Posts Tagged 'Work'

Foot-in-Door-ing

 

How Successful Are You at Identifying the Success of Things (i.e. the success of this pie chart re: your success re: success)

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 Takes Forever to Set Up That Kitchen

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.

Not Quite Like This, It's Reality TV After All

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.

Things to Do at Work When It’s Slow

(NOTE re: my brain malfunction – originally I wrote “THANKS to do at Work When it’s Slow.” WOW, just… WOW. My sincerest apologies.)

Reading List:

I don't really care for the cover, though.

As if the stack of books in my room I haven’t read isn’t big enough. I may be coming into an explosion of free time soon, so I consider this preparation. The big one on the list for me is Jonathan Franzen’s new novel Freedom. It’s his first work of fiction in nine years (since, in fact, The Corrections, which I will be  re-reading before I start this new one). Of course, I can’t get enough David Foster Wallace, but as much as he interests me, I’m intrigued and apprehensive about reading fellow writer David Lipsky’s Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace, which is…what it says. But. I am interested in Wallace’s own book about set theory (see Wikipedia section below), called Everything and More: a Compact History of Infinity. In college, I really got into deductive logic and this seems like interesting if challenging fun. Also, it is way cheap on Amazon.com. I know some people are wary of ordering books or CDs or DVDs online. I’ve been doing it for years with excellent results. Other books: The Winter of Our Discontent,  by John Steinbeck, was recently highly recommended to me. Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. And Russell Banks’ Continental Drift, which, now that I think of it, I might own. I’ve also been feeling like reading more Ray Bradbury, but I don’t know what. It’s difficult to justify buying more and more books that I may never get around to reading. A better system would be to buy a book only when I am going to read it, or a DVD only when I’m going to watch it. But then where’s the adventure in that?

Podcasts:

The Universe expands. I’ve got between 70 and 90 minutes of commute each day. Which sounds like a lot and seems like a lot but isn’t nearly sufficient to bear the weight of podcast minutes each week. So, since things are slow at work, I’ve taken to listening during the day. My go-to podcasts, since the dawn of my iPod, are Filmspotting (which recently had an excellent meet-up here in LA, always great to talk with Adam Kempanaar) and This American Life. I’m also decidedly partial to the great Battleship Pretension, and the Creative Screenwriting Podcast is always interesting and insightful and has great writers discussing their process, projects, how they got started in writing (both personally and professionally). And then there are the shows I love but don’t necessarily listen to regularly, like Elvis Mitchell’s The Treatment (which this week has Christopher Nolan, so, yeah, I’m all about that one) and Radiolab, which is essentially This American Life but with science. Thankfully Watching Theology only has episodes every month or so. But then finally, there are two new podcasts; well, one isn’t really a podcast, it’s the weekly sermons of Reality LA, the church many of my friends go to. Nonetheless, the sermons are expertly crafted, spiritually and intellectually sound, and extremely in-depth. The other show is a podcast, and is kindof a cross between …Life and Creative Screenwriting. It’s The Tobolowsky Files, a series of stories about life, love, and the entertainment industry, as told by character actor Stephen Tobolowsky. You have no idea how amazing these stories are. How beautiful and engaging and strange and funny and wonderful. It’s a relatively young podcast, fewer than 50 episodes. I’m in the process of catching up, but this podcast is becoming one of the most vital. I can’t really explain it any better than by just imploring you to go and listen to episode 13: Conference Hour, which had me in both outrage and tears by the end. “Tobo” has lived such a rich, fascinating life, and the way he brings us through, the details he offers, the insight he achieves; it’s simply astounding (I usually load 3 or 4 onto my iPod at once and this morning, to my horror, I was out of new ones. Nooooo!!!)

Work:

The question is this. Does a lack of work to do make you complete the work you do have more easily and quickly, or does it make you annoyed to do anything now that you’ve gotten used to your distraction?

