Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Home For The Holidays.


"Are you going home for Christmas?"

This is the question that has haunted me since Thanksgiving. Before that, since it's not uncommon for us movie folk to stay put during Turkey Day, the question was "What are your plans for Thanksgiving?"

Hollywood tends to shut down for the weeks of Christmas and New Years, and with everyone forced to take a couple weeks off from work, the lengthy down time lends itself to more travel opportunities the previous "stuff your face then go shopping" holiday didn't afford. Hence the question everyone on the crew inevitably asks one another in an innocent attempt at small talk: "Are you going home for Christmas?"

It's a simple question that seems pretty straight forward. With a steady stream of people flowing into Los Angeles like rivers to the Mississippi, Hollywood is comprised of more out-ot-towners chasing their dreams than locals. So much so that it's often assumed you're originally from somewhere else unless told otherwise.

My issue with the seemingly innocuous question isn't the assumption that I'm not an L.A. native. My issue is with the assumption that I'm not already "home."

I've been in this town for the better part of a decade now. While that may or may not make me an official "Angeleno", I'm pretty sure my decade-plus absence from my hometown disqualifies me from claiming residence there either.

I'm proud of where I came from. It's a part of who I am. But I'm proud of where I am now, too. And I have no desire to return to my roots outside of an occasional visit to see some family and friends. I've made a life for myself in this town. Found a new family. made new friends. I once couldn't wait to establish myself enough in this business to live outside of L.A. and still be known enough to get work when I wanted it. Now, I don't know if I'd even want to leave if given that opportunity. The longer I stay here, the more reasons I find to love it.

So, is this where I call "home"? Is going to visit my parents where I used to live considered "going home for the holidays"? Is home where the heart is? Or is home where you want to be? Is it possible to belong to two places, but not have a home? Or is home simply where I return at night? Where do I even want to call home? Am I giving up claim to one if I claim the other?

At what point, can I / do I call Hollywood "home"?

For now, I answer that deceivingly simple question with a smile and a "I'll be spending the holidays with my parents." They can interpret that however they want (although truthfully, I doubt they're putting this much thought into the answer as I am).

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and have a fabulous New Year. I hope you get to spend some peaceful time at home, wherever that may be...

Sunday, December 7, 2014

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

... you're sweeping out the truck when you suddenly realize you haven't done this for your own floors at home for a while.

Why is that?

Oh yeah. Because you spend way more time at work than you do at home.  :/

Previously 1.
Previously 2.
Previously 3.
Previously 4.
Previously 5.
Previously 6.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

"Best Crew Ever!"

It's the day after a big name star made a cameo on our humble little show and while wating for his omlette in the breakfast line, our series creator/Executive Producer was filling in his colleagues on the happenings of the night before.

"...And as his car pulled up, he shook my hand and said this was the best crew he's ever worked with. Can you believe that?? [Big Name Star]! He's been around forever and he thinks we're the best! How awesome is that??!"

He's fairly new to the business, so his excitement is understandable. But my co-worker and I, both witness to his enthusiasm, just rolled our eyes.

Because, despite the fact that we really might be a damn good crew, hearing someone delare your crew as "The Best Crew Ever!" is pretty common for someone who drifts around as much as I do.

I first heard it during wrap several years ago on a freebie job as I was trying to get a foot in Hollywood's door. The Director/Writer/Producer stood on a chair in the middle of the room, thanked us all for our time and hard work on his "passion project," and declared us "the best crew he's ever worked with."


I was happily surprised. I'm just starting out and I'm already working with one of the best crews out there?? Wow!

But it wasn't too long before another Director/Writer/Producer touted us as "The Best Crew Ever!" as soon as the A.D. called wrap. And it wasn't too long after that for the third one.

Eventually, I'd hear it about as much as I'd hear that pizza was coming for second meal.

And as I got on bigger shows, that proclaimation would often be accompanied with a champagne toast. Actors doing guest appearances over the course of the week would wrap up their episode with a coffee truck and a sign dangling under the ordering window reading, "To the best crew ever! Thank you!" At the end of a long show, the lead actors might pass out a bottle of wine to everyone on the crew with a card that reads, "To the best crew I've ever worked with!" Production will give out t-shirts to crew members with a sheet of printer paper pinned to it with the words, "Thanks for a good show! You're the best crew ever!"





Now, I'm not saying I'm ungrateful for the words and gestures of appreciation, because I really do appreciate it when the higher ups aknowledge our existance.

But at this point, it's the Hollywood equivalent of getting an "I'll call you" after a date. You may have believed it the first time you heard it, but after a few times, you wise up. You know he's not going to call, but at least he tried to be polite about it and you got a free meal.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

What Happens When Your Dreams Don't Come True?

If you're shooting a scene in an office/cubical farm, it's not uncommon to see doodles on every available writing surface as you walk around the set. Not only do the Set Dressers scatter used notebooks and Post-Its around to make the place more lived in and believable, but the "background artists" (aka: "extras" if you want to be a little more un-PC about it) may scribble on a notepad or two to make it look like they're doing very important background-y things during the scene and/or between takes when they're bored.

As you wander around set, you'll usually see things like doodles of kitty cats or random patterns. But every once in a while, you'll stumble on a gem like this one:

I guess as the saying goes, "Those who can't do, teach. Those who can't act, become background."

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Juicer Math, Pt. 2 (or Why We Can't Just "Add More Cable" To A Run).

We all know (or at least we should) that Wattage = Volts x Amps. (Also known as Ohm's Law if you wanna get technical about it.) If you don't know what that means or why it's important, I suggest you look it up.

But how many of us know about line loss and voltage drop? And I mean, really know it?

Basically, your voltage is tied to the length and size of your cable and the amperage you draw. So the longer your cable run and/or the more amps you need, the lower your voltage will dip.

There are various problems associated with low voltage, such as equipment not running properly (HMIs won't run if voltage is too low and tungsten will dip in color temperature) and some safety issues as well. In fact, for our movie making purposes, the National Electric Code only allows us to a maximum drop of 3%. Math time: 3% of 120v* is 3.6v. Which means the lowest we could go voltage wise is (120 - 3.6 = ) 116.4v.

Now how do we calculate whether or now we're within those limits? By using the Voltage Drop Formula!


Where...   √3 = 1.73 (Duh)
                  K = Resistance of the conductor being used
                  I = Amperage
                  L = Length or Distance in feet
                  ACM = Area of Circular Mills (aka: a really scientific way of saying how thick the cable is. This number is based on the gauge of the cable being used)

Since the "K" we're usually dealing with is copper, and the resistance of copper is 10.8, we'll simplify the formula a bit. √3·10.8 = 17.82, so the new formula becomes...


There. Isn't that better??

Okay. So what does that mean? It means that if you're running 400ft of banded cable (aka: #2 gauge wire; aka: ACM of 66360) and pulling 100amps/leg, your voltage drop is...

(17.82·100·400) / 66360 = 10.74 volts

Guess what? That's way more than the 3.6 volts we've already determined you're allowed to drop and the fire marshall can totally shut you down.

But what if you switched to using 4/0 (which has an ACM of 211600)?

(17.8·100·400) / 211600 = 3.37 volts

Congratulations! You're still within code and you get to run 400 feet of 4/0!

But let's say your show sucks in the sense that it doesn't have the money for a rigging crew, the 4/0, or the money to pay you for a pre-call to lay out all that cable if you just happened to have the 4/0 anyway. Basically, you're stuck with whatever banded you have on the truck. And by doing some basic algebra...

