Monday, September 30, 2013

What's The Word I'm Looking For...?

The Grips were rolling around an 12x12 silk when one of the corners got caught on a teaser hanging from the perms. Unbeknownst to half of the guys moving the stands around, the other two guys started shouting words of warning.

"Hey! Hey! HEY!!!"
"Woah, woah, woah!"

Finally, everyone realized what was happening and stopped before any real damage was done. That's when the Key Grip walked up to his guys after seeing what all the commotion was about.

"First of all," he started, "It's not 'Hey' or 'Woah.' The word is 'Stop'..."

I could make the standard comment here about Grips not knowing simple words, but truth be told, I probably would've shouted out the same thing in that situation. It's a weird feeling when you realize how we all lack some of the most basic communication skills.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

"Best Job In The World."

This is not what I do all day.

It's kind of a nice day outside. L.A. has finally started to cool down after a heatwave. And I had just settled down in a shady spot under a tree with a bag of trail mix and a soda when the Sound Guy walks past me.

"Wow, A.J.," he smirked, "You have the best job in the world."

"What do you mean?" I asked, not sure what he was getting at.

"You get paid to do nothing but hang out all day."

I was too stunned at his comment to respond before he picked up his boom mic and walked away.

"Nothing but hang out all day??" WTF?? 4/0 doesn't run itself. Scenes don't light themselves. And I don't just "hang out" all day.

First off, the Sound Department primarily works during takes. Electricians typically do most of their work before the takes, setting up the scenes. Which means I'm working while he's waiting and vise-versa. I could just as easily and haphazardly make that same comment to the Sound Guy the next time I'm scurrying by with a hot 2K in my hand and he's sitting by his cart reading a newspaper as he waits for the scene to be lit. But I wouldn't do that because I know better.

Secondly, yes, I will admit that some days are easier than others (there's not a whole lot you can do on a day exterior in the middle of summer). But there's always something that needs to be done (video village still needs power, as do virtually every other department, and more often than not, so does the sound cart, you asshole.)

And not only that, but the house we were shooting at had about a dozen or so HMIs working; six of which were 18Ks; all of which were a struggle to place (on the porch without a ramp, in the maze of a garden, behind a fence with a narrow walkway, manuvering around an inconviently placed sound cart*, etc). How the fuck did he think all those lights got there? Did he suppose the garden gnomes came to life and moved them into place for us?

And last, but not least, I'm not "hanging out" between set ups. I'm "standing by." Which may just sound like semantics to some, but there is actually a real fucking difference between the two terms. I may be making small talk with the Props Guy or getting my snack on at the crafty table, but my first priority is paying attention to what comes over my walkie, not to mention making sure nothing is burning, melting or getting overheated. I may not be actively running a stinger or touching a light the entire time, but I'm not off the clock either. I get paid to pay attention.

I try damn hard at my job. I bust my ass on a daily basis, dealing with live power, hot lights and heavy equipment all for less pay that what the lowest guy on the totem pole in the Sound Department makes. So whether he was kidding or not, his stupid comment about how I do nothing but "hang out all day" was hurtful to me. And even more so, it pissed me the fuck off.

* True story.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Scapegoat.

"Oh, brother," moaned the Best Boy Electric of a show I'm day playing on as he walked through our pre-light for tomorrow's set. "I think Juicer1 fucked up again."

I followed him through the stage as he looked around, naming the mistakes as he passed by them.

"That Kino's facing the wrong way.... That tenner's supposed to be in the other window... Everything's supposed to have 1/4 CTO on it, not 1/2..."

"I swear, I don't know what I'm going to do with this guy."

I stood there, saying nothing because I knew exactly what he was going to do: Keep hiring him.

The guy was a "must hire" from the Gaffer, so despite several weeks of screw ups here and there, the BBE had no choice but to keep him on the crew. Even the Gaffer was starting to notice the errors more and more, but he and Juicer1 go so far back that loyalty trumps the occasional mistake.

And despite the fact that I'd probably be working with these guys more if Juicer1 wasn't taking up one of the highly coveted regular spots, I actually like working with Juicer1. He was the type of guy that didn't stress about much; even when our lighting set ups were getting a little frantic. He never rolled his eyes whenever something was too heavy for me to lift by myself; never even gave me as much as a sigh. Instead, he'd reply to my apologies with a sincere, "Oh, that's okay," give me a hand and then resume out task as if nothing's happened. He'd tell me about his girl problems or a new blender he bought with the same kind of thoughtful passion. A large, burly looking guy who was really more like a teddy bear than anything else.

And more importantly, he'd do the jobs no one else wanted to do.

The fast shooting pace of this show meant that we always had to be one, maybe two steps ahead; lest we be the ones to drag down Production. That meant we usually had one or two people either pre-lighting a new set, or cleaning up an old one while the company was shooting. And more often than not, Juicer1 was that guy.

It's not because he necessarily volunteers for the job. Or because he's selected for it. He doesn't really care either way. But he's usually the one doing the not so fun jobs because no one else will. Either eager to impress the Gaffer or just plain lazy (or maybe both), none of the other regulars dare leave the Gaffer's side.

Which is probably why Juicer1 "fucks up" so much: The more work you actually do, the more mistakes you'll make. Even if you only mess up 10% of the time, that's still 100% more than someone who does nothing at all.*

Sadly, when it comes to work like this, department heads don't look at the ratios. They just care about why that 10K is placed in front of the wrong window. ("Because Juicer1 set it, that's why," was rapidly becoming the "joke" answer.)

