Sunday, June 26, 2011

Advice, Part I.

I remember a time, quite a few years ago, when I first came out here to work in this business. I was just starting out and barely making any money. Most of the work I got (if I was lucky enough to get a call) were freebie jobs where lunch was pizza, which should tell you how shitty the jobs were. But seeing as how I was just starting out (I knew so little about the gear at this point that I could barely operate a put-put), I didn't really know any better, and even more importantly, I was more or less having a good time on these shows.

Then one day, I was somehow thrown into a much bigger position than I was prepared for. Long story short, I had applied for a grip/electric job and ended up shooting the thing. Sure, it wasn't a very big show, but it was a bigger thing than I was used to and I sure as hell had never been put in that position before.

So to prepare for my upcoming gig, I did my research as best as I could. I called around and asked other people I knew what they might get in terms of gear for this kind of shoot. I read up on some product manuals. Brushed up on my color theory and read up on aesthetics and framing. I basically made sure that when the day came to shoot, I was walking into the battle with everything I needed to make this project awesome. Sure, I may have taken the job with doubts in my mind that I was in over my head, but now, I was ready for it.

In the end, and I'm not gonna lie, the resulting footage turned out to be just okay. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either. After all was said and done, I remember dwelling on the parts that didn't go as planned even long after the last piece of equipment was returned. There were some moments that I'd even relive in my head, wondering why I didn't make different decisions. Why did I frame it like that? What if I had changed the lighting? Why couldn't I have done better?

Some time after, a colleague of mine whom I had turned to for advice on this job asked me how it all went. I shook my head, still disappointed in myself. The budget wasn't big enough for me to get every light I needed to completely cover my ass like he had suggested, so I had to pick and choose which ones to keep. Some of my camera moves were a bit shaky and the framing was a bit off on some takes, but time constraints made it impossible to redo them. The crew was great, but their experience levels were all over the place. We had this really nice shot planned but by the time we got to it, the sun had moved. Etc, etc. At the end of the shoot, we had some decent footage, but overall, it was nothing like I was hoping for.

My friend listened to all of this, saying nothing; only nodding his head at the appropriate moments. When I was done venting, he said this, and only this, about the whole ordeal:

"You did the best you could with what you had. No one can fault you for that."

And those words stick with me until this day. Because you know what? He was right. I can be hard on myself all I want. And the Director may not have gotten exactly what he had envisioned. But in the end, I could honestly say that I did the best I could with what I had, and that's all that anyone can expect from me.

Even now, no matter how hard of a day I had or how much the Producer/Asshole Gaffer/Director wants to blame me or my department for whatever mishaps that may have happened, I sleep easy, knowing that I (and my department) did the best we could given the situations at hand.

And realizing this simple fact has made all the difference.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Baptism.

After the last time we buttoned up the truck; after the last day of the grueling shoot; after the last time I made that long trek home from that God forsaken location, I finally made it through my front door and shortly after, I fell asleep on the couch...

When I woke up, it was a new day. A new morning. And thus, my end-of-the-show ritual began.

As my shower warmed up, I stripped down and added my dusty, dirt stained clothes from the day before to the ever growing pile of work clothes that's been sitting in the corner of my room for the past couple weeks. As usual, it's been hard to find some time to do laundry while you're working, but now I had all the time in the world (or until the next call comes in). I gathered everything in my arms, loaded it into the washer along with a cup of detergent and turned it on. As water filled the basin, I could see the clear liquid turning darker as it began to attack the dust, dirt and grass stains the fabric had accumulated over the course of the shoot. I was feeling cleaner already.

