Grimm Reality: What To Do When Your Long-Running Gig Ends

According to legend, an ancient Persian king tasked one of his wise men with coming up with a phrase that would make a sad man happy and a happy man sad.

A couple of days later he came back with this:
"This too shall pass."

It's the kind of phrase that will get you through that dreaded dental appointment. But also bum you out on day three of your perfect vacation.

And it's the sentiment that the 300+ cast and crew have felt in the final season of NBC's Grimm. Having filmed for six years in Portland, the show achieved remarkable success, both for its longevity and for its innovative special effects created outside Hollywood.

One of the local crew members responsible for giving Grimm its understated, eerie quality is Bruce Lawson. Serving as Key Grip for all six seasons, he helped bring the various Director of Photography's visions to life.

With 4K digital cameras and LED lighting now within the price range of most independent productions, Lawson and his team proved that the secret ingredient to achieving a look worthy of network TV is simply a Hollywood-level crew. And it doesn't hurt to have access to the best prop makers, costumers, and locations.

Any writing instructor will tell you that a good story should end where it began, but with the main characters