Production Hacks and Tools for the Hardcore Production Person

Val here.  I thought I’d link to a few “Production Tools for the Hardcore Indie Gal” and ask you all to add your own links to it.  And since we are not a sponsored blog in any way shape or form (okay Griffin buys me coffee sometimes, that’s about it) you can count I’ve actually used these.

 Cellphone & Tablet Covers

I’m Mac/iphone based so we have to have Griffin come in for the PC and other phones. But I can start this.  See that lovely pic above?  That’s iphone #4 in Val’s life.  I like to call that “The production screensaver.”  The covers I love are the Lifeproof ones for my cell and the Gumdrop ones for my ipad.  I think it’s ideal that the moment you buy a new phone/ipad you put it in a case and never actually touch the exterior.  Also, at that point purchase a spare charger and a car charger.  No need to fool around with your lifeline.  I am personally a fan of the REI 2-in-1 Home and Car Charger because REI generally has a great return policy if something stops working and a lot of chargers seem very touchy with iPhones.   I make it a habit to always plug in my phone the moment I’m in the car.  That way I never leave the charger at any place.

They really deserve their own post.  But I will sing the praises of the Merrel Captiva Launch 2 Waterproof Boot.  I have it in black.   Again, I like buying my shoes from REI.  The points rack up and also, they have a great repair/return policy if you get a faulty item. I suggest dressing in all black on set and these boots are nice as they give some support and protection to your calf.  For regular wear shoes I’ve been trying out a wide variety but my overall suggestion is go to a REI or a sports shop and get two pairs of the most comfortable (dark) trainers you can afford.  Make one more breathable and one more waterproof.  Change them out and air them out every night.


Compression socks.  They are vital.   We are on our feet too much to not consider these.  They will help with circulation and with overall exhaustion.  They make a wide variety of them, I’ve not had a single bad pair.  You can go super high ens and just get the sleeve that goes over your calf (easier as you can repeat wear) or get the full sock.  They are available at sports stores and Amazon and various places.


You are in for trouble if you don’t consider this an important part of caring for your production gear.  A little background on Val here, I skated derby and I cloth diapered in 100 degree heat. So I know a lot about shit that smells (literally) and I’m going to let you in some some KEY items to have with your laundry. 

Essential oils.  Tea tree oil and lavender oil, just a few drops in with a load of laundry will get the funk out of the funkiest.  If it’s an older washer, then just wait until the water has filled and tip 2-3 drops into a very full water load.  If it’s energy efficient, go ahead and mix the 2-3 drops with a tiny bit of water and pour in before laundry.  A quarter cup of vinegar in the water can also help your case.  Great to periodically run a load through of hot water with a solution of essential oils too to clean out the washer and wipe down the inside of the dryer from time to time.

The best kind I’ve found is at Trader Joe’s.  But I also have an Amazon Prime membership and I take advantage of their free shipping for my production lifestyle  (it’s one of my life hacks) and I order it through there  The main thing is to realize it’s a concentrate.  Don’t use it on your skin.  Great for towels too or any household laundry. 

BioKleen.  This stuff is magic.  You can use it on carpets, you can use it on your laundry.  Look at their product line.  This was my secret weapon in derby and cloth diapering both.  Wash your jeans with a bit of this, wipe down the seats of your car during production and wipe out the inside of your backpack with a watered down solution of it.  Smell means you have some kind of bacteria or mildew growing.  Don’t let it take hold. 


This is the only sunblock I can really recommend without any caveats.  It’s the Skin Medica Daily Defense and it is expensive.  But it is a real sunblock. I’ve never had any issues with it, it doesn’t sting your eyes at all or burn your skin.  My dermatologist recommended it and it’s the only kind I’ve used since.  For daily skin care, I recommend the Cetaphil products.  I use their cleanser and moisturizer (not their sunblock though) and it is really good on irritated skin, great for a the price point and can be used for shaving your legs too.  I use their facial wipes for mid-day clean up.  I also use a BB cream to back up my sunblock.  If I’ve been working some place with a lot of dirt, I may use Pond’s Cold Cream.  I have no issue spending money on my skin but it’s kind of amazing to me that the same stuff my grandmother used is my go-to.   I have dry, sensitive skin, if that’s a good reference point.

