Over the past 18 months, I’ve applied to what has to be over 100 jobs for work as a production assistant/crew for various films, shows, companies, et al. Have yet to obtain so much as an interview from these efforts. Then last Friday, I gave my roommate’s friend, Tom, who needed a couch to sleep on for a few nights, my resume to pass on at Top Chef, where he’s doing Art Department crew work. I emailed my living room around 11pm. At seven the next night, I got a call to report for work in twleve hours. This is the way things work. This is the way people get work.
It’s nice to be working. Even though I’m just a lowly PA. And that I have less-to-no-time to shoot the documentary for the next two weeks. And that I work twice as many hours to make slightly less money than I’d make during that same day substitute teaching. Regardless. It’s an industry job and a stepping stone and the craft swervices are totally wonderful for once.
Even when you know you’re where you need to be, it’s hard to stay there when other things pay much better and have perks of their own. Resigning yourself to the beginning of the path to your goals is much more difficult than just changing your goals, and it’s easy to overlook movement that is intangible as non-existent.
It’s not that the work itself is hard to do. Basically set-up/ clean-up. Scraping labels off of jars and cans. Using the lift to cover sky-lights with tarp. Moving wood piles so someone else can set up a green-screen. Sweeping. Starting at the bottom requires a kindof self-induced double-mind-trick. It takes enough of a daily absence of mind that you don’t blow your brains out because you’re not where you want to be, as well as just enough presence of mind so you don’t forget why you’re doing this grunt-work and putting up with such a wilfull lack of recognition by your employers that you, too, are a human being (e.g. that you are given a single 30-minute lunch break smack in the middle of your 12 1/2 hour shift; or that when you’re sent to purchase a “non-nasty” Ginger Ale at a grocery store that is actually an Office Depot and then drive around (at speeds exceeding the legal limit) looking for any damn place that sells Ginger Ale – since, you assume, that if they are petty enough to send a person out to look for Ginger Ale, they’re also petty enough to chew off your ass should you dare to return sans Ginger Ale – you will be bitched out for being gone too long).
The Perks (small consolation though they are/ little fulfillment though they bring):
1. Craft Services: You might expect an irony like a food show having terrible food for the people creating it but no, it’s wonderful. Not only do we have a wonderful woman creating all sorts of interesting/delicious things (salmon/chive cream cheese? Don’t mind if I do!), they don’t skimp in the soda/snack/treat departments. We have name brands and huge quantities. There are literal palates of Fiji water cases in the warehouse. And Coke Zero. And All colors and creeds of M&Ms.
2. Right Place, Right Time: My second day I did a soda run in one of the brand-ass-new 15 passenger Chevy Vans. From then on, I’ve been a driver nearly every day since. When choosing between wandering aimlessly around set looking for something to do so I don’t feel like the ONLY one without a specific task OR sitting in a heated/cooled van w/ ample supply of snackery, iPod & reading material sometimes transporting people, often waiting, occassionally sleeping – the choice is obvious. Friday I got upgraded to a Lexus hybrid w/ one of those cameras that comes on when you back up to help steer into tight spots.
Or yesterday, I led a caravan of Lexus hybrids from south of L.A. up north of the valley, then west to Sunset and all the way back. We were filming B-roll footage of the vehicles all over the city. But because they didn’t want to identify us as the drivers (perhaps they were technically “supposed” to use Union drivers? Pure speculation as semi-sure hunch), I had to keep my visor down, which meant that I was driving on the freeway and down Laurel Canyon and across Sunset Dr. spaced only about five to ten feet from the camera vehicle and unable to see any traffic. For about five hours.
3. Playing Well With Others: Because careers in this town is built mostly on relationships and connections, the more you get along with people, the more you make friends, the better your chances. That sounds almost cynical but it’s pretty obvious when someone is only interested in themselves. They ask what you’ve worked on so they can tell you how much they didn’t like working on that but I bet you never worked on ______, well I just did, it was awesome and so am I. Ugh. The point is, so many people are trying to make it, it’s easy to default to a standoff-ish competitive mindset. But the more you talk to people, the more you see how similar your situations are. You find someone to go to lunch with and hey, now if they hear something maybe they’ll let you know, & vice versa.
4. Taking Advantage of Opportunities: The majority of this post is being written while I’m sitting on set (rare enough) essentially babysitting an entrance so no one interrupts filming. In this spot I’ve sat for going on four hours. I’ve been writing. I’ve been tweeting. I’ve been reading. Most people do nothing. But more than that, let’s go back to Friday. I was driving the chefs from their hotel to the interview space and mostly they buried their faces in their phones, but one chef (whose name/sex/race will remain anonymous on the way-off-Broadway chance someone from the network puts out tracers for signs of…whatever) got in the car, immediately asked me about my tattoo and was extraordinarily candid about his/her disdain for the show. Earlier I’d driven a producer over and he/she’d explained the way they do interviews for the show. Each contestant is grilled for about two hours on every detail of the episode and while not coached what content to say is told how to say things. the formula is undoubtedly helpful for editors trying to piece things together. It’s also stiflingly unoriginal. The chef: so he/she’s telling me how much they don’t want to do the interviews because they take forever and never want to hear anything interesting, and in a moment of not-a-small-amount of gumption, I said, “Let me ask you something, why did you agree to be on this show?”
“I have no idea. Some bullshit my manager or publicist told me.”
I asked if he/she wished they were back at their restaurant. “I’m not at the restaurant. I speak, I teach, I go and try to inspire people.” Unbelievable. What a let-down this must be compared with their usual job. On the other hand, though, it takes the pressure off. We talked about how relaxed he/she can be, since they’ve got nothing to lose and don’t care about losing. And their perspective about it struck me as incredibly applicable to my own situation. “The contest is not the opportunity. The opportunity is to say something -that hopefully won’t get cut out – that makes someone watching think about things in a new way.” That, and the charity he/she was playing for are the reasons to keep going. Maybe someone will be interested in the charity and get involved in some way. Maybe they’ll be struck by one of the dishes created and try something new.
I won’t draw the lines for you, since I think it’s pretty clear that things can feel the same way whether you’re a P.A. or a Master Chef (he said as he penciled an incredibly thick line underneath it all). The hope is this will lead to more work; that I’ll make connections and keep working. At the same time, I’m wary of getting stuck in a sea of twelve hour days that drain my energy and cut off any chance of being creative outside of work. I love being on set, but being an Assistant Director or a producer on some bullshit reality show won’t fulfill me. At that point – and I’ve no doubt this happens all the time (in TV, movies, wherever) – there’s nothing interesting or challenging or even very artistic about it all, and the pursuit you began because you were moved and charged and passionate turns into every other kind of soulless work.
For now, I think about David. As in King David. My Men’s Group went through 1 Samuel and we’re currently studying 2 Samuel. Do you know how long it was from the time David was told he would be King by Samuel to the time he was crowned King of Israel? 17 years. Ten of those he was on the run from Saul. Sleeping in the mountains, living day-to-day, in a constant state of turmoil, with nothing to hang onto except the promise from God.
The point is, of course, that that’s enough. I don’t even have that, though. God hasn’t sent any well-respected interpreter to tell me I’ll make it. I have only the direction from God I’ve perceived through interpreting experience through the prisms of prayer, reflection, and the input of others. I don’t know where I’ll end up. I don’t even know if I’ll get the kind of opportunity I feel I deserve. There’s no guarantee. But here I am. And here I go.
Note: Should go w/out saying but the quotes from the chef may not be exact. Was driving when he/she said them, sans recording device. I wrote them down as soon as I dropped him/her off. Hopefully I was accurate to the letter, but at the very least, I paraphrased well.