Sunday, September 23, 2007

Show Me Some Spirit

During summer, the setting sun was a big warm blob whose light lingered well up to 9PM, reassuring us, like a parent putting a child to bed, that she’ll be just in the next room, she’ll not abandon us. Last Sunday evening (one week before making this post), the sun looked farther away, shining not through fuzzy magnifying haze but through a glass lens from which heat drains quickly. In a few months, she’ll be that dimming bulb left burning at the far end of the attic, neglected, but providing no heat anyway.

There is only so much money I can make in a year, and the year has just 3.5 months left. I was busy for the first half until mid summer. July and August were nearly dead, and the same was true for other freelancers. Now September has tossed me back into another fray of work and I feel like I’m swamped, but I know everything is finite.

I was watching that lens-clear sky while driving home from the RBC Center after spending that Sunday as an afterthought. They had called me for that gig the previous Tuesday while I was in the midst of a 5-day job in Snow Hill, doing 12 or 13 hour days pushing carts all over some high school. We’d get to a room, set up an interview, do the interview, break it down, follow the interviewee to a class and tape her teaching it, head back to the carts and move to another interview setup.

The owner of the local company that had hired me on the Snow Hill job was there working with us. He told me, after the first day, that I had worked really hard. “I mean, I’ll get over it,” he said, looking down at me from the lift-gate of his 3-ton Diesel truck. “But I feel I really got my money’s worth out of you today.” He went back to strapping things down in the truck. “Of course, I worked every day like that for 40 years.”

I knew why he liked the way I worked. It was because I helped set up and take down lights, and push carts, and load and unload the truck. All this I did in addition to doing my primary job -- audio -- which means I never got a break. Between shooting stints I was moving equipment around. During shooting stints I was either monitoring audio for an interview, or wearing the mixer and holding up the boom for our cinema verité classroom tapings which sometimes lasted for entire class periods. Those days were some of the most physically draining I’ve ever had, and they were long, and there were a lot of them (a whole week!).

So, on Tuesday of that week, after two of those grueling days, I was looking forward to the weekend and not exactly eager when I was called by producer B to work at the RBC Center the following Sunday. But, remembering the previous slow months, I figured I better take it. We freelancers have to be like squirrels maniacally gathering nuts to save up for the dry spells.

I got back home late that Friday night and, thankfully, had Saturday off to rest my arms. I was supposed to get call time and directions for Sunday by email, but by Saturday evening, when I left to go to a ballroom dance in Raleigh, I had received nothing. While in the car, I called producer B at home and left a message saying I didn’t know where to be the next day. When I got to the dance at 9pm, she called me and said she thought the other producer, J, had emailed me, but he must have forgotten. So she told me that the call time would be 7:30 AM the next morning.

Gulp. I had thought it would not be so early. I had planned to pick up the equipment in Raleigh after the dance, but with that early call time, this was looking like a bad idea. I should have gotten it before the dance, or maybe not gone to the dance at all.

But I was already at the dance, so I stayed until I felt the pressure of the next day weighing too strongly, then I left and got the gear. When I left, I found another message on my phone left at 10:30PM asking if I could bring wireless headphones for the clients so they could hear the audio I was getting. The caller knew it was short notice and would understand if I could not.

The equipment source does not have wireless headsets exactly, but we can rig their cheaper wireless mics to function as wireless headsets. When I arrived at the equipment source I saw that one audio kit was already out, and other lighting and camera gear on the floor ready to go out, on other jobs. The gear I needed for my job was there, and so were the additional wireless systems that could be used as headsets. But with all that gear in flux, I didn’t want to just take more than I had reserved without checking with someone. And at that hour, it was too late to check with anyone. Plus, I know that clients never listen on their wireless headsets. They try them for half an hour, set them aside, and don’t use them for the rest of the day. So I decided that indeed, it was too short notice to include these.

I got 4 hours of sleep. Still tired from the previous week, I arrived at the RBC Center that clear Sunday and was asked by producers B and J, first thing, if I had gotten the wireless headsets. No, I told them. They wanted them. I said I’d have to check -- did they want me to call the guy at 7:30 AM on a Sunday? Yes they said with that finality cultivated by years of producing.

I called, praying that the guy had turned his cell phone off so that I would not wake him. He had. I left a message, then told B and J that I had not reached him, that I could get the headsets, but there was a chance that someone else had reserved them and we might have to give them up.

