon. He wants to celebrate with a romantic picnic on the beach. You tell him you're working that day. He'll plan a late dinner instead. But an actress will forget her lines, a stunt car will crash into a street light, and you'll end up working overtime. You leave an apologetic message on his phone, explaining the situation. It's no use though. When you finally make it home, he's waiting for you; not pissed off or annoyed, but disappointed. He'll say he's tired of only seeing you on the weekend and he's tired of all the times you had to cancel on him. And he'll accuse you of choosing work over him. You'll say that you're not, but staying late is part of the job and if he can't understand that...

He cuts you off before you can finish. "But it's just a job."

His words stop you. Working in the film industry isn't just a job; it's a lifestyle choice. Endless hours on a moment's notice, often working from sun up to sun down and vise versa. You can go days without eating a home cooked meal. And yet it's a job that you'll fight for because this is something you want to do. Hollywood's a creaky, shaky, unstable roller coaster, but you love to ride it.

You realize that if he doesn't understand your line of work, then he'll never understand you.

You will say good-bye for the right reasons. The days are just going to get tougher as you fight tooth and nail to climb that industry ladder to reach the top. You'll need someone who will trust and support you; someone who'll help you back up if you fall. Not someone who will make you feel guilty for choosing this life. Not someone who will resent you for it.

But until you find that someone, you find comfort in the fact that you'll always have a bag of cookies, Gloria Gaynor playing on your stereo, and a family waiting for you on set...
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License .