Days are Long and Years are Short
I am a camera operator on a dating show filming outside St. Louis in a
small town named Portage Des Sioux. The show follows a farmer who
can’t find love in his rural town. The population is 328. Slim pickings.
Being a dating competition show, ten metropolitan women move here to
live in a house and battle it out for an engagement ring. This is 2007,
during the Wild West days of reality TV. A new genre with no rules. A
new beginning in Hollywood. Production companies are working out the
kinks of producing a new format and laying new foundations in show
At lunch, about a week into the shoot, Jim Bob approaches to join
our table. He tells us he found a railroad crossing that is a perfect jump.
A few teams decide we will check this jump out on the way home. On
this show, each camera crew has its own van. Ten teams comprised of a
camera operator, an assistant camera, and a sound person. We have team
vans to drive between our hotel and location. In addition, lighting, art,
producers, and the director have vehicles. The drive is forty-five minutes.
Three teams follow Jim Bob to the railroad crossing. Indeed, it’s a
fantastic jump. Jim Bob takes us under his wing and decides to jump first
to show us how it’s done. We excitedly pull out our point-and-shoot
cameras and start recording video. Revving his minivan from about thirty
yards away, he takes off, hits the incline, and sails over the railroad
tracks. The minivan lands on the declining ramp just past the tracks. A
perfect landing. We laugh as his jib and camera equipment bounce
around in the back. There’s nothing like jumping a rental van with over
$100,000 of gear in the back. We pull our vans around, taking turns
jumping for the next hour. That route becomes the de facto way to and
Living in hotel rooms can take a toll on people. One difference
between us and rock stars is that we are usually in one spot for the entire
run of a show. Rock stars move nightly to another city and rarely hang
out in the city where they perform. Television crews are the opposite. We
get to a town, set up roots, and learn all the hot spots we need to hit up
from the locals. But even with that, we still have the hotel blues, and try
to create different ways to stay entertained.
After a day on set, sitting alone in a hotel room is a claustrophobic
sensation. The adrenaline of the day drops and flipping through TV channels
leads to boredom. It’s common to congregate together. That usually
leads to drinking and imaginations running away with silly ideas for fun.
We’ve been on this show for a week, and one of my favorite ways of
blowing off steam is going to Hipshot’s room.
Hipshot is a camera operator who invented a device that attaches to a
work belt and allows a person to film from the hip. The device supports
the camera’s weight and removes tension from the midsection. It’s a tool
to relieve stress from holding a 35 lb block at hip level for hours at a
time. I met Hipshot years ago, working on a different reality show, transforming
city slickers into cowboys. We hit it off as friends from day one.
Hipshot is South African and moved to Los Angeles to pursue his dream
of making films and TV.
When we first met, we had equal amounts of experience, and our
career trajectories were on the same career ladder rung. He’s married,
and I’m single, but that never mattered. We were like-minded in making
a career out of this business. In the future, while growing our experience
and building a network of contacts, we will often cross paths and refer
each other for jobs.
After the first day of filming the cowboy show, we immediately
bonded over the enjoyment of a pleasant cocktail after work. In those
days, we were both learning if we had what it took to manifest the Hollywood
dream. Moreover, we had more profound talks debating if show
business is even the dream job everybody views from the outside. We
shared thoughts about noticing sometimes it seems to be a mirage that
constantly lures you in, teases you, then leads you to the brink of demise.
Repeatedly throughout my career, those same conversations will be
debated and discussed over and over with colleagues. Are the short-term
trappings worth the long-term struggles?
Earlier in the week, Hipshot bought a mini crossbow at a large
sports equipment store. We fired it at some hay bales on set but looking
at it now, after a few IPAs, we decide to turn the hotel room into an
indoor crossbow range. We unbolt a massive painting from the wall and
draw a target where it had stood. We take turns lining up across the
room, shooting arrows into the wall. Day by day, the wall looks more
and more like a slice of Swiss cheese. One night while having a
friendly competition, one of the arrows doesn’t stop and goes through
“Hey, assholes! What the fuck is going on over there?” We hear
shouting from the room next door.
We hear a door open, then a knock on our door. Our eyes get huge as
Hipshot goes over to open it. One of the good things about a crew hotel
is we usually own 90% of the room occupancy. It happens to be one of
the art department guys standing in the doorway. “What is going on over
here? You could have killed me if that hadn’t stopped.”
“We are playing mini crossbow darts,” Hipshot says.
Art Department guy walks into the room, looks at the setup, and says,
“Let me take a few shots.” He shoots the other two arrows, then we all
go to his room to see the damage. We walk in, falling on the floor laughing.
Luckily, one of the fletchings grabbed the wall to stop it from
completely going through. We pull the arrow out.
Art Department guy says, “Let’s go shoot some more. I’ll keep the
Do Not Disturb sign out tomorrow, grab some spackle from set, and fix
the holes before the maid finds out.”
We shoot a few more times, then bolt the painting back onto the wall.
We call an end to mini crossbow darts.
A good thing about being on a large crew is someone can always fix
most of the problems we make for ourselves. As soon as we check into a
hotel room, we will use a multi-tool to unbolt windows or doors meant to
stay locked. If you have a balcony outside your room, but the sliding
glass door is bolted shut, no problem. With a few twists of a Leatherman,
the balcony door is open to all.
We are staying in a twenty-five-story hotel. Another game we play is
tossing paper airplanes, or helicopters, out of our windows. We watch to
see who lands farthest away in the parking lot below. That enjoyment
only lasts a week. One night, we stop at a firework shop and load up on
combo kits. Later that night, we hang out windows and launch fireworks
at each other. I peep my head out my window, and a bottle rocket zips
past me. Jim Bob is firing mortars from his window. They whiz by and
explode, rattling a two-story bank of windows. That lasts for about half
an hour before, in the distance, we see flashing lights from approaching
cop cars. This is when ordinary people would shut the windows and
retreat. But there is always that one person who can’t stop.
I see three cop cars stop in the parking lot below. Then I see a few
bottle rockets and a mortar land near the cop cars.
Holy Crap! I think.
“FUCK YOU, COPS!” is what I hear. I see a large firework shoot off
in the cops’ direction.
Someone is going crazy two floors down. I freak out. I’m not up to
taking on the St. Louis police force. I know we are spread out all over the
hotel, but my room smells of gunpowder. The entire floor smells like
burned sulfur. I decide to leave my room and go down to the lobby bar. I
am not the only one with that thought. The bar begins to fill up with all
of us, and we see the cops go up to the front desk and then disappear into
the elevators. Thirty minutes later, we see them return with Boss Gaffer
in cuffs. They go outside, and we rush up to the eighth floor. Once there,
we run into Oklahoma, Hipshot’s sound person.
“What happened?” we all inquire.
The police were randomly knocking on doors, and Boss Gaffer
answered. The cops started questioning him. Boss Gaffer denied everything
and tells them, “I am not a rat. I am not going to say anything.” The
cops enter his room and toss him against the wall. He starts repeatedly
saying he’s going to sue them all. He’s going to use his Hollywood
money to have them all fired. Don’t-you-know-who-I-am? Type of
comments. The cops told him they don’t care who he is. They say they
watched the mortar launch from his room. He’s arrested.
We sit around for a couple of hours contemplating what to do. We
decide to call the police station and find out where Boss Gaffer is in
custody and if we can bail him out. Turns out we can, and his bail is
$500. We begin a collection in the lobby bar until we have $500, then
Oklahoma, Cowboy, and myself head to the jail.
It’s 2:45 a.m. when we pull up to the police station. We discuss if we
are fools. As we walk in, are they going to arrest us? Undeterred, we go
inside, fill out some paperwork, pay the fine, and get Boss Gaffer out.
We laugh all the way to the hotel. He tells us he has a court date in three
months. He has to hire a lawyer and return to St. Louis long after the
show wraps. Sounds like a big headache, but Boss Gaffer is not a rat. He
Speaking of Cowboy, he had an interesting time on the show.
Cowboy is with the lighting team and the set pretty boy. All the ladies
ask if he’s single. Even the contestants. We joke he should be the farmer
on the show. While shooting in Portage Des Sioux, we stop at a local
neighborhood bar. It’s a blink-and-miss place. We stop after work to
blow off steam. After a couple of times, we begin to know some of the
locals. Meeting people from every walk of life is nice, so stopping at the
bar becomes a daily routine. It is a small dive, but they have a pool table
and karaoke most nights. It’s a fun place to chill out.
One night, we are sitting around the bar when a lady with two black
eyes starts trying to get a few of us to go outside around the shed to have
a gangbang. “Hey guys, you wanna go around the back and have a
private party? Everyone is welcome.” She is hammered. The two black
eyes are enough red flags for me.
She walks up to me and Slip, another camera operator. Slip and I
have a band we goof around with when we have time off. Our singer,
Avatar, is an actor. He is out of town as much as us, so we rarely make
The hammered lady continues, “I’ve been offering myself to all you
guys, but you two don’t seem to want any! So, what are you, Los
Slip and I take the bait and just nod yes. “We’re into each other, but
thanks for the offer.”
“Queerbaits,” she says, walking off to the other side of the bar. She
continues talking to the lighting department, who seem ready to accept
her offer. She is lifting her shirt, showing off her boob job. Surprise, not
great. She is letting everyone have an open feel.
About that time, Old Man John, a local who always has a parakeet on
his shoulder, walks up and tells us, “Stay away from her. Her ex-husband
is a Hells Angel and jealous as all get out. Plus, as you can see, he loves
to beat her up for fun. He would love to kick your West Coast asses for a
change of pace.”
We build bonds in the towns we work in, which sometimes serves us
well. After talking to Old Man John for a bit, we hear a bike rumbling
into the parking lot. Nervous eyes look around. There are about twentyfive
people in the bar right now.
Next, a burly man comes through the door and says, “Who the fuck is
trying to fuck my lady?” Silence, except for Cowboy singing a country
song on the mini karaoke stage. “I got a call saying to come here because
a long-haired Hollywood guy is hitting on my wife.”
Old Man John approaches Hells Angel and in a non-confrontational,
locals-only manner of speaking says, “We don’t want any problems.
They are friends. You are going to have to get through us before you get
Right then, Hells Angel flattens Old Man John with one punch. The
parakeet flaps his clipped wings as fast as he can but goes nowhere. The
bird lands on the pool table. Hells Angel looks at Cowboy and yells,
We all begin to head for the hills. Cowboy jumps off the stage and
starts toward the door. Two other locals grab Hells Angel. They wrestle
around, banging against the pool table. Slip and I run around the bar,
push the kitchen door open, and head out the back door sprinting to our
vans. It’s bedlam outside. It looks like a valet’s station on crack. I jump
in my minivan. I’m rushing and fumbling to start it. My assistant
cameraman slams the side door shut.
“Let’s fucking GO!” He looks out the back window.
I see Slip in his van. We gun it out of the parking lot. As I make a
right, I see Hipshot, Oklahoma, Cowboy, and Boss Gaffer running out
the front door. We are not the marines, so I punch it and get out of there.
We land at the hotel and head straight to the hotel bar. We tell
everyone what happened. Slowly, the others start returning.
Hipshot orders a drink and adds that after the two locals jumped on
Hells Angel, they ran out the door. Hells Angel eventually broke free and
threw a rock through the back window of lighting’s minivan as they
pulled out of the parking lot. That’s going to be hard to explain to
Cowboy is freaking out. He has unmistakable long hair and is
easily recognizable. Cowboy sits down at the bar, still shaking with
adrenaline. Panicked, he keeps saying, “Hells Angel knows what I look
like.” He takes a long drink from his cocktail. “He knows where we
are filming.” Cowboy finishes his drink and disappears to the
Most of us stay in the lobby bar mucking it up, retelling the story to
whoever will listen. Cowboy comes back two hours later. His hair is cut
short and dyed blond. We all burst out laughing. We tell him he’s going
too far. That it will probably be fine and forgotten soon.
Production eventually gets involved. They make a few calls, then
surprisingly, the next day, we have a local cop at the entrance gate to
production. And it is a good thing, as about four times a day for the next
week, three to five Hells Angels pass by the farm and rev the rpms of
their Harleys. A couple times, they follow us when we leave location.
Every time they lose interest somewhere during the forty-five-minute
drive. Most likely after we jump the railroad crossing.
Afterward, we repeatedly run into the locals and thank them for their
support. They say no problem; they didn’t like that guy anyways. The
crews talk about stopping in the bar a few times after work, but it never
happens. Way too risky. Nobody wants a UFC match with a biker. Now
we laugh as we pass by.
This lifestyle started with me in the mid-Nineties when I moved to
Los Angeles. The idea for a life of adventure started Thanksgiving
weekend in Palm Desert during the Y2K panic of 1999. I am sitting
across from Nish. She was a senior when I was a freshman, but now we
are in our late twenties. The constraint of high school class systems has
eroded with time.
I remember when Nish worked as a lifeguard at our local pool in the
mid-Eighties. Now during dinner, I can’t help imagining her in her red
swimsuit with the French cut seam resting over her sun-kissed hip.
During summer, she walked around the pool. She watched over swim
lessons, water polo practice, and open swim. Horseplay would stop as
she made her rounds. Nonchalantly, everyone tried to catch a glimpse.
We snickered with our squeaky, immature middle-school voices. Nish
was Baywatch before Baywatch was even a show. I swear, somehow, she
inspired the red lifeguard swimsuit that made Pamela Anderson a household
After dinner, we decide to hit up The Beer Hunter to continue our
date. Once there, I smugly sit beside her, knowing the entire bar is thinking,
“Is DJ Cash Bar really out with Nish?” It is a small-town bar with a
small-town atmosphere. This is the hottest spot in town, and we know
everyone who is drinking in the holiday.
Nish turns to me and says, “What do you want to do in life?”
I work in Los Angeles at a production company and dream of making
movies. But I confide my true passion, “I want to write a novel. Something
like Kerouac or Hunter S. Thompson.”
She has a bemused look. Nish is known for her beauty, but her brain
is more formidable. “What experiences do you have that warrant you
being able to write a book? Where have you traveled? What life experience
do you have that makes you think you have an original take on life?
Those two guys crisscrossed the country and traveled worldwide. They
found a voice from experience.”
I am shell-shocked. Nish hit with the truth. I didn’t have a unique
perspective to impress her or the world.
We didn’t know it then, but reality television was about to be created.
The genre will take over the airwaves. Reality TV will realign the television
landscape. I am lucky. I’m in the right place at the right time. I
eagerly punch an early ticket on the bandwagon.
Turns out I will travel the world multiple times, work in just about
every state, party in some of the most exclusive spots, eat dinner under
the stars in the Bering Sea, learn to cook from some of the best chefs in
the world, and grow personally from having conversations with people of
different cultures for twenty years and 150 shows.
In business, I’m a man of few words. Working in Hollywood as a
camera operator, director of photography, and director for reality television
has taught me time is money. I’m calloused from fast-paced, longhour
days. “Hurry up and wait” is a common saying in the biz. We even
hurry up when we’re doing nothing. It’s not a lack of interest; it’s a lack
of time that keeps me short.
For twenty years, I have focused a camera lens for viewers.
Depending on the show’s popularity, I am the eyes for 15 million people,
or 750,000 if it flops. I have been involved with multiple Emmywinning,
and nominated, shows in the Reality Television categories.
Many of my friends ask what it is like to work in reality television. It
is a glamorous drudgery. Similar to most jobs, it has highs and lows. We
are freelance employees who shift from job to job like present-day
nomads. You are either working and making good money or sitting at
home making zero. It’s boom or bust.
Sitting down now, I finally have Cliffs Notes to Nish’s questions. My
experiences have shaped me into who I am today, and some probably
should have sent me to jail. I observe subcultures up close that most
people would never be able to see if it weren’t for the camera on my
Reality TV crews are a network of individuals who move around like
a traveling circus bringing their acts worldwide. There are tons of channels
and hours of content; you could think a vast group film all those
hours of content. But the group of people making all that content is relatively
small. We are a community that exists on word-of-mouth referrals
and relationships built after long days and short years.
I always have a bag packed in the corner of a room. I can be on my
couch marathoning a show one minute, then the next day on a plane
landing in a new location. I’m always ready to document whatever
appears in front of my camera. We work twelve-hour days, if not more,
six days a week, sometimes seven. This is not a forty-hour-a-week job.
You live it, and most of the time, it becomes encompassing. Each show is
different, but the people create forever memories.
Sometimes the executive producers and directors are horrible people
and make your life miserable; sometimes everyone gets along too well
and the entire show turns into a Caligula orgy. For the most part, we are a
group of peers who blend our lives, grinding daily to bring content to
It’s impossible not to be spoiled by the trappings we encounter on set.
When I say trappings, I’m talking about all the extras that come with the
business. Show business brings an attaché of flair. Craft service is one
example of an extra. The simplest explanation for craft service for nonindustry
people is a free on-set 7-Eleven. Every chip you want, most
candies, small batches of hot food rotated hourly, hot dogs, every soda
you can imagine, coffee, doughnuts, crescent rolls, a refrigerator full of
cold cuts and cheese, a freezer full of any ice cream confection you can
think of; you get the point. Most of the time, we know the owners of
locations where we film, so we walk directly into VIP lounges, don’t
wait for tables at restaurants, and sometimes have police escorts through
gridlock traffic. The trappings are what make it hard to leave the industry.
We have treats that are not found in cubicles.
One particular big-time renovation show I work on is sponsored by
large corporations. Product placement is standard. Companies are delivering
pallets of items to set every day. Because of that, if we have a midweek
party, Coors will drop off pony kegs and cases of beer at the hotel.
The social calendar is laid out in the episode preproduction meetings
leading to the renovation.
“On this night, an open bar will be from nine p.m. to eleven p.m. at
the bar across the street from the hotel.”
“On this other night, AMC Theatres will offer a free movie if you
walk up to the ticket booth and show your crew ID.”
“On night four, we are organizing a haunted house tour of Savannah,
so be outside for the trolley an hour after wrap.”
Not every night is sponsored, but we always enjoy hanging out
together. On day one, an establishment will be selected as an after-hours
base camp. On non-sponsored nights, we are told, “It will be a cash bar.”
On these distinct nights, whatever establishment we pick usually
allows us to plug into the sound system. We control the music. The show
has an ever-evolving soundtrack. Everybody adds to it, and people want
to hear their favorite songs multiple times a night.
In one of my first production meetings on the show, our production
manager, Rach, says, “It will be a cash bar tonight, and we’ll have DJ
Cash Bar in the house spinning the tunes.” Rach points at me, and I hold
my phone up, shake it around, and hit my DJ horn app. Since then, DJ
Cash Bar has been among the many nicknames I’ve acquired. Nicknames
are an integral part of the biz. At some point, everybody, and everything,
acquires a nickname. I know a handful of people only by their nicknames
and have zero clue what their real names are.
One evening while we enjoy an open bar, we are playing the
punching bag game. Dollars go into the machine, then a punching bag
drops, and you hit it. Afterward, a power rating illuminates. I’m warming
up for my turn. I’m planning to try a spinning hammer fist. While practicing
my rotation, Main Host jumps in front of the punching bag to
dance around. My back is turned as I start my wind-up. As I rotate, I see
Main Host standing in front of the punching bag. Too late. I accidentally
hammer fist his face. He staggers to a knee and looks up at me, shocked.
I look at him, equally stunned. My favorite producing duo, Annzler, rush
over and tend to the Main Host. Every day they come to work with
smiles on their faces but now there are frowns. They look Main Host
over and help him to his feet. My punch is weak, his cheekbone is hard,
and he’s okay. Main Host looks at me and says, “My bad.”
“No, it’s all his bad.” Annzler glare at me.
The next day, Happy and I have a serious talk about not hitting talent.
Happy is the showrunner for the renovation show. In the future,
Happy will write a recommendation letter allowing me to join the Directors
Guild of America. Happy manifested the best crew morale I’ve
experienced. He ensures everybody is considered equal. And this is a
large crew. Easily 200 plus. Happy does everything from sweeping the
porch to managing the entire show. He’s willing to perform any job on
set. That creates an attitude that nobody is motivated to say “No” when
he asks them to execute a task. His energy is infectious.
On this show, every city has a formal wrap party where the mayor
attends to give a speech. In this case, the party is sponsored by Maker’s
Mark. My future wife, Sippi, is on the road with me. We walk out of the
hotel and toward a parked trolley. We board, and the driver hands us a
small bottle of Maker’s Mark. The trolley is rocking from side to side.
Some art department, hair, and make-up crew are group karaoke-ing in
the back. The middle section is dancing. Occasionally, there are flash
strobes as someone captures the ride on their phone. Black and Tan, one
of our sound guys, climbs on a bench to rig a spontaneous GoPro. We
pull up to the bar and join the wrap party.
Sippi and I walk to the open bar and grab more free Maker’s Mark.
We see Glasses, my favorite designer on the show. I give him a nod
toward an exit sign. Out the door, we go into a back alley behind the bar.
I pull a joint from my jacket pocket, and we puff, puff, pass. I introduce
Sippi. A bunch of chit-chat, then Glasses finishes his Maker’s Mark. He
returns to the party.
“I can’t believe I just got high with Glasses!” Sippi says, as she
shakes a little bit.
“He’s the best,” I say.
“When I lived with Toni we spent every Sunday hungover watching
this show. I never thought I would be in an alley five years later smoking
a joint with Glasses.”
“Welcome to the biz!” I gleefully tell her.
In addition to trappings, unions are a big part of Hollywood
infrastructure. The union is a unique template for trapping. The actors
have SAG, the directors have the DGA, and the writers have the WGA.
The crew is represented by International Alliance of Theatrical Stage
Employees. IATSE is a collective of thirteen districts. They represent
over 375 local unions. IATSE coordinates the negotiation of contracts
between members and the Producers Guild. The union’s groups are
editors, art department, sound, camera, hair and make-up, lighting, and
more. The unions are not looking to trap their prey. The unions hunt to
kill; they are not interested in catch-and-release policies.
I’ve worked on network shows in the past few years, and being a
non-union worker was never an issue. Recently, that philosophy is beginning
to change. Right now, my current show is non-union.
I am hired on this show by Director Reno. I work with him often. In
the future, Reno will win an Emmy. The elite award in television.
Everyone puts in considerable effort as a team and relies on collaboration
to produce shows. Awards are always given after the fact, so you never
know if you will win an Emmy during principal photography. Regardless,
we still put in 100% effort. Winning awards means the effort was
appreciated by the voters.
Currently, only three camera operators from Los Angeles are booked
on this dating show. Most of the crew is from the Midwest region. Reno
leans on us, the LA locals, because most of the staff is unknown to him.
In a new environment, it takes a couple of episodes to figure out who can
shoot well and gain trust.
Early on, it becomes evident that most Midwest camera operators are
already union members. They want to flip the show to accrue labor hours
to qualify for medical insurance. Flipping the show means union
members call their representatives, then the reps travel to location and
negotiate a union contract. Or, sometimes, it feels more like they muscle
producers into signing a union contract.
In between all the fun late nights, the local crews decide to call the
union. The head representative from Los Angeles, BG, calls me one day
and informs me she is coming to town. “I hear your name mentioned a
lot recently. You sound super busy.” BG wants to meet at the Starbucks
across from the hotel tomorrow before call time. I don’t think that is the
best place to meet because all the producers go there before work. Our
secret rendezvous will not be private.
“Let’s put a little pressure on them. 80% of the crew are already
union members. It will be an easy flip. I just need all non-union West
Coast operators to sign cards, so we can go in with 100%. New York City
representatives will land tomorrow, and we will approach the producers.
We know production is setting up a town fair. The big reveal. They won’t
cancel the town fair, so we’ll call a strike that morning. Unless they meet
our demands before then.”
The following day, the West Coast crew is sitting with BG; as I called
it, the producers walk in. They look over at us; the secret is out.
Later, when we meet with the NY reps, it feels corporate with a hint
of racketeering. Will we benefit from the show flipping? Yes, we will,
but it’s evident crew well-being is not the primary concern. NY’s attitude
is to fill union coffers with money now. I am learning fast that the union
does not want to keep secretive the information that has passed hands.
Trust is broken when you are told it’s confidential, then leaks begin to
spring in the dam wall.
After the meeting, we arrive on set. CC, an executive producer, and
Reno walk up to Hipshot, Slip, and me.
“I see you guys are trying to flip the show? What have we done to
deserve this? You are put up in a fantastic hotel, get two meals a day,
have breaks from filming, and we are basically already following union
rules. What else do you want?” CC starts.
“I didn’t call them, but as you see, they are here. The entire Midwest
labor force called their representative. Then LA and New York got
involved. I am happy with how things are, but they already have 80% of
the crew. That alone is enough to flip the show,” I say.
“We are the only three non-union camera people,” Hipshot continues.
“If they call a strike, everybody else has to walk. They’ll be kicked out if
they cross a picket line. It’s nothing against you, but the union is grandfathering
us in and waiving the $7,500 initiation fee. The three of us can’t
say no to that offer.”
“Plus, it’s happening. Our not signing cards will not stop it. I need to
look at my future and the lure of joining for free,” Slip joins in.
“I get it. We’ll see what happens,” Reno says.
“I wish somebody gave me a heads-up. I mean, I thought we were all
cool? I feel blindsided. The fair is in two days. Can’t we wait until after
that’s over?” CC ramps up the volume.
“I’m not calling any of the shots. It’s the suits applying the pressure,”
“There is a lot of propaganda and drinking the punch. I’m learning
they play hardball, not softball. You hire me for shows, so I feel indebted
to you. These New York and Midwest reps don’t care what shows I work
on or who hires me. All they want is coffer money. Sometimes it feels
like if I don’t sign a card, some fingers might end up broken. It’s gangster
shit,” I add.
“I know, it’s just terrible timing. I need to call LA.” CC hurriedly
“I get it, gang. Let’s get ready to roll, and we’ll roll until we hear
otherwise,” Reno exclaims.
The conversation falls to the side, but the next day we are informed
that we are not reporting for work. We are officially on strike. We meet
in the lobby to see what is going on. SkaterAC comes down and informs
us we have been locked out of our rooms. The production company pays
for the rooms. Once the reps announce the strike, the production
company ask the hotel to block our keys. This is another time I see how
fast people can turn on each other.
People begin to flip out. “Let’s go to set and slash their tires,” a teamster
“This is illegal. We need to call the cops,” SkaterAC says.
A few of us don’t want any part of this organization, so we leave the
hotel. We eat breakfast and find a movie theater showing a matinee.
Halfway through the film, we receive calls that the show flipped. “Report
back to work.” I have been locked out of my hotel room for six hours and
need a shower. We head back, get ready, grab our gear, and head to set.
This is my first successful flip. Labor disputes will repeatedly show
up in my future. Every time it feels like an abused child who calls child
protection services on their own parents. I’m never sure if I’m more
afraid of the production company or the union. It’s a common refrain in
the biz that the crew feels equally abused by both. The general attitude is
that sometimes it’s easier to cower in the corner than call anyone for
help. It will all be over soon enough, and we will be onto a new show
with new rules and people.