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 has burned 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.
It happened to me, too, and was frustrating as hell.
Rank had 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 everybody talked the big talk about getting their thirty days, not many seemed serious about pursuing an industry career. Unlike me, none of them had ever been on a live set with lights, cameras, and actors -- but the studios were a whole new world for me, and my experience on low-budget location features wasn't much help on those cavernous studio sound stages. The only edge I had were those seven days at Sam Goldwyn Jr. and Paramount, which gave me an idea what we were in for.
Still, my ignorance of the studio grip world was a mile deep and twice as wide.
But while hoping for work as a lowest-of-the-low permit, there was no point worrying about any of that. My first goal was simple: be primed and ready to go when the town finally got busy, then try to get those thirty days. Everything else could wait.
And when Warner Brothers finally called, I was ready.
* Initiation fees were around $1200 at the time. Now they're in the neighborhood of $6000, the seniority system is long gone, and it's not unusual to run into a "thirty-day wonder" on set who can hardly tie his own shoes, much less a bowline, clove hitch, and square knot...
** Full scale was all of $8.65/hour back then.
Next: Stage 16