I spent the next half hour of precious setup time going to and from the equipment place again. I got back to the RBC and started frantically setting up my cart and putting the audio gear on it. I rolled it over the camera. Normally I just send an audio feed by cable to the camera. They said that they needed me to send second feed to the video playback guy so he could record audio too. Okay. So I would be connected to camera and to playback as well.

They had a 200 mm lens on the camera, meaning they’d be shooting long distance “zoomed” shots. They had told me on the phone that the job would be a “documentary style” shoot of “person on the street” interviews at the Caniancs Carnival. A 200 mm lens for that? I would have to stand near the interview subject getting audio on boom, and send the audio some 30 feet back to the camera. One camera feed cable was not long enough. Luckily, I had another. I linked them together, taping the joint to protect it from scratches from the pavement it would be dragged across, and to keep the mini headphone return feed, which is just mini connectors, from becoming detached. The cable joint looked like a person’s hand when a broken finger in a splint is taped to the adjacent good finger. In LA, where the cameraman was from, they would have a single cable long enough for this run, but here in NC, there is just not demand for stuff like that.

At 8:30 AM the carnival started filling with people. There were crowd noise, generators, large blowers to keep the Moonwalk attractions inflated. I said to director A and producer J, “You know there’s going to be a lot of background noise, right?” They knew. Alright then. It’s their video.

We started interviewing random Caniacs. Sure, they were fans wearing mock jerseys. Sure, they had come out at this hour on a Sunday to show their support. But could they put forth the spirit for camera when asked?

Director A would say to them, “Okay, I’m gonna ask ‘What’s “Giant” for you, and you tell me, okay? And put some spirit into it. Really show me what you’ve got on camera, okay?”

So, a woman in her 20’s would stand and think a minute about “What’s giant for her,” and say in a contemplative voice something like, “Well, hmm, I think family is important. School.” Director A would ask her to really show her enthusiasm for camera, and she would raise her voice a little for the next part, “winning another championship,” then drop back to her original volume.

Or there would be a little kid afraid to talk. “Umm,” he might say almost inaudibly over the carnival din. I’d have the boom mic right in front of him pointed up at his mouth. “An elephant,” he would say.

Between interviews, I waved producer J over. It was hard for me to go to him because I was wearing the audio gear, and I had cables running off me back to camera and playback. So J came over to me and I told him that we had clients and crew talking nearby, and I could hear them in the mic. Maybe we couldn’t keep the carnival quiet, but we could keep our own people quiet, right? He went and told them, and they were quiet for the next interview, but then they went back to talking as they had been.

The producers and director suddenly decided to move the camera. They made this decision 30 feet away from me, at camera, and I didn’t hear them. I just saw the camera assistant yanking cables off the camera, and I went to rescue my cable. I laid the boom across the mixer hanging off my shoulders, coiled up my two long cable runs, went to my cart, put everything on it, and pushed it, following the camera cart. The camera cart stopped and the camera assistant set up the tripod, and I parked my cart behind them and slung my gear back on my shoulders and went to the playback guy to hand him the end of that cable so he could plug in. Director A had a new interview subject nabbed already and was prepping him. I went to camera, paying out the playback cable behind me, and plugged into camera. The grip already had the reflector board in place to fill in light on the interviewee. I was just beginning to pay out camera cable and video playback cable behind me and head toward the interviewee when the director started the interview. I thought, “I’m not going to yell for them to wait.” And then someone noticed audio wasn’t ready yet and said, “Hey wait.” In general, they hate waiting on audio. There is always time (in this case, about 1 minute) for camera and lighting setup, but when that's done, if audio is still not ready, producers and directors tend to start griping. The director looked me up and down as I took my position. I lowered the boom over the interviewee’s head and returned the director's look thinking, “No, you are not going to tell me I have to move faster on this job.” They can plant and shoot the camera on whim, and not tell me when they're about to move, but when they're set again I have to run cables, that's all there is to it. He didn’t say anything to me and just started the interview over. It was the only time that day they waited on audio.

One little girl, when asked what was giant for her, said, “The Twin Towers?” This gave director A pause. Nope, can’t be having a reminder of tragedy and America’s weakness in a Canes spot. “Is there anything else that’s giant for you?” he said.

She stretched one arm straight in the air and pressed her face against that shoulder. She put her other arm behind her head and grabbed the straight one. She squinted up at the sun and said, “The Twin Towers?”

There’s one for the cutting room floor.

After several barely audible little kids, I told director A that we really weren’t getting their audio very well, and maybe we should start putting body mics on them. He didn’t want to take the time. The cameraman suggested we just clip body mics on them exposed at the top of their shirts. That seemed contradictory to the care they were putting into their image, what with the 200 mm lens and all. Director A said he’d think about it.

