For those of us in the film industry, getting fired is something that usually happens several times a year. Unless you’re on a really long show, in which case it may only happen once a year. It’s not as dramatic, personal, or bad as it sounds and is just what happens when a show comes to its natural end. For those who like to know when and where their next paycheck will come from or what they will be doing a year from now, this is not the life for you.
It’s a world caught somewhere between freelancing and self employment with the added security of being the member of a union. Though a production may find my name by looking at the union roster, much more frequently I get hired by word of mouth and called by people who know people I’ve worked with. And it is then up to me to accept the job or not. It frequently ends up feeling like a big chess game, trying to make moves that will be personally beneficial without burning any bridges which could be useful in the future.
The key is then to be able to enjoy the time off that naturally occurs between jobs. I know many people who jump from job to job because the in between time is too uncomfortable and others who are never really able to enjoy it because they are too worried about when they’ll be employed again. I understand both of these but do my best to both take time off and to enjoy it. It’s the only way I’m able to balance the crazy.
It’s been years since I’ve been able to see down the road for any length of time and think I knew what lay ahead. I’ve chosen a life full of curves but maybe that’s a blessing, causing me to live more in the present than I otherwise might. After all, who ever really knows what lies ahead, even when the road appears straight?
In a way I think it’s all a big exercise in faith. Faith that if you’re on the right road it will all work out, the calls will come, the jobs will follow and in the meantime, why not visit some friends, landscape your yard, and take a nap?
I love the smell of sawdust and fresh paint because of visits to your job sites through the years. I love the sound of an egg beater because it reminds me of waking up to crepes on Sundays. I love your bus because it makes you happy. I love that you taught me and my sister how to dance. I love that you decided to learn a new language and did it. I love that you make friends everywhere you go. I love watching you be a grandfather to my nephew. I love that I grew up in houses that you built and that once again I am living in a house designed and built (mostly) by you. I love that you were the first follower of my blog. I love you babbo.
Happy Father’s Day!
Over Memorial Day weekend I realized I’d forgotten how to cook. For the past three months I’d been making do with hotel room microwaves, room service, and, most frequently, catering and craft service at work, and, as I stared blankly at my open cupboard, I couldn’t think of a thing to cook. I proceeded to feed myself as an eight year old, left home alone for the first time, might. Granola, a Popsicle, cheese, more cereal, toast, an apple, and finally a steamed artichoke with half a bottle of wine. Now, you might think an artichoke is too much for an eight year old, but the fact that I let the water boil away and managed to burn it, demonstrated some very amateur cooking skills.
And, as I sat eating my slightly smoky artichoke, I wondered… Would I remember how to arrive places on time, without a call sheet or a map? Would I know how to schedule my life without a movie schedule doing it for me? I obviously didn’t remember how to feed myself without a catering truck and Jaime’s smiling face asking what I wanted, so what else had I forgotten? It wasn’t the first time I’d wondered these things after finishing a job, but as the light at the end of the tunnel loomed brighter, it illuminated many things I’d spent the past few months ignoring. Fortunately, cooking is always one of the things I find most grounding and I have no doubt that after a few days of staring blankly at the cupboard, it will begin to come back to me again.
No Mist Lasts Forever
Another movie has wrapped, another cast, crew, and group of friends has scattered the way they always do, and the sun of “real life” has burned through the nine week mist of my most recent job. As the years go by, this inevitable ending has become both easier and harder to handle. On the one hand I know our paths will cross again as they always do, but on the other, I know that we have been on an adventure that is nearly impossible to convey to those who weren’t involved and that the small patterns and routines we developed in those nine weeks, now have nowhere to go but memory.
I think that “real life” might be the wrong term, for isn’t it all real? It might seem slightly fantastical that my real life could include hanging with super heroes and aliens while working on “The Avengers”, horses and trains while on “The Lone Ranger”, and crazy frontier women on “The Homesman”, but the truth is that for months on end, those were my realities. There really is a mist that envelopes the cast and crew of a film set and if you’re lucky, it is an amazingly beautiful one, filled with creativity, laughter, and people working exceedingly long hours together, towards a common vision and goal.
The trick is to then somehow blend that world with the one that is made up of your home, city, family, friends, and all that makes you who you are when you aren’t on that film set, doing that job. It is easier said than done as neighbors watch your house, mail piles up, and friend’s calls go unreturned for weeks. After ten years in the business, it is a balance I am still trying to perfect but which has become a bit easier over the years.
When I was younger I went to great lengths to separate these two sides of my life, for what reason I’m not sure. I felt that movies were my job and that was all and I didn’t want them taking over my “real life”, which turned out to be an impossible thing to ask of an industry where 80 hour weeks are normal. Eventually I began to accept this insane, gypsy lifestyle filled with other amazing movie gypsies, as a very real and large part of my life, and only then did the two sides of myself have a chance to work together to create a whole, happy, and fulfilling “real life”.
As this job ends and the inevitable weeks of mail opening, sleeping, and phone calling begin, I feel nothing but gratitude for the path I have stumbled upon. I look forward to when my path crosses with those of dear friends somewhere down the road, on a misty morning, probably outside of the catering tent on day 1 of shooting.
The taxi beeped once outside my house and off I went. With just enough time to empty the suitcase of cold weather clothes and replace with shorts and cotton blouses, I was on the road again. From the windy, chilly, dry prairies of northern NM to the green lushness of SW Georgia, I am in another small town, in another new hotel. The humidity is a welcome relief, already healing chapped skin and plumping hair follicles, though we’ll see how working in it feels on Monday. The air smells softer and heavier, people speak differently, and I’m reminded again of why this life suits me. I find an odd comfort in traveling as part of a movie crew, a temporary family, rolling into a new town, state, or country and having it feel both familiar and foreign simultaneously.
The wind has been blowing an average of 25 mph on the plains north of Las Vegas, NM, for months. Fine dust gets stirred up and trapped in eyes, food, camera lenses, and sweaters, turning them brown and gritty, never to feel truly clean again. On a good day the wind dies down at sunset and on a bad day it doesn’t.
We stand with our backs to it, like cattle, trying not to breathe too deeply, wrapped head to toe in scarves, hoods, and goggles, trying to emerge unscathed.
I look around at the crew and smile. What are we all doing out here? What other profession requires its workers to work through the night, outside, in snowstorms, wind, dust, and rainstorms, to get the job done regardless of personal and collective discomfort? Highway crews, farmers, maybe some others… But movie crews seem to have a particular love of misery, a masochistic, adrenaline induced need to see how bad it can get before it’s just not worth it.
But, in the end, it seems it is almost always worth it. If for no other reason than the bragging rights that go along with the toughest conditions you’ve had to endure. The movie in Russia where you were shooting on top of a train and temps dipped to minus 60. Or shooting in Morocco in dust storms that lasted for days in temps above 115. I’ve heard these stories and joined in with some of my own. For all of the misery that weather and difficult conditions bring, in the end it adds to the adventure and once you get through it, it leaves a great story to be told, and embellished, somewhere down the line.