Saturday, May 8, 2010

Bring Something To The Table.

Awesome reader Gabby left a comment on one of my posts last month that I'd like to address. She says:
"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. [...] 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. I wonder if they would resent me if I did make it into the union or we were working together on a paid job."

Gabby, I can totally relate. I can't tell you how many times people have done a double take when they see little ol' me moving things around on set. Sometimes, the guys have trouble keeping up with me. A few have even admitted, with some embarrassment, "Wow. Um... You're really strong."

However, cable is mutherfuckin heavy. There's no way I can push a full cart of 4/0 on anything but flat ground, let alone gravel or a hill. Or hell, even a lift gate.

And a taco cart is definitely taller than I am. If you fully load one up and ask me to move it around, people better get out of my way because I sure as hell can't see where I'm going, not to mention control the damn thing. Luckily, if there's a crossover on the ground, I'm not going to get very far with it anyway.

The list of stuff I can't do is long. But do I feel guilty for getting paid the same as my co-workers? Hell no.

Why? Because I bring something to the table.

I doubt my Best Boy likes having to help me load/unload carts and hefty gear that the average grip/electric can do by themselves. But he'll hire me every time because I'm organized. When I'm done with something, I put it back. Gels get labeled and filed away accordingly. Did someone leave a tangled nest of rope in the middle of our staging? I'll clean it up. The other guys? They may be physically stronger, but they'll leave things a mess; randomly tossing stuff on the nearest cart. Sure, some of this stuff may be tedious to do, but the Best Boy and I both know that if I don't do it, it won't get done. That makes me indispensable. Plus, that means that I know where everything is and can get to things faster than the guys who just leave stuff laying around.

I'm also a bit quicker and more attentive than the other guys, which the Gaffer likes. I can't head up a 4k by myself, but I'm there, ready to tweak it as needed before the Gaffer can even find the talk button on his walkie. If I'm the one on standby on set, I know what he wants before he even calls for it because I've been watching him and paying attention. Many guys I know would just sit around staring at their cell phones, moving into sloth like action only when they hear it called for over the walkie.

And even though the other guys on your crew may be twice your size, being smaller and lighter isn't necessarily a bad thing. I walked by the truck one day and saw my colleague grumbling and kind of frustrated. He whipped out his pliers and started digging around the inside of an 18k with them. It turns out that he dropped a wing nut in the housing and spent the past five minutes trying to fish it out to no avail. I stuck my little girl hand in there and got it out in five seconds. I'm also small enough crawl into cramped spaces (weird corners of the set, carts too close together, etc) and light enough to climb on things that ordinarily wouldn't be able to hold the weight of a fully grown man (let alone one with a beer belly).
Generally speaking, us gals are more nurturing than men and tend to pay more attention to details. On a busy day, chances are your Gaffer/Key/colleagues aren't staying as hydrated as they should be. Offer them a water. Toss them an apple box to sit on. Bring them a treat from crafty. Often times, it's the little things that get you noticed and appreciated. Tiny things like that make the day a bit easier and can really add up in the end.

And while you may not be able to handle a full cart by yourself, it doesn't mean that you can't help. Sure, the muscle men can push a cart uphill on their own, but that doesn't mean that they'd like to. A heavy cart is a heavy cart and an extra hand on it makes a world of difference.

I used to be the in that frame of mind where I'm just starting out and I'm thinking, "Oh dear lord, how am I going to earn my keep with these guys? They're throwing sand bags around like they're nothing!" But then I started finding my niche. Sure, I may not be able to carry a coil of 4/0 in each arm, but I know more about electrical theory than the average juicer, making me the go to girl when my co-workers need a second opinion. I may not be able to throw a 12 step ladder over my shoulder, but I do things the right way the first time, every time. When the Gaffer, Key or Best needs to take a break, they know I've got things covered because I've been paying attention to their jobs and can pick up where they left off.

Bottom line, don't feel guilty if you're physically weaker than your cohorts. You don't have to justify your right to be on set by being like the other guys. Guys who do nothing but move shit around are a dime a dozen. You can stand out and bring something to the table the other guys can't. You have your own strengths that they don't have. Sure, you'll probably run into a crew or two who will write you off as weak and useless, but the good, smart Best Boys will recognize the value of your efforts. Like I said, guys with brute strength aren't hard to find. But people with skill are. Find your niche. Be indispensable. Bring something to the table.


The Grip Works said...

"Like I said, guys with brute strength aren't hard to find. But people with skill are. Find your niche. Be indispensable. Bring something to the table."

This is absolutely true. You must have some strength to work as a grip or spark, but a beefy brain is a far better tool than beefy biceps in my opinion.

Michael Taylor said...

Very well put -- and absolutely right. A wide variety of skills are required for a crew to work efficiently on set, where keeping the equipment organized and ready to go is crucial. Things work a lot better when everybody pays attention, but cell phones have made that a thing of the past. The person who does pay attention is able to anticipate and be ready at all times -- and thus is an extremely valuable member of the crew.

BTW -- I hate those little wingnuts we all have to deal with while globing an 18K: if I drop one, it's gone. And that's when I need someone with smaller hands to bail me out...

Anonymous said...

Im newer to this than most, and I've only been smaller scale shoots that all of you veteran union folk.

Having said that, this whole not-being-a-dude thing is in your face from day one. When you walk on set the first day, no one can see how many knots you can tie, how many problems you can solve, how much quicker you may be to know whats needed, how much more meticulous you might be about safety. You're a girl. A well-meaning extra will try to help you carry those sand-bags. Or those c-stands. Or push that cart. Your crew will notice. And like or not, it takes you longer to get respect. Especially from other girls. But G&E is about a lot more than how much you can bench press.

If I think I can't do it safely I won't - which are the times when I can understand someone who thinks girls shouldn't be on set. But even the biggest of guys can electrocute himself or someone else, or be the reason a light or flag falls on the lead actor.

I don't know, its all relative. Just an amateur perspective on this predicament.

A.J. said...

The Grip Works - I'm not going to lie: sometimes, it's good to have one beefy guy on crew for the really heavy stuff. But one is all you need.

Michael - Ugh... Don't even get me started on cell phones again...

As for those little wing nuts, my job security may be obsolete one day with the use of those newly designed 24Ks...

Anonymous - I don't think your perspective is at all an amateur one. Union, indie, ultra low budget... It doesn't matter what kind of shoots you work on. You nailed it spot on.

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