Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

The best of intentions

Our show’s ad revenues are way down (actually, it’s not just us – advertisers seem to think that since no one’s currently buying anything there’s no reason to waste money on ads), so the powers that be are on a drastic cost cutting mission. Since they can’t cut from the top (where, of course, much of the waste is), they have to cut from the bottom.

Than means slashing equipment orders and manpower from the dirty toolbelt people.

To be fair, since we have very large sets (which require a lot of lights and a shitload of cable to power said lights) our weekly equipment total (all of the equipment is rented, not purchased), is eye-popping and from what I’m told about twice what any other show on the lot is costing, so now the set lighting department has earned a big red target (although I’m sure other departments are feeling the pinch as well).

This week, our insert unit, which usually has a small-ish crew, got slashed down to two – just me and the gaffer. Normally, unless it’s a day exterior, we need at least three people (gaffer and two) to work even a small set efficiently. Even two lights take forever to set up when one person is running back and forth from the set to the staging area. We usually do a relay thing where one person stays on the set all the time (so the gaffer’s not alone) and everyone else runs things into him (or her). It works well, and we usually move pretty quickly on lighting setups but with just me running around like the proverbial headless chicken, we lit slower than usual. Luckily, everyone had been cut down to the bone, so everyone understood and all of us helped each other out all day.

Of course, since there were only two of us, we had to move from one stage to another (pushing carts into the trailer takes two people – thankfully our driver, who is a great guy, helped me out) and got into a big lighting set up which required the help of our lot best boy (who never ever works set) and the first unit best boy, who also normally never ever works the set. The grips got an extra guy from first unit as well because they were undermanned as well.

The grips also had to help us with some of our ‘big heads’ which are very heavy and require three people to pull them off the stands.

One of these people pulling heads off stands was the gaffer, who normally never ever even thinks about touching a light. That’s why we’re there. He (or she) tells us what to do and we do it. Some gaffers are ‘touchier’ than others and just like to tweak lights (a gaffer with gloves is a dead giveaway that he or she is a fiddler and that I don’t have to freak out when I see them handling lights), but none of them really should be deheading big lamps or pulling cable.

Somehow, we got through the day without any major meltdowns.

The next day we had a full crew which was very nice – I could actually go to the toilet without worrying about my boss being on set alone.

Normally we bitch about long days, but since it’s so slow right now we’re all counting up the hours and hoping for delays to squeeze a few extra dollars out of the days we’re getting. When we thought we might have an 8 hour day, we were all sad. Having the day run about 11 hours was nice.

Filed under: Work

8 Responses

  1. Lost on Location says:

    Again we are breaking down the agreements and wonder why the contracts just keep getting worse. They… the producers make us take all the safety courses then create an unsafe work environment by cutting the crew. (it take x to use said equipment hire X not less than) working these conditions gives the producers ammo to say that the new norm is this. But hey someone else would have taken the call if you did not….. its all about survival and covering the nut in the world economic meltdown. Now until someone gets hurt or costs them in ways they are not ready for these cuts will continue and they will not know the erros of their ways.
    But not always…this was not manpower related but I slipped in the rain off the top the 40′ stairs last week. this ended a potential long day and i got a trip home at 6 hrs. They… say sorry and you can come back when we have more work and the big ass bruise on you lower back don’t hurt so much. I wont even go into the work comp joke in this business. However the topper on this was that following Monday it seems all the gates and steps that are diamond plate are suddenly getting a polymer coating of non-skid similar to rhino liner now. cool for the next guy and me when i am better and rehired hopefully. They… are the scum that bottom feeding scum suckers don’t even touch. Producers you cant kill them but they can kill us.
    Aloha Peg thanks for the Soap Box

  2. Nathan says:

    I have to (gently), take “Lost on Location’s” side of this argument (if there is one). While, technically I’m not part of the “crew” (I do locations), I came up in the NY atmosphere which I think may have been a bit more militant. I’ve watched UPM’s bitch about a camera scenic sitting on her ass (because there was nothing to paint at the moment), and then fail to acknowledge the same person doing touchups at wrap which saved him a full day of scenics and set dressers returning to the location for an additional wrap day. I know (from working in a rental house), how dangerous it is to try a three-man job with two or to distract someone from their real job to steal them to fill in.

