Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"I Don't Like Change..."

As many of you probably know by now, Google has been making a bunch of changes lately and there's just no stopping them. And it's not just little tweaks here and there, either. The internet giant has been swooping down on all branches of their services and making major "improvements." While I like a couple of the new offerings, most of them have left me frustrated and thinking, "Really, Google? WTF."

And as the changes keep rolling out, the more annoyed I get. Then, today, I sign into Blogger to work on a post and find that any previous drafts I've done are not as I've left them. Obviously, these wonky posts are a result of some kind of changeover gone wrong on Google's end.

Am I mad? No. After all, you get what you pay for so I can't complain too much about what they're doing to their free services. Am I frustrated? Yes.

But what this really means is that posting on here might be a little more irregular than usual while I try to sort out the mess that was once my hard work back into readable form.

I know that eventually, as with all changes, things will settle down, I'll adapt to the new format, and things will return to "normal." But until then, please bear with with me.

In the meantime, I hope that everyone's been too busy working to notice anything different around here anyway. :)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Stop Helping.

Hey people in other departments,

I like that you want to be nice and a "team player" and realize how miserable a Juicer's job can be, but please, stop "helping" us.

It's really considerate and all that you try to do little things that make our lives easier, like wrap a stinger when you're done with it. But did you know that there's a right way and a wrong way to coil the cable?* And when it's done backwards, not only does it throw us off the next time we use that stinger, but it also screws around with the insides, eventually making it unusable?

And when it's not just the right size with the right amount of loops in it, it doesn't pack well into the crates, and we have to re-do it all anyway.

And yes, sometimes we can be kind of inconsiderate and leave piles of banded or 4/0 in the middle of the floor in anticipation of coming back with a cart to pick it all up later, and we understand that sometimes those coils may end up in your way. But please just wait the thirty seconds it takes for one of us to get over there and move it for you. It's great that you'll sometimes save us the hassle and stack it into piles for us, but if you must do that, please, can you at least check to see if the coils are tied before moving them? Because let me tell you, trying to discern between one hundred pound coil of cable from the next when they're untied and stacked on top of one another is NOT fun and usually ends up in us having to re-do it all.

And ADs, yeah, we get that sometimes we may fall behind schedule, resulting in a mad rush for us to wrap out of a location before Production gets slammed with overage charges, but please stop sending your PAs to "help" us out. You may think you're just sending them over to move things around, and hey, how hard can that be, right? But did you know that we often leave the latches open on some of the lights and if they're not closed when you move the heads around, the lens can fall out and shatter into a million little pieces? I know a few PAs who learned that the hard way (as well as a few Best Boys who weren't to pleased with the L&D**).

While we're at it, I love that on a smaller shoot, even the Director wants to jump in and lend a hand. That shows passion and dedication. But guess what? Live power is no joke. What you see us doing may look kinda simple, but we also (more or less) know what we're doing. That distro box I caught you disconnecting the other day (true story)? That had live power going through it. And that camlock*** you took out first? Yeah, that was the ground. Long technical mumbo jumbo short, that could have ended in a very bad day for you.

Sure, to the naked eye, what we do on the job every day may seem simple and require nothing but brute strength. "Drop this cable here and match the colors together." "Put that light there and plug it in." Etc, etc. But let me tell you, the Devil is in the details. For every simplistic action you see us do, there are about a dozen thought processes involved that you don't see. Picking up a light? Are all the scrims out of it and accounted for? Are the barn doors on right? Is the lens still in there? And while we're at is, where's the lens case? Is the latch closed? Is the rocky mountain leg retracted? Is it unplugged? Are all the knuckles locked down? How hot is the head still? And that's just what goes on in our head for simply moving a light. It gets even more complicated when we're dealing with distro and live power.

Bottom line, our jobs are more complicated than you think and one wrong move on your part (no matter how well meaning may be) could mean disaster on our end.

To sum it all up, I really appreciate the fact that you all want to help. I really do.

