Monday, April 5, 2010

The Blind Leading The Blind?

"See that girl over there?"

I look up from the gels I'm labeling to see who my colleague is talking about. He's referring to a girl a few years younger than me, getting into her car.

"The redhead? Yeah. What about her?"
"She's one of the office P.A.s. I was talking to her earlier and she said you inspired her."
"What are you talking about?"
My friend explains. "She's thought about getting into the G&E game for a while now, but she didn't think she could do it. All that heavy shit we carry around, I guess. But then she saw you running around and stuff and she said you inspired her to give it a shot."
"Oh... Okay..."

I played it off cool, but secretly, I thought it was great. When I first got into this business (more specifically, into my chosen departments), I was well aware that this was a boy's club. I knew it was going to be tough, both in terms of breaking in and the actual work. But I didn't care. The young, naive me, the one who still practiced her Oscar acceptance speech in the shower, thought about how great it would be if I ended up being a pioneer. I would be forever recorded in the history books as the one who changed it all and opened up what was once a male dominated field to women everywhere. Someday, because of me, it wouldn't be too far fetched for a little girl to dream of one day being on a film set without having to be an actress or working in the hair/make up/wardrobe departments.

But then, as the day wore on, I found myself wrapping up heavy cable in a dark and piss filled alleyway downtown. And like all sane grips and electrics who've encountered rigging and wrapping in disgusting locations, I thought to myself, "Ugh. I hate my job."

And that's when it hit me. What have I done??

As Michael Taylor has pointed out time and time again, this is a hard profession to be in. Long hours and back breaking work with too small of a paycheck to go with it. Especially now with the advent of video cameras, home editing systems and "New Media" contracts. What was once a lucrative business open to a select few is now accessible to everyone, resulting in more productions with smaller budgets, and with them, smaller rates for the those "in the trenches." The only thing that stayed the same is the amount of work that can often only be described as "exhausting" and "Blue Collar."

This is the world I just "inspired" an innocent young girl to pursue a career in. I mean, few parents dream of a job for their daughter that involves excrement filled alleyways mixed with high voltage cables. In other words, I feel like I just convinced a girl to live a tough and brutal life and that makes me kind of sad.

Sure, despite my many complaints and rants about the job, part of me really enjoys what I do. But while I may (at least for now) be the "you should chase your dream!" kind of gal, I do heavily caution that this job isn't as glamorous as it may seem and often not as fun as my co-workers and I might make it appear to be. For every grip fort that's built, every dolly taken for a joy ride and every electrical tape art project we do, there comes a price. I make sure that every bright-eyed and awestruck kid is aware of the ridiculously long hours; incompetent ADs, directors and department heads; heavy cable; scorching hot lights; lugging around sandbags in the desert; dragging distro through a trash pile; condor duty in the dead of winter; pizza for lunch... And if after all that, they still give a hearty "Hell yeah!" to being a grip/electric, only then do I give them my blessing and tell them to go for it.

This is a tough life and definitely not for everyone, especially if you're a female. And you have to really want it or be reeeally lucky (or both) to make it. It's enough stress and uncertainty to even make me question how much longer I can last myself.

A huge part of me still wants to reach that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, though. I want to make it not only for myself, but also because few women have. I smile at the thought of one day being able to point my finger at those who said I would never make a good grip or electric or whatever because I'm a girl and say "HA!" And the fact that I'm just starting out and am already inspiring women to give this industry a try kind of has me in awe. I'm humbled and flattered by it. But in the back of my mind, I'm questioning whether or not I'm even something or someone that young women should aspire to be.

How can other people follow my path when I'm not sure where I'm even going or where I'll end up? In all honesty, I'm just making it up as I go along. I could be running around in circles for all I know.

The last thing I want is for people to be following my lead and end up like this. While I know that I can't be held responsible for what people choose to do in their life, I can't help but wonder what other opportunities they may be missing out on because they decided to follow in my footsteps. Instead of spending 80 hours a week at work, would they have started a family? If their back wasn't hurting from lugging around c-stands and 18ks, would they be traveling around the world? Would they have ended up as a writer or a producer with a bigger paycheck?

Inspiration can be an awesome thing. Every great movie, art piece, literature, historical movement, etc, was started by one brief moment of inspiration. But every bad painting, horrible film, and broken dream also stemmed from a moment of inspiration. Nobody thinks anything they do is a bad idea at the time.

So, which end of the spectrum do I and the innocent redhead fall under? Will my persistence, hard work, and bitching on the internet one day land me a spot in the history books? Will that girl follow my lead and succeed? Will she fall flat on her face and cry? Or will she pass me on her way up to the top? I guess only time will tell.

When you're in elementary school and you're assigned to do a report on an inspirational hero, most kids will pick an exceptionally skilled sports star, influential politician or a noted historical figure. Well established people with a long list of accomplishments who deserve legions of fans and people aspiring to be like them.

But I'm no Amelia Earhart. For now, I'm just a juicer, trying to follow a dream.

1 comment :

Gabby said...

This is intense. You have really inspired me and honestly it's kind of weird because I have days too when I seriously think I can't do this. I shouldn't be doing this. Or a woman can't do this job as good (yes I know how bad that sounds). And I think of you. I'm like she's out there doing it so I can do it too.

I feel like I haven't really been put through the gauntlet because I've only gripped on small jobs. Now I intern as a grip on a cable show a few days a week so I'm in the big leagues so to speak, but I'm just an intern so it's still not like I'm really thrown into the fire.

If anything I think I consistently surprise the guys by how strong I am. BUT there are certain things that I cannot do or cannot do safely. Without steroids I'm not sure that I can ever move around taco/does all carts on anything but flat ground. Manning one up onto the gate? No way. Just the other day I was pushing a dolly of crane weights on location and an electric guy had to help me get them over a ramp. It was embarrassing, but I'm just an intern.

If I was getting paid I would really have a problem not being able to do every single thing that the boys can do. And everyone is so cool to me, but I wonder if they would resent me if I did make it into the union or we were working together on a paid job. The Key is a mentor of mine and we've had honest conversations about this kind of thing. But I don't know. Also like you said, not too mention what this kind of work will do to you in the long term.

I wouldn't worry about inspiring someone into their downfall. The work is too hard. If you don't love it there is no way you would last. I think it's kind of true of the business as a whole. It can be fun, but the practicalities of it are either so boring or so demanding of your time and energy you'd get out quick if you don't really like the job.

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