I understand why the other guys don't want the pre-rig/de-rig/pre-load tasks. (It's thankless work; You get less face time with the Gaffer who's ass you're trying to kiss; There's no crafty there; etc.) But I don't understand how they can justify never doing those tasks.

I finally understood what was going on when I was day playing for these guys one day and Juicer1 had radioed for someone to please come give him a hand on task on the other stage. His request was met by silence. Assuming that one of the regular guys who knew the rigs better than I did went to go help him, I went about my business covering the set. Some time later, I left my post and headed towards crafty. I passed by staging and saw most of my department stationed there, faces hovering over their phones. The only one missing from the crowd was Juicer2, so I assumed he had gone over to help Juicer1.

So imagine my surprise when I ran into him at the crafty table.

"Hey, Juicer2," I asked him, "if you're here and the rest of the guys are at staging, who's helping Juicer1?"

"Oh," he laghed, "Probably no one. I was sitting with the other guys when the call came through. We just all looked at each other and then went back to what we were doing."

"What??" I was a little shocked but could tell where this was headed.

"Well, he didn't ask for help again over the radio, so he's probably doing okay."

I stood there for second in disbelief. We both knew, as did everyone else, that the job Juicer1 was doing on the other stage involves jockying around some pretty big lights. Definitely a two person job, minimum.

"Watch the set for me, will ya?" I sighed. I grabbed two bottles of water from the cooler before I headed out the stage door.

I found Juicer1 on the next stage, frustratingly trying to head up a 10K by himself. I gave him a hand and handed him a bottle of water when we were done.

"Sorry, Juicer1," I said. "I would've come over sooner had I known you were alone over here. I thought one of the other guys had come over."

"Nope," Juicer1 said, trying to disguise the bitterness in his voice. It was the kind of bitterness that could only come from seething as you did an unpleasant task on your own. He seemed like he'd finally had enough of this bullshit. "I know they make fun of me when my back's turned. But who the fuck else is going to do this stuff?" He took a drink of water before he continued. "Those guys over there are so scared to leave the Gaffer's side. As if they're going to lost their precious spots up his ass if they give me a hand for five God-damned minutes."

I laugh. "Yeah, you noticed it too, huh?" He nods, taking another drink of cool water to calm his nerves. "Well, listen. I'm just a day player on this. I will always just be a day player on this. In other words, I don't give a rat's ass about impressing the Gaffer like some of those other guys. If you ever need a hand and none of those other guys will help, just ask for me to come over and I will."

"I know you will, A.J." He was starting to calm down. "But it shouldn't have to be like that. It shouldn't have to be that I'm the only one doing this stuff all the time and it shouldn't be that you're the only one who will answer."

He's absolutely right. It really shouldn't. And despite my offer being sincere, I knew he'd never take me up on it. I knew that he'd keep taking all the shitty responsibilities and taking the crap when mistakes were made despite no one else ever stepping up to the plate. And I knew the other guys would continue to snicker about him behind his back and Juicer1 would try his best to ignore them.

He's right. It really shouldn't be this way, but it is. I just hope he at least found a little relief in knowing that he had some back up if he ever needed it. It's the only help could offer him, which is more than the others could say.

*Okay, so my math may be wrong. 100% of zero is still zero, or whatever. But you get my point and I was told there'd be no math.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Hot Nights. Cool Smiles.

It was that time of summer when the days are hot but the nights turn into a comfortable cool. Not having much of my own going on, I had agreed to help out a friend on a short film for a few days. The budget may have been low and the pressure for everything to go smoothly was high, but it was the kind of show where everyone got along and enjoyed each others company. Even the actors would enjoy hanging out on set and interacting with the crew between scenes.

But I was still a little surprised when one of them approached me just as I was swinging the last coil of banded on a now full cable cart one evening. As one of the leads in the film, to say he was easy on the eyes would be an understatement. He was the tall, dark and incredibly cute type with a mischievous smile; usually winning everyone over, guy or girl, with his genuinely friendly, boyish charm. I probably would have a crush on him if I wasn't so busy wrapping cable and setting lights on this show.

"Okay, so I had to come over here," he started, with that charmingly cute grin of his, "because I was watching you toss the cable around and it looks heavy."

I could embarrassingly do nothing but stand there and nod in agreement.

He looked at my cart of cable. "And you've been pushing this thing like it's nothing..." He paused for a second, still looking at the cart. He looks so cute when he's thinking. "So I was wondering," he politely continued, "if I could try pushing that for a bit to see how heavy it really is."

His request stunned me. No actor has ever asked me that before. "Sure," I said, stepping aside.

He grabbed the handles of the cart and pushed. The muscles in his arms tensed and bulged as his legs and body arched to get more leverage on the fully loaded cart; his skin glistening from the still warm night.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy watching him try.

And despite his, ahem, more than acceptable form, the cart didn't budge an inch.

"Wow," he said, after he decided he couldn't move the thing without possibly hurting himself. "That's really heavy. And you roll that thing around like it's nothing. I can't even get it to move!"

He looked at me with that smile of his, "You must be really tough. Thanks for letting me try." And with that, he turned and walked back to set.

I watched him walk away with a sly smile of my own.

Yes, the cart is heavy. But I didn't have the heart to tell him that the reason why he couldn't get the cart to move was because the brake was still on...

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