Tuesday, March 29, 2011

It Always Perplexes Me When...

... on super small shoots (as in, less than fifteen people including the cast), Production still thinks it's a good idea to supply all their crafty from Costco. A small budget like that is usually blown on two or three bulk items, and believe me, no one wants to eat nothing but trail mix and over-sized muffins all day... on a three day shoot.

Friday, March 25, 2011

"Well, That's Easy For You To Say..."

We had just wrapped a show and my compadres and I are celebrating the occasion by getting a few drinks after work. No one was aching to get home so they can rest up for the next day. No one was counting the hours until the next meal. And no one was shooting the Director/Producers/Talent dirty looks to try to speed the day up. The stress and pressure of keeping a shooting schedule were gone, and all that was left was a few of us hanging out, having a good time and shooting the breeze.

Somehow, the topic of dealing with non-industry folks came up and I mentioned how I hated answering the "What do you do for a living?" question as there's no easy, simple and/or accurate way to explain it. In all honestly, I don't even think my own family understands what it is that I do.

"Well, I have a pretty simple answer when I get asked that," one of the guys says with a mischievous smile. "When I don't want to be bothered, I just tell them I'm a plumber."

There was a slight silence at the table before one of the other guys piped up. "Wow... That's genius. That really is. Because it's kind of in the same realm as what we do. You know, the hard labor, blue collar shit, but everyone knows exactly what a plumber does so it doesn't invite a lot of questions. I think I'm gonna steal that one."

The first guy smiles with pride. "It's yours," he says.

"Wait... I admit it's a pretty brilliant answer. But what about me?" I asked.

"What about you?"

"What would be a good fake profession for me to answer with? I can't really say plumber because that'll invite more questions since there's not a whole lot of female ones out there."

Silence hit the table again as everyone racked their brain to come up with something.

And then the night went on with my question unanswered...

Related Reading.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


For those of you on the West Coast (more specifically, those of you in SoCal), Cinegear just opened up their attendee registration. It's free to register up until the 28th of this month, after which you'll have to pay $20 at the door to get in.

In my opinion, as great as the Expo is, it's not really worth the $20, but is definitely worth the free price. Even if the prospect of checking out new gear doesn't excite you, the event is usually a good place to run into and catch up with old colleagues and score some free swag.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Double Dipping.

When I first started in this business, oh so many years ago (okay, more like a handful), I would work my little ass off as much as I could.

Eighteen hour days? No problem.

Jump between day shoots and night shoots? Where do I sign up?

In fact, the more of a stupid idea it sounded and the more exhausting it’d be, the more I reveled in it. It was kind of like a test of endurance. A badge of honor you wore that could invoke future bragging rights. “Oh yeah? Well one time, I worked an 14 hour shift… in the rain… with no rain gear!” “I don’t want to hear about how you only got four hours of sleep last night. I was in Vegas yesterday and I drove from there straight to set!”

One of the more common, yet stupid things you could do is “Double Dip.” Double dipping basically means that you’re more or less double booked and will be working two jobs in one day, usually back to back. For example, you may have a 5am call for a feature and later on in the day, have a 6pm call for a music video. As long as the first job wraps in twelve hours or less and you don’t get stuck in traffic, that kind of schedule is pretty feasible.

Not all double dips result in a 24+ hour marathon of work though. If you’re lucky, one of those gigs (or both if you’re really lucky) may be a simple load in or wrap out that requires you to be there for no more than a few hours. But generally speaking, if you double dip, you should clear out your schedule for the following day because you’ll be a walking zombie by the end of it all.

My longest work session was a triple header; working three different jobs back to back. It happened not too long after I moved out here and it evolved out of a perfect storm of early wraps, last minute calls and unexpected overtime. I wasn’t exactly prepared for working a day and a half straight, but I do remember looking back at it and going, “eh, that wasn’t too horrible. I even have enough energy to make myself some breakfast before I hit the hay.” And the rebound time wasn’t as bad as I was expecting either. I was ready for more action after about six hours of sleep.

But that was then. Due to another perfect storm of an early wrap and a last minute call, the opportunity for me to double dip came up recently. “Eh, what the hey,” I thought to myself, “It shouldn’t be too bad.”