We moved to a location that was better for audio. I told them. I said, “This is great for audio. Get all you can here.” So we cranked them through. Then producer J and director A had a discussion and decided to move back to the previous location. I said, “Just my two cents, but this was better for audio than that.” They chose that. I figured they’d heard enough for one day about the audio they were getting.

There was a VIP lunch as part of carnival day, and we video slouches got the scraps. While getting food, I saw the bus driver who used to drive the Duke Wind Symphony on its spring concert tours. We spoke, and he remembered me. He was a great guy who readily joined in with our jokes and shenanigans. On that Caniancs day, he had driven the opposing team down for the game.

After lunch we did some more interviews, then went inside to videotape the game. We pushed all our carts up to the VIP deck, took our gear out to the mezzanine, and hooked in all the cables. The ushers started griping. We couldn’t block the aisle. We couldn’t put cables across the aisle. The cameraman picked up my taped broken finger cable joint, noticing for the first time the thing I had been using all day to accommodate his 200 mm lens, and said, “What’s this?”

“Audio,” I said. No, it’s a fucking firehose.

Producer J was more upset about our drawing the ushers' attention than anything else that day. “You can’t stand there,” he said to me. I told him I was in the process of moving and I’d stand right over here, out of the way, and by then I had gotten there.

“Tell you what,” he said, “Just go back outside and wait there. I don’t think we need audio on this.”

So I disconnected from camera and went back to the access corridor and put my stuff on my cart. A while later, camera and everything came out of the mezzanine, and we pushed our carts down the corridor to a VIP suite. We paused in the corridor and I took the opportunity to go to the bathroom. I got back, and the camera had gone into the VIP suite to shoot more of the game.

“Do you need to be in there?” said the gaffer, probably wondering about logistics and availability of space.

“Don’t think so,” I said. “They don’t seem to want audio on this. Though I guess I could go in and set the switches for camera mic for them. I don’t suppose they’ve thought of that.”

“I don’t suppose they have,” he said. So I went into the VIP suite. Producer J saw me right away and said, “You can just stand down, I can’t imagine what audio we’d need from this.” Honestly, in that moment, I forgot what I had gone in there for. A cookie? There was a spread of fruit, cold cuts, baked goods, candy. I turned and walked out and sat down in the corridor next to my cart.

The game went on. After maybe half an hour, camera and everyone else came out of the suite and started heading down the hall. I pushed my cart behind them. “Where are we going?” I called. “We don’t know,” answered the grip pushing his cart just ahead of mine.

We corralled at the elevators and someone pushed a button. Producer J came up and told us what floor we were going to. He looked at me and said, “Where are you going?”

Of course I didn't know, and for an instant I felt that I needed to dream up an intelligent answer. Then I realized I wasn't being paid to make that stuff up, so I put the question back in his court. "Wherever you want me to,” I said.

“Just go back to the VIP suite. We’ll call for you if we need you.”

I went back there and parked my cart in the corridor where I could see it from the gangway leading to the mezzanine, then I went up the gangway and stood there and watched the third period of the game, glancing back to check on the cart a few times a minute. The game went into overtime and so did I, racking up a half hour of not getting audio that they would not need. Producer B showed up and said we were wrapped, and I was out of there, another day of genius audio behind me.

That evening, driving home beneath that glass lens sky, I was thinking that life was finite. Pushing carts, holding booms. Sure, anything is possible, but once you fill your days with pushing carts and holding booms, you've pretty much defined it.

But I did have something more -- a possibility. I was due to write to woman C that night. This was someone who was a friend of friend G’s former girlfriend K. Literally, for years, G and K had been trying to get C and me together by having us meet at a party or some other function. I would attend and C would not, or maybe C would attend and I would not. Then G and K split up, and G was planning to move to California, so it looked like it would never happen. Mere days before leaving, G wrote to me and said that K had said I should contact C directly. He gave me her information.

C and I had met for the first time on the afternoon right before I went for that week in Snow Hill. She is cute as promised. She has quirky interests, has taught herself Japanese so that she can translate manga, does various forms of Pacific island dancing and belongs to a troupe that gets paid to perform. I was thinking that she could probably do some serious hip movement -- and hell, I’ve learned some of that myself from my Latin ballroom dancing. We talked for nearly two hours about lots of things, and when we parted ways, it seemed that we would both like to get together again. I told her I’d be out of touch on a hectic out-of-town stint in Snow Hill, but that I’d be in touch when I got back.