But please, stop helping.

* Go clockwise.
** Loss and Damages. Basically, shit that breaks and need to be paid for.
*** Normally, I'd include a link to help explain the more technical terms in my posts, but in this case, if you don't know what I'm talking about, then you really shouldn't be helping. :)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

"Back In The Good Ol' Days..."

Despite having a lot of fun on crews made up of my own peers, I often feel more comfortable on jobs where I'm the youngest member of my department. Maybe because I feel safer when working with high voltage power around people who are more experienced and have been in the business longer. Or maybe I just like the maturity that comes with a well seasoned crew.* Or maybe we just get along better for no apparent reason. Regardless, it's sometimes refreshing to roll with a crew that's been around long enough that time has weeded out the slackers and inflated egos, unlike the sets I often find myself on, riddled with know-it-all fresh film school grads.

But with these more mature colleagues, there's usually at least one guy who feels it's their duty to tell you to get out while you can. "You're too pretty to be doing this." "Get out while your back's still in tact." "You're still young enough to change departments." Etc, etc. And no matter what their reasoning for you to run as far away from Hollywood as you can, their impassioned speech always ends the same way: "This business isn't what it used to be."

No matter where I am or what I'm working on, if there's a guy on set who's old enough to be my father, they'll always say the same things: That things were better back then; Production was more generous with their money; The town was flooded with work all the time; You could easily make a good living. But now? Things suck; We work longer hours for less money; Every year they cut away at the perks and benefits; It's harder to find work; Productions are moving out of state; Things were better back then.

The wording may be different. The examples may be more specific. But the story stays the same. The industry is changing, and it appears to be changing for the worse.

The last time I heard such a speech about how this business has been declining over the course of their career, it was from a Camera Assistant in the back of a pass van on the way to set one morning. A worn and weathered Grip overheard the conversation and piped up, agreeing with the salt and pepper haired AC. "Producers used to fly us first class out to location and put us up in nice hotels, but now they won't even hire you if it's out of state." "I used to be able to survive only working about six months out of the year, but now I need to be constantly working..." "Things were better back then."

These two guys now had these wistful looks on their faces as they reminisced about the past. Days that were long gone and never to return. Back when they were younger, carefree, and rolling in good times and good work for good pay.

And when they were done looking back at how things have changed over the years, I couldn't help but ask a simple question: "When you were about my age and starting out in this business, did the old timers give you speeches about how much better it was when they first started?"

The kind AC paused for a moment before looking at me with a slight grin on his face. "Yeah, they did." The Grip in the front seat chuckled in agreement.

And I think that's when they knew that no matter what they said, I wasn't going to head their warnings of an industry going down hill. They sure has hell didn't listen when they were given the same speeches a decade or two ago, and they had no reason to believe that I would either. Despite how good it was back then, I don't think I have it all that bad now. Sure, I may have a shitty gig every now and then, but for the most part, I get paid decently enough, the food's usually pretty good, I get to go to some interesting locations from time to time and I get to snack on crafty all day. As far as jobs go, I'd say I have a pretty good one.

But they know as well as I do that it won't be long before I'm giving the same speech to some new kid in the back of a pass van. "We used to go to some pretty bitchin' places to shoot, but now it's all green screen in a studio." "We used to get three square meals a day on set, plus mini-meals from Craft service. Now all they have are bags of potato chips to snack on and lunch is a walk-away." "It used to be that the Best Boy could bring on whoever they wanted. Now, they've got all these rules about who you can and can't hire." "Kid, things were better back then..."

*Generally speaking, of course. It's no secret that I've run into my share of clueless douchebags.

Friday, July 15, 2011


This post reminded me of a conversation I had with a co-worker over breakfast one morning:

Juicer: "So I heard that on one lot, nepotism is so rampant that they don't allow you to hire family members anymore."
Me: "Really? None at all?"
Juicer: "Yup."
Me: "Huh... I can see why they'd implement a rule like that, but what if the family member is actually good at what they do? I mean, they could totally deserve the job but get shafted instead just because of a last name? That kind of sucks and doesn't sound very fair."
Juicer: "Yeah. I guess. But when was the last time you worked with a guy who's related to your boss that was actually worth their weight?"
Me: (Slight pause.) "Good point."