The News:

Since it’s one of the few things not blocked by our (hold on, phone call) firewall. So, I’ve been following up with the oil spill and the Senate vote for stricter regulations to avoid another financial crisis, which sounds good except that its critics think maybe it’s not going to really accomplish any damn single thing. I suppose we’ll see. I hope it works. Landmark legislation isn’t really so much of a landmark unless it accomplishes what it sets out to. Otherwise, isn’t it just wasting time? Also, I read a startling piece (here) about the ineffectiveness of regular exercising for people (mostly men) who spend the majority of their day sitting (or just being generally inactive). As someone whose day has been sitting in a car to come sit in a desk to go sit back in the car to go home and sit in front of a computer editing this is kindof frightening! Apparently the exercise can keep us in shape, but it doesn’t counter-act the negative effects in terms of decreasing serious health risks. Scary.

Wikipedia:

What I will look like if I keep working here

Aside from looking up information about every author I mentioned back in the Reading List section, and just a moment ago looking Flock of Seagulls for my Supervisor who’s at jury duty and trying to think of the group who sang “Don’t You Want Me Baby” (It’s Human League, the inter-web taught to me), I also got a cursory understanding of set theory and Russell’s Paradox, which contains the very wordplay David Foster Wallace purloined for his first novel. Mathematical systems have always fascinated me. I look back on the junior-in-high-school me who hit the wall with Pre-Calculus, and I wish I could go back now (Yep, my mathematical prowess here at 26 is that of a 17 yr old. Wow).

Writing:

This gets tricky. My roommate has the ideal situation for non-working-at-work. Graveyard shift, Fed-Ex Office. Eight hours often without a customer. Full internet. Can bring in stuff to work on. If that were me, I’d have a laptop with screenwriting software, a book, maybe a magazine, and untold pages of work done at the end of the night. When you look at it that way, working on personal things at work is the closest most of us come to getting paid to do what we love. I don’t think blogging qualifies, though. And while I am planning to try to do some actual writing after lunch, it’s nearly impossible. The atmosphere is all wrong. There is a focus I need that can’t be achieved with even occasional interruptions of Work-I’m-Being-Paid-to-do. And people. Too many people around. I need solitude. Public places are fine, they preserve personal anonymity. The real problem is co-workers. They know you, but they don’t know you, but they feel perfectly comfortable talking to you, sometimes much more than you’d like. It’s a very strange relationship. Aren’t my headphones a clear indication that I am busy? Or at least not to be disturbed for chit-chat? It seems, No. Because of that daily proximity, you can’t really be a jerk to them, or I can’t, even if I don’t like them. Regardless, their presence pulls me back into the setting of “workplace,” which is not an intrinsically creative one.

And now, here after five hours, after most of my day is gone, I’m taking a break. I’ve got first issue of my Creative Screenwriting Magazine subscription (which is supplemented by aforementioned podcast). Then, hopefully I’ll have a few more tasks to complete so I can feel some sense of worth, and hopefully I can end the day with some leisure reading. I think I saved a short story by Don DeLillo I could read.

Busy

It’s been over two weeks since I’ve written anything. I’m writing this as I wind down from a run – something else I haven’t been doing with as much frequency as I’d like. Turns out having a 40-hr/week job cuts into the free time.

Between writing (as in screenwriting) and rehearsals for a short film that may have just fallen through or may have just gotten much better – in one of two ways – and working and driving to work and trying to finish Infinite Jest (I promise no David Foster Wallace tangents tonight) and catching up with all the big Oscar nominees in theaters (“Crazy Heart” and “A Single Man” are both good but not great) and on DVD/Netflix (“The Girlfriend Experience,” “Humpday” and especially “In the Loop” are all really good. The latter-most being so good it makes me angry and exhilarated how much I want to emulate it) and movie nights on Saturdays w/ friends Tyler and Josh (this week: anti-V-Day with “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe?” and “American Beauty”) and then little annoying things like taxes and bills and sleeping – between all these things, I have so little time to blog it’s not even funny. I had to finish an article for “It’s Just Movies” at work today (read it here).

The Man I Want to Be…?

