Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What's New?

Between all the work I started getting a few months back, my vacation and traveling for the holidays, I haven't read a newspaper or watched the news for a looooong time now. And more surprisingly, I just realized that I don't miss it. I have no idea what's going on in the rest of the world, and I'm pleased to say that I'm doing just fine.

I'll probably revert back to being in touch with the rest of society once things return to "normal," but until then, did I miss out on anything good?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Brightest Star In The Sky...

It's the holidays, and that means spending a lot of time with family, including relatives you haven't seen since around this time last year. And with all the cheek pinching from your Aunt Margaret and high fives from Uncle Ricky, comes updates of every one of your extended family members of whom you don't regularly keep in touch with.

I don't know about your family, but in mine, every year, there's usually one or two family members who's news takes the cake. "Cousin Ashley got married and had a kid this year! Her life's really coming together." "Elizabeth just got accepted to Yale! She's so smart..." "Robert's spending the year in a foreign country! We really miss him, but we're proud of how brave he is!"

And while all those accomplishments do deserve to be noted and praised, there's always the feeling that you're being judged and compared to them. As if by saying how smart and brave your cousins are, it somehow implies that you're not. To them, you're the niece or nephew who, although graduated from college a few years ago, still doesn't have a steady job and is barely making minimum wage.

But despite how insulting such comments may be, there's not a whole lot I can do other than smile and nod. Because here's the thing: They'll never fully realize how extraordinary I am.

What I do for a living is hard enough  for people in the business to understand (if you want to stump a Producer, ask them what the difference between a grip and a juicer is), let alone a civilian. So to fully understand what we go through is nearly impossible for someone on the outside to really comprehend.

They'll never know how mentally and physically strong you have to be to do my job. How demanding it can be as you deal with rushed schedules and last minute changes. How exhausting the hours are or how every day can be a test of endurance. How so many people have come and gone because they just couldn't hack it. Or how hard it is to just get a chance to work in this Industry, let alone make a career out of it.

And if you're a female in my line of work, they'll never know how much bullshit you have to put up with or how much better you have to be than your colleagues just to get noticed. They'll never know how much courage you have inside you as you force your way into a male dominated field.

They've never considered the fact that I moved to this town by myself, alone and knowing no one. And how somehow, in a town of 4 million people, I've managed to make a place for myself...

The bottom line is, they'll never know.

But we, the unsung heroes of the film industry; the grips, electrics, P.A.s, set dressers, and everyone in between, we know how remarkable we have to be to be doing what we do. We know how hard we had to work to get to where we are. We know what kind of sacrifices we've made to be here. Many of us have given up other (and often easier) career paths just for a chance to follow our dream, which is uncertain and scary and requires more chutzpah than most people have. We know what kind of crap we have to put up with every day. And despite not getting the praise we deserve, we are motherfuckin' awesome.

So as your relatives gush on and on this year about how Sophie got a promotion at the bank or how Louis bought a house, know that your accomplishments are just as good as theirs are, if not better. You're in the trenches, day after day, taking whatever Production may throw at you and sometimes getting beaten in the process, but you're still standing. You may not get the acknowledgment you crave for your efforts, but know that surviving in this industry means that you have a certain something that most people don't.

To quote a comment left here on this blog a while back, "You're stronger than most for what you do as a job. Never forget that."

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Money, Money, Money...

It's no secret that I've spent the past couple of years kind of broke and desperate for work. And even when I did find a paying gig, more often than not, the money sucked. But I'd take the job anyway because hey, some cash is better than none.

During those lean times, I managed to squeak by but not without some sacrifices. I'd often opt to spend the evening staying in instead of going out with friends. I'd eat the same thing for a week rather eat out. I'd keep a pair of running shoes well past its prime rather than buy on a new pair.

But this year, despite getting off to a slow start, has been a pretty bitchin' year for me. I've been working steadily, as things go, and for the first time in a while, my bank account has been pretty well fed.

However, now the challenge is, how do I keep it from sliding back into its previous anemic state?

I've noticed that the more money I make, the more I tend to spend. Sure, I know that this newfound cash should be put in the bank and left there, untouched and saved for the rainiest of days. But as with many things in this business (and life in general), it's easier said than done... Especially after a rough couple of years.

I suddenly find myself indulging in all the stuff I had to previously miss out on. I'll splurge on a night out with friends or treat myself to a nice meal and a movie. I'll get my car washed and waxed. And more importantly, I'll splurge on a new wardrobe. After all, I haven't done any serious shopping for myself in a while and vintage Ts are so 2009.

You'd think that the logical thing for me to do once I got that all out of my system would be to get back on a reasonable budget, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Apparently, the next logical thing for me to do is indulge myself even more.

All this work I've been doing lately, while it fills my pockets with cash, has been leaving me tired and fried. I feel like I work hard for my money, so it's all too easy to justify treating myself to a massage or a nice dinner. I've had a really rough week at work, so why not indulge in a little shopping spree? Not to mention taking some real time off and skipping town for a while.

And then there's my friends... Some of them are still down on their luck, so when we hang out, I'll offer to pay for their movie ticket or buy them lunch. After all, I've been lucky enough to be working virtually non-stop while they're still on their ass and unemployed, so it seems like the right thing to do. Especially when you consider how they've always stood by me when I needed them.

While this spending may (or may not) be justified, it's also imperative to point out that my career is that of a freelancer. Sure, I may be doing well now, but how long will this good fortune last? If I go through another period of lean times, will my bank account still be fat enough for me to make it through?

My balance sheet is still in the black, but it's pretty obvious that my recent spending habits need to change (like, set up a savings account that's as good as forgotten) but change is hard. Even more so around Christmas when you're excited about the fact that the first time in a while, you're able to afford presents that you know your loved ones will really enjoy, rather than ones off the clearance rack.

Sigh... Maybe I'll start saving again after the Holidays....?  :)


*Before I get called a hypocrite in the comments, I'd like to point out that the difference between my friend and I is that he's to the point where his phone was shut off. Despite me spending a bit more than usual lately, I'm still a ways off from anything like that.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sorry guys... I've been basically busy non-stop since I got back. Between getting stuff done for the holidays, unpacking, work, and life in general, I've barely had time to realize that there's less than two weeks of this year left, let alone sit down and get a decent blog post done.

I'm hoping to finally get some time to write something this weekend, but I make no promises. Making any sort of plan is somewhat of a curse in this business.

Either way, thanks for continuing to check in until I finally get my shit together.

Monday, December 13, 2010

It Sucks When...

... you get back from vacationing in a different time zone and you get offered a job with a 6am call time for the next day. Where are those overnight jobs when you need them??

Monday, December 6, 2010


Over the past couple of years, I was terrified to leave L.A. Due to strikes, threat of strikes and an economic downturn (among other things), work around here was scarce and hard to come by, making it difficult for me to justify skipping town for a few days. Not only was I too broke to travel, I was in constant fear of missing out on a call for work because I was visiting friends. (It was a known rain dance for me: once I plan a trip, the calls will come.) It sucked. Although I wasn't working, I felt like I couldn't visit people that lived more than a few miles away. I was unemployed and had all this time on my hands, yet I was nervous about leaving town for more than a day.

Eventually, work started flowing in again and I secured a spot on a crew that shoots pretty frequently. Things were getting good. Only, I felt like I couldn't leave town for a few days then either. Though work with those guys was pretty steady, the schedule was not. There was no telling when the next job was; you only knew that there was one coming up. That made planning a little vacation hard. I had finally found a tribe that likes me and I felt like if I missed the next job, they'd find a replacement and I'd never get back in. And it's not like there's such thing as a paid vacation in my line of work. Unlike most other industries, when you plan a getaway, you not only have to factor in the actual cost of the trip, but the money you'd be missing out on from work as well. Suddenly, that weekend in Vegas you were thinking of will cost you a lot more than just a room and a few drinks.

