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learning from the past


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#1 Annie Wengenroth

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Posted 07 January 2010 - 09:26 AM

So I've been switching gears recently from working as an AC, to working as an assistant audio engineer and focusing once again on music and sound design. In the process of doing this, in all honesty, it's forced me to take a really good look at the things that did not go well for me when I was working as an AC...whether it was just plain bad luck or whether it was something I could've done differently, I'm basically trying to lay it all out on the table and figure out how I can learn from the past.

The problem is, now that I've truly stepped away, I'm starting to realize how much it all f*cked me up. As much as there were good people who I was able to connect with on some level and occasionally work with, sometimes even on jobs I enjoyed and made a fair amount of money on, for the most part I can't shake the feeling that I blew 4 years of my life spending more time LOOKING for work than actually working...or something like that, anyway. And I worked on a lot of poop jobs with a lot of a$$holes, quite frankly. I'm sick of sugar-coating everything and pretending like if it didn't kill me, it made me stronger. There were many, many times where actually, the way people treated me on set was pretty much unnecessary, whether or not I felt like wearing my crown of thorns that day and taking the blame for everyone else around me. Part of why I decided to step away from ACing was because I simply felt like it was putting me in a position where I could no longer feel good about my work, and I was sick of setting myself up for failure.

I guess the questions I'm asking now are basically, who else has LEFT this business and survived, and how do you come to terms with it without making the same mistakes again in your next career path? Now that I've outlasted the phase of everybody trying to talk me down or telling me that if I get on a union job I'll feel differently (which by the way, is a crock of poop!), I'm forced to confront my own weaknesses and the difficulties I had dealing with impossible working conditions and impossible people. And I really just want to make sure it won't happen again, or that if it does, I'm stronger this time around. It's sad to me how kinda shell-shocked and jumpy and burned out I am now because of all the poop I worked on and the horribly depressing fact that I blew thousands of dollars on a union that didn't do a goddamn thing for me. Not a day goes by when I don't wish for that money back, whether to buy gear or pay rent! And it really sucks. I'm so used to working with people who treat me like I'm an expendable piece of poop who's not even worth minimum wage, that to a degree, it's like I no longer have any concept of my abilities.

I'm not gonna go cry about it, I just am curious if anyone else seems to legitimately have what seems almost like PTSD as a result of this business, and how they dealt with it besides binge-drinking and compulsive spending. Because you know the whole thing about how if you don't learn from the past, you're doomed to repeat it? Yeah...f*ck that. Thoughts?
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#2 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 07 January 2010 - 10:08 AM

Nope, certainly have PTSD and I deal with cigarettes/coffee/booze and a super dorky video game where I can nuke most of the world...
I think perhaps, we're all just into BDSM to put up with some of the poop we have to. Then again, I get by a bit by having those one or two really good moments when I do something I really like (for a few minutes before I realize I f*cked something else up), which kinda almost makes up for it... Then again, I haven't given the union any $$ yet and I'm sure when I do/have to, I'll regret it and want that money back too when my next check goes to the waste-side buying me something stupid and useless.
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#3 John Sprung

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Posted 07 January 2010 - 04:36 PM

... who else has LEFT this business and survived ...


Annie, this reminds me of an assistant I had about 25 years ago. I don't know the whole path, but she went into teaching, and is a full professor at a film school now. She's not just surviving, she found a place that fits for her.





-- J.S.
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#4 Richard Boddington

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Posted 08 January 2010 - 12:34 AM

Annie, this reminds me of an assistant I had about 25 years ago. I don't know the whole path, but she went into teaching, and is a full professor at a film school now. She's not just surviving, she found a place that fits for her.
-- J.S.


There is of course a bit of irony in what you're saying, i.e. this person could not make their own films or work in film so they decided to teach it to others instead :blink:

That said, I'm trying to find that application I picked up at the community college for "video teachers." ;)

R,
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#5 Annie Wengenroth

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Posted 08 January 2010 - 12:48 AM

I had a lot of people ask me why I was stepping from one cutthroat, impossible, floundering industry... right into another. I still can't put it into words. I don't know if I will end up meeting the same end or if things will finally fall into place...I just know that I had to make a change. I'll miss ACing sometimes. It wasn't ALL bad. And yes...I actually HAVE been known to cry about it. (I'm a girl, give me a break!) It's hard to walk away from something I was good at. But I just think fate has something else in store for me. Or at least, I hope so.
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#6 Paul Bruening

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Posted 08 January 2010 - 01:34 AM

Hello Annie,

May I ask, must you do things that are collaborative like movies? At your level of sensitivity collaborative activities are automatically challenging. I get the impression that your sensitivity is wasted in a group effort. I could see you more comfortable and better expressed in a solo art like photography. You would not have to suffer the grunts and shoves of random others in a solo art.
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#7 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 08 January 2010 - 06:17 AM

I stopped doing (so much) video assist based on exactly the sort of concerns Annie outlines. I look at my schoolfriends, making more money than me via vastly less stress, and wonder why I do it. OK, they have appalling, hatable lives involving doing precisely the same things day in day out, but I don't think that's an excuse. We should not have to put up with impoliteness. People should be courteous. "The Film Industry" is not a universal excuse for being rude.

