December 8, 2004

P.A.

I worked as a P.A. on a movie that my mom produced called "Sexual Life" about sex lives. It will be on Showtime at some point. My wife and I had just driven a 14-foot Uhaul dragging our piece-of-shit Toyota from Wilmington, North Carolina, with our year-old daughter sitting in a car-seat between us. Harrowing, stupid of us, wouldn’t do it again. In Texas, lightning storms in every direction, we got hit by a mini tornado, so the truck swerved left then right and we had to stop in the middle of the highway. Thankfully, no one was behind us, or. In Barstow, almost home, we tried to make a turn in a hotel parking lot and got stuck. Our truck + car was too long. A guardian angel mechanic happened to be in the parking lot, and helped us dislodge the car from the truck. These are the kind of moments that seem impossible while they are happening, a dreamlike disaster, but somehow you get past it.

We were terrified of L.A. We came there to be close to family and I was out of work in Wilmington. There was a welcome party for us when we got there in which someone told me: I know of this great duplex for rent in Los Feliz, it’s only $2200 a month. Only 2200, we were paying $575 in Wilmington for an entire house with a backyard. People were talking of the new Beyonce record as if it mattered. And I thought, holy shit, what do I have to become in order to live here. Somehow though, we managed. Like that drive out from NC, we got it done, and then the past is suddenly behind you. It was traumatic, but really a profound experience. We both found jobs, a good apartment with decent enough rent, a nice daycare center around the corner run by old Israeli sisters. For these reasons, I always believe in my family.

Almost as soon as we hit land in L.A., living at my parents house, I got the work as a P.A. I’d like to never do it again. Found out how strangely hate-filled a movie set can be. A lighting engineer screamed at me, "Get that the fuck out of my way!" about a crate of water that wasn’t in his way. "You’re not going to put those fucking chairs on my truck" the key grip yelled. Why do you care if some chairs are on "your" truck? It’s a crazy food chain of hostility. It was one power trip after another. P.A.s are at the bottom, carting trash, bringing coffee, so they get the brunt of it.

It felt like being in the army. Everybody on the set had the urgency that the job was never going to get done, but it always got done. They rushed so they could wait and then complain about waiting. It reminds me of porn where a lot of the time people have an expression like they hate each other, turning sex into something only aggressive--as if on a movie set, which is supposed to be glamorous, and isn’t, people are deeply bitter. The same guy who yelled at me about water said, "Friends of mine want me to get them work. I tell them, get a job at a moving company for a year, and then tell me if you still want to do the job."

I can’t believe anything can be created in this climate. The grunt workers didn’t care at all about the movie, most of them didn’t know what the movie was about--this could have been art or crap, they were just there to set up the equipment. Meanwhile the actors are treated like porcelain royalty, as if they could break at any moment. This is why people like to become Hollywood actors, and it was a relatively small movie. The male actors seemed slightly embarrassed that they were being pampered while the real men did the heavy lifting.

It was a one-million dollar movie which had to shoot at a heavy pace, so I imagine the climate’s better on a 100-million dollar movie. Food's better, more time to do things, more people to do it, more pride maybe, but I asked someone and he said this was basically what it’s like. Glad I had the experience, even though it was humiliating. It was good to get a glimpse into the machine. It told me, once again, that I need to be a writer. Waking up at 5 a.m., terrifying drives in the Toyota which couldn’t go past 60 on the immense L.A. freeways, where everyone seemed to know where they were going and they were impatient about it. The job was a microcosm of all my fears about moving to L.A. It was only a year ago but it could have been a decade.

3 comments:

Joseph K said...

I've only been to L.A. a few times, but it seems to be populated with sociopaths living in their own worlds. Which makes it utterly fascinating.

Digging the site...

Jenny D said...

Hi! Followed the link here from the hello comment you left on my site. I am looking forward to reading you regularly! This is a great post. My brothers both work as grips/sometimes special effects for TV and movies in Philadelphia. The scorn with which they and the guys they work with speak about these huge directors and actors is matchless--you know, on those Shyamalan sets they don't even release the script to the crew in case the "twist" will get out--it's a kind of disrespectfulness towards the supposedly 'ordinary' people who work on a movie that is absolutely ludicrous. Your average construction grip is a lot smarter and more interesting and less fucked-up than your average Hollywood star...

xo. war. said...

it's funny how one moment in time can be the worst moment of your life, but a week later, it's not really significant.

xo. war.

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