Friday, September 30, 2011

The Difference Between A Big Show And A Low Budget One...

... If you're on a big show, there's plenty of food at lunch for everyone, no matter how picky of an eater you are.

If you're on a low budget one and happen to be a vegetarian, you're usually S.O.L. because they either a) didn't account for any special dietary needs on set* or b) put the vegetarian entree out with the meat filled ones not realizing that omnivores can eat vegetarian dishes too, so by the time you get there it's nothing but an empty pan.

*And by "special dietary needs," I don't mean stuff like peanut allergies, Celiac's disease, or an abnormal aversion to brown food. I live in Tinsel Town where vegetarians are as common as a lost quarter at the Laundermat.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Where's Here??

This is a note to all the Gaffer's out there.

In case you never really considered it, walkie-talkies are pretty much made for you to communicate with people who aren't right next to you. Like between cars going on a road trip. Or between two eight-year-olds who live down the street from each other.

And when you're on set, they're made so you can communicate with your fellow colleagues, and if you're gaffing, they're a great way to get stuff done. All you have to do is get on the radio and start calling for things.

"I need a zip over here, and a tweenie over there," is all you need to say before the desired lights start flying into the set.

The problem with that though, is that these lights will rarely land where you want them because none of us actually know where "here" is. Most of us are behind the set walls, by staging, crafty, or just coming back from a bathroom and/or cigarette break when we hear your voice transmitting from your microphone to our ears, and not only are we not sure where you are, but we sure as hell can't see where here or there actually is.

The same goes for when we're doing things like adjusting a light outside a window while you're inside, behind a curtain, deep into the room. The phrase, "give me some light on this thing over here" isn't very helpful if I can't see you or the thing you're referring to.

Bottom line: we're not always within eyesight of you so when you're calling for things, please be more specific.

"I need a zip camera right and I need a tweenie by the window, inside, giving our actress an edge."

Since we're not on set just yet, we may not know where the camera is or where the actress will be, but with instructions given like that, there's a very good chance we'll figure it out once we get there.

Please keep this in mind. Nothing's more frustrating than carrying a heavy light onto an already crowded set, fighting your way through the sea of Camera Assistants, P.A.s, Vanities*, Grips, etc, frantically searching for the Gaffer to get placement for your light, only to discover that you're totally nowhere near where you need to be.

So remember, Gaffers: We can't see you. Use your words.

Thank you.

* Hair, Make-Up, Wardrobe.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Two Strikes.

If you really wanted the job, your phone would be like this...

One of the hardest parts I deal with in this business is simply just picking up the phone and asking for work. It's weird. I don't know why I have a problem with it. It's a pretty common industry practice to leave a message every now and then with colleagues saying you're available if they're looking for crew. It's just part of the biz. But for some reason, I have a hard time doing it.

Which is why I give props to those who do. Every so often, I'll get a message from a former co-worker who's looking for work. And honesty, I'll do my best to pass their name along if the opportunity arises.

Except, however, when it's a certain someone who shall remain nameless.

He's been hounding me for months now to hook him up with work.

And by hounding, I mean leaving me messages to call him "ASAP!!!" only when I call, the conversation is nothing more than small talk with the standard "By the way, I'm looking for work" phrase slipped in.

And by hounding, I mean sending me texts along the lines of, "Hey A.J. How's it goin You got NEthing goin on this week???" every other week.

Now, here's the thing about hooking people up with work: unless you're a Best Boy, you can't always bring whoever you want on a job with you. And even then, the job is often so riddled with political hires and a reduced budget for manpower that your hands are often tied. Every so often though, whether it's because you're a trusted confidant of the Best Boy and/or you just happen to be at the right place at the right time, the opportunity arises where you can say, "Hey, I know someone who's available. Want me to give him/her a call?"

One such occasion arose not too long ago, so I decided to give this guy a chance and left him a message asking if he was available the next day.

Only, he didn't respond until the next day, well after call time and definitely well after the spot was filled.
"Oh, sorry! I didn't notice the message on my phone til just now!"

Uh huh. Sure, buddy.

But still, the hounding continued. "I just Best Boyed on a feature! lolz. You got any work this week??"

Eventually, another opportunity came up for me to bring someone onto a job, so I shot the guy another message. I'd be lying if I said I caught every text that landed on my phone the second it was sent, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt as well as another chance.

Only, this time, he didn't respond until the next evening. "SO SORRY. I DIDN'T SEE UR MESSAGE TIL NOW. U STILL NEED SOMEBODY??"

No, fuckwad. We're already half way through the day. The spot's already been filled.