I've been treated like absolute poop on a disturbingly large proportion (possibly a quarter) of jobs I've ever done, and even more worryingly, that 25% seems to correlate very closely with the "higher end" stuff. I could go into specifics and examples, but it'd just come off as whining. I think the people who choose to sit around and put up with it are in many ways perpetuating the problem by making it seem normal and OK. In very few other industries is it considered normal to be routinely and incessantly unpleasant to those who're seen as junior.

My objectino to this sort of thing began when a spark walked up to me as I was performing a fairly complex previsualisation of a greenscreen composite, in After Effects, on location, and told me that I should stop telling them to ground their generators (as they are legally obliged to do, but rarely actually bother) on the basis that they are the only department who are legally required to hold certain qualifications to do their job. My opinion of this attitude is well enough documented elsewhere on this forum, but what allowed this guy to get away with it was that he was older than me. It is this slavish obsession with seniority over expertise, seniority over politeness, seniority over common sense, seniority over absolutely everything which causes these problems, and no, I don't agree that it's necessary to make a film set run well. No other industry does this.

P
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#8 Annie Wengenroth

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Posted 08 January 2010 - 08:08 AM

@ Paul:
I get what you're saying and I've thought about it. It's funny because I actually enjoy working for people. And I enjoy working consistently with the same group of people. Right now at the studio, I've been working steadily with the same few guys for a couple of months, and it's really nice to be able to say that...to learn how they think and what their preferences are, instead of having to go into it cold every day and have to guess all over again.

I'm well aware that people will probably treat me like poop on occasion in this business too and I know I would be naive not to expect it. I think one of my secret weapons this time around (ha, well as soon as I tell you it won't be secret, but that's okay! ;) ) is that not only am I [at the least] better prepared for this after 4 years of it, but I'm being far more open-minded about what I end up doing and what my goals and standards are. Instead of 3 possibilities for work (1st/2nd/loader), I have quite a few. And again, the biggest surprises on a session will doubtlessly come from either a client throwing me for a loop, or the gear doing something surprising. I'm being trained by an audio technician to make basic repairs; how to solder and tin cables and read schematics, how to build circuits, and so on. So I've got that covered, and as you guys probably know from my years with camera, I LIKE working with the gear, so it doesn't bother me anyway in the first place. As for a client occasionally springing something on me or putting pressure on me, again, I was always able to detach myself from that end of it and just get the job done and then go home. It was the relationships I had- or rather, had a hell of a time building- with fellow crew, that started to get to me, whether dealing with the politics on the production end of things or not gelling with the rest of the camera crew, or whatever. This didn't happen ALL the time, obviously, but there were enough instances where I had to make extraneous efforts, to go out of my way, to please people.

The way I see it, there were always a couple of possibilities: working on a good movie with good pay and good people; working on a bad movie with bad pay and good people; or (etc...) with bad people. It was the third possibility which got to me the most, and it was the second possibility which for me seemed most common and just became impossible to cope with over time. By the time I got good enough at my job to enjoy it and finally relax about it, I was working on jobs which quite frankly, didn't deserve me and shouldn't have been able to afford me. Then I started to psych myself out and get complacent; my standards started to shift because it was getting harder to show up on a non-union, low-budget set and treat it the same way as I would a union commercial...it was just a different world. When I first joined 600, my eventual justification for continuing to pay them was that I mistakenly thought that 15 days' worth of low-budget work would add up to the same thing as less than a week of commercial work. In my bank account, yes...but as far as general effects on my well-being, not really.

" I think the people who choose to sit around and put up with it are in many ways perpetuating the problem by making it seem normal and OK. In very few other industries is it considered normal to be routinely and incessantly unpleasant to those who're seen as junior."

Phil, I know we've butted heads a bit in the past, but you hit the nail on the head here. As I learn the ropes of being an assistant audio engineer, some of it is familiar from the mentality of ACing, in a way that makes it easier and even enjoyable; because like I said, there will always be things about ACing that I enjoy doing. But I'm constantly struck by the realization that even when I don't know something or if I make a mistake, it's not like it goes unnoticed by the people I'm working under...but so far, they're a hell of a lot more patient and understanding than a lot of the people I worked with on set.

