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Tricks for Dealing with Michael Bay

Coming home after a long travel job is always a strange feeling. You feel like you were abducted by aliens for however long you were gone and then dropped back onto Earth. The world you left hasn’t been waiting for you to return. People continue living their lives while you’re gone, and you miss a lot. In my career, I’ve missed birthdays, weddings, parties, dinners, football games, and a lot of other life events at home. You’ll need to accept and embrace the work schedule if you want a long and successful career. It’s a trade-off, and you’ll decide for yourself if it's worthwhile.

When I got back from that first job, all I was worried about was how I was going to get my next job. Between my flights to and from Atlanta, rental car, rent, food and other travel expenses, I probably netted about $500 total for my five weeks away. I needed to figure out how I was going to get back on set.

I reached back out to RJ, who connected me with the camera team who was prepping Transformers 5. They let me come help with the prep but didn’t have the budget to pay me as a camera PA. Not a problem, I’d come prep for free again. I figured I got a whole movie out of my last free prep, so what was the harm in doing another one?

Like I keep saying, you continually find yourself in weird situations in this industry. The fourth day of the prep, production scheduled a test shoot out on a dry lakebed in the Mojave Desert. In the days leading up to the shoot, my main job during prep had been to build the battery cart. Almost all the equipment on a film set needs to be easily portable, so camera equipment is stacked and organized onto carts for mobility. The battery cart was a cart full of batteries (duh) and chargers that followed the camera gear around so the assistants didn’t need to run back to the truck every time a battery died on set. Battery carts can easily turn into a rat-king of charging cables and chargers so making the cart as neat and organized as possible during prep is paramount to keeping equipment organized throughout the run of a show. Of course, that’s what I told myself as I sat on the floor of Panavision sticking Velcro to the underside of the cart shelves. In reality, managing the batteries is a pain-in-the-ass job that gets doled out to the lowest person on the department totem pole. Still, I take pride in my work and made the cart as tidy as possible.

We immediately ran into a significant issue when we got to the lakebed. The shooting location was miles away from basecamp and had no power. As far as battery charging went, we could keep a couple large camera batteries on a truck at the shooting location, but the cart with the majority of the batteries would have to stay in basecamp next to reliable power. I’d shuttle dead batteries from set to basecamp in a van and resupply the crew with fresh ones throughout the day. “Cool,” I thought, “good plan.”

As soon as I plugged the battery cart into a basecamp generator, a screaming voice shocked me out of my mid-morning thoughts.

“WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS CART DOING HERE?”

I snapped my head up to see famously angry director Michael Bay angrily striding toward me, his tan combat boots kicking up desert dust in a cloud as he walked.

“THIS CART DOESN’T BELONG HERE,” he shrieked, now standing nose to nose with me. He shot his hand out in the direction of set. “THESE BATTERIES NEED TO BE TWO MILES OVER THAT WAY!”

I had two options. My first option was to try to explain to an already furious Michael Bay that the batteries were actually in the right place and we had a whole plan to deal with the issue of not having power on set. I didn’t think starting an argument with a director known for his volatile temper seemed like a good idea, so I chose the second option: I said, “Okay, no problem,” then spun on my heels and walked behind a van and out of Michael’s line of sight.

Sometimes, even when you’re right, you’re wrong. There’s no point in getting into an argument you can’t win. What would telling Michael Bay he was wrong have done? The week before this interaction, someone told me a story about how Michael threw a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at a PA because she didn’t make it for him with enough peanut butter. I probably would have been fired immediately. Instead, I focused on ending our interaction as quickly as possible. After Michael walked away, I left the battery cart where it was and carried on with my day. Did he come back wondering why the cart hadn’t moved? Of course not, he didn’t care. What did the location of the battery cart matter to him? He just didn’t want the batteries to become an issue. As long as the shoot went smoothly, which it did, everyone was happy.

You'll be faced with several situations like this one in your career. Maybe it won't be Michael Bay screaming in your face, but your superior is going to say things that are flat-out wrong from time to time. You'll know he or she is wrong, but you often can't tell your boss that he's wrong to his face. Managing egos is an important part of succeeding in the film industry. You need to gauge how to tactfully handle a situation in which your boss makes a mistake. You don't want to embarrass him, but there's a good chance his directions are going to mess up the day. There are a million creative solutions you can use to navigate sticking situations with big egos. Pay close attention and, in time, you'll learn a few of your own tricks.

Having avoided Michael Bay’s wrath, the rest of our prep was uneventful. We spent the next few days finalizing the gear list and getting everything ready to ship. Over those last few days, I started talking to Justin, the C camera second AC, about my plans for moving up in the department. On the surface, Justin was a terrifying human to behold. He was 6’1” and covered head to toe in tattoos. His wore a black beanie pulled low over his completely bald head and his red beard jutted out to a sharp point below his chin. In his spare time, Justin practiced Muay Thai, or Thai kickboxing. As if to drive the point that he was dangerous home, he sported an armor plate tattoo that covered his entire right shin. His vibe was, “don’t fuck with me.”

Justin was, in actuality, the sweetest man you’d ever hope to meet. He listened intently when I talked to him about how I wanted to join the union and shoulder more responsibility. He patiently answered the questions with which I constantly pestered him. We spent hours together sitting on the floor of our prep bay labeling cases. Through our talks, he steered me on the correct path when I thought I knew better. Because of Justin, I was able to get started on the path of jumping positions quickly that allowed me to become a union operator in just seven years. I’ll share Justin’s advice with you next week.

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