Evening foot care and body soaks:  I use Dr. Teal’s, I like lavender or the eucalyptus kinds.  Sometimes I just put a tiny bit in the bottom of the shower and it smells very good and is relaxing.  It makes a hotel room smell a bit more like home. But it also works very well for sore muscles or end of the day feet.  It can feel like I use a lot of tea tree/lavender oil but both have antibiotic properties and are useful for what we do.  A little dish of this stuff hidden under your car seat can be okay too, if you like the scent. 


The stress of production can give you some very bad breath.  My biggest hack is to put a big dollop of toothpaste on my brush and then dip it in a baggie of baking soda.  I do this at night, and brush and floss.  Sometimes I will dip my toothbrush in a tiny bit of hydrogen peroxide (DO NOT SWALLOW ANY OF THIS, I should mention that) and brush as well.  It really cleans out your mouth, keeps your teeth white and gets rid of the stress-taste. 

Now… you go.  What do you use?

- Val

Maybe I don’t live well with men.



If you like this list of life hacks, follow ListOfLifeHacks for more like it!

stay cool this summer!

The thing is, I think this may come in use at some point so I’m just helpfully passing it along.


Taking Care of You: Take Your Vitamins

Just went to the doctor.  I was pretty sure something major was wrong.  And I was right.

I am severely anemic.

Let me lay this out for you.  I eat whole foods and drink a green smoothie every day and I’m not a vegetarian.  And I’m severely anemic.  Welcome to our industry where you must treat your body like you are running an ultra marathon.

You want to live to be forty in the arts?  Do it right.  Start now.  This is what you need to do daily and don’t break it for more than two days.  With the usual “blah blah blah don’t take my word for it because I’m not a doctor.”  ASK your doctor about this.  My fucking deductible just tripled paying for everyone’s health insurance so I’m going to be mightily pissed if you don’t use it.  The way I see, I pay for it, you gotta use it so I’m telling you, USE YOUR NEW HEALTH INSURANCE and get your ass to the doctor for a well check up.


I take calcium, a prenatal multivitamin (I think they are better), and when I start to feel run down, iron and zinc.  Daily.


Drink eight glasses a day.  If you can’t do this on set, set your alarm two hours before you need to get up and drink two huge glasses.  Go back to sleep.  Your bladder will ensure you make your calltime.


No you are not meant to be vegetarian.  Just look at your teeth.  Those aren’t plant eater teeth.  But do what you want, just be smart about it.  The truth is that meat wasn’t a huge part of our diet but it is an important part.  Don’t just go vegan and expect your brain function not to drop if you don’t educate yourself and maintain that diet intelligently.  It’s totally possible but you have to keep track of it and be smart about it.

If you do eat meat, try to eat the BEST meat you can afford. 

There is protein in greens, nuts and other plant sources.  Work with it to see what your body absorbs.

Craving sugar means you need more protein, FYI.

Allergies/Food Sensitivities

We are working our bodies beyond the expected duration.  That means you can pretty much EXPECT to develop food sensitivities because it’s like anyone who pushes their body that hard.  The body gets picky.  If you are on a long shoot, scale back on dairy, onions, wheat, salt, fat and sugar.  Eat lean proteins, veggies, fruit and drink a lot of water.  Your stomach will thank you.  That, my friends, is really why we don’t like pizza as a second meal. It hurts our stomachs.   Just keep an eye on what hurts your belly and avoid it.  That’s all.  Add it back gently when you are on a normal schedule.

Do Not Eat Non Foods

What is a non food?  Here’s my test.  Pretend Laura Ingalls Wilder is sitting beside you.  You show her what you are eating.  Can you explain it in a way she will understand?  No?  Then it’s not a food.  Don’t eat it.  Not on set anyway.   

