May 20, 2008

Vacation? Sick Days? I’m a Freelancer.

If I ever go through a dry spell where no work comes along for several weeks, there’s one sure way to get the phone to ring: plan a vacation. Not just a weekend getaway or trip to the beach, but one where some sort of deposit or other non-refundable money is involved. It never fails a job will come in and you have to choose... vacation or job.

I had always chosen job but then several years ago, I was offered a week-long commercial with my biggest client. I had a vacation planned for that same week, and in a bold move, I chose vacation. My turning down that job resulted in a two-year lack of work from that client. Eventually I got called again by them and for the past couple years I seemed to be back in their good graces. Until last week.

They had booked me on a job for Wednesday and Thursday. Over the weekend I could feel myself getting sick and slowly sliding downhill. By Tuesday night I felt lousy, but like many times before, I figured I could tough it out and work the next day (I can knuckle down and put on a smile). But by the morning I felt like crap. I’m not talking “I’d really like to curl up on the couch with a blanket” sick. I’m talking shaking, fever, can’t breathe, coughing, chills, dear God what did you give me and why do you hate me so type sick.

Now, I need to tell you that in fifteen years I have NEVER EVER called in sick for a job. I have luckily dodged shoot-day sickness, and of course when I did the big three-month features I was so adrenaline charged that no virus would dare take over...until...after wrap when my body all but collapsed in on itself. But this was my first experience being really unable to ooze out of bed on a shoot day.

So, after lying in bed staring at the ceiling wondering what to do, I called the production coordinator. He said, “If you feel like crap stay home, don’t worry, get better.” Hopefully that means, “I understand”

Or it means, “I’ll never hire you again” I guess I have a 50/50 chance.

I feel much better now. Just the lingering cough that won’t go away coupled with an overwhelming feeling of guilt for calling in sick. Maybe if I book a vacation to some place expensive the production coordinator will call me on their next job…… two years.

Have you ever called in sick?


Michael Taylor said...

Isn't that the truth -- we just can't win. I've never had to call in sick the actual day of a job, but have "replaced myself" the night before, when illness struck. Sometimes that's the key to retaining the good graces of your employer: arranging for an equally competent replacement so your boss/employer doesn't have to do it. But if your B./E. has to do the telephonic scramble of finding a warm body to fill in for you, the W.B. becomes the hero who saved the day while you wear the stinking head of the goat.

The freelance life exists in that narrow space between the rock and the hard place.

Emon said...

Your track record is near-perfect and I'm sure they know you're not the type that calls in sick every two days or whenever the alarm clock rings before noon.

And about getting called when you've planned your vacation - it almost always happens to freelancers.

Feel better, Scripty! :)

Chrixian said...


I had a sick experience in February in the middle of a cold Canadian winter of outdoor shoots for a dramedy I work on.

I ended up getting up out of bed, going into the studio, after 4 days of shooting on location in the slush and snow, and had duct-taped a kleenex box to my clip-board. I was sneezing and wiping my nose so much, it was hilarious. I'd hear "check the gate" and I'd be running to the washroom.

Luckily, I had per chance, quickly trained the asst. producer the day earlier on my job... "just in case".

So I went home early, crashed, and got up the next day feeling great...

... until, an aching tooth-ache 3 days later. I really couldn't believe my luck. I was so bloated and sinus filled, it was terrible. I ended up going to the dentist on emerge during my lunch break to get my teeth checked. Turns out it had more to do with my sinuses than my teeth. Over-blowing my nose was causing a tooth ache.


Definately not an easy job to be sick.

Devon Ellington said...

I call in sick when I'm genuinely sick, the way you were. (By the way, glad you're better)

When I was the go-to swing on a particular show, I considered it part of my job not to get sick when everyone else was sick -- that's why you have swings -- to cover when the regular people get sick.

Unfortunately, it doesn't always work that way.

When I book a vacation -- that's it. I go. As far as I'm concerned, that's one of the reasons I freelance -- I CHOOSE when I want to work and when to go on vacation.

As far as I'm concerned, f--- em if they don't call me again. There are plenty of other people who know how good I am who will.

The people I know who give up vacations because of last-minute calls are the ones who get screwed in the long run with cancelled work calls and lost deposits.

When I've got something booked -- even a vacation - and I get a call, I say, "Sorry, I'm booked that week."

It's no one's business FOR WHAT that booking is -- vacation or other work. That's why I freelance. I answer to MYSELF, not to ANYONE else.

That was one of the earliest boundaries I set in this business, over 20 years ago, and I never regretted it.

RJ said...

I've never called in sick. That doesn't mean I haven't been sick - in fact it's been quite the opposite. There was a first assistant I seconded with for years who had small children and anyone who has small children knows that children get sick (I now have small children and know this intimately well) and when they get sick, usually the parents get sick and when someone in the camera crew gets sick EVERYONE in the camera crew gets sick because everyone touches all the same stuff all day long. So there was a period of about two years when it felt like I was sick all the time. When it got really bad we would kind of spell each other and let the other one go sleep on the truck for a while.

I also did a ZZ Top video once, years ago, as a grip - it was a 4 day video shoot (those were the days) and I started to get sick early on. By day three I had 103 degree temperature and got sent up into the perms where it's very hot and very dusty. Needless to say, I'm lucky I made it back to the stage floor without falling to it. Ah well.

I think it's easier for certain crew positions to call in sick than others but that's probably the nature of the beast. Now I can't call in sick even if I wanted to because when I work, I'm working for myself. And believe me, there's no sleeping on the truck now. Some things get better, some get worse. What are you gonna do?

Scripty said...

Nice to hear from everyone! Great comments! And have a great holiday weekend!

Michael: You are right replacing myself is the way to go, unfortunately I really thought I would be OK by morning..

Emon: You are absolutely right! Just today that client called me for a three-day job next week Yeah!

Chrixian: Great story. Scripty's job is tough when you are under the weather. Your biggest asset is your brain! Nice touch with the Kleenex, I just annoy everyone and place in on the monitor. (sorry) Or I take a stash and place it in my cargo pants pocket. My fear has always been coughing during a take. So, my trick when I have a cough is to have a lozenge ready and as the AD calls for camera I pop it in my mouth. It has worked so far.

Devon: I'm glad you set your boundaries and stuck with them! Ever since that vacation I too use the line "I'm booked".

RJ: I'm always envious of departments that can go "sleep in the truck" As scripty I have to be on set from call to wrap. (Especially when a needy director is involved) And there is no script truck for me to sleep in. I’m glad you safely made it to the ground the day you had your 103 temp.