All that’s to say, it’s been a long start to the year. Which is fine. It’s also been good. My temporary position at the Insurance company is going to extend into March, which means more money in the bank for after it ends. I have to keep telling myself that my bank account balance only looks big, and that it won’t last once the job ends. There’s still the chance of moving into a full-time position, but it would be back out in the field doing the inspections instead of in the office. Listening to the field adjusters when they come into the office reminds me of all the things I don’t miss about that position. They’re all so incredibly stressed out and angry and bitter. The worst moment of recognition is this low-voiced swearing every time the phone rings. What was once an innocuous ring-tone becomes a unending nightmare of stupid people asking annoying questions that waste your time and eat your soul.

The thing is this: when you’re a field adjuster, your job doesn’t just follow you home, it takes over your home. When you eat the same place you work at a job you don’t like, boundaries get blurred and things can get internally destructive. Right now, I’m super-busy at work. But when I leave, I’m gone. It’s humanly impossible for me to work without being at the office, and for me that may be a necessity. If they offer me a field position I may try it out again. But I’m better outside of work when my workplace is the office. Today my boss let me know that some Temp people have stayed on for over nine months, even though their position was supposed to be up after two or three or six. That’s my preference. I’m not tied to the company, I can explore other options, but I also have some temporary stability.

And now I have to go hang out with my roommate.

Same Old New Job

A week ago I started a two-month temporary job with an insurance company. I worked insurance in Kansas, and I can honestly say that when I quit that job last July, I never intended setting foot inside another one like it. Not that this one is much like it. That one was huge and involved an immensely complex, intricate electronic filing software. This company pays me almost twice as much money per hour due to the higher cost of living in CA (my monthly expenses are nearly identical) and files its claims by hand. As in a physical, real, manila folder with documents in it and color-coded numbers on the side. They also have filing software, but it’s remarkably tiny and frustrating in the way out-dated things are. Frustrating not because we’re confused by them but because we’re not used to thinking in such limited terms. If my previous company was Windows 7, this one is DOS.

They All Look the Same

And for the time, I’m liking it. I’m a little less bitter and burnt out now than when I left my old job. Also, it’s a nice thing to realize you have acquired a set of skills and understanding in a complicated area. My first day I had nothing to do so they gave me a couple claims to look over. Looking at the estimate a contractor had submitted, I got out a pen and started marking next to all the superfluous line items. Extra hours of labor for simple tasks, completely unjustified roofing materials when their report didn’t even mention the roof and they took no photos of it. I don’t know that I feel comfortable, because it’s still the insurance business. But I do feel capable. And now that I’m handling claims again, I’m finding that my previous job’s training has paid off and my documentation is extremely thorough and precise. In the insurance industry, this is never a bad thing. The only trick now is learning this new system and seeing how things go.

This isn’t my career. The final three months working in Kansas were awful. I was bitter and angry, partly because the job was getting worse (my company started treating employees like crap) and partly because I didn’t want to be there anymore. I wanted to be gone. As good as some things were in Kansas, a lot of things weren’t. Two months from now, if I can’t stand it, I walk away. If I like it, think I can take it for a while and am doing well, it can become a permanent position.

One thing that helps, too, is that I’m, also making a new film. It will occupy as much mental space as the job does. Making sure I pour myself into what I ultimately want to do makes going to work every day a little easier. Oh, so do the paychecks.

Let’s Go to Work

On July 16th, 2009 – a Thursday – I went into my office and, in a conference room with my boss, explained that I was quitting my job as an insurance claims adjuster.

Since then I’ve been crushed, finished a movie, and moved 2000 miles west to Los Angeles. In that order. I looked for insurance jobs for a while, had a few phone interviews, went in and took some tests with a company about two minutes from my Grandma’s house. I did very well on the test, had a solid interview and was told two weeks later that I wouldn’t be getting another interview. I was annoyed for a time, but they made the right choice. I didn’t move here to work insurance claims. I moved here to make movies.

I’ve signed up for extras work but haven’t signed up for a call-in service, and it turns out you need both. That’s on the agenda for this week, too. I had been out of work for almost four months – longer than any time since I graduated – and I was getting restless. I’ve been writing a lot, but that is so solitary, and I wanted something that actually paid real, American dollars.

