Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What's New?

Between all the work I started getting a few months back, my vacation and traveling for the holidays, I haven't read a newspaper or watched the news for a looooong time now. And more surprisingly, I just realized that I don't miss it. I have no idea what's going on in the rest of the world, and I'm pleased to say that I'm doing just fine.

I'll probably revert back to being in touch with the rest of society once things return to "normal," but until then, did I miss out on anything good?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Brightest Star In The Sky...

It's the holidays, and that means spending a lot of time with family, including relatives you haven't seen since around this time last year. And with all the cheek pinching from your Aunt Margaret and high fives from Uncle Ricky, comes updates of every one of your extended family members of whom you don't regularly keep in touch with.

I don't know about your family, but in mine, every year, there's usually one or two family members who's news takes the cake. "Cousin Ashley got married and had a kid this year! Her life's really coming together." "Elizabeth just got accepted to Yale! She's so smart..." "Robert's spending the year in a foreign country! We really miss him, but we're proud of how brave he is!"

And while all those accomplishments do deserve to be noted and praised, there's always the feeling that you're being judged and compared to them. As if by saying how smart and brave your cousins are, it somehow implies that you're not. To them, you're the niece or nephew who, although graduated from college a few years ago, still doesn't have a steady job and is barely making minimum wage.

But despite how insulting such comments may be, there's not a whole lot I can do other than smile and nod. Because here's the thing: They'll never fully realize how extraordinary I am.

What I do for a living is hard enough  for people in the business to understand (if you want to stump a Producer, ask them what the difference between a grip and a juicer is), let alone a civilian. So to fully understand what we go through is nearly impossible for someone on the outside to really comprehend.

They'll never know how mentally and physically strong you have to be to do my job. How demanding it can be as you deal with rushed schedules and last minute changes. How exhausting the hours are or how every day can be a test of endurance. How so many people have come and gone because they just couldn't hack it. Or how hard it is to just get a chance to work in this Industry, let alone make a career out of it.

And if you're a female in my line of work, they'll never know how much bullshit you have to put up with or how much better you have to be than your colleagues just to get noticed. They'll never know how much courage you have inside you as you force your way into a male dominated field.

They've never considered the fact that I moved to this town by myself, alone and knowing no one. And how somehow, in a town of 4 million people, I've managed to make a place for myself...

The bottom line is, they'll never know.

But we, the unsung heroes of the film industry; the grips, electrics, P.A.s, set dressers, and everyone in between, we know how remarkable we have to be to be doing what we do. We know how hard we had to work to get to where we are. We know what kind of sacrifices we've made to be here. Many of us have given up other (and often easier) career paths just for a chance to follow our dream, which is uncertain and scary and requires more chutzpah than most people have. We know what kind of crap we have to put up with every day. And despite not getting the praise we deserve, we are motherfuckin' awesome.

So as your relatives gush on and on this year about how Sophie got a promotion at the bank or how Louis bought a house, know that your accomplishments are just as good as theirs are, if not better. You're in the trenches, day after day, taking whatever Production may throw at you and sometimes getting beaten in the process, but you're still standing. You may not get the acknowledgment you crave for your efforts, but know that surviving in this industry means that you have a certain something that most people don't.

To quote a comment left here on this blog a while back, "You're stronger than most for what you do as a job. Never forget that."

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Money, Money, Money...

It's no secret that I've spent the past couple of years kind of broke and desperate for work. And even when I did find a paying gig, more often than not, the money sucked. But I'd take the job anyway because hey, some cash is better than none.

During those lean times, I managed to squeak by but not without some sacrifices. I'd often opt to spend the evening staying in instead of going out with friends. I'd eat the same thing for a week rather eat out. I'd keep a pair of running shoes well past its prime rather than buy on a new pair.

But this year, despite getting off to a slow start, has been a pretty bitchin' year for me. I've been working steadily, as things go, and for the first time in a while, my bank account has been pretty well fed.

However, now the challenge is, how do I keep it from sliding back into its previous anemic state?

I've noticed that the more money I make, the more I tend to spend. Sure, I know that this newfound cash should be put in the bank and left there, untouched and saved for the rainiest of days. But as with many things in this business (and life in general), it's easier said than done... Especially after a rough couple of years.

