Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

It's been a crazy couple of weeks lately as I made an attempt to balance work stuff, personal stuff, and upcoming holiday stuff. And if my current schedule is any indication, I can expect the same kind of chaos as we head into December, only kicked up a few notches.


Which means that I'm going to be lazy and re-post something I wrote a few years ago.

But hey, at least it's (kind of) Thanksgiving related! With an update at the end!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Already Thinking About Thanksgiving...

My mom called me today.

"So you'll be home on Tuesday, right? Because I just made a dentist appointment for you for the 26th."

Yeah, that was how the convo started. Mom's not big on pretext.
Meanwhile, I was caught off guard and didn't even know what to say. Probably because I hadn't even thought about when I'd be making the trek back home and was trying to figure out if she had gotten the date from something I've said or if she just made it up.

Anyway, after the conversation ended and I hung up the phone, I started thinking and counting back the months. I haven't been home since last January for New Years, making this the longest I've been away for. I usually at least pop in for a visit once or twice a year but I guess this year's been harder because of the lack of work.

It used to be that I'll have a month or two booked up and I'd drive up and spend some time with the folks before things got super busy. But now that I no longer have the luxury of knowing when I'll get my next paycheck, I'm pretty much stuck staying in town since most of my money these days have been from random last minute gigs, which can be kind of a bummer.

And now, for the first time that I can remember, I'm actually looking forward to going home. I mean really looking forward to it. And that is what I'll be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

 Three measly years later, and oh my, how times have changed...

This year is the longest I've gone without popping in to visit the parentals. Nearly a year will have gone by before I see my old stomping ground again, only this time, the lack of work isn't to blame.

Rather, it's the opposite. I've been working rather steadily this year (for a change!), which means that whatever time off I got between gigs was only long enough for me to catch up on all the stuff that I couldn't get to when I was busy. Not a bad problem to have, I suppose, but it's definitely a far cry from the situation I was in back in 2008.

I'm still never sure when I'll get my next paycheck, but I at least have somewhat of an idea of where it'll come from these days. And that's a big difference. And when I do get a check in the mail, it's definitely more than what I was getting paid back then. I guess that means I'm moving up in the world?

Anyway, I wanted to take this time to wish you all a  
Happy Thanksgiving! 

May it be filled with turkey induced comas and a side of pie.

* I hope you enjoy this post because it might be a little while before I around to writing another one.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

You Know It's Cold Season When...

...Every "cut!" is followed by a chorus of coughs.

And on that note...

That's how you're supposed to cough and sneeze, especially when you're around others.

Using your hands to cover your coughing and sneezing is just plain gross and passes your germs onto your co-workers.

Be considerate of others and let's all keep healthy this season!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Be Careful What You Wish For.

Long after the bad day ended.
Long after all the anger and aggression faded away.
Long after the pity party wrapped...

I finally got the call for that 4/0 job I was craving for a week ago.
Two of them, actually.
And both in the rain.

Of course...

Monday, November 7, 2011

Know The Rules.

This post was a long time coming...

One important thing any freelance (and non-union*) grip, electric, camera person, set dresser, wardrobe, make-up, sound, P.A., etc, etc, should know is how to protect themselves when it comes to employer/employee relations. This is ESPECIALLY important if you're a Best Boy and/or in charge of a department since all the underlings will most likely turn to you when they have problems and questions regarding what's legal, what's not and what's the norm. You're the first line of protection against the dirty, evil, low budget "passion project" producers and what you tell them now is what they'll likely be telling others on the next job they're on. But ultimately, each person is responsible for themselves, because please believe me when I say that nobody knows anything.**

Case in point: everyone I know that started out in the nitty gritty non-union world has, at one point or another, had trouble getting paid. When I first started out in this biz, I was told again and again by various colleagues that employers had up to thirty days to pay, no matter what they may have promised you. Even if they say at the end of the night, "We'll mail out the checks Monday morning," and you don't get one in your mail box until three weeks later, you can't complain because they're still within the thirty days. I have no idea how, where or when this "common knowledge" started circulating, but it's accepted as "fact" by many of us in the non-union world and thus probably spread as so.

But guess what? That's absolute bullshit! Sure, I've had countless Best Boys, Gaffers, fellow grips and juicers all tell me the same thing over the years, but now I challenge any of them to find anything about a thirty day pay grace period rule in California labor law.*** At most they have two weeks. And if they're late, you're entitled to a "waiting time penalty." Aka: Your rate for every day it's late, up to thirty days.

That's a drastically different outcome than the "you'll just have to sit and wait for a month before you're paid" speech most of us have accepted as truth. It was a very rude awakening for me when I found out that what my colleagues and I had believed for so long was so false. It was like if you had avoided some really good food all your life because your parents told you you're allergic to nuts, only to find out that you're actually not. And sadly, that's only one of the many false "truths" out there that most non-unioners have accepted as "fact."

