Sunday, November 28, 2010

You Just Can't Win...

We're shooting night exteriors when this conversation takes place...

Best Boy: Hey AJ. Can you set up a work light?
Me: Sure. Where at?
Best Boy: For our staging.
Me: [Looking around.] Uh... Are you sure we need one? We're right under a street light, plus there's all that ambient light coming from the surrounding stores.
Best Boy: Yes. I'd like our staging to be a little bit brighter please.
Me: Okay. Sure. What do you want me to use? Like a 1k? [A 650 would've been more than enough, but a 1K work light has been pretty standard on this crew.]
Best Boy: I was thinking more like a 2k*.
Me: ... Really?
Best Boy: Yeah. Give me a 2k please. Just bounce it off the wall.
Me: [I look at the Best Boy and he's being totally serious] Okay...

I set up the light and the Best Boy gives me a nod of approval. Then, moments later...

Director: [Sitting at video village which is somewhat close to our brightly lit staging area] God damn! I can't see anything on this monitor with everything else being so bright. Can we get a tent or something put up so I can see the screen?

In fly the Grips with floppys and c-stands, and in a matter of minutes, they build a makeshift tent to block out the ambient light coming from our bright ass staging area. In doing so, they also block out everything else, including the street lamp that was previously serving as a work light for video village.

A few minutes later .....

Director: Fuck! It's so dark in this tent! Can we get a work light in here, please?
Best Boy: [Over the walkie] Hey A.J.... Can you set up another work light?
Me: [Sigh.] ...Yeah.

*A 650 = 650 watts. 1k = 1000 watts. 2k = 2000 watts. The bigger the wattage, the brighter the light.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Family, Redux.

 For some reason, this is what I imagine 
a crew Thanksgiving would be like...

A little less than a year ago, I wrote a holiday post about family. It wasn't about the Aunts, Uncles and cousins I see once or twice a year around this time, but it was about the make-shift families we find on set. We spend more time at work than we do in our own homes, so it's only natural that we'd form tight bonds with those in the trenches with us. The result is, of course, a sense a family.

And a family is what I found on that shoot a year ago. While my own family was miles and miles away, scattered in every direction the wind may blow, I found substitutes at work. Uncles, aunts, cousins, brothers and sisters... I felt like I had a complete set. And though they definitely don't take the place of the family I grew up with, they were just as good, if not better in some ways.

But where are they now? Like my real, flesh and blood related family, as time passes, they too have scattered in every direction the wind may blow. A few still linger around in the same pools of crew I'll sometimes hop in, and every once in a while, I'll run into one of them randomly on a shoot. And while we and tell each other about our lives since we wrapped all those months ago, I'll catch tid bits of the others in our familial group. "I heard Billy's working on something out in Michigan...." or "Andrea was working on some web stuff..." But for the most part, I have no idea where these people are now.

That doesn't mean I didn't consider them anything less than family when we were shooting. It just means that the show inevitably ended, and with that, we all had to find other shoots to work on. And, just like all the others before it, we will spend more time on those shoots than we do in our own homes, and keeping in touch with our previous "family" will fall to the wayside as we build new bonds on the current show.*

So is, the nature of the beast.

Related reading.

Ps. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

*And sometimes, you find yourself in a transitional phase where you've lost the bonds with the previous crew, but haven't formed new connections yet either...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

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

... The set designers on a bigger show are smart and courteous enough to put outlets in a wall, resulting in extremely convenient places to plug in lights and practicals.

On low budget shows, they do no such thing, resulting in the juicers having to run stingers everywhere and/or worry about how they're going to hide the cables. More often than not, the job requires the extensive use of zip cord* which, on a low budget job, there probably isn't much of anyway.

*Zip cord is also commonly known as "lamp cord." It's also, for whatever reason, "illegal" to use if you're on a Union show.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Any Relation?

First there was this...

And now there's this...

Does anyone else feel like the ad world is responding to the first video with a "fuck you"?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

"We're Alot Alike..."

It's kind of a sucky day. Production added some shots we weren't prepared for, the Gaffer kept calling for lights that nobody would bring, and distro was set in all the wrong places, meaning that getting power to where we neeeded it had turned into a logistical nightmare. In short, things were getting pretty bad.

I was the one assigned to stay on set with the Gaffer, who was so frustrated and stressed about everything that he couldn't sit still. So I tried my best to calm him down, but in reality, I was beginning to get as frustrated as he was.

"What the hell is wrong with the Best Boy??" he said to me during a rare moment of peace during a turnaround. "Why would he put power drops in the way of everything and not where we actually need it??" I'm a big believer that venting is good for the soul, so I let him continue on with his rant as I sat there and listened. "And why doesn't he know where anyone is? And on that note, where is everyone in this department and why aren't they paying attention? It's been taking WAY too long for shit to get done, no one's listening to my orders and the mutherfuckin Best Boy can't even account for his crew. What the fuck is going on? This kind of shit has been going on for too long. I'm tired of it."

He finally pauses and takes a deep breath. Feeling sympathetic, but not wanting take sides between him and the Best Boy, I give him a look and an innocent shrug.

