Tales From the Bottom of the Film Business

Saturday, February 28, 2009

My Favorite PAs

(Note #1: I know this wasn't the blog some of you were expecting after the twittering of last night, but this one was already in the done pile. Sorry, you'll just have to wait a bit for the salacious details).

(Note #2: I thought about writing this entire blog in verse so that it could be sung to the tune of "My Favorite Things," but then I decided that A) I really wasn't up to the challenge, and B) Nobody would actually sing it, and C) If anyone did, I'd feel personally responsible for inflicting that torture on the unsuspecting. So -- I think it was a good decision for everyone involved.)

I'm terrible with names. It's just a fact, and it stems, really, from another fact, which is that, deep down in my soul, I'm an extremely socially awkward geek who often experiences brain freeze when meeting new people. So when someone introduces themselves to me, I'm so focused on not making an idiot out of myself, and being able to say my own name in an ungarbled fashion,
and worrying if I've got pieces of greenery stuck in my teeth, that I inevitably am too flustered to actually listen to the other person's name.

Needless to say, in a business that lives and dies by the shmooze, this can present a problem. It's also especially bad when you work on a different set every day or two and are constantly meeting new people -- or running into people you haven't seen in, say, two years, so that they might as well be new for all the likelihood that you're actually going to remember their names, if you're me.

(When they've lost hair or gained weight or grown beards or dyed their hair a new color, this gets extra tricky. One grip who I did an entire movie with back in the day, and spent a good chunk of that four weeks flirting with, showed up recently on a commercial set I was working on and it took me practically the entire day to realize that he was that svelte, clean-shaven boy I knew in 1996, now doubled in size, with long hair and a goatee).

My biggest problem, for the longest time, was PAs. I know this sounds terrible, but at the beginning, it seemed like there were just so many of them, scurrying about, and I hardly ever had contact with them anyway -- other than when they occasionally helped carry my heavy cases of equipment to set at the beginning of the day, something for which I was (and am, eternally) grateful, but never really had the chance to properly thank them for before someone on the walkie forced them to scurry off somewhere else. Even when I did get to thank them, I would never get names because I'm often late and flustered even more than the usual amount given the prospect of having to set up said equipment in record time. Generally speaking, in my world, the beginning of the day, when the sound mixer is freaking out over our late call being a little too late or the location being next to a construction site is not the best time for formal introductions and hand-shaking.

Although sometimes I don't even get names at the end of the day. Once, I got severely busted for this. After spending two hours one night driving home in the van and gabbing the entire time with one particular PA about jobs where we'd known the same people, I ran into her on set a few weeks later.

"Hey, ___!" she said cheerfully.
"Oh! Oh, hey...Hey!" I stuttered. "How's it going?"
"You don't even remember my name, do you?"
"Sure I do, Hilary."
"It's Kimberly."
"Wow, really? Gosh, sorry, I could have sworn it was Hilary."
"Um, yeah, I'm pretty sure since it is, you know, my name."

Since that little humiliation, I've gotten a lot better. In fact, at this point, I have my own personal catalogue of favorite PAs. This is based, as you might imagine, not only on general helpfulness and the ability to do their jobs well, or at least correctly, but on quirky and distinctive personality traits that make them especially entertaining, and of course, blog-worthy.

First of all, there's Nora. Nora always seems to be looking for both a new guy and an apartment, and so, at a time when I was similarly homeless and unattached, the search for those the two things was the subject over which we originally bonded. Although our attitudes tend to be a bit different.

"Yeah, I just met this one guy, he's been calling me," she'd say, stopping then to bark, "Copy that, going back to one!" into her walkie before continuing without missing a beat, "But I'm really into this other guy I've been sleeping with. Oh, and then I gave my number to some guy in a bar the other night. He was hot, but I don't know if he's going to call."
"Yeah," I'd say, "I've been dating this guy for a couple of months, but he's kind of ignoring me right now."
And then I'd have nothing else to say, but that was okay, because she did.

I've noticed that we tend to flirt with the same men on set, albeit, as you might imagine, with different results. This difference can also be seen in our Facebook pages, where Nora is inevitably replacing one provocative profile picture of herself sprawled, come-hitherly, in bed, with another of her in a bikini, whereas mine tend to be of me in a Super-8 hotel room in some unflattering state of exhaustion, or a baby picture, or a friend's shaved Persian cat, which I put up just because it looked so ridiculous (although nobody seemed to get it when I had status updates that read, "Does this haircut make my head look big?" They would just comment things like, "I could tell you if you put up an actual picture of yourself!")

