Thursday, July 1, 2010

Just One More Time...

Just when I thought I was out, they pull be back in..."

People rarely remember the bad times. Sure, it was a sucky shoot with long hours, shitty catering and wet and muddy locations, causing you to grumble throughout the day. But a couple weeks after wrap, you usually look back at it all with a smile on your face. The weird thing is, you remember spending the whole shoot pissed off and miserable, but you no longer feel that animosity.

Part of it could be that time heals all wounds. Or that you were surrounded by great people who knew how to make the best of a bad situation. Or you could be in total denial.

Or it could be that despite the hell you went through, you were doing a job you love.

That's usually what it is for me. No matter how shitty the situation, the bottom line is that there's no job I'd rather have than one that puts me on set. I like being a part of the film making process. I like seeing part of what I helped create on a screen. I like the free food. But most of all, I like the people. Sure, there are a few assholes and weirdos here and there, but they're absolutely outweighed by those who are just awesome to be around.

I guess you could say that low budget indie productions are my "specialty." Probably 97% of what I work on are shoots where we're overworked, underpaid and often have to fend for ourselves in terms of safety and basic labor laws, and we make do with what we have with our limited amount of gear. It can be stressful and extremely challenging at times, but it can also be a lot of fun.

It's also a life you know you shouldn't get stuck in. A life like this is fine when you're young and just starting out, but any smart grip/electric knows that you should get out of it as soon as possible. You either climb as fast as you can to reach the holy grail of union life, or use where you're at now as a stepping stone to another career.

But sometimes, things are easier said than done. After so many years of living the indie life, I've grown rather comfortable to the situation. The pay I get on these low budget jobs isn't great, but it's enough for me to get by. I'm used to the rhythm of the particular crews I work with and we have a lot of fun working with each other. I've gotten enough of a good reputation within these groups that my opinions are very much heard and respected. And I've run into the same (budget friendly) caterers so many times that I know which dishes to avoid.

It's not the best life, but it's not particularly a bad one either (for now). It's familiar and comfortable, making it hard to say goodbye to.

Unless, of course, you're smack dab in the middle of a shoot with bad weather, long hours, and shitty pay. Then, it's easy for you to think to yourself, "I need to get out of this kind of life.... fast." But as I mentioned before, it doesn't take very long for that fire to burn out and you'll think to yourself, "Eh, it wasn't that bad after all" and you'll take another job.

It's a vicious cycle. You're hating the job. You loved the job.

And then there's the people. You end up loving these men and women that you spend every day with. They've become like family. A family you'd have to leave behind if you ever got the courage to say sayonara to the low budget life.

And leaving also means that you have to say goodbye to the crews you've grown accustomed to working with. Who knows if the new crews you meet will be as fun and understanding as they are? What if instead of respect, they look at you like you're just some little girl who doesn't belong in their department? What if you can't hack it in the world of bigger shows?

I know that I can't stay in this indie world forever. I know that with every shoot, I'm abused by Production one way or another (whether it be from skimping on safety, shitty pay, long hours, etc). I know that I'm hurting my own future and career in the long run. I know that I have colleagues who'd do unspeakable things for the opportunities and offers I've had. I know that the food on the bigger shows are infinitely better that what I'm used to.

But I also know that it'll be hard to say goodbye to this world I've grown accustomed to and enter a new one filled with so many questions and uncertainties. I know that I must leave someday, but for now, I'd be lying if I said I didn't want just one more taste of comfort and home.

After all, we rarely remember the bad times.



JD said...

I always feel better when the check clears.

The Grip Works said...

Great post,
This is a question everyone asks themselves - comfort in the world that you know v/s the uncertainties but potential rewards of the big shows.
Big fish in a small pond or small fish in a big pond.
At some point you will outgrow the small pond and you will have to move.
If you dont, you will wind up being frustrated, and all the things that you now enjoy, will be the ones that piss you off.
I worked exclusively in commercials from 1990 to 1998. I was making a lot of money, but the work was frustrating for the most of it.
I switched to features, very worried that I would lose my regular base of commercials DP's that I worked with.
And I did.
For a while it was painful doing low buget movies and saying no to top notch commercial DP's.
But I knew that was where I wanted to be.
Today I have no regrets for the choices I made.

Sanjay Sami
P.S. you have got to see the YouTube link on Hollywood Juicer. Its one of the reasons advertising sucks.

JD said...

What's wrong with a steady diet of commercial work? Working with the same DP and crew has got to be better than the adjustment period starting up on a feature, where you don't know everyone, what they can "really" do and the behind the scenes B.S.

The Grip Works said...

I got bored of doing commercials.

D said...

I agree with Sanjay. While commercials can be lucrative and less physical work, they also bore me to tears, and I hate working with the clients. They generally have no clue about the filmaking process, yet on set they suddenly become the next Spielberg. It ain't worth it.

A.J. said...

JD - Sometimes, yes. But other times, I shake my head at how much crap I put up with for such a low figure.

Sanjay - Yes. "Big fish in a small pond or small fish in a big pond" sums up the point of my post quite nicely. Thanks for sharing your story. One day, I'll have the guts to leave my cozy little pond and try to make it in the big one. I can only hope that it works out as well as it did for you.

D - While you and Sanjay may be over it, I gotta say that landing a commercial or two seems mighty appealing to me.

D said...

Believe me, I'm not above doing a commercial or even (gulp) a music video when I have to. Just because you have studio features on your resume doesn't mean your problems are solved and suddenly you can pick and choose. I'm doing HBO which is almost the same as low budget non- union work. I do it because it keeps me in one place and as crappy as the paycheck is, I know it'll keep coming for the next 5 months.

D said...

By the way, if you want to do big budget studio features, forget LA and move to Atlanta or New Orleans. They just don't do them here like they used to.

The Grip Works said...

As D says,
I still do commercials, but I don't love doing them. I'll do any job if I have to. To pay the rent you do what it takes.
Fortunately I have a rental house, so I can tide over lean times with dry rentals.

Scripty said...

Hello! Great blog by the way! Yes commercials suck to work on...yesterday it took us FIVE hours to do TWO shots, a wide and a close up of a woman holding a product. NO DIALOGUE! Eeee gads! FIVE HOURS!

A.J. said...

Scripty - Thanks for the comment! Yikes! That does sound like an abnormal amount of time to spend on two simple shots like that. Was it one of those, "Eh, we have all day to do this, so let's take our sweet time" kind of things?

Scripty said... was placating the client...having the actress give the client lots of more, smile less, smile with a laugh, smile with your eyes only, smile with your eyebrows, look a the product then smile, smile then look at the product...ARRRRRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHH! FIVE HOURS!!!

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