Tales From the Bottom of the Film Business

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Happy Holidays

Since my friends now know better than to expect holiday cards from me, my friend Sally has requested a blog entry with a Christmas wish. So here's a little Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year's shout out her and the rest of the C7.

And to everyone else, my special message for the holidays: I just checked the TSA website and billy clubs, brass knuckles and kubatons (whatever the hell those are) are not permitted in your carry-on, so please, wherever you're going this holiday season, make sure to put them in your checked luggage.

See you, virtually, in the new year.

Sweet Protozoa of Youth

I recently went to my 20th-year high school reunion. For those of you facing such milestones with trepidation, I have to say, it was a much more satisfying experience than the 10-year. At that reunion, my friends and I stuck to our table like chewing gum on the bottom of a desk, scrutinizing the appearance and actions of everyone else and making snarky comments. This time…Well, we still pretty much stuck together and made snarky comments. But we did go out and circulate, somewhat like the paramecia we studied back in high school did in their little Petri dishes, except our experiment was contained in the ballroom at the Rte 46 Radisson Hotel. Little did we know, back then, how similar we were to them. Our concerns, too, were limited, and while I don't think most one-celled organisms would consider a toasted blueberry muffin and a Tab "sustenance" (or even "lunch," which we did), or cutting homeroom to avoid daily humiliation as "survival," we also did not know much about the wider world.

Now, at the reunion, not only had we been forced to face it, but we were being picked up in it's pudgy little fingers and squashed flat on a slide.
Nevertheless, I felt evolved enough to go over and talk to people I had avoided since grade school -- provoking very evolved conversations, such as:

"Why were you talking to Bob Goldstein for so long?"
"Well, I have known him since 5th grade."
"Yeah, but…Bob Goldstein! Eew!"
"Yeah, right? And have you seen Katie Monroe? She's blown up like a Thanksgiving Day float."

Yes, it’s nice to know that in some ways, we haven't aged a day.

But while the experience itself was pleasant enough, the ramp up to it was definitely not. It was like having your 40th birthday on New Years' Eve – which happens to also, somehow, be Valentine's Day: way too much reason to dwell on accomplishments unaccomplished, anticipate how your marital status or lack thereof will stand out in stark relief against the spouses and smiling, wallet-filling trophy children (I know some of those people must have cut those photos out of store-bought frames, there's no way they could have produced kids that cute -- and know that if you're reading this because I gave you the link to this blog at the reunion, obviously I am not talking about you), and, most of all, scrutinize my appearance for any and all signs of aging. The dark circles under my eyes that used to go away with the hangover, the one or two white, springy hairs that I am not coordinated enough to yank out without spending a good 15 minutes grabbing for the same hair, the additional, er, skin that hangs over the top of my tight jeans that I never used to have, and -- well, I know some of you enjoy these sorts of lurid details, but I'll stop before I make the rest of you want to flee to usmagazine.com (current headlines: "Angelina: I Didn't Mean to Fall in Love With Brad" and "Nicole's Highway Arrest Photos: With Bonus Overhead View!") or some other site where everyone is beautiful and perfectly toned. I'm not.

At this age, when one is confronted with the prospect of being in a new era of one's life (did you know that four years counts as an era? Might even be three years) one begins to consider how one's marketability has gone down, to use the terminology of my chosen field -- though lately it seems the field has not been choosing me, otherwise I wouldn't be home in front of my laptop writing this on a Thursday afternoon. And that's also part of what I'm talking about: it's not just on the romantic front, it's also about work.

Believe it or not, there was a time, back when I had no skills, or very few, that I got hired really just because I was cute. Or because I was cute and nobody else would be sucker enough to work for $200/week. And now? Well, I'm starting to feel like it's not quite as big a factor.

Not that I miss being hired as set candy. In fact, I was just on a job as a third where I felt as if the mixer really didn't trust me enough to give me anything to do and he had hired me solely as the female designated to sit around and talk with him until he got bored, and then to go make myself scarce so he wouldn't have to talk with me any more. Kind of the on-set version of a one-night stand. I think there are definite benefits to the one-night stand: both sides usually get something out of it, when that's not true it tends to be over quickly (as opposed to lasting 14 hours), and either way, it's virtually guaranteed that, at some point during the process, I will have been bought a drink. Not so with feature one-day jobs, which I dislike not only because of the hours, but because I hate spending them all doing nothing. The only thing I hate more than doing nothing is doing completely useless work. Oh, and if one or two people can treat me like I'm stupid while doing nothing but useless work, then I'm all set. In these ways, this job was really excellent. The only upside is that the mixer will probably never hire me again because of my so obviously positive attitude.

Oh, and another thing that makes your day fun is when the members of your very small department aren't getting along. This job also had that going for it. Think of three people in a lifeboat: they know, theoretically, that they have to stay on board that thing to survive, but if they've been there for a couple of years, they might be willing to take their chances on the open water. In this case, the boom had already chosen to jump ship. Hence the promotion of Jeff, the third, that left me with his job.

"You want to be Brett's third?" he asked me at the beginning of the day, "because that position's open."
"No, I'm not really -- "
"What about boom operator? That position's open too."

Of course, Brett and Jeff still had to talk to each other, but they did it as little as possible. And when lunch was called, instead of sticking together like you're supposed to -- who's going to sit with you at lunch if not your own, loser department? -- they both flew out of there like pool balls after a break. I suppose I could have tried to tag along with one of them, but then I would have felt like I was taking sides, and in all honesty, I was perfectly happy to get away from them both and go off to sit, alone, in a tiny café and eat a pot pie and watch the waiter gush over every little dog that came in. There were a lot of them, it was the West Village.

But I digress. My point was that I worry sometimes that my age puts my job at stake, and I don't mean just because I have my mother's knees -- aka, the knees of a 65-year-old woman. It's because now I will have to survive solely on ability, personality and charm. Yes, exactly. Those of you who frequent this site see the problem with this scenario.

I know that plenty of women have faced this problem. Film, in particular, is a young person's game, and being female just magnifies that. It's not a problem in every department because, let's face it, there aren't a lot of women in most departments. But I know older script supervisors who feel like there are directors who have dumped them for the younger model. All of my scripty friends would admit, in fact, that part of the script supervisor's job, while incredibly important, is to be an enabler, that's why they're mostly women, and every man wants a pretty young enabler sitting next to him, holding his hand, as he sits in his director's chair, preferably one with a built-in cup-holder, holding a latte.

Luckily, it's a little different in the sound department, but to some mixers, boom operators and thirds are looked at the way cameramen look at second ACs: like handmaidens who know how to do stuff. And lots of other people look at them that way too. One of the mixers I work with, when she was a pretty young boom operator (not that she's not pretty now, she still has men half my age hanging around her cart) was asked out by Jack Nicholson, and the director and actors on one film she worked on even talked about how hot she was on the DVD commentary. I'm sure she was a good boom op too, judging by the fact that she's a good mixer, but now that she's moved up to being her own boss -- and the boss of me -- and production managers and coordinators and producers are the ones who hire her, most of them are women. So she really does get by on abilities, personality, and charm.

She also just cares a lot more than I do. Because as you all know, I don't want to be a mixer. Moving further up the food chain, to a place where I get to hire the entire crew (so that maybe a lot of them are women), now that's more like it. But I'm not really any closer to being there than the last time I blogged.

Nor even much closer to being there than I was ten years ago. You can't talk about being an aspiring filmmaker or writing a screenplay at a reunion because everyone is writing a screenplay, or thinks they are, or thinks they have the perfect idea for one and all they need is to get Screenwriting for Dummies and find the time and they'll be John August (if they know who John August is, which they generally don't because they don't know anything about screenwriting). I did have things I had directed in the past year to talk about at the reunion, but then you tell people that they can only see them on the internet and their eyes glaze over and they think you're just another person who films their pets and puts them on YouTube.

What could I do, as I put myself under the microscope for the big event, to feel more ready for the challenge? I have drawn a line in the sand about certain things: I will not get plastic surgery, I will not do Botox, I don't think I'll ever dye my hair (this was once also an absolute "no" but now that I'm there, I've started to equivocate a little). I think the stampede toward youth in this country, and in the entertainment business in particular, is disgusting, and I certainly don't want to be a part of it. But then you look in the mirror and you think: but I want to look better than this.

So what did I do before the reunion? I got my teeth whitened. It was oddly appropriate since the last expensive dental work I had was when I had to have all four of my wisdom teeth pulled before I could get my braces off -- which I did the summer after graduation. I looked like a chipmunk for a week, but it was worth it. I'm not so sure about the whitening, which cost me a ridiculous amount of money. They do look better, and looking better makes you more feel confident, and all of that crap. And I guess it was refreshing to regress, briefly, to the appearance-obsessed person I was at 17, who fantasized about having a mock turtleneck in every color in the J. Crew catalogue. But it was also nice, after observing who was the same and who wasn't, and who had gotten so much work done that she looked unrecognizable, to know that, no matter how much I've aged, I'd take the somewhat developed creature I am now over the one that I was any day. Some day, if evolution hasn't given up on me (and I haven't given up on it), maybe I'll even become a full human being.