It was exactly 7 days later and time to get in touch. I sent her an email that night asking when she might have time to get together again. For three days there was no response, and I asked housemate S for advice. She said I had probably waited too long before writing to her after our first date. I said that usually, I think, I come across as too eager. Now I was too ambivalent? It would be totally dumb if my writing after 7 days, rather than 3 or 4, would stand between us. I could have called her that week from Snow Hill, but it was all 12 and 13 hour work days, and at the end of each, we would shower, eat, and then pretty much go straight to bed. I could have emailed her, but I was having to borrow someone else’s computer in the hotel to check email, and mostly I just responded to work matters. The grip on the show had an iPhone which he kept encouraging me to mess with while he was driving us to and from our location in the 3-ton Diesel truck, but the iPhone is damn hard to type on, especially while sitting in a raucous, vibrating truck.

Thursday, 4 days after I had written her after returning from Snow Hill, I still had no response from her. I was getting a funny feeling about it. She is Internet savvy. She runs a blog that, I gather, has some fan fiction and perhaps racy stuff intended for a certain community. She would not tell me it’s URL (“Maybe if I get to know you better,” she said), so I figured she didn't need to know about Elrond Hubbard. Maybe someday. With some things, it's better to wait. But the point is, she is plugged in. She’s online. I didn’t think her not responding was because of not checking email.

Reaching her was worth another try, and this time I would call. I figured I should come up with something specific and invite her to do that on the weekend. It would, by then, be two weeks since we had first met. I was working on a job in an unfinished part of the American Tobacco Campus that Thursday. I’ve done lots of days of work there, pushing carts past self-assured yuppies lazily dining in the outdoor cafe atmosphere. At the end of such work days, we video folks would be loading the van in the parking deck, all sweaty in our T-shirts, while beautiful couples dressed up would walk by holding hands, even pause near us for a last kiss in the parking deck before parting ways.

I have wanted to join those yuppies, take part on that good life, have a date on the Tobacco Campus -- and maybe I would have my chance with C. During lighting changes, to see what might be going on at the campus this weekend, I flipped through an Independent which I kept on my cart. I could have been helping the lighting guys more, and normally I would, but I had this important matter to settle in my social life. Anyway, I had already helped them a lot during the initial setup, and since we audio guys work during shooting, I could be excused as needing a break when we were not shooting.

I saw that an Irish/folk group would be playing on the Tobacco Campus the next night. That’s not really my cup of tea, but it would be what I would invite her to do. By now it was 7 PM, so during one of the lighting changes, I stepped outside and called her. An automated message answered and said I should enter a mailbox number. Hmm. It seemed she had given me the number she would call for messages, not the number for others to reach her. Damn. I would have to email after all. (And if I’d tried to call from Snow Hill, I wouldn’t have reached her anyway.)

Our shoot ran late, and then we three male crew members and three female producers talked about going to one of the Tobacco Campus’ joints for drinks. The only married male declined and went home. The only unmarried female declined and went home. So that left the two married female producers and me and the other unmarried male crew member having drinks. We gossiped and talked to some semi-drunk guys who were attracted to our female producers. I left around midnight and went home and composed my email.

C's email address is cryptic, akin to something like “” (This is not the real address.) She has angular features and a direct brown eyed gaze which must serve her well doing those Pacific rim dances with her troupe; and her voice was a little high-strung, as if always shadowing itself across a break in a higher register, implying a double-meaning for all her words. I figured, I can relate. I’m a little high-strung myself. I thought that C’s energy level was a good match for mine.

In the email I invited her for dinner and Irish music at the Tobacco Campus, plus a private tour of the secret locations where I work on that TV show. I said, if the music was lame, there was always the Third Friday Art Walk. And, in case she was busy Friday, I mentioned an option for hopping between dance events on Saturday, no previous experience in those particular dances necessary (honestly -- these were low-key events).

I hesitated to send it, thinking it was “too much information” with its proposed plan and backup plans. Then I thought that I should not over-think it. I sent it at 1 AM and collapsed in bed.

The next morning I had a response. She said she was busy Friday. She was busy Saturday. In fact, she had so many commitments to so many people going on right now that she was very stressed and could not imagine taking on any more. Oh, and that was the correct phone number. She only uses that phone for emergencies and for calling for directions when she’s lost.

So. After all that, it comes to this. I had certainly not proposed any “commitment.” But whatever she meant, the gist was clear enough. I wrote back and said that I understood, and maybe some other time we could meet again. But I've got a feeling she's disappeared.

No comments: