Wednesday, May 12, 2010

"Lift Gates Are There For A Reason."

I have two co-workers with back problems. I guess moving heavy lights and cable has finally taken a toll on their bodies, which isn't uncommon in this business. The scary thing though? These guys are still in their mid twenties.

I've met guys in this business who've told me that there have been days where they can't even crawl out of bed without hurting. Or that they had to take a few weeks off from work for their body to recuperate. It seems that when it comes to aches and pains, everyone has a story.

But one guy in particular has stuck in my mind. He was an old school union grip slumming as a Key Grip on a short I was on a few years ago. One of the first shoots I was ever on and I was ready and eager to prove myself worthy of this industry. I may have been pretty green and inexperienced back then, but I told myself that I'd make up for it with hard work and speed. One day, something was called for from the grip truck. I grabbed it, jumped off the lift gate, and took it to set. When I got back to the truck, the Key took me aside and told me never to jump off a lift gate again.

Why? Because it fucks you up. Maybe not now, maybe not tomorrow, but fifteen, twenty years down the line, you'll be paying for it. He told me he has knee problems from years of jumping off the gate. His father and grandfather, who were both in this business, have had their knees and hips replaced because they used to jump off lift gates. "When you get a chance, take a good look at the older guys in this business. The ones who've been here longer than you've been alive. They all have joint and back problems from jumping off the back of the truck. There's never a reason to jump off. The lift gates are there for a reason. Just lower the damn thing half way and step off it if you need to."*

That was the single best piece of advice I've gotten in this industry. Despite being a newbie, it opened up my eyes to a whole different way of doing things and how even the tiniest thing like hopping off a lift gate can have huge repercussions in the end. Why should I jump off a lift gate when I can just lower it? Why should I lug around cable when I can use a cart? Why should I strain myself reaching for something on the top shelf when I can stand on an apple box? If I wanted to last in this industry without hobbling around in pain in my golden years, I had to start paying attention to the stress I was doing to my body. As the old cliché says: Work smarter, not harder.

I asked my colleague with the tweaked back what happened. Turns out he had headed up a BFL** by himself when it really called for two people. "That was stupid," I remarked, "Why didn't you just wait for someone to help you?" "Because there wasn't any time!" he replied, sounding kind of annoyed. So I just left it at that.

But in my head, I was thinking "WTF??? What do you mean?? It takes at least TWO people to head up that light, so you wait for two people. If it takes more time, tough cookies. Do the job right." His answer was kind of like saying he didn't have time to put on pants this morning before he went to work. Bottom line: Who cares if you're running late?? You need to put on pants. Really, it's a matter of safety (the light, not the pants). And I don't know about you, but I doubt that a tweaked back was worth the extra thirty seconds he saved Production. I sure as hell wouldn't have done it.

Granted, it's kind of hard to not feel the urge to rush around when Production or your higher ups are on your ass to speed things up. And every once in a while, even I'll go "Oh, fuck it" and lift something I probably shouldn't be carrying by myself. But that's even more of a reason to do things right when you can.

I know it sounds corny, but lift with your legs and not with your back. Don't twist with your back when you're carrying something heavy (like tossing sandbags into the jocky boxes); use your hips instead. Don't wrap heavy cable by pulling it from the side. If something's really heavy, get a second hand on it. Use the "golfer's lift" for smaller things.

Again, I know this is all easier said than done. But taking care of your body doesn't have to stop at work. If you sleep on your back, tuck a pillow under your knees to help preserve the curve of your back (you can really feel the difference at the end of a long day). Side sleeper? Tuck a pillow between your legs. And STRETCH. After you wake up, before you go to bed, and maybe a couple times during the day. Nothing fancy or yoga like necessary. Just doing the basic warm up stretches you learned in elementary school is enough to help "reset" your back and body to the way it's supposed to be. You can even take it one step further and Google "back stretches" for a whole routine. And pay attention to your posture (no hunched backs!).***

Also, if you have medical insurance, see if chiropractic care is covered (I think you get 24 visits per year if you're in the IA). I know a few guys who swear by it. If anything, go for a consultation and just talk about how you can alleviate some of the stress on your knees, hips, back and neck at work. Even if they don't specialize in treating industry folk, just demonstrating how you'd hold a stand or wrap a piece of banded (or hold a boom mic, sit at your desk, etc... Whatever your job entails) is enough for them to throw out a helpful suggestion or two.

I'm not saying that all of this will guarantee you a pain and ache free existence, but it might save you from hobbling around like an old geezer until, well, you're old.

Really, when you think about it, there's no excuse to having a fucked up back in your twenties. I know it can be hard to take the time to do things the right way when you have Production barking at your heels, but I also don't think any job is worth injuring myself in the long term for.

Michael Taylor has said before that those of us in the trenches are "mining our bodies" (and it's definitely a sentiment shared by those who've been in this business for a few years), but I hope that we can all change that. With New Media and productions pushing out more content with less money, Producers are more adamant than ever to shoot more in less time. A hectic schedule like that puts an already undermanned crew under pressure to work harder and faster, which is even more reason why we should take the time to do things right.

I don't know about you, but I want longevity in this industry and I think my body's too awesome to be mined. And after all, lift gates are there for a reason.

*I once gave the same warning to a friend who brushed it off. Then one day he came back from a shoot with a bunch old school guys and said, "Holy shit A.J.! You were right! They all have fake hips and knee problems! I think I'll stop jumping off the gate..."

**Big Fucking Light.

***I definitely don't claim to be an expert on anything medical related, but these are the tips I've gathered from various sources including doctors, safety training and plain old common sense.


Nathan said...

I'd add seeing an acupuncturist to the chiropractor. I've been so tight that the chiropractor couldn't touch me without me going into a full body clench. An acupuncture session fooled my body into relaxing enough for the chiropractor to do his job.

And I didn't want to take anything away from the main point in your previous post...bringing something to the table is definitely a way to make yourself invaluable. But the whole time I was reading it, I was thinking, "Any douchebag who thinks he needs to prove himself by manhandling a dolly full of crane weights by himself, is just proving he's a showboat." That shit's heavy; get another body involved.

And I know it doesn't rain that much in L.A., but here, in NY, I can't tell you how many times I've seen a leap off the liftgate turn into some poor schmuck slipping and landing flat on his back...with a hammer conveniently tucked into the back of his belt. OUCH!

The only time rushing is de rigueur is when you're racing sunset/sunrise. And even then, if you can't get it done in time without hurting yourself, that's really someone else's scheduling error. Tough shit.

Anonymous said...

Y'know, You're pretty smart for a..... kid!

A.J. said...

Nathan - Good point. An acupuncturist can be another good resource for long term health. While I've never experienced a session for myself, I know of at least one juicer who prefers it over visits to the chiropractor.

And I couldn't agree more about the bad scheduling. Yes, sometimes you can't help but rush around. But before you go doing anything crazy, it's usually a good idea to stop and think about why, everyone's in such a big hurry. If it's not your fault, feel free to slow down a little.

Anonymous Juicer - I'm smart enough to know that you probably make those old man groaning noises when you stand up. ;)

Anonymous said...

You know it's taking a toll when you make old man noises when you get up up -and- sit down. ; )

My 30 something's grip friend's 5 year old son onced asked him "daddy, why do you make those funny noises when you get up?" Work, son. Work. Mj

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