As the machine started churning, I stepped into my hot, steamy shower. I stood there for a second as I let the warm water wash over me. It's been hot the past few days, and shooting day exteriors didn't help any. Despite having at least a full night between wrap and this morning, I could still feel the stickiness of dried sweat on me from the day before. And despite habitually taking showers after work, it didn't seem to do any good on this show. No matter how much I lathered, scrubbed and rinsed, I never felt completely clean. Perhaps it was because I'd come home too tired to put in the effort needed to really get the day's dirt off. Or perhaps it was because I knew it was a futile task; that I'd be back at that same location the next day, working in the hot sun and the dirt again. Either way, by the end of it all, I felt like I had two and a half weeks worth of dirt sticking to me. Needless to say, the water felt good...

I washed my hair (lathered, rinsed, repeated), scrubbed myself down, and by the end of it all, I felt like a great weight had been lifted off of me. Like that clear, warm running water coming out of my shower head was somehow magical and able to whisk away the all the sweat, dirt, and exhaustion that seemed to have glued itself to my skin, hair and spirit. I stepped out of that shower, feeling physically clean the first time in what seemed like ages.

After basking in my new found cleanliness for a few moments longer, I got dressed. By that time, my laundry was done and when I pulled my previously work smudged clothes from the dryer, they smelled of warm, fluffy, sunshine. They were no longer the limp and haggard looking pile of fabric sitting in the corner, but they were now transformed into sharp looking garments, ready to wear and impress.

Now, it was the car's turn. The poor thing had the hardest time of all. Unlike clothing that could be changed daily or my skin that got hosed down at night, my car didn't have that luxury. Day in and day out, it got me to and from work, driving through dirt roads, parking in muddy fields, and being littered on by tree leaves and birds. It had such a thick coating of dirt on it that from a distance, a friend had even asked if my car had gotten a new coat of paint. It was that bad.

And as I sat there in the drive through car wash, watching rivers of dirt trickling down the windows, I thought about the job I just had. The shoot was rough. Long hours. Shitty locations. Not that great pay. But damn it, there were some good times. And really good people. And definitely some lessons learned.

After the scrubby things stopped spinning, I drove out of that dark, car wash tunnel and into the warm California sunshine with a smile on my face. I may have left that gig seemingly dirty, roughed up and beaten, but water takes care of all that. I was reborn. I emerged clean, sparkling, and smelling like a double rainbow. I emerged from the darkness a little wiser and ready for the next battle.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Another Post About Cell Phones.

No matter how professional the crew, every once in a while, a cell phone will go off during a take. It's just inevitable. (Ironically, it's usually the Director's phone or the Sound Guy's, but that's another story.)

ADs commonly try to squash the problem by saying something along the lines of "If your cell phone goes off during a take, you owe us $10." Where the money goes to exactly, I'm not sure. Sometimes they'll specify that it's beer money for the crew or something, but $10 doesn't exactly buy enough to go around. And if the pot actually does grow enough for everyone to share, then isn't that kind of like rewarding the problem? (Again, that's another story.)

Which brings us to a set I was on not too long ago. It was only a one day shoot but the AD seemed to be taking his job very seriously. Before we started rolling, he made a loud announcement to the entire crew, "Turn your cell phones off! If it goes off during a take, you owe us $20!"

I rolled my eyes. I hate hearing "announcements" that threaten to punish you for something that's obviously an accident to begin with. I mean, out of all the assholes that I've run into over the years on this job, no one purposefully leaves their cell phone on a loud ringtone and hopes for a call during a take. Usually, when one does go off during a take, the embarrassment of everyone looking at you is punishment enough. They all know you did something bad, you know you did something bad, everyone learns a lesson, double checks their phone and moves on.

"Yeah, that's right. $20! And I'm serious too!" continued the all important AD.

My Best Boy and I shared a look. "Sure," I muttered under my breath, "He can take it out of my pay."

My boss choked back a laugh.

Because you see, we were working on their shoot for free as a favor for a friend on a student film.

So not only did the AD threaten to fine people if their cell phone accidentally went off, he made the threat to a bunch of people who were donating their time and skill to a project, of most of which were students who don't have a lot of cash to begin with anyway.