Eat Every Six Hours

Yes, almost impossible to stick to but you know what?  You aren’t performing surgery and no one is dying on the table.  It took me a long time to realize that my health didn’t come after the producer’s stupidity.  Eat.  Even if you have to hide and pretend you are working.  Eat.  Smoothies are great for non-breakfasters who don’t want to eat at 3AM.  Make it and take it.  I do a lot of green smoothies (hit up Uncle Google for these if you don’t know what they are) but some people like protein shakes.  Whatever it is, do it.

Hard Boiled Eggs at Crafty

I’m not sure you should eat these ever.  Really not sure.  Just putting that out there.

Energy Drinks and Your Heart

Don’t screw around with these.  Honestly.  They lead to a big up and a big crash.  At least coffee is an ancient beverage.  In lieu of that, try tea.  But honestly I’d say eschew caffeine altogether if you can.  Better to drink water and feel your tired and save that cup of coffee for hour eleven.  Caffeine leaches calcium out of your body.  Not good, not good, especially for the ladies.


Lots of salt and lots of chemicals.  Again, not going to do you any favours on year ten in production.  And that health insurance you have probably still doesn’t cover dental so watch your teeth.

Brush Your Teeth

Bring your toothbrush and brush during one break on set.  No one is supposed to go fourteen hours without cleaning their teeth.  Get all that stress and the taste of adrenalin out of your  mouth.  Wash your hands and face while you are at it.

Sounds so basic and weird, right?  But trust me.  I’m glad I have done what I’ve done at this age because I can still run laps and lift 50lbs and I have my knees and teeth. 



What I say at wrap every time.

(Source: tthunderthief)

Groupon invites you to pay to be a movie extra

Scam. Scam scam scam. If you have to ask, I will tell you this is a scam. Do not pay to be an extra. Do not pass go.

‘Midnight Rider’ Filmmakers Surrender To Georgia Police: The Mugshots

So they have turned themselves in. 

Generally I don’t read the comments sections on these things anymore.  Not constructive.  But here a few things come up.

1.  She participated of her own free will and walked on the tracks.

2.   It was the producers at fault.

Yes.  Both. 

Would she have been fired for saying no?  Very likely. I have been replaced by producers because I took a stand on safety.  As an AD I will never force nor coerce nor turn someone in to production for refusing to do something based on safety.  Not to say I haven’t put people in dangerous situations.  I am sure I have.  I have (as I’ve said) a different physical stamina and endurance and so I’m not always adept at assessing other people’s exhaustion correctly.  And often they don’t communicate their discomfort.  They need to and that’s important.  And what’s more, don’t just talk to the AD.  Put it in an email and CC yourself on it.

I am never going to release you from your responsibility to NOT do something that you KNOW Is dangerous.  And to document it.

But I also know misinformation is powerful.  So are leaders.  I honestly think I get a lot of AD work because I appear confident and to know what I am doing.  So if I lead you on to the tracks, you would probably follow me.

Here is what I want and I’m going to keep saying it.

I want filmmakers and organizations that support indie film to start asking the hard questions.  Was everyone paid?  Did this film, that we love, provide safe turn arounds?  Was the creation of the product we consume ethical and safe?  And it was not… SHOULD WE SUPPORT IT?

It’s not just crew and actors that need to change this.  Though we have a lot of power.  It’s an overall discussion that needs to keep getting blown open because honestly, until we start seeing some real owning up, I am not buying it.  And I’m not going to stand on sets and tell cast and crew that they are safe anymore.  I am going to say, “I am taking this risk and I’m not sure it’s a good idea.  You have to decide for yourself.”

I’m not your Judas Goat.

These are just the ones who got unlucky.  And I think all of us who work in film know that. 


