Thursday, October 28, 2010

No One Wants To Play With Me.

Sometimes I feel like I don't belong anywhere.

These days, I've been lucky enough to land all these awesome gigs that are bigger in every way than the shows I've been used to. But being the "new kid" and all, I haven't exactly been accepted by all the guys I've been working with. I'm a stranger to them. They don't know my very well yet, and I get the feeling that many of them would like to keep it that way.

But since I've been primarily ditching my low budget peeps in favor of those "better" gigs, when I do return to the more familiar territory of shows that offer long hours for little pay, I sometimes get the feeling that I don't quite belong here either. The vibe is somewhat... different. They've found a way to make things work without me, and in a way, I feel like my return might be throwing a wrench in their system.

I feel like I was finally "in" a crew tribe or two, which was something I worked so hard for over the years. And at a time where I feel like I should be advancing, I get kind of pushed out into the cold.

I don't quite belong here and I don't quite belong there either.

I'm a woman without a crew.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Expect The Unexpected.

"Ugh... I'd hate to make you guys lay out all that extra cable they probably won't use, but you know if we don't do it, they're going to call for it."

I nod in agreement with my Best Boy. It seems like almost everything we do is, "just in case." We bring lights to set with a scrim bag and gels "just in case" the Gaffer will call for them. We run more cable than we need to from the generator "just in case" they need more light when we actually shoot. We order more gear than originally counted for on the tech scout "just in case" things change. Best Boys often schedule more time than we actually need to do a pre-rig "just in case" something unexpected pops up.

Most of the time, all that extra prep is for nothing. But it's invitable that the second we don't take those extra steps, the Gaffer will call for those scrims, they'll need the extra cable capacity or something will go wrong on the pre-rig. It's the Murphy's Law of the film business.

And more and more, I've been finding that this "expect the unexpected" attitude translates to my everyday life.

There's no guaranteed days off in my line of work. Even if you have nothing booked on your calendar, that doesn't stop the last minute calls for work from coming in. So if I have a day off, I try to take advantage of the free time and get certain things done, ASAP. Like going to the store or doing laundry. Or those things that I can only do from 9-5, like going to the bank or post office.

Usually, I'll get all that stuff out of the way first, and I'm able to enjoy the rest of my time off.

But recently, I needed some work done on my car. Feeling kind of exhausted from the recent harvest of work, I decided to just do nothing on my first day off and take it easy.

Big mistake.

Later that night, I got a call for work that started the very next day, which of course, I took. "My car can wait one more day," I thought.

Only that one day of work turned into a few weeks worth, causing me to delay bringing my car to the auto shop way longer than I originally expected. It eventually got to the point where I'd pray to the Car Gods that my jalopy would get me where I needed to go every time I started the engine. Yikes. I don't know about you, but I tend to stress out at the thought of not having a way to get to work everyday.

Then word came that the job I was on would last for at least another month and I realized that I needed to make alternate plans if I didn't want to end up a pedestrian in L.A.

So I started thinking of ways to get it done. The auto shop I usually go to is only open when I'd be working, so I started to look into other places in the area. I looked at the possibility of finding a place near work where I can maybe drop it off on my lunch break and pick it up when we wrapped. I even went as far as crafting a plan that involved getting a rental car and/or a friend or two giving me a ride.

At this point, despite me kicking myself for not taking care of this when I had a chance, I not only had a plan to finally get my car worked on and still make it to work myself, I had a couple of contingency plans as well.

But then, true to the laws of Hollywood, once I got something figured out, things started changing again and the extra month of work I had suddenly turned into none. The production had run out of money and I was laid off. Damn.

Oh well. At least now I can get my car fixed! So bright and early the next morning, I dropped my car off at the auto shop and breathed a sigh of relief as I continued to do the usual mish-mash of mundane errands, like going to the store, post office and bank, "just in case" I suddenly got called for work again.

And true to the Laws of Hollywood, once I got all that stuff taken care of, it was another few days before I got onto another show...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Difference Between A Big Show And A Low Budget One...