Then, things started getting really good. Hollywood got busy again and it seemed like everyone and their mother was shooting something. I was suddenly landing bigger and better gigs left and right. I got so many calls that I couldn't take them all and it seemed like each job I took offered a better rate than the last. For the first time in a while, I felt like I was finally making some progress in my career again. But alas, I couldn't leave town then either. How could I when the biz is so hot? It seemed stupid to leave during a time when it was practically raining money into my bank account.

Then Summer turned to Fall and Fall is now slowly creeping into Winter. The calls aren't still pouring in like they were a few months ago, but I'm working steadily enough. More so than I was this time last year, that's for sure. And as I was packing up the truck after a long night of shooting not too long ago, I thought to myself, "Damn... I need a vacation." And that's when I realized how long it's been since I've left L.A. for a little "me" time.

I also realized that there's never a good time to take a break if you're a freelancer in this business like I am. You're scared of missing work when things are slow. You're scared you won't get your groove back when things are steady. And you're scared that you'll be missing out if you leave when times are good. There's just no winning.

So I decided that since there's never a good time to leave, now is as good of a time as any. I booked a flight to somewhere fun and made plans with people who don't live within a hundred mile radius from here. Will I miss out on work while I'm gone? You can count on it. Will I be able to get my spot back on the crews I leave behind after I return? I have no idea. Will the money still flow like profanities from a trucker? It depends on what calls I get when I stroll back into town. Will I answer my phone when I'm gone? Hell no.

But despite all these uncertainties, I think it's time for me to stop worrying about work and start worrying about myself for a little while. I've been working really hard this past year, and I think I deserve some time off. Sure, Hollywood is unforgiving and often changing, and things may be drastically different by the time I get back. I may find myself searching for another crew to work with and I may find myself unemployed for a while again. But I have to believe that I'm good enough and strong enough to bounce back from whatever changes I may find.

Work will always be here. But life only happens to me once. I think it's time for me to enjoy it a little.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Note On Directors.

 I woke up this morning excited about this gig and the awesome crew that comes with it. I've known these guys for a while and they're great people, but I've never worked with them until now. And to top it off, the job came with a more than decent rate, so I was looking forward to both a fun day and good paycheck.

But now, it's almost fourteen hours into the day with a whole scene still to shoot, and I'm doing everything I can to refrain from repeatedly banging my head into the set wall.

The reason behind this extra long day? This director sucks.

A good director will know exactly what he (or she) wants and knows how to get it. He knows what shots will edit well together, and which ones are a waste of time. A bad director will shoot everything they can think of, whether it'll work or not. They'll cover a scene from a dozen different angles and plan to figure it all out in editing.* Meanwhile, the crew suffers as what could've been a twelve hour day is now turned into an endless one. I realized which kind of director this guy was early on when the first shot up was two seconds of a guy walking through a doorway... and we did eleven takes of it.

Around hour thirteen of this dragged on day, I started thinking about a low budget shoot I was on not too long ago. The pay sucked and the conditions were crappy, but the Director was fantastic. He knew exactly which shots he wanted and how to get them. He'd often combine multiple shots into one and rarely did he ever do more than three takes. And better yet, we'd move through the day so quickly that it wasn't uncommon for us to have already wrapped up the truck and be on the freeway by the time the twelfth hour hits. It seemed like nothing pleased him more than sending us home early.

What sold me on this guy as one of my favorite Directors to work with is that one day, on a rare occasion where we were actually inching towards that twelve hour mark, I witnessed this conversation he had with his A.D.:
Director: "What do we have left to shoot?"
A.D.: "We still have to shoot the coverage of five more people at the table."
Director: [Thinks for a bit.] "Fuck it. We'll just shoot Grandma saying her lines. I have enough footage of everyone else from the other shots we did to make it work. The next shot will be the martini."

Ten minutes later, we were wrapped.

If you were to compare the finished product between these two directors, the average person would probably say that they both did a good job. But the difference between them comes down to what the viewer doesn't see: how the directors work on set. They both achieved the product they wanted in the end, but one got it by knowing what he needed from the get-go and the other got it at the expense of their crew (and in turn, the Producer's money).

It was almost astonishing to see how differently these two directors worked, and what was even more surprising was the overall scale of the two productions. Judging by the production values, the director that's dragging on the day probably made more on this shoot than the other guy does all year.

Which goes to show that, once again, landing a job on a bigger show or getting a bigger job title doesn't necessarily mean that you know shit.

*A bad director is often saved in editing as a good editor is able to take footage, no matter how crappy, and turn it into something usable.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

You Just Can't Win...

We're shooting night exteriors when this conversation takes place...

Best Boy: Hey AJ. Can you set up a work light?
Me: Sure. Where at?
Best Boy: For our staging.
Me: [Looking around.] Uh... Are you sure we need one? We're right under a street light, plus there's all that ambient light coming from the surrounding stores.
Best Boy: Yes. I'd like our staging to be a little bit brighter please.
Me: Okay. Sure. What do you want me to use? Like a 1k? [A 650 would've been more than enough, but a 1K work light has been pretty standard on this crew.]
Best Boy: I was thinking more like a 2k*.
Me: ... Really?
Best Boy: Yeah. Give me a 2k please. Just bounce it off the wall.
Me: [I look at the Best Boy and he's being totally serious] Okay...

I set up the light and the Best Boy gives me a nod of approval. Then, moments later...

Director: [Sitting at video village which is somewhat close to our brightly lit staging area] God damn! I can't see anything on this monitor with everything else being so bright. Can we get a tent or something put up so I can see the screen?

In fly the Grips with floppys and c-stands, and in a matter of minutes, they build a makeshift tent to block out the ambient light coming from our bright ass staging area. In doing so, they also block out everything else, including the street lamp that was previously serving as a work light for video village.

A few minutes later .....

Director: Fuck! It's so dark in this tent! Can we get a work light in here, please?
Best Boy: [Over the walkie] Hey A.J.... Can you set up another work light?
Me: [Sigh.] ...Yeah.

*A 650 = 650 watts. 1k = 1000 watts. 2k = 2000 watts. The bigger the wattage, the brighter the light.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Family, Redux.

 For some reason, this is what I imagine 
a crew Thanksgiving would be like...

A little less than a year ago, I wrote a holiday post about family. It wasn't about the Aunts, Uncles and cousins I see once or twice a year around this time, but it was about the make-shift families we find on set. We spend more time at work than we do in our own homes, so it's only natural that we'd form tight bonds with those in the trenches with us. The result is, of course, a sense a family.

And a family is what I found on that shoot a year ago. While my own family was miles and miles away, scattered in every direction the wind may blow, I found substitutes at work. Uncles, aunts, cousins, brothers and sisters... I felt like I had a complete set. And though they definitely don't take the place of the family I grew up with, they were just as good, if not better in some ways.

But where are they now? Like my real, flesh and blood related family, as time passes, they too have scattered in every direction the wind may blow. A few still linger around in the same pools of crew I'll sometimes hop in, and every once in a while, I'll run into one of them randomly on a shoot. And while we and tell each other about our lives since we wrapped all those months ago, I'll catch tid bits of the others in our familial group. "I heard Billy's working on something out in Michigan...." or "Andrea was working on some web stuff..." But for the most part, I have no idea where these people are now.

That doesn't mean I didn't consider them anything less than family when we were shooting. It just means that the show inevitably ended, and with that, we all had to find other shoots to work on. And, just like all the others before it, we will spend more time on those shoots than we do in our own homes, and keeping in touch with our previous "family" will fall to the wayside as we build new bonds on the current show.*

So is, the nature of the beast.

Related reading.

Ps. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

*And sometimes, you find yourself in a transitional phase where you've lost the bonds with the previous crew, but haven't formed new connections yet either...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Difference Between A Big Show And A Low Budget One...