(17.82·100·L) / 66360 = 3.6
[yadda, yadda, yadda...]
L = (3.6·66360) / 1782
L = 134'

... you know you can go 134 feet before being out of code.*** You lay in 150' of cable anyway because 1) you only carry 50' lengths on the truck and 2) when all is said and done, you've been averaging 90 amps/leg anyway which puts you right on the edge (at 90 amps/leg with 3% voltage drop, it comes down to be 148.9' if you want to be exact about it). So you're good! Yay!

So why am I giving you this mind-numbing lecture in mathematics (especially when there's surely an app for all this)? Because I'm trying to show there's a reason why we run the cable the way that we do. That the choices we make in placing the generator isn't based on our own personal whims, but is dictated by what's in or not in the shot, what production can afford, the amount of manpower we have, and what can be done safely. It's not that we don't give a shit about the sound department, but more often than not, this is as far as I can get the generator away from set based on the above criteria. We do the best with what we have, which is why it irks me to no end when conversations like this happen...

Locations/Sound Guy/Etc.: "We need to move the generator."
Me: "That's a little easier said than done..."
Them: "Why not? It's just another 50 feet."
Me: "Well, it's not just 50 feet. I have to go around that wall/building/can't just cut across that yard where the owner's sitting on his porch holding a shot gun. It may even only be 75 feet, but all my cable is in 50 feet lengths, so really, it's be at least 100 feet of cable."
Them: "Well, don't you have two more pieces of banded? I saw some on your truck when I passed by a minute ago."
Me: "Yeah, but-"
Them: "So what's the problem?"
Me: "The problem is that with banded and the amperage we're using on set, I can only go 134 feet before I'm breaking code and I'm already at 150 feet, so-"
Them: "Oh no no no no. Don't pull that number mumbo-jumbo shit on me. Just run the cable. Is that so hard?"


Don't people think there's a reason why we sometimes need 2/0 or 4/0? For Pete's sake, if it was always as simple as just slapping on another piece of cable regardless of the gauge, I'd just be running stingers with a cube tap on the end straight out of the generator to run the entire set!

Stupid mutherfuckers. (Can you tell I've been through this a few times?)

Another stupid request? "Can't you just bump up the voltage on the generator?" I can, but not as much as you think. 1) Going too high with the voltage on the generator can mess up the generator, which is never good; 2) Voltage goes up when amperage goes down, so when we start turning lights on and off, someone with some very expensive and sensitive equipment plugged into our system may get a nasty surprise along with a repair bill; and 3) Upping the voltage at the generator is not an appropriate way to make up for the fact that you're running the wrong sized cable to begin with. You should do it right the first time. And again, if cranking up the voltage regulator was an option, don't you think we'd say fuck it to 2/0 and 4/0 every time and just run a damn stinger to run the whole set and just "bump up the voltage"??

So no, it's not that hard to physically lay out another two pieces of banded. But electricity is a bit more complicated than just laying out pieces of cable, asshole.

Juicer Math, Pt. 1

* 120v being the standard here in the good ol' U.S. of A.
** This is a formula for a 3-Phase system only. Hence, the √3. The Single-Phase formula is 2KIL/ACM. If you don't know the difference between a 3-Phase system vs a Single-Phase system, you probably shouldn't be the one planning all this out...
*** And that's just on a good day. Heat causes resistance, so if it's particularly hot out and/or the cable is laying on some sun-baked asphalt, the voltage drop can be higher.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Filmmaker's Test.

The following is a simple test to see if you really are a filmmaker. Proceed with caution.

Raise your hand if you've ever...

...watched an action movie and wished you could kick ass like the hero.

...watched a scene unfold on screen and dissect how the camera was set up and where the lights were placed.

...felt bad for the crew when you watch a show that takes place mostly at night. Or in the rain. Or both.

...been so excited the night before your first day on a shoot that you can't sleep.

...known when Crafty would bring out new snacks and hover around the table in anticipation.

...hoarded the kind of soda or fizzy water you like from the coolers.

...skipped over the veggies at catering.

...played with props when the Propmaster wasn't looking.

...cleaned your sunglasses with supplies found on the camera cart.

...sat down on set and flipped through a "magazine" or book used for set dressing.

...sprawled across a bed on a bedroom set.

...gone through the breakfast line more than once.

...raided the set cart for batteries for your T.V. remote at home.

...taken a nap on company time.

...snuck a picture of a celebrity on set.

...sat in a pass van just for the air conditioning.

...gone "grocery shopping" at the craft service table.

...borrowed a belt or jacket from wardrobe because you forgot yours at home.

...had to explain to your mom a few dozen times what it is you do at work.

...had to explain to your dad what you do at work in hopes that maybe he can explain it to her (note: this never works).

...splurged on a phone or a tablet with the thought of, "It'll come in handy at work!"

...shown up for work an hour early because you looked on the wrong line of the callsheet.

...shopped for a present for someone while at work (thanks, cellphone!).

...stopped what you were doing, looked around and thought, I have a pretty cool job.

...put off a doctor or dentist appointment because of work.

...rolled from one shoot right on to another.

...never met your neighbors because you never see them.

...forgot your friend's birthday because you were so busy, you lost track of the days.

...lost a girlfriend/boyfriend/significant other because you never got to see them.

...missed out on a family event because you're booked on a job.

...gave up a pet because you're never home to take care of it.

...ever wondered how you'd be able to balance a career and a family with a job like this.

...had a day so good, you knew this is what you wanted to spend the rest of your life doing.

...had a day so kick-you-ass-brutal, you wonder if it's all worth it.

...been told that Hollywood's a hard town and you won't make it.

...left behind family, friends, and all you've ever known to move to a place you've never been to because you wanted to make movies.

...purposely forged ahead without the safety net of a stable bank account or back-up career because you want that fear to push you to succeed.

...come to a halting realization that this is harder than you ever thought.

...reached a stagnant point in your career and start to wonder what else you could do for money.

...wondered what'll happen if the calls for work stop coming in.

...have this nagging fear that maybe they were right and you'll never survive in this industry.

...ever wonder if you're good enough to rise out of the low paying gigs.

...been scared that this is as good as it gets and you've peaked in your field.

...feared that you'll have to return home to your parents' house because you couldn't make it and it's time to "grow up." 

...feared that you sacrificed it all for nothing.

...kept on forging on anyway because you have faith in yourself that it will all work out in the end because despite all the uncertainties, the pain, and the fear, you're passionate about what you do.

If your hand is still raised, congratulations. You are a filmmaker.

Bonus test.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Haters Gonna Hate.

A colleague who I work with on occasion called me up the other night, his voice nvervous and laced with concern.

"Do you have a minute to talk?"

"Sure..." I cautiously say. I know he's not calling me for work and therefore, not sure what kind of news he's about to drop on me.

"Well, first off," he starts before he takes a deep breath, as if he's trying to calm himself down, "I think you're awesome."

"Oookay...." I'm still not getting what he's going for, but I'm starting to get nervous, too. Whatever it is he's trying to say, it must be pretty bad.

"But..." he continues, pausing a bit to gather up some courage to soldier on, "I heard some stuff about you that I thought you should know."

More silence.

I'm getting anxious and frustrated at this point. If it's bad news about me, I wanted to know and I wanted to know now. There's no need to sugar coat it for me. I like my band-aids ripped off fast.

"For Pete's sake, stop worrying me and just spit it out."

"Okay," he said, taking one last breath. "Some guys I worked with today were talking about you. They were saying stuff like you don't know what you're doing on set, you flirt with everyone, and you're lazy, and you don't pull your weight and stuff..."

More silence.

"Is that all?" I calmly ask.

"That's the gist of it. I just wanted to let you know what's being said about you because I don't agree with them at all, but maybe you can be more aware of how you behave on set, you know? Like, watch who you hang around with and make sure you point out to the guys what work you're doing. Stuff like that."

