Big Move

As you may have noticed, there’s been some changes around TAPA. I found a replacement TAPA, who is an excellent writer and very knowledgeable about the business. I may pop in every now and then to write a post, but I’m guessing you won’t even notice the change.

The other change is… we’ve moved! TAPA now officially has an official, grown-up URL: Fellow bloggers, don’t worry about your links going bad; WordPress is kind enough to redirect my old site to the new one.

If you read this via RSS, however, you’ll have to change the feed:

What does all this mean to you, dear reader? Basically, it means regular posting will resume next week, and you’ll once again be getting your daily fill of advice, snarky comments, witty observations, and lots and lots of complaints.

Beach Party Summer

In honor of Memorial Day:

One of the best things about the entertainment industry being planted in LA is the gorgeous pacific coastline that offers such breathtaking scenery. It’s pretty much an unavoidable filming location. I love the beach (though I try not to think about where the city’s sewage goes) and you’d think that when a job comes along that drags you over there it would be great. Getting paid to spend all day outside’ with the refreshing salty breeze and open spaces? Yes, please!

If you hear a pop right now it’s probably the sound of that hopeful bubble bursting, because shooting on the beach is worse than shooting in the tropics with the mosquitos and malaria. The mileage a PA runs may double or triple with the open space of the shore and running through sand makes it about a bazillion times harder (yes that’s a real number! To us it is.) All the equipment needs to get down there and there’s usually a sand shelf between base camp and location, so be ready to hike. All day with no shade makes for serious sun danger but, unlike the desert, being by the ocean can fool you into thinking it’s cooler than it is and that’s how you forget the sunscreen (I have to keep a four hour timer on me, like a real pro, how sad.) Sometimes you’re asked to set up in a freaky cove that the tide fills in while all the equipment is still inside, or over some rock formations that should be better known as Suicide Pass, or worst of all, sand gets in all the crafty… heavens to betsy. Plus, most of the time it’s freaking freezing at any time other than high noon.

Well, at least you can dig your toes in the sand, right? Forget about it, no bare feet allowed. It’s a liability and legal won’t be too happy.

It’s a fool’s paradise. Fuck the beach.

Bonus From the Trenches: I once worked a beach shoot that had a beached canoe as part of the set decor. When the crew moved on from that setup to another area, no one thought to move the canoe until the tide came up and nearly swept it away… and being the only person nearby I had to dive in after it. Did I mention I had a major job interview at a big studio right after wrap? (got the job though, so everything wen’t better than expected.)

Second Bonus From the Trenches: Shooting a zombie movie in the tropics, our extras were made up with dirt and blood and gore. Upon wrap they went swimming in their clothes to wash off; pools of blood appeared around them and it looked like a scene from Jaws.

How Old Is Too Old?

Barbara asks:

I had a question about age – I looked through your posts but was not able to find any posts about it – how old is ‘too old’ from what you’ve seen in the work field? Are people willing to hire inexperienced PAs only in their early 20s?

I’ve met at least two first-time PAs who were in their early 30s; out of the scores I’ve worked with, they are definitely the exception.

That being said, if you’re on your first show (and maybe not even then), people will assume you’re in your mid-twenties. Perhaps this is just my own bias talking, but I wouldn’t make any effort to disabuse them of that notion. I’m not saying you should go out of your way to talk about The Facebook, or whatever it is kids do these days, but I wouldn’t mention going to the theater to see Star Wars on your ninth birthday, either.

The Name Game

Last week, I started working in a new production office, which means lots of new show anxiety. New show anxiety means frantically digging through my room, looking for my social security card in order to prove my identity for my I-9, telling myself over and over, “I should really invest in a filing cabinet.” New show anxiety means Google-mapping the production office about seven hundred times, to make sure that I’ve found the fastest route, like I’m Henry Hudson searching for the Northwest Passage. New show anxiety means washing my good jeans and ironing the #1 shirt in my rotation – short sleeve, blue and white plaid button-down – so that I make a good first impression.

But nothing raises my new show anxiety level like the prospect of meeting twenty to fifty new people and being expected to immediately learn all of their names and titles (and the names of all of the people who might call them regularly).

Luckily, the new production office I’m in is brand new, so not all of the departments have moved in yet. But that hasn’t stopped me from already screwing the pooch. No matter how much the Executive Producer and the Art Director may share an uncanny resemblance to each other (and to Joe Buck), it’s probably a good idea to figure out a way to distinguish them from each other.

My EP and Joe Buck, separated at birth.

My EP and Joe Buck, separated at birth.

The APOC on my last show made flash cards when she got hired, then spent a few nights memorizing names as if she were preparing for a fifth grade social studies test. At the time, I thought, “That’s a great idea. I should do that.” But somewhere between driving to the studio twice a day and single-handedly assembling an entire showroom worth of Ikea office furniture, I just haven’t found the time.

New Beginnings…

I’m usually the last person to need motivation, when it comes to work. I love what I do, but that doesn’t mean I have a hard time getting out of bed at 2:30am for a 4:30 call that’s an hour’s drive away.

Some days you just feel like you’re stuck in a rut. A perpetuation of things you only slightly enjoy, or just simply tolerate. Days can go by one after another, strung together into what feels like some kind of seventy hour work day.