... The set designers on a bigger show are smart and courteous enough to put outlets in a wall, resulting in extremely convenient places to plug in lights and practicals.

On low budget shows, they do no such thing, resulting in the juicers having to run stingers everywhere and/or worry about how they're going to hide the cables. More often than not, the job requires the extensive use of zip cord* which, on a low budget job, there probably isn't much of anyway.

*Zip cord is also commonly known as "lamp cord." It's also, for whatever reason, "illegal" to use if you're on a Union show.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Any Relation?

First there was this...

And now there's this...

Does anyone else feel like the ad world is responding to the first video with a "fuck you"?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

"We're Alot Alike..."

It's kind of a sucky day. Production added some shots we weren't prepared for, the Gaffer kept calling for lights that nobody would bring, and distro was set in all the wrong places, meaning that getting power to where we neeeded it had turned into a logistical nightmare. In short, things were getting pretty bad.

I was the one assigned to stay on set with the Gaffer, who was so frustrated and stressed about everything that he couldn't sit still. So I tried my best to calm him down, but in reality, I was beginning to get as frustrated as he was.

"What the hell is wrong with the Best Boy??" he said to me during a rare moment of peace during a turnaround. "Why would he put power drops in the way of everything and not where we actually need it??" I'm a big believer that venting is good for the soul, so I let him continue on with his rant as I sat there and listened. "And why doesn't he know where anyone is? And on that note, where is everyone in this department and why aren't they paying attention? It's been taking WAY too long for shit to get done, no one's listening to my orders and the mutherfuckin Best Boy can't even account for his crew. What the fuck is going on? This kind of shit has been going on for too long. I'm tired of it."

He finally pauses and takes a deep breath. Feeling sympathetic, but not wanting take sides between him and the Best Boy, I give him a look and an innocent shrug.

Feeling a little better after getting all that off his chest, he looks at me and asks, "You know what I'm talking about, right?"

I've been on set all day with him, so I saw first hand how shit just went to pieces because no one was paying attention or using common sense. And honestly, this kind of bullshit wasn't uncommon for this particular crew either, so I nod in agreement.

He smiles at me. "See, I know you get it, A.J. You and I... We're a lot alike."

I smiled back at him, knowing what he meant and enjoying our moment. I often know what he's thinking in terms of lighting a shot, and he knows that I know. We'll often have an unspoken working relationship on set; he knows that I'll see what he sees, and with a simple nod, I'll understand what he wants me to do. We're also similar in the way we work. We try to think one step ahead and study the call sheet in the morning so we more or less know what's up for the day. And when most Gaffers have a "do whatever it takes" mentality to get what they want, this guy will settle for something else if what you have to do is incredibly stupid and dangerous. He'll also make it known to the crew that no one's supposed to lift heavy cable by themselves and makes sure there's always at least two people to move around the bigger lights. He's the first and still one of the few Gaffers I know who puts our safety first and foremost and I admire him for it, so I was pleased to hear that he thought so highly of me.

But as we got back to work, I couldn't stop thinking about what he said.

Sure, the Gaffer knew his job well and came in every day, trying to do his best both for the production and his crew. And he did things the way they were supposed to be done, insisting that every light came with a scrim bag, every cart we had was appropriately organized and stocked, and that everyone "copy" him over the walkie when they hear an order. I'm glad to be working for a guy like him.

But as I watched him work, I realized that as much as I enjoyed working with him, I didn't want to end up like him. Pushing middle age, he was still stuck in the same low-budget, go nowhere world of indies that I was. Despite working on piece-of-shit shows, he always did his work as if he was on a big shoot. I'm actually often surprised at his professionalism and work mentality if all he's ever done are shoots like this one. He deserves a spot on something, anything, better. However, when given the opportunity to work on bigger things, he won't take it; opting instead to stay in a paycheck-to-paycheck world because it's steady and less risky. Although he may not exactly love his job, he's comfortable with it and that's enough for him.

I like working with him and appreciate him for what he brings to the job and his crew, but I hope I don't end up on the same path he did. I hope I always realize which risks are worth taking. I hope I never lose sight of what I'm aiming for. I hope I will always have enough good sense to know when I've become too good, too skilled and too valuable to stay where I am now, and know when I need to move on. I hope I will remember that hard and uncertain times now will mean a big payoff later.

I snap out of my thoughtful state as the company finishes another shot and my Gaffer gives me a "here we go again" look from across the room. I smile at him. He's a great guy to work for. And one day, when I move on to bigger and better things, I'll look fondly at our time together and miss him.

But until then, I'll look at whatever part of the set he's looking at, see what he's seeing, and grab whatever light he's thinking of...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Karma's A Bitch When...

... you take a piece of tape off whatever it was being used on and toss it on the ground thinking that someone else will clean it up... Only to spend the second half of the day peeling tape off the bottom of your shoe every five minutes because everyone else was thinking the same thing.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Huh? What Day Is It?

What day is it? I have no idea. I haven't known for a while now. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday? Who knows?

I've been losing track of the days of the week recently. I've been working so much that I can't remember what happened last week and if you asked me about a show I was on last month, I would tell you that I could've sworn all that happened at least a few months ago.

Whatever little grasp of time I had left was lost among the show hopping, long days and irregular call times of the past few months.

All I know is that today I'm on "Show A" and call time is 6am in the Valley; tomorrow, I'm on "Show B" with a 6am call Downtown and the day after that, it's "Show C" in a location TBD, but call will probably be around 5pm... Which means I probably won't get off work until at least 5am the next morning, screwing me up for whatever show I'm on next.

And Saturday? Sunday? Weekends? They have no meaning to me anymore. I work on those days too.

If you were to ask me what day of the week it is, you might as well have asked me to solve for X if Train A was leaving the station going 60 miles an hour while Train B was headed for Chicago: you'll get a confused and frustrated look.

The good thing is that I have at least been pretty good at keeping track of what day of the month it is. That, I need to know every time I fill out a new deal memo/W-4/I-9/time card/invoice. But even that sometimes will catch me off guard, because holy shit, it's November already??

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Difference Between A Big Show And A Low Budget One...

If you're working on a big show and they don't need you to come in the next day, they'll say "you're laid off tomorrow," and they'll do so as soon as they know so you can maybe still make some calls and find work.

If you're working on a low budget show and they don't need you to come in the next day, they'll tell you (after they've handed out the callsheets at the end of the night), "Oh yeah... You're not coming in tomorrow."

By then, you're usually cursing at them under your breath because you turned down another call earlier in the day, thinking they're keeping you on for the week.

Monday, November 1, 2010

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

... a thing of yogurt you had in your fridge expired because you didn't have time to eat it. In fact, it expired so long ago that it exploded and covered a significant part of your fridge with blueberry flavored goo in the process. And this happened long enough ago that the goo dried into gunk that can only be removed if you scrape it off but you didn't notice any of this until this morning... And you don't have the time and/or energy to clean it up right now.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

No One Wants To Play With Me.

Sometimes I feel like I don't belong anywhere.

These days, I've been lucky enough to land all these awesome gigs that are bigger in every way than the shows I've been used to. But being the "new kid" and all, I haven't exactly been accepted by all the guys I've been working with. I'm a stranger to them. They don't know my very well yet, and I get the feeling that many of them would like to keep it that way.

But since I've been primarily ditching my low budget peeps in favor of those "better" gigs, when I do return to the more familiar territory of shows that offer long hours for little pay, I sometimes get the feeling that I don't quite belong here either. The vibe is somewhat... different. They've found a way to make things work without me, and in a way, I feel like my return might be throwing a wrench in their system.

I feel like I was finally "in" a crew tribe or two, which was something I worked so hard for over the years. And at a time where I feel like I should be advancing, I get kind of pushed out into the cold.

