Tuesday, September 3, 2019

"I Am Paying Attention."


I'm on set, watching everyone mill around, trying to get their own jobs done, when I see the Special FX guy roll in with a fan. Knowing what's coming, I already have a hot stinger waiting for him before he even lands.

But before that stinger even hits the ground, a Camera Operator taps me on the shoulder and asks if I can scooch one of our lights over a little so it's out of her shot.

I go over to where she's pointing to see which light she's referring to when the Gaffer sees me and asks me to adjust a different light.

I do so while simultaneously telling him about the Camera Operator's request.

When I'm done with the adjustment, he sends me over to the offending light to move it out of her shot.

While I'm there, the DP rounds the corner and asks me to dim the light next to it down a little, which I do no less than three times, as he squints and hems and haws with each touch of the dial.

Finally, it's to his liking and he returns to his seat at Video Village... just as another Special FX guy shows up with another fan that needs to be plugged in.

Sigh...

Eventually, everyone that needs power has power, and all the lights are in the appropriate positions and at the appropriate intensity levels.

Seeing as how everything seemed settled and we're about to do a take, I figured it'd be the perfect time to sneak off the stage and hit the crafty trailer.

I head over to our staging area where I find the rest of my department doing exactly what I figured they were doing while I was running around the set alone: scrolling through their phones.

I approach the closest colleague and ask him if he could cover me while I stepped out for a minute.

He looked up from his screen, confused.

"Cover you? Sure... Were you standing by the DP in place of the Gaffer?"
"No..."
"So what do you mean 'cover you'?"
"I meant like, pay attention to the set and stuff."
"Okay...," he looked at me like I'm an idiot. "I am 'paying attention'. So you can go ahead and take your break if you need to."
"Look dude, I didn't mean to insult you. I didn't mean to imply that you weren't paying attention. But I just adjusted several lights and ran a handful of stingers to various departments all while you were sitting at staging 'paying attention.' It's not like the tasks were so difficult I needed a hand with them, but if you were paying attention you'd notice that there was work to be done while you're sitting here, scrolling through Instagram."

...at least, that's what I wanted to say. But I'm alas, I'm just a day player on this crew, aka: a guest on their stage. And stirring up a fight with this guy would in no way be productive to crew morale, or my pay check. So instead, I just starred at him for a second at a loss for words while I held my tongue, and shook my head and walked away...


Previously.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

This Is Why I Can't Stay Still.


A friend of mine spent many years working with the same Gaffer on the same type of shows. Almost exclusively. Which is great for him. The hours were never very long. The work was pretty predictable and easy. And the Gaffer liked what he liked and used a lot of tungsten lights. They were almost always shooting on a stage and those lights are affordable, reliable, and did what they needed them to do. They're a classic for a reason.

Unfortunately for my friend, his Gaffer is in a slump and hasn't landed a new show in some time. So out in to the pond my friend went, looking for a new crew and a new show to work with. What he found, he was shocked by.

"Oh my God A.J.," he started when we met up for lunch one day. "Things are so different out there."
"What do you mean?"
"I ended up on a rigging crew for a week and we had to set up these new [LED lights that have been out for a few years now]. There's so many pieces to them! And they're heavy! We had to hang a couple dozen of them. It was crazy."
"Okaaaay...."
"And it used to be that we just dropped some stingers, bates and splitters by the distro boxes. But guess what we have to put out now, too? DMX cable! DMX CABLE. Everything is controlled by the board now!"
"Yeah...."
"It's so different out there now. Not at all like when we started. Wait until you see. You'll get what I'm saying," he said, thinking I didn't understand what was going on.
"No, I get it," I tell him. "But it's nothing new."
"What do you mean? Things are totally different!"
"For you, yeah. You've been with the same Gaffer for the past several years doing the same kind of jobs. You do the same shit day in and day out and then brag about how easy your job is. Meanwhile, I've been out on different jobs with different Gaffers and yeah, this is how stuff is done now. Has been for a while."
"No, I don't think you get it. But you will. You'll see how much things have changed," he insisted.

I just shook my head and went on with our meal. This whole "new" world was such a shock to him that he might as well have been Columbus "discovering" America without noticing that the natives were here all along.

I'm not knocking him for staying with a Gaffer and crew he liked on the easy jobs. It was a system that worked for him and that's great. But to not realize that the world moves on outside of your bubble is absurd. To have that phone in your pocket be more advanced with each passing year but not even consider the fact that your own industry would be advancing as well is akin to sticking your head in the sand. To see your own shows being shot on film to video to GoPros and even cell phones and not even think twice about how technology is effecting your department shows a lack of self awareness.

I'm not trying to say that he needs to go out and work on new crews. Or learn every new light that's out there. That's pretty much impossible. Every time I think I've at least gotten the basics down of one unit, another one pops up with a whole new set of buttons and operating menus. But what I am saying is maybe he should poke his head out of his shell every once in a while. Just because he doesn't work with LEDs and console controlled lights doesn't mean there isn't a growing demand for them, and just because he doesn't know how to work with them doesn't mean that I don't know either. The world continues on with or without him.

While I myself sometimes miss the days when lights were just things you plugged in and flipped a switch without having to scroll through a menu system, I understand that this industry is one that doesn't stand still. And I choose to move with it or risk being left behind.





Previously.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

This Is Why We're All Doomed.



Actual photo of our background from the other night.


It started out as a rather nice evening for our night exterior. The weather was warm enough that you didn't need a jacket, yet cool enough that you weren't sweating. The sun hadn't totally set yet when the company moved outdoors, giving us enough time to set up our staging area and a few lights before we really needed them.

Thankfully, we had a lighting balloon scheduled for the night, making out workload that much easier.

Balloon lights are magical things. They come in all shapes and sizes, they can light the middle of the set without having to hide a stand (just the occasional tie line that that keeps it from floating away), they come with their own operator/tech so other than running them power, you pretty much don't have to do anything with them, and since they're their own thing, we don't think twice about leaving them up at the end of the night as a giant, soft work light during wrap (okay, this part, I do feel a little bad about... But not bad enough to stop taking advantage of it. Sorry!).


