Learning to Limp By the Long Days

If you're planning on a long career in film, I'm convinced you have to learn to deal with the unexpected. Whether that means get by without a piece of gear, without an extra crew member, or even without your own health.

Ideally we would all be able to show up on set 110% everyday, but it’s just not the case.

Some days you show up on set and instead of being psyched that you’re making a movie, you’re annoyed that you had to show up to your “job.”

And that’s the crux of it all.

The Long Days Get Longer

I was standing on the set of a short film in the throes of a scene that was taking 1 hour to shoot and should’ve only taken 20 minutes. After a tense few moments of waiting, my 2nd assistant camera (AC) finally came back with the news:

“He said to keep on limping by.”

I hung my head in frustration.

My 2nd AC had just returned from calling a rental house about some equipment that we needed replaced. That was their answer to us.

I knew it was going to be a long day.

In reality, every shoot day has the chance to be a long day. There’s never any guarantee that everything will go according to plan and it rarely ever does.

The day that an entire shoot goes perfectly without one hiccup is the day I think I will quit camera assisting so that I can leave while I’m on top.

Something always goes wrong or awry or slightly different than planned.

When I was told to “keep on limping by,” we had two memory cards and one hard drive fail us on the RED camera.

Months later when I write this, I can’t help but think that many of my days on set have been defined by that simple phrase.

No Glamor in Hollywood

I am particularly reminded of a low budget feature film that took its toll on me — the same one where we ate pizza for dinner and shot hours over-schedule.

It was the first and only time that I’ve succumbed physically to the labors of the job. I started to get pimples from stress, I had heavy bags under my eyes, and 10 days into the shoot I ended up becoming sick.

But I was on location, thousands of miles away from home, on a shoot that was well behind schedule. There was nobody to fill in for me, so I had to go to work.

Eventually I got better, but the director of photography (DP) got sick. And then, like the great circle of life, he got me sick again (it’s the whole issue of us standing really close to each other near the camera).

The entire shoot was hard, but not in a technical sense. It was hard mentally, emotionally and physically. There were genuinely days on that shoot where I hated that I had to show up. There were days where I thought I had made a mistake about my career.

But, still, every morning I would wake up, take an obnoxiously long shower, and limp on by.

In film school, you hear a lot of talk about the magic of Hollywood and the glamor of film. But the truth is that sometimes making a movie is just about getting things done.

Sometimes making a movie is one long race where everyone shows up at the finish line “limping on by.”

Surviving the Industry

You likely love film work because of all the amazing opportunities it has to offer. You get to meet wonderful people, see beautiful locations, and do things no one else ever gets to do.

You get to be part of a huge collaboration of individuals towards one creative goal — a finished movie.

But sometimes, you aren’t making a movie and instead you’re working a job.

There will be days that are tough and brutal and you won’t be able to hit them with a full stride. Instead, you have to make sure you can fall back, adapt, and limp on by impressively until the job is done.

Learn to be OK with that and punch through it and you will survive this industry.

  • http://twitter.com/phil_jackson Phillip Jackson

    Yeah, we all have those moments when we ask, “Why am I here putting up with this?” and there are days where you think, “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but here.”

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Succinctly put, Phil. The hours are crazy, the work is tough, and the days (sometimes) drag on — but in the end, I wouldn’t want any other job.

  • Thadeus

    The picture at the head of this post gets me. I managed to break my foot heading to a set back in November. I got to set, finished the work, packed up and went home. The very next day I was gripping on the set of a music video. Hadn’t had time to get to the emergency room, so I put on my boots and went to work. After a week I finally got to the emergency room and got put in a walking boot. Which I paired with a cane and worked normally. Then came a damn hard day on set.

    When a shoot day starts with your walking boot snapping in half, and having to get one of the actors to drive you to the emergency room 3 blocks away, you’re in for a rough damn day. It ended up being about 17 hours, all taking place in a tiny, cramped apartment that we could barely fit all our gear into. It was hot, stuffy, and we didn’t get to eat much. By the 14th hour, we were all snapping at each other. But do you know what? Now I look at that as one of the most rewarding days of filming I’ve had. It’s the type of day on set that will either prove you to be a filmmaker, or let you know you’re in the wrong business. If your shoots are consistently going completely smoothly, you’re not taking enough risks.

