Wednesday, August 27, 2014

If I Only Had a Brain, and Dental Benefits

Since life beyond school out here in Reality-Reality-Land, I have noticed that events tend to come in swells and lulls. First, absolutely nothing is happening and your life feels like the wheel during the beta phase of its invention.
Nailed it.
Then, next thing you know, you're getting swept up in a tornado of decisions and opportunities. Sometimes it's a good tornado, and sometimes it's a bad tornado.

Pictured above: bad tornado.

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Pictured above: good tornado.

Well, the tornado that has hit me recently has been a jumble-- one or two bad things but primarily good things. Like the tornado in Wizard of Oz... it would have been great except for the wicked witch all up in there with her bicycle. And, you know, the whole being inside a tornado thing.

But allow me to switch over from metaphor to narrative. With my job situation as fluid as it is, I have been enduring the diet version of a problem I believe every artist of any trade faces: stability or creative fulfillment?

In real life, the question doesn't arise so eloquently. It usually manifests as, "Do I take the dental hygienist gig or continue living in my parents' back house until my bottle cap art business takes off?" This past week I was forced to make a similar decision when I was called in for an interview for a receptionist job I had applied to, like, eons ago. Literally, eons. The last receptionist was a bracheosaurus.

And that bitch was stealing white out.

I felt obligated to at least go to the interview, even though the first thing my gut shouted at me was, "GET THE CHEESECAKE." And then the second thing it shouted was "NO MORE OF THAT STUFFY ADMINISTRATIVE NONSENSE. YOU HAVE A GOOD THING GOING. ALSO YOUR BOSS IS NICE."

My choices were very clearly laid out before me: do I drop everything and take a receptionist job at a production company, where I get a decent full-time salary, benefits, and occasional left-over craft services? Or do I continue my  present struggle of spinning multiple plates so that I can do production design on film sets, where I can eventually get stable enough work/money, and feel creatively fulfilled?

Maybe the answer is obvious to you. It wasn't to me. That is, until Sweet Baby Jesus Himself threw me a bunch of signs, the first being:

"There's no room for mobility in this position." That was the disclaimer on the receptionist job. So basically, the one thing that practical me could have used to appease artistic me was ruled out. From the outset they wanted to let me know I would not be the famous writer and/or production designer who started out as a receptionist at ______.

The next signs came in rapid succession: I received 3 inquiries regarding production design work at the same time. In case you're thinking this happens often-- it doesn't. Half the time I'm lucky if I get a rejection email.

So I decided to continue on my current wavelength.

Lesson? I like to make my blog readers think I'm very important By the powers of whatever force you choose to decorate your Christmas tree for, I was being shoved towards creativity. It was a big, fat, juicy sign that I shouldn't abandon my creative endeavors just because I'm paralyzingly afraid of instability. Mentally, creatively, I love the place where I am now. If I want to add "financially" to that list, I have to be willing to take and commit to the risk. And I know, at least for me, the risk for happiness far outweighs the certainty of misery.

Other lesson? Don't be afraid to make a fracking decision. The people who I confide my problems in can all tell you that I'm really good at gathering every possible scenario in my mind and swatting them around like it's intramural badminton. But when it comes to deciding on an actual course of action, I just nervously hop from foot to foot until every open door inevitably closes. Don't be the me. Make a decision about what you want to do. Weighing pros and cons is fine, but if you're trying to base your decision off assumptions of what the future holds, don't be such an arrogant little bitch. Don't be the me. Don't assume you know what lies ahead. You really don't. You can only tell which things give you fulfillment and which things give you stress-induced eating disorders. Be the me who confronts choice based on happiness. I like being her, even if she does hog all the blanket.

ON A FINAL NOTE, here's another thing in my tornado: an internship! I never thought I'd be so happy to work for free. I'm going to be with the comedy development division of a talent/literary agency. Unbelievable. That is ALL the things. I'll be learning all about what sort of comedy gets picked up, what sort gets canned, and I'll be exposed to the comedic writers and talent of film/TV/stand-up. As a bonus, the woman I'll be working under is not interested in using me to sync her bluetooth devices or "put the emails on the phone." She seems like she's actually interested in mentoring.

This is a MAJOR step in the right direction. First agency experience. Wow. See, one-year-ago me? We're doin' stuff. And you didn't believe me.

I have to get up at an actual specified time tomorrow so I'd better sign off, but I will leave you all with the cover letter that helped me get this internship.

To whom it concerns,
This internship sounds incredible so I'm trying to get your attention. Hello! I LOVE comedy and entertainment. Currently I am trying to break into development for comedy, so this internship would be a mind-blowing learning experience. 
"But wait," you might be thinking, "this girl is a complete space case. Just look at this cover letter."
But what if I told you I spent the past year working as an Executive Assistant to a senior exec at a production company which required extraordinary multi-tasking skills? Duties included (but were not limited to) heavy research, scheduling meetings, managing paperwork and contracts, cold calls, updating calendars, arranging flight travel and reservations, call-rolling, casting outreach, making payments, organizing/filing office files, ordering office supplies, and creating items such as brochures and executive summary pages. 
It's true.

