Friday, February 26, 2010

You Know You've Been Out Of Work For Too Long When...

... you finally get called for a day and you wake up the morning after, sore from carrying around c-stands. You used to be able to handle mombo combos* with no problem.

*I Googled "mombo combo" and this is what it gave me. I found a little weird/random, but I figured some of you fellas might enjoy it. In all fairness, there really is a mombo combo in the picture!

Monday, February 22, 2010

When It Hurts To Ask.

I got an e-mail today from a Producer I know. It read something along the lines of, "Hey, I've got a project coming up. Can you help me out? Unfortunately, it's for no money..."


Usually, when I get requests like that, if it's from someone I know, I'll gladly do my best to help them. (After all, we're more or less in the same boat, trying to get our careers started.) But not this time.

Let me take a break from the story for a moment to tell you how much respect I have for some Producers. Yes, many of them try to skimp on your equipment budget, don't know jack shit about your job, and the truly evil ones see you and the rest of the people in you department as expendables. But there are many of them whom I admire, especially on the low budget indie level. Those are the ones who will do whatever it takes to get a project made with the best people possible; even if it means they'll have to drive the grip truck and empty the trash. They'll beg, borrow and steal whatever the shoot needs, but don't have the budget for. They're resourceful and scrappy, and they'll call anyone they have to for a favor. "It doesn't hurt to ask," is usually their policy.

Only, this time, it did hurt to ask.

I met this particular Producer through a friend who was on one of the guy's shoots. They needed an extra hand, so my good-natured buddy gave them my number. It was a freebie gig, but it was only for a day and it sounded easy enough. Plus, my friend vouched for these guys, so I figured what the hell, I'll go meet some new people.

They ended up loving me. They liked me so much that they asked me to help them out on their next project... And the one after that... And the one after that...

Notice I said they asked me to "help;" not "work."

Today's e-mail marks the 4th or 5th time in the past couple of years he's asked me to "help" on a project of his. It's starting to piss me off.

The sad thing is that I kind of liked working with this guy. He's nice, considerate of the crew, and tries to wrap under 12 hours. But when you're asked to "help him out" so many times, you can't help but start to feel used.

I guess things would be different if I got something more in return than just a hot meal. Like money. Or a hook up to paid work.

I know it can be hard to repay people with the promise of a paid gig, especially when you're not in a position that does the hiring. But a quick IMDb search shows that this guy was definitely in some positions with that power in the recent past. And even if he didn't, I'd settle for any kind of gesture to show that I'm not just being used.

Another Producer I know asked me to do a similar favor a couple of months ago. Only this time, Producer #2 took me out to coffee to not only discuss the project, but to also chat and catch up. Whether he was sincere or faking, it seemed like he really cared about what I've been up to. And while he wasn't really in a position to hire me for paid work in the near future, he gave me a list of people he knew and companies for me to check out that might help further my career. And when I showed up to set, he made sure my favorite kind of doughnut was waiting for me. I would have happily settled for any one of those things. I guess I'm just cheap like that.

Or maybe that's all it really takes to show that you appreciate someone who's doing you a favor.

The fact that Producer #1 made no effort to at least attempt an empty gesture in return for the hard work I've done for him makes me feel like I'm being exploited. The only time I hear from him is when he's putting together another freebie project. I don't even get a generic, mass-sent "Merry Christmas" e-mail from him. He just pops up in my Gmail account once every so often with a "Hey... Can you help me out?"

So in this scenario, it does hurt to ask. He revealed himself as just another selfish Producer, and myself as a fool for hoping otherwise.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Keep It Neat.

I just stubbed my toe for the umpteenth time on a box that's been sitting in my living room. It's been there for over a month now. What's inside the box? Christmas presents.

Yes, that's right. I still haven't unpacked everything that I schlepped down with me from when I visited the folks for the holidays.

I think it kind of blends in with the other piles of crap I have in my apartment. I have towers of old magazines, stacks of unread junk mail, DVDs collecting dust on the floor by my TV, and other miscellaneous items that I've been too lazy to put away or find a home for. I usually let dirty dishes pile up in the sink until I run out of clean plates in the cupboard and I've been known to not put away clean laundry more than once. (I just grab what I need from the basket. It'll end up empty eventually.)