"Um.... Okay...."

"I'm just saying, don't give them any more fuel for their rumors. Like I said, I think you're good and I don't want what they're saying to get around and sully your reputation."

I respond to his thoughts with a chuckle. "Thanks for the call and I appreciate the concern, but I'm not too worried about it."


"Yeah. Really."

And I mean it, too. The way he started the conversation had me thinking the worst while this was really just almost... pedestrian. 

I didn't even badger him to tell me who he was working with that day. Partly because 1) I know he probably wouldn't spill but mostly because 2) there have always been rumors about me.

I've heard tales about how I'm lazy, clueless, and shamelessly flirt with everyone in sight, and about how I won't do this, won't do that, etc, and all while planting my butt at crafty. Some which may or may not be true. I don't know. I don't judge my own work; I simply do the job the best I can.

But I've also heard some pretty off the wall rumors. Apparently, I'm a lesbian; I'm asexual; I've been through a horrible divorce recently; I own a motorcycle; I've been hired on a job only to refuse, REFUSE, to do any work when I get there; etc.

Right. Sure. That sounds like me. NOT.

I understand why anyone would be freaked out about rumors like that circulating around about them. Hollywood is a lot smaller than it seems and word can travel fast. Whether true or not, a few unfavorable words uttered when your name comes up can lead to being unemployed for a while. Even if you've never met some of these people, your reputation can easily precede you. Unfair, yes, but that's reality.

But as concerned my colleague was for me and my reputation, I found the whole situation to be more amusing than anything else. Because despite whatever is being said about me, I'm still working.

And not only am I still working, but I've been working. I haven't had a week without work (Holidays excluded) since I last summer and that was only because I chose not to work. Not only have calls for work increased for me every year since I started in this business, but the jobs have been getting better as well with no signs of stopping any time soon. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but as I'm writing this, things are falling into place that would have me working for the next several months before I get another chance at some R&R.

So I think I must be doing something right.

My colleague also expressed concern that he didn't want those rumors to squash my chances of advancing to bigger and better things in this business (isn't he sweet!), but I told him I doubt it would. Because the funny/interesting thing is, as I've been getting bigger and better jobs over the past few years, the rumors I've heard about myself have also escalated. The more work I get, the more ridiculous the rumors and/or the more rampant they've become. And yet, I'm still progressing in my field with each job being a step above the last, so go figure. I don't know if it's because the woman transcends the myths or if it's because I've been floating from one crew to the next at such a rate that the rumors haven't caught up to me, but whatever it is, it hasn't closed any doors for me yet (that I'm aware of, anyway).

And sure, I guess I could try to limit what's being said about me by not visiting crafty or not "flirting" with the prop guys, but if I've learned anything about human nature over the past few years, it's that with some people, if it's not one thing, it's another. They'll complain about how cheap the caterer is on one show, and then complain about how production is spending too much money on food and not enough in other areas on the next show. I may be "hanging around crafty too much" now, but I can also be seen as "having an eating disorder" if I visit the snack table less than often. Now, I'm "flirting with every department," but if I change my ways, I can be seen as "anti-social and doesn't get along with everyone."

Some people will just bitch and moan to anyone about anything. In fact, guys on set have been some of the gossipiest bitches I've seen since the girls' bathroom in Jr. High.

And even if I do "watch myself" on set to try to limit what's being said about me, what am I supposed to do about all the other stuff that comes out of left field? Okay, hearing that I have a motorcycle made me sound kind of bad-ass, but never once have I shown up for a job only to refuse to do it. Or been divorced. Or even married, for that matter. Or even bring up my personal life on set.

It just goes to show that they'll probably always be rumors about me, no matter what I do. That's one of the (many) downsides of being a woman in a male dominated business. It puts an invisible target on your back. Everyone will put you under a microscope and people will talk about you.

If it's not one thing, it's another. And if it's not me they're talking about, it'll be someone else.

Hollywood likes to talk, which can be scary since a lot can ride on your reputation in this town. But you can't stop people from talking and I can't/won't/don't want to change who I am just to try to please them. And I can tell you right now, there is no pleasing them.

As the saying goes, haters gonna hate. And the only thing I can do about it is take a cue from my girl Taylor...

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Importance Of Saying Goodbye.

Shows can be a magical place to work. You cram some awesome people together in a centralized location for twelve to fourteen hours a day and some fun will be had, no matter the situation. Some of my best memories are from working on low budget shows and/or remote locations and/or shooting through the night.

It's often not the work that makes this job worthwhile, but the people involved with it.

On the last day of the show I was on recently, I found out that it was also the sound mixer's last day ever in this business. He was officially retiring when they called "wrap." As he was packing up his gear for the last time, I asked him, after working in this business for most of his life, what was he  going to miss the most? He paused what he was doing and looked at me thoughtfully.

"You know, I don't think I'll miss the hours we do, or the shows, or even the work itself. It's the people that I'll miss most of all." And with that, he gave me a kiss on the head, gave me some final words of wisdom, and quietly walked out that stage door for the last time.

While we weren't particularly close, he was a part of my life for several months. And his departure was even more meaningful to me because we got to say goodbye.

All too often, I make these connections with these fun and awesome people,* and at the end of the day/show/and even scene, we gather our things and disappear into the night with hardly a look back. When they call wrap, everyone's in such a hurry to clear out of there that before you know it, you're in your car, alone, and you never got to exchange one last joke with the prop guy or high five the on set dresser one last time. Those little things that seem like nothing, but are really what aknowledges that a bond was formed and that it meant something to the both of us.

It sucks not being able to say a proper goodby. I makes me feel like I'm lacking a sense of closure. That we've been through such long days and grueling work without as much as a handshake and a "see ya around" makes me sad.

Sure, the flowing nature of this business means there's a good chance I could see them again down the road, but it could be years, or even decades down the line, if at all. And who's to say we'll even remember each other by then?


I guess what I'm trying to say is that at the end of the day/show/career, what we take away from it all isn't the show itself, but the people we spent the time with. The people we got to know. Shared jokes with. Broke bread with. Rode in pass vans with. A sense of camraderie is shared and when it's over, the relationships we form don't always get the proper ending they deserve. It just fades away as if it meant nothing at all...

Endings like that have never sat well with me. And the day it does is the day I shouldn't be doing this anymore. Because when all is said and done, it's not the shows we make, the hours we work or even the work we do that we take away with us.

It's the people that make this business worthwhile.

* And I'm talking about the good people here. Not the inevitable asshole(s) on every set.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Happy Labor Day.

Just a little something to think about while we're enjoying a BBQ and hitting the sale at Macy's this weekend.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

How To Negotiate Like A Boss.

Raise your hand if you've ever wished you could be paid more for a job.

And keep that hand raised if you've actually asked for more.

And only put that hand down if you've walked away from the negotiating table with less than you wanted.

Still have your hand up? Good. You know how to work a negotiation.

Everyone else should listen up...

I used to be consistently paid less than minimum wage. When you're just starting out, you kind of have to take what you can get and while I was grateful for every opportunity I got, eventually you reach a point where you know you're worth more. The hard part is figuring out how to get it. But once I did, I never worked a job where I felt like I was being totally screwed ever again. Here's a few tricks I learned over the years...

First off, know what you're worth. If it's your first job on a set, ever, you're probably not going to get much. That's not to say you shouldn't try, but it's important to know and be aware of your limitations. A producer probably won't offer you union scale if you don't even know how to properly wrap a stinger yet. In fact, they'll probably think you're delusional and move on to the next name on their list without a backward glance. Once you figured out a fair price for whoring yourself out... 

