This is a guest post by Director of Photography, Matt Coale. We’ve worked with Matt for more than 20 years. He’s not only a gifted Director of Photography, he’s a great friend and joy to work with. If you enjoy this post, you may also want to look at his earlier post on 24p, Will Bilbo Finally Slay 24P?.
I once heard: “Film production is a young person’s business”. I understand that sentiment. It takes a lot of energy to maintain a presence in this business. Now that I’m on the other side of fifty, I tell the younger generation: “It never hurts to have a little grey hair on the set”.
Experience can save a lot of time and money on a film set. It’s interesting to watch a grip with 25 years experience attack a project and watch a greenhorn attempt the same task. The young grip moves quickly, running to and from the grip truck. The experienced grip moves slower and would appear to be getting less accomplished. Invariably, the experienced grip finishes the task in less time, with an economy of movement, using less energy without creating a safety issue on-set.
In the production business there is a constant stream of interns and newcomers on the set. At one time, I was one of them. It’s necessary to have new blood, but sometimes this business can “eat its young”. Competition is an unspoken issue among workers of sharply different ages. Older workers feel threatened by their younger, cheaper counterparts. Younger workers often dismiss the library of information deep inside the cranium of a balding co-worker.
With a bit of thought and experience, it’s possible to bring these two worlds together and create an engaging, productive workplace.
In most cases, experienced crew-members are willing to impart their wisdom and experience to the next generation. Someone took the time to teach them. There is a sense of obligation to pass along the tricks of the trade. Besides, if you have to work together, it’s best for newbies to have the best education possible. If the younger workers pay attention, they can glean information that can move them further in the business and make the film set a safer place.
Older crew-members can learn some things from the younger ones. These young folks have up-to-the minute skills. They know the latest gear and software. They can fly through the Internet on their mobile devices at lightning speed gathering information at a rate that leaves older folks a bit dizzy. They have apps and programs on their iPads and laptops that can save countless hours in pre and post-production. They know their way in and around these devices. You want to know exactly where the sun is going to be on December 12, 2025? There’s an app for that.
For producers, money can sometimes be an issue. Older crew-members charge more for their services. It reminds me of a story I heard long ago:
There was once a woman who owned a very expensive cuckoo clock. One day the clock stopped working. She called a repairman who promptly came to her home. The repairman took the clock off the wall and carefully set the clock on a table. He slid off the back panel of the clock, stared intently and scratched his head. The repairman pulled a screwdriver from his back pocket, removed an old screw and replaced it with bright, shiny, new screw. He returned the clock to the wall and started the pendulum. The clock worked perfectly.
The repairman handed the woman a bill for his services. The woman was shocked. “Fifty dollars!” she exclaimed. “I want you to break down this bill and show me exactly how you’re charging me”. The repairman handed her a new bill that read:
Knowing which screw to replace: $49.95
Experience comes with a price. Usually, that cost is offset by the time and money veterans save with their knowledge. Producers ask themselves: “Why should I hire an older grip when I can get two kids for about the same price?” It’s a legitimate question that depends on the situation and the job at hand. Is the job moving furniture, laying cable or rigging big lights over A-list talent? Some jobs need to be done right and other jobs can be less perfect. Experience has its cost and inexperience has its cost. Pay now or pay later.
It is possible to bring these two worlds together in harmony and find common ground.
Older folks, be accepting. These kids have something to offer. Teach them well. Listen to what they say, and be open to new ideas.
Younger folks, you are not immortal. Slow down. Turn off your mobile devices while you’re on-set. Watch and listen. You can learn a lot that way.