Sunday night out of the blue, my friend Josh told me they needed PA help on a set he was working and did I want to go? It’s amazing how quickly you turn on yourself. My first thought was, “But that’ll take all day. I won’t have a mountain of free time to waste in various ways.” I said yes, though, and it’s turned into 3 days of work and who knows how many more?

That might be the EXACT costume, in factThe set is for a movie called, and I wish I were kidding, “The Alice in Wonderland Murders,” in which a group of sorority sisters go to a party in an abandoned warehouse dressed as slutty versions of characters from “Alice in Wonderland.” That’s the movie. It is feature-length and is being shot in about 6 or 7 days total. It has both a budget and guaranteed DVD distribution. During the film, one of the girls offers to rig a door to electrocute anyone who touches the doorknob. “Looks like that engineering degree will come in handy, after all,” the “Slutty Queen of Hearts” tells her.

No, the movie isn’t going to be good, but no one seems to have any delusions about that. At lunch yesterday, the director said, “They’re much less picky about things in Malaysia.”

It feels good to be working again, though. Josh and I set-up the lighting for each scene and I hold the boom-mic for the scenes, and as idiotic as the whole thing is, I’m having a lot of fun. I’ve never really done lighting before, either, so it feels good to know that I can. The set is really laid-back (how could it possibly not be?), which is a much better environment for learning tech stuff than something official and huge and high-stress.

Not QUITE that complicatedI didn’t realize how much I missed being on a film-set. We finished shooting “Trailer: The Movie” in June. I loved being on that set. I loved waking up early and working 12-hour days, going home and feeling dead-tired. I loved the weekly production meetings. I loved getting emails from the Assistant Director at 6am almost every morning during the week with questions and suggestions and conflicts. And there is nothing like directing a scene. When you set up a shot and get that perfect take and you know in your head how it’s all going to fit together even if no one else quite knows what in the hell you’re talking about.

We did a dolly shot yesterday, and even though I just held the boom, I felt proud of it. It’s one of the few interesting scenes in the film, probably the best acting I’ve seen there, and as we talked through it, the director decided not to get coverage for it and just use the wide dolly shot. To me, that’s cause for celebration. Afterwards, I felt energized, and I got the smallest flitter of that feeling that is the reason people make movies. Because even on a set as supremely ludicrous as this set, there is still the potential for something interesting and artistic and good.

Just Doing My Job

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I had a claim similar a couple years ago. Not fun.

There have been a slew of recent storms here in the midwest. Rain and hail and wind along with it, a sortof 70mph-and-up  courier service for all sorts of property and car damage. Which means my job just got busy. We staved off the onslaught for so long, I thought we might get away clean. No chance. Not only have there been just as many storms this year as last, they’ve all arrived together with a tidal wave of claims. With severe storms in certain areas, we’ve sent people to work them for weeks at a time, which means the rest of us pick up the slack here at home, and because of my schedule, that’s been my job. It has meant some long drive time, going out of my traditional territory and into some rural areas. Handling so many claims in the suburbs, I’d forgotten what to expect. Things are just different once you get far enough away, is the best way to put it. Don’t ever underestimate your job’s ability to give you fodder for writing. 

 

I arrived at a wind claim for a customer last Wednesday, after over an hour in the car listening to podcasts. I was on site for about 4 hours (twice as long as a normal claim) and here is how it went. I pulled in the dirt driveway and had to navigate between sections of a massive, fallen tree (about 20 feet across), the middle of which had been excised so anyone could get in or out. Mr. Customer came outside. He was an oversized, pleasant fellow, and since he owned the surrounding 16 acres, and maybe since it was hot (but maybe not) he did not wear a shirt. Nor did he bother to put on a shirt at any point during my 4 hours with him. Not when we went inside, not when we passed his very bedroom to look at ceiling damage. Not when I went onto the roof by myself. He could have slipped on a tank top, would’ve taken 2 minutes. Not even when he and I drove the property looking for trees fallen on fencing. Never.