If you're on a low budget indie and your boss asks, "Hey, do you have a screwdriver/marker/blade/etc on you?" it's probably because he needs to borrow it.

If you get asked that same question on a big show, it's probably because you're about to get assigned a job where you'll need one...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Oh No, I Didn't (Oh Yes, I Did)...

I think I may have just broken the cardinal rule of working low budget indies: I passed up a better gig for a shitty one.

And not just an, "eh, one was a little bit better, but I already promised I'd do the suckier one" either. Nor was it in favor of a friend's "passion project." The job I gave up was miles above the one I'm sticking to in terms of money, benefits, production value, prestige, etc.

So what does this suckier, lower paying, going no-where job has that the swanky, better one doesn't?


When faced with the decision of choosing between the two jobs, I decided that I could use a break from constantly having to defend myself against an unfamiliar crew and I kinda missed the camaraderie I got from my low budget peeps. I guess you could say I was homesick and in a way, my decision was kind of like going home for a visit after a tough week of finals in college.

Sure, when faced with the two options, my head was screaming, "WTF are you doing?? It's a no-brainer! Of course you should go with the bigger show!!!" And part of it still is. Especially the part about the money since I still very much remember the work drought of '09, '08... and '07.

But another part of me feels like giving up the bigger job, for just a little while, is the right thing to do if I want to stay sane and not blow a gasket in front of a big name Gaffer. Despite the job itself being kinda sucky, I feel like it'll do me good to surround myself with people I know and am familiar with. People who love me and don't feel the need to question every little thing I do. I need a couple of days where I'm not being watched like a hawk by co-workers who don't trust that I know how to do my job. Or someone quizzing me to see if I know what a double is.

In short, I need a few days of shitty work with good people before I can go back to another day of easy work and shitty people.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"Keep On Trying, Charlie Brown."

 A Metaphor for my past few months.

It's been crazy busy out there in Hollywoodland the past couple of months. Like, crazy busy. This town's been booming so much that I've been working basically non-stop on shows that are have previously been way out of my league. Shows with better pay, hours, benefits, and a serious amount of equipment to play with. A far cry from the usual mish-mash of low budget productions that I'm used to, with their tiny paychecks and fuck-the-crew attitude. All this has been very good for my resume (like anyone looks at that anymore anyway) and my bank account.

But despite all the good fortune I've been experiencing from the sudden (and seemingly steady for at least a little bit) flow of work, part of me is looking forward to when it all dies down.

I know, I know. I complain when there's no work going around, and I complain when there is. But this is... Different.

It's not that the work on these new shows is any harder (it isn't). Or that the hours are any longer (they aren't). Or that I'm in desperate need of some R&R (I do). It's not even that the cable's getting heavier (actually, the more I work with the stuff, the lighter it seems) or that I'm in desperate need of doing laundry (I can put it off for just one more day...). It's because this wave of recent work has been hard on me; not physically or mentally, but emotionally.

Because this industry is filled with assholes.

And I don't just mean the kind that'll throw you under the bus without as much as blinking an eye just to save their own ass. That kind of douchiness deserves its own post entirely.

I'm talking about the ageist and sexist assholes who make snap judgments about your ability to do your job just by looking at you. The ones who put you down every chance they get just so they can feel like an Alpha male. The ones who push you to the sidelines because they assume you don't have the skill, knowledge or right to be there. The ones who watch you like a hawk, waiting, knowing that you'll somehow make a mistake, and if/when you do, they're right there to wag their finger in your face, telling you how wrong you are. The ones who think you don't belong in their tribe of sweaty men and makes you feel like you're a worthless burden to them before you even get to work.

Then there's the inadvertent assholes. They're the ones who seem to be on your side. They look at you with their "poor little girl who can't possibly handle the work" eyes and they mean well as they try to "guide" and "teach" you the way they do things. Which is incidentally the same way you've been doing for years. But they'll never know because, just like their knuckle-dragging counterparts, they assume you don't know any better before giving you a chance to prove otherwise. Despite their attempts at "helping you," this back-handed slap in the face makes them just as much of a dick as their co-workers who openly put you down.