I did cry after reading [that] article about me in Politico. I don’t regret admitting I did. The reason I wanted to do this interview is that I think it is important to try to speak very candidly to young women. The most important advice I would still give — and it may seem crazy because I did lose this job I really loved — you have to be an authentic person. I did cry. That is my authentic first reaction. I don’t regret sharing that.
Taking Care of You: Pay Your Bills

So this is important. 

Always pay your bills or if you can’t, know what you owe.  I’m dying to give a seminar on home finances for the savvy person in the arts.  I can’t even begin to tell you how important it is to start this process regardless of your age or what you owe. Knowledge is power.

Sort your bills, open them, throw away the trash.  Note what you owe on one sheet and the days it is due.  If you pay online, do it only twice a month.  Yes.  That’s right.  Pay all the bills on the 1st of the month that are due between the 1st and 20th. 

On the 15th pay all the bills that are due between the 18th and the 5th.

Because of what we do and because record keeping is important, I make companies I don’t trust (cell phone companies, cable companies, credit card companies) send me paper copies of the bills though I pay online.  I go over these and check them and the error margin I find ranges between $10-$60.  Same with the grocery receipt.  I always checked my receipt as a PA and often I’d find the store failed to credit some of the in store sales.  I’d say I easily save $60-$100 a month by reading my receipts and bills.  And when you have a day rate that is $120 as a PA, that can really amount to something. 

I save records from these companies for a year and I chart how many errors I find and at year’s end I discuss it with them.

You should never be so busy that you do not take care of yourself, your home, or your finances.

The real key to survival and doing what you love in the arts is respect for yourself.  Respect your body, keep it healthy and in shape.  Respect your heart and soul, don’t get in relationships or keep up relationships with people who damage you.  And respect your resources.  You work hard, so curate them.  Remember we are at most two to three generations from the people who came over to the United States.  If it helps, think of your ancestor who always knew how much he or she had in the root cellar.  Be that person.  Count your potatoes, know what you have to eat and what to seed to grow.  Because like them, your survival hinges on how well you take care of yourself and the things you own first.

And if you are face to face with your expenses, you are less likely to take that crap paying job for people who don’t deserve your time and talent.  Your cell phone company doesn’t give you anything “for art” and Comcast doesn’t care either.  By treating yourself as a business you will remind yourself that you are business.  When you step out, or want to do your own thing, or take a break or even just produce your own thing, you will have hand your hand on your money. 

Keeping a hand on your money keeps a hand on your time.

It’s not magic.  But after a bit it will start to feel like it.

- Val

Anonymous said: How do I make the leap from Key PA to 2nd 2nd or 3rd? I've Keyed on three indie features and fifteen medium budget commercials since January alone, plus I have three years of PA experience on shows of all sizes ($25,000 to $40m). I'm in a smaller market, should I move down the road to Hollywood South? Does one just send out their resume or ask Directors or sacrifice goats to make the jump?

Never worked on a short film? Student film? Never started looking around for low budget 1sts to learn from? Do you even have an AD resume started? If you’ve Key’d on 3 features, were you better than the 3rd? Have you told anyone who likes you what your career path is?

The key to getting out of a rut is to just walk away from it. If you keep being the best Key PA for every show, you will be known as the best Key PA. So that means finding the shows and the places and the 1st ADs who are willing to take on someone new and train them. No coordinator is going to make their Key PA into a 2nd AD. They like their Key PA. They hire the Key PA. They don’t need you to be a 2nd AD. They don’t need you to have aspirations. If there’s a vacancy awesome, but you need to go make the job you want. And sometimes it means stepping down in pay, sometimes it means stepping out of market. Val went through 3 markets before she started taking over 1sting and 2nding. It’s because once you set yourself in a role, you can get pigeonholed, just like actors. So make your own path, learn what the role entails while you’re PAing for people who’ve been doing it longer, and if you see the chance to help with paperwork, get out times for the 2nd 2nd, be last man. Do the things the ADs do and you’ll be seen as someone who can do the job.