Monday, August 22, 2011

The Novelty Never Wears Off

I heard a story once, that a game could be played by members of a film crew to see who had the weirdest object in their pocket at the end of a long day. I laughed.

Then, I dug into my pocket at the end of a long shoot day, and pulled out the remote that went with the prop TV we had been using in the scene. I'm not laughing anymore.

***

The film is a small community effort of an independent picture, relying almost purely on contributions and donations from local businesses. The personnel involved are mostly local professionals that generally work on bigger projects, which means this is the perfect film for me to get my foot in the door.

There were at least three of these local big shots on this shoot that were important to impress, get close to, schmooze with, whatever. Trouble was, I tried so hard, I almost always ended up fucking up in front of them. Like the middle schooler who becomes super awkward when his crush walks by.

***

Like most of the non-professionals, I began the first week as a PA, but with the casual atmosphere of the set, many of us were slowly but surely adopted by other departments. Some became AC's for B and C camera, I went to Grip & Electric. By the second week, I was officially a grip on the call sheet.

I gotta admit, I'm now feeling a whole lot more confident in my abilities. With this hands-on approach, I've learned more about gripping techniques and equipment in than all my former production classes and previous crew gigs combined.

There were rocky patches for sure - we were trying to shoot a feature in 15 days after all. We didn't have walkies until the last week, and even then, there weren't enough for everyone. Despite the frustrations, the gaffer was incredibly patient and tolerant of us noobs getting our grubby hands all over his gear, and I learned a lot from him.

I often found myself doing things that just needed to be done - five takes in a row in the blazing sun, and nobody's getting water for the talent? That's bullshit. I took that into my own hands, and eventually became the designated water boy on top of my grip duties.

Speaking of water, the worst thing is cleaning up a location after wrap and finding dozens of unlabeled, half drunken plastic water bottles scattered everywhere. I began giving out a bunch of these cool water bottle belt clips - and they were an instant hit. By the end of the shoot everyone from the PAs to the DP had bottles dangling from their waist. They helped keep the amount of bottles left sitting around down, as well as serving as something for people to remember me by. I've just placed a bulk order for 40 more, I'm thinking this will be my "calling card" to give these out to the crew on every production I'm on.

***

The funny thing about G&E is half the time we have too many people and the rest of the time we don't have enough. Sometimes all of us are sitting out by the truck while the 2nd AD scowls at us for seeming unproductive and we can only shrug in response...then the radio crackles like Gordon Ramsay barking orders at his flustered cooks on Hell's Kitchen, "Two full apples! Kill these kinos! Can we get a courtesy flag? I need two S4's with quarter CTO on the patio!" Then suddenly, we could really use about twice as many people. Invariably, I ended up as the guy in the truck getting the gear and putting it on the tailgate for the others to fly in to set. And that truck is hot. Like 110 degrees. Within two minutes I was drenched in sweat and my face was redder than a tomato. At least nobody could say I wasn't working hard.

I averaged about 5 hours of sleep per night for the last 6 straight days, and by the end, my nerves were frayed and my legs burned with every step. Nevertheless the experience was invaluable...it's exhilarating when there's a constant sense of purpose - it makes any activity worthwhile. But with a film, it's being part of something so much bigger than yourself, and having the privilege of watching it take shape right in front of you that makes it especially rewarding.

***

By the last day, maybe the novelty did start to wear off a bit.

Strangely, though, I can also say I am more certain now than ever that this is the life for me...