Ask for a higher rate. Sometimes, it really is that simple. Most of the time, if your employer is willing to play with the numbers, you'll end up going back and forth until you reach something you both can agree on. Therefore, feel free to always ask for a little more than what you want. Each negotiating side generally has two numbers in their head. The one they want to pay/get and the one they're willing to pay/get. Know what your numbers are before you start that part of the discussion. There's no faster way to lose a negotiation than to answer with a blank face and an "Uh..." when they ask you what you want.

Every once in a while, you'll get lucky and they'll accept your "want" number right off the bat, simply because they have no idea what the going rates are and just spitballed out an initial offer. So if you don't like the rate they're offering, simply start by asking for a better one.

That said, and this is the tricky part, don't be the first to throw out a number. Just say you normally work for more and ask if they can up the rate. If they ask you what your normal rate is, respond by telling them that every show is different and ask them a shit load of questions. What are they shooting? Is it a commercial? Feature? Music video? How long is the job? What are the locations? Is there a lot of night work? Is it a period piece? How many days a week will we be working? How big is the crew? What size is the budget? All these questions will help you form a better idea of what you'll be getting yourself into the next time you answer a call for work that simply says "grip wanted" and help you figure out a fair price for yourself. Then ask them what number they have in mind for you. That gives you an idea of what they're going for and a ballpark figure to work with. Then you can go in with a decent counter offer. Again, if you go too high right off the bat, they'll think you're delusional and walk away. It's better for them to start the number game.

Sometimes, it's about the right numbers. They can't go any higher with your rate? Well, what can they go higher on? Sometimes, they can't move on certain numbers because of some accounting thing, but they may be able to play around in other columns. Can they pay you a kit rental? Can they rent your gear (and by "rent," I don't mean "borrow")? Can they up your overtime rate? Can they add an extra hour of pay each day? Can they give you an extra prep/wrap day? Can you be on an hourly rate instead of a flat one?

More often than not, it's about finding where else they can add more money rather than inflating your base rate.

What else do you want? The previous tips still leave you wanting more? Think about what else other than money will make you take the job and the information you gleaned from all those questions you asked about earlier can come into play here. Again, it's all about hitting the right accounting columns. Can they pay for your travel and mileage? Can they up the expendables budget (and round out your own personal kit in the process)? Can you add extra guys to help ease the work load? Can they guarantee you 12 hour turnaround each night? Can they make sure Crafty provides you with all the Red Bull you can drink?

If you're just starting out as a P.A., but really want to shoot, can you shadow the camera department? If you're a grip who wants to be a dolly grip, can they let you work a shot or two?*

The possibilities are endless here.

There's no need to go in for the kill. You can, and should, always start out asking more than you'll settle for, but just because you don't bleed them dry doesn't mean you walk away a loser. I never really understood those people who get upset because they didn't get every cent production had. If you get a deal that you're satisfied with, pat yourself on the back. The goal wasn't to screw production over, but to get yourself a fair rate. If both sides walk away from the negotiating table satisfied with what they're giving up/gaining, it's a win-win situation that paves the way for a better working relationship in the future. That's priceless.

Know when you need to walk away. Can't come to an agreement? Maybe you should walk away. Can't afford to? Then I think you just found your new rate. And don't say things like, "I've got a cabin in Big Bear to pay for and a kid to put through college. I can't pay my bills with what you're offering." It's really not their problem. Their problem is finding a crew that fits their budget. They don't give a rats ass that their rates aren't enough to cover your AC bill in the summer.

But what they do care about is what you can do for them. If they're balking at the terms you're offering, tell them why it'd be the best decision they ever made in their entire life if they hired you. Did your last few shows win awards? Do you usually come under budget? Are you always on time? Are you the Queen/King of "making it work" no matter what the challenge? Do you come with top notch crew of your own? Would they get the best deal in Hollywood if they rented equipment from you? Have you done a show similar to what they're doing? In other words, why are you worth the rate you're asking for?

Don't bitch about the deal you made. Once you agree to the terms, don't whine about them. You agreed to them. Don't make a deal and then complain the rest of the show about how you deserve more. You deserve what you negotiate. Don't like what's offered? Then don't take the deal. Walk away and move on. Let production find someone that'll be happy working for them and vise-versa.

That said, if you take the deal and things aren't as promised (ie: you're suddenly shooting nights out on the beach in San Pedro for six days a week when you were told you'd be on a stage in Hollywood the whole time), feel free to go back to the negotiating table. The terms have changed and so should your deal. 

And lastly, once you reach an agreement, get it all in writing. And know the rules.

* You probably can't negotiate this one with production on a bigger show, but who's to say you can't negotiate within your own department?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

"We're A Long Way From Where We Started."

I'm a long way from where I started.

I started not knowing anything.
Not knowing what a c-stand was.
Not knowing what a stinger was.
Not knowing how many amps a baby pulled.
I now know those things like I know how to breathe.

I started no knowing anyone in this town.
I didn't know what an AC did.
I didn't know what an AD did.
I didn't know what a Best Boy did.
I now know all those roles like I know my own hand.

I started not knowing how to do anything.
I didn't know how to wrap a piece of cable.
I didn't know how to set a light.
I didn't know how to use a ratchet strap.
I now know how to do all those things to the rhythm of my beating heart.

I started not having anything.
I had no bank account.
I had no jobs on my calendar.
I had no certain future.
I now have all of those things.

I started not knowing how to do a time card.
I now know how to do them for an entire department.

I started not knowing who I should follow.
I now know I can be a leader.

I started not knowing if I'd survive here.
Now I know I'm not going anywhere.

I'm a long way from where I started.
And I have a long way to go before I land.
But I feel like there's no stopping this path I'm on.
It's a good path.
And I can't wait to see where it takes me.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

On The Road Again...

I know I've said this a few times before, but I've been pretty busy these past few months. And by that, I mean since end of summer last year. Hence the lack of quality posts (or any posts for that matter) lately. Every time I think I'll have a breather to put in some serious writing time, a job will come up and exhaust me to the point where I'm not even sure how I made it home, let alone string together coherent sentences.

I know I shouldn't be bitching about getting all this work when I know there are so many out there who's got nothin' right now, but seriously, Mama needs a vacay. But we all know I won't take one as long as the calls keep coming in because we all have that fear that ZOMG This call might be the last one I EVER get because who the fuck knows when or where the next call will come from??, amirite?


And on top of the usual craziness that is life on set, a couple of these jobs have been out of town. I've been lucky so far that none of these jobs were due to runaway production, but rather good ol' fashioned location work. Who knew such a thing even existed any more?

Anyway, I've been stuck in Hollywoodville for so long that it's kind of fun (and even more exhausting that normal) to work out of town. It's always nice look at something that isn't traffic and smog for a change. To see how other people live. To experience other cultures, other food and a new address. To live out of a hotel for a while and come back at the end of the day to a magically made bed (because Lord knows I never make my own bed at home) and all the cable TV you could possibly watch. If I'm feeling particularly lazy, I'll even order room service* and eat dinner in my pajamas.**

And the thing about being on the road is that you spend a lot of time looking out windows. Whether it's checking out the view from yet another hotel room or looking out the window of a taxi/plane/bus/pass van, you end up seeing a lot of landscapes. You'll see every thing from suburbia to deserts to mountains to rivers to old ass buildings to homeless camps to RV camps to miles of corn to skyscrapers so high you crane your neck just to see the sky.

You'll also freeze your ass off, melt your face off, watch the sunrise a few dozen times and watch it set a few dozen more. And sometimes, you'll find that you're the only person in the room that speaks English.

