There have been plenty of times on a set where I’ve been asked to do something I didn’t want to or that was difficult. “Challenging” is written in bold capital letters of any job description for a film crew. Those are the times that I’m reminded that what I do is work. It’s not always paid work, but it is work nonetheless. A camera assistant I once worked with said “I do this job because it doesn’t feel like work. But there are some days… where I show up and it feels like a job.”
He was right.
There are days, like any job, that drag long (17 hours long) and days where a colleague has to help you through. There is a famous quote that says, “if you do a job you love, you never work a day in your life.” Its intentions are noble, but its practicality is inept. It leaves no room for error and its ultimatum is ultimately what makes it attractive, but even for a job that one loves, it would be difficult to never qualify it to oneself as work. Quite simply, sometimes I show up to a job, to work, because I’m tired or exhausted.
Though I can’t say I will never work a day in my life, I am lucky enough to say that 99% of the time I get paid to show up on a film set. I am lucky enough to have someone pay me to make movies. This was my dream growing up as a kid and I don’t care that I’m not directing or not the one making the big decisions, everyday I show up to AC I get to be a part of something larger than me that is pursuing a single creative goal.
That passion brought me to the desert.
More specifically to the valley of fire: a Mars-like, desolate national park nestled in the state of Nevada. Its temperatures scorching, its environment unforgivably dehydrated and its beauty lost in the sound of the wind. When I was first AC on Red Herring, the valley of fire was day 1 and our first location. It was only a half-day shoot scheduled for the whole day because of the long drive out there.
I remember the day specifically, because it was one of those times where I had a love affair with my job. I woke up at 3:45 am to be ready to leave at 4 am; a rough wake-up call was in order to be able to catch the sunrise over the red rocks of the valley.
I was excited, and nervous, to begin shooting for the feature. It was only a couple weeks earlier that I had still been in school when I received the chance to travel to Las Vegas and 1st AC on the gig. I had never firsted before except for one short film, but the cinematographer, who I had an established rapport with, was confident in my abilities and urged me to accept the job. What kind of choice did I have? Sit in a classroom and learn what somebody wanted to pay me to do? I withdrew for the semester and booked a flight to sin city.
It was an amazing turn of events in a matter of weeks, from student to crew member, and it had only been mere months since I landed my first gig on Ghosts Don’t Exist. Life, to me, was going well.
It was all that I could think about as I sat in the front seat of the producer’s convertible, blazing ahead through a desert highway with nothing illuminating us but the Las Vegas strip in the rear view and the stars high above. The faster the car went, the deeper we sunk into blackness, enveloped by the dawn and for me, inspired by the stars.
It was truly magnificent to lean back in that car and see the stars as clear and as crisp as can be. Coming from a highly populated region of Virginia, its lucky to see twenty stars, let alone all of them.
In that exact moment I knew I had made the right choice and said to myself how much I loved my job. There were very few professions in the world that could afford somebody the chance to see what I was seeing and have it called work. I couldn’t believe somebody was paying me to enjoy this moment.
We finally made it to the valley of fire after about an hour, just in time to catch the tip of the sun lurching over the horizon, stretching its arms on the rocks to help pull itself into the sky. The producer pulled over where we took some pictures. I only had a phone so I did the best I could, but it did no justice to the faint touch of the light and its subtle hue of red bouncing off the terrain.
We caught the sunrise on camera, filmed for our half day and headed back after day 1. For some of the crew, I am sure it was another day at the office. For others, it could’ve been their first real day on a set. For me, it was confirmation that if everyday was like this one, I’d never have to worry about changing careers.
I am lucky enough to have fallen into a job that I not only enjoy, but that can treat me to genuine moments of beauty and garner opportunities that I never would have otherwise. While many people can get lost in the desert or find a strong sense of abandonment in the sheer exhaustive nothingness, I was able to find a bit of something amazing.