I give him shit for missing TWO calls in a row now with the same stupid excuse. He apologizes profusely and sticks to his story.
...And to this day, he still hounds me for work.

And here's the thing: I barely know the guy. He got my number from some show we worked on together a little over a year ago, and in all honesty, I don't remember him. Which I guess could be good or bad. Good because he didn't fuck up on the job enough for him to be memorable and bad because he wasn't stellar enough that I'd remember him either. So at most, he was "just okay." So for me to bring on someone who I barely don't know who is "just okay" at their job is a pretty big risk. I'm putting my reputation on the line for you. So if after months of begging me for work, you blow me off TWICE IN A ROW, you might as well lose my number because I sure as hell won't be giving you a third chance. And I like to think I'm a pretty understanding and generous person.

But at least I'll remember who he is now...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Advice, Part II.

Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

This guy was impossible to work with.

He'd fuck up everything he touched. Talked to us like we were little kids. Didn't communicate his ideas with the rest of the group. And worst of all, he was one of those "I know everything" types that didn't know anything at all.

What made things even worse was that he was assigned to our group for a class project. And if you haven't gone to film school, let me tell you that there's not much you can do when you don't get along with one of your "crew members." You can't "fire" the guy because it's a class and everyone needs a grade. Instructor's usually can't give someone an "incomplete" on a project because generally speaking, it's pretty much impossible for an individual to make up an assignment that involves multiple partners (you'd need a DP, Director, Producer, UPM, G/E, etc...).

Anyway, so we're doing this one-day project and this guy's acting like an insufferable ass. I forget what it is he does exactly that set this conversation off, but whatever it was, it was the last straw.

"Get out."
"What?" asked the stunned, bullheaded classmate.
"I said, get out. Leave the room. You're fired." These words were coming from one of our more outspoken group members.
"You can't fire me. This is a group assignment."
"I don't care. We're done trying to work with you. Please leave."
"You think you can do this without me? Fine. I'm out of here." He grabs his stuff and marches out of the classroom we were using, slamming the door behind him.
"Good riddance," we all mutter, under our breath.

The remaining teammates and I all share a relieved look before we get back to work. Things were going more smoothly now without the giant ass in the room. We were gaining momentum, working as a team, and making up for the time we lost dealing with the jerk.

Then suddenly, the door opens and in walks our instructor with a concerned look on his face. Uh oh...

"Hey guys," he starts off. "I just saw [jackass] out in the hallway... What happened?"

The tone in his voice and the look on his face told me that he wasn't okay with a student not participating in an assignment. This is, after all, a film class and what is a film without collaboration?

"Well, he was being impossible to work with," started the Outspoken Girl, before she cited an example or two of the guy's bullheadedness. "... So we fired him."

There was silence in the room for a few beats as we all turned to our instructor to see how he'd react to our executive decision of excluding a "teammate." I was pretty sure he'd "discuss" the issue with us, saying how we don't always get to choose who we work with in this business; or how part of being in the real world is having to deal with people we don't like; etc etc. And then he'd try to mediate the situation before bringing our former collaborator back into the room and making us all play nice. I can already imagine the "I told you so" smirk on the arrogant ass' face as he stepped back in.

But what really happened surprised me and the rest of the team as well.

Our instructor stood there silently as he thought about the situation, then shrugged his shoulders and said, "Okay. You gotta do what you gotta do." And with that, he shut the door, leaving us to carry on with the assignment.

I thought it was rather cool that he let us go on with the project minus a member (I remember us getting a good grade on it in the end, although I'm don't know what kind of marks our former partner ended up with). But interestingly enough, the most valuable lesson I got out of that day wasn't how to deal with difficult colleagues or how to deal with exposure (I think that was our assignment?). It was our Instructor's last words that echoed into the room:

"You gotta do what you gotta do."

To this day, I remember these simple words because he's right. It may sound a bit trite, but there are some things that just must be done if you want to move up in this business.

I may feel bad about bailing on a friend's project because I got a last minute call to work on a bigger thing, but at the same time, the latter project will open a whole world of opportunities for me.

I may be tired and want a day off, but when a call comes in for work, I'll take it anyway because who knows what great things this job may lead to.

I may have to cancel on plans with a friend instead of giving up a work call, but this extra work will pay the bills for another day and thus keeping me from moving back into my parent's house, hundreds of miles away from this business.

I may have to wear dirty clothes to work because I haven't had the time to do laundry, but keeping up this hectic schedule will ensure that one day, I'll be able to take time off when I want to and not because I have to.

I may have to reschedule a dentist appointment I've had for the last two months and risk not having my teeth checked out for another two months because the job I'm on now is too much of an opportunity for me to give up even a day on.