It seems like for me, that if the first step is walking away, then the second step is not looking back. But at the same time, if I hadn't worked as an AC, I would not be doing what I'm doing now, either. So the next challenge is truly understanding that in a way that works for me and not against me.

I guess part of the reason I'm sharing all this is not only to ease my own mind, but just to illustrate that not everybody "makes it" and that there is a way out! Who knows, I'll probably write a book someday!
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#9 John Sprung

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Posted 08 January 2010 - 02:08 PM

There is of course a bit of irony in what you're saying, i.e. this person could not make their own films or work in film so they decided to teach it to others instead


Actually, she does make her own films, though via academic grants. She's perfectly capable of teaching the how-to stuff that such schools all teach. So far, I haven't heard of any film school that actually teaches you how to deal with long stretches of unemployment, and how to work for/with a-holes, though obviously those two courses should be "How to be a movie person 101" and "How to be a movie person 102".





-- J.S.
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#10 Saul Rodgar

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Posted 08 January 2010 - 02:15 PM

Couldn't agree more with what has been said so far. Having started assisting on commercials and later moved into assisting on features I now have been only taking smaller gigs (some docs) almost exclusively where I can be more creative, although I have taken a substantial pay cut, I mean big. The last feature I worked on was Men Who Stare At Goats in '08 and just recently even turned down an opportunity to work on the Cohen brothers, which I previously swore I would take if offered. These days I will only take a feature unless I am really, really hurting.

Sure, I learned a lot working big shows, the most important thing being that I rather (and not surprisingly) be calling the shots on smaller low budget gigs than being a highly paid grunt on big shows. Coming from a graphic arts, still photo and music background, working smaller motion picture gigs lets me put all those skills to use (title design, cinematography, score) which I really like. Yes, I know, some would say "jack of all trades, master of none," but I get a lot of satisfaction out of it, and that is what counts ultimately.

A lot of the people I have worked with in the past are now either moving to doing their own projects or teaching at A/V charter high schools, so I guess we are not alone. What I can surmise by talking to friends and reading threads like these is that, probably, the worst part about working on bigger shows would be the jerks that also work them. ;)

Edited by Saul Rodgar, 08 January 2010 - 02:19 PM.

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#11 Michele Peterson

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Posted 09 January 2010 - 12:01 AM

It took me 8 years in this industry to find a crew that I truly am friends with and enjoy going to work with. Some days are still crappy for other reasons though. It took 3 years after first working and meeting each other before we started working regularly together. Before I got in with them, I got into the union and I still pay my regular dues, yet don't get much meaningful work out of it.

Some people take less time to meet the right crew, others take longer. For me, I have decided that it's not worth taking crappy, low paying jobs, or jobs with a**holes, or both. It's not fun that way and there are too many other ways to make a living in this world. Only you can decided when it's no longer worth waiting for the right opportunity to come around.

As for me, I found that having a side career in the medical field gives the freedom to turn down gigs that are BS because of the low pay or the bad people. Getting to change gears completely every so often really prevents burn out.

Edited by Michele Peterson, 09 January 2010 - 12:03 AM.

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#12 Annie Wengenroth

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Posted 09 January 2010 - 01:46 AM

It is really sad to me that it took me more than a year in the industry to even understand who is supposed to do what on a film set because of the level of jobs I was on. Then before I knew it, I was one of the better people on the crew. And that bugged me. I'm one of those people where I need to surround myself by those who are better than or at least equal to me, in order to grow. I'm striving to do that as a musician too. Honestly, deep down, I have a very hard time not hating the film industry for crushing my dreams and making me decide that I'm not worth it or that I have no right to ever think I can "make it" in whatever I do.

My boss told me today that he thinks good talent will not go unrecognized. I went home and cried... because in my oh-so-humble opinion of myself (har har), I believe that judging by the past 4 years of my life, he might be wrong. And I hate the fact that I feel that way now. Once I realized that I was having the same conversation with everyone in this business year after year, I knew that I was sinking like a goddamn stone and that nothing would change. I think actually it started when I ended up on a union job and felt equally ill-at-ease.

This was the first new year I rang in since 2005 where my stomach wasn't tied in knots about how much money I had and when my next job would be and how the stupid f*cking footage turned out, feeling like the world was passing me by and I was missing it because I was stuck on set. I went to a party in Queens and we all watched the ball drop on TV and I was surrounded by bandmates and interesting people who do all sorts of things for a living, and it was like a warm embrace after years of being locked outside in the cold. I know it isn't like this for everybody, but damn, I need to finally say something about what this business really did to me. Never mind the fact that I am learning how to play drums and my snare hits are flamming all over the place because the strength in my arms is so lopsided after 4 years of lifting things awkwardly and carrying the stupid camera. We can blame Panavision the most for this. ;)

