Friday, June 10, 2011

What Hollywood Makes

Click image to enlarge

A long time ago my cousin gave me a subscription to the now-defunct magazine Premiere. Today all that's left of dozens of issues is this clipping I took. This is from 2005. I think I was just beginning to have a fascination with filmmaking at the time - and I had just been accepted to San Francisco State University to study film production.

There's a quote I remember fondly from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince; Dumbledore says of the character Horace Slughorn that "[He] never wanted to occupy the throne for himself; he prefers the backseat - more room to spread out, you see." Though I think in the context of the book, it is meant slightly disparagingly, it pretty much describes myself.

Nearly everyone I went to school with wanted to be filmmakers - creators! - writers-directors-editors of their own passion projects...and that's great. But if there's one thing I know from working on student films, it's that when everybody is their own writer-director, it's difficult for them to crew on eachother's projects - everybody instinctively wants to take control, and simply put, there are too many cooks in the kitchen. But I was seemingly the only one that was content to lurk in the background doing the menial but necessary tasks - running cables, data wrangling, script supervision, taking stills for continuity, handling props, supervising the craft table, holding the boom mic, maybe handling a visual effect or two in post...and whatever else I could do. Somebody who will shut up and do his job without saying "you know you could do this," or, "this could look a lot better if you did this," is necessary. And to this day that's what I prefer doing - the jobs that I now have learned are referred to as "below-the-line." The unappreciated but invaluable gears in the giant machine that drives the industry. Without which an entire production would fall apart.

Sure, I got one or two short film ideas knocking around in the old melon that I'd just love to see to fruition - who doesn't? But from the beginning I knew I didn't want to be in the spotlight, I didn't want to be the center of attention. When I watched martial arts movies, I didn't give a flying fuck about Jackie Chan, I thought the stunt guy that he just kicked out the window was the awesome one. That's where I want to be. Not in the middle of the action, but damn near adjacent to it. And nothing seems to get you there like crew work.

But at this point it was all just pipe dreams. So when I saw this page while flipping through the March 2005 issue of Premiere, I did a double take. There, before my very eyes, was proof that there was actually money in that sort of thing: a concise rundown of the average salaries of the various people involved in film production - from directors and producers, to grips, gaffers, boom operators, painters, and costume designers. $2000 a week (in 2005) for a Prop Master? Shit, I'm super frugal; I could live on $2000 for like 2 months, easy. Where do I sign up? If only it was that easy.

(A quick hundred or so for a day's work on a set is better than nothing, and you actually can sign up for that - and thus I would begin a series of stints as a background extra in 2008.)

Anyways, since I clipped this page 6 years ago it's been sort of my bible - I literally keep it in my nightstand.

The Ouchbox

That thing up there is the current state of my email outbox. Starting at the left hand column, we can deduce that I am almost entirely relying on Craigslist to find gigs. Moving on over to the subject headings, we can correctly infer that I am primarily seeking PA work, though videography and camera op positions occasionally make an appearance as well. I do like the rightmost column though - the beginning snippets of my emails. You can see a little evolution to them: starting at the bottom with the older emails, I used to use the classic "To Whom it May Concern" heading that I've been using on cover letters and job applications since high school. Eventually, I trimmed out the fat and began using the super concise and less stuffy "Hi!" or "Hello!" which I would follow with my name and a brief rundown of my education and experience (a tip I picked up from the indispensable Anonymous Production Assistant blog)

Lastly, you know how in Gmail, correspondence between two parties begins a threaded conversation? And how the various back-and-forths is represented by a number in parenthesis following email address? Notice how all but one of the emails above have said number indicating a reply? Yeah.