Monday, April 03, 2006

what it feels like for a 2nd a.c.

i get to the lovely fifth floor in good time this morning, there are open tables in view of the window, i pull out my computer, and realize i left my power cord at home.
on the trip back, i dream of someday being perfect.

now i have got myself caught up on blog reading that i missed last week, browsed ebay, and bought a used copy of the clash's singles off of amazon. i'm considering buying another talking heads cd, because i feel cool when i buy cds like that.

i also found a site talking about how awesome 'kim possible' is and that it's ending soon. it seems like a cool show. if i watched more tv, i would probably watch it.

beyond is finished shooting in utah and they resume working in l.a. on wednesday. i don't think my name will make the credits, but i am still interested to see something i was involved with on network tv this fall.

a day on set begins sometime before whatever the call sheet said that you got the night previous. on this one, we would look at our call times then decide to be there 30-45 minutes prior, so that we would have ample time to prep the camera. and then add another 20 minutes before that so you can eat.

thus, the day starts at the catering truck, waiting in line with other laborers and placing an order with the energetic cooks. they will make pretty much whatever you want, and i am partial to breakfast burritos. inside the tent there is a long table with all sorts of other breakfast foods. i have found that a bowl of hashbrowns helps pass the time while waiting for my burrito, and a bowl of fresh fruit afterward is probably good for me.

out of the tent, the next objective is to look for one of the shuttle vans that are constantly running between base camp and wherever the day's location is.
if you are ever asked to be on the transpo crew, say no; these guy are the first ones there are the last ones to leave. and yet while i worry about the toll being on the camera crew takes on my life, these guys have managed to do transpo for 20+ years.

on all the features that i have worked on, we have always had a camera truck [actually, outlaw trail started off in the back of a uhaul, which was a nightmare, but we got upgraded to a camera trailer that i really quite liked], but this is the biggest and nicest truck i have ever been in [given that this was also the biggest project i have worked on, that seems natural]--nice and new, a workbench for each camera crew, and shelf space for everything we needed.

i was usually later than we agreed on the night before, yet there were a few days where i got there before the 1sts, in which case i started unloading the carts off the truck: one or two for sound, two or three for camera, and another one that i really don't know where it belonged. on a standard production, you put all of your heavy cases and whatnot on carts and push those around. we were in 4+' of snow, and used sleds to get around.

the firsts come and their job is to begin building the cameras.
movie cameras have about a hundred and seventy parts to them, all precisioned to the point that they must fit exactly right otherwise they don't fit at all. my job is to remember where we put things the night before as we were hurridly wrapping to get home and have them ready to be back on the camera. then i load up the sled with the heavy zoom lens cases, two extra mags of film, a case of all the different filters, and two 'aks' cases ['all kinds of stuff'] that have a trillion little parts in them, and find the sound guys to get my slate from them.
and then we're off.

the start of the day can be fun, and i have learned that if you energetically say 'yeah! i'm great!' and give an occassional 'wa-hoo!' to everyone who asks how you feel that day, you eventually come believe yourself.
that can be a lifesaver.

the nice thing about being on b-camera is that our workload generally isn't too bad. a-camera is off on a tripod shooting something, and we were generally always on the crane. this brings with it some interesting conflicts.
the camera sits on a 'hothead' on the crane, a mount with lots of wires that go to gears and motors that all connect on to the camera at precise points so that the camera can zoom in/out and change its focus while it's flying through the air. after a fews days of setting this up, we got pretty good at doing this and calibrating all that needed to be calibrated. keeping the mess of cords from getting caught in the movement of the head is something to watch out for, but camera tape covers a multitude of sins [you cannot make a movie without tape--remember that].

where the paradox comes in is that sometimes the a-camera second a.c. would call me [sometimes very firmly] to come and give him a hand. while it is part of the b-camera's duty to help the a-camera when they can, i think this was exacerbated by the fact that i was his loader when he was the first on outlaw trail, and so the mindset remains that jeff is around to get whatever he needs whenever he needs [em's saying that 'nice guys not only finish last, they get clobbered' applies here in all its splendor]. so i am trying to wire our camera which really won't be used for a while and the a-camera is yelling at me to get him a [whatever] right now and i look at mr. iceberg who tells me that he needs me here. fair enough, as his authority over me supercedes that of the a-camera. and occasionally i get told by the a-2nd because i wasn't there or 'didn't have my * radio on' or whatever else it may be, despite me calling back and saying that i couldn't come.

the odd thing about mr. iceberg is that we would be hanging around not really doing anything immediate and i would ask if i could go to the truck to get a needed part or whatnot and he would tell me that he 'needs [me] here.'
i never really figured that out, but my job is to do what he asks, and i do it.

while we're doing this, grips are moving around are trying to move the crane into the right spot, the electricians are setting up lights for what may be needed, the snow crew is hurridly sweeping brooms over tracks of 50 people in hopes to make this look like a deserted inuit village, rachel our actor is sitting off to the side in her cdc bio-containment suit having a smoke, steve the assistant director is shouting cheers to the snow crew through the bullhorn, and david the d.p. is skipping through the snow in his coveralls saying it looks great.
and there's even a trained dog who goes and politely sits on the mark provided and will not move, and will bark on command. i smile at the contrast with 'astro' from my movie.....