Sure, this story is nothing new. I've dealt with this kind of asshole time and time again over the years. But this recent flow of work paired with how this industry is set up and the way the calls have been coming in, I've basically been dealing with two solid months of this kind of bullshit and that can really take a toll on a person. I mean, something has to be really fucked up here if I'm actually looking forward to returning to the screw-you world of low budget shows.

Somewhere down the line, you start wondering how much more of this you can take. You start thinking there's nothing you can do to prove to these guys that you deserve to be there. And you start to doubt yourself. What if this abuse and harassment never lets up? How much longer can I/will I/should I put up with this shit? Sure, it's a good opportunity with a great paycheck, but is it worth me feeling like a useless outsider every day?

I knew as I climbed this ladder, to whatever top it may lead to, that I'd run into this kind treatment. I know that some of you reading this may be tempted to call me a whiner and say I should just suck it up. Hell, I'd probably be thinking the same thing if I was reading this post a year or two ago. But unless you've been in my shoes, you have no idea how hard this is and how utterly brutal it's been. I've always considered myself to be a "one of the boys" kind of girl. A girl who is smart enough to only listen to those who are trying to help and ignore those who try to put you down. Someone who is strong and independent and doesn't put up with bullshit. I've even, at one point, considered myself to be somewhat of a pioneer, paving the way so future generations of badass chicks who want to break into this business won't have to face the same hardships and discrimination that I had to.

But then again, I never, not ever in a million years, thought I'd find myself sitting on my bedroom floor this morning getting teary-eyed over it either.

This industry is hard. And it's even harder if you're female. And just when you think you're finally making some progress, it seems like someone will inevitably come along and pull that metaphorical football away, just because they can, and you'll land flat on you ass. Time after time.

I know how you feel, Charlie Brown.

Ps. Did Charlie Brown ever kick that ball?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

His Only Redeeming Quality.

He's kind of a dick. He'll make snide little comments about me to our co-workers, like, "She's new. You don't have to listen to her," and, "We'll make her do all the tedious shit while we go do the real work."

He makes things overly complicated and spends way too much time perfecting stuff that doesn't really matter. You either do things his way or you get the hell out, and he's not even the Best Boy. And he'll get on your case if he thinks you're "slowing him down," yet he'll walk away without saying a word and work comes to a halt as we all wait for his ass to come back.

I dread the day I have to work with him again.

But his kid's cute.

I met the little tyke one day when he came to set to visit his dad. Not even waist height, he'd cling to his father's leg as crew members, who are nothing but dirty looking strangers to him, would come by and shake his tiny hand or ruffle his soft, fluffy hair.

As I watched from across the room, I saw the proud look on the guy's face as his baby took a cookie from his hand, and I saw the look on the kid's face as only an innocent, loving kid could give a parent. I thought to myself, "Wow. This guy must really be a good dad."

I almost couldn't believe it. That this "bull in a china shop" kind of man, who's been giving me shit since the day we met, who's been making our days longer and more complicated, and who's gruff exterior makes him hard to reason with, actually has a kinder, softer side. Despite him being such a dick the past couple of days, I kind of respected him a little bit more and started to like him as a human being.

And then his kid left and it was back to business as usual.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

More Of The Same.

 Same shit, different day.

I'm working on a new crew and none of these guys have ever met me before. We're getting ready to run some cable and the first conversation I have with one of them goes like this:

Him: "So how long have you been doing this for?"
Me: "What do you mean?"
Him: "Well, how am I supposed to teach you what you need to know unless you tell me how long you've been doing this for?"
Me: "Um... Okay... I've been doing this for about three or four years now."
Him: "Three or four years...? Oh. Well I guess I don't have to show you a whole lot then..."
Me: "Nope. I guess not."

(Later on...)

Me: "So how long have you been doing this for?"
Him: "About as long as you have."
Me: "What were you going to teach me?"
Him: "Um... That the colors match up to each other."
Me: (Rolls eyes.)

The guy ended up being pretty cool and kinda fun to work with, but I'm tired of being pegged as someone who doesn't know what she's doing before we even get to work.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

It's Not About Age. It's Not About Size. It Should Be About The Work You Can Do.