I suddenly find myself indulging in all the stuff I had to previously miss out on. I'll splurge on a night out with friends or treat myself to a nice meal and a movie. I'll get my car washed and waxed. And more importantly, I'll splurge on a new wardrobe. After all, I haven't done any serious shopping for myself in a while and vintage Ts are so 2009.

You'd think that the logical thing for me to do once I got that all out of my system would be to get back on a reasonable budget, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Apparently, the next logical thing for me to do is indulge myself even more.

All this work I've been doing lately, while it fills my pockets with cash, has been leaving me tired and fried. I feel like I work hard for my money, so it's all too easy to justify treating myself to a massage or a nice dinner. I've had a really rough week at work, so why not indulge in a little shopping spree? Not to mention taking some real time off and skipping town for a while.

And then there's my friends... Some of them are still down on their luck, so when we hang out, I'll offer to pay for their movie ticket or buy them lunch. After all, I've been lucky enough to be working virtually non-stop while they're still on their ass and unemployed, so it seems like the right thing to do. Especially when you consider how they've always stood by me when I needed them.

While this spending may (or may not) be justified, it's also imperative to point out that my career is that of a freelancer. Sure, I may be doing well now, but how long will this good fortune last? If I go through another period of lean times, will my bank account still be fat enough for me to make it through?

My balance sheet is still in the black, but it's pretty obvious that my recent spending habits need to change (like, set up a savings account that's as good as forgotten) but change is hard. Even more so around Christmas when you're excited about the fact that the first time in a while, you're able to afford presents that you know your loved ones will really enjoy, rather than ones off the clearance rack.

Sigh... Maybe I'll start saving again after the Holidays....?  :)


*Before I get called a hypocrite in the comments, I'd like to point out that the difference between my friend and I is that he's to the point where his phone was shut off. Despite me spending a bit more than usual lately, I'm still a ways off from anything like that.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sorry guys... I've been basically busy non-stop since I got back. Between getting stuff done for the holidays, unpacking, work, and life in general, I've barely had time to realize that there's less than two weeks of this year left, let alone sit down and get a decent blog post done.

I'm hoping to finally get some time to write something this weekend, but I make no promises. Making any sort of plan is somewhat of a curse in this business.

Either way, thanks for continuing to check in until I finally get my shit together.

Monday, December 13, 2010

It Sucks When...

... you get back from vacationing in a different time zone and you get offered a job with a 6am call time for the next day. Where are those overnight jobs when you need them??

Monday, December 6, 2010


Over the past couple of years, I was terrified to leave L.A. Due to strikes, threat of strikes and an economic downturn (among other things), work around here was scarce and hard to come by, making it difficult for me to justify skipping town for a few days. Not only was I too broke to travel, I was in constant fear of missing out on a call for work because I was visiting friends. (It was a known rain dance for me: once I plan a trip, the calls will come.) It sucked. Although I wasn't working, I felt like I couldn't visit people that lived more than a few miles away. I was unemployed and had all this time on my hands, yet I was nervous about leaving town for more than a day.

Eventually, work started flowing in again and I secured a spot on a crew that shoots pretty frequently. Things were getting good. Only, I felt like I couldn't leave town for a few days then either. Though work with those guys was pretty steady, the schedule was not. There was no telling when the next job was; you only knew that there was one coming up. That made planning a little vacation hard. I had finally found a tribe that likes me and I felt like if I missed the next job, they'd find a replacement and I'd never get back in. And it's not like there's such thing as a paid vacation in my line of work. Unlike most other industries, when you plan a getaway, you not only have to factor in the actual cost of the trip, but the money you'd be missing out on from work as well. Suddenly, that weekend in Vegas you were thinking of will cost you a lot more than just a room and a few drinks.

Then, things started getting really good. Hollywood got busy again and it seemed like everyone and their mother was shooting something. I was suddenly landing bigger and better gigs left and right. I got so many calls that I couldn't take them all and it seemed like each job I took offered a better rate than the last. For the first time in a while, I felt like I was finally making some progress in my career again. But alas, I couldn't leave town then either. How could I when the biz is so hot? It seemed stupid to leave during a time when it was practically raining money into my bank account.

