The third in an occasional series on my brief career as a grip way back in the day, before the road turned me towards the life of a juicer. If you missed Part One or Part Two, here's your chance to catch up.
You only need two things to become a dues-paying member of IATSE, the crafts union serving the film and television industry in Hollywood and beyond: thirty days of union work in a specific craft over the course of one year, and enough money to cover the initiation fee.* Check off those two boxes and bingo, you’re in.
Piece of cake, right?
There are two basic ways to get your thirty days. Either you work on a non-union show that signs a union contract during the course of production (the show “turns”), or you’ll have to accumulate the requisite thirty days while working as a “permit” -- an off-the-street hire -- which is possible when the industry demand for labor burns all the way through the union roster of eligible workers. Working as a permit is how I got my first few union days at Sam Goldwyn Jr. Studios, then over at Paramount early in my Hollywood journey.
Rank has its privileges.
The Warner Brothers grip department didn’t expect much from permits, and for good reason. Most were there for a paycheck and nothing more, and although everyone talked the big talk about getting their thirty days, considerably fewer were seriously pursuing an industry career. While I’d worked on several movies by this point, most of the permits I met hadn't ever been close to a live set with lights, cameras, and actors -- but this was a whole new world, and my experience doing low-budget location features wouldn't be much help on the cavernous sound stages of Warner Brothers. The only edge I had were those seven days at Sam Goldwyn Jr. and Paramount, which gave me an inkling what we were in for. Still, my ignorance of the studio grip world was a mile deep and twice as wide. I had much to learn.
And when Warner Brothers finally called, I was ready.
* Initiation fees were around $1200 at the time. Now they're in the neighborhood of $5000, and the seniority system is long gone.
** Full scale was all of $8.65/hour back then.
Next time: Stage 16 -- and by "next time," I mean maybe next week, next month, or sometime after Christmas. These grip posts emerge when they're good and ready, and only then.