An example of a helium filled balloon light at work.
(www.1stoplg.com)


Our balloon light was already set up and in position by the time we moved outside and our tech was tying down the last of the support lines to a pipe running along the side of a building. Everything seemed to going smoothly. But as the night wore on, the wind picked up...

So the thing about giant balloons, as you can imagine, is that they don't do particularly well in the wind. At some point, even a light breeze can turn even the smallest of these things into a sail, slamming it every which way, and it becomes unsafe to fly. And we were well past the light breeze.

"What do you think, Balloon Tech?," our Gaffer asked over the radio as he watched the balloon bob and sway in the wind, "Do you think keeping you up is a good idea, or should we bring it down?"

"Well, I wouldn't exactly call keeping this thing flying a good idea, but it's holding okay for now," replies our Tech. "We can keep going and see if the weather gets worse."

"10-4, sounds like a good plan." While he would've pulled the trigger without hesitation, our Gaffer is obviously relieved to get the okay to keep using the balloon. Plan B for our lighting set up would've involved more work on our end for not as good of a result, not to mention stopping production for several minutes to do so. Plus, it's always a painful conversation with the UPM about why they're paying a lot of money for a piece of equipment we can't even use.

So we continue on with the shoot, and other than the occasional jostle by the wind, our balloon keeps floating on with the Balloon Tech trying her best to steady it.

Another thing to note about balloon lights is the way they're tied down. There's usually three or more tie lines coming from them depending on their size, so they can be anchored. And obviously, it's best to spread the points out so the wind can't tug it too far in any particular direction. But while the tie lines are great for keeping the balloon from going left, right and up, unless you can position the lines to be perpendicular from the balloon (which in this case not gonna happen as it's 30+ feet up in the air), there's not a whole lot keeping the balloon from going down, other than the helium itself. So the system usually works... Unless it's windy. Which, in case you forgot, it was.

A few minutes later, I'm over at staging when I look over at the balloon just as a huge, down gust of wind hits it and pushes the thing right towards a herd of background that are standing directly underneath it! 

Just before it could do any damage though, our Balloon Tech weaves through the crowd and manages to keep the balloon from smacking down on anyone. A second later, the swell lets up and the Tech releases her hold on the balloon, sending it back up again and we resume shooting. I walk over to see if the Tech needs a hand.

"No, I got it. But thanks," the Tech says and she re-ties a line while shaking her head in disbelief.

"Is everything okay?" I ask. "That was a close one."

"Yeah, it's just..." she looks around and her voice lowers, "People can be so stupid. You saw what just happened, right?"

"Yup. The balloon was coming down and you saved it before any damage was done or anyone got hit by it."

"But I almost didn't get to it fast enough because everyone was in the way and not moving. I mean, a giant ball of light comes speeding at them from the sky and all they could do is STAND STILL. AND STARE AT IT." She shakes her head again. "I mean, seriously? Two dozen people and not one of them moves out of the way. They're all idiots!"

"Well," I quip, "isn't that how the dinosaurs became extinct?"

"Ha. Ha," she deadpans with a slight smirk on her face.

The winds died down towards the end of the night with thankfully, no more near incidents. But the event from earlier on in the evening stuck in my mind. A ball of light comes hurtling out of the sky and no one moves out of its path. Basic survival instinct doesn't seem to exist. If Darwinism came in to play, no one would have survived. The general population is stupider than I originally thought (and that's saying something).

We, as a civilization, are all doomed.




Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Sorry, I Can't Stay.


I loved it here.

After spending a grueling three months on a show, I was back on the day playing market and couldn't be happier.

The first on my call list was a crew I've known for several years now. No matter how long I've been apart from these guys, they always welcome me back with big smiles and family style hugs.

And since they usually worked with the same production company, the whole crew would welcome me back with open arms as well, from the camera guys to the stand-ins to crafty. Even the Producers would give me a smile and a nod whenever I returned.

It was always easy to fall into a good work rhythm with these guys. They had a system down and it was like clockwork; when it came time to light the set, everyone had their purpose, and they did it in the most efficient manner. And yet, despite them working like a finely tuned military operation, I always found a way to contribute. Even as just a day player, I was one of the team.

And everyone got along really well, which can be a rare find. There was never any drama between anyone and when outside forces came knockin', everyone had each other's backs, whether it be emotional support or a physical one.

These guys were great. My favorite team to work with. I love them and whenever I'm on another show, I can't wait to work with them again.

But 100% of the time, if given the opportunity to work on another crew, I'd leave them in a heartbeat.

To me, this crew represents comfort and family and stability. I can always predict the hours because of the way production likes to run things. I can predict which lights will be called for and how they will be used because that's their style of lighting. I know I won't have to touch anything more than a piece of 2/0 because 4/0 is just unheard of around here. It's a great place to just come in, do your work, and clock out. No muss. No fuss. No challenge.

Me? I need the challenge. I need the hardships. The long hours. I need the (occasional) idiot on the crew that makes it harder on everyone sometimes. I (very occasionally) need the workouts that only 4/0 can provide. I need the curve ball lighting challenge that forces me to solve a problem creatively. I need the parade of DPs and Gaffers that make me look at things in a new way and think outside of the box.

I need the challenges, being uncomfortable, and the unfamiliarity. I feel like I still have, and need, room to grow and while everything is always great with these guys, it feels like something is missing here. There's a whole lot for me to learn in this business still and while these guys are industry vets in their own right, this isn't the place for me to learn it.

Home is a great place to come back to. Home is where they welcome you with open arms, whether you've been gone for two weeks or two years. Home is where you go when you need a break from the world. It's where you leave to find yourself. It's where you leave to become yourself.

These people are my family. My home. I love them. But I can't stay here.




Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Photo Of The Day.



I'm still trying to figure out what percent genius and what percent stupid this is.





