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.


JD said...

New, special lights, eh? Keeping secrets now? Sadly what you experienced probably had more to do with gender and less to do with experience. I've worked with female Grips who have had bad experiences on male dominated crews. They refer to it as the "Bros before hoes" mentality. I personally don't subscribe to that mentality and don't tolerate it on the set, no matter where it's coming from.

Peggy Archer said...

Sadly, the film industry is full of sexism and ageism.

Happily, the film industry is also full of fat old guys who can pull cable like nobody's business:)

Just ignore the bad and enjoy the good. If you're a good worker and competent, at some point the questions will stop.

Michael Taylor said...

Peggy's right -- the only way to shut everybody up is to prove them wrong and earn their respect. That usually takes a while for new guys, which means it'll take that much longer for a new woman on set, doing job that has always been predominantly male.

There's no shortage of troglodytes in grip/electric, and plenty of jerks who have "issues" with women in general. It's a bitch that you have to endure such crap while working so hard, but that's the reality of this end of the business.

Eventually you'll earn the respect of those who matter -- the gaffers and best boys who will put your name on their "first hire" list.

It just takes time.

A.J. said...

JD - Yeah, I'm keeping the kind of lights a secret. Until they're as ubiquitous as Kino (or even a balloon light) I kind of risk outing which show I was on due to their scarcity. Sorry! And I think my encounters had to do with both gender and experience, although I can't say I've ever used the term "Bros before Hoes" to describe the sexism on set... But may start to! And good for you for not tolerating that kind of mentality!

Peggy - Thanks for the encouragement. If the fat old guys want to push me out of the way and wrap all the 4/0 by themselves, then so be it. Better their backs then mine. :)

Michael - Luckily, it's the Best Boys and Gaffers who don't seem to have a problem with my age or gender. Unfortunately, they're not the ones I have to directly work with.

Anonymous said...

Just stumbled upon this text when I was following a link from another page.. Will definitely be following this blog :)

I am a female spark and I have to say, I haven't had massively bad experiences, I guess there's a lot of bullshit said behind my back but at least I don't get it straight to my face (I've heard of other female sparks being told "they're a man down because she's there" and riggers asked if they mind working for a female gaffer..!). I know lot of people won't hire me because I'm a lass but then again, I wouldn't really wanna work with them anyway! I think the biggest difference has been that often guys with less experience get hired before me. And people from other departments (and often lighting as well) try to take stuff off my hands when I'm carrying them, thinking I'm not able to do it.

One thing that earns me a lot of respect that often me, 164cm short skinny girl, is the only one of the lighting crew with the ability to drive a 20t lighting truck or a generator. I don't get questioned as much about my ability when I hop off the truck on set in the morning!

Sometimes guys even forget I'm the opposite sex and tell really nasty sexist jokes and wonder why I don't find them funny..! :P


A.J. said...

Jenerator - Welcome to my blog! It's always great to hear from bad-ass women in this business!

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