I don't quite belong here and I don't quite belong there either.

I'm a woman without a crew.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Expect The Unexpected.

"Ugh... I'd hate to make you guys lay out all that extra cable they probably won't use, but you know if we don't do it, they're going to call for it."

I nod in agreement with my Best Boy. It seems like almost everything we do is, "just in case." We bring lights to set with a scrim bag and gels "just in case" the Gaffer will call for them. We run more cable than we need to from the generator "just in case" they need more light when we actually shoot. We order more gear than originally counted for on the tech scout "just in case" things change. Best Boys often schedule more time than we actually need to do a pre-rig "just in case" something unexpected pops up.

Most of the time, all that extra prep is for nothing. But it's invitable that the second we don't take those extra steps, the Gaffer will call for those scrims, they'll need the extra cable capacity or something will go wrong on the pre-rig. It's the Murphy's Law of the film business.

And more and more, I've been finding that this "expect the unexpected" attitude translates to my everyday life.

There's no guaranteed days off in my line of work. Even if you have nothing booked on your calendar, that doesn't stop the last minute calls for work from coming in. So if I have a day off, I try to take advantage of the free time and get certain things done, ASAP. Like going to the store or doing laundry. Or those things that I can only do from 9-5, like going to the bank or post office.

Usually, I'll get all that stuff out of the way first, and I'm able to enjoy the rest of my time off.

But recently, I needed some work done on my car. Feeling kind of exhausted from the recent harvest of work, I decided to just do nothing on my first day off and take it easy.

Big mistake.

Later that night, I got a call for work that started the very next day, which of course, I took. "My car can wait one more day," I thought.

Only that one day of work turned into a few weeks worth, causing me to delay bringing my car to the auto shop way longer than I originally expected. It eventually got to the point where I'd pray to the Car Gods that my jalopy would get me where I needed to go every time I started the engine. Yikes. I don't know about you, but I tend to stress out at the thought of not having a way to get to work everyday.

Then word came that the job I was on would last for at least another month and I realized that I needed to make alternate plans if I didn't want to end up a pedestrian in L.A.

So I started thinking of ways to get it done. The auto shop I usually go to is only open when I'd be working, so I started to look into other places in the area. I looked at the possibility of finding a place near work where I can maybe drop it off on my lunch break and pick it up when we wrapped. I even went as far as crafting a plan that involved getting a rental car and/or a friend or two giving me a ride.

At this point, despite me kicking myself for not taking care of this when I had a chance, I not only had a plan to finally get my car worked on and still make it to work myself, I had a couple of contingency plans as well.

But then, true to the laws of Hollywood, once I got something figured out, things started changing again and the extra month of work I had suddenly turned into none. The production had run out of money and I was laid off. Damn.

Oh well. At least now I can get my car fixed! So bright and early the next morning, I dropped my car off at the auto shop and breathed a sigh of relief as I continued to do the usual mish-mash of mundane errands, like going to the store, post office and bank, "just in case" I suddenly got called for work again.

And true to the Laws of Hollywood, once I got all that stuff taken care of, it was another few days before I got onto another show...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Difference Between A Big Show And A Low Budget One...

If you're on a low budget indie and your boss asks, "Hey, do you have a screwdriver/marker/blade/etc on you?" it's probably because he needs to borrow it.

If you get asked that same question on a big show, it's probably because you're about to get assigned a job where you'll need one...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Oh No, I Didn't (Oh Yes, I Did)...

I think I may have just broken the cardinal rule of working low budget indies: I passed up a better gig for a shitty one.

And not just an, "eh, one was a little bit better, but I already promised I'd do the suckier one" either. Nor was it in favor of a friend's "passion project." The job I gave up was miles above the one I'm sticking to in terms of money, benefits, production value, prestige, etc.

So what does this suckier, lower paying, going no-where job has that the swanky, better one doesn't?


When faced with the decision of choosing between the two jobs, I decided that I could use a break from constantly having to defend myself against an unfamiliar crew and I kinda missed the camaraderie I got from my low budget peeps. I guess you could say I was homesick and in a way, my decision was kind of like going home for a visit after a tough week of finals in college.

Sure, when faced with the two options, my head was screaming, "WTF are you doing?? It's a no-brainer! Of course you should go with the bigger show!!!" And part of it still is. Especially the part about the money since I still very much remember the work drought of '09, '08... and '07.

But another part of me feels like giving up the bigger job, for just a little while, is the right thing to do if I want to stay sane and not blow a gasket in front of a big name Gaffer. Despite the job itself being kinda sucky, I feel like it'll do me good to surround myself with people I know and am familiar with. People who love me and don't feel the need to question every little thing I do. I need a couple of days where I'm not being watched like a hawk by co-workers who don't trust that I know how to do my job. Or someone quizzing me to see if I know what a double is.

In short, I need a few days of shitty work with good people before I can go back to another day of easy work and shitty people.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"Keep On Trying, Charlie Brown."

 A Metaphor for my past few months.

It's been crazy busy out there in Hollywoodland the past couple of months. Like, crazy busy. This town's been booming so much that I've been working basically non-stop on shows that are have previously been way out of my league. Shows with better pay, hours, benefits, and a serious amount of equipment to play with. A far cry from the usual mish-mash of low budget productions that I'm used to, with their tiny paychecks and fuck-the-crew attitude. All this has been very good for my resume (like anyone looks at that anymore anyway) and my bank account.

But despite all the good fortune I've been experiencing from the sudden (and seemingly steady for at least a little bit) flow of work, part of me is looking forward to when it all dies down.

I know, I know. I complain when there's no work going around, and I complain when there is. But this is... Different.

It's not that the work on these new shows is any harder (it isn't). Or that the hours are any longer (they aren't). Or that I'm in desperate need of some R&R (I do). It's not even that the cable's getting heavier (actually, the more I work with the stuff, the lighter it seems) or that I'm in desperate need of doing laundry (I can put it off for just one more day...). It's because this wave of recent work has been hard on me; not physically or mentally, but emotionally.

Because this industry is filled with assholes.

And I don't just mean the kind that'll throw you under the bus without as much as blinking an eye just to save their own ass. That kind of douchiness deserves its own post entirely.

I'm talking about the ageist and sexist assholes who make snap judgments about your ability to do your job just by looking at you. The ones who put you down every chance they get just so they can feel like an Alpha male. The ones who push you to the sidelines because they assume you don't have the skill, knowledge or right to be there. The ones who watch you like a hawk, waiting, knowing that you'll somehow make a mistake, and if/when you do, they're right there to wag their finger in your face, telling you how wrong you are. The ones who think you don't belong in their tribe of sweaty men and makes you feel like you're a worthless burden to them before you even get to work.

Then there's the inadvertent assholes. They're the ones who seem to be on your side. They look at you with their "poor little girl who can't possibly handle the work" eyes and they mean well as they try to "guide" and "teach" you the way they do things. Which is incidentally the same way you've been doing for years. But they'll never know because, just like their knuckle-dragging counterparts, they assume you don't know any better before giving you a chance to prove otherwise. Despite their attempts at "helping you," this back-handed slap in the face makes them just as much of a dick as their co-workers who openly put you down.

Sure, this story is nothing new. I've dealt with this kind of asshole time and time again over the years. But this recent flow of work paired with how this industry is set up and the way the calls have been coming in, I've basically been dealing with two solid months of this kind of bullshit and that can really take a toll on a person. I mean, something has to be really fucked up here if I'm actually looking forward to returning to the screw-you world of low budget shows.

Somewhere down the line, you start wondering how much more of this you can take. You start thinking there's nothing you can do to prove to these guys that you deserve to be there. And you start to doubt yourself. What if this abuse and harassment never lets up? How much longer can I/will I/should I put up with this shit? Sure, it's a good opportunity with a great paycheck, but is it worth me feeling like a useless outsider every day?

