Monday, December 28, 2009

It Sucks When...

... you manage to juice a whole show without burning yourself on a light, but spending the day baking cookies? You burn your hand on the oven. Twice.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


The latest show I'm on is the longest I've ever worked with a crew. Sure, there are day players, sick days, and the occasional person may come and go, but the core people more or less stay the same. And the other day, as we said goodbyes for our holiday break, each hug I got showed me more and more how much we really were like a family.

My fellow grips were like my older brothers. Looking out for me, teaching me things I didn't know, and standing up for me when Production was trying to screw me over in terms of hours and pay. The juicers? They were more like the friends of my "brothers", playfully teasing me about the way I worked or how I have a soft spot for chocolate chip cookies.

The lady at Crafty, who always made the most delicious treats and usually hid an extra cookie or two for me was like an aunt who'd always be in the kitchen, telling me to eat something.

The DP, like a dad, with his hardened exterior, always gave me a warm smile in the morning and a squeeze on my shoulder at the end of each day.

The Make-up Girl, giving me advice on blushes and liners was like a sister, and Wardrobe, with their chic style was like the cool cousin that every family has.

The Transpo guys? Standing around, smoking cigarettes while telling tales of drunken debauchery is a little too much like the weird/crazy/embarrassingly un-politically correct Uncles that you can't help but love.

Then there was the Medic, who made sure we all ate right, stayed healthy and dressed warmly. She gave us medicine when we were sick, mended our cuts and bruises and always gave us a look of reassuring concern. I might as well have called her "Mom".

In a business made up of people from all over the world, we often have to find family wherever we can and I've been lucky enough to find one like this.

So Happy Holidays to you and your family, whoever and wherever they may be.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Just Ask.

It's impossible to know everything there is to know about the job of a set lighting technician. Or grip. Or any other job in this business for that matter. So if you don't know something, I don't care who you are (or who you think you are), I suggest you ask.

Some things you can figure out on the fly. For example, if you don't know where a specific cable run will go, you'll probably be able to work it out when you get to the location. Never used an HMI before? Lucky you, there's really only one way you can hook it up.

But there are just some things you can't fake. Need to tie a bowline but don't know how? The only way you're going to learn in time is to ask the colleague next to you. Don't know what settings the generator needs to be on? Ask someone who does.

I'm a strong believer in asking questions when you don't know something, especially if it concerns the safety and well being of others. That knot you just faked could send something crashing down on to someone's head, and a genny running too high can be a ticking bomb.

On the flip side of that, don't be a dick if someone asks a question you think they should already know the answer to. Some of us out there only know about what we've worked with, so unfortunately, what may be second nature to you may not be so clear to the rest of us. I have a friend who's been in this business way longer than I have, and yet he doesn't know how to properly use a GFCI, simply because he's never had to use them. Just like I don't know how to set up a piece of scaffolding because I've never been a grip when we had to use it.

The other day, I watched as a guy from the art department admitted to not knowing how to tie a bowline and his boss gave him shit for it as the rest of the department watched. "What do you mean you don't know how to tie a bowline? Anyone worth his salt knows how to tie one! Whatever. Go sweep up the other set." The guy, completely embarrassed, sulks off.

A little bit later, I return from the crafty table just in time to watch the rest of his co-workers start to raise the chandeliers they just rigged when one of them slipped and crashed to the ground. The culprit? A wrongly tied knot by one of the other guys who was prepping the chandeliers to be taken up. After watching his buddy get yelled at by his boss, there was no way he was going to admit to not knowing how to tie a bowline. Lucky for them, there was minimal damage and no one got hurt.

This time.

So for Pete's sake, if you don't know how to do something, ask. And if someone asks you a question, don't be an asshole.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

It's Kind Of Funny (In A Sad Way) When...

... you take a shower after a long day at work and notice a ring of dirt forming where you're standing.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Days Off.

For those of you who don't know, the working hours in this industry sucks. And I don't mean the "damn, I just did 18 hours in the rain yesterday!" kind of sucky. I mean the "damn, I can't make it to the grocery store/bank/dry cleaners/doctor's/auto shop/post office" kind of sucky.

Let's say your call time's 7am. With travel and breakfast time calculated in, you leave the house around 6am. You then work a full 12 hour day so you don't get off work until 7pm. Or 7:30 if you're on one of those productions where you don't get a paid lunch. Add on the travel time (hellloooo L.A. traffic!) and you don't get home until 8:30pm. You're gone for a good 14.5 hours each day. Add in 7 hours for sleep, and your 24 hours turns into just 2.5 hours of "free time" which you'll probably spend taking a shower, eating dinner and looking up directions to tomorrow's location. Times that by five days a week. And that's on a regular 12 hour day. I don't even want to do the math on a 14, 16, or 18 hour day.

Meanwhile, you have laundry you can't do, checks you can't cash, and packages you can't send (yes, I'm aware of ATMs and APCs, but sometimes, you need a real human behind the counter) because all of their hours of operation are after your call time and before your wrap time. That pushes all your errands to Saturday (sometimes Sunday if you have errands that don't include a bank, post office, or taking your car into the dealer's). Calculate the time you spend waiting in line at each place (don't even get me started on how much longer everything takes around the holidays) and there goes your weekend. What sucks is when you don't make it everywhere in time and fall mercy to their reduced "Saturday hours" and you now have to wait until next weekend to finish what needed to be done this weekend.