Brother, let me tell you, it definitely wasn’t as good as I remembered it. I was dying by hour 18. I wanted nothing more than to crawl into a hole and take a nap, this job be damned.* I had no interest in wrapping up cable or adjusting any lights. I just wanted to take a nice, hot shower. I wanted to crawl into my warm bed. I just wanted to be done with the day and go home. I couldn’t sit still for more than a few minutes, otherwise I’d drift off to sleep and I’d never snap out of it. Which meant I had to constantly keep moving just to keep awake, which ended up tiring me out even more. Other than a slightly larger take in pay for that week, I was basically in a lose-lose situation.

That day made me realize that despite still being fairly young, I’m still not as young as I used to be. I’m not sure if it’s the added years to my age, the added years of work, or both, but my body can’t seem to take that kind of a beating anymore. Two, even three jobs, back to back never used to be a problem for me, and now I can’t even make it through one and a half without regretting my decision to try to do it all. Sure, maybe it wouldn’t have been as bad if I had some warning and could have planned for it a little better. Perhaps sneak in some extra sleep the night before. Maybe throw an energy drink or two in my work bag. But in all honesty, I hope I remember how utterly miserable I felt this time around so that next time the opportunity to double dip comes up, I’ll think twice about it before I take the job.

*It should be noted that one of the reasons double dipping is frowned upon, is the fact that you won’t be starting job #2 fresh. Instead, you’ll start the “day” off stale and burned and for the most part, won’t be as good as you should be for the 2nd crew, which is pretty bad form and unfair to your colleagues. However, in this particular case, I made it very clear to the Best Boy what my situation was and he told me to come in anyway.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Just For Fun...

Unlike most music videos who blatantly include film gear in their backgrounds (either because it looks cool, they can't hide it, or don't seem to care), this one embraces it somewhat differently. And I gotta say, I'm kinda liking it. Instead of equipment being things that are only used and never seen on camera, the Art Department did such a fantastic and unique job of weaving what most will never see into the set that things almost become hidden in plain view. I've watched this video a few times now, and each time, I notice something new that would've otherwise been kept off screen.

It's kinda cool.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Procrastinating Isn't A Good Idea.

I’m day playing on some feature. It’s Thursday.

Gaffer: "Hey, A.J. We’re going to need extra hands next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Keep that in mind."
Me: "Uh… okay… But isn’t that really the Best Boy’s decision?"
Gaffer: "Yeah, but you’re always his first call anyway. I'm just giving you a heads up."

I nod. That part is true. The Best Boy has stated before that I’m usually his first call and for as long as I’ve known him, I’ve never heard of a project he’s on that he didn’t call me for.

Gaffer: "Anyway, just keep those dates open."

The day ends, and since I’m not needed on Friday, the Best Boy says goodnight and sends me on my way without any mention of upcoming days. Then Friday comes and goes and I still hear nothing from the Best Boy. The same goes for Saturday and most of Sunday. Then, on Sunday night, just as I’m about to crawl into bed, I get a call from him asking if I’d like to work on Monday.

I tell him sure, but in my head, I’m thinking, “WTF?? You knew about this LAST WEEK and you’re just calling me now?”

Even though I’m on the top of this guy’s list, I usually try not to assume anything, so I chalk it up to the possibility that maybe, for whatever reason, he had asked someone else and that person bailed on him the night before. Whatever. I go into work on Monday anyway.

That day, during lunch, as we all sit at the table and eat our chicken, the Gaffer and Best Boy discuss their game plan for Friday, their next big day.

Gaffer: "Who do we have for extra crew that day?"
Best Boy: "I don’t know yet. I haven’t made any calls about it."

Same thing happens on Tuesday.

Gaffer: "Who do we have for Friday?"
Best Boy: "I’m not sure. I haven’t gotten around to making any calls about it yet."


Gaffer: "Who’s on the crew for Friday?"
Best Boy: "Dunno yet."

I'm off Thursday, so I don't know if the same conversation repeated itself earlier in the day, but that night I get a call from the Best Boy.
“Hey A.J. You available for tomorrow?”

