Thursday, November 16, 2006

Thanks a lot, now get out.

"Well", my boss said as he came in our room right after our coffee break, "I've got some bad news for you."

Sometimes things get cut, jobs get shortened and then sometimes people get cut from the crew. Not fired, just.. no longer needed for this particular job.

Guess what happened to me yesterday?

Yup. Since my partner and I were doing all the hedges, and the park that had it's decorations get cancelled was apparently all hedges (and would have taken a week for us to complete), we got laid off.

Although the extra week's pay would have been nice, this isn't that big of a deal, really. One of the first lessons one has to learn in this industry is that layoffs don't mean a thing - somehow the crew size can no longer be justified to management and someone has to go. Happens all the time.

If I wanted stability, I'd have gotten a real job, now wouldn't I?

The funny thing is that throughout this whole job, we've been jokingly telling one another to stop moving so fast or we'd work ourselves out of a job.

I'm still taking today off, since that six days in a row thing hurts me bad (and I have no more clean work clothes), but I'll start to make calls tomorrow. Hopefully I'll turn up something for next week, and if not, I'll have some time to work on other things - like the cupcakes I got talked into baking for Thanksgiving next week.

Oh, shit - Thanksgiving is next week.

Bet I won't get any work, then. Hello, unemployment check.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

People, please!

This morning, as I was drinking my coffee and catching up on my reading I came across an article which made reference to "all the gaffers" on a set.

This (and I've seen the same mistake before) makes me nuts.

There is one gaffer per shooting unit. He (or she) works directly with the Director of Photography (DP for short) to light the scene and is the head of the set lighting department. If you see more than one gaffer lighting a set at the same time, something's gone terribly wrong.

All those people moving lights around are called lamp operators or "juicers". As a side note, you are safe referring to "all the grips" on set, although grips do not handle lights. They have enough to do without having to do my job (which would be moving lights around and, it seems, confusing certain magazine contributors).

So, if you're thinking about dropping the "all the gaffers" bomb, please refer to this handy dandy guide to lighting-related crew folks:

Director of Photography: The guy (or gal) who makes the creative decisions about how the scene will be lit and shot. The DP is the head of the camera department, but he (or she) also decides the general look of the lighting and what "mood" the scene should have.

Gaffer: The gaffer (remember, there's only one), after discussing the scene with the DP, is the person who gets on the walkie talkie and tells us exactly what kind of lights to use and where to place them. The gaffer, since he (or she) stays on set, is also a good source of information about what's going to happen later in the day ("Remember when we wrapped that set because they were done shooting in it? Start getting it ready again. It's up next").

Best Boy Electric: The gaffer's assistant, so to speak. The best boy is responsible for hiring additional crew and laying them off when they're no longer needed, supervising the lighting crew ("You're late again, asshole. You owe everyone a Starbucks drink after lunch"), which can be like herding cats some days, ordering equipment from the rental house and making sure it doesn't get lost or damaged, and keeping track of everyone's hours so we get paid the correct amount. Unless we start to get peeled really badly, the best boy is never on set.

Lamp Operators: On set, our job is to carry out the gaffer's instructions about which lamps he (or she) wants and where. If we don't have a rigging crew, we show up early (a "pre-call") in order to run cable from the generator to the set and try to grab the best equipment staging area before the grips get it.

Key Grip: The key grip works with the DP and the gaffer. Grips don't touch lights unless they're being nice and helping us out. The rule of thumb is that anything which casts a shadow is grip - one can't just aim a light at a set and leave it, because of a phenomenon known as "spill". Lighting is a precise thing, and one only wants the light to shine on a certain area of the set (or the left half of the actor's face) - so the key grip instructs his crew where to place "flags" to keep the light only on one area.

Best Boy Grip: same as the BBE (best boy electric), different truck.

