Sunday, June 30, 2013

I was making my usual rounds on industry blogs when I got sucked into one that Michael Taylor recommended on his non-mid week mid-week post.

It's basically a tumblr blog run by a 1st AD posting gifs as it relates to our industry. Whether you're in the AD department or not, you'll find most of them entertaining and relatable as hell.

I've spent the better part of the morning browsing around on her site, and found this one to be the most amusing so far:
This is why you never volunteer to touch the electric equipment. Ever. Even if they say it’s ok. They’re just trying to fuck you over.

[Ed Note: I've never, ever said it's okay.]

Sunday, June 23, 2013

"They Keep Track Of All That For You."


One of the most important things the Best Boy is in charge of (in my opinion anyway) are the time cards for his (or her!) department. Despite what we may say about doing this "for the love of the game" and/or how we'd rather "work for a low rate with good people than the other way around," the bottom line in this industry (and I'm sure in most others) is all about the Benjamins. In other words, at the heart of it all, we're doing a job so pay us for it.

Which is where the time cards come in. That little slip of paper bearing your name, Social Security number and signature is how you get paid. No time card = no money, no matter how long you were there that week. And not only that, but you better damn well make sure everything on there is correct. Despite Production keeping multiple records of everything (daily time sheets for each department, production reports, callsheets, etc), Accounting doesn't always match the numbers up, so if any of the times on the card is off by even one number, you're likely to end up getting less than you're supposed to no matter how many slips of paper are floating around the office saying you were in at 6am instead of twelve minutes later.

Which is why I was flabbergasted to have this exchange take place the other day:

I was playing the role of Best Boy Electric on a shoot when I was having trouble figuring out how to properly fill out the time cards Production had handed me for our department. The wording and designated spaces on these half sheets of paper weren't what I was used to, and this being the way we get paid and all, I didn't want to fuck it up. And seeing as how the accounting department wasn't in yet, I turn to who most BBEs turn to when there's a question about time cards*: The Best Boy Grip. Plus, he was on the last show this company did and therefore has surely has filled out the forms in question before... Right?

I find the BBG in his truck, smoking a cigarette while checking his Facebook page on his phone.

"Hey, BBG. I have a question for you."

"What's up, A.J.?"

I show him the blank time card I'm holding in my hand. "Have you done your time cards yet? I'm not sure what they mean by this part here," I gesture on the card, "...and it looks like they're asking us to put down real time. Not military time.** Is that right?"

The BBG looks at the time card in my hand, then shrugs while letting out of puff of smoke.

"Eh, I never know what they're asking for on that stuff. I just have my guys put in their name and Social, and then sign it."

"Oh..." I say, somewhat taken aback. But I guess those parts plus the in and out times are what's really important on time cards anyway. I suppose the other details they ask you to write down can be seen as less than important fillers."Well, how did you write down your in and out times?"

Another puff of smoke. "Oh, I never fill out that part either."

"You don't?" I'm definitely confused at this point.

"No. You don't have to keep track of all that stuff. They keep track of all that for you."

"Oh..." I say, slowly backing out of his truck. There's no use in asking him for help on the matter if that's his method. "Thanks..."

I return to my own truck and shake my head.

"They keep track of all that for you"?

"They keep track of all that for you"??


I can't tell you how many times I've been shortchanged on my paychecks over the years. And every time I call up Accounting to do something about it, THE VERY FIRST THING THEY DO IS PULL UP MY TIME CARD.

That's the first thing they look at to see if an accounting error has been made, and if it's blank, guess what? I'm out of luck and it looks like I just worked for free.

Sure, if they really wanted to, I guess they could pull up Production Reports for the day(s) in question and get the in/out times for our department, but sometimes those reports are done by lazy people who just copy and paste the same times for everyone without taking into account who had a pre-call, who didn't NDB, who had a rate change, who really worked that day (hint: the names on callsheets are often wrong), etc.

It's a slippery slope when we put the accuracy of our own paychecks in the hands of those who are penny pinching every chance they get, and it's even more reckless when it's the checks for our entire department we're talking about.

In the end, since it's such a small shoot and all, I suspect that the Grips will have no issue getting paid what they're owed despite the blank time cards. But better safe than sorry in my book; especially when I'm responsible for half a dozen people.

"They keep track of all that for you"??

No thanks. I think I'll wait for the Accounting office to open after all...

* Usually, the discussion is about out times so they kind of match up. That's a different post for another time.
** Most in/out times on a time card are done in a form of military time with 1/10th of an hour increments. Once in a while, I'll come across a show that wants use to put down "real times" (ie: "3:30pm" instead of "15.5"). It's really rare though, hence the double checking.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Safety First.

At least he's not on the top step...