I’m actually already booked, so I turn it down.

Friday morning, I get another call from him.
“Hey A.J. Do you know of anyone who’s available to work today? I'm having a hard time filling the spots.”

I tell him I’ll see what I can do, but that short of a notice this time of year? I knew what the answer was before I started making calls for him.

The funny thing is, if he had asked me when he first knew about the extra-man heavy day, he would’ve had me booked for it. And if he had come up to me the day before (and not a half hour before call) saying he was having trouble rounding out the crew, I’m pretty confident that I could’ve scrounged someone up for him.

The next time I saw him, he was complaining about how peeled they got that night since they were short a couple of guys. All I could do was sit there and hold my tongue. I felt for the rest of his crew, but not for him. As the Best Boy, he should’ve been thinking ahead and not leaving things like that down to the last minute. The others working below him depend on him to protect them as much as possible from being overworked and undermanned, and instead, they got a horrible night that burned them. All because one guy didn’t make a simple phone call when he had the chance.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Theme Days.

Every once in a while, I’ll find myself on a show where "Theme Day" makes a regular appearance. Usually on a Friday. That means that once a week, everyone’s supposed to show up dressed in accordance to whatever’s noted on the call sheet. “Camo Day.” “Hawaiian Day.” “Western Day.” “80’s Day.” On days like these, the set can end up looking pretty bizarre as you have an army of people who look more like they belong in a Trader Joe's than a working film set.

I hate theme days.

From my experience, they’re usually concocted by someone sitting in the AD trailer all day and thinks it’ll be fun. And the theme itself is often centered around what they have in their closets at home and what they might feel like wearing the next day. Granted, it may be their attempt at lightening up what may be a miserable shoot, but in all honesty, I’d rather they direct their efforts to making the set more efficient and get my ass home faster instead of dictating my wardrobe choices for the rest of the week.

Another thing I don’t like about Theme Days is the unrealistic expectation that the g/e crew can participate. Sure, we may be able to throw on the appropriate patterned clothing for themes like Camo Day, but I’m sure as hell not going to run around the set in cowboy boots because one of the ADs think they look cute in a Western hat. Tie Day? Forget it. Between my jacket, surveillance kit, the occasional ID badge and ten other things dangling from my belt, I’m not about to voluntarily wear yet another item on my person that has the potential to get caught and snagged on all this heavy, awkward and dangerous equipment we’re dealing with.

Plus, often times, I don’t even have the shit in my wardrobe that would require me to participate. Disco Day? Yeah, I’ve got nothing in my closet from that era. Sure, a decade appropriate outfit wouldn’t be that hard to scrounge up after a trip or two to a thrift store, but who the hell’s got time for that when you're working on a show? Not to mention how ridiculous it’d be to spend money on an outfit you hate, for a day you hate, on a shoot you hate, that you can’t even work in.

And sometimes, when I do happen to have an appropriate piece of clothing to fit in with the proposed theme, it’s usually nice enough (read: in good condition without rips, stains or holes) that it's part of my non-work wardrobe and I don’t want to risk fucking it up at work as I climb on ladders and pull cable from the mud.

It’s also not just me that’s being a spoil sport about the whole thing. I know a camera op who refuses to participate for the same exact reasons I listed bitched about above. I also know a Gaffer who refused to participate in “Gangsta Day” because he didn’t think it was appropriate to make light of the environment he grew up in. And the good boom ops out there also often refuse to participate due to their need to wear dark colored clothing, lest they be caught on camera from reflections and what not.

In short, I hate theme days. I think they’re a stupid idea. And if you start to pay attention to who’s usually spearheading them on a set, it’s more often than not those who sit in a trailer for most of the day and not those who do the manual labor on a set. I’m not saying their job isn’t hard or demanding, but they do tend to be so far removed from what the rest of us really do, that they often fail to understand why you’re refusing to wear your pajamas to work when it's so clearly stated to do so on the call sheet.

Sure, sometimes seeing the AD or Director walk onto set wearing a goofy outfit will get a laugh, but that kind of amusement usually only lasts for a second. I’d much rather see their efforts channeled into their job rather than their outfits.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License .