I knew as I climbed this ladder, to whatever top it may lead to, that I'd run into this kind treatment. I know that some of you reading this may be tempted to call me a whiner and say I should just suck it up. Hell, I'd probably be thinking the same thing if I was reading this post a year or two ago. But unless you've been in my shoes, you have no idea how hard this is and how utterly brutal it's been. I've always considered myself to be a "one of the boys" kind of girl. A girl who is smart enough to only listen to those who are trying to help and ignore those who try to put you down. Someone who is strong and independent and doesn't put up with bullshit. I've even, at one point, considered myself to be somewhat of a pioneer, paving the way so future generations of badass chicks who want to break into this business won't have to face the same hardships and discrimination that I had to.

But then again, I never, not ever in a million years, thought I'd find myself sitting on my bedroom floor this morning getting teary-eyed over it either.

This industry is hard. And it's even harder if you're female. And just when you think you're finally making some progress, it seems like someone will inevitably come along and pull that metaphorical football away, just because they can, and you'll land flat on you ass. Time after time.

I know how you feel, Charlie Brown.

Ps. Did Charlie Brown ever kick that ball?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

His Only Redeeming Quality.

He's kind of a dick. He'll make snide little comments about me to our co-workers, like, "She's new. You don't have to listen to her," and, "We'll make her do all the tedious shit while we go do the real work."

He makes things overly complicated and spends way too much time perfecting stuff that doesn't really matter. You either do things his way or you get the hell out, and he's not even the Best Boy. And he'll get on your case if he thinks you're "slowing him down," yet he'll walk away without saying a word and work comes to a halt as we all wait for his ass to come back.

I dread the day I have to work with him again.

But his kid's cute.

I met the little tyke one day when he came to set to visit his dad. Not even waist height, he'd cling to his father's leg as crew members, who are nothing but dirty looking strangers to him, would come by and shake his tiny hand or ruffle his soft, fluffy hair.

As I watched from across the room, I saw the proud look on the guy's face as his baby took a cookie from his hand, and I saw the look on the kid's face as only an innocent, loving kid could give a parent. I thought to myself, "Wow. This guy must really be a good dad."

I almost couldn't believe it. That this "bull in a china shop" kind of man, who's been giving me shit since the day we met, who's been making our days longer and more complicated, and who's gruff exterior makes him hard to reason with, actually has a kinder, softer side. Despite him being such a dick the past couple of days, I kind of respected him a little bit more and started to like him as a human being.

And then his kid left and it was back to business as usual.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

More Of The Same.

 Same shit, different day.

I'm working on a new crew and none of these guys have ever met me before. We're getting ready to run some cable and the first conversation I have with one of them goes like this:

Him: "So how long have you been doing this for?"
Me: "What do you mean?"
Him: "Well, how am I supposed to teach you what you need to know unless you tell me how long you've been doing this for?"
Me: "Um... Okay... I've been doing this for about three or four years now."
Him: "Three or four years...? Oh. Well I guess I don't have to show you a whole lot then..."
Me: "Nope. I guess not."

(Later on...)

Me: "So how long have you been doing this for?"
Him: "About as long as you have."
Me: "What were you going to teach me?"
Him: "Um... That the colors match up to each other."
Me: (Rolls eyes.)

The guy ended up being pretty cool and kinda fun to work with, but I'm tired of being pegged as someone who doesn't know what she's doing before we even get to work.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

It's Not About Age. It's Not About Size. It Should Be About The Work You Can Do.

 You gotta at least admire the little guy's moxie.

With the influx of work these days, it seems like every show I hear of is scrambling to put together a crew. In the past couple of years, getting together a dream team of grips, electrics, camera people, etc, was an easy task. Everyone was dying for work.

But now the tides have changed (at least temporarily anyway) and it seems like everyone and their mother in the industry is working. And with everyone being so busy, the people doing the hiring have gone from getting their number one picks to hiring people lower and lower on the totem pole.

Which in turn, can mean good news for me. Shows bigger than the ones I normally work on have been calling me when they're scrambling to fill spots on a crew. And while it does kinda suck to know they're only calling me when they have no one else to turn to, hey, I'll take whatever job I can get.

This kind of hiring practice also means that I'm constantly working on new crews these days; many of them filled with guys who know each other well and have been in this business for years. Some of them have even been doing this for longer than I've been alive.

And while I often respect people with this kind of seniority, being on a new crew with people of this level ensures that I'm constantly metaphorically poked and prodded, sometimes to the point where I'm surprised they're not prying my mouth open to see my teeth like judges do at a dog show. Who is this new specimen before them? It's a woman! Who's not very big! Does she know how heavy cable weighs? Surely she's never worked on a set before... No no no... There must be a mistake. She must be a PA or an office intern who wandered into the wrong department...

And then come the questions... "Do you have gloves?" "Do you know what a [random name of light that we don't even have on the truck] is?" "Do you know how to wrap a stinger?" "Do you know how to tie a square knot?" "Do you know know the knot code we use for cables?" "You do? Okay. Prove it."*

On a good day, the interrogation will stop after a few minutes and the rest of the day will be spent with us working as one unit. On a bad day, the interrogation will continue through the next twelve hours and your head will hurt from rolling your eyes so much at their stupid questions. On a really bad day, this kind of behavior will continue throughout the show. Luckily, it's usually just one guy (at a time anyway) who's trying to make you feel like shit. Like you're too young, too new, and too girly to be here. But they take every chance they get to try to prove you can't do the job.

I was on a job recently when one of the guys was trying to pull this kind of shit on me. Throughout the job, there were comments made about how I probably won't be able to handle the cable, how I probably don't know how the equipment works and how I'm not as fast as the other guys.

Luckily, the powers that be ignored his comments and treated me like an equal. But one day, they paired me up with the guy for a project.


As a team, we were supposed to be rigging these special lights around the set. So we came up with a plan of attack and halfway through the job, I realized that I spent a lot of time waiting for him to catch up. And that got me thinking.

Despite assigned by our bosses to work as partners, I realized that due to the awkward placement of the lights, I did most of the rigging since the guy was too large to fit into the spaces where the lights needed to go. And these were new-ish specialty lights that haven't established themselves as a staple on most sets yet, and since the guy wasn't quite sure how they worked, I had to explain it to him

I looked over to where he was working and despite this being a simple task, he seemed out of breath and sweating profusely, stopping every few minutes to anxiously wipe the trickles of sweat off his face. I guess years of a poor diet and cigarettes were starting to take its toll on him.

And then I wondered, if an assignment like this is enough to tire him out, how can he handle a cable run? Sure, he can probably lift a piece of 4/0, but by the looks of things, he'll probably need to take a short break between pieces during a wrap out. And while I may not be able to toss around hundred pound coils of cable as easily as most of the other guys, at least I can wrap a run without pausing. This guy had trouble bending over to tie his shoes...

I'm sure that his roundabout insults about my ability and place in this industry is partially based on his "back in my day..." experiences. After all, he started in this business a couple decades ago, when he was much younger and probably a lot slimmer than he is today. But it still nevertheless perplexes me how someone who seems to barely be able to do the job now can judge me on whether or not I can handle this job in the future.

*For those of you who are about to say that questions like that is par for anyone the rest of the crew is unfamiliar with on set, I've been on plenty of shows where I'm the only one who gets asked all these questions despite being one of the older and more experienced newcomers.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

It's Very Telling When...

... the town's ablaze with work and there are certain people who keep asking you for job leads. And not the "Hey, I just got off a show and I'm looking for a new gig" kind of calls. But the ""Hey, I haven't worked for months" kind...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

"Awesome = Happy."

Another page from my journal. When I look back at this entry, my first thought is how naive I was. My second thought is that sometimes, I still feel the same way...