Wow, sorry, I'm totally ranting. This is officially the "The Film Industry F*cked Me" thread.
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#13 Saul Rodgar

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Posted 09 January 2010 - 03:29 AM

Never mind the fact that I am learning how to play drums and my snare hits are flamming all over the place because the strength in my arms is so lopsided after 4 years of lifting things awkwardly and carrying the stupid camera. We can blame Panavision the most for this. ;)


Going off on a tangent here. Been playing drums for nearly 20 years now. I'd be willing to bet that the drum kit you are using is set up for someone bigger than you and therein lies a chunk of the problem. It may help if you lower the snare stand a bit, raise your seat or, less desirably, tilt the snare stand slightly to the side until you get used to it. Yamaha and Sonor make some beautiful sounding smaller-size drum kits, if buying a drum kit ever comes up, I recommend checking them out. They also take up less space to set up, transport and store, so they are NYC friendly that way. I own a (small) Yamaha Manu Katché Jr kit and I love it. A used shell pack can be had for $200-$300 on fleaBay.
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#14 Richard Boddington

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Posted 09 January 2010 - 12:13 PM

the "The Film Industry F*cked Me" thread.


You and about 50, 000 other people :blink:

As you can see this board is full of people who where once in the biz but are now doing another line of work to support themselves. There is no shame or dishonour in that, you do what you have to do.

I may be there myself in six months, who knows?

R,
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#15 Rob Vogt

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Posted 09 January 2010 - 02:22 PM

You should check out sebella studios in Roslyn if youre an audio gear nut. They have everything, and they are looking for a protools operator. They have a neve 9068 neumann U40,60 and 80 series mics. They have a Sony C37A, 9 pultecs, and a nintendo 64. Truely amazing gear and great guys, if I knew protools better then I'd be all up on that but you should look into it.
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#16 Annie Wengenroth

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Posted 10 January 2010 - 12:04 PM

Thanks Rob, I will definitely check out that studio!

Re: Drums. Never even thought about that, I guess a lot of it comes down to ergonomics or physics or whatever. I'm ages away from buying my own kit, but it's something worth considering.
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#17 Tom Jensen

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Posted 10 January 2010 - 01:02 PM

I'm starting to realize how much it all f*cked me up.


I'm surprised there aren't more shooting sprees. I mean when you compare it to the post office where you get a decent wage, overtime, vacation, health insurance and some job security, it seems like an industry ripe for real shootouts. :blink:
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#18 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 10 January 2010 - 01:32 PM

I sometimes wonder if I wonder feel the same as Annie if I had tried to get into the industry as a crew member rather than starting out as a DP. Of course, as a DP, I have my own world of troubles to deal with, but at least my ego is allowed some degree of expression. As a crew member, there is a certain amount of military-like discipline and chain-of-command attitudes at work, hierarchy, and some people seem to deal with that, even flourish, and some don't. I probably am one of those people who don't handle hierarchy well when I'm at the bottom of the ladder so to speak; it would grate on me. I don't even like hierarchy when I'm near the top of the ladder actually; I wish filmmaking could be a more collective enterprise of equals, but it doesn't work that way (and art doesn't work that way either.) You need leaders and you need someone with an artistic vision -- by that token, though, you also need followers and helpers. Some people seem to fit into that structure and some don't.

Of course, I'm not addressing yet the other problem, the one of psychological abuse and terrible working conditions with long hours on your feet, etc. I think the pressure brings out the best and worst of everyone, high and low, but the people below have the additional burden of taking crap from the people above who are in a bad mood. To some extent, this is partly an issue of luck, some shoots are more pleasant than others, some hours are better than others, some bosses are nicer than others. But in general, it's not an environment to work in if you don't like seeing the worst personality traits in a human being come out at some point.

I did a movie once with the nicest director in the world, but after several weeks, on a really long day, he said something very cruel to me (later apologizing) over the set-up of a shot that ironically never ended up in the final cut (for performance reasons, not the cinematography.) In fact, I think the performance problems (the actors also being exhausted) was the true reason he took it out on me. But that was one bad incident between us in several weeks of working together. But I thought at the time if this environment can take the best of us and turn us into a temporary a---hole, then imagine what it does for people who already have that tendency?
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#19 Rob Vogt

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Posted 10 January 2010 - 04:28 PM

Sabella studios not sebella sry...


Its hard to remain responsible, respectable, stable but gullible. Try to remain concerned and caring, help the helpless but always remain ultimately selfish. And now that you're not satisfied with what you're being put through at least you're deciding in your youth on audio engineering. And if you cant see the benefits, ignore or disobey it and just try to admit that its fun. Its better than going crazy with boredom, its something to do.
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#20 Annie Wengenroth

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Posted 10 January 2010 - 07:45 PM

Rob, that was f*cking brilliant.
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