My point is, that my time on the road and away from my L.A. bubble reminds me of how huge and diverse this country is. It's a pretty fuckin' fantastic place. And sometimes, I find myself in a place that's so different than the one I'm from that I find it odd that I didn't need a passport to get here***. And then I remind myself that I wouldn't need one because I just crossed a state line (sometimes, even just a county one), not a country border. And then I'm in awe again of how diverse this country is.

Anyway, just think about that on Friday. 

Have a happy 4th of July and safe travels, my friends.

But when all is said and done, if the best part of your trip isn't walking through your door at the end of it, it might be time to re-evaluate some things. Just sayin'.

* Tip: Don't just assume it's all overpriced crap. At the last couple places I stayed at (which were pretty fancy places where they have people open doors for you and all that jazz), the prices were surprisingly reasonable; especially for something that's made to order and delivered right to you in less than 25 minutes. I even cheaped out one time and ordered off the kids menu (because really, who are they to know you're not ordering for your kid sister or something?) since I just wanted something to tide me over for a few hours and ended up with a pretty sizable plate of food. But as usual, YMMV on this.

** That's probably as close to a vacation as I'm going to get for a while. (I know, I know, "It's location. Not vacation!")

*** I'm talking about traveling domestically, of course. Traveling internationally for work is a whole other post, although some of the concepts mentioned here are the same.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Quote Of The Day.

"I try to hold it in until I get to work. There's nothing like taking a dump on company time."
                                                          - Oddly Proud Colleague.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Beggars Can't Be Choosers.

Every once in a while, the town explodes with work and suddenly the Best Boy has gone through his entire contact list without finding anyone available. That's when he'll turn to the rest of his crew and say something like, "I'm having a hard time finding people for tomorrow. Do you guys know anyone who's available? Any one will do at this point, as long as they're available."

And this is where my colleagues all bust out their phones* and start making texts and calls, eager to A) please the Best Boy by solving his dilemma and B) throw work their buddy's way who will in turn, owe them a favor; hopefully in form of a call for work in the future. A win-win situation for the guy who comes up with an available body first.

Meanwhile, short of throwing out a name or two that I know the Best Boy knows but may have overlooked, I'll sit there and not even bother despite my track record of always being able to find someone available when others have failed. Being a perpetual day-player for the better part of the last decade means I've built up quite a database of contacts to pull from.

Why don't I jump at the chance of helping out the Best Boy, throwing a friend work, all while ensuring that our department won't be short-handed the next day? Because 1) I'm usually a day player and I don't exactly want to be that guy: the new guy who suddenly invites his own people to the party. I'm technically a guest on these guys' set, so I feel like they should be the ones to have first pick on who to invite into their home. 2) I'm also taking a risk when I recommend someone. If they're not liked or fuck up, it reflects poorly on me and any suggestions I make in the future might be ignored, despite me saving the day by finding someone available in the first place.

And 3), more often than not, the conversation between me and the Best Boy on the subject usually goes something like this:

Best Boy Electric: I need someone for tomorrow. Anyone. I don't care who they are. I just need an able body. Do you know anyone?

Me: Yup. I know a guy who's available tomorrow. Do you want me to bring him in?

BBE: Eh... I don't know. Are they any good?

Me: (Rolls my eyes and/or stares at him blankly.)

ARE YOU FOR REALS?? You're practically begging to find someone who's available, specifically saying that skill level doesn't matter, and when that person's found, you suddenly change your tune?

Okay, I get that they don't want someone on crew who's just going to be more of a hinder than a help, but here's what I find frustrating:
A) If it's so busy out there that everyone you know is already booked, chances are that you're not going to find someone who's the best in the biz. Those people usually get snapped up first because, duh, they're the best. What you're likely to end up with at this point is someone decent. At the very least, you'll get someone who can stack cable and push carts around for a day and you'll never have to hire them again after that.
B) Do they really think I want to bring in someone who's just going to be a burden? There are some people who I'll never hire myself and chances are VERY good that I won't want to work with them either and bring them on a show I'm on.
C) YOU. ARE. DESPERATE. TO. FIND. SOMEONE.  ANYONE. And guess what? I did. But apparently you're not that desperate because you're having second thoughts and don't want me to call him in. But oh wait, you are that desperate. But you still don't want me to book him. But you're still asking if I know anyone. And still don't want me to book him. Meanwhile, time's ticking away and all your other resources are tapped and you really need to find someone. Anyone. "Hey, A.J., do you know anyone who can come in?" "Yup." "I don't know... Are they any good?" And round and round we go.

See? Frustrating.

* Who am I kidding? They're out already.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

How To Sit On A Milk Crate.

Yes. There is a wrong way and a correct way to sit on a milk crate.

I understand that we're on set for long periods of time and chairs, unless you're one of the special few with a designated seat at video village, can be hard to find. So what do you do when you have a strong urge to get off your feet? You sit on anything that seems stable enough.

For grips, that often means an apple box or an unused dolly. For everyone else, it's whatever they find, which often happens to be a milk crate. They're usually lying around set, probably by a distro box, containing stingers or miscellaneous gak*. And when stood up on its side, can be a suitable place to rest your butt for a bit.

While I usually don't have a problem with people treating our storage containers as lounge furniture (provided, of course, they get the hell out of my way when I need something), I take issue when they use the wrong milk crate.

Yup. You read that right. You can't just sit on any ol' milk crate.

For the love of gummy bears and unicorn farts, PICK A MILK CRATE WITH A STEEL BAND.

They look like this:

And like this:


And like these:

Note the steel band wrapped around the top of the crate. THOSE ARE THE ONES YOU SHOULD SIT ON.

The ones without the steel band, like this one?:

Yeah, they may look a lot like the ones with the band, and a milk crate's a milk crate so what's the big diff, amirite??


The steel band, as simple and inconspicuous as it may seem, is there to strengthen the crate and help keep it's shape. If you sit on a "regular", all plastic one, your fat (or skinny, it makes no difference) ass will distort the crate, causing the sides to bulge out and the top to cave down. Which may not be a big deal to most people, but when your distro cart's packed down to the millimeter and you depend on the crates stacking neatly on top of each other for easy transport only to realize you can't because some asshole decided to sit on your gear and you're now trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, you bet your last cookie it's a big deal!

Now, I'm not saying that a steel banded crate will never bend. When it comes to a well seasoned Teamster, anything can happen. But while a steel banded crate will sometimes bend, an unbanded one will always bend, no matter who you are.**

And if, and only if, there are no banded crates available and you're just dying for a seat and the only option left is a regular, plastic, easily distorted crate? Please at least have the common sense to sit on the back side (as opposed to the open side) where your weight will have a less of a chance of fucking it up.

Thank you.

* The accessories that usually accompany a distro box: splitters, gang boxes, lunch boxes, etc.
** Unless you're a small, child actor. In which case, you should be either on set or in the schoolroom; not sitting on a milk crate next to a 1200 amp distro box.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Calling "Hollywood".

I remember one of the first days I ever set foot on a sound stage. We were sending things up to the perms with a rope and the guy next to me was explaining how it's done.

"...and when it's all tied up and ready to go, yell 'Hollywood' and the guys up high will hoist it up," he finished with a nod.

I don't know why "Hollywood" is the universal call to start pulling something up, but I do know I thought it was pretty weird. Couldn't I just holler out "okay!" when it was safe for the guys up high to start pulling?

I remember feeling timid and kind of awkward whenever I had to call out "Hollywood" that day, saying it so softly that I wasn't sure the guys up high could even hear me. I found the whole ritual so odd that I guess I didn't want to draw attention to myself in case I was doing it wrong and/or the whole process was just a joke.