Spring, 2007

I've been pretty happy these past few days. Even though I'm out in the middle of nowhere with all those bugs in the hot sun,* there's a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. And honestly, despite all my bruises and complaining, what else would I be doing? Sitting by myself at home, wasting whatever money I have left in my bank account?

Plus, this month has been really good for my career... Or ego boost. [Producer #1] fought really hard to to keep me as part of the crew for [music video], and although I do feel bad for bailing on [Producer #2] it felt really good to be appreciated even for a little bit. Plus, [DP for Producer #1] is awesome.**

And [project where I was a department head for the first time] shot this month as well, and I totally rocked that shoot!*** I was so on the ball and authoritative sounding on that first day that I even surprised myself!

Plus, I'm getting kind of excited about [Producer #3's] project, although it is kind of scary and very intimidating. But hopefully, when the time comes, I'll rock that one as well. ****

Despite my apartment being a mess, my dirty dishes sitting in the sink, and my clothes being smelly, I really like it when I open up my day planner and see my schedule booked up day after day.

That = Awesome. Awesome = Happy.

*That's where we were shooting.
** I ditched a gig from Producer #2 to work for Producer #1 because Producer #1 seemed more legit and promised me paying jobs in the future. It turns out that while I did make the right choice (according to my sources, Producer #2's project was hellish and then she was never heard from again), Producer #1 was nothing more than a sweet talker. He knew all the right things to say to lure me in and gain my loyalty, but he ended up turning his back on me when he got those better gigs. However, I still stand by the statement that his DP is awesome.
***I totally did.
****It was another job where I held a key role. I was awesome during pre-production of the project and totally rocked the shoot... But like so many projects, it all fell apart in post.  :(

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

It's Kind Of Surreal When...

... you realize you've been working more these days than the people who you looked up to when you were just starting out.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

"Psycho Girl."

I've been keeping pretty busy these days and haven't had the energy (creative and otherwise) to actually sit down and write some new posts, so here's another page from my journal...

Spring, 2007

Yesterday, I got a live demonstration on how NOT to act on a set.
While I was working on day two of a [student film], a girl from [overpriced film school] came to work in the g/e department. She was kinda cool at first, but then started to call me names like "cunt," "whore," "slut," etc. A good ol' fashioned derogatory name calling is amusing every now and then, but not when it goes on all damn day! And then she started either hitting, kicking, or throwing things at me. That shit gets old fast.

Then, when she was wheeling in the nine-light, she didn't pay attention to how tall the stand was and ran it SMACK INTO THE ROLLING DOOR!* Of course, she was probably running with the wrong leg forward,** and the whole thing came crashing down. Then she wanted to just walk the whole thing back in, but hello! The thing's on wheels! It's just going to keep rolling forward when you try to prop it up unless you lock/block the wheels!

And the constant bitching! ALL fucking day she was bitching about how she either wanted a sandwich or some milk. Uhh... Why don't you stop your whining and get some already??

She was all anxious and ready to work and everything, but she was also playing the cutesy-catty-little girl role,*** but OMG! You're fucking 20! Stop acting like you're 16!

*We were shooting at a warehouse.
**On a rolling stand, it's best to have one leg lead so if you hit something (like a piece of cable), the whole unit doesn't topple over.
***I'll admit that playing the cutesy-little girl roll has a time and a place (ie: getting certain grips off their lazy butts and give you a hand) but a) it better have an off button and b) you still have to be good enough to justify your presence.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Practice What You Preach, Asshole.

"If I caught you doing that on my crew, I'd fire you."

I look across the set we were rigging to see who those words were directed to. They were coming from a day player* whose usual gig was being a Best Boy and directed towards a hardworking newbie who was assigned to work with him. The poor kid was holding a cell phone, obviously in mid text.

Now, I can understand where the guy was coming from. A cell phone at work used at the wrong time can most definitely rub some people the wrong way.

But as the day wore on, I noticed the kid working by himself a lot.

And while he was working on a two person project by himself, the day playing "Best Boy" would be outside on a cigarette break... Or talking on his cell phone... Or checking something on his phone... Or nowhere to be found at all.

In fact, it wasn't uncommon for the guy to disappear for ten or fifteen minutes at a time.

What a mutherf''n hypocrite! I can maybe understand the "do as I say, not as I do" attitude, but if he pulled any of that shit on my crew, I'd definitely fire him and keep the newbie. I'd take the ridiculously annoying thirty seconds at a time texting breaks over a constant disappearing act any day.

* A day player is someone who works on a show for only a day or two. Usually because it's a particularly busy day or they're filling in for someone.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

It's Kind Of Embarassing When...

... you hear someone from another department over your walkie and you razz them for being on the wrong channel... Only to realize that you're the one who's off by a click on the dial.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Drive.

When my alarm goes off in the morning, I'll let out a groan, roll out of bed, and in a semi-confused and defeated state, look out my window at the pre-dawn sky. The sun won't be peeking over the horizon for another few hours, but that won't stop my day from starting.

I'll get the coffee going as I begin my zombie like ritual of getting dressed, brushing my teeth and other acts of personal grooming, and sometimes, I'll manage to down a full cup of coffee before it's time to leave for work.

And in the quiet of the early morning, while the whole world is still sleeping (or at least, my neighborhood), I'll get into my car, start the engine, and hit the road.

It doesn't matter where the location is that day. Culver City, Pasadena, Malibu... It's all the same to me. I'll glide effortlessly on the freeways, changing lanes with ease. It's usually too early for traffic. The radio will be playing the latest pop song by some tween, and I'll sing along, letting it's energetic and trendy beats wake me up. No one is aware of this guilty pleasure of mine. There are few cars on the road to catch me dancing in my seat, and even then, the city is still under the guise of darkness as I zip by during my commute. Despite having to drag my tired ass out of bed so early in the morning, I usually savor this quiet moment before the storm...

And then I'll arrive at my destination. A studio, a house, an empty restaurant... It's all the same to me. I'll spend the next several hours lugging cable, moving around hot lights and struggling with heavy stands, all while fighting my way through crowds of background actors, set dressers, hair and make-up people and every other department. Eventually, as it is inevitable that Production will fall behind schedule, the day will lag on and breaks will be few and far between. The Gaffer will get cranky and take it out on our Best Boy, which in turn, puts stress on those of us beneath him. The Director will suddenly have an epiphany that involves massive, last minute changes in every department and as we scramble to cater to his every whim, the AD will be barking at our heels to hurry up. Overtime will occur, pushing us to the limit as my fellow co-workers and I all wonder how much more of this we could take...

And then they'll call wrap.

After loading up the truck, I'll get back into my own car and hit the road again. The city is definitely awake by now, and people are bustling about and cluttering the streets. A far cry from the easy, flowing drive I had that morning. No more effortlessly zipping around on a nearly empty freeway. But that's okay. I don't mind being patient on the journey home. In fact, I'll cherish the minutes I spend siting in my own personal, air conditioned cocoon, drumming my fingers on the steering wheel to a familiar tune on the radio as I inch along down the road. My mind will wander as I start to make plans for the weekend or think about what I'll have for dinner. I'll look around at the L.A. skyline, and despite its often smoggy and dingy appearance, it makes me smile. It always reminds me that I'm in Hollywood. Making movies. And that's something that so many people don't get to do.

I'll think about how far I've come. How I came to this town knowing no one and how now I've got something that bears a vague resemblance to a career. Sometimes I think about the people I had to leave behind to get here. Sometimes I think about the people I got to know because I'm here. Sometimes I'll reminisce in my own mind about the stuff I used to do and sometimes I'll day dream about my future.

But if the traffic's too bad on the freeway, I'll opt to take the surface streets. Most of the time, the route I'll take puts me on auto pilot and I'll know which streets to turn on without even thinking about it. But every once in a while, I'll turn down a new road to explore the city a little. As I'm stopped at traffic lights, I'll look around me, taking note of the stores and businesses in the area. What restaurants look good. What boutiques look interesting. And every so often, it's "Holy shit! So that's where that awesome place that so-and-so was talking about is..."