Some days can feel like a new beginning. You feel like you’ve just made a change for the good, jumped into a bigger pond. Out of the few lessons I’ve managed to get my head around, I’ve learned that being as optimistic as you can be is the best way to keep yourself from descending into complete cynicism and apathy. I used to say to people on set: “Hey, I’m just happy to be here.”, which was entirely true.

I found myself saying this less and less this week, on a reality pilot I’ve been working on. But last night, as we were all drinking and singing karaoke in the hotel bar with locals that looked like characters from a Tim and Eric skit, I found myself saying just that: “Hey, I’m still just happy to be here.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll bitch about our turnaround with my fellow PAs under my breath, or complain with the best of them, but I am still just happy to be here. Maybe it was the one beer I had in me, or the fact that I can still remember my day job at an ice cream store like it was yesterday, but I was feeling quite optimistic.

The Remember Letter

The film industry is notorious for its transience. Finding steady work is like finding the fountain of youth: chasing a mirage. Back in the golden days of Hollywood, crew were devoted to a studio. They signed a contract to just work on Warner pictures or MGM pictures and films were cranked out assembly-line-like as they were made in-house. Stars were locked into picture contracts that devoted them to a particular studio brand their entire careers. Nowadays, that idea is stone dead.

More than ever, since the writer’s strike of ’07, it’s all about the “independent contractor.” All film people (if they aren’t part of the corporate machine, ie: they actually work in production) are technically self-employed, according to the tax code. Often a company rehires its entire crew from scratch when revving up a new project. Whether it’s a day long, like a commercial, or the cushy 46 year run of Days Of Our Lives, your contract ends when the show ends, nevermind how long or short it is.

And so we are looking for work almost all the time. Since the projects that pay the big bucks hire off their own Rolodexes rather than touch Monster or Mandy with a ten foot pole, you had better have some good friends up top. We’re all busy people, we can’t be besties with everyone we ever meet, so we have to get used to typing out a shiny turd I call the “remember letter.” That wonderfully awkward piece of prose that says, “Hey! Remember me? We met once at that party/movie with the chickens/panel about Star Trek and we got along/worked well together. I happen to be free for the next few weeks and was letting you know I am available if you know of anyone looking for an assist.”

Yes, even the best of us have to send out these awkward babies to people, even worse they’re often the people we’re most worried about impressing. We have to send a lot of them. In fact, its smart to keep a list of employers or people who are in management circles and let them all know you’re available. Why don’t you let them know you’re available a lot? Like, every two weeks you’re unemployed. Every two weeks contact them and ask for work.

Sounds overbearing? Overeager? What if they don’t like your nagging? What if you frustrate or offend them?

I know “what if.” Nothing if. Nothing will happen. The ones who don’t want to talk to you will block you from their phone. Your emails will file into the spam folder. They’ll tell you to please leave them and their families alone or they’ll call the police. That is IF they are even of that minority of people that will let you know. Most people generally will quietly ignore you because they themselves don’t want to seem like asses, and those people probably weren’t going to hire you anyways.

So if you buck up, it’s ultimately a win-win. We all hate begging and groveling for things, but the most comforting thought I keep in my head regarding such embarrassing necessary evils is that everyone in the field has to go through it. Consider the situation from the receiving end, the production manager who receives not only your message but messages from everyone that they’ve previously worked with who’s looking for work. You are nothing special.

Unless you are special. Unless you make yourself special, special enough that your image truly does float to the top when the next assist job comes up. How do you accomplish that?

By simply doing what I said earlier, calling every two weeks.

The truth is most people don’t even get that far. Most people capitulate and never do press that “send” button. They’re too afraid to speak up, to be forward or to be pushy. By being one of the few that realizes the value and the harmlessness of these routine actions (despite how much we hate them, no one likes asking people they barely know for a job) you are already one of a very few people who has just recently had contact with this employer. He read your email that morning. He simply knows you exist and that you’re available and, if you’re lucky in having worked with him before, that you are reliable. When the current PA turns over for whatever reason, he calls you, because now you exist.

Getting work is often a thing of luck, but it’s not ALL luck. There is effort involved. This is the effort part. If you put in the effort, eventually, at some point, even though during a dry spell it seems like it’ll never happen, you will get work.

That’s All, Folks

Some of you may have noticed it’s been a while since my last post. Then again, some of you may not have, considering the 500 or so readers I still get every day. (Weird.)

There’s a lot of reasons for this, including that awkward feeling you get when you haven’t posted in a while, that the next post had better be Important and Momentous.

So, that’s what this post is. And the reason this post is Important and Momentous is… it will be my last.

Not the last. My last. I hereby announce my search for the next anonymous production assistant.

Over the years, several people have sent me stories, or told me stories on set, and I’ve appropriated these to be in my own voice. The next logical step is to simply hand over the writing to someone else altogether.

This really only makes sense. The job of a PA will continue to evolve, even when I’m old and gray. (I’ve had UPMs tell me stories about mimeograph machines, and carrying quarters around so they could call the office from pay phones.)

Before that happens, I’d like to pass the torch on. Let’s hear stories from someone who had a Facebook account in high school, who doesn’t remember a time when the Soviet Union existed, who has never used a cell phone to actually speak to someone.

I’d really like to keep this blog going, even if I’m not the one doing the writing. Do you think you could be the next TAPA? Email me now.

Sleep well, I'll most likely kill you in the morning.

You see, no one would surrender to the Dread Pirate Westley.