Wednesday, June 23, 2010

It's Like Talking To A Wall...

Producer: We really want you on this project, but we don't have the budget to pay you...
Me: Oh. Okay. Well, let's see if we can work something out. First off, what are the dates?
Producer: Next month from the __ thru the __.
Me: Oh... Sorry. No can do. I'm already booked on another job those days.
Producer: But we really want you on this project.
Me: Yeah, I understand that and I'm really flattered, but I have bills to pay, you know? The only way I can work with you guys on those dates is if you paid me.
Producer: What's the lowest you can go for us?
Me: (I give them a rate that's actually waaay lower than what I'm getting on the other shoot.)
Producer: .... I don't think we can afford to pay you that.
Me: I'm sorry then. But thanks for thinking of me and feel free to give me a call for the next one.
Producer: But... we really want you on this one.

Um... Then pay me??

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Being Stupid.

After all this talk about the deadly accident that happened last year on a student film out in Georgia, one important thing that has been pointed out on D's post from Dollygrippery is that it could've been him once upon a time. Michael Taylor also mentions that thirty years ago, that guy lying on the ground dying could've been him. And I have no doubt in my mind that it could've been me three years ago... or yesterday... or even tomorrow (but not today. I have the day off.).

We do stupid stuff every day at work, especially at the low-budget / non-union level. I've been guilty of flying 12'x12' rags outside on a windy day without tying them down. I've moved Road Runners with 18Ks at top stick. I've ridden on dollys like a soap box car going down hill. Working in a condor at full height without a safety harness? Been there, done that. Some of the stupid stuff we did was because we didn't know any better. Or because we didn't have the proper gear. Or because if we didn't do it, Production would find someone even less qualified who will. Or a mix of all of the above. (Except for the joy riding dolly. We were bored.)

One comment on D's post that I was particularly surprised by was from The Grip Works: "Are you telling me a student was operating the Condor???" Every once in a while, I'll meet an old school union guy who learns that I do non-union work, and they'll look confused and ask, "That stuff still exists??" Yes, non-union work does exist. Sometimes I forget that not everyone out there realizes that low budget indie shoots still happen, and when you're not immersed in it all the time, it can be hard to see how utterly fucked up it can be. And no, a student wasn't the one operating the condor that night; but unlike The Grip Works, I'm surprised that it wasn't a student up there.

Though I haven't personally rented a condor myself, I've been on plenty of shows that had them. Including ones where the whole crew was working for free (and the "you get what you pay for" skill level that comes with it). There's no "safety/competency test" you need to pass to rent one. There's no one making you prove you know what you're doing before going up in one (though there should be). And there's certainly nothing from stopping a young teen from operating one, let alone a twenty-something college student.

The first time I ever went up a condor was a few years ago when I was fresh out of college with almost no experience. It was a night shoot in the middle of nowhere. It was miserably cold and the wind wasn't helping. The ground was so unlevel that the condor refused to move at certain points when we were driving it to where it needed to be on set. I had no idea how to operate one, and was given a three minute run-down on the controls by the Gaffer who had just figured it out himself a few minutes ago as I watched nervously from the ground. The harness they gave me to wear was too big. It was a crew I've never worked with before, so trusting them with my safety was certainly a leap of faith. And when I got the basket and lights into position up in the air, I noticed that there was some extra grip gear laying around before I realized that it was the stuff that's supposed to be securing the lights and gel frames into place.

From the moment I pulled up to set and noticed the old, rickety condor to the moment I finally got in my car again to go home, there was a voice in my mind screaming, "THIS IS STUPID. THIS IS UNSAFE. I CAN'T BELIEVE I AGREED TO DO THIS. THIS FEELS WAY TOO UNSTABLE. THIS IS STUPID!" And yet, I did it anyway. I don't really know why. Maybe because I needed the work. Maybe because I convinced myself that I'm probably overreacting. Maybe because I wanted to see if I really could do it. Maybe because once I got up there, I felt like it was too late to wuss out and come back down.

I eventually made it back to the ground safely, despite shivering uncontrollably and unable to feel my fingers due to the cold. But looking back, I could have easily not made it home at all that night.

There are so many stupidly unsafe things that I've done in my short career as a grip/juicer. Some I knew at the time were dumb but took the gamble anyway; others I just didn't know any better. And as long as I keep surviving these stupid choices, I have no doubt in my mind that somewhere down the line, despite all the knowledge I've gained or the training I've had, I'll say "fuck it" and do something else that's ill advised.

But despite me admitting to continually putting my own health and safety on the line, I'm not saying it's a good idea. And I'm definitely not saying that those students out in Georgia had any business being out there, with a crew as inexperienced as the one they had and with the equipment they decided to use. I guess what I'm trying to say is that despite all the stupid, stupid choices they made, I understand where they were coming from and how the worst case scenario ended up happening.