The funny thing is, as messy as I am in my personal life, there's no way in hell I'd be like this on set.

It drives me absolutely crazy to see unorganized crates of gels, scrims without a bag, and cables strewn about on the floor like a plate of spaghetti in the hands of a two year-old. If there's an unused double net that's mingling with the singles, I have to reunite it with its own kind. And don't even get me started on random dolly parts separated from the herd, a pile of sand bags instead of a stack and improperly soldiered c-stands with heads pointed in every direction. I can't even look at those.

I like it when things are nice and neat at work. Not only does that mean I know where everything is, but so does everyone else in your department. When the Gaffer calls for a cut of CTO for a tweenie, it can be found in the same place every time. And even better, there's no question where it's supposed to go when it's time to put it back. Nothing makes a day player feel as lost as when something's called for, and she has no idea where it might be because the carts and drawers aren't labeled (or labeled incorrectly). Same goes for the end of the night and she's asked to pack up said carts. More often than not, those things come with so much stuff cramed in them that things only fit one way and a if it's not clearly labeled what went where, it's enough to drive anyone mad.

Neatness makes things easier on the body too. No one likes to fight through a forest of mombo combos just to get to a baby stand, or dig through a pile of 4/0 to get to some 100 ampers. What really sucks is when, for some reason or another, gear gets separated across the stage/location, creating multiple, random, impromptu "staging" areas. Is that banded you need in cart #1 by the truck, in cart #2 by crafty, in cart #3 at the opposite end of the stage...? (There's only one way to find out, and it involves a lot of walking.)

And more importantly, when things are neat, it's a hell of a lot safer.

Cables criss-crossing every which way like streets on a road map is definitely a trip hazard. The same goes for lights with coils not under their stand (or even worse yet, corkscrewed across the floor) and sandbags haphazardly strewn about. Improperly stored stands have also been known to fall and injure someone. While I can live with the occasional stubbed toe from my own carelessness at home, it's an entirely different thing to get hurt due to someone else's laziness. Or even worse, if someone gets hurt because of mine.

So while I haven't seen the floor of my bedroom since I moved in and I have a receipt or two from 2007 decorating my coffee table, at least I'm neat and tidy where it counts. It's actually kind of amazing/scary to see how OCD I can be at work, yet come home to an apartment that still looks like I just moved in.

And FYI guys, nothing is hotter than a Best Boy who runs an impeccably organized truck/staging area. I once worked with a Gaffer who rolled up with his own gear and everything was so organized and clearly labeled that even his crates had (labeled!) mini-crates inside them. It was enough to make me and the other chick working in g/e that day swoon. Damn. Too bad he's married.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

You Know You've Found The Right Crew When...

... you overhear a dirty joke on set and someone turns to you and says, "You better get used to it." But before you can reply, an annoyed colleague tells him, "Trust me, she probably is."


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What's Going On Here?

A couple of days ago, I got called to help with a load-in for a show my friend was doing. Unfortunately, I'm not part of the permanent crew, but hey, work is work. Besides, if I'm just on for a day, load-in days are the good ones. You spend the day in a rental house counting and checking out the gear and most of the time, you get to go home in less than eight hours. (And if you're lucky, you'll run into someone you know on a different crew and possibly drum up some future work. No such luck for me this time around though.) The work may be tedious, but I'm definitely not complaining.

Especially since I was lucky to even land work for a day. Word on the streets is that it's still pretty slow out there in terms shooting. Almost every juicer, grip and cameraman I've spoken to since I got back into town early last month has been out of work. Sigh. So much for the rumors.

But something weird was going on at the rental house though. They were missing a lot of gear. We had to cross some things off our order list simply because they didn't have any more inventory on their shelves. There were a few items we had to sit and wait around for because they just got returned. And often times, we ended up with the older style lights and stands (aka: stuff that's rusted, banged up, and/or somewhat questionable) because that's all they had left. By the time we got there, there wasn't even any more milk crates! And this was a pretty well known and sizable rental house too.

So what's going on here? Why is it that most people, union and non-union folk alike, are pretty much starving for work, yet a major rental house is running out of equipment? This makes no sense to me. Where is all this gear going and who is being hired to operate it??