    None of it leads anywhere good.

    I had a recent experience where we were shooting some additional “location” photography for a show that shoots primarily on a stage in L.A. They had been to NYC before and established some of the street locations, but needed additional scenes. We were mostly set up to see the lead actor exit his store on Lexington Avenue when the producer walked up to me and said, “I forgot. We had the traffic set up to look like it flows north instead of south when we shot the scenes last year.” He expected me to make that happen in spite of the fact that he’d never imparted this little piece of information during the three-weeks I’d had to prep the shoot. I spoke to the cops on duty and basically asked them not to let us do anything that wasn’t already on the permit. (They would have grumbled, but let us do it if I’d asked.)

    It may have been a petty point to make, but I didn’t want this producer thinking he could always depend on me to pull his ass out of the fire when his lack of preparation became my problem. (Note: I’ve known this guy for years and pulled his ass out of enough fires. Sometimes you have to draw the line.)

    Hope this didn’t sound too bitchy, but it’s a touchy subject for me.

  3. Charli says:

    People are getting laid off all over America. I don’t think this is a producer/crew thing, it’s what is happening all over. My son has two friends who have been told we’re downsizing and you need to go or take a paycut slash.

    What was it, 75,000 got laid off last month?

    Peg, I’m glad you still have a job, I worry ’bout you and how them knees?

  4. geekhiker says:

    The funny thing that most people don’t realize about the “glamor” of the industry is that it’s exactly like every other industry: there’s always someone at the top who’s convinced that he can do more with less of the people further down.

    Which also serves to explain the insane hours I’ve been working of late as well…

  5. jesse says:

    In these current times, wouldn’t it be great to go back to the old school of lighting? It is a dieing art.
    I seldom meet a D.P. that is willing to light with a hard light (no gel) ala Toland (does anybody remember Toland?)
    If there is no money why don’t we go back to “film noir?”, what a perfect time for it! No dimmers (All the new D.P.’s that have come from the ranks of “Music Videos” will have to stop putting everything on a dimmer and that is what has taken the price of lighting and driven it through the roof!)
    I miss the art of lighting.
    The American studio system has been a corporation for awhile now. Film used to belong to men who loved the art of telling a story but now, the “business” is run by number people, they could be selling shoes for all that they care. Maybe soon, someday, the story will come back and we can all go to the movies and get taken away again.
    Hi sweetie, you hangin in there while the actor brats are worshiping themselves? Now I know why Hitchcock referred to them as “Meat”.

  6. ironrailsironweights says:

    Right now the economy looks pretty grim, but sooner or later (hopefully sooner!) things will turn around. They always do. I was living in Connecticut when the “Great Recession” of the early 1990’s nearly destroyed the state’s economy. It looked for a while as if conditions would never improve. But soon enough, they did.

    Peter

  7. JCW says:

    I used to envy the union actors…. but as things have gotten more grim I have to say the only reason I work as much as I do is because I’m NOT part of the union.

    When you look at history, there was a time when there were no unions, then a time when the unions came into power, and now we see a time where a combination of the nation’s economic woes and strife within unions are – for the moment – rendering them useless.

    Things will improve in the future, but for the moment I’m just glad I’m not a member of SAG. It’s a poor time to try and hold out for more member benefits – they should have waited until the next go round.

    I’m all for fair compensation, but timing has to be taken into account, and given the present economy, I’m not sure now is the time to hold out on issues.

    And, Hey! Since when did you get a regular gig? I thought you were just going day by day.

  8. boskolives says:

    The beatings will continue until morale improves!

    The really scary part?

    The way things are going, some day in the future what we are experiencing now will be considered the good old days.

    http://www.boskolives.wordpress.com

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