And if you have kids, a high maintenance dog, or a needy significant other? Forget it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

It's Shit Like This That Annoys Me.

The Gaffer calls over the radio that he needs all hands on deck. We're about to do a relight and he wants us to stand close by and wait for further instructions. There were as many lights on the ground as there were juicers, so my colleagues and I each position ourselves by a light, gloves on, ready to move and tweak it if necessary. My light just happens to be right next to a doorway.

AD: (to me) "Hey you, can you move this out of the way so people can use this doorway?"
Me: "Actually, this light might still be playing right now. Let me check with the Gaffer."
As I reach for the "talk" button on my walkie...
AD: (yelling across the room) "Hey Gaffer! Can this light move?"
The Gaffer nods his head. The AD grabs the stand, moves it to the side, gives me a look, and walks away.

Oh helllll no.

First off, unless you're a set electrician or there's some kind of emergency, keep your damn hands off any lights, cables and corresponding stands. I don't care if you're the all important AD.
Secondly, THERE'S A JUICER STANDING RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU. Even more reason to not fuck with the lights.
Thirdly, no one knows more about how important it is to have clear doorways and pathways than a grip or electric. We move large/heavy/awkward shit in a hurry all the time and hate it when there are unnecessary obstacles in our way. So believe me when I say that if that light doesn't need to be in the middle of everything, I'll gladly move it.

And don't even get me started on how he went over my head and straight to the Gaffer. It's annoying and frustrating when that happens in general, but for Pete's sake, I was willing to work with him on this. Had he waited another millisecond, he'd hear me on my walkie asking for permission to move the light.

Lastly, that smug look he threw at me was totally uncalled for. The whole ordeal is evidence of how unprofessional he is and the "How do you like them apples?" glance just shows how he isn't even aware of that fact.

People like that piss me off.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Stands And Bales, And Puppy Dog Tails...

I'm sitting at a house party somewhere in the valley, talking to my friend about the latest bullshit production we were on when I got distracted by something in the corner of my eye. It was a single yellow balloon, bobbing around amongst a crowd of people. How curious. I lean over a bit to get a better view and see that the balloon is tied to the collar of a beagle, who was eagerly following his owner around the party; tail wagging and everything.

"Oh my goodness. That's so cute!" I cooed in a typical girlish fashion.

My friend looks over to see what the hell I'm talking about and agrees that it's adorable. For some reason, a dog darting around a sea of legs with a balloon tied to him was more entertaining than the conversation we were having, so we watch him for a bit. Eventually, the dog's owner stops, feeds him a bit of something, and pets his head. The tail is now wagging back and forth so frantically that it's nothing but a blur.

"You can tell how good a person is by the way their dog behaves," says my friend, "A dog that follows his owner around like that? You know that dog's been treated well and the owner's never abused him or anything like that." Though I've never had a dog of my own, I nod in agreement. His logic makes sense.

It also got me thinking about how that's kind of true on a film crew. You can tell what kind of guy the Gaffer or Key Grip is by how the rest of their team behaves.

If they're hiding out in the truck most of the time, he probably yells at them when they're actually on set ("You're doing that wrong! Can't you get anything right?!" or "I needed that C-stand an hour ago!"). If they hang around on set but roll their eyes a lot, it's a sign that the Gaffer doesn't pay attention and takes it out on the crew ("That 10K you just set up where I told you to? That's going to be in the shot! Move it to the other side of the room, now!"). If someone is sent outside to tweak something and doesn't come back in for a while, it could be a sign that the Key is overworking the crew and the poor guy is using the chance to escape for a quick break.

On the other hand, if the crew is scrambling around to get things set up and keeps returning to the department head for more orders, that guy's got a crew that loves him. If you notice the juicers hanging out on set with one eye on the Gaffer, you know that they're paying as much attention to him as he is to them, which means those lights go up where they're supposed to the first time. If the grips don't mind doing a little bit of unpaid overtime, it's probably because the Key habitually stands up for them when other departments fuck up. A few minutes of extra work for a boss who has your back is a few minutes well spent.

Of course, this is all generally speaking. Sometimes you'll get the occasional grip or electric who hides in the truck or dilly-dallies around outside because they're lazy, or gets their asses handed to him because they simply weren't paying attention or following directions. And if there's a newbie trying to make a good impression, he'll probably keep returning for more orders no matter how many times he gets yelled at by an asshole Gaffer. But if you know what to look for, you can easily get a sense of what the day is going to be like if you're stepping onto a crew mid show.

Comparing a the crew to a dog and a Key/Gaffer to its owner probably isn't the most accurate analogy. After all, they don't feed us, walk us, or take us to the vet, nor do we live together (okay, I know of one or two exceptions to that last one), but we do spend a good amount of time with them every day, they're responsible for what we can or cannot do on set (and in turn, our safety as well) and it all comes down to whether or not he deserves our loyalty. I'll follow a great boss to the ends of the Earth, and I won't hesitate to leave a bad one in a ditch somewhere.

Plus, think about how cool it would be if everyone on set had a balloon.
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