Then Summer turned to Fall and Fall is now slowly creeping into Winter. The calls aren't still pouring in like they were a few months ago, but I'm working steadily enough. More so than I was this time last year, that's for sure. And as I was packing up the truck after a long night of shooting not too long ago, I thought to myself, "Damn... I need a vacation." And that's when I realized how long it's been since I've left L.A. for a little "me" time.

I also realized that there's never a good time to take a break if you're a freelancer in this business like I am. You're scared of missing work when things are slow. You're scared you won't get your groove back when things are steady. And you're scared that you'll be missing out if you leave when times are good. There's just no winning.

So I decided that since there's never a good time to leave, now is as good of a time as any. I booked a flight to somewhere fun and made plans with people who don't live within a hundred mile radius from here. Will I miss out on work while I'm gone? You can count on it. Will I be able to get my spot back on the crews I leave behind after I return? I have no idea. Will the money still flow like profanities from a trucker? It depends on what calls I get when I stroll back into town. Will I answer my phone when I'm gone? Hell no.

But despite all these uncertainties, I think it's time for me to stop worrying about work and start worrying about myself for a little while. I've been working really hard this past year, and I think I deserve some time off. Sure, Hollywood is unforgiving and often changing, and things may be drastically different by the time I get back. I may find myself searching for another crew to work with and I may find myself unemployed for a while again. But I have to believe that I'm good enough and strong enough to bounce back from whatever changes I may find.

Work will always be here. But life only happens to me once. I think it's time for me to enjoy it a little.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Note On Directors.

 I woke up this morning excited about this gig and the awesome crew that comes with it. I've known these guys for a while and they're great people, but I've never worked with them until now. And to top it off, the job came with a more than decent rate, so I was looking forward to both a fun day and good paycheck.

But now, it's almost fourteen hours into the day with a whole scene still to shoot, and I'm doing everything I can to refrain from repeatedly banging my head into the set wall.

The reason behind this extra long day? This director sucks.

A good director will know exactly what he (or she) wants and knows how to get it. He knows what shots will edit well together, and which ones are a waste of time. A bad director will shoot everything they can think of, whether it'll work or not. They'll cover a scene from a dozen different angles and plan to figure it all out in editing.* Meanwhile, the crew suffers as what could've been a twelve hour day is now turned into an endless one. I realized which kind of director this guy was early on when the first shot up was two seconds of a guy walking through a doorway... and we did eleven takes of it.

Around hour thirteen of this dragged on day, I started thinking about a low budget shoot I was on not too long ago. The pay sucked and the conditions were crappy, but the Director was fantastic. He knew exactly which shots he wanted and how to get them. He'd often combine multiple shots into one and rarely did he ever do more than three takes. And better yet, we'd move through the day so quickly that it wasn't uncommon for us to have already wrapped up the truck and be on the freeway by the time the twelfth hour hits. It seemed like nothing pleased him more than sending us home early.

What sold me on this guy as one of my favorite Directors to work with is that one day, on a rare occasion where we were actually inching towards that twelve hour mark, I witnessed this conversation he had with his A.D.:
Director: "What do we have left to shoot?"
A.D.: "We still have to shoot the coverage of five more people at the table."
Director: [Thinks for a bit.] "Fuck it. We'll just shoot Grandma saying her lines. I have enough footage of everyone else from the other shots we did to make it work. The next shot will be the martini."

Ten minutes later, we were wrapped.

If you were to compare the finished product between these two directors, the average person would probably say that they both did a good job. But the difference between them comes down to what the viewer doesn't see: how the directors work on set. They both achieved the product they wanted in the end, but one got it by knowing what he needed from the get-go and the other got it at the expense of their crew (and in turn, the Producer's money).

It was almost astonishing to see how differently these two directors worked, and what was even more surprising was the overall scale of the two productions. Judging by the production values, the director that's dragging on the day probably made more on this shoot than the other guy does all year.

Which goes to show that, once again, landing a job on a bigger show or getting a bigger job title doesn't necessarily mean that you know shit.

*A bad director is often saved in editing as a good editor is able to take footage, no matter how crappy, and turn it into something usable.
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