 You gotta at least admire the little guy's moxie.

With the influx of work these days, it seems like every show I hear of is scrambling to put together a crew. In the past couple of years, getting together a dream team of grips, electrics, camera people, etc, was an easy task. Everyone was dying for work.

But now the tides have changed (at least temporarily anyway) and it seems like everyone and their mother in the industry is working. And with everyone being so busy, the people doing the hiring have gone from getting their number one picks to hiring people lower and lower on the totem pole.

Which in turn, can mean good news for me. Shows bigger than the ones I normally work on have been calling me when they're scrambling to fill spots on a crew. And while it does kinda suck to know they're only calling me when they have no one else to turn to, hey, I'll take whatever job I can get.

This kind of hiring practice also means that I'm constantly working on new crews these days; many of them filled with guys who know each other well and have been in this business for years. Some of them have even been doing this for longer than I've been alive.

And while I often respect people with this kind of seniority, being on a new crew with people of this level ensures that I'm constantly metaphorically poked and prodded, sometimes to the point where I'm surprised they're not prying my mouth open to see my teeth like judges do at a dog show. Who is this new specimen before them? It's a woman! Who's not very big! Does she know how heavy cable weighs? Surely she's never worked on a set before... No no no... There must be a mistake. She must be a PA or an office intern who wandered into the wrong department...

And then come the questions... "Do you have gloves?" "Do you know what a [random name of light that we don't even have on the truck] is?" "Do you know how to wrap a stinger?" "Do you know how to tie a square knot?" "Do you know know the knot code we use for cables?" "You do? Okay. Prove it."*

On a good day, the interrogation will stop after a few minutes and the rest of the day will be spent with us working as one unit. On a bad day, the interrogation will continue through the next twelve hours and your head will hurt from rolling your eyes so much at their stupid questions. On a really bad day, this kind of behavior will continue throughout the show. Luckily, it's usually just one guy (at a time anyway) who's trying to make you feel like shit. Like you're too young, too new, and too girly to be here. But they take every chance they get to try to prove you can't do the job.

I was on a job recently when one of the guys was trying to pull this kind of shit on me. Throughout the job, there were comments made about how I probably won't be able to handle the cable, how I probably don't know how the equipment works and how I'm not as fast as the other guys.

Luckily, the powers that be ignored his comments and treated me like an equal. But one day, they paired me up with the guy for a project.


As a team, we were supposed to be rigging these special lights around the set. So we came up with a plan of attack and halfway through the job, I realized that I spent a lot of time waiting for him to catch up. And that got me thinking.

Despite assigned by our bosses to work as partners, I realized that due to the awkward placement of the lights, I did most of the rigging since the guy was too large to fit into the spaces where the lights needed to go. And these were new-ish specialty lights that haven't established themselves as a staple on most sets yet, and since the guy wasn't quite sure how they worked, I had to explain it to him

I looked over to where he was working and despite this being a simple task, he seemed out of breath and sweating profusely, stopping every few minutes to anxiously wipe the trickles of sweat off his face. I guess years of a poor diet and cigarettes were starting to take its toll on him.

And then I wondered, if an assignment like this is enough to tire him out, how can he handle a cable run? Sure, he can probably lift a piece of 4/0, but by the looks of things, he'll probably need to take a short break between pieces during a wrap out. And while I may not be able to toss around hundred pound coils of cable as easily as most of the other guys, at least I can wrap a run without pausing. This guy had trouble bending over to tie his shoes...

I'm sure that his roundabout insults about my ability and place in this industry is partially based on his "back in my day..." experiences. After all, he started in this business a couple decades ago, when he was much younger and probably a lot slimmer than he is today. But it still nevertheless perplexes me how someone who seems to barely be able to do the job now can judge me on whether or not I can handle this job in the future.

*For those of you who are about to say that questions like that is par for anyone the rest of the crew is unfamiliar with on set, I've been on plenty of shows where I'm the only one who gets asked all these questions despite being one of the older and more experienced newcomers.
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