Depending on the season, I'll even drive a little slower and marvel at the trees lining the streets. Sometimes they'll bloom into the most remarkable shades of pink and lavender. And if it's a good day, I'll roll down my windows, letting the cool evening breeze trickle in, ever so gently tickling the hairs on the back of my neck. It's a gorgeous feeling that always makes me smile as well.

Eventually, I'll find my way home again. I'll crawl into my apartment, shower, eat and sleep and in a few short hours, my alarm will go off again, and a little after that, I'll be thrown into another day of stress and exhaustion for little money under a Producer who stands to make a lot.

But the drive... The drive is mine.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Vampire Weekend: "Cousins"

I'm sure we've all seen a music video or two (probably more) where the band rocks out with some Maxi Brutes flashing around in the background. Sometimes it's because the Producer/Director/Lead Singer thinks it looks cool and sometimes (especially on the low budget level) it's kind of a "well, we can't frame them out... So fuck it! Let's put them IN the shot!" type of situation. Either way, I'm kind of tired of seeing them.

But in steps this Vampire Weekend music video. There's no ubiquitous Maxi Brute anywhere in this thing (thank goodness) but they definitely embrace another kind of film equipment in their shots.

I kinda like it.

Friday, August 27, 2010

My Current State Of Affairs.

My legs are covered in bruises from running into too many set pieces, ballasts, and awkward stands.
My arms have minor cuts and scrapes from brushing up against set walls, an unusually sharp-edged cart and who knows what else.
My hands are dry and calloused and in bad need of a manicure.
My muscles are tired and sore from lugging around cable, stands and lights.
I'll come home, plop my ass on the couch, and just lay there for a few minutes, confused. I often don't know which I want to do first: shower, eat or sleep.
And in a few short hours, it'll all start over again...

But I'm working. Oh hallelujah, have I been working. Maybe too much. I haven't had a real day off in weeks. But then again, after having suffered for a couple of years with little to no work, this sudden flow of paychecks is like raiding an unguarded maids' cart in a hotel hallway: You take more than you probably should, but do so because you'll never know when an opportunity like this will come by again.

Monday, August 23, 2010

It's Kind Of Embarassing When...

... you're trying to book a job over the phone but you've been working so much that you don't remember what day it is.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

What Would You Do?

Okay, here's a "hypothetical" situation...

Let's say you need to hire someone for a day of work and long story short, you have two possibilities and only two. And for simplicity sake, let's say that their professionalism and skill level are just about even.

Option #1 is kind of a friend of yours. The two of you aren't BFFs or anything, but he's definitely more than just a casual acquaintance. He's asked that you keep him in mind when jobs come up and you agreed to do so.

Option #2 is someone you don't really know. But, he's related to somewhat of a friend of yours who's in a better position than you. This friend has asked that you keep their sibling/cousin/kid/family member in mind when jobs come up and if you find him something, your friend will in turn, "scratch your back".

So what would you do? Would you bring on your friend who you know and are more familiar with and would like to see get ahead in the game?

Or do you bring on the other guy because now his relative will owe you a favor? A favor that can be very valuable for you down the line...

Are you loyal to your friend? Or your career?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Is This A Good Sign...?

Something interesting happened the other day. I got a phone call from a friend who's Besting on a low budget feature.

"Hey, a couple of my guys canceled on me for tomorrow. I'm having some trouble finding people to take their spots. I know you're already booked, but do you know of anyone who's looking for work?"

I told him not to worry and that I'd take care of it. This wasn't the first time he's come to me to make a few calls when he's short on guys and I usually have no problem sending quality people his way. With all the Union negotiations, strikes, and runaway productions* in recent years, this town, and my contacts list, is brimming with people looking for work. At one point, it wasn't all that uncommon for me to find a few "I'm looking for work. Do you know of anything?" messages on my phone a week.

But this time was different. I went down the list of usuals. The people I call first when I need a crew to make me look good. They were all booked. Okay. No problem. They're all stellar people and this was a last minute deal. No surprise there that they can't take the job.

Next on the list were the guys that I called when the usual suspects are already booked. They're usually the ones who haven't been in the game very long and while they're great on ultra-low budget, paid-in-peanuts shoots, they've never been on a job that fed them anything other than pizza for lunch. In other words, my friend's shoot would've been the biggest thing they've ever worked on. Which ultimately, would be good for them as they'd be moving up on the totem pole of movie-making.

Only, they were all unavailable as well.


So now I was scraping the bottom of the barrel. The guys that are fresh and new on the scene who've done nothing but a few days on a student film. I made a few calls to them and eventually found two guys who were free to work the next day.

I gave them the info they needed, hung up, then sat down for a breather. It was getting kind of late and I was starting to panic about not being able to come through for my crew-challenged friend.** Which made me realize how long it's been since I had this much trouble finding someone to take a job. Granted, it was a bit last minute, but I usually don't have to go past Name #3 on my list to fill a spot.

That got me thinking: Are things really that busy right now? Or did I just catch everyone at a busy time? Sure, the people I called aren't free the next day, but is that the only day of work they had booked that week? Or are they unavailable because they're on a show, Monday through Friday?

I had lunch with a cohort the other day who said he had the same problem filling his spot as well when he got called for a better gig. "I guess it's just really busy out there," he said, "That's good."

And yes, it definitely is a good thing if things are picking up, especially after how sucky the past few years have been. But at the same time, it feels a bit odd to me that things are suddenly so busy...

*A production that shoots outside of California to take advantage of the tax incentives.
**Yes, I know it wasn't really my job or responsibility to fill out my friend's crew, but he asked me for a favor and I like to see those kinds of things through. Plus, I'd rather have my friends working than a random stranger.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Thanks For Nothing.

We're shooting on location in a tiny little house somewhere in the Valley. I'm on set, camped out in the kitchen next to a light all day while they cover scenes in the living room. Other than the occasional tweak, it's been a pretty chill afternoon, but I begin to get a bit restless. I'm also a bit thirsty, kinda hungry, and have to pee.

So I chalk it up to good timing when a co-worker comes into the kitchen offering to man my post for a bit while I get some fresh air. "That'd be fantastic," I say as I get up off my apple box, "I needed a break."

But no sooner had I began to fix myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich over at crafty when I hear the call over the walkie from the Gaffer, "Hey A.J. Pan your light to the left a bit."

I continue to spread peanut butter on the bread, keeping my ear open for my co-worker's reply that he's got it covered... Only the "copy" never comes.

"Shit..." I think to myself as I drop my un-assembled snack back on the table. I hustle my way over to the other side of the house as quickly as possible, slide into the back door by the kitchen, and bang my leg into the counter in the process. That's definitely going to leave a bruise.

I pan the lamp left. "How's that?" I radio to the Gaffer. "Yeah, that's good. Thank you."

As I rub the bump on my leg, I look around for my colleague who's supposed to be covering for me on set. I finally spot him standing next to the Gaffer in the living room, cracking jokes.

Yeah, thanks for covering for me, Jackass.

Friday, August 6, 2010

My Kinda-Sorta-But-Not-Really Anniversay Post.

I started this blog sometime in the ass end of 2008 with the intention of just writing and posting about anything and everything. Whether it was about what I did that day, something cool I saw online, or just what I was feeling at that particular moment. You can call it narcissism if you want, but I thought it'd be fun so that's exactly what I did. I posted a lot of random things those first few months (hey, I had a lot of free time on my hands).

Eventually, I ran into a problem: I realized that no body cared. No body knew who I was. No one had an interest in what I was posting. I wasn't doing anything exciting, different, new or ground breaking. No one was reading this shit.

