Life in Hollywood, below-the-line

Life in Hollywood, below-the-line
Work gloves at the end of the 2006/2007 television season (photo by Richard Blair)

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Out of the Frying Pan, into the Fire

This isn't an actual post -- at least, not the sort of post I'm used to writing and you've become accustomed to reading here at BS&T -- because we're still in the month of July, and the July hiatus remains in effect.  I'll probably have something new up next week... but maybe not.  I got my ass kicked on a show all last week, and am still feeling (and hearing) the reverberations.

Not to mention the fatigue.  God damn it, I hate that.  This getting old thing really sucks, kids.  Those of you in your 20's and early 30's have no idea what's coming, nor will you for another twenty to thirty years.  But that'll be then and this is now,  so don't waste a minute worrying about it.  All will be revealed with the relentless passage of time -- and when that day arrives,  you'll know.

Just be sure to enjoy and make the most of your youth while you still have it, because once it's gone, it's gone for good.  At that point, the page will have turned to a much darker chapter of life.

Enough whining.  This post is meant to draw your attention to a much more interesting offering by young Ben Puleo at his blog Delusions of Fresh Meat.  Fresh out of school, Ben made the great leap of faith in taking the plunge here in Hollywood, moving to this City of Broken Dreams to begin beating his tender head against the hard brick wall that is Hollywood.

Breaking into the industry sounds easy when some old fart like me prattles on about how things were back in MY day... but it wasn't easy then and it's not easy now -- and this is a very different Hollywood than I encountered as a greener-than-green wannabe back in 1977.  With no Internet, no Industry blog-o-sphere, only a few film schools in the country, and a strong, thriving Hollywood that was still the center of the cinematic universe, the competition for entry level jobs was not nearly so fierce.  I worked for free on one job -- an extremely low budget feature -- and from that point on, managed to get paid for  my ignorant, fumbling, uneducated labor as I learned on the job. *

I didn't earn much, mind you, but I did get paid.

Things are different in Hollywood these days, where kids with no Industry connections find themselves at the bottom of a very steep and rocky hill.  This town is flooded with young, starry-eyed wannabes here to make their mark on the Industry -- and a few of them will do just that.  The rest will have to go back home or find a way to settle for something less than their Hollywood Dreams.

That's life in the big city.

In an effort to gain a leg up on the newbie competition, Ben recently attended a weekend workshop at PA Bootcamp, which he writes about in his most recent post.  In the not-too-distant past, The Anonymous Production Assistant got into a kerfuffle with the people at PA Bootcamp -- TAPA contending that their workshops were not worth the money, because what PABC teaches can be learned on the job by any sentient, motivated young person in a couple of days.

I won't argue the point with TAPA (who I happen to like), but before the Hollywood newbie can learn on the job, he-or-she has to get that first job... and that's where the PA Bootcamp experience just might prove useful. If you come from outside Hollywood lacking any connections, and thus don't know a damned thing about the realities of the Industry, anything that can help you learn some of the basics and thus be better prepared for that first day on set is worth considering,  including PA Bootcamp.  I don't know anybody involved with that organization, but until someone can demonstrate to me that they're running a scam on vulnerable young wannabes, their PA workshops are at least worthy of consideration.

Everybody has to learn the ropes somewhere, so I don't really see much difference between working for no money at all (as I did for my first three weeks) and paying a nominal sum to learn a few on-set basics.

Maybe it's because I'm closing in on the end of my own Industry career, but I feel a certain resonance in the struggles of kids like Ben as they tilt at the windmills of Hollywood.  I remember well the blend of hope, determination, and fear -- the fear of failure -- that accompanied me to this town so long ago.  A lot has changed since then, and in most of the ways that matter, Hollywood is a completely different place now, but that part of the equation remains the same.  Overcoming one's fear in managing to find yourself -- and your place in the Industry -- is still what this journey is all about.

* I've done my share of freebies since then, of course, but those were a different sort of transaction.  Once you've acquired a certain level of skills and knowledge, the opportunity to work a day or two for free will occasionally arise as others in your peer group seek to climb the ladder.  So when someone you've known for a while is trying to make a spec. commercial to build their reel or is struggling to get   their no-budget first feature off the ground, you help out whenever possible.


amy said...

I can't believe there is such a thing as PA boot camp. When I was PA'ing I was making tea and coffee, stopping cars on roads whilst the camera was rolling, nothing that you need be taught. If people are paying for PA boot camp I can't help but think someone is taking the piss.

