Cultural Junkdrawer: Film Crew, Covid-19 and the “Elite” myth

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Cultural Junkdrawer

 

Film Crews, Covid-19 and the “Elite” myth!

 

 “The History of every major Galactic Civilization tends to pass through three distinct and recognizable phases, those of Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why, and Where phases. For instance, the first phase is characterized by the question ‘How can we eat?’ the second by the question ‘Why do we eat?’ and the third by the question ‘Where shall we have lunch?”

Douglas Adams – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

 This morning I was scrolling through twitter, because I’m over 35, not because I have an onlyfans account. I came across a CBSnews tweet about a Sherman Oaks restaurant owner’s frustration with a video production crew setting up catering in the parking lot next to her recently closed patio seating. Here is the link

 First off, I feel terrible about her situation. Tens of thousands of small business owners like this woman have been financially body slammed so hard from this stupid pandemic and seen little or no support from any of the governing bodies telling them to adhere to ruinious safety restrictions. The frustration and anger must be overwhelming. Especially after weathering 40+ years of Los Angeles’ fickle tastes and trends. So I ain’t hating on this woman or her exasperation with the situation.

 In fact she makes it clear to the news crew that she is not against film production at all. Which is a smart move considering that film crew members make up a huge percentage of the local population. Blaming the film crews would be like publicly decrying country singers in Nashville, cardinals in the Vatican or strippers in Las Vegas. Where it seems she has an issue is the fact that the catering for the production can do the same thing she was doing but she can’t do anymore but the video production still can (My head got a little swimmy there for a moment). So once again, I’m deeply empathetic to her plight.

 From her perspective this is a clear double standard with her business being unfairly treated. And I can understand that wholly and it isn’t without merit.

 From a film crew perspective, of which I share, Things are a bit different. Having been film crew for nearly 30 years in set electric (I get my 25 year union pin in 2021 and a few years non-union before that) I’ve been through just about every experience my job can throw at me. From dozens of rattle snakes slithering around to chocolate sculptures to fireballs 30 feet wide. I’ve seen fire trucks explode, alien invasions and even Bill Bellamy line dance to “Cat Scratch Fever” while John Doe of the punk band X watched. No joke, the straight up weirdest day I’ve ever had was on the “My Name is Earl” “Creative Writing” episode where Ethan Suplee (as Earl’s brother Randy), an Orangutan and H.R. Puffenstuff fought ninjas. This is not word salad! These things I have borne witness too. The day productions shut down in March I had been rigging* on “Lucifer”. The previous day had us bringing a 10 ton truck filled with equipment up narrow, snowy roads to Mount Wilson observatory for the main rigging crew to put in. Covid-19 was on everybody’s mind and we had heard talk of a shut down. I had my calltime** for 6 am the following day. When I arrived at the Warner Brothers stages my best boy*** informed me that the production was shutting down due to the Covid crises. A crippling and/or killer virus that the Trump administration had so far denied even existing or had just shifted to admitting it was, kinda around but by no means as dangerous as the “liberal media” with an agenda to ruin The Orange Skull had made it out to be had stopped a multi-million dollar budgeted netflix show. With less than three days left in the production of the final episode. 

 Did I say multi-million dollar? Try the whole freaking Movie/TV industry! To the tune of billions of dollars! Knowing that this would be at least a few months but anticipating things getting worse because, you know, there was a belligerent vacuum of leadership in the highest levels of government, I settled in and started watching a bunch of TV shows I never got to watch because I was too busy making them most of the time. While in the back of my mind wondering how the entertainment industry was going to cope when all the new episodes of “Young Sheldon” and “Westworld” had been burned off. Because you can’t do more than one episode of “911” where everybody is on a conference call.

 Not long after the shut-down all the guilds, unions and other regulating/governing bodies associated with production started doing zoom meetings. They were earning their initiation fees and quarterly dues by figuring out what to do when this nasty little virus didn’t go away. Protocols were figured out as unbiased, hard data, scientific research about corona virus came in. What to do for a work environment where everybody is in close proximity to one another for 12 hours or more. How to deal with being in different, random, uncontrolled environments (aka: locations) on a daily basis. Basically sus out all the other tricky, unique logistics that are necessary for a movie/TV production to take place.

 One of those logistics was feeding a crew of triple digit (or high double digit) numbers on location or otherwise. The solutions have been… different and certainly not standardized. One show I’ve dayplayed**** on had a zig zagging maze of plexiglass on each table creating a clear barrier between diners. This protects from the damnable “droplets” and such from spreading from one maskless eater to the next. OH HELL YES we all “visit your brother in prison” feel. Another show had two people at a table but at opposite ends ala that once scene in Batman 1989. Another show had that set up but we were told we couldn’t talk. 