*I'll admit, I do know of some family names who have deep roots in this industry and for good reason, but they're also people who are good enough to get work on their own without their Daddy/Brother/Uncle bringing them onto jobs. The ones who depend on their relatives to get hired suck 99.99% of the time.

Monday, July 11, 2011

"Stay Cool."

Seen on my way to work the other day. (Please excuse the poor picture quality and the window glare.) Usually, signs like these* around town aren't uncommon as they're often found at exit off ramps and intersections, directing crew members to their respective shooting sites.** However, this one was found while I was driving (or rather, slowly creeping along in traffic) while on a freeway interchange.

* Hey Nathan, is there a specific name for these things? Crew signs? Production signs? Yellow thing-a-ma-bobs?
** They're usually printed with something show specific, like the name of the Production Company, an abbreviation of the show name, a character's name, etc. The most interesting one I've encountered up until now was one that said "Exit." I've always wondered if that one ever confused any non-filmy people driving around...

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

"Anyone Can Do It."

The Worlds First Wedding Photo + Video shot 100% with an iPhone 4

"Shooting in DV (digital video as opposed to film or Hi-Def)* has really democratized film making. Anyone with a video camera can go out and make a movie. That means, unfortunately, any idiot can go out and make a movie. It lowers the entry fee."  
- Michael Schwartz (Sales and Marketing coordinator for the Sony Pictures High Definition Center)

*This quote is a few years old, but if you replace "DV" with "Hi-Def" it's still a very valid point.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Far Out There.

Something tells me we're not in L.A. anymore...

It was a nice day to go for a long drive.

The latest top 40 Summer anthem was flowing from my radio as I cruised along the nearly empty road, admiring the scenery. Jeweled green hills; hidden dirt roads off shooting from the highway; roadside fruit stands; fields of sun ripened produce, just ready to be picked. It was a beautiful day.

Too bad I was on my way to work.

It's kind of a shame really. The only time I drive out of the city to places where your nearest neighbor is a mile away, it's because some production had picked a location all the way out there and I'm spending the day lugging around cable and lights rather than enjoying the peace and fresh air.

So why don't I visit those places when I'm not working? Because it's far. Call me cheap and lazy, but I like to enjoy my time off and avoid driving to places that's going to cost me a half a tank of gas.

Which is part of the reason why I groaned when got the call sheet the night before. I've worked with this company before and they have a habit of picking waaaay out there locations. Cheap and secluded spots where screwing the crew over on their gas and potential turnaround* just happens to be a bonus. So it didn't really come as a surprise to me when I learned that my commute would be a long one.

It's times like these where the thought of breakfast comes into play. If I want a meal, I'd usually go in about half an hour early before my call time and order something hot and filling off the catering truck. But with that long of a drive, leaving early enough to get there in time for breakfast would require less sleep. Precious, precious sleep. In those cases, sleep usually wins. In which case, I'd sleep in a little longer and grab something to munch on in the car (it's a long drive after all) or make do on an empty stomach until the first shot's all set up and I can grab a doughnut or muffin from crafty.

This morning, I opted for the latter option but found myself arriving at the location a little earlier than I thought I would (I keep forgetting there's no traffic in the middle of nowhere). Taking advantage of my new found time, skipped the long line at the catering truck and I grabbed myself some fruit salad and a bowl of oatmeal from the breakfast table and sat down with my fellow colleagues who were enjoying their coffee and eggs.

With a few minutes until we were in for the day, our whole department was there and accounted for, minus one person. Hm... That's interesting. This missing member was the same guy who was late the day before. This was day two of shooting at this location, and surely he wouldn't make the same mistake and be late two days in a row, would he?