once they move into whatever shot we're set up for, i check with paula the script supervisor to make sure i have the right scene number on my slate, try to take notes on what lens size we're on, the focus and exposure [although it is hard to keep up on this during the chaos, particularly when it's a cold night and you do not want to take your hands out of your gloves; i got to where i could do my report notes with them on, and i'm proud of that], go out and do the iconic slate clap, and try to keep track of the footage shot for each take--tricky sometimes when the camera is even on a tripod; flying around on the crane, necessity often dictates finding out after three or four takes what the footage is and dividing the difference.

the first half of the day usually goes nicely. six hours makes for some good work, and when they call lunch, we throw tarps over the cameras and pile into the vans that take us back to camp.
one of the rules we learned in college is that you feed your crews well. while student film crews usually are happy as long as you feed them something [em, your food on kimball's movie was great], bigger shows feed you pretty well.
i sit with the grips, because they are all of my friends from college or other projects, and it is a time to relax and laugh and bemoan that we are barely halfway done.

like any endurance sport, film making is hardest when you stop and realize how tired/hungry you are. during the free time at lunch between eating and a visit to the honeywagon, sitting in the parking lot and remembering that now the sun is gone down and it is dark and your hands are somehow cut and bleeding and your face is burned and sore and it will be getting colder and it would be nice to call a day and go home feeling good and tired, yet we still have six more hours of shooting and another 45 minutes of wrap to go.
that's when it's long.
but you suck it up and go back at it.

when the sun goes down, the nite lites go up. i've read about them, but never seen them until this shoot. these look like 15 giant stadium lights on the back of a truck that can be raised sixty feet into the air. these things throw a ton of light, which, when cast upon a frozen lake and barren snow-covered hills, is other-worldly beautiful. combine that with the expansive and clear stary sky, it's a shame there isn't much time to appreciate the beauty of it all [occasionally there is time, but with the sword of damoclese ever present, it doesn't offer much].
i wondered how much that guy operating the truck lights makes.

more work on the crane, more standing around waiting, trying to be prepared for whatever they may need, only to have them call for some fitting ring that you cannot find anywhere and watching people stress out and get tense. i have learned to not worry excessively about this, and that when people get frustrated, politeness and simply saying 'thank you' when they tell you things you already know and could do faster if they didn't spell everything out for you keeps things moving and you sane. that, and remembering that they're all under a lot of pressure, so when they do get after you to let it roll off and not think about it.
like a duck.

a stop at the craft service truck is a little oasis in this crazy world. there are all kinds of food for you like a store without price. the nature valley granola bars and the sweet and salty peanut bars the best to carry with you when things get busy. if you fill a few cups with fruit and candy, people think you're great. they don't say that, but i trust they feel that way.

film making is hours of sheer boredom punctuated by moments of panic, and that gives you a lot of time to think. as long as you keep 35% of your brain on the work at hand, the rest is free to do whatever you like. i wonder about how important a career really is, whether i should find something and attack it, or if as long as i'm doing something, that's all i need, and if i got more education if i could get a job that pays more and provides insurance and makes me only work 40 hours a week, and if it was not as cool but not as demanding; if i really went for it, could i make it up to 'operator', because they don't seem to do much apart from operate the camera, which would make for a good job, or if i would still hate myself for being away from my family for so long; why business students go to business school and then get recruited by business companies with signing bonuses and have a good job lined up, but film students go to film school and then are told 'you will make a difference' and the door hits us on the way out and we end up working 70 hour weeks next to guys who didn't go to school; i wonder how many people on the set have less strenuous jobs than me and yet make more money and how i can get over there, like those dudes at the monitors who don't say much; whether it would be better to have a girl back in provo whom i miss or whether it's good that i don't have someone to ache for up here in the frozen tundra; when i got really frustrated with things, i would sing hymns to myself. it kept the rest of my mind occupied anyway.

don't think about how late it is or how many hours until wrap; just work until they call wrap, because that's all that matters. it's best to just work until the work is finished.

then we throw everything into the sleds and haul it back to the truck, break down the cameras and put away everything, load up the carts and strap them in, and pile in the van to go back to base camp. i get in my honda, take off my boots that are just a little too small, put on my etnies, and sing along to whatever is in the cd player as i drive back to heber city.

when i used to work at sun-mart many years ago, i noticed that at nights i would be lying in my bed and would hear grocery totals scrolling through my head, like a spring unwinding. lying in the holiday inn express, i would hear the voices of the other camera crew, saying words that were not quite one word and not quite another, all sorts of camera terminology melted with other amorphous phrases. kind of weird.

last word: 'if you can't think of something quick, then sarcasm isn't very smart.' toby, the 2nd a.d.

1 comment:

Em said...

Ah Jeff, what a read.

You're very good at thinking, even if you've only got 30-70% of your brain to devote to it at any given time.

When I was doing my internship in Florida with Chantele I noticed that most of the people with cushy jobs in film had more or less sold their souls to get there... (several prominent examples involved years of working in porn... fun) - - Finding the balance between doing work that you find fulfilling and having steady work that pays well that allows you to have the life outside of work that you want (and need and deserve and want to provide for your family) is an eternal puzzle. I don't know of anyone in all the world who doesn't struggle with it.