I really hope to hear from you as I would love to come in to discuss the possibilities of this internship more. I have attached my resume. I am reachable by email, phone call, or text if you have any questions. Available to start immediately. Thank you so much for your consideration.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Unprepared for the Unprepared

Last we met I was bitterly mitching and boning about a project I had been signed on to, purchased several materials for, invested several hours of labor and emotional exhaustion into*, and then been kicked off due to budgetary restrictions. My concern was that I was going to be left standing in the middle of the street uncompensated for the time and money I had already spent, since the contractor agreement I had created had never been returned to me, and in a fit of poetic justice would be hit by a car so hard that my pants flew off.

I am happy to report that I still have my pants. After a couple polite buggy emails I got my reimbursement and a li'l sump'n sump'n for my troubles.


I was still pretty bummed that I had missed the opportunity for experience/money/networking, but what should the great glitter fairies of the universe decide to do and have somebody call me up to ask if I'm available to be the art director on another project being shot that very same weekend.

I hardly even had time to be sad before a new project was dumped onto my lap... wut wut!

The next day I was riding passenger-side of the production designer and wandering all over Los Angeles to gather props and materials. Talk about a stellar learning opportunity. The production designer was a friendly and frankly kick-ass individual who showed me new places to find props and costumes, introduced me to the best solutions for problems I've experienced as a PD, imparted tons of helpful advice, and even showed me the ropes with using Universal Prop House. I've used a couple prop houses before, but Uni is one of the biggest and most standard and I hadn't had a chance to visit it yet. Their selection was, unsurprisingly, glorious. It was also a giddy sort of feeling to pass all the furniture that was tagged for Revenge and Scandal and all those other shows that I don't watch but I know are a big deal. Be on the lookout for a cheetah-print framed mirror in the upcoming episodes of Glee, guys.

As for the project itself, it was very basic. It was essentially a series of short educational videos commissioned by a California teaching organization. Each video is about 3 minutes long and covers some topic like "diversity," "adaptability," "digital literacy." If you've ever worked for a grocery store you probably had to watch stuff like this during training.

So yes, we wound up cutting the buckets of blood and the scene where we find out the Boss A is secretly the gay lover of Gossiping Co-worker, but the videos are clean and concise. I was not getting paid much on this project by any stretch, but the sheer information and experience I gained made it beyond worth it. Not to mention everyone on set was very relaxed and friendly.

Of the crazier things I had to do during the shoot, we were supposed to pick up rental student desks for a scene that takes place in a classroom. The order went through way too late, however, so I was sent on a rogue mission to purchase cheap classroom desks. I was given the address of a Korean furniture warehouse that I drove past 3 times because the sign wasn't in english. When I finally got inside, I had to pick through piles of furniture to find the desk where somebody could help me. Now, by piles of furniture I don't mean there were neatly stacked pieces of furniture all around me. I mean it looked as though somebody had scooped up a bunch of couches, chairs, lamps, and headboards with a giant pitchfork and plopped them like mounds of cow shit throughout the 5 floors of this warehouse.

Perhaps they hired the poopsmith, or another esoteric early-2000s internet reference.
I got the desks and all was well, but for the rest of the chairs in that warehouse... I only wish I could have done more to save them.

A fun part about art department is that there's so much you often have to create on the fly. The director will often want or logistically need something on set that neither of you anticipated. Here's where the real creativity happens. Once again, the scope of creativity was somewhat confined by this projects' demands, but in a restaurant scene the director wanted the prideful chef to have a bit of stage business. So we created a "lava cake" for him to be decorating.

Delicious? Dubious. I stole a muffin from craft services, cut the top off, flipped that bad boy upside down, and drizzled it in chocolate syrup the PD had on-hand for (presumably?) blood effects. Or else any potential sundae-related emergencies. Now THAT'S prepared.

I don't have many photos of our sets, because for many of them you would be simply staring at a desk, but the fun "finale" of the shoot was designing 2 classrooms. Here's one:

Spoiler alert: it wasn't at night!
Can't you just imagine being a bored fourth grader in that room? I know. We're Just. That. Good.

As of yet I don't have photos of the second classroom, which was actually a lot cooler looking because it had a huge cut-out of a tree that we got to decorate, and we were able to paint the wall a peachy color so it wasn't this same bland shade of white. White = (both in production design and in US history) Death.

I love production design like crazy and I am so happy that I get to do this sort of thing for work. I don't know how I've been so lucky. That's one show wrapped. On to the next serendipitous gig.


*Emotional exhaustion: Attempting to strap 4'x8' sheets of foam onto the roof of your car, only to have them fly off the hood five minutes after you've gotten on the road because they were too lightweight and the wind jostled them loose, and then having to run into the middle of busy traffic as your sheets are repeatedly run over by cars so that you can save them, and then waiting outside a liquor store for thirty minutes for your friend with a large truck to come rescue you from the homeless guy who was being helpful initially but is now hitting on you and offering you weed and won't stop asking you if you would like a massage because he got his AA in massage therapy. Ladies and gentlemen, my life.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Four Emails and a Funeral

Skipped a week of blogging for no reason beyond sheer laziness. What's up with that?

I've been quite the harried hornet recently with a production design position that slowly, painfully became mine and then quickly vanished like pollen on the breeze. At least I learned something.

The Story of How Jessica Learned Something

I applied to a small production design gig for a thesis film. The following proceeded to take place over a 3-4 day period: director emails me back and asks for a mock-up of sorts. I design a mock-up of sorts. Director asks me a logistical question. I answer logistical question. Director asks me another question. I think in my head, "These are a lot of questions to be asking someone whom you haven't hired. Am I hired? Am I giving away secrets freely? What would I do for a Klondike bar? What has a Klondike bar ever done for me?"

Answer: nothing.
I ask him if he would like to meet in person. So we do. He tells me what he wants. I tell him what I can do. Student film budget wants nothing crazy, with the exception of a painted portrait of the actress, a casket, a fake axe to break said casket, and ideally wall-to-wall wallpaper. Oh and PS jellybean, we're shooting in a week.

People. Be kind to your production designers. We can only make your movie look good if you let us make your movie look good. In this scenario, I would have six days to build a casket, paint a portrait of somebody, and  address all the other set needs like gathering props and visiting prop houses. This is realistic, if you are a zombie and do not require sleep within a 72-hour period. But not even that is accurate, since everyone knows zombies are terrible carpenters.

I see a hand in the audience.


"Yeah, hi. I'm a visiting student from Washington. My question is, why don't you just rent a casket?"

An excellent question. You may sit down. Well, as much as I would love to rent a fancy casket, fancy casket rental would be approximately 75% of my allotted budget, and we would not be able to send any axes through that bad boy. So, here we are.

Another hand all the way in the back there.

"Hi, I'm Chad Wallace, reporting for Time Magazine. How exactly does one build a casket?"

You know what, Chad, I'll tell you. I don't fucking know. But after doing a little bit of digging around on the internet I found a simple way of making a realistic-looking casket out of foam. Lightweight, destroyable, and cheap-- perfect! Like a small, dirty prostitute that you feel like killing. 

And that's when things got shitty. I would send the director an email asking for very basic things, like-- can we set up a prop house account? Can you send me the contact info of the person you said could help me? Can you send me the photos you told me you would send like three days ago? What are your thoughts on Klondike bars?

Silence. Utter silence. I had a crap ton of work to do and I had been given zero resources to complete them. Mind you, I wasn't bombarding this guy. In a three-day period I sent 3 emails total. Compare this to my inbox last February when I was PD'ing for Scarlett and I came home to at least 4 unread emails and texts every day. When it's crunch time, it's crunch time.

Three days went by and I had not heard from him. I had already spent money on props and had begun the laborious task of building this casket. I began to panic. What if this guy is purposefully not talking to me? What if he's avoiding me? Who is going to reimburse me for all this shit? Was I even hired to begin with? Oh god, this is how it all ends.

After his lapse of silence I decided it would be wise to cover my bases [ass] pronto with an independent contractor agreement, which I do with all projects, and he never responded. Paranoia sunk in as I realized nothing in print held him accountable for all the work I had done so far.

It was in this torrent of frustration and anxiety that I learned a valuable lesson: don't do ANY work until that contract is in place. In the past when I've been hired on projects we have always verbally agreed that I would do X work, and one of us would eventually send the other a contract somewhere along the way. Never in my days did I worry about doing all the work and then fretting they would do takesies backsies half way through.

Which this guy did. He said he couldn't afford to have me on the project anymore, which I interpret as some excuse or another. However, he has asked how much he owes me, meaning he doesn't have plans to leave me high and dry.

Just to leave me.

So in the end, I will not technically have lost any money, but I will not have not gained money I thought I was going to earn. Oh yeah, and I spent like a solid three days of my life putting in hours that I most likely will not be compensated for. Heed my tale, friends. It seems obvious but it can get forgotten about easily. Contracts before work, not during or after.

Or you will end up with a weird space-looking 15% completed casket that you need to clear out of your boyfriend's back yard at some point.

RIP casket.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The 1 Year Anniversary Post

Update 8/3/14: Written yesterday, posted today! Don't worry, this post has been sitting safely beneath the heat lamp of the interwebs.