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HomeCommunityCrafty: Adventures of a craft worker

Crafty: Adventures of a craft worker

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The day after the e-content video production company I worked for fell in like a house of cards, I moved from my home in Calabasas, a city on the western edge of L.A. county, to Silver Lake, an eastern Los Angeles community. It was May of 2001, and the whole Internet world had been imploding for months.
Summer began, and not having central air, my daily walks became longer. My spirited job searching turned into a tedious chore, like “clean the bathroom day.” Months had gone by; panic was starting to creep in my organized mind. Calls ensued to friends, seeing if I could at the very least pick up some production assistant work to make some dough while I continued my real job search.
There are lots of layers in the entertainment world, many orbiting universes all connected to create a commercial, a TV show or a film. Features are top dog, and above the line people – the money people, the studio execs, the director, the writer, show runners, attorneys and assorted producers – are at the top of the heap in this town.
Next in line are TV and cable, commercials, then the lowly music and porn industry; lucrative but not held in the same regard. “Below the line” is a phrase to describe anyone that supports a production, the worker bees of the set: grips, make up, wardrobe, assistants, scouts, caterers, lighting techs, sound guys and drivers. Through my friend Michele’s connection, I became a craft service assistant and began work immediately. Craft services are the “Tea and Sympathy” of any production. Choreographed platters of food and appetizers designed to keep the crew happy between tedious takes and scheduled meals.
A proper craft service is a staggering array of carbohydrates and empty calories arranged on collapsible conference tables, with hot water, fresh coffee and every cold beverage under the sun. During the mid-morning and mid-afternoon, appetizers are grilled and heated on portable ranges, and sandwich and deli platters are made along with the frozen coffee drinks. There is a ton of bee swatting and prep work, but I am happy. The day for most craft service people begins before dawn. I haven’t worked so hard physically in a very long time.
September 11th happens. Fall comes. The nights are cold. No job prospects yet, just random craft service gigs. People I meet and speak with are crying similar stories: they had a great production job, it vanished, and doing what they have to do until things get better. I feel inadequate and convinced I will be labeled one of the ‘chronically unemployed’ by social workers and census statisticians. I have begun to bite my nails.
The novelty of craft service production work soon wears on me after working for a Director famous for one movie, hired for a high-concept commercial series by a sizzling New York ad agency for their mega sports shoe client. Famous Director decides not to pay his entire crew for ten torturous days of work. After exhausting all avenues, I fax the ad agency in New York and the manufacturer’s marketing execs a phony press release blasting the Famous Director and mocking the ad concept. The Famous Director calls me twice from Boston begging me not to release it and arranges my pay in cash at his Santa Monica office for me immediately. I am desperate to find a real job.
I have given up craft service work since, and fortunately possess makeup skills that had put me through college and are now providing me with production work at a better rate of pay. There is less lifting and bee swatting. Makeup is another specialized area on set that has its own rules and code of conduct. Not talking is key, unlike craft services where the crew regards you suspiciously if you don’t talk. Spraying hairspray anywhere near a camera lens is grounds for ejection off set. Makeup work gives me a lot of time to think. Perhaps I should have become a registered nurse, always in demand and impervious to economic dips. Then mid-reverie my reality check arrives. I imagine that I have to administer something intravenously or up the back passage of a spewing patient. Nursing is more than education; it’s a calling that I don’t hear.
My retired Father in Cape Cod barks at me over the computer microphone. He says, “Remember the great 70’s recession in New England when I got laid off?” I recall one cold day when I was very young, we drove to Lowell, Massachusetts, home of Ed McMahon, to stand in a long line for free government issued peanut butter in stainless cans, cheese and powdered eggs in plain foil bags. My Dad scrambled and created his own business with another laid-off engineer. Together they got their contractors licenses and first-class builders permits and started designing high-end custom kitchens and baths. Both men had great educations, good résumés, but it wasn’t enough. Dad sent his résumé all over the country, and wound up getting a great offer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. We moved there in three months. I do not want to move to Florida again.
December comes. Divine intervention has landed me back home in Calabasas. I have good prospects on the horizon. One thing I did miss about Calabasas was the freedom to drive five minutes down Malibu Canyon Road to walk the beach in the golden afternoon light of day. The beach practically all to myself makes me feel as rich as a Colony resident. I am always spotting Ali MacGraw running, or Brian Grazer walking and talking on his cell phone. I fantasize at times, wanting to run up to him, catching him in a receptive moment as I deftly pitch my production skills, persuading him to hire me. My friend Karen says only I would be able to pick out Brian Grazer walking on the beach. She was with me in my car when I spotted Fee Waybill, lead singer of The Tubes, driving down Wilshire in the mid eighties. His profile gave him away. We startled him as I yelled his name, and after the glow-y moment of fame recognition was over, the ensuing conversation became the uncomfortable black hole that happens with any celebrity and their adoring public.
I once told a jetlagged Jerry Hall she looked just like the supermodel Jerry Hall back in 1980 when Urban Cowboy was beginning production in Houston. I recognized Red Adair leaning against a wall at the annual Oilmen’s Ball at the Pacesetter in the Houston Galleria. We talked for hours about the movie Giant, different strategies in capping wild oil well fires, Cadillac versus Mercedes and the French. Picking out the obscurely famous is one of my secret talents.
Perhaps I should list it under my qualifications in my newly updated résumé.

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