Tuesday, May 3, 2011

"You're Lucky You're Working."

Times are kinda tough right now.

With the pilots (mostly) done and over with and network shows on their season hiatus (and not to mention, runaway productions), the town is kinda dead save for a few cable shows and the usual mix of commercials, music videos, reality TV and independent projects.

In other words, most industry people I know aren't working right now.

Which makes it all the more miraculous that I've managed to keep slightly busy these days. Granted, I'm not exactly doing the 80+ hour work weeks like the previous month, but it's been enough to keep my head above water while most of my friends are coming up with nothing.

What sucks, however, is the form of guilt that comes with working when everyone else isn't. I'll be sitting on set in the sweltering hot California sun, or have an ungodly call time of 3am, or be on hour 16 of what was supposed to be a 12 hour day, and I can't say a damn word about it. Because no matter what the sucky situation, the reply from whoever's listening usually is, "You're lucky you're working. A lot of people aren't."

That answer always rubs me the wrong way.

Yes, I realize that a lot of people aren't working. And that sucks. And yes, I realize how easily I could have very much not be here, but I wouldn't exactly call it "luck."

Some odd years ago, when I was young and new to this town, I was chatting at lunch with a co-worker. During our small talk, he revealed that he had gotten a full ride scholarship to the rather prestigious school from which he had graduated from. "Wow..." I remarked, thinking how I wish I could've had my tuition paid for. "You're lucky."

"No." He looked at me straight in the eyes to make sure I'd understand his next point. "I wasn't lucky. I worked damn hard for that scholarship. It had nothing to do with luck."

And he was right. It's not like the school threw his name into a hat with a few others and pulled out a winner. I don't know what exactly the scholarship guidelines entail, but I'm sure it had something to do with years of community service, extracurricular activities, a history of impeccable grades, and a kick ass essay or two. Either way, it wasn't something that happened over night. He had earned that full ride.

Which leads me back to my issue with the whole, "You're lucky to be working" response I often get this time of year. Yes, I suppose I do owe part of me working to "luck." Some say that "luck" is when opportunity meets preparation and I wouldn't have a paycheck if the "opportunity" part of it wasn't there, but what about the rest of it?

Like my colleague and his scholarship, the powers that be didn't just throw my name into a hat and randomly draw one out like a cast member on Five Dollar Fridays. I'd like to think that I somehow deserved to be there. That somehow, my years of hard work, networking, and knowledge of the craft is what is keeping me employed. With so many people filing for unemployment right now, there's a long list of other people the Best Boy could've called to fill my spot, but he didn't. He called me. So I'd at least like to think that hiring me can be attributed to me doing something right and not just random luck.


D said...

great post. I have always hated this saying. A while back, one of the officials at our local made the mistake of saying this to one of our members who called with a complaint about something. It's been a going punchline since. I'm with you. I'm working because I bust my ass and I deliver. Luck has little or nothing to do with it.

JD said...

I agree with you. I hate that sort of stance that (above the line) production takes. Statements like, "With the economy the way it is, we can't pay..." or "I could hire someone for less than what you are asking, but...".

It's skill, not luck. On a set, it's lucky that the cheaper less skilled crew-person didn't get someone hurt due to their lack of experience.

Michael Taylor said...

I too have heard this phrase for most of my career. It used to bother me, but at a certain point I started looking at it from a different angle. "Lucky" can mean dumb luck -- and that context, "you're lucky to be working" can be an envious, vaguely hostile, and mildly insulting comment -- or it can mean "fortunate." Having been out of work so often over the years -- and thus forced to take too many miserable jobs with cheap-ass companies who neither appreciated nor properly compensated the skills of the crew -- I do feel fortunate when working a good job for a good company, with good people.

And in that context, yeah, I'm lucky to be working...

A.J. said...

D - I'm sure it sucks even more when it's coming from your own local, especially when you think about how much you're paying in dues to those people to keep you from getting screwed. I'm not saying that luck has nothing to do with it, but I'd like to think it's more skill than anything else that's keeping us employed.

JD - If I had heard statements like that, I probably would have replied with, "With the economy the way it is, maybe you shouldn't have been so ambitious with your project and instead realistically thought about what you can and cannot afford to do."

Michael - There's no doubt that I feel thankful when I'm happily employed by a good company, especially after all the shit productions I've worked for and when I know a lot of people are hurting for work. It's when people imply that I'm somehow kept working because of dumb luck that gets on my nerves.

But you're right. It's definitely important to make a distinction between the two.

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