We cheat death so many times in this industry, that sometimes, I don't think we realize how lucky we really are.

Related Reading.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Power Of Yes.

A little while ago, Michael Taylor posted a link to Rob Long's Martini Shot. That week's commentary was essentially about the power to say "no." More specifically, the power you have knowing that you don't have to bow down to the ridiculous demands of your job because you could always walk away and so something else for a living.

In theory, the more broke you are, the more power you have to change careers and walk away, therefore giving you more power than say, someone who's a top executive with employees, a family and a mortgage depending on them.

Mr. Long concludes his short, yet thoughtful piece by suggesting that all we all do a "What if?" check every once in a while. "I think it’s just good hygiene, once in a while, to ask yourself this: What would I be doing if I didn’t have to do this? Do I have to do this? Where’s my power of the alternative?"

The answer for me to those questions is simple and complicated at the same time: Yes, I have to do this. Because if I didn't have this, I would be doing nothing.

Being in this business is something I've wanted to do ever since the famed question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" was asked in grade school. This isn't something I "accidentally" stumbled into like many of my other colleagues. Every move made to get me to where I am today has been a deliberate one that's been (more or less) thought out.

Other than brief thoughts of a different "career" in my younger years (when I was about 5, I wanted to be a kindergarten teacher because I figured I wouldn't need to know any complicated math) working in another industry never even crossed my mind.

In all honesty, for better or for worse, I'm in this for the long run. It'll take a series of devastating, life altering events before I say goodbye to this business.

So what does this mean for me in terms of Rob Long's world of "the power of the alternative?" Does my reluctance to come up with an answer to the "What if..." question mean that I'm powerless?

Or does it mean I have even more power, but just in a different sense? I may not have the power of "no" in Mr. Long's sense of the word, but I don't think it's fair to assume I'm powerless either.

Instead, I like to think I've got the kind of power that comes with the "go big or go home" mentality. The "make it or break it" kind. I have to succeed, not because I refuse to think of an alternative, but simply because there is no alternative for me.

And in many ways, I think it's an even better kind of power than the kind you get when you have to option to say "no." It's the power to say "Yes, I can totally do this" because as corny as it sounds, failure isn't an option.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Things Get Akward At Cinegear When...

... you run into someone you really want to talk to... who is standing next to someone you'd really like to avoid.

I hope those of you who made it out to Paramount this year for the Expo enjoyed themselves! Despite an uncomfortable moment or two, I had a lot of fun and it was exciting to see what kind of new stuff some of the vendors were coming out with. It was great to see a few familiar, friendly faces in the crowd, and luckily, I managed to mostly avoid the not-so-friendly ones. :) Overall, it was a pretty good day and I'm looking forward to going again next year.

Friday, June 4, 2010

I Still Don't Know How To React To This One...

Like so many low budget indie shoots in LA, we're shooting at night in a bar. And like most of the low budget indie shoots in LA that shoot at night in a bar, it's a working bar. Meaning Production either couldn't afford to or didn't bother to or for some other reason, couldn't shut down the bar for the night and get the place to ourselves. So imagine trying to carry expensive, heavy and awkward gear around in a dark, cramped space with a lot of (drunk and tipsy) people in it. Not very fun. This is another scenario where I'm glad I'm not a sound guy.

Anyway, so we're in this crowded bar, almost ready to shoot the first shot, when the Gaffer calls for a last minute light. One guy flies it in while I try to find him power (a generator is definitely out of the question in a working bar, so we're going solely off of house power). I plug a stinger into a wall outlet, run it neatly across the floor (the "floor" being a path between the tables only three feet wide) and plug the lamp in.

"No, no, NO!" screams the Gaffer, "You're putting the cable in the middle of the path to the bathroom. That's a high traffic area! Find some other place to plug it in!"

I look around, noticing that the only other available outlet that didn't require me crawling between the legs of patrons was even further and would still need to run across the path to the bathroom. "Um... I think we're going to have to cross it either way."

The Gaffer, suddenly filled with rage, points his finger in my face, looks me in the eye and goes, "You better watch your mouth there."

Um... WHAT??

And while I stood there, not quite sure how to react to that, he looked around, unplugged the light from the wall, scooped up the stinger, and RAN IT INTO THE KITCHEN, not even bothering to tidy up the cable along the way.

So now we had a tangled, kinked up stinger running into the KITCHEN of a Bar & Grill in the middle of the place instead of neatly run in the back of the building by the bathrooms where I could have easily taped it down and made it safe.

Yeah. That's much better.
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