(Thankfully, this wasn't seen at work. It was nabbed from Facebook.)

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Radio Silence.



When I was starting out - before the days when every juicer and grip wore a walkie on their belt - I marveled at the "set ears" of the veteran crew members. They'd hear things I didn't, and would immediately run to deal with whatever the issue was on set. It took me a while to develop my own set-ears, but when I did, it made me a lot more valuable on set. I wonder if the ubiquity of radios in modern times keeps on-set techs from hearing anything that doesn't come over those radios... and of course, cell phones are probably the worst thing to happen in terms of distracting the crew's attention from the business at hand. 
Of course, I fully understand saying this makes me Grampa Simpson waving my cane while yelling at the clouds...

I started to post a reply to his comment when I realized it was probably going to be a lengthy one. So I'll make a post about it instead.

Michael, scoot over because I'm going to be yelling at the clouds right next to you.

Wonder no more. Radios, do in fact, keeps on-set techs from hearing anything that doesn't come over them.

I've been a day player on too many shows to count where we're all sitting at staging during a scene when I hear a "cut" and some commotion going on set. As a day player, trying to follow the leads of the regulars, I'll usually ask something along the lines of, "Are we moving on?" or "Should we go see what's going on?" And 100% of the time (though I don't know why I keep asking the question) the answer always is, "If he (the Gaffer) needed anything, he'd call it over the radio."

Not sure how to argue with that. Especially with a regular crew member. They'd know better than a measly day player who's never been on the show before, right?

But nine times out of ten, if I get up and go investigate myself, I find the Gaffer moving or adjusting something on his own.

So why doesn't he call for a hand over the radio? Because by the time he's done transmitting and the guys wake up from their Facebook stupor (plus a second or two of the usual, "What did he just ask for?" looks and questions among the guys) and one of them makes their way to set, it's usually faster for the Gaffer to have done it himself anyway. Does it mean he needed help? No. Does that mean he didn't want help? Probably not.

It's like setting up a small light. I could do it myself, sure. But I would appreciate it if you ran power for me or grabbed the stand. Especially if you had free hands. And even more so since it's your job.

And even more to the point, if I had to do this repeatedly by myself despite knowing there are four other guys just sitting on their butts, scrolling through their phones, I would get annoyed after the first few times. And if I was the boss, I'd probably be annoyed before that.

Listen, I get that sometimes there's a lot of downtime in our day. But what I don't get how people don't think they need to pay attention during that downtime. Like, work is still being done somewhere by one department or the other and since all the departments are interconnected, don't you think there's a good chance that an SLT is needed on set? If the Gaffer's not adjusting a light between takes, Special FX needs a stinger for a fan or the dolly needs a bump or the food stylist needs power or etc, etc.

But for some reason, a lot of guys don't realize this and won't take their eyes off their phones unless they hear something being called for over the radio. And even then, there's often conversations like this...:

Me: "Can you grab the stand? I'll get the light."
Juicer: "Huh?"
Me: "Can you grab the stand?"
Juicer: "For what?"
Me: "...a Tweenie. Didn't he just call for one over the radio?"
Juicer: "Oh, I dunno. I wasn't paying attention."

Sigh...








Saturday, May 11, 2019

Sounds That I'd Recognize Anywhere.


I'm hanging out at staging with my fellow lamp operators when I hear a faint thump mixed with a slight metallic rattle coming from the direction of the set. Knowing exactly that causes that sound, I turn the corner and find the Gaffer setting a light by himself.

I give him a hand, and he walks away to look at the monitor so he can direct me on how to focus it.

"Pan it to the left a little bit...," he calls over the radio, "Stop. That's good right there. Thank's A.J."

The other guys, hearing the talk over the walkie talkie, decide to get up off their butts from staging to see what's going on. Seeing as how they all arrived "just in time," all but one of them turn right back around so they can go back to paying attention to their phones. The guy that stays behind gestures to his ear-piece.

"Did he call for that light over the radio?"
"No," I reply.
"Then how did you know he needed a hand?"
I give him a little shrug and say, "I heard a baby stand moving around."

Some cats recognize the sound of a can opener being used. Some dogs recognize the jingle of car keys. A mother might be able to recognize their baby's cry in a full nursery. Some people can recognize a lover's laugh from three rooms away. I, as someone who is forever single and alone, can recognize certain sounds from anywhere on a sound stage.

In the bustle of a set, I can identify the sound of the brake on a Roadrunner stand being released.
I can identify the unmistakable cranking sound of a Roadrunner going up (or down).
... Or anything involving a Roadrunner, really.
I know exactly what it sounds like when the handle of a lunch box falls over as it settles.
I know the distinct "buzz" that a surge of electricity brings to a BFL* that was just fired up.
And the distinct "buzz" an 18K makes when it fails to strike.
I know the rhythmic "click" of a Joker ballast that's about to go bad.
And the rattle a loose globe in a Par Can makes.
Or worse, the rattle a broken lens makes in a fresnel head.
I know when a dolly is charging even when I'm all the way over at Crafty.
Even the "plop" of a wrapped stinger hitting the ground or milk crate is something that I can pick out in a busy room.

I may not be able to recognize a baby's cry, but I sure can recognize the sound a baby stand makes.

I don't need to wait for a call over the radio to know that a light needs to be adjusted/added/moved. I know something's happening because I hear a stinger being dropped on the ground or the unmistakable squeak of a lunch box handle moving. I don't need to see that the light is moving before I rush over to help. I'm already there before it moves because I heard the creak and click of the brake being released.

I'll admit, it is a little weird to pick up on things like that. I don't expect my co-workers to recognize the sound a stinger makes and come running,** but I can't tell you how many times I've had to stop a conversation because of something I heard in the background and know I had to go back to set. Despite what I'd imagine to be eventual hearing loss due to people shouting in my ear-piece all day, my ears automatically perk up to any sounds of work related activity. I'm honestly not sure if it's a gift, a burden or an obsession. Or maybe it's all three.

