Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Art Department

So this post comes at the end of an ambitious short film shoot I was on. This time I worked as an assistant in Art Department. I was grateful for the change in pace and the chance to explore uncharted territory (not completely, as a PA I've been shanghaied into many a department, Art included), and it's hard not to feel just a little smug when the AD calls over the radio for PA Nation to "lock it up," or "bring the director water" knowing that my responsibilities lie elsewhere and I don't have to budge.

But...it's been frustrating. As cool as it is to sprinkle dust on a desk to make it look old, as fun as it is to make cobwebs with rubber cement and a fan blade drill attachment...I still have to deal with these people.

I demand only one thing. Well I don't demand it. I expect it, and when it doesn't happen ...well, it certainly makes it more difficult to work as hard.

One thing.


I wasn't getting it, not from Art.

I can forgive the Art Director. She's been doing this longer than I've been alive. A certain crabbiness is to be expected. But she doesn't have to keep repeating her orders to me. Maybe it's a quirk...maybe she's repeating things more for her own benefit than mine. Some kind of re-affirmation that her decision was correct. Or something. But still. Shut up. I heard you the first time. If I don't get it I will ask for clarification. I'm not an idiot.

And that's where my problem lies...being treated like I'm an idiot. Like a child. Like this is my first rodeo. I've come to understand from speaking to others that I'm a bit quirky myself. That I don't exactly exude the confidence a superior would prefer to see...I know I mumble, I stare off into space occasionally like I just had the nuclear meltdown of all brainfarts...but that doesn't mean I'm an idiot.

Then there's the Assistant Art Director.

Good. Grief.

You know those people who just seem to hate you for no reason? Those people that just suck the oxygen out of the room as soon as they step into it? People who make you involuntarily clench your jaw as soon as they open their mouth to speak?

That's what I was dealing with.

An entitled know-it-all brat with a title they don't deserve.

And the odd thing is when we met during a pre production day at the prop house, she was a total sweetheart. We talked about our experience and ambitions, and it seemed to be the beginning of a beautiful working relationship.

And then the call sheets for the first day of production went out, and I did a double-take when I saw the title next to her name. But I shrugged it off, figuring things would be no different.

But I guess she saw the same call sheet, saw she had an Underling, and promptly went to her Dark Place, sacrificed a newborn, and activated Bitch Mode. Cause starting on the first day of production she started treating me like shit.

She was snappy and rude. Gone was the small talk. The smile was replaced with a permanent scowl.  She threw her weight around. Borrowed my stuff without asking. Brushed off my perfectly legitimate ideas rudely, only to implement them 5 minutes later as her own.

Every chance she had to put me in the wrong, she took. Every. Little. Thing. Even when it was just the two of us, prepping the set. I'm sorry, did I hand you the wire cutters to you before you needed them? Yes, that definitely deserves a stern reprimand. How about you cut just a few feet of wire for yourself, then we don't have to keep passing the spool back and forth when you need a couple inches? Yes, please scold me for trying to be efficient...

I can count the number of times she agreed with me or supported my decision on one hand. Being in charge doesn't mean you have to be right all the time...

There's something to be said for the fact that I work 100% better when she's off doing something else. That I'm happiest when I'm riding set alone while she's prepping the next location.

I have no qualms taking orders from her, but I could do without the unwarranted amount of assholery. There's a way of telling someone to get something done without making them feel about 2 inches tall in front of the entire crew.

I'm pretty sure it's just insecurity on her part. It's her first major gig. It may be an indie short, but all the crew are major players in the local production community. So she's trying to make an impression.

So I'll let her have her fun, get her kicks, whatever. Be the bigger man and all that.

But it was killing me inside. I was fucking enraged. Like, it activated that inane primal part of me that wants to deal with it by pissing others off. I actually entertained the notion of driving super slow in the fast lane all the way home one day. Just so others can share in my complete and utter misery.

Again I didn't expect this gig to be a cakewalk. If I did I'd be in the wrong line of work. And I know that I'll be encountering way more dick bosses down the road. But it's almost not worth it if I have to spend the entire shoot with bottled up anger and a forced smile.

I spent the second week of the shoot imagining what I'd say to her if I had the chance. Had a whole long-winded rant planned. Didn't go through with it cause I'm chicken, I guess.

It was only a few days ago I was venting to my mom about this person when she told me this little anecdote. Apparently when my mom landed her first job with a personal secretary she treated her terribly. And then one day it got to be too much and the secretary said to her, Look, I'm your secretary, not your servant. And that's all it took for it to click.


So now that that's out of the way, let's talk Art Department.

I was grateful for the opportunity to try something new, and definitely would leap at the chance to do more Art gigs.