Feeling a little better after getting all that off his chest, he looks at me and asks, "You know what I'm talking about, right?"

I've been on set all day with him, so I saw first hand how shit just went to pieces because no one was paying attention or using common sense. And honestly, this kind of bullshit wasn't uncommon for this particular crew either, so I nod in agreement.

He smiles at me. "See, I know you get it, A.J. You and I... We're a lot alike."

I smiled back at him, knowing what he meant and enjoying our moment. I often know what he's thinking in terms of lighting a shot, and he knows that I know. We'll often have an unspoken working relationship on set; he knows that I'll see what he sees, and with a simple nod, I'll understand what he wants me to do. We're also similar in the way we work. We try to think one step ahead and study the call sheet in the morning so we more or less know what's up for the day. And when most Gaffers have a "do whatever it takes" mentality to get what they want, this guy will settle for something else if what you have to do is incredibly stupid and dangerous. He'll also make it known to the crew that no one's supposed to lift heavy cable by themselves and makes sure there's always at least two people to move around the bigger lights. He's the first and still one of the few Gaffers I know who puts our safety first and foremost and I admire him for it, so I was pleased to hear that he thought so highly of me.

But as we got back to work, I couldn't stop thinking about what he said.

Sure, the Gaffer knew his job well and came in every day, trying to do his best both for the production and his crew. And he did things the way they were supposed to be done, insisting that every light came with a scrim bag, every cart we had was appropriately organized and stocked, and that everyone "copy" him over the walkie when they hear an order. I'm glad to be working for a guy like him.

But as I watched him work, I realized that as much as I enjoyed working with him, I didn't want to end up like him. Pushing middle age, he was still stuck in the same low-budget, go nowhere world of indies that I was. Despite working on piece-of-shit shows, he always did his work as if he was on a big shoot. I'm actually often surprised at his professionalism and work mentality if all he's ever done are shoots like this one. He deserves a spot on something, anything, better. However, when given the opportunity to work on bigger things, he won't take it; opting instead to stay in a paycheck-to-paycheck world because it's steady and less risky. Although he may not exactly love his job, he's comfortable with it and that's enough for him.

I like working with him and appreciate him for what he brings to the job and his crew, but I hope I don't end up on the same path he did. I hope I always realize which risks are worth taking. I hope I never lose sight of what I'm aiming for. I hope I will always have enough good sense to know when I've become too good, too skilled and too valuable to stay where I am now, and know when I need to move on. I hope I will remember that hard and uncertain times now will mean a big payoff later.

I snap out of my thoughtful state as the company finishes another shot and my Gaffer gives me a "here we go again" look from across the room. I smile at him. He's a great guy to work for. And one day, when I move on to bigger and better things, I'll look fondly at our time together and miss him.

But until then, I'll look at whatever part of the set he's looking at, see what he's seeing, and grab whatever light he's thinking of...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Karma's A Bitch When...

... you take a piece of tape off whatever it was being used on and toss it on the ground thinking that someone else will clean it up... Only to spend the second half of the day peeling tape off the bottom of your shoe every five minutes because everyone else was thinking the same thing.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Huh? What Day Is It?

What day is it? I have no idea. I haven't known for a while now. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday? Who knows?

I've been losing track of the days of the week recently. I've been working so much that I can't remember what happened last week and if you asked me about a show I was on last month, I would tell you that I could've sworn all that happened at least a few months ago.

Whatever little grasp of time I had left was lost among the show hopping, long days and irregular call times of the past few months.

All I know is that today I'm on "Show A" and call time is 6am in the Valley; tomorrow, I'm on "Show B" with a 6am call Downtown and the day after that, it's "Show C" in a location TBD, but call will probably be around 5pm... Which means I probably won't get off work until at least 5am the next morning, screwing me up for whatever show I'm on next.

And Saturday? Sunday? Weekends? They have no meaning to me anymore. I work on those days too.

If you were to ask me what day of the week it is, you might as well have asked me to solve for X if Train A was leaving the station going 60 miles an hour while Train B was headed for Chicago: you'll get a confused and frustrated look.

The good thing is that I have at least been pretty good at keeping track of what day of the month it is. That, I need to know every time I fill out a new deal memo/W-4/I-9/time card/invoice. But even that sometimes will catch me off guard, because holy shit, it's November already??

Thursday, November 4, 2010

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

If you're working on a big show and they don't need you to come in the next day, they'll say "you're laid off tomorrow," and they'll do so as soon as they know so you can maybe still make some calls and find work.

If you're working on a low budget show and they don't need you to come in the next day, they'll tell you (after they've handed out the callsheets at the end of the night), "Oh yeah... You're not coming in tomorrow."

By then, you're usually cursing at them under your breath because you turned down another call earlier in the day, thinking they're keeping you on for the week.

Monday, November 1, 2010

You Know You've Been Working Too Hard When...

... a thing of yogurt you had in your fridge expired because you didn't have time to eat it. In fact, it expired so long ago that it exploded and covered a significant part of your fridge with blueberry flavored goo in the process. And this happened long enough ago that the goo dried into gunk that can only be removed if you scrape it off but you didn't notice any of this until this morning... And you don't have the time and/or energy to clean it up right now.

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