Am I missing something?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Quarter Life Crisis?

"If you must play, decide upon three things at the start: the rules of the game, the stakes, and the quitting time."
- Chinese Proverb

In the comments of one of my previous posts, D (of Dollygrippery) said of our industry, "It can be a little intimidating sometimes, especially starting out, but if you stay at it long enough to earn a good rep and work your way up the ladder it's just like any business." This is true. While there may be one or two guys out there who slip through the cracks of hard labor (whether it be from luck, nepotism, or both), it's no secret that one must "pay their dues" in this town. But even D admits that, "If you reach your 30's and still are slaving away with no retirement plan, living with two other guys, and no insurance, it's time to rethink either your choices or your plan of attack. Something is wrong somewhere." This is also true.

Very few below-the-liners want to live the union free life (though some do, but that's an entirely different topic all together). Generally speaking, if you're still toiling away on piece-of-shit indie productions by the time you're thirty, it's pretty safe to say that you're not a homeowner, your retirement fund is on the lean side, and/or if you have kids, you're struggling to put them through college. So if that isn't where you had hoped to be at this stage in your life, would you know when to call it quits?

I agree with D when he says that, "Your twenties, though, are a time for that stuff." If there was ever a time to live without a savings account or ample health insurance, it's when you're young and carefree. But as I slowly (but surely) creep towards the end of my twenties, I have to wonder: If it ever comes down to it, will I know when to walk away?

A large part of me will automatically answer back that I will never walk away. That it's a "Hollywood or Bust!" kind of scenario. I would hate to be one of those people who gave up on their dreams. But on the rational side of things, I'd also hate to be the person who has to move back in with her parents at the age of thirty because she never settled down and got a "real" job.

I know some of you will inevitably provide me with words of encouragement like, "Hang in there kiddo! You'll make it someday," but as kind and thoughtful as those words are, it's time to face the facts. Things have not been good for our finicky industry in the past couple of years. Various strikes, threats of strikes, new media and a bad economy has thrown this business for a loop. Jobs have been few and far between and I have yet to find one grip or juicer who hasn't been feeling the pinch. There's no telling how long it'll be before the next big opportunity comes my way; the one that makes the past few years of eating ramen and earning a barely livable wage worth it.

Sure, a lot can happen this year. Production can magically pick up again, putting everyone back to work. Paychecks and benefits for all! But if one thing's certain in this world, it's uncertainty. Nobody can predict the future.

So when does one say "enough is enough" and calls it quits? At what age do you dust your hands off and walk away? How long should you toil in the trenches before you say, "okay, I gave it my best shot. Now it's time to look for something else and move on?"

All too often, this town of ours is like being caught in an abusive relationship. After a good pummeling, whether it be from a rough few days at work or a dry spell that's gone on for too long, it knows just the right thing to say to lure you right back into its arms. It'll throw a good day or two your way; just enough to fool us into thinking that things will change. That life from here on out will be better. So you stay, but before you know it, the cycle starts all over again.

When shit like this happens, you can't help but ask yourself if you're "paying your dues" or if the Industry Gods are just fucking with you.

In the case of blog reader Desterdo, these kinds of things bothered him a little too much and he left the biz. Michael Taylor commended him for having the strength to do so, saying, "It sounds like you took a good look at the Industry, and made the right decision to leave before getting in too deep." On the other hand, D felt like the guy "lost his nerve a little too early." Two very different opinions from two guys that I respect (and who respect each other as well). As someone with an internal pessimist constantly battling my internal optimist, these kinds of conflicting views make my head go all swirly inside.

At any rate, this low-paying, cup-o-noodles eating, still-in-my-twenties college-esque lifestyle is fine for now (and at times, I gotta admit, it's kinda fun). But unless either my luck or the tide of this industry changes (or maybe a little of both), there will eventually come a point when I'll have to stop and decide if it's time for me to pack up my bags and leave this town. I guess the question that remains now is whether or not I'll realize it when it gets here, or if it'll be too late...

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

You Know You've Been Out Of Work For Too Long When...

... the muscles you built up from lugging cables and stands around all day have officially been converted to fat around your belly.

(Hmm... I think I'll go to the gym today...)
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