    Before anyone says it, yes. I know it was stupid as hell of me to work on a broken foot like that. It was foolish, and made my recovery time take forever(was finally freed of the cane a couple weeks ago.) Don’t do what I do. Be safe. Take care of your body.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Thadeus, your story is both a literal and metaphorical translation of this post which makes it all the more powerful.

      I admire your work ethic and though, yes, it may have been stupid health-wise to work in those conditions, I appreciate your toughness and perseverance.

      And when you said, “If your shoots are consistently going completely smoothly, youre not taking enough risks,” you nailed it on the head. Not just for making films, but for life in general.

  • http://twitter.com/Parkinsr Ryan Parkins

    I have been thinking about it and as soon as I finish my degree in Media Production I am going straight to work. I am worried about two things.
    1. That I will not get enough in the first 3 months to sustain paying bills.
    2. Over long periods of working or not working I do not want to lose the passion and the reason that I want to into this industry.

    It’s rather scary.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Ryan, I think number 1 should be your only real concern. In the few conversations we’ve had, I can tell that you’ll be able to push on through the tough times.

      It is scary, I’ll admit. But be wary that your two concerns are not related. Don’t let the fear of no. 1 start affecting your passion. It’s hard to do trust me!

      But I think you will be fine. You have more drive than most people I’ve met on set.

  • Aaron

    I just have to say that this post could not be a more perfect fit for the day I had today. It was miserable and I thought about what it would be like to have normal job with regular hours. However, I wouldn’t trade the things I’ve seen, people I’ve met, and places I’ve been for anything. I love this industry and tomorrow will be better.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Exactly how I feel sometimes Aaron. Sometimes you forget that your job is a job until a really long day comes along and slaps you back to reality.

      As long as you can realize that there’s nothing better than what you’re doing, you can put up with those days until you’re back to loving what you do.

  • FB

    great post and comments, folks!

    Every job has its ups and downs, and everyone decides if what they have to deal with it’s the right price to pay or if it’s too much. That’s why the right attitude is by far one of the things that literally make you survive, especially in the film business/industry (but I’d say it makes a big difference in any job).

    No matter how bad your day is, you MUST find a way to do your job/tasks the best you can, that’s the essence of “being a professional”, and I strongly believe it pays off in the long run: if not for the people you’re working with, you owe it to yourself, so when you go to sleep at night at least you know you’ve done 500% of what you could and you don’t put yourself in a position of having (too many) regrets, knowing that things can go the wrong way for the most amazing number of different reasons.

    It helps to put things in perspective, too. When I really have a bad day, I remind myself of what my brother does for a living: he’s a doctor and cures cancer patient. Worst case scenario for me, I may get fired on set. Worst case scenario for him, no matter what the huge effort he put in what he does, someone dies.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Wow, that really does put it in perspective Francesco! It reminds me of the old saying, “in the end it’s only a movie.” Worst worst case scenario is the movie doesn’t get made — but unlike your brother, nobody will die as a result.

      You spoke to what I truly believe in — working as hard as possible to be OK with yourself. That’s something I seek to achieve on every set so that if something does go wrong, or the day does go long, I am comfortable that I did everything in my power to prevent it.

      At the end of a shoot, I want to have done my part as best as possible even if the overall shoot ends up a disaster.

      Attitude, as you said, makes a huge difference in any job and filmmaking is no different. Especially when you’re freelancing and it’s so easy to give up and never look back.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=744617424 Edgar Vladimirovich

    Limping is so normal on lower budgets, that it stopped even being noticed…
    Was clapper/loading (2nd AC) on a feature promo yesterday and Alexa started acting strange (froze 6 times in two hours) called rental house – “Sorry guys, nothing we can help with…” Thanks.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      In some ways I understand because I know a rental house couldn’t respond to every emergency call they get instantly.

      But when you’re on set and it’s going wrong, nothing else matters to you. To them it’s another phone call, but to you it means so much more.

      Unfortunately, that has all translated into limping by since low budget productions don’t have a lot of weight to pull.

      Hope everything worked out with the Alexa though!

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=744617424 Edgar Vladimirovich

        I guess. It’s just the answer was very abrupt… Like “ah? no, it never froze before. Sorry, guys”. Hm..
        It was ok in the end – we just limped our way towards the wrap :)

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  • daniel

    bs

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      What’s BS?

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