But somewhere along the line, something changed. Now, whenever I'm ground support for a team up high and something's ready to be hoisted up, I yell out "Hollywood!" loud and clear, as if hollering out such a thing was the most natural thing ever. I'll say with enough confidence now that the whole stage can hear me clearly and I don't even blink an eye at it. Sometimes, if I'm in a good mood, I'll even add my own flare to it. "Holly-wooooooooood," anyone?

It's weird. How did an act I once found so odd turn into second nature for me?

I made this revelation the other day when I was working the lift gate on our truck. I was calling out when the gate was about to go up or down and I was doing it without even realizing it. When I finally did, a faint smile reached my lips. Like calling out "Hollywood," there was a time when I was new to this world and I was shy about calling out the movement of the gate. Now I yell them out so automatically that I don't even know I'm doing it.

Now I'm wondering what else I used to do with trepidation but now tackle with swagger.*

* Answer: Probably everything.  ;-)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Sarah Jones: Update.

In typical media fashion, when there's no longer anything "new" to report, a story will fall to the wayside; losing steam and momentum before it disappears off the radar completely. It won't be long before the original story itself becomes just a shadow in our collective memories. With investigations still pending on what happened to Sarah Jones still going on, there's been nothing new to report for weeks, pushing her story to the back of our minds instead of being front and center; fooling our minds into going back to business as usual.

Which is why I'm grateful for Deadline Hollywood. I remember perusing the site when I was an intern at a production house. Anyone who worked in this industry in an office* knew of this site and many would include it in their daily ritual of skimming the trades**. Sometimes, I still click through the articles, if only to check in on a show I'm particularly interested in.

And since Deadline is primarily considered as a source of industry news comparable to Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, I was shocked to see their continuing coverage of Sarah Jones; even when there was nothing new to report.

They've been doing an ongoing series of articles focused on set safety, as well as doing some investigative reporting themselves on Jones' "incident"***. They're keeping her story alive on a platform that an important section of the industry will see instead of it brushing it aside like so many other outlets.

If you have the time, take a look at their piece that covers other accidents on set and why we tend to let them happen.

Or their timeline of notable deaths of camera crew on the job.

Or how helicopters claim the most lives on set. (Yes, I know helicopters aren't the same as trains, but any article that makes people realize how glamorous dangerous our jobs really are is a plus in my book.)

And more recently, Deadline is how I found out that Midnight Rider, the movie Sarah Jones lost her life on out in Georgia, is planning on continuing here in Los Angeles. And while I'll keep my opinions about working on that particular production to myself for now, there are others who are calling for a boycott. Even William Hurt himself has pulled out of the movie.

And lastly, for those of you who are Union members anyone in the industry out in L.A., if you haven't heard yet, Local 80 (Grips) and 728 (Set Lighting Technicians) are holding a seminar titled "Safety Rights of Workers & Your Rights Under OSHA". I'm not sure how "helpful" the meeting will be (who here hasn't taken a "safety class" / or participated in a "safety meeting" / "sexual harassment" seminar that didn't really hold real world solutions to real world problems?), it promises to address safety in the work place, what our rights are (and by rights, I mean for ALL workers; not just Union members) and how to address concerns at the work place. I'm sure all of us have questions regarding those topics, and if you're in the Los Angeles area, we'd be doing ourselves a disservice if we don't attend.

And finally, this coming Monday, April 28th is Worker's Memorial Day. Local 728 asks that we all participate in a moment of silent at 10am (1pm Eastern Time) in honor of all those who have died in the workplace, including Miss Sarah Elizabeth Jones.

This is one instance where I hope our silence will bring our safety back into the spotlight.

* And by that, I mean Agents, Managers, Producers, etc and their assistants.
** Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. Are these publications still even in print?
*** I don't want to say "accident" because it was negligence, and calling it a "tragedy" doesn't sound right either.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Zip Up!

As a woman working in a highly male dominated industry, how the hell do you politely tell a man in a room full of colleagues that his fly is down?

Seriously. Because I'd like to know. I've caught as many zippers down as days I've worked this week, and I've wrestled with how to mention it to the guy each time... or whether to mention it at all.

Which leads me to think that I've been spending way too much time about my colleagues' crotches so I'd appreciate some guidance on how to handle these situations so I can stop thinking about it.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Best Thing I Ever Bought.

Despite set electricians technically being employees of a company, we buy a lot of things for our line of work. Most of my colleagues and I have spent some pretty shiny pennies on things like work bags, tool belts and pouches, tools, meters, rain gear and so on. And while I don't have the "best" of anything (my rain jacket doesn't cost a few hundred dollars and my flashlight can't be seen from space) I have enough to do the job well, which is all anyone asks of anyone anyway.

But a little while back, I splurged on something I bought specifically for work and I thank myself for having the good sense of buying them every time I use them. Which granted, isn't often, but it's still one of the best investments I've ever made.* And the funny thing? I don't even even take them to work with me. They sit at home instead of my work bag.

If you haven't already, I highly recommend putting blackout curtains in your bedroom. Good ones block out about 99% of light keeping the room dark and cool enough to fool yourself that the sun's not out yet.** You may not use them all that often, but you'll be grateful you have them when you get stuck on a night shoot and crawl into bed when they sun's already up.

Trust me. I speak from experience. Especially in the past few weeks...

* And hey, another good investment to make? If you're an avid reader of industry blogs and/or curious about the industry in general, consider making a donation to Crew Call: The Below-The-Line Podcast, being started up by none other than The Anonymous Production Assistant!

* Okay, I get that this isn't exactly breaking news and is basically common sense. But honestly, I spent a few years thinking the blinds on my windows did the job well enough, and holy shit balls was I wrong. The difference is light night and day, pun intended.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

"How To Get Trained."

While this blog was mainly started to chronicle my journey / vent my frustrations in the industry, I also try to make it helpful to those who are possibly starting out on a journey of their own. I know I learned a lot from reading other industry blogs (still do) and their stories helped me seem a little less lost on the job as my career took on momentum.

However, my success is my own. There was no one telling me how to land my first job or what to do when I got there. There was no one telling me what warning signs to look for as I took shitty job after shitty job. No one to tell me what to do if I felt the conditions weren't safe.

No one told me anything.

So I spent the first several years of my career bumbling about, figuring it out as I went along. I watched, observed and learned. I learned from the fucked up jobs I did and quickly learned how to spot trouble. I learned how and when to say no.

It wasn't easy. It was pretty brutal at times. Long story short: I learned everything the hard way.

Which is why my jaw dropped when I read an article online called "How To Get Trained" by a man named Don Starnes. Honestly, I've never heard of the guy and I'm not entirely sure what makes him qualified to write such a piece, but the second I started reading it, I couldn't stop nodding my head in agreement with pretty much everything he said.

If only he had written that article several years ago. It would have saved me from a lot of heartache.

I was going to paste some highlights from it here, but then I realized I'd pretty much be copying and pasting the entire thing. So here are some highlights of the highlights just to give you a taste:

 On how to NOT get trained:
  •  Buying gear and trying it out
I own two great guitars. I'm a terrible guitar player. Buying movie gear doesn't make you a filmmaker or get you trained.
  • Working on hobby films
Unlike professional films, they lack necessary resources and don't absolutely need to be finished or be good. The primary endeavor is to have a good time. There is little opportunity for proper training here.
  • Camera demos at trade shows
Their main focus is sales; what sells and what is helpful training are very often different things.

On what to look for on a job:
The first sign that you are on an amateur set: there’s no call sheet. Other indicators: no permits, no real job titles, a walking lunch, an auteur. No pay is a big clue.

On the caveats of "volunteering" just to get started:
A lot of people will advise that you get on a set as a gofer, for free or cheap, and build your career from there. The problem with this is that there are really no entry level jobs in movies: a Production Assistant is an actual, skilled job, as is Loader, Camera Assistant, Background Actor (AKA Extra), etc. People often ask me if they can come on a set and carry things. “The carrying of things takes about 15 minutes,” I reply. “What will we do with you for the rest of the day?”

