Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Be Nice 'Cause Without Us, You'd be Nobody

I was told on the phone, “Watch out for the mom. She’s very persnickety. She won’t let you put things on a table or on a chair. She may snap at you. Don’t take it personally.”

The current producer says he’s glad to have only just started the show. It’s harder for the crewmembers who have been on this show from the beginning and seen the family go from being average overtaxed bickerers praying on the jumbotron to spoiled celebrities who have flexed their control-freak powers and gotten someone fired already.

I’m coming in just now, so I don’t know all the stories, but they’ve told me bits and pieces.

Apparently, the behavior of the parents got crazy and drove some producers to the point of tears, or shouting anger, but just between themselves, not in front of the family.

One normally even-tempered producer took herself off the show because of how she was being spoken to by the mom. Her replacement, whom I’m working for, had to lie to the family for a while to cover for his predecessor’s absence.

There was a conference call with the family where it all got worked out. The family aired its complaints. “We don’t like it when someone other than the cameraman picks up the camera,” they said.

Huh? Sometimes the PA’s use the camera to shoot stuff. It’s just a bullshit complaint. But it was noted to keep everyone happy.

It was thought to be all cool then, but then the mom was heard griping on the phone to someone about the crew while she was wearing a microphone. Bad move there, persnickety Mom.

One PA, let’s call him Dale, says that the Mom keeps looking at him like he doesn’t know what it’s like to have “eight crumbcrunchers come out of his nook,” to use his words.

“You’re damn right,” he said to us crew today in the car. “I thank the Lord every day I have a cock. Women just have too much shit to figure out, comparing their skin color to swatches every day, trying to find out what’s going on. ‘Am I dying, or am I just eating too much cabbage?’”

Apparently some church paid for the beach house.The family makes trips to churches and talks about their experiences. The other PA, let’s call him Steve, says they think they are closer to God or something. The mom doesn’t like people to cuss, and she makes us take our shoes off when we go into the house.

So when the phone rang today, on the way to the location, and PA Steve answered while driving and said “Shit,” I presumed it wasn’t the mom.

It was. He later told us what she had said.

Mom to Steve, first thing out of her mouth: “I love you.”

Steve, first thing out of his mouth: “Shit. I mean, shoot. Sorry. What do you need?” He knew, from her first words, that she wanted something.

Mom: “Organic broccoli.”

Steve controlled his tone, knowing the mom was pushing him and the production to do something for her. He had to say, “Sure.” But he goes on. “Well, I don’t know if I can get organic on the island. But I can get broccoli. Anything else?”

Mom: “No, that’s all. Do you need anything from me?”

Steve: “A good performance.”

By now I know he’s talking to the mom, and I’m thinking he’s going to get fired for cussing at her. But Steve’s been on the show for 4 years now. He can cuss, excuse himself but not really mean it, and life goes on. And apparently, the producers of the show are not so anxious that they feel they need to change crew around to find the right personnel to create the least friction with the family. Unlike the producers on some jobs. As a new guy coming in on this show, I appreciate that they didn’t tell me how to act. They presumed I’m not going to cause trouble, and they let me and the others do our jobs, and deal with the friction as it arises. I mean, the mom has to deal with us just as we’re dealing with her. She’s getting paid, she can deal.

On the phone, Steve went on with his statement about the mom’s performance, as if he were the director. “I mean, happiness. I just want you to be happy.”

When he brought the broccoli later, he wrote on its bag, “Super Delicious Amazing Organic Broccoli.” The mom told him she didn’t appreciate that, but he said he thought he could tell she thought it was funny.

The other sound guy, Mitchell, who has also been working on this show for four years, told me that when he mics the mom, she usually takes it from him and tapes it somewhere in her shirt without care. She may turn and walk away from him before he’s put the transmitter on her, and he may have to walk behind her trying to clip it to her belt. And when the shooting is over, she’ll rip it out against the tape, the $300.00 tiny cable and mic which, though sturdy, can only be yanked so many times. They’ve told her its cost, and she rips it anyway. She hands the mic and transmitter back to Mitchell with the transmitter dangling from the mic cable.

It makes you wary of buying your own equipment. You spend $300 on a body mic, and they rip it out like it’s part of some striptease act, a sudden shedding of something to be tossed to an audience. I had a doctor do that back on those superbowl ads. I had to take the mic off another person, and the doctor marched into the makeup room and ripped the mic out of her labcoat before I could get to her. Often, the tape is stubborn, and they look at it as if surprised that it resists their ripping, and they rip harder. Excuse me folks, the tape I use is very sticky. It stays on you. Did you notice how it stayed all day and I didn’t have to keep hassling you to retape it? You can’t just rip it out like that. Not to mention, I don’t rip your stethoscope off of you. I don’t rip catheters out of your patients, or those brainwave pad things off their shaved heads. I bet all that costs $300.00. Why is it okay then when it comes to my mic?

With any luck, I won’t have to mic the mom on this show. I’ll be more in the background booming the kids as they either stand speechless with fingers in their mouths, or scream.

Today I was told that since I was sending wireless audio to camera, I would not need to go into the surf. But I wore my Keens anyway, and sure enough, when Dad took the kids by the hands and lead them into the water, the camera man went in front of them to shoot their faces, and I went to get their audio. The surf could break about our knees, and that was okay. Any higher, and it could splash into the equipment zone on my body where the audio bag was suspended around my belly.

Once you get out there with the camera and audio running, and you’re watching the cameraman’s frame and watching for surf coming in and for your boom shadow and where the kids are standing so you don’t step on them and trying to stay on axis to the dialog of the dad and the kids, you forget about the politics and you have fun. You’re glad for your Keens -- that is something that worked out right. Let the soothing salt water flow through them, then wear them home and hose them off. It’s just what they’re for.

Tonight, back at the crew house, the producer passed around a hash pipe. “It’s what makes you a good producer,” PA Dale said. I declined. I don’t think a working trip is the time to try pot for the first time. Everyone else took a hit though, and they were drinking too. I would have loved a beer, but I’ve had to give it up since going on the pill.

After two beers and a few hits off the pipe, the main cameraman got up to try out the underwater camera rig. The producer carried its 48 pounds to the edge of he pool for him. The cameraman jumped in and took the underwater rig and together they bobbed like two apples. He would turn the camera, and his own body would turn in counter-motion.

“This is hard after two beers and two hits,” he said. “Maybe they are right. Maybe we are unprofessional and slack.”

PA Dale did awful water ballet for him while he shot him, and then we all looked at the footage.

“I’m fat,” said Dale.

“I like the above/below water split,” someone said.

PA Steve joked that, after those pipe hits, the camera man would be playing with the underwater rig in the bathtub tonight, checking out his own penis on the above/below water split.

Lord, I hope I don't have to mic the mom tomorrow.

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