Saddly, this isn't the first time I've heard this threat on a freebie show. I know that sometimes, it's the AD's job to be an asshole. But I also think that sometimes, they need to take a look at the situation and realize that not all of their usual tactics will apply here. And when you have people who gave up their day off to work on this project pro bono, I think it's also important to not be a dick to them.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Well, I Know The Male End Connects To A Female End, But...

Yeeeeaah... It doesn't work that way.

One of the things I don't like about my job as a film electrician are those times when set dressing blankets the set with a bunch of practicals. Whether it be an ungodly number of table lamps and cabinet lights in a living room set; desk lamps, florescent fixtures and computers in a cubicle farm set; or the most dreaded of all, the Christmas sets where every piece of furniture has a string of lights on it, wiring up all that shit kind of sucks.

It usually involves a lot of tedious work and paying special attention to the details. It means doing math and counting on your fingers as you try to figure out how many things you can gang up together onto one circuit (how many amps does a tiny Christmas light pull anyway?). It also means crawling around a lot on the floor and squeezing into dusty corners to reach the plugs that the art department (usually) forgets to leave in a convenient place for you. But worst of all, it's a headache to try to hide the few dozen or so cables you'll be using so the camera doesn't see them when they face every which way. (And don't even get me started on what kind of wire you may or may not be allowed to use.)

Which is why I groaned when I found out we were setting up for an outdoor party scene at night and stepped into the yard to find that the art department had basically bathed the entire location in novelty string lights and paper lanterns. Ugh.

But like most seemingly overwhelming tasks, the trick to this one was to tackle things one by one. Which meant first things first: find the male connectors. With any luck, a few of them will be within reach of each other and I'd just be a simple cube tap away from lighting them up. I did a quick visual sweep of the yard, attempting to make note of where strands of lights ended and others began so I could mentally begin to map it all out and form a game plan.

Only, to my dismay, I didn't notice any.

I did another walk around, this time a little slower, my eyes quickly scanning any of the usual hiding places art department uses for the tail ends. Corners of the roof, in tree branches, edges of the fence, behind a bush.... Nothing.

Okay. Attempt number three. This time, I picked a strand and carefully walked its path, never taking my eyes off it. I was determined to find out where this sucker ended. Victory was going to be mine.

Eventually, I found the end... It was plugged into another strand. I followed that one. It was plugged into another one.

Now, I was getting somewhere and was getting excited. I began to move faster, no longer carefully following each inch of each strand now that I was onto their little game. But alas, I had circled the whole yard without finding what was now expected to be the lone male end. The part that would (in theory) power them all.

In my excitement, I had somehow carelessly missed it. Damn.

So I sighed deeply, cursed myself for not taking my time like I should have, and started all over again.

I picked a strand. Slowly and carefully, I traced it to the next one. And I followed that one to the next one after that. And the next one after that. And... the next one after that.

I followed string after string of lights, my eyes never wavering from its path. I followed it through bushes, climbed over dirty looking yard furniture and almost stepped in dog shit, all while tracing this seemingly never ending trail.

Eventually, I found myself staring at the chili-pepper themed strand that I had started out with, with no dangling male end around for me to plug into.

And that's when I realized it. There was no open male end for me to find because whoever was hanging all these lights and plugging one into another, had plugged the first strand of lights into the last strand, creating a continuous loop of lights without an end.


Dear Art Department,

Electricity doesn't work that way.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Juicer Math.

A scrim set has a single, two doubles, a half single and a half double in it.* The Gaffer says to put in another single into the tweenie that you're standing next too. The problem is that it's already got a double and a single in it, leaving you without anymore singles in the scrim bag for that light. The Gaffer also tells you to pull out a single from the redhead when you're done with the tweenie. But the redhead doesn't have any singles in it. Just the two doubles.

What do you do?

(Bonus question: What do you have when you've got two doubles and a single in a light?
Answer: The wrong light.)

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