Dolly Grip: The grip who's in charge of the camera dolly. No, not the dress-wearing kind of dolly, but a very heavy wheeled hunk of steel which can roll (on metal track), and has an arm which can raise and lower the camera in order to create those fancy moving shots that take forever to set up and audiences don't even notice. Dolly track, when laid down, must be perfectly level or the camera shakes as the dolly's moved down the track.

Grips: Grips, in addition to precision shadow-casting, are responsible for general safety on set. They build ramps, reinforce stairs and handrails, move set walls, hang pipe grids and greenbeds (walkways which are suspended over a set), build tents outside building windows so we can shoot night scenes during the day, and assemble and operate those gigantic, complex camera cranes.
Don't believe those ads on the back pages of certain film-related publications ("Learn to be a grip movie technician in 10 days!"). Grip is not an entry-level position.

On a show with more than one shooting unit, these positions will be duplicated for the second unit, and shows with rigging units will have a rigging gaffer and rigging key grip with associated personnel. On shows without a rigging crew, the best boys are responsible for pre-rigging sets.

I could go on (and on and on and on), but I'll stop here.

If you're writing something and aren't sure about what any particular crew person does, please don't guess - just email me and ask. Although I sometimes take a few days to answer emails, I'll be more than happy to help.

Unless you want me to go insane - in that case, just keep it up with "all the gaffers". I'll eventually snap, I promise.

Monday, November 13, 2006

A very food-centric post today.

Yesterday afternoon as we were getting into work, there was a Red Hot Chili Peppers (honestly, I didn't think those guys were still around) video shooting on the lot - as soon as we found out, we all sauntered over to the set which was on the lot's New York Street.

Not so much to see the band (I can't speak for my co-workers, but I really don't care that much), but to see if there was anything good at the crafty table and to say "hi" if any of us knew any of the crew, since this job will be over in a couple of weeks and we're all on the make for future employment.

I'd not met the crew before, but they all seemed nice (even though they were having a typically long day), and the food was typical music video fare*.

Once we'd said our hellos, determined that nothing there was of much interest to any of us, and had gotten our crew set up in their respective work areas, our boss told us that there were two other parties on the lot last night.

One was a screening of a movie followed by a wine and cheese reception in the parking lot next to the water tank and the other was a dressy party and silent auction for some charity. The charity party let the lot workers pick over the buffet left-overs, and I was bad and overindulged on corned beef. I love corned beef, even if it is about 90% fat and really bad for me.

So, I'm off to the gym right now to try and work off the million calories of yummy I ate last night.

*Craft Service/Catering hiearchy is as follows:

Commercials: Expensive caterers, craft service people who shop at high-end markets and stock everything but the kitchen sink and will, if asked nicely, accommodate special requests (soymilk, sugar-free snacks, strange tropical fruits, etc..). Commercial craft service doesn't come cheap, but you get what you pay for, after all.

Large budget movies: Although the between-meals spread's not quite as elaborate as commercial fare (but still good) there's still a wide variety of stuff to eat (both healthy and not) and the catered food's worthy of an expensive restaurant.

TV shows: Hit or miss, depending on how much the producer's budgeted, but since TV shows shooting on studio lots don't have caterers (they can give the crew a half-hour lunch if food is provided or an hour-long "walkaway" if it's not. Why pay for a caterer if there's a commissary 200 yards away?) those shows tend to have better crafty, plus they'll have bread and cold cuts for sandwiches.

Music Videos: Normally stocked with the type of food that musicians and their hangers-on like to eat - junk food and lots of it, unless the artist is on a diet and then there will be a veggie platter with a tin of low fat ranch dressing.

Low budget movies: Cheap coffee (with powdered creamer which I hate) and a box of stale cookies, plus some of those sodium-laced ramen noodle packets if they were on sale at Costco. Hey, what would you put out if you had to feed 40 people on $100 per day?

Having said that, I've been on a couple of low budget movies that have had decent food. Once again, it depends on what the producer's willing and able to spend. Having one of the lead actors get sick from eating cheese that's been sitting at room temperature for six hours and then hysterically accuse the producer of trying to poison them will increase the food budget pretty quickly.