Some other things every non-union freelancer in this biz should know but generally don't?

- Meal penalties. You're entitled to them.

- Minimum wage. You're entitled to that too.

- Overtime? That depends.

Which leads me to...


Some of them will say shit like "Employee agrees to work for a rate of $100/day." To them, that means you'll work for that much money no matter how long the "day" is, which sucks big time if they're prone to doing 16-18 hour days. Cross that last part out and write "$100 / 12 hours" (or whatever it is you agreed to before you came to work.) and remember to get a signed copy. Speaking of, negotiate that shit before you show up and for the love of puppies, get it in writing. It could be in a text message (just don't delete it or lose your phone), but I think e-mail is better. I usually send them something along the lines of, "Totally excited about the job! Just wanted to clarify the rate. It's $xxx for 12 hours, right?" And include anything that involves money: gas and/or mileage reimbursement, equipment rental, etc. Having it in writing has saved my ass countless times. Whenever there's a discrepancy, it's always great to be able to show the parties involved exactly what was agreed upon.

And while we're on the topic of wages, know how to calculate them! If you agree to work for $100/12 hours, what's your hourly rate? Hint: it's not $8.33, which is what most people think it is (100 divided by 12). It's $7.14 because the first eight hours of the day is straight time, plus time and a half for every hour after that... And not including lunch because that's technically unpaid. Why is this important? Well, first off, $7.14 is below California minimum wage. Secondly, double that and you'll get your hourly rate for if/when you hit overtime.****

Use this information to your advantage. I'm not saying to throw down a lawsuit every time one of these rules are broken (and we all know they get broken all the time and we let it slide... but that's another post for another time) because let's face it, you'll spend more time filling out claim forms than actually working. But feel free to bring them up at the appropriate time. If Production wants you to work without paying OT, you can bring it to their attention that you had already "overlooked" the fact that they didn't give you a meal penalty. If they want you to drive out to a middle of nowhere location without paying you anything for gas, feel free to bring up the fact that you agreed to accept a rate that's under minimum wage. Just knowing that you have some rights and protections will make you feel more empowered and less likely to be bullied (too much) by a production.

And on that note, Production might throw a few punches of their own, like...

- "Those rights don't apply to you because you signed a 1099 and therefore aren't an employee." Again, call bullshit. You can fill out as many 1099 forms as they'd like you to. But guess what? That doesn't make you an Independent Contractor. The Labor Commission doesn't care if you signed one or not. What matters is whether or not you fall into the category of one, and the tricky part about that is that there's no set guidelines. But just like Production can argue that you are one, you can just as easily argue that you aren't. (Does Production provide you with the equipment? Yes. Are you allowed to take breaks whenever you want? No. Is your work performed under supervision? Yes. Hm... That kinda sounds like you're an employee to me...)

- "This isn't a union show. Meal penalties and overtime doesn't apply to us." Wrong again. I always find this argument ironic since the Department of Labor has all these laws about meals, overtime, pay schedule, etc, for pretty much everyone but those who are working under a Union contract.

- "You obviously haven't been in this business very long. This is how we do things." This is a fun one to flip around and throw back at them, because if they're paying their crew late or not feeding them on time, they obviously haven't been doing this for very long. Besides, just because "this is the way we do things in this business" doesn't mean it's legal.

- "Our client hasn't paid us yet for the project so we don't have the money to pay you right now." From the Labor Commision: "Inability to pay is not a defense to the failure to timely pay wages."

- "This is a small town and people talk. I can make it so you'll never work in this town again." They all pull this card when they've got nothing left and are grasping at air. But just think about it for a second. Most of the time, you're hired by a Best Boy, Gaffer, Key Grip, DP or some other department head. Not a Producer. Do you think your bosses are going to listen to a snot nosed "Producer" who tried to screw you over? No. And if the Producer is a somebody, I guarantee you that they're not going to waste time broadcasting to their entire contact list that they're breaking all kinds of laws. And if they're stupid enough to do that, there are very few Producers who'll scrutinize every name on the call sheet of their next shoot anyway, just to blackball some "nobody" they've never met.

Again, I'm not saying to file a claim against every Production you don't like, but know your rights. And most of all, follow your instincts. I've let a majority of these violations slide in my time because I felt like the connections being made and experience was worth the sucky-ness and I was okay with that. Or I saw that Production was really trying hard to do right by the crew. Or the infringement was so slight that it wasn't worth my time to pursue it. Or I was really there as a favor to a friend more than anything else. Or I was just really tired. Or holy shit, who cares if they want to sneak an extra half hour of overtime from us when they're paying me 3x my normal rate? Whatever the reason, I didn't feel the need to "rock the boat."