Honestly, this two week stint in Art was more rewarding than any previous gig...I'm really thinking this is where I belong. It awoke that artistic side of me that has been dormant for so long. In school, there wasn't a paper or ditto I turned in without some kind of wacky doodle...I remember being inspired by science fiction films - Star Wars in particular - and spending hours at my desk trying to make replica lightsabers and blasters. Never was particularly great at making models (unless you count Legos!) but I really dug 1:1 hand props and such. My only tools were a drill, hacksaw, superglue, and duct tape, and the results left a lot to be desired. But I had the passion. Man, if only I had had access to a dremel kit, a metal lathe, a vacuform chamber....

And then at some point...the passion went away. The pressures of the real world and all that. I've honestly been in a funk for so long, trying to make my meager paychecks last until the next meager paycheck, I avoid the temptation of spending money altogether. Literally, by not even leaving the house unless it's for work. Or groceries. So no time for hobbies. It's no way to live, and my creative spirit all but went into hibernation.

But this experience in Art Department really gave me a jumpstart...time to be creative again.

I had been attracted to G&E because it was a quintessential "film" job. It's right there at the top of "Lights, Camera, Action." It's fuckin' Hollywood, man.  From where I sat the other jobs - such as those in art department - seemed like (apologies in advance) a bunch of glorified furniture movers, construction workers, and house painters.

BUT -  now that I've tried it out, I have come to the conclusion...that I was right.

KIDDING - yes there was the back breaking moving around of heavy furniture and set pieces. But then we got to age it, dust it, spiderweb it. We constructed innovative rigs and gags. And that's when it got FUN. I also got to run the wind machine (fancy way of saying giant shop fan) and a hazer.

Also, it's one thing to say, I helped light that scene. It's another to say, see that sock hanging out of the dresser? THAT WAS ALL ME. 

Not saying one is better than the other, it's just a different awesome experience this vast realm we call the Industry holds.

Back in college, professors would encourage prospective directors to take acting classes, and acting students to take directing classes. I'd always thought that was sound advice. It works in other film careers too. For the longest time I've had my eye on G&E, and have even started to make some headway in that direction. But stepping back and watching G&E from another department was a whole new world. I saw the pitfalls and mistakes from the safety of the sidelines, and I will take that knowledge with me next time I'm juicing or gripping.

Like to never put my breakfast burrito down on a piece of meticulously aged and dusted set dressing plastered in "Hot Set" signs...

Fucking grips...

1 comment:

  1. Great post. You should understand that as long as you're the low man on the totem pole, you're gonna get shit from insecure assholes in every department, but given the inherently subjective nature of the Art Department, the bitchiness tends to cut a bit deeper there. And this is especially true if they're new at their big-shot job -- in which case their insecurity can metastasize into a full-bore, quasi-psycho personality disorder.

    No fun, that.

    For anyone in the rank-and-file, there's nothing better than working for a confident, knowledgeable department head -- male or female. Such people know what they're doing, know what they want, and have a sense of humor about the whole process. The insecure ones (again, male or female) are a nightmare to work for and with.

    That you held your tongue speaks well of your own self-discipline, but it might -- maybe -- be worth contacting that assistant art director ex-post-facto just to let her know what a cunt she really was. You'll have to use more diplomatic language, of course - the "C Word" cannot be employed should you hope to work with her (or anybody she knows) again. Still, her behavior was inexcusable, and she needs to know that or she'll be at risk of unwittingly building the kind of toxic reputation nobody wants.

    As for the Art Director repeating herself, you'll just have to let that slide no matter how much it irritates you. Working on a crew is a collaborative, social endeavor in which communication is crucial. If a dept. head doesn't make him-or-herself absolutely clear, things can get ugly fast. When I was BB'ing and gaffing, I repeated myself a lot to make sure my crew knew exactly what I wanted -- and followed my orders in that way that ensured we wouldn't look like idiots doing frantic last-second fixes while the actors stood waiting. When running a crew, you look for visual cues to be certain the guys know what to do -- and if you (by your own admission) do not readily offer such affirmative cues, then you're going to have to live with lots of repetition. This goes double for a "new guy" who the dept. head knows has no pertinent experience in that particular department.

    Whatever department you end up choosing, learning to respond to your boss in a reassuring manner will minimize such irritating repetition, and be well worth the effort. And if you haven't read "Below the Line," by J.R. Helton yet, go on-line and buy a copy. There's a link on my blogroll, or you can find used copies on Amazon. It's a great, very entertaining read no matter what your path, but particularly relevant for anyone considering entering the art department.

    Hang in there. Having been in your shoes, I know how rough and rocky the road can be for the first few years. Keep at it, do the job right, and better times lie ahead.