It's like having eyes in the back of my head or a tingling Spidey sense. I can't help it. I mean, you can't exactly tell yourself to stop hearing things. But what I do know is that it seems to make me a better set lighting tech. The Gaffer may not have needed help with that light (or else he would've called for it over the radio) but I'm sure he appreciated me being there.






* Big Fucking Light.
** Also, let's acknowledge that there's a difference between recognizing and registering. I'm sure every SLT worth their salt knows what a crank stand sounds like, but not everyone registers that the sound means work is being done when they're distracted by Facebook and the sound becomes nothing more than background noise.




Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Technology Is Our Friend.


"I'm not a big fan of newer vehicles. I mean, all the new amenities and features are great and all, but that just means there's more shit that can go wrong and break."
                                                                       - The guy at the car rental place.


"Shit," my colleague mutters above me.

I look up at him from the bottom of the ladder I'm holding as he hangs a light and ask him what's wrong.

"I can't get the damn thing to turn on," he says.
"Stupid question, but is the stinger hot?"
"Yup."
"...And you hit the power button?"
"Yeah. Do you think we have the right address?*"
"It doesn't matter," I reply. "The Gaffer wanted us to run this one manually."
"Okay..."
"So maybe we should make sure it's in the right mode? He wanted to run it full daylight, so it needs to be in bi-color or color temp mode and not RGB. And not in DMX control."

My co-worker just stares down blankly at me.

"Do you want me to go up there and look at it?"

"Yes," he says with a relieved sigh.

We switch places on the ladder and now I'm staring at the control panel of this fancy new light.

I go through the usual steps:
Is the line hot? (Check.)
Is the unit turned on?** (Check.)

Still nothing.

I start to toggle through the numerous menu and setting buttons.

Is it out of DMX control? (Check.)
Is it under manual control? (Check.)
Is it out of RGB mode? (Check.)
Is it out of gel mode? (Check.)
Is it out of FX mode? (Check.)
Is it in color temperature mode? (Check.)

Still nothing.

I start getting a little creative trying to find a solution. I clear out all the DMX settings. I revert the address back to zero just in case. I even do a factory reset in the off chance that there's something deep within the menu system that I don't know about but someone had activated. I channel all the tech support help lines I've ever called and unplug the power and re-boot the system a few times. As a last ditch effort, I make sure the magenta and green setting are set at zero because I am officially out of ideas on what to do.

Still nothing.

I'm about to give up when I notice something on the corner of the display. I fiddle with a knob and the light comes on.

"You did it!" my colleague exclaims. "What was the problem? I can never figure out this new LED shit. Too many options on them."

I climb down the ladder so I can see the expression on his face as I tell him what the issue was.

"The dimmer was turned down all the way on the dial."



Damn technology.








* Most lights these days, unless they're a tungsten light, have a DMX-able option where the unit can be controlled from a lighting console. The address is how the board knows it's communicating with the correct light.

** Fun Story: We had learned the day before that with this particular model, just because the display was on does not mean that the light is turned on. It took a couple of us quite a few minutes to figure that out. Though when the next guy couldn't figure it out, it was a lot of fun to be "that person" who just walked right up, pushed a button and saved the day.  :)

Monday, April 15, 2019

FUCK YOU Money.


Image result for fuck you money




As everyone in this business knows, you gotta stock up for the lean times. You work when you can, especially if you live the life of a day player because you never know where your next paycheck is coming from. Between the unpredictable highs and lows of production schedules, it's just good planning to save up some money during highs so you can still survive during the lows.

In addition to this "Unemployment" fund, I like to stockpile a little extra for what's fondly known as "Fuck You"* money. "Fuck You" money is a reserve in your bank account for when you encounter a job you don't want, whether it be because of shitty conditions, a ridiculously far commute, a company that doesn't align with your moral beliefs, or, as is usually the case, the people you'll be working for are assholes. This money allows you to say "Fuck You" to the job and gives you the ability to turn it down. It's what makes it possible for you walk away from a job simply because you don't like it.

The beauty of my "Fuck You" money is that it comes from what I like to believe is hard work. For the longest time, I took every job that came my way, whether the pay was great or not. I'd swing from crew to crew, earning my keep with each one and in the end my "Fuck You" stash not only gives me financial security to walk away from a shitty job, but ironically enough, it comes with job security as well. The list of people I could work for grew with my funds, so even if I turn down a job, I have a pool of potential bosses to pull from before I even have to dip into my "FY" fund.

And above all that, just knowing you have the power to walk away from something is a beautiful thing and one of the Best. Feelings. EVER.



Image result for fuck you money




* Not to be confused with its cousin, the "Oh Shit" fund that's meant to cover unexpected emergencies like a broken leg or broken roof.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Value Of A Stinger.





Overheard on the set the other day from a Special FX* guy:
"So I was on this one show, and the electricians kept messing with my fans. Burning out the motors, you know? So to get them back, I started stealing their stingers.** Just like, one a day until I ended up with about fifteen or so of them. And they're like, $250 a pop! That's over $3500 I got from them! And those things are great to have around the house. They're totally waterproof, you know? Totally waterproof. And when you burn them up, you just replace the connectors on them and keep going! And that's so easy to do. Even an idiot can do it. Literally. Something's wrong with you if you mess it up."

Okay. Soooo much wrong to unpack there.

First off, unless you're plugging your fans somewhere you're not supposed to (like a 220v line or a dim channel, etc) I have absolutely no idea how we can "burn out the motors." Like, I'm having a hard time trying to think of an intentional way to do this, which means that if it was done on purpose, you must've been one helluva dick to warrant that type of effort in retaliation. Repeatedly.

Secondly, stingers are one of the cheapest things we rent. And one of the most of. There's nothing with a higher count on our equipment rental list than stingers. Which means we lose them. A lot. One a day might be on the high side, but between every department borrowing a couple (and often when we're not looking), it's definitely not unheard of. So it's not exactly a big deal. I mean, I've been on more than one crew who refers to them as "expendables."