Then there's Matt, or Goldstein, as I like to refer to him. For some reason, we always greet each other at the beginning of the day by shouting each other's last names across the set like a pair of old Jewish men. He started it. I don't know why.

But Goldstein is really one of the most helpful, friendly and competent people I have ever met. If he doesn't know the answer, he'll find out. If you need something, he will get it. If you need a better lock-up, he will go out and break some heads (although not really because he's too sweet and totally non-threatening like any other nice Jewish boy). But the man knows how to get things done, usually with a smile. Forcing me to wonder, as I do with many of my favorite PAs, what the hell he's doing in the film business.

Then there's Ken. Ken is also super helpful, but this is not just because he's a good PA, but because he's a big fan of my blog. I'm not used to having fans, so of course, while I am very flattered, it also embarrasses the shit out of me. Not to mention that it can lead to the occasional uncomfortable situation on set.

"How's the writing going?" he'll say eagerly and loud enough for everyone, including my boss, who definitely does NOT know I do this, to hear. "I loved the last one! It was great what you said about --"
"Ix-nay on the talk about the og-blay," I'll mutter out of a corner of my mouth as I try to occupy myself with checking Comtek batteries.
"Oh, right, right," he'll reply in a stage whisper with a knowing nod and a smile. Only to return later in the day to bring me a water when I'm standing next to the producer, chirping, "So why haven't you written anything in a while?"

Then there's Lorenzo, otherwise known as, "The Voice." Lorenzo does the most incredibly powerful and seductive lock-up you will ever hear in your life. I don't know anyone else who can shout out, "VERY QUIET PLEASE" in a commanding baritone that both can be heard through concrete and makes you weak in the knees. It doesn't hurt that he's also tall, dark, and a Yale graduate who's far too brilliant to be a PA.

And, actually, he isn't one any more. In fact, the thing about most of my favorite PAs is that they're so damn good, they don't stay PAs very long. While the film business may not be a meritocracy, and it contains some of the most half-baked people in positions of power that you will ever meet, enough of those people start as half-baked PAs that ADs are always looking for good ones to second for them. So a smart and competent multi-tasking wonder like Nora or Goldstein earns their DGA hours and moves up quickly to 2nd AD, or to coordinator/production manager. And then I see them less and less, because they do more prep days and fewer production days, or end up in the moho handling paperwork or running talent all day, either way spending less and less time on set. And then if they move up to first AD, they're so busy spying on the director and trying to keep the DP on track and yelling at their PAs that they have very little time to stand around and bullshit with me any more. (Contrary to what you might think based on some previous bloggage, there are first ADs who I like, and with whom I would gladly stand around shooting the shit all day long if possible. But they have no time for me!)

But then there are always new PAs. My latest fave is Ezekial Wong. Ezekial is a very large guy with a baby face and Chinese parents who were fond of Biblical names. I took an interest in Ezekial because of that odd combo and his totally sweet and helpful disposition, but it wasn't until he showed up to set one day in a tux that we really got to talking.

"It's for work," he said, looking a bit bashful. "I have to leave straight from here to go to my second job."
"What are you, like, in catering?"
"Event security," he replied. "You know, parties at clubs, dinners. Nobody famous, though. Or at least, nobody you'd know. Chinese movie stars and sports figures, mostly. The fifth richest man in China, he always hires me."
"He hires you directly? So you have your own company?"
"Well...I am the company. It's just me and my guys. I should probably incorporate. I kind of just fell into it, but I'm trying to get out, do more of this."

I had a hard time seeing how this kid, even if he is huge, could intimidate anyone. But then I checked out the photos on his Facebook page, and decided that I was quite glad that we were on the same side. (Not to mention that he has 667 friends. Then again, as you might imagine, all my favorite PAs are pretty friend-heavy).

So of course, I friended him too. Because if there's one nice thing about the film business, and having to remember the new names and new faces with which you are constantly bombarded as the new blood comes in and the old blood moves up and over -- and I seem to stay exactly where I am -- it's that you get to make a new friend every once in a while. And they may even help you carry the sound cart up the stairs, or get you breakfast when you don't have time to go to the catering truck, or just keep you awake and lighten your day with good conversation about the secret lives they lead when they're not attached to a walkie.

Friday, February 20, 2009

I Know I Owe

...cuz it's been a month, but for now, at least those of you who have been following the twittering may appreciate these.