 

I’m from a small town in southwest MO, I’ve seen people driving with no shirt, it’s just usually not in a minivan. It’s an odd thing, being close to a foreign unclothed body, seat-belted in next to you. What if we’d got in a wreck and died. Wouldn’t people wonder why this man wasn’t wearing a shirt? Would they wonder why I didn’t ask him to put one on? I wondered that, too, several times. I could never work it in to the conversation. The name of the game, then, is called “Proximity + Line of Sight”. Also, he was a large man.

 

But maybe the oddest thing was that when we got back to the house, he put the car in park and kept on talking. Then he told me we should just hang out in the van, since it has AC and the house doesn’t. Have you ever talked to someone you don’t know while sitting in their car right in front of their house in the middle of the day when that person had also, coincidentally, decided to forego the societal courtesy of clothing and redraw all rules regarding body coverage? A few moments later, his wife ambled up with their dog, she barked a few words to her husband, and she got in the back seat of the van with their dog. She wore clothes. I managed to extract myself by saying I had to go write up the estimate and paperwork for the claim, which was true anyhow. A while passed, and I got out of my car and found him in the barn. I reached out the customer service packet, but he waved me off; he pointed down the driveway and said, “I’ll be right there. Go get my wife, and I’ll meet you all at the van!” 

 

And so in the van we sat. His wife in back, me in front, the shirtless fellow next to me, looking through the multi-thousand dollar estimate I’d written. And to say it was strange thing to see and be part of would be an intense understatement, but so would saying I did not like them. They were funny and odd and certainly ripe for a bit of mockery, but it spawns from amusement not malice. I’m not trying to pass any sort of value judgements on them. They are interesting as people not just as punchlines. For instance,  Mr. Customer told me all about his job while we drove the property. About the layoffs they were experiencing that he was fortunate enough to avoid. “For now,” he said, “but we’ll see.” It turns out Mrs. Customer’s mother is in the hospital, so on top of dealing with damage to their home, she has to split time at the hospital and handle all the legal matters for her mother. “She’s senile,” she told me more than once, matter-of-factly. Not sad, not forlorn, just the state of the union in the life of her mother. This was a couple in their mid-fifties, I’d guess. They live out here, away from everyone. It’s the way she prefers it. In my time talking with them, I learned this is the second marriage for both of them. She used to live in Springfield with her first husband, “but he got abusive,” Mr. Customer explained for her. He lived in the city for a long time, but Mrs. Customer wanted to be away from people, so here they are. No regret there, no feelings of missed opportunities. These people, more than most I’ve met doing this job, are the picture of content. They weren’t ignorant. They actually took time to look through the estimate (most don’t) and asked me reasonable questions about it. They don’t seem to view life as though it is hunting them, as though it is to be feared. She’s been laid off, her mother is sick, and she spoke plainly about how hard it was, but these things aren’t consuming them. They teased each other in front of me, and it was almost like a play. They were aware of me as their audience, and they were performing the play of their relationship so that I could see what they did all the time. I doubt they have many visitors.

 

People are interesting, and they’ll talk to you if you let them. These weren’t the only interesting people I met. I talked for over 15 minutes with an 87 yr old great grandmother with some lightning damage who explained to me how more than 20 people cram into her little house every Thanksgiving to eat her food. She detailed her preparations, she explained the cast of her family, and the notion that last year may have been her last hurrah because she has aches, and she’s not sure she’s up for preparing that much food again. How it takes its toll on her physically, even though it brings her such pleasure, having so much family around. She had intriguing Mexican art on the walls that her son got for her, and she explained the way she came up from living in shanty-houses as a child, not knowing that anything else existed. She told me about a boy in her school when she was a girl, and how she wondered what had become of him, since he acted up and got in trouble. 

