Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Our Top Story Tonight: Poor Chick Acts Like She's Better Than You

A day in the life of being unemployed but feeling jazzed about life may unfold in the following manner:

1. Bike to that new Starbucks that isn't overcrowded yet and spend your rainy day savings on a latte. It's okay to get a "grande" because it's a skinny latte.
2. Also get cream cheese pumpkin cake. It's okay because you got it with a skinny latte.
3. Pop open that laptop and check your emails, apply to jobs, and let grandma know her letter arrived in the mail.
4. Bike from there to the library. In the process you may speed down an epic tunnel you've only ever driven through. You may age 10 seconds backwards.
and 3 years forward when it's time to bike back home.
5. Jack music from the library, by which I mean believe yourself to be a total genius because you figured out that you can check out CDs there for free.
6. Meet up for lunch with your friend who works in downtown, and take your food to the swanky outdoor rooftop terrace of a building neither of you works in.

7. Head back to the library, pop that laptop back open and make significant editing progress on your okay-it's-shitty-but-getting-slightly-less-shitty draft of your pilot... whoah, when's the last time you ENJOYED writing this?
8. Bike back home and blog.

You may or may not be wearing your pajamas while all of this is happening.

Yep yep yeppity yep yep, it has been an "up" day for sure. In the midst of "interim unemployment," without a structured schedule I tend to bounce pretty frequently between up and down days. I've had a couple downer days since leaving my job, but for every one of those days there is a day like today. "Jessica," you might say, "I believe that's the sign of a personality disorder." Nonsense! You worry too much. Stop distracting me while I'm shaving this stuffed animal.

I have a couple other life updates which may or may not be contributing factors to my peachy mood. One is that I got a small production gig as a 1st AD on a short film next week. MAKIN' DAT ULTRA-LOW BUDGET GREEEEEEEN DAWG.

Second is that on Sunday I had my first experience at The Standard. The Standard is a scene-y lounge/venue in a swanky downtown hotel known as, The Standard. I've never been because I have a pretty serious allergic reaction to West Coast guidos, but it's one of those places that's like,

*nasally voice*
"Ohhhh you wanna go to The Standard? Me and the girls were gonna go party at The Standard. You've never been to The Standard? Ohhhhhh my gaw how can you say you live in LA when you've never been to The Standarrrrrrrd."

So I decided to take my ratty ass up to their roof and check it out for myself.

Who's here to party?
I also dragged my boyfriend along with me, who is even more cynical about such places than I am. That's perfect because cynical people are like a portable live-action Mystery Science Theater 3000.

We did not get off to a great start showing up to the pool party late and standing in the line outside for an hour and a half. But all in all, it worked out because of 3 infallible factors:

1. Alcohol
2. Outdoor water beds
3. Giant pretzels

Absinthe somehow entered the equation, but I didn't ask for that.

Once given roof access we met up with one of my film friends and her posse of small, attractive blonde women and proceeded to drink. The wildlife at The Standard was amusing^n. There was a fair mix of successful models, desperate models, and Hollywood weirdos dancing around in bathing suits and participating in everyone's favorite mating ritual, "Guess how much I paid for these sunglasses." In that regard there was really never any hope for me; the girl who gave us our wrist bands had already called out my $12.50 bathing suit top from Forever 21. So instead, I just acted like the socially passable version of a 6-year-old on a jungle gym and bounced around on the weird water bed pods they had by the pool.

One section of the roof is a "biergarten" that in my opinion was getting a lot less attention than it deserved. It was a cute patio area surrounded by [fake] greenery and had a ping pong table, a second bar that nobody was really using, and a stand where a dude was straight up making giant pretzels. Boyfran and I split one, by which I mean, I think I ate part of his half. It was truly das Secret Biergarten.

Ultimately, The Standard is pricy and maybe a place to visit every once in a blue moon (as you may have guessed, I seriously need to financially starve myself to even out the past few days' expenses). But it's certainly not my idea of a standard weekend outing.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

On the Subject of Almost Getting a Job

Last we met I had dropped the probably unsurprising news that I was no longer working my EA job. As soon as I was unemployed I did what any sane person would do.

I went to a beauty salon.

AND THEN I kicked it into high gear looking for work. I could only think of my depressing post-grad struggles of applying to a million and one jobs that I was not qualified for, dedicating 10 minutes at a time to filling in a single obnoxious online application for NBC and Disney, blissfully naiive as to how much of my time I was actually wasting. I could probably have campaign funded, shot, and distributed a movie in all those little 10-minute increments combined.

But lo and behold, when I began applying to industry jobs this time around I had a startling realization: I have been alive for a year! And in that year I actually made some strides in developing my career. I got my foot in the door the way most everyone I've talked to does it, and that is: somehow.

This is also how I get into house parties.
Somehow: I got valuable experience on both the production and administrative side of film. I learned that I have a passion for production design and got experience doing that, too (hat tip to male-friend-Casey for giving me the opportunity to make that discovery). I learned what stuff like "call-rolling" and "asking for avails" is. I networked, whatever the hell that means. I learned how to ask for things. I learned how to act like a genuine industry-style liar.

And ALL of these things combined have made me a more appetizing candidate for industry jobs

The job application process has been a funny one. As I mentioned, I have been doing exactly what I did when I first graduated, which is sit glued to a computer to the point of wanting to vomit every time my fingers touch the keys, and just apply to everything I could remotely make a case for.

However, some key differences:
  1. A year ago, I applied to anything-anything... swim instructor jobs, tutoring gigs, canvassing, technical writing, egg donations: just a jumbalaya of miscellaneous hats that might fit on my head. This go, I have only been applying to industry jobs, and the occasional writing gig I don't have enough resume experience to get. Which I'm kind of okay with, because blogging about health and fitness sounds so depressingly boring I would probably just eat all the time and get fat.
    Worst fitness blog ever.
  2.  I am reaching an impasse I never thought I'd reach because I didn't know such an impasse existed: corporate/administrative versus production. These are two very, very different aspects of the film and entertainment world. At some point you sort of have to go with one or the other; they are very different skill sets and your potential employer will wonder where your true allegiance lies (how do I know? It fucking happened to me). I began in production, which is the physical making-of the movie. But with the EA job I dove head-first into the administrative world of what are called "desk jobs" (I know, super random name, right?). I've reached a point of contention because I enjoy production work more, but I enjoy the security of a desk job more. I could honestly swing either way-- like your mom-- if I knew which avenue was a faster track to that numero uno goal of writing for TV. My brain tells me it's the corporate side, but my scrappy vindictive production side is crossing her arms and huffing, "Well you don't KNOW that." 
If there has ever been fodder for a debate about the best point of entry for "breaking in," this is that fodder. I invite one and all to write their opinions and experiences on this in the comments section.

I am your fodder.
I had a surprising number of bites in the first few days I applied to things, booking 3 interviews in the span of a week. The first one was an absolute trip because it was for an EA gig at... bum ba da dum... dum da da dee dum... ya ta ta ta... Paramount Studios.

Needless to say, I rolled up to the lot feelin' like a straight up G.

And, dear friends, for that one brief moment in time, I truly was.

...'Cause I was OFFERED the job!

 Champagne on me, right?

Not exactly. From the second I began that interview I knew I had stepped into something intense. You know your work environment might not be so great if your interviewer makes a point of telling you at at least six individual moments, "If you are not aware of every single thing that is going on, you will get run over." You could almost see the blood flying from his mouth. So I spent a few days entrenched in the "let me think about it" process that went something like this:

"It's a job at Paramount."

"But that dude seems a little intense. Or like, a lotta intense."

"Yeah, but, it's a job at Paramount."

"And you'll be expected to know how to do copious numbers of things you've never done before and master them within an impossibly small timeframe."

"I'll take that chance, it's a job at Paramount."

"You'll also be basically on-call and live in constant terror of being hit up by your boss at bizarre hours of the night."

"I could maybe do that for a job at Paramount."

"I mean, what do we even know about this guy? His name hardly comes up on Google searches."

"But on my resume I can say I worked at Paramount."

"You'll also be horribly miserable and stressed out and overworked moreso than at your other job."

"It doesn't matter, I'll network with other people while I'm eating lunch. At Paramount."

"Who knows how long you'll even be there? The last dude was fired."

"I don't care, 'cause it's Paramount."

"Jessica, you have presented both sides of this case to multiple people and everyone has told you it's not worth it to work in an environment that antagonistic. Don't do it."

So I told the man I'd think about it some more. This was, however, apparently a tip-off to him that I was not ready to handle the rigor of this job. And you know what, homie was probably right. As fricking cool as it would have been to work on the Paramount lot, I very likely would have, as the oracle foretold, been "run over." Long story short, I didn't end up landing the job and my relief is hardly a secret. In my book of memoirs this chapter will be titled, "The Time I Got (and Lost!) a Job at Paramount."

Now that I've had my little backdoor bragging moment... other pokes in the fires, you ask?

Well, earlier this week I had an interview for a mind-numbing receptionist job at a talent agency, which is actually a thing people do to break into the industry. But I didn't tell enough beige lies so I didn't get that one. Tomorrow I have an interview for a personal assistant gig to a TV director, which would be an absolute dream come true if he didn't live 30 some-odd miles and 60 some-odd minutes from my home. I also spoke to an actress who runs an acting school and is looking for an assistant, so that could potentially be a thing (...deja vu?). At some point I was told about a job as a nanny ("Personal Assistant" the resume will say) for an adolescent actress who travels internationally on a regular basis. That would be fun, since I actually jive with kids pretty well, and I'll deal with Varuka Sault if it means I get an all-expenses-paid trip to the Bahamas. But it ultimately boils down to what's the best career move.

Do I know?
Does anyone know?

I'm still jobless. But having a great time. Everyone should quit their jobs during the summer. The end.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Still Rolling: The Low-Budget Feature that Shouldn't but Did Anyway

Dear Blogger.com,

I completely understand if you want nothing to do with me. After I abandoned you, and left you to host 50 blog posts all by yourself, it's a wonder that you'll even give me the time of day. But I've returned, baby. And I promise never to abandon you again, unless I sign onto another heavy duty film shoot, in which case, I will completely abandon you again and come crawling back when I'm bored or feel obligated to write.

You see, Blogger, May was a trying month for me. It all began two weeks into April, when pre-production became a WHAT THE SHIT IS GOING ON-fest. Suddenly I was ripped from my desk, forced to gather up what office supplies I could carry into a heinously ugly prop purse with cow print, and do the hardest administrative work I've ever done in what I can only describe as a shanty production office. Every day I essentially had to build and deconstruct my office, setting up fold-out tables and chairs and hauling a heavy-ass printer to and from the car each day. I thought I was going to die.

And then, production happened.

And suddenly all the feelings of why I love film and film production flooded in. I was working in a team setting. I was getting to think of my feet.  I was up and constantly moving. I was finding small opportunities to be creative. I was talking major walkie jargon. I was low-key stuffing my face with craft services. And I was strategizing shit like it was Risk.

Except I didn't lose friends after it was over.
 The word for it is "thriving." For all the waiting and date-pushing and wondering if this project would even get up off the ground, I finally got to be a part of a feature film. And I loved it.

That's not to say I loved every minute of it. Some times were hard. There were days I just wanted to book it at 90 mph out of Simi Valley and go hide under my bed. I had to deal with being antagonized by one or two higher-ups, sitting on the ground tied up in computer cords in the sun and be generally uncomfortable for 3 weeks, being forced to arbitrarily "fire" an unpaid PA who was smart and hardworking, and trying to reconcile doing what needed to be done versus doing what my boss was telling me to do.

There were lots of on-set atrocities and brands of unprofessionalism I have never seen before-- and consider that I am coming from a background of only student and short films. For Chrissake, two consecutive 10-hour turnarounds when we kicked into overtime on both days?! Illegal, unprofessional, and just kinda not cool.

Soooo deets. Deets. Everybody wanna get those deets. It's kind of hard to give that especially when I'm not sure how much information to risk publishing online, but what I can do is isolate some memorable moments.

17 Isolated Memorable Moments

caution: some name-dropping ahead
Because I learn  from my employers
  1. Being on set the first day on a remote ranch in Santa Clarita where we had zero cell reception, thus forcing the entire crew to share a single land line on a phone that could not have been made before 2002. Oh, and for about a solid half hour the line was tied up by the ranch owner talking to someone on the other line.
  2. Being asked to drive the director's car around the neighborhood just so the air conditioning would be cold enough when she got back in the car.
  3. Watching gargantuan Lou Ferrigno hold up a small, fluffy white dog and recite the line, "I've got a surprise for you!"
  4. Watching gargantuan Lou Ferrigno hold up Verne Troyer like a baby.
  5. The director needing dogs for a scene and literally wandering around the mall parking lot calling out to people with dogs if they would let us borrow them for our movie.
  6. Meeting Paul Sorvino and deciding that he and I probably wouldn't be very good friends.
  7. Meeting Jim O'Heir and deciding that he and I need to be friends.
  8. Hearing the director shout angrily, "That was perfect! We should have shot that! Why didn't we shoot that? Somebody tell me why we didn't shoot that!" when it's her job to call action.
  9. Watching the 1st AD try to get the lead dog to bark by getting on all fours and making growling sounds
  10. Participating in the ongoing joke of everyone shouting "Still rolling!" because for whatever reason we almost never cut between takes.
  11. Having a new sound mixer come fill in on the last day and take room tone... and seeing everyone simultaneously realize that the first guy did not once take room tone throughout the entire shoot.
  12. The day we shot the epilogue which calls for several Australian Shepard puppies being put up for adoption, so we put an ad out on Craigslist to borrow puppies. Sure enough, some dude drove a bunch of cute fluffy puppies to set and generated a lot of distractions because everyone wanted to pick them up... our lead actress even adopted one!
  13. Buying the entire crew "second meal" by making the world's most epic late-night In n' Out run:
  14. Stopping by a Taco Bell drive-thru on this same run to get a vegetarian option, but the line was so long we waited about 10 minutes before realizing we had to get back to set. Unfortunately, by that point about 4-5 other cars had lined up behind us. So the Production Coordinator and I got out and went up to each of their windows and said there was an emergency and we had to get out of the line. We looked official because we were still wearing our walkie head-sets. One guy even asked me, "Are you with the police??" And sure enough the four cars backed out for us. It was a magnificently choreographed feat that almost ended in a fight breaking out between two cars.
  15. The point at which we needed one dog to bark to make the lead dog bark, but in order to make that dog bark we needed a third dog to make him bark. So in all we had a chain reaction of three dogs barking at each other.
  16. Hearing Judd Nelson say that this film was a sign he should go into retirement. 
  17. Unwinding after a long 13-15 hour day of shooting by joining the crew in the bed of the grip truck and drinking beer.
You can sort of paint the picture from there. I'm trying not to be too sprawling with my explanations because I had a feeling that this would be a beefy blog, so I'll try to wrap things up.

So beefy. So bloggy.
What I really want to pen down is my learning experiences from this project. Yes, let's all gather around the campfire and have a come-to-Jesus moment about learning and partaking in "invaluable opportunities." I'm sure we'll all feel better that way.

Shit I Learned from this Project
  1. Name dropping is a snowball effect leading to success. You tell a casting agent, "So-and-So is attached to the project," and then they're more inclined to pass it on to their client Such-and-Such. And then you've got both So-and-So and Such-and-Such on the project, so the next agent will be even more likely to recommend it to their client Shake-and-Bake.
  2. Always over-budget. Not that I didn't know this before, but I've never seen an aftermath quite so disasterous. It would have been funny if it hadn't involved my paycheck.
  3. On set, food is politics. The food you serve your crew is a symbol of how much you appreciate them. Oh, and if you serve them all the same so-so food and then go off and get something better for yourself during lunch break, don't be confused when people think you're a total D-bag.
  4. Some actors are total divas when they haven't earned the right to be.
  5. Some actors are total divas when they have earned the right to be.
  6. Some actors are not at all divas even when they have earned the right to be.
  7. Lying is an inevitability in this industry; the true deal-maker is the tact with which you do it
  8. Always ask for stuff. Sometimes people give it to you even though you have no reason to ask for it in the first place.
  9. In that vein, keep track of how much money people owe you. Most of them are not nice enough to simply give you what you're due.
  10. TRULY, the only difference between working on a feature and a short is the length of time you spend doing it. Everything else is pretty much the same.
  11. For all the disgusting corruption that exists in making a movie, there are also plenty of people who will have your back and truly think like a team.
  12. Being an Associate Producer means absolutely nothing.
  13. Always get room tone!
OH AND bonus lesson: don't tell your boss you're planning on quitting unless you're prepared for that to be your last day. I formally quit working for this production company last Tuesday but agreed to stay on until late June. Perfect, just enough time for me to start putting out feelers and resumes, right? Well, it would have been, until I got a call Saturday morning saying that a new girl would be starting immediately and I didn't need to come in Monday.






Yep, so I'm alternating between sending out resumes and twiddling my thumbs these days, and doing my share of pity-pleas for work while I'm basking in #funemployment. But you want to know something awesome? While this job may have taken an extraordinary emotional toll on me, sucked away my energy and social life, paid me atrociously little, and not even left me with a good reference... I worked at a production company for a year!

That's a major foot in the door with lining up another assisting gig! So yay. Yay for life being mysterious and challenging. Still rolling.