 As a crew member I’ve had my nose swabbed for testing every time I get a gig and then during the gig while I’m on it. I’m truly surprised that “Covid testing” hasn’t shown up as a fetish yet on Fetlife.com… or so I’m told by friends that are on it. I wear a mask all day sometimes outside in 100 degree heat. I get my temperature checked when I get to set and keep a contact tracer in my pocket to track who I’ve been near in case someone tests positive. I sit behind a plexi wall to bullshit about what’s going on or just bitch about the hassle the protocols are. I get paid a half a day to go through a testing faculty in a parking deck but if the timing doesn’t work out I can’t do a job because I can’t get the test done at the time required (I just lost two days on a job because the one day I was working was the only day I could get tested for the other job) It’s weird and scary being on set and that’s just working on a cooking show!

 I don’t like wearing a mask for 12 plus hours a day. But I do because these rules are in place for a reason (Masks work people! Countless scientific research supports this fact) and I’m responsible not only to myself but my fellow crew mates. It’s part of being a fucking professional. I can’t say the same thing for the patrons of this bar and grill and there is no way to have anything in place to protect anybody on either side of the counter.

 The important thing is that things were being done and a reasonable effort was put into place to maintain a safe work environment for the numerous people trying to earn a living. Eating outside under a tent, which has been SOP for location work 95% of the time anyway is part of it.

 Earning a living! Which brings me to the next part of this column. Seeing this twitter post (with a snarky comment from a friend of mind) and the subsequent hot takes that followed was what got me on this column idea in the first place. One guy commented along these lines along with my response (I’m Grand Moff Mike if you haven’t guessed)

 

 

 Even my friend who shall also remain nameless because she feeds off of hate and her current job is giving her a bellyful came at it like “LA is so stupid”.

 So where I take issue is being called an “elite” simply because I live in a city and state that isn’t overwhelmed by a crippling financial blight and work in an industry characterized by activists and outspoken artistic types. And I admit, I am what would be considered “Liberal”; I want Americans to be healthy and cared for. I believe women should have autonomy over their own bodies. There should be sensible gun laws. Kids shouldn’t be put in cages. People with different points of view deserve to have them as long as they don’t try and shove theirs down my throat. A government should serve its people and not the other way around. So, yeah, I’m liberal. But I’ve never been an “elite” because I have compassion and condone critical thinking. That should be considered plain HUMAN! I’ve never looked down my nose at anybody, except maybe Nickleback fans. Why? Because Nickleback sucks! Also because I am an hourly wage earner. I carry heavy stuff in the rain at 4am in the morning. My back is perpetually sore. I constantly find myself sitting under one of those tents you see in the clip having “Lunch” at midnight on friday. I have a hard earned and learned ability to be flexible and think on my feet but still follow essential rules because if I wasn’t this job would drive me insane. I couldn’t solve unexpected problems and people, not just me, could get seriously hurt.

 What I don’t do is sip tea with my pinky out, quote Marx and figure out how to “Gay up” american culture. That is an image that particular people want to cultivate because that image suits their agenda. I never sip my tea with my pinky out.

  I’m not an elite, I am skilled labor. That is true for every person working in every department on a production.

 Plus seeing stuff blow up never gets old.

 I am also currently an essential worker because we as a society would descend into anarchy and barbarism a lot sooner if we didn’t have season two of “The Mandalorian” or “This is us” to watch nowadays.

 If I ever make a living slinging words, I still won’t consider myself better than anybody else because I’ve been up and down the ladder and, call me a libertard here, I think everybody should be treated with baseline respect.

 Except Nickleback fans.

 I empathize with restaurant owners and I don’t envy the hard, unpopular decisions our leaders have to make in this situation. We’re all playing with this shitty hand that has been dealt to us. Some are better adjusted to cope than others. I guarantee you that if covid wasn’t kicking the shit outta the restaurant business and a show I was on had catering set up next to Pineapple HIll Saloon and grill some crew would hit that place for a burger instead of what was served by production. Or at least have a drink after work.

 On a follow up note that conversation with the twitter guy didn’t degenerate into a screaming match. I wished him well and he did the same. So there is possibly hope for us yet.

 I didn’t have the heart to ask if he was a Nickleback fan, though.

 

*Rigging – Putting in necessary power, lights and other essentials before the crew shows up. Also taking it out. Normal, sensible, productions have whole crews in several departments that do this and rarely ever appear with the shooting crew.

**Calltime – The time crew members are required to be on set.

***Best Boy – Common parlance for my immediate supervisor and administrator of the department. It should be noted that the “boy” part is a holdover in the slang. I’ve had plenty of female “Best Boys”. Official term is ACLT or assistant chief lighting technician but none of us say that because we’re not dweebs.

****Dayplayed – There are times, sometimes multiple days a week, where a crew needs to beef up personnel (night exterior, condor duty, multiple locations are examples for set lighting) Those people are called Day Players, not regular crew but recurring labor when needed. The protocols for covid have been a mixed blessing if you are a dayplayer (like the example I cited above).

Anytime Costumes

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