Also i commented on Bens blog too, (for some reason I show up as hiccup3000) the first job you get in the industry needn't be runner or PA, it would be much easier to get another assistant job. I find runner jobs are so competitive -this delusion that it's the first job you have to get in the industry. You'd be more likely to find paid work in another department.

Anonymous said...

I think that it a lot of this is based on the individual person. It's kind of like film school; some people do need it to get a leg up and learn about making movies, and others would have found a way to do it anyways. I was never cut out to be a PA, and I think that I was one for all of a day (which turned out to be wrap day when we had awesome sushi for lunch!).
But for many, it's the reality of how you would get in. I think that everyone's path is different. There are some who as early as their twenties are directing commercials and eventually become directors, or are shooting with high end clientele, while the rest of their peers are schlepping coffees and being treated as though they're highly incompetent at counting their own fingers.
Being a PA has just proven for a lot of people to work, but to take it as gospel is kind of silly. You have to put in the work somewhere, but it's a gentle balance between taking that PA job to get in and staying there versus getting a break/ taking the leap. Taking the leap takes longer but it's not impossible. You just have to put up with a lot of crap and deal with the market, which for some departments in the non union world is incredibly saturated.
Being a PA can get you re-routed to a position you never saw yourself doing and you can get stuck on the way, but then again it's a lot more stable in some ways and on a good show you're meeting a LOT of people. Plus those guys work over and over with each other so you jump from show to show. A friend of mine was working as a writer's PA on a great show,
and a lot of people were so jealous. But it became pretty obvious that they had no intention of promoting her, so she eventually left. At some point with some fields, you just have to do the work or situate yourself in the right department/location.

Michael Taylor said...

Amy --

Granted, things are different in England and here -- and a lot different now than when I hit town knowing absolutely nothing relevant to working on a professional film set -- but I saw being a PA as a springboard position from which to observe all the departments on set and learn what they do. That knowledge allowed me to decide to what direction I wanted to go. Unless a newbie happens to know a DP, gaffer, key grip, set decorator, or sound man, it's not easy to get a job as an assistant-anything in Hollywood, paid or not. Say what you will about being a PA, but it does allows a newbie to get some experience on set and see what appeals.

One route in for those interested in working grip or electric is to get a job in an equipment rental house. There, a newbie will learn the jargon and the equipment, and meet lots of best boys and their crews doing load-ins. Eventually, the newbie learns enough to be useful on set, and can start free-lancing. The DGA has a trainee program for people interested in becoming Assistant Directors, but it's a bitch to get in to and even more brutal to complete. Nowadays, it seems that most of the young people interested in this business want to work above-the-line as writers, producers, and/or directors -- and there's no training program for that. Those kids will have to follow Nike's advice and "just do it."

My point was not to shill for PA Bootcamp -- I don't even know those people -- but simply to point newbie readers to Ben's blog to see for themselves if he considered the experience worth it. He seemed to find it worthwhile, so I'm not about to second-guess him.

Anonymous --

I agree -- it's all up to each individual, and there are no guaranteed paths to any kind of success in Hollywood. There isn't a sadder sight in this town than the PA who never moves up and finally ages-out in his/her late 30's, then has to go back to square one and find something else to do in life. I've seen this happen, and it's ugly.

This is a tough business all around -- it's hard to break in and hard to move up. But it can be done... and people are doing it every day...

Anonymous said...

@Michael: I agree. I've met a PA who was in his mid 40s and I could tell you the lights weren't all the way turned on up there. I honestly wouldn't hire him myself and distanced myself from him immediately. Then I found out later he also was kicked off of a lot for having some kind of flip out randomly (as a PA!) and they told him never to come back.
When you are younger, that sort of thing may be 'cute' and people will give a second chance, but people have less and less patience for that the longer you are in this town. It is like we believe that 'anything can happen' when you're new and shiny, and the longer you are here cold hard reality (whatever that means in Hollywood) sets in for some people and people's perception of you and of yourself, as people peg you as this or that.
You're either a mover and a shaker or someone who doesn't get their phone calls returned and can't understand why. It's weird.
Interestingly, I met a PA yesterday who just came into town (3 weeks ago) and the first thing she did was open the door, something rolled out and broke and she went "oops". Hahaha. Have a great day!

Michael Taylor said...

Anonymous --

It's understandable, really. Most young people are still malleable, not yet fully formed -- they have lots of learning and growing to do -- while a guy in his mid-40's is pretty much the person he'll always be. And if that guy hasn't found the motivation or gumption to find a way to move up and out of the PA ranks by then, I doubt he ever will. It's not impossible, mind you, but very unlikely.

That's just a fact of life -- unfair, maybe, but life is famously unfair.

Terrell said...
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