"What? Losing $250/day isn't a big deal??" you might ask? It might be, if the guy wasn't a clueless moron. I don't know where he's getting his figures from, but I have never seen a rental house charge more than about $100/stinger lost. And that's for the fifty footers. The twenty five footers go for even less and based on this guy's apparent IQ level on the subject matter, there's a more than great chance he didn't go for the gold and only target fifty foot pieces for his collection. But let's give him the benefit of the doubt and say he did. His bounty would've still only netted him about $1500 of stingage, not over $3K. And keep in mind, that's the replacement cost rental houses charge. It costs waaaaay less for them to actually get another one. Just because you're paying $X amount doesn't mean something is actually worth $X. If you tried to turn around and sell the lot to someone who actually knows what they're doing for that amount, they'll laugh in your face.

"What? A $1500 replacement fee isn't a big deal??" you might ask? No, not really. On a bigger show, no one's even going to blink an eye at that L&D.*** And figures can almost always be talked down. Rental agents try to keep everyone happy. I've seen them write off the smaller items (ie: stingers) to help the bottom line, which makes the Best Boy happy (because the numbers look better, and in turn, makes them look better), Production happy (they get a lower L&D bill), and the Rental House happy (they're still charging us for something and in the end, the house always wins anyway). And happy people mean repeat business in the future. So even if Mr. SPFX thinks he's shoving it to the Electricians, honestly, I don't think anyone really gives a damn (or for that matter, thinks twice about why a few extra stingers are missing).

Thirdly, and most importantly, STINGERS ARE NOT WATERPROOF. Like, at all. The connectors are technically not even water resistant (and yes, there's a difference between the two terms). When we use them in wet conditions, we use all kinds of protections, from wrapping and elevating the connections to using GFCIs, because, and I can't stress this enough, STINGERS ARE NOT WATERPROOF. Do waterproof ones exist? Sure. But I guarantee you the ones he has are not it. I've honestly never actually seen one on set, and I'm pretty sure the standard rental houses don't carry them for liability issues.

And lastly, what the hell is he doing that he's "burning up the connectors"?? We may fry them all the time on set because we sometimes have faulty equipment running sizable electrical loads, but this guy was talking about using them around the house! If you're burning them up even semi-frequently, you've got a bigger problem than the delusion of a few stingers costing more than my rent.

Listen, if this was a P.A. or even a Grip or someone else that I overheard, it barely would've registered on my radar. I wouldn't expect them to know all this. But this was a SPECIAL EFFECTS guy. The guy on set in charge of blowing things up. And burning things down. And a whole slew of other things that often include electricity, water, high voltage, fast things, and fire; often all at once and all while keeping the crew safe. To hear such misconceptions come out of this guy's mouth is very concerning, to say the least.

But, he did get one thing right though. He's proof that even an idiot can change the plug on a stinger.






*Special Effects/FX is the department in charge of most "movie magic" that's done in real time on the set. Everything from smoke, fire, atmosphere, wind, explosions, etc, to making the leaves on a tree outside a window move from the "wind" and, literally, the kitchen sink.

**Fancy movie talk for "extension cord."

***Loss and Damage.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Dear ADs...


Dear ADs,

A word of advice: If I (a day player on their first day of a show) can't figure out who the 1st AD is within ten minutes of watching the set? 

You're doing it wrong.


Sincerely,
Crew members everywhere.


Sunday, March 3, 2019

Mountain Top Revelations.





It was the first nice day in So-Cal the whole week during the first winter that felt like winter to me in several years. I'm sitting at home, feeling a little restless after finishing up some boring paperwork and boring phone calls, so I decide to get some fresh air and burn up some of this excess energy I had.

I grab a light jacket and a bottle of water and head for a hiking trail not too far from where I live. This trail kicked my butt last time and that was when I actually finished it. The first time I tried it, I don't think I made it even half way up the mountain before I called it quits and turned back around.

Anyway, I figured this would be the perfect trail for me that day. I'd go up maybe a quarter of it, get tired, come back down, and head home for a hard earned hot cocoa. Mission accomplished.

But the quarter mark came and went and I still had energy to burn. So I kept going. The half-way mark came and went, and yet I still kept going.

A couple hours and five uphill miles later, I found myself at the top of the Verdugos. It was a clear day and I could see downtown and even all the way to the ocean. The sun had just started its Western descent and bathed the whole town below me in a glow of golden light.

Normally, this trail is a popular one on the weekend. But today was a weekday that I had off and I was alone on top of the mountain. As I sat there, basking in the solitude and my victory, I was grateful to not be working full time.

It's one of those contradictions. Everyone wants to be full time on a show and collect a steady paycheck, but once you're on a show, all you want is a day off.

I've been very fortunate to have found myself with full time spots on one show after another, especially since it wasn't that long ago that I was wondering if I'd ever be good enough to be considered as "full time" material. But after almost two full years of non-stop shows, all back to back, I think I'm due for a break.

I want to have a day off in the middle of the week every once in a while. I want to have the freedom to run an errand without battling the weekend crowds. I want to be able to visit a museum where I can get up close to the exhibits without getting in the way of someone's selfie. I want to be able to go downtown without having to pay the ridiculous up charge for Saturday parking. I want to spend some time only working 48 hours a week instead of 65+.

I want to be able to sit on top of a damn mountain and watch the sun set with no one around but me and my thoughts.

It's here that I realized how much I missed the life of a day player.


Thursday, February 14, 2019

Showmance.





Oh. My. God. Hands down, I thought he was the hottest guy on set. He was tall, had blue eyes that seemed to change shades like the summer sky, and when he smiled, like really smiled, he had the cutest dimples ever. I would smile when those dimples came out. They were so deep I could see them from across the room.

I'd study him from afar, watching him when I didn't think anyone would notice. Not only was he super cute, but he was super nice to everyone, too. He was friendly with people from every department and hung out with everybody, from the PAs to the security guards.