But there have been once or twice where I walk onto a job and I know it's going to be hell. I know they're never going to call me for a job again and/or I wouldn't come back even if they doubled my rate. The kind where they're so unprofessional about everything that you know you're going to have a problem getting paid before lunch is even called (if it's called at all). In those extreme cases, I start to collect paper. I make sure I have a copy of my deal memo. A copy of the call sheet. A copy of my (signed by all parties) time card. A copy of any schedule they may have. Anything. Everything. And I make sure to still do my job as professionally as possible. That way, if/when my check doesn't come, I have everything I need to file a claim against them, prove my case, and serve them a nice slice of legal whoop ass.

The bottom line is that there's a lot of misinformation out there about what Production is allowed to do to us and interestingly enough, a lot of that misinformation is geared towards us below-the-liners getting the short end of the stick. I've learned these lessons the hard way, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. But I know that in this harsh reality that is freelancing in the non-union world, no one's looking out for me but myself, so I better damn well know the rules and play the game smart. And not only do I now know how to protect myself better, but this information empowers me to protect the crew working below me as well. After all, no one likes working under someone who lets Production push them around.

So now you know, and knowing is half the battle.

* If you're in a Union, your Union rep would be the one you'd turn to for all this. 

** Myself included. I could be totally wrong in this post. In all my posts. YMMV. Blah blah blah. Disclaimer. Blah blah. Quote me at your own risk. Do your own damn research.

*** If you're working in another state, this stuff may not apply to you. But the "do your own research" lesson still stands.

**** Check with Production first. I've had some luck on a show or two where they accepted the first method when determining my hourly rate, which meant 1) they probably weren't trying to nickel and dime me and 2) I get a better deal in overtime.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Photo courtesy of the 728 website.

Most experienced electricians, young or old, generally avoid working with 4/0 if possible. It's a monster beast of a cable, weighing in at about a pound a foot. Wrapping a hundred foot piece of it will make any man sweat, let alone someone like me who barely weighs more than the coil of copper to begin with.

But today, I craved it.

I had a string of disappointments lasting about a week long, and yesterday's was the final straw. I won't get into the details of what happened, but by the end of the day, I was feeling dejected. And suddenly, I was re-living all those rejections and disappointments not only of the past week, but of my entire professional career. The assholes who didn't think I knew anything. All those times I've been accused of being hired because of my looks. All those times I've been denied work because of them. The kind looking man who ran the crew for a big show, telling me that I'd never make it in g/e because I'd never be "one of the guys." The scruffy looking old timer who'd tell me the same thing a few years later. All those times I've been called "lazy" and "useless" despite giving them my all...

All those voices and more just came flooding back at once; those memories filling my head like a bad song you can't stop humming.

You hear shit like that enough times and you start to wonder if it's true. You wonder if it's possible for all those people to be wrong. You start to wonder what the fuck you're doing in this town. You start to wonder what'll happen if you don't make it. You start to ask yourself why are you fighting so hard. Is it worth it? Are they right? Am I strong enough? What if I'm not? What will become of me?

It was feeling angry and confused and disappointed all at the same time. I was feeling all those things and more towards the people I was working with. At the situation. At no one in particular. At myself.

Honestly, I didn't know what I was feeling anymore. I know I just felt shitty.

I woke up this morning with those thoughts and voices still swirling around in my head. I was re-living every heart chrushing moment of it all. Again and again.

It's days like these I hope I get called for a 4/0 job.

Where it's no one but you and miles of cable that need to be wrapped. No need to pay attention to where your Gaffer is on the set. Or chasing around video village with a stinger. No making small talk with other departments. No sitting still in a corner while you wait for the next set up.

Just. Cable.

Best of all, you don't have to think. Once you get the hang of it, wrapping a piece of cable is nothing but a fluid, rhythmic motion. You pull with one hand as the other guides it into a neat coil. The only thing you need to concentrate on is how fast you're going and the size of your loops, and you're usually going at such a speed that nothing else but that occupies your mind. Meanwhile, with every length of cable you pull; every loop you make; every finished coil you tie up,* comes with a bead of sweat and somehow, all those bad thoughts that are swimming around in your head slowly ooze out of your pores. And all that anger and frustration you felt just hours ago evaporates with it.

It's cathartic.

And after a long day of nothing but cable, you go home tired as hell, but in a good way. All your aggressions have been worked out. You feel more at peace somehow. And the best thing is, negative thoughts no longer occupy your mind because all you can think about now is how badly you want a shower and start the next day fresh and clean...

Oh, how I long for a 4/0 job right now...

* That's usually as far as I'll go with it by myself.

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