"Hey, A.J.," my Gaffer turns to me as we finish tweaking the lights on our next set. "Tilt that Kino up a little bit and I think we're set here." He gives me a nod and walks out of the room.

I look at the Kino several feet above me and turn to the Key Grip. "Hey, Key Grip. Can I get a ten step in here please?"

The Key Grip turns to the Grip behind him. "You heard the lady." The Grip nodded and they both leave the set: the Key Grip headed to crafty for his umpteenth cup of coffee and the Grip headed in the opposite direction where the ladders were staged.

A couple minutes later, the Grip shows up with an eight step; two feet shorter than I had asked for.

I look at the ladder. I look at the light.

"Thanks, but I don't think I'll be able to reach that with anything shorter than a ten step."

The Grip looks at me. Looks at the light.

"Yeah, you'll be able to reach it with this."

Uh... Okay. The guy's about as tall as I am, so his judgement call on the matter should be as good as mine. So I set up the ladder, climb up it and find that indeed, I am just shy of being tall enough to reach the Kino.

"Nope," I say, waving my arms above my head to demonstrate that while I'm close, my hands are still grasping at nothing but air.

"Oh, come on," sighed the Grip. "There's another rung left."

I glance down just to make sure I'm not in the embarrassing situation of actually having missed a rung and realize that the "rung" he's talking about is the top step.

I look back at the Grip standing below. "No. I don't top-step ladders."*


"Yes. Seriously." I climb back down.

He rolls his eyes as he shimmies up the ladder all the way to the top step and fiddles with the Kino.

"You know," he said with a smirk, "They wouldn't put a step up here if they didn't want you to use it."

"Huh. Interesting," I thought to myself, "I didn't know that was a step. I always thought that's what held the ladder together."


* That's a lie. I will sometimes top step a ladder, but the highest I'll do is a double sided six step (and even that's a rare occasion). This was a single sided ladder, which I hate no matter what the height.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Thank You, Concrete Walls.

I got a call from a number I didn't recognize, but I answered it anyway. Turns out it was a from a colleague of mine asking if I was available for a job the next day. I was. He gave me an address and a call time, and I thought nothing else of it as I hung up the phone.

I show up to set the next day to find that it was in the basement of a building. And we weren't using the basement as a location. The basement had basically been turned into a sound stage with built sets and everything. Huh. Interesting. 

Anyway, after ingesting a bowl of powdered scrambled "eggs" and some potatoes from crafty/catering, we got to work and lit the first scene of the day. Not terribly difficult as a lot of the lights were still in place from when they shot a different scene the day before.

And as usual, once we got the first shot all set up and the cameras were about to roll, I found myself a nice apple box to sit on and pulled out my phone to check my messages... and saw that for the first time in a while, I had no reception.

"Well, duh," I thought to myself. "We're in a basement."

I looked around to see if I can spot the usual sight of crew members hunched over their phone; their faces illuminated by their Facebook page. I saw none.

Because, duh, we're in a basement.

Then I realized why I had gotten a call for the job from a number I didn't recognize. My friend had used a land line in one of the offices that had been set up down here.

Because. We're in a basement. With no cell reception. Duh.

And it was a weird day, not because we're in a sound stage that was basically underground, but because I realized just how attached to my phone I was. (Though definitely still not as attached as others are.)

I lost count of how many times I pulled out my phone just to be greeted by a reminder that I have no cell signal. And I was surprised by how often I caught myself just automatically looking at my phone throughout the day.

And it did take some time getting used to, but I eventually learned to stop myself whenever I started to reach for my phone for any reason other than to see what time it was.

And even more interesting was what was happening around set. Without the use of a phone to occupy our time underground, we started talking (or rather, whispering when we're rolling) to each other more. I had conversations with more grips on that first day than I usually do over the course of a whole show. People were reading real magazines and newspapers, passing them on when the last page was read. It seemed like this is what work would be like ten years ago in this industry.

I will admit, it was a little nerve wracking to not use my phone all day. After all, the success of a day player is reliant on how quickly you can return a call. But part of me felt it was somewhat freeing in a way.* I'm old enough to remember the days when cell phones weren't that common. When I could just go about my business without being attached to a digital leash. Without this thing in my pocket I had to constantly check.

Owning a cell phone meant that you can be reached anywhere at any time, but sometimes, I miss being unreachable.

Wrap was eventually called, and one by one, we made our way from the basement into the night air. As my phone gained reception again, it buzzed with the slew of incoming messages that hadn't been able to find me all day in the digital ether.

I browsed through them and answered the ones that needed answering. Then I promptly shut my phone off for the night...

* However, the most amusing part was when I learned that the Best Boy couldn't stray too far from the office or else he'd be out of range for the cordless phone Production had set him up with that he had to carry around with him. This "no cell phone thing" probably wasn't very freeing for him.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License .