And I know having a blog is something you should enjoy doing for yourself, otherwise, what's the point? It's not like I'm making any money off this site. But at the same time, why bother posting anything at all if no one's going to read it?

So I re-thought this whole blog thing. Should I just scrap it and let it drift into the sea of other abandoned blogs that never posted anything past month two? Or should I just change direction?

Obviously, I chose the latter. I went back and deleted most of my non-sensical, random posts about nothing in particular, keeping only the ones I kinda liked. And since I needed an outlet for all the pent up frustration I've accumulated from whatever little work I got, turning "The Hills Are Burning" into an Industry blog seemed like a fitting choice.

And sometime after that, thanks to Michael Taylor and some Google Search hits, I have all you wonderful people visiting this site.

Anyway, I don't know what would be considered the "real" anniversary of this blog since it kind of changed directions once or twice. But it seems like August of last year is when it started to take off a bit, so I say let's pretend that's when this site was really born.

So thanks for following me for a whole freakin' year!

On that note, I thought I'd celebrate this feat by sharing with you the first page from my journal (yes, the pen and paper kind). I shit you not, this is word for word and somewhat embarrassing. Looking back on it, it feels like it was written by a dramatic tween on Livejournal or something.

Please don't judge me...  :)


First Entry - February 9th, 2007

     For a while now, I've wanted to start a blog and title it "Perpetually Sitting In Traffic" of "The Hills Are Pretty When They Burn" or something like that. I felt like I had all these stories to tell and no one to tell them to. But on second thought, I had no idea on how to make a web page look cool or how to get a page that people might actually read. Then I started to worry about remaining anonymous and how that should/could work if someone I knew ever stumbled up on it and recognized me through my writing and stories. And what if no one read it? I would still have all these stories to tell and no one to tell them to only now I'd have a lame looking web page. Then I saw a TV news report on how Anna Nicole Smith was dead and how there were already a number of homemade tribute videos to her and her son on YouTube. It reminded me of how everyone can be their own filmmaker these days due to computers and digital stuff, which is good, but also means more competition/less jobs for me. Especially since I'm more old-school and prefer film over video. Then it got me thinking about how everyone and their mother has their own blog. So I decided to keep a journal instead. People seem to be forgetting the many uses for a pen and paper these days. Sure, what I have to say won't be out there for everyone to read, but at least I know there's an actual record of them somewhere and I not just a bunch of ones and zeros going through some cable lines. I just hope I don't lose this damn thing and that I'll actually keep writing in it.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

It Sucks When...

... after you factor in the call time, breakfast, the commute, your morning shower, etc, you realize that you'll only get about four hours of sleep.

Saturday, July 31, 2010


That kind of hurt.

I got a call from a friend:

Friend: "Hey, are you free to work today? A couple guys I know are looking for juicers. Call time is in about half an hour."
Me: "Maybe. What's the rate and location?"
Friend: "I don't know. But the Gaffer is a guy named [Juicer 1] and his Best Boy is [Juicer 2]. Do you want their numbers?"

What my friend didn't know is that I've worked with Juicer 1 and Juicer 2 on a number of other shows, one even as recently as a couple of weeks ago. I already have their numbers and they definitely have mine. So for them to be scrambling for crew at the last minute to the point where they're calling other people to help search for them, and neither of them calls to see if I'm available...?


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Breakfast Breaks And Bitching.

It's the end of a rough day and all I want to do is go home. As everyone's prepping to leave for the night (returning things to the carts, tidying up any loose ends, etc) a PA walks around shoving the next day's call sheets into our hands. "Check your individual call times. They're all a little bit different," he warned.

And true enough, they were. A bunch of departments had a pre-call* the next day, including us. Which was weird.

It wasn't uncommon for departments like hair, make-up, wardrobe, etc to come in early, but to give a pre-call for G/E on that particular show was a bit of a conundrum. But whatever. We were still getting a reasonable amount of hours for a turnaround, so if they wanted us to show up early and kill some time in the morning, so be it.

That is, until the Gaffer came up to us and said that breakfast was a half hour before our pre-call.

Now, for those of you lucky enough to even have the option of a courtesy breakfast, showing up a half hour early for it is pretty standard operating procedure. You come in, have breakfast, then get to work at your call time. Six hours later (because they're required to feed you another meal no later than six hours in**), you get lunch. Six hours after that, if you're still working, you get 2nd meal.

All that changes with a pre-call though. What typically is supposed to happen (but correct me if I'm wrong) is you come in at your pre-call. Work. And then about fifteen minutes or so before the general crew call, you take a break for breakfast. That kind of "resets" your meal clock and six hours into shooting, everyone, no matter what their call time, takes lunch at the same time. That way, everyone's synced up and no one's going longer than six hours without a meal.

But what was confusing about this particular situation was that our breakfast was being served before our pre-call, which meant that it'd be more than six hours between our meals. But by the time any of us had actually stopped to think about this, we were already well on our way home for the night.

So we all show up the next morning, a half hour before our pre-call, still perplexed about this whole pre-call and breakfast thing, and while we're eating our eggs and bacon, I bring up the issue to my Best Boy.

Me: "So... Why are we having breakfast now and not with the rest of the crew when they come in during the general crew call?"
Him: "I don't know... But Production told us to show up at this time if we wanted breakfast."
Me: "So does this mean that we get meal penalties*** then?"
Him: "Why would we get a meal penalty?"
Me: [Kind of surprised he didn't think of this already...] "Because we have a pre-call and we're not breaking for breakfast later, so we're essentially going more than six hours before we get lunch."
Him: "Oh. Huh. That's not right, is it? I'll talk to Production once we're in and all set up."

So we go about with our breakfast and start work at our pre-call. I check back in with my Best Boy a little bit later in the day about the whole meal penalty thing. He says it's a no-go since it was written on the call sheet that we have to take an "NDB". This is the part where I skip ahead a bit because I don't want to bore you with the details. Basically, my Best Boy had no idea what an NDB was (Non-Deductible Breakfast) and Production had to explain it to him. Only, their definition was wrong and was using that false definition to get around paying us a meal penalty. I then explained what a real NDB was and back to the negotiating table he went.

It wasn't until after lunch when he finally got word that Production gave in and was going to pay us a meal penalty. He didn't know how much, but at least it was something (it ended up being a fair amount). Either way, it took a lot of grief and bitching on our part to keep pushing our Best Boy to even talk to Production about paying us a penalty. So much belly-aching in fact, that a few of us were wondering if it was even worth all the hassle.

I got my answer a few days later when I ran into the Wardrobe Assistant in the bathroom. Making friendly chit-chat, I asked her how her morning was going. "Ugh, stressful," she said, with an exasperated sigh. "But I could just about kiss whoever it was that who kept bitching about not getting a meal-penalty a few days ago. Production's been giving me a pre-call all this week and now they have to pay me the penalties too."

I secretly smile to myself. Sure, it was a bitch and a half to get a meal penalty for a pre-call, especially since a pre-call for my department on that particular show was pretty rare to begin with. But fighting for something like that now ensured that Production won't be taking advantage of us like that in the future. And more importantly, without even knowing it, we stuck up for our brothers and sisters in other departments who either don't realize they're being taken advantage of, and/or don't have the strength to stand up to Production (after all, it's a lot easier to replace a department of one rather than a whole G/E crew). I think that's a marvelous thing.

*A "pre-call" is a call time that's earlier than the general crew call. ie: Make-up might have a pre-call because it takes them a couple of hours do a particular actor's make-up.
**Typically speaking, that's how it works. But there is such a thing as "French Hours" which is a whole other story entirely.
***A "meal penalty" is when Productions goes over six hours between meals (although there are certain exceptions that don't apply to this particular case) and have to start paying the crew a certain amount of money for every specific increment of time they're late for lunch.
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