On when/why you shouldn't work for free:
As soon you get some experience, a good reputation, contacts and referrals in one of these jobs, you become more valuable. At that point STOP WORKING FOR FREE. Three reasons:

  • You aren't very valuable if you are working for free or cheap, no matter how good you are. The object is to become more valuable.
  • You will soon stop working with and learning from people who know what they are doing, because those people usually pay pros to do these jobs.
  • You undermine the work of pros who do these jobs. They don't appreciate it.

Do not take pictures. Do not look at your phone. Better yet, turn it off. Do not attempt to do anyone else's job. Keep your mouth shut. If your presence seems unwelcome, step back. Be aware of where the camera is being pointed and will be pointed. Put your stuff where it will never be in the way. Ask permission.
See a power vacuum that you can jump into? Bad idea. Why? First, it’s probably not your job. Second, and most importantly, if you manage to wrest authority over something then you probably won't be able to learn anything. Do not try to be an impromptu department head. Just obey, listen and learn.

By the way: if something doesn't look safe, refuse to do it. There is a safe way to do it, the way that you would be doing it if the production knew how to. If they can't do it safely then they can't do it.

And lastly, when to walk away:
If you find that professional filmmaking is not for you, then stop. No hard feelings. Many people discover that they prefer filmmaking to be a fun, if expensive, hobby. It is ok to be one of those people.

Mr. Starnes' article is straight and to the point. And while, as it states in the beginning, it's not a substitute for getting out there and learning the trade on your own, it dishes out some pretty accurate advice for those who are looking to get their foot in Hollywood's door. 

There's some things he says that I may not necessarily agree with 100% (for example, joining a union is infinitely easier said than done) and like most things, there's a big difference between reading about something and actually doing it, but he makes some damn good points and I think it's definitely worth checking out.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Advice, Part III.

"He's a fucking asshole."

I look at my friend in shock. He's usually pretty calm and mild mannered, but when the topic of a mutual colleague came up, his words and demeanor turned vile.

Apparently, the two men were on a low budget feature together a long time ago, and some crew members tried to flip it.* When the production company wouldn't budge, a picket line was formed with most of the crew walking off. One of the guys who stayed, however, was our mutual colleague.

On the surface, it seems like a shitty, shitty thing to do. Here your colleagues are, willing to walk off a job as a form of protest to the menial pay and crappy working conditions, trying to make things better for everyone involved in the future, and here this guy was, staying behind and fucking it all up by continuing to work on the other side of that picket line. He was called a lot of things by doing that, with "scab" being the only one I could post on this blog. The situation was ugly.

I hadn't met him until well after the un-flipped show had wrapped, but I had heard many battle tales about the fight to turn it union by that point. It wasn't until a couple weeks into the current show that I found out not only had he been part of the whole ordeal, but he had performed the cardinal sin of crossing the picket line. When the topic came up in conversation though, he just shrugged and said, "Look, I know I pissed off some people. But I had to do what I had to do. I had bills to pay. A family to support. And if I stayed, the production company offered me a higher position with more pay for every show they did after that one." Knowing how often this company had a show going, this meant practically having a full time job. Shitty pay still, sure, but he'd get more than what he was making before and it was a livable wage if you weren't stupid with money.

I nodded. While I personally wouldn't have done what he did and I can understand why others would forever refer to him as a "fucking asshole," I also understand why he crossed that picket line and continued to work. He saw an opportunity for a promotion, raise and a promise of future work that would keep the bill collectors at bay for as long as he needed. So he took it.

That, my friends, was a business deal. Plain and simple.

I get that. What continues to flabbergast me though, is how personally some people took it; to the point where they're still calling him a "fucking asshole" years later. It's not like he looked each and every person on the picket line in the eye and said, "Fuck you, fuck you, and especially you" as he crossed it; it's not like he purposely did it to take money out of someone's hands; and it's not like the producers wouldn't have found someone else to take the deal. But I'm sure he did think that if someone was going to get a deal like that, it might as well be him.

Sometimes we get so caught up and passionate about our jobs that we forget it's a business. He needed the work and money and found a legal way to get it. It wasn't a personal attack on anyone. It was just business.

I repeat: It wasn't personal. It was just business.

I think that's one of the hardest lessons to learn in this industry. It can be hard to watch someone cross the picket line you're on and not take it personally. It's hard to watch the Best Boy hire an incompetent crew member over you and not take it personally just because the kid happens to be the Gaffer's nephew. And a Producer once told me he felt like he was being personally attacked when I took him to the labor board over penalties for paying me late.

But you have to keep in mind that everyone has bills to pay. That not everyone can give up a promotion to walk a picket line. That by hiring the idiot nephew, the Best Boy will stay on the Gaffer's good side. And that Producer should keep in mind that what is a "passion project" for him is a business deal for the rest of us and he should be prepared to pay if he can't honor that deal.

I find that those of us who can't differentiate between the two concepts hold on to bitterness and anger a lot longer. And on the flip side, those who can differentiate the two tend to go further in this industry because they think more in terms of a business sense and less on personal level.

Granted, it's can be a thin line that's often blurred, but it's also some of the best advice I've ever gotten.

"It's not personal. It's just business."

Advice, Part I
Advice, Part II

* For those who don't know, non-union shows of a certain size and budget can turn union if it's "flipped." Meaning the crew members contact a union rep, who then contacts the producers and see if a deal can be reached. If it can, the show turns into a union show, meaning the crew gets a few perks including benefits and if they're not a union member yet, their "days". If they can't reach an agreement, more often than not, a picket line is formed.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Sarah Jones.

I've been mulling over in my head the past few days how to write this post. What to say. How to say it. What it all means...

I wanted to say something insightful. Meaningful. Beautiful.

But the truth is, I'm at a loss. I still don't know what to say. How to say it. What kind of structure or format to use to give it life.

So I'm just going to ramble. All these thoughts and more have been going through my mind this past week.

Sarah Jones will be missed. I didn't know her. Never met her. Never heard her name until last week. But I mourn her passing anyway. She was one of us. She toiled away below the line; one of the many thousands of unsung heros of the film industry. Those who help enlighten and entertain the rest of the world without ever being in the spotlight; without any more acknowledgement for a job well done than a paycheck. She was one of us. A family member I had yet to meet.

She deserved better. Her death was 100% preventable. It wasn't an accident. It was negligence. It was entirely stupid. I don't think I have to go into the reasons why. It's pretty obvious which idiotic decisions were the ones that led to her death, which makes this whole thing even more shocking. THE POTENTIAL FOR SOMETHING TO GO WRONG WAS. SO. OBVIOUS. I first heard about the incident when a co-worker showed me a Google image of the tracks and trestle.

"See this?"
"Do you think it'd be a good idea to be working on those tracks if it was live?"
"Do you think it'd be a good idea to be working on that truss?"
"Good. Because someone thought it'd be a good idea. And then a train came trough when they were shooting. Some crew members got sent to the hospital and a girl died."

Those were all the details I knew at that point. But I knew enough to see that the whole situation was stupid. I was thousands of miles away and looking at a satellite image on a damn iPhone, and even I knew the situation was as stupid as it could get. Who in their right mind there thought it was a good idea? That it was worth the risk? Why didn't anyone speak up? Why didn't anyone stand up for their fellow brothers and sisters? Somebody failed her. And it wasn't just the Producers, AD or whoever it was that told them to set up the shot on the tracks. It was also everyone on that crew who saw the potential for danger and didn't say a damn thing. It was everyone who continued to work on those tracks after two trains had already barreled through. It was everyone who didn't care enough to ask the appropriate questions; everyone who thought they were immortal to life's tragedies. We're supposed to take care of our own. We failed.