And we must've been on the same snacking schedule because I'd often find myself perusing the crafty table with him. It sounds silly to say, but I cherished those moments. They were the favorite part of my day.

Sometimes, while waiting between lighting set ups, I'd "casually" maneuver myself to where he'd be hanging out. I'd strike up a conversation and we'd joke around a little bit. I'd mess around with the little knick-knacks he kept on his carts and he'd draw silly pictures on the tools from my belt.

I obviously wasn't the only one who was interested in him. One day, a pretty blonde showed up in his department. The new day-player seemed to sit up a little straighter whenever he was around and she'd try to strike up a conversation. He didn't seem to mind talking to her and together, they looked like they'd make a good looking couple. The kind you might find posing with a puppy inside the new picture frame you just bought. They looked that good together.

I passed by them on my way to the craft service table one day when I heard him quickly end the conversation and in seconds he was walking next to me. He put his arms around my shoulders as we walked and asked what we were eating that day. I brushed it off as him just being hungry and playful, but I was secretly elated that not only did he have his arm around me, but he ditched a conversation with a pretty girl for me.

Soon after that, my favorite part of the day was when we'd see each other in the morning when we got to work. His whole face would light up like he was excited to see me and he always pulled me in for a hug. And if no one was around, he'd keep the hug extra long, until it was almost like the hug had already ended and now he was just holding me. Sometimes, I'd bury my fact in his chest and just enjoy the feeling of his arms around me. It was nice. Really nice. And the best way to start the day.

Eventually, we started spending our lunch times together. Normally, everyone hates hour long lunches, but he and I loved them on this show. We'd spend the extra time just talking over cups of coffee, or we'd just walk around the neighborhood we were shooting in.

On really long days when we both were feeling kind of tired, like all exhausted crew members, we'd search for a place to take a nap. When we'd find a quiet, secluded place to lie down, we'd cuddle as we slept. Him with his arms around me and me with my face in the crook of his neck, it seemed like we just fit. It felt like we were the only two people in the world during moments like this. I felt safe with him. I felt like I belonged there.

Lunch times were now my new favorite part of the day.

It was here in one of our napping nests that he first kissed me. It was soft, barely a whisper on my lips but that was enough to make me want more. I absolutely kissed him back.

By this time, our show was starting to wind down. With only a couple weeks of shooting left, everyone was starting to talk about which project they'd hope to move on to next. Meanwhile, in our lunch time hideouts, we'd kiss, nap, and talk about our own plans for when the show ended.

I'd tell him how sad I'll be to not see him every day and he'd tell me that we'd find a way to keep what we have going, especially since neither of us had another job lined up.

"Once this show is over, I'm going to take you out on a date," he'd tell me, "So we're absolutely still going to see each other after wrap. We'll figure it out."

I'd nod in agreement, but sometimes, he'd say that almost pleadingly, and I never knew if he was trying to convince me or if he was trying to convince himself of our plan.

Time passed way too quickly and before I knew it, our last day of shooting was here. We spent our last lunch curled up in each others arms, talking about our soon to be first real date.

"So, when are you free?"
"I'm scheduled for a few days of wrap, so I'll be free as a bird by next Wednesday."
"Great," he said, "I'll be done before that, so I'll call you early next week and we'll get a plan going."

I nodded and kissed him. I could feel his smile on my lips.

A few hours later, our show ended. And a few days after that, my department was done wrapping out. And a few days after that, I still hadn't heard from him.

What we had ended up being a "Showmance." A flirtation and romance that has an expiration date that coincides with the show's. A relationship that only exists in the confines of a bubble where you're around each other 12+ hours a day, 5 days a week.

I guess he and I weren't meant to exist in the real world.

I was absolutely serious about continuing our relationship after we wrapped and for a while, I'd wondered if it was me. If I had done something wrong or off putting. Or did I just miss the signs that pointed to him being non-committal? Did he just tell me what I wanted to hear? Or did he really mean those things he'd whisper in my ear, but just not enough to last through the convenience of the show?

Whatever it was, it was obvious that I was way more in to our "relationship" than the other way around and I stopped checking my phone for messages from him. I stopped trying to figure out what went wrong. I stopped making imaginary excuses for him, like maybe he's just really busy or maybe he lost my number or maybe his text got lost in the digital ether. But the truth is, if he really wanted to get a hold of me, he could. I'm not that hard to find.

I could have been his so easily. If only he felt the same way.

And with that, I let him go. I let the show go. I let go of our hideouts, our walks, our lunch times. I let go of the stolen glances from across the room. The winks he'd send my way when no one was watching. The sweet nothings he'd whisper to me. The inside jokes. The hope that he'd finally mutherfuckin' call me. Like a dandelion in the wind, I stopped holding on to the promises that I shouldn't have believed. I let them go.

Months later, I'm digging through my tool bag and pause when I find one that he had doodled on. The Sharpie marks had faded to almost nothing, but it was enough to remind me of him, the show, and the moments we shared in what feels like a million jobs ago. I wonder if he ever thinks of us. I wonder if he still keeps those knick-knacks on his carts and do they remind him of me? Does he smile if they do? I haven't seen him since, but it's a small industry and I'm sure it's only a matter of time before our paths cross again.

Until then, I hope he's doing well and that he's somewhere smiling that megawatt smile of his. The one that makes his dimples so deep I want to poke my finger in them. The one that I realized later on, he never did around me, even when it was just the two of us.



Saturday, February 2, 2019

Harassment, Pt. 3.


I was chit-chatting with a day playing grip* when he suddenly leaned in, ran his fingers through my hair, and whispered in my ear, "You're so sexy." Then, after a moments pause, he continued on with our conversation like nothing had happened. Like he didn't just creep me out. Like he hadn't just turned my place of work in to a place where I didn't feel safe.

I felt disgusted and violated, but I didn't want to make a scene. It took another couple minutes before I could extract myself from the conversation and walk away from him.