 

I usually time myself. A typical claim in about 90 minutes. But sometimes, I like to just stop the timer, take out my pen and start asking questions. I drop all the policy language and coverage analysis and Recoverable Depreciation explanations, and I become what I am: a writer. What they see as chit-chat I treat like an interview.  I stop collecting data to put in the claims file, and I start hearing stories that make me see this life more clearly. You have no idea how many brilliant, touching, funny little things people have to say if you just ask them. I plan to use parts of these stories as a character traits. I’ll combine them and mangle them and make them thematic, and I’ll contort the details and rewrite them so I like them better and they fit into the universe I want to create. They are spare parts for the rebuilding. But all that comes later. Right now it’s just about talking to people. I think if you’re a writer, you are drawn to people like this, you love people like this. People you pass on the street or see in a restaurant and think, “What’s does today mean for them? What brought them here and where are they going after this?” As a writer, you get to wonder about people; sometimes, you talk with them. I know it’s the best part of my job, and it has the least to do with it anything they pay me to do.

Worst-Ever Case of the Mondays

This weekend, we began shooting “Trailer: The Movie” and we couldn’t be happier. Regardless of our cinematographer bailing on us (10 hours before we started filming: not professional). Regardless of the cops showing up (After speaking to him, Officer Stone told me: Well, you’re not bothering me any. Carry on.) Regardless the rain on Saturday. Regardless the issues with Adobe Premiere. We spent 23 of the 48 hours on set, I got less than 10 hours total sleep, and I can’t remember being happier. There was a moment, just before we started, when all the extras and crew were gathered around Adam and I (we’re co-directing), all eyes on us, everyone waiting to be told where to go, what to do. Surreal doesn’t begin to describe it. We filmed an m-f’ing RIOT on Saturday. We blocked off a city street. We staged 2 different car-chases. We used real guns and fake blood. We shot a fight scene using a defibrilator. The actors were brilliant, the crew was on top of every detail, the footage looks great. And from what I can tell, everyone had a great time. This was our Action Weekend, so most of the scenes were purely physical: lots of running, fighting, driving, shooting. Lots of guns. Lots of fake blood (maple syrup + chocolate syrup + red food coloring = badass). The extras did a really fine job, and they gave a great texture to everything. It didn’t look polished, it looked messy and accidental and perfect. It’s hard to describe the vibe on the set. It wasn’t strictly serious, but no one really goofed off or screwed around. It had a nice balance of everything. there were times when we’d be really serious and no one really talked between takes. Then, other times, usually involving the fake blood, we could barely keep going we were laughing so hard. We stuck to our schedule very well, even got a few shots done from next weekend, but one of the things I’m most proud of is that we weren’t too rigid. We took our time, got the footage we wanted and then moved on. Most of all, with so many action scenes, you want variation. So the second part of Saturday and much of Sunday was shooting action scenes on the fly. See a location, block a fight or a gun shot, move on. We had the freedom to be inspired by the location and as a result, we got unique and awesome shots.

 

 

The Official Logo for 1 of 3 films within our film

The Official Logo for 1 of 3 films within our film

There’s only one bad part to the whole thing: coming back. Adam and I went to a late dinner Sunday night. Our favorite location and the place much of the script was shaped and discussed: IHOP – where dreams come true. We were talking to our waitress and we ran down how many hours we’d spent shooting. “That sounds awful,” she said. But it wasn’t. Maybe it took explaining to her for us to realize it, but I would so much rather spend 23 hours making a film than 10 hours working anywhere else. It was painful to go back to work today. It itched all over and we both called each other complaining. How do you come back from that? It was impossible to feel motivated. I worked my hours, did my job well, but what a waste it felt. All I could think about was shooting. It’s much different than coming back to work after vacation. You wind down from vacation. It still sucks, but the very idea of vacation has a built-in return to something else. This was different. This was more powerful than vacation. This was purpose, that loaded and overused word. And today wasn’t a let-down, it was a fall from grace. It was a crash.

 

For now, I’ll have to get through a week of my job in order to go to work (let’s use Definition #7 that the dictionary provides: everything needed, desired, or expected). All I want to do is set up a shot, block a scene, direct actors, discuss the lighting and set design. Readers, I’m in love.


It Has Come to This

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