I turned to the Best Boy. "Where's [Juicer]?"

"Beats me," my boss replied, checking his phone. "He better get here soon though."

Three minutes until our call turned into two, then one, and then we were in. My colleagues and I cleared our table and headed to work, down a man. Not a great way to start the day.

About a few pieces of cable into the new run we were putting in, a familiar voice came over our walkie channel. "Walkie check?"**

"Yeah, good check. Look who's finally here!" said the Best Boy, checking the time. The new voice over our radio waves was that of the missing Juicer, who was now late two days in a row. "We're running cable on the south side of the house. Why don't you come join us?"

"Yeah, I will. I'm just going to grab some breakfast from catering first."

Um.... What?

I shot my Best Boy my WTF face and he just shrugged and got back to work. He and the late Juicer had been working together for years, and whether they agree with each others work ethics or not, they've developed a symbiotic relationship and depend on each other for work. In other words, there wasn't much the Best Boy could do to discipline the guy.

A little while later, I headed back to the truck for more supplies and saw the Juicer sitting on the tail gate, finishing up his breakfast burrito. Following the Best Boy's lead, I should have let the whole ordeal go, but I just couldn't hold my tongue on this one, considering how me and my fellow brothers were already working up a sweat while this guy saunters in late and eats a leisurely breakfast in the shade.

"So," I started off, being as polite as I could, "did you run into some traffic or something?"


"Oh... Then how'd you end up late two days in a row?"

"Because," he said, getting up to stretch, "I'm not going to leave my house more than an hour before call time."

I stood there, looking at him while he began to dig around his bag for the day's tools. "Huh? What do you mean?"

And the answer that flowed from his mouth turned out to be the most ridiculous example of protective rationalization I've heard in a good long while.

"Look, it's not my fault that production chose a location so far out here. They're screwing us over by having us trek out this far all the time. So you know what? I'm refuse to leave my house more than an hour before call. If I get here late, it's their problem. I guess this is my way of saying 'fuck you' to the Producers on this thing."

Granted, the guy kinda had a point. If we had brought up the issue with the Producers before hand and then we all decided to show up late whenever the location was outside of the TMZ, that might send a meaningful message to the powers that be, but this wasn't the case. The guy was taking matters in his own hands without discussing it with anyone first and all it does is end up making our department and himself look bad.

"Okay..." I said, as I tried to process what he just said, "But you know you don't really screw over the Producers when you do that, right? Because all we've established so far is that you've been late two days in a row and we start work whether you're here yet or not. So I guess what you're really doing is screwing your own department over because we've been a person short since we started."

He looks at me, with a thoughtful look on his face, "Yeah..."

"Besides, you've worked with this company before. You know where they like to shoot. You had to have known how far you'd be driving when you took the job. Them screwing us over like this is nothing new, yet you agreed to work for them anyway."

"Yeah..." I could tell from the look on his face that I wasn't telling him anything he didn't already know. He knew showing up late like he did was a bad thing, but he was just lazy enough that he couldn't find it in himself to get to work on time. So he created a reason in his mind for being late that made sense to him.

Like I said, the guy kinda had a point. It was a bitch to drive out that far every morning and then make the same long drive back at the end of a hard day. And we all know I wouldn't mind sleeping in a little longer. But at the same time, I took the job knowing the (bad) habits of this company and so did he. And while I probably should've let the Best Boy (not) handle the situation, I just didn't feel right about letting it slide without saying something to the guy after the rest of his team made an effort to be there on time, all while knowing that we either get there early for breakfast, or we don't eat until we can hit up crafty at an appropriate time.

Purposely showing up late, then heading to catering for a hot meal while the rest of us do your work all while feeling okay about it? That's some kind of reasoning you've got going on in your head there...

*Turnaround times don't include the commute.
**Generally responded to by a "good check" from a colleague on your channel. It's basically what you do when you turn on the walkie to ensure it's working properly.
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