In the end, I gotta do what I gotta do.

I need to do whatever it is I need to do to survive and make it in this business.* Some of it may suck, but they need to be done if I'm going to climb that virtual ladder and I'm not going to apologize for it.

And in order to finish our project and get a decent grade, we had to get rid of what was holding us back.

It was what we had to do.


*Ethically and morally anyway. There are some things I won't do for a job, if you catch my drift.

Friday, September 9, 2011


Back in the eighth grade, a lab partner and I did exceptionally well on a project and high-fived each other.

"Wow," I remember her saying immediately after our celebratory hand-slap, "Your hands are really soft."

It was a nice compliment from one of the more popular girls in school, which is probably why I remember her words after all this time, and I smiled at her comment.

She was right; they were soft. Fourteen years old and never experienced an honest day's work in their life, my hands were baby smooth and super soft.

Flash forward a bunch of years later to the present day. I'm sitting on an apple box on set, killing time until we turn around, when I look down at the hands in my lap.

No one would dare say such nice things about my hands now. Repeated washings over the course of fourteen hour days has left them dry and rough. Lifting, carrying and dragging around equipment has thickened the skin on my hands and made them partly calloused. They're no longer baby soft like they once were. Cracked cuticles aren't uncommon these days and neither are minor scrapes, cuts, bruises or the occasional hangnail. And they're in desperate need of a good manicure.

These are working hands now. Hands that have seen so many days of hard labor, that even wearing work gloves doesn't seem to protect them. Hands that often get so dirty from moving lights or wrapping cable, that no amount of scrubbing can clean the grime that has settled into the cracks of their skin.

These are no longer the hands of a young girl who's biggest problem was completing a lab assignment. They are now the hands of a lighting technician, toiling away below-the-line in the belly of the Hollywood beast...

Monday, September 5, 2011

When Hard Working And Stupid Is Worse Than Just Being Stupid.


I'm standing by the truck while I watch my colleague chuck pieces of cable halfway down our truck into a large bin; each one each one making a loud noise as it lands.


"Shouldn't you be helping him?" the driver of our truck asks me as I just stand there, staring while my co-worker do all the work.


Another fifty pound coil hits the pile.

I shake my head. "No. He can be the hero if he wants to."

It was the end of the night and like all normal people, we all wanted to just finish packing up the truck and get the hell out of there. But standing between us and the road home was a line of carts waiting to be strapped down and that pile of cable that needed to be put away.

Unfortunately, one of the guys was having an issue with a ratchet strap, causing a line of carts to block the bin of cable, preventing us from any easy access to it.

So instead of doing the smart thing and waiting until we could actually get to the bin, this guy decided to hurl the unruely cable over all the obstacles instead.

Did this get the job done? Sure.
Did this get us home maybe a minute or two faster? Maybe.
Was the a stupid thing to do? Definitely.

One of the clich├ęs you hear in our line of work time and time again is "Work smarter, not harder." It's generally the working hard part, the physical labor of it all, that eventually leads to juicers and grips complaining about various aches, pains and bad joints in their 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond (that is, if you don't injure yourself right then and there). You won't feel it today, but it'll all catch up with you eventually.

Another reason why what he's doing is stupid is because of the way it makes the rest of us look. To anyone passing by (like our driver just demonstrated), this ape is the "hard worker." The "hero." He's the only one doing any real labor while the rest of us just stand around and watch.

Our only option in this situation is to either join in on the stupidity and end up injuring ourselves, or accept that we're being labeled as "lazy." It's a lose-lose situation.

And further more, while I like to think that I bring many skills to the table (alertness, technical knowledge, perfect size to fit into tight spaces, ability to provide general amusement...), I'm the first to admit that brute strength is not one of them. So if hurling that cable fifteen feet has got this guy grunting and sweating, imagine how much harder it'd be for someone less than half his size to do the same thing.

If he's in such a hurry to leave that staying an extra couple of minutes because of stalled carts was such a nuisance, I would've gladly dove right in and given him a hand once the pathway to the bin was cleared. Hell, I probably wouldn't have complained if I was left to do it all on my own while he went home.


But to handle it the way he was?


Fuck that. He can give me all the dirty looks he wants for not "helping" him (and believe me, he was). He can talk shit about how I'm not a "team player" to whoever (I'm sure he has). People passing by can praise him for his "hard work" and condemn me for just standing around if they so please (and they are).

But I'm not joining in on the stupid.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

You Know You've Been Working Too Hard When...

... It's your day off and you're mostly dressed before you realize you had absentmindedly grabbed your work clothes.
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