And what angers me even more is the fact that this wasn't some "student film" or someone's "passion project" where the majority of the crew is just starting out and trying to get their foot in the door. This was a fucking professional project with an experienced crew, production team and studio backing with notable talent attached. They make movies for a living; it's not a hobby. If anyone should have known better, it was them. All of them.

While I don't necessarily agree with the campaign that's been going on to get Sarah Jones an "In Memoriam" mention in tonight's Oscars, I do hope that her passing will be mentioned during the broadcast. The majority of us do the jobs that we do because we love movies. We love this industry. We're passionate about what we do. We wouldn't be able to survive in this business if we didn't. And most of us are hurting right now. We lost part of our family in a tragically senseless way and if tonight progressed as if something wasn't missing; as we didn't have a hole in our collective hearts, then it'd be like a slap in the face. It'd feel like nobody "important" cares about what we go through. We can't pretend this didn't happen. We can't pretend that movie making is all fun and games, despite what the general public may believe. Our jobs, what we do, and the sacrifices we make are just as important to a piece of film as what you see on screen and now would be a good time for the "glamorous" part of the industry to acknowledge that.

And I'm sad to say that she will be forgotten. Unless you knew her personally, the majority of us won't remember her name in a few years. Who, without looking it up, remembers the name of the kids who were killed on The Twilight Zone?* And even more recently, who remembers the name of the camera assistant who crashed his car and died after too many hours working on Plesantville?**

The truth is, a few years down the line, we may remember the incident, but we won't remember the name, which saddens me. For most of us, we'll refer to her as "that girl who died on the train tracks". For those that come into this industry after us, they won't know who she was at all.

But hopefully, her legacy will live on. There are rules already in place to prevent tragedies like this, but those rules were obviously ignored. The only saving grace in all this is that hopefully stronger and more stringent rules and regulations will be in place so something like this won't happen again, ever. Maybe now, it'll be harder for those in charge to say "yes" to stealing shots and putting crew in dangerous situations. Maybe now, it'll be easier for those of us below the lines to say "no" when something is unsafe.

I don't know what will happen in the future. I don't know who will be held responsible for her death and I don't know how they will be punished. I don't know if Sarah's death will actually change the way we work on set. But I do know that most of the safety rules we have now are written in blood. Somebody had to die or become seriously injured (and/or prompt a lawsuit) before any of the powers that be would acknowledge there was a problem. I just hope Sarah's passing wasn't in vain. I hope that whatever may become of all of this, that her story is what prevents this from happening again.

R.I.P. Sarah Elizabeth Jones.

*Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen.
**Brent Hershman.

Monday, February 17, 2014

"A Grip Without A Jet Ski Ain't No Grip At All!"

This year started with a vengeance and hasn't let up. In less than 48 hours after the clock stuck midnight on December 31st* I was back at work and haven't stopped since. I've been fortunate enough to roll from one show into the next, but the steady work means I haven't had time to do much else.

As such, I've been behind on a lot of things lately. Behind on getting an oil change for my car. Behind on keeping up with the mail that's piling up on my kitchen table. Behind on doing my taxes. Behind on updating this blog (sorry!).

I'm also behind on my television watching, but thank goodness for the internet or else I'd never been able to see the Simpsons episode that aired shortly after the New Year. Called "Steal This Episode," the story centers around Homer and his bout of movie piracy. I thought this was a very well done episode, managing to deal with a serious issue in our business with humor and thought. And while I agreed with much of what this episode had to offer (especially this tid-bit), one part did make me chuckle more than the rest.

Despite most shows (and commercials) that aim to give the viewers a glimpse into life on set and below the line portraying us rather unrealistically, I think this one nailed it.  :)

* Or January 1st, if you want to be technical about it.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Being Spoiled.

“And they didn’t even give us a t-shirt!”

I stared at the ranting electrician standing before me in awe. Not because I couldn’t believe he didn’t get a t-shirt, but because he was bitching about it.

Get a couple of grips or electricians in a room together long enough and it won’t be long before the work horror stories come out, with each one trying to top the last like some kind of production fueled pissing contest.

While the theme of these bitchfests “discussions” often vary from topics like unsafe working conditions to terrible locations, this particular round was focused on how cheap productions can be (which, interestingly, inevitably circles back to unsafe working conditions and terrible locations; and vise versa). And among the woeful tales of crews paying for their own lunches and non-existent expendables, the newest member of out group, perhaps needing to feel like part of the conversation, chimed in with his own anecdote of hardship.

He’s the oldest one out of all of us on this particular crew, which mainly consisted of people my age just starting out in the industry, and had far more years and sizable shows under his belt than most of us combined. He had just spent the better part of last year working on a hit show. One big enough that it was consistently near the top of the ratings list each week, sending talk shows and gossip blogs into a frenzy after each time it aired. It was a show popular enough that other countries had their own versions.

Needless to say, the show was big and made a lot of money.

Unfortunately, they didn’t spread that wealth around to my coworker’s liking. But his anger wasn’t towards the quality of the food or the lack of manpower for the rigs they’d put in, but with the fact that they didn’t get a wrap gift at the end of the season.

“Can you believe that?” he huffed, “Not even a t-shirt!” He was pretty worked up about it now.

I, on the other hand, was flabbergasted.

Sure, I can understand where he’s coming from. If the way he was performing on set today was any indication, he probably worked his ass off for that show and just wanted some kind of acknowledgement for his hard work. However, a show t-shirt is usually a wrap gift, which is something that’s, at best, an obligatory “thank you” from the powers that be, but in no way is such a gesture mandatory on any show.

While I’ve never personally worked on the show in question, I’ve done a day or two on shows just like it, and if the shows’ operating procedures were even remotely similar, the guy had it good.

Decent catering, real soundstages, good rates and a fully stocked coffee bar are just a few of the perks shows like that enjoy. Not to mention enough guys you could possibly need, that, on average, work for eight hours but get paid for ten; some days without even breaking a sweat.

The fact that he’s whining about the lack of a free shirt tells me that there’s nothing else worth complaining about on that show.

And while I agree that it’d be nice if we got some kind of token of appreciation from the people we toil for, nowhere does it say they can’t be dicks about it and send us off with nothing more than one last paycheck.  It is, however, mandatory that we have safe working conditions and get paid on time, all of which was met on that show and then some. Not getting a t-shirt, though surprising for a show with such a big name, isn’t something worth raising your blood pressure over.

Especially when you’re following a story about how one show never had anything but pizza for lunch and three departments had to share a truck.

I think some guys, mostly ones who have been doing this longer than I have and perpetually work on big things with real budgets like the way it’s supposed to be done, often get too comfortable and seem to forget that on most shows, Production isn't your friend. They're your employer. You’re exchanging work for money; not gifts. Guys like that also tend to take simple courtesies for granted. Like twelve hour turnarounds, snacks at crafty that eat like a meal, and meals at catering that eat like a feast. They often forget that the minimum required turnaround is nine hours, crafty isn’t obligated to get that hummus you like, and catering can be done by El Pollo Loco if Production chooses to do so.

It wasn’t that long ago that I found myself on sets like that (and far worse) every day, and as I climb my way up to bigger and better things, I hope I’ll still remember the shit shows that I came from. I hope I don’t get complacent enough to take for granted the niceties that production does provide us with.

And above all, I hope I never get to the point where I’m spoiled and feel entitled enough to complain about not getting t-shirt at wrap from a show. Because really, if that’s all you have to complain about, you have it pretty good.

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