After the next lighting set up, I found myself at crafty with our On Set Dresser. I don't remember how it came up, but I mentioned to her that a virtual stranger had just ran their fingers through my hair and relayed what he had said. She was shocked.

"On this show??"
"Yup. About ten minutes ago."
"Who was it?"
"One of the grips."
She shuddered and walked away.

Sometime later, I'm sitting by myself on set when my friend the Dolly Grip comes up to me.

"Is it true?" he asked.
"Excuse me?"
"I heard from On Set Dresser that one of the guys ran their hands through your hair and said some inappropriate things to you."
"Oh, yeah. That's true."
"Who was it?"

I wouldn't tell him.

"Listen," he said, "I'm not going to make you tell me. But I wish you would. I can make sure he doesn't come back. I won't even report it if you don't want me to. He just won't get hired back. He won't even know why. He just won't get a call again."

I looked at him for a moment. It sure sounded like a good offer. But with just one catch: "How can you guarantee that? You don't do the hiring for your department."

"I'll talk to Key Grip," he replied, so sure of himself. He had apparently thought about this. "I'll just tell him not to hire this guy again and it'll be done."

Again, I refused to tell him who it was.

He started to plead with me. "Look, I can understand why you don't want to say anything. I really do. But it won't be made a big deal. No one will know why he's not around anymore. HE won't know why he's not around anymore. No one will know but you, me, and Key Grip. Again, it's your decision. I'm not going to make you tell me. But I think you should say who it is."

Again, I shook my head.

And then he pulled out his Ace. The card that made me almost tell him.

"It's not just yourself you need to think about. If he did this to you, he'll do it others. Who else will he do this to? Who else will he touch? We can send him away and he won't do that to anyone else here. If he gets away this time, he'll think he can get away with it again."

I paused hard at that one. I thought about it. I really did. I almost caved. But again, I just looked at him and said nothing.

He was frustrated. He wanted to protect me, and others, and he couldn't do a damn thing about it. "Well," he said, "Like I said, I'm not going to make you tell me. But if you change your mind, just say the word. Just let me know. No one else will know if you don't want. He'll just go away and won't have the chance to harass you again, or anyone else here."

I nodded and thanked him and he walked away, back to work.

I would have loved to have called this gross, motherfucking Grip out, who couldn't keep his hands to himself. I would have loved to embarrass him and have everyone know just how inappropriate he is and how he treats women. I would have loved to have reported him to Production and watch his ass tossed to the curb, his name smeared around town as someone you couldn't hire.

That would've been great.

But that wouldn't have happened.

My friend the Dolly Grip may not have agreed with me, but I was thinking about protecting other women in my shoes. Just not in the same was he was.

Key Grip may have been his friend, but he's very "old fashioned" in many ways. He curates a "Boys Club" type of vibe in his own department, and has made a racial slur or two in my direction before, all in the name of joking around. The world may be becoming too "PC" for his taste, but that doesn't stop him from making sexist "jokes" or hiring only white males.

If Dolly Grip had asked Key Grip to stop hiring one of his guys, he'd ask why. And Dolly Grip would have to tell him that he harassed one of the crew members. And even if Dolly Grip didn't tell him who, Key Grip would still figure out that it was me.

Out of the few women on set, I was essentially the only one who had spoken to the Grip. Key Grip knows this. He was the one who got our conversation going, telling him how I've been giving the other guys hell before laughing and walking away when he was called back to set. It wouldn't be that hard to figure out it was me. Other than make-up/hair/wardrobe and the On Set Dresser, I was the only woman on set, and there's no reason for him to be around them, unlike me since he and I happened to be covering the same light.

And he'd end up sticking up for the Grip. He's think that I'm blowing it all out of proportion. That I must've misunderstood something. That his guys joke around all the time. "Are you sure she's not overreacting? You know how women can get. So he touched her hair and gave her a compliment? How is that so bad??

Plus, have you seen her? She's hanging around us grips all the time. And she hangs around the camera guys. She's always chilling with transpo, too. She just loves the attention. She obviously likes it when the guys drool all over her. So you can't blame a guy for looking. You can't blame the guy for getting the signals wrong when she's flirting with everyone.

See, this is why women don't belong here. This is a man's world. Women just don't get it. They're too sensitive. They can't hang with the boys and now I can't hire someone I've known for YEARS just because some girl is blowing this all out of proportion."

If I had given Dolly Grip the Grip's name, it would've taken care of my immediate problem, but it would've likely hurt in the long run. I'm a woman in a male dominated industry who has not seen much change towards gender parity compared to when she first started in this business over a decade ago. And while the Key Grip doesn't get a say in who hires me, he does get a say in who he hires and you can guarantee that women will get knocked further down his list. Which creates a virtual vortex for his already all male crew. If they spend all their time working with no women, what are the chances of them hiring one in the future when they move on to different shows?

Even if the Grip gets kicked to the curb, he'll still be a card holding member of The Boys Club. And while he'll still find work somewhere, other Club members who hear about this (because let's face it, guys do love to gossip) will question what the benefits of hiring women are if they're just going to come in like a wet blanket and take the fun out of work.

I'm a believer that you can't make change unless you have a seat at the table. And I'm not even going to get an invite to the party, let alone a seat, unless I play nice for at least a little bit. No one's going to hire me if all I do is rock their boat and take away their toys, no matter how good at my job I may be.

So I try not to rock their boat (too much) and in turn, I get hired. Again. And again. And again. Until I have a seat at that table and can be in a position to make some change. To hire more women. To hire less assholes. To show everyone that it doesn't have to be a Boys Club and that it is, in fact, better when it's not. To one day, have it so that there's enough women around that we're believed when we say someone is harassing us. To not be thought of as promiscuous or "asking for it" just because we're having a conversation with a guy.

I would have loved for the Grip to be punished for his inappropriate behavior and not face consequences myself (because I did nothing wrong) but that's not the world I live in (yet). But I hope it's the world that will exist someday. But until then, I need to pick my battles. Calling out one guy isn't the hill I want to go out on. I'm fighting a mountain here.







* It could've been any department.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Confessional.


I take my seat in the cramped, dark space and face forward, sliding the door shut behind me. I know he's there, but I can't see him clearly. But that's okay. I kind of like that I can't see his face. I can't see the judgement or amusement that might cross his features. I can speak freely here; unreserved. He's just mostly here to listen. In this space, words seem to pour out of me, lifting some of my burdens and cleansing a part of my soul.

This pass van was my own personal confessional booth and it was an intricate part of my existence.

I'm not sure how it happened. How it started. But I got to know one of the drivers on my show. I'd somehow always end up in his van on the drive from crew parking to set, or from one location to the next, and sometimes, I'd be the only passenger. Just me in the back. On these trips, when it was just the two of us, we'd start talking. Small talk at first. About where we're from, what part of town we live in now, if we have any siblings, etc.

Soon enough, we'd start talking about our day, and soon after that, we'd talk about the... "idiosyncrasies" of our respective departments.

On this particular show, I wasn't getting along with a few people in my department and it upset me because these were people who I got along with so well before. They were like family at some point, but now, for whatever reason, they were ganging up on me so much that even other departments would ask me why they hated me so much. I'd smile and give a polite shrug, staying politically neutral. I still have to work with these people, after all, and feeding the gossip mill is feeding the fire. So I took the high road and kept my opinions to myself.

Unless I was in the van. With just the two of us, I felt safe. I'd seen him before around other crew members, and he was always quiet, even with the boys in his own department. He was one of the few who didn't partake in gossip. He never egged anyone on to spill any and he definitely didn't spread it. I knew he wouldn't tell my secrets. He was more of a listener than a talker, and so, when I slid in to the empty backseat of his pass van, I would talk.

I'd tell him everything. Why my co-workers were turning on me. Which one started it and why the others followed. What they'd do to make my day miserable. I'd tell them about how I was blamed for equipment not being ordered when it even wasn't my responsibility to order equipment. How I'd cover for my co-workers when they made a mistake on set, yet they'd still talk shit about me to anyone who would listen. I told him the only reason why I was staying was because this job came with a promise of better things down the line. And hell, I wasn't going to leave. I busted my ass to be here. I had earned my spot and I wasn't going to leave it because of some assholes.

I told him everything, and he'd sit there in the driver's seat and just listen, not really saying much. But that was fine with me. I didn't need advice. I wasn't looking for sympathy.

I just needed to unload. And I needed someone to listen. And I needed to feel heard, even if it was just for a few moments to an audience of one.

And sometimes, he'd talk to me. Never turning around to look at me, he'd stay in his seat, still facing forward, and just talk. He'd tell me about the bad decisions he made in his life. Why he almost got fired from his last job. How he planned on making ends meet. And I would sit there and listen to him like he would for me. I wouldn't tell anyone his secrets either. They were safe with me.

Looking back, I guess it seemed a little odd, us having one-way conversations and not even look at each other. But in some ways, I feel like that's what made things easier. In some ways, it's easier to spill your guts to someone you can't see. Kind of like talking into the darkness. You can't see their reaction. You can't be judged. Not that I'd judge him. The van had became a safe space.

I was never raised with any particular religion, so I never went to confession. But for a few minutes each day, I understood why they say that confession is good for the soul. I didn't have any sins to confess, but just telling someone my problems, even it if was met with mostly silence, was enough to get me through the show. I almost went crazy from dealing with all the drama my colleagues were causing me. And I may have almost quit. But this small act was enough to keep me going.

The show, as all shows do, eventually ended and the driver disappeared to wherever co-workers go until the next time I see them.

But now, whenever I slide into the back seat of a van, and it's just me and the driver, I smile a little as I remember my own private confessional booth, and how it made all the difference in the world.





Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Scraping Off The Rust.







The first day back at work after some time (whether it was a self-imposed absence or not) is always a weird one for me.

Our job uses so much knowledge, skill and movements that don't really translate to every day life that I always have the fear that I won't know how to do anything anymore. What if I've forgotten how to tell the difference between a Baby and a Baby Jr.? Can I even lift an M40 on a stand on my own anymore or am I just going to embarrass myself? How early do I have to set my alarm clock again? And, the one that always always trips me up in the morning my first day back at work, what the hell goes on my tool belt??

I always get a little nervous when I go back to work because as weird as this sounds, I don't remember the feeling of work. And if I don't remember something, how am I supposed to do it?? I remember that cable is heavy, but I don't remember, in my mind, how to maneuver it so it sits on my shoulder just right. I know that stingers must be wrapped clock-wise, but I don't remember the feeling of it sliding through my fingers, or how many degrees I need to subtly twist it so it lands in a perfect loop. I remember all the steps to rig a light (safety cable, cotter/hitch pin, power it up, focus it), but will it come to me as effortlessly as it did before I left?

These are the kinds of irrational (or rational?) thoughts and feelings that run through my head before my first day back, sending the proverbial butterflies to my stomach. I understand that they're all things that are difficult to explain to anyone how to do. That a lot of it relies on muscle memory, instinct and just plain experience. Stuff that can't really be taught. And sometimes, you just have to be somewhere looking at something to understand how to do it. I mean, you can't explain to someone how to globe up an 18K unless you're looking at one, just like you can't really explain to someone how to drive a car unless you're both sitting in one. But just like driving a car, how rusty will you be if you haven't been behind the wheel in a while? And that goes double for a car you've never driven before!

But then I get to set (after setting my alarm clock ridiculously early) and I see friendly faces and familiar set ups and things seem like home again. The job starts flowing, my joints loosen up, the cobwebs clear from my head and my body is on auto-pilot once more. Instinct starts to kick in, and it's like I never took any time off. I have never once failed to get back in to the groove of things.

But lo and behold, after the next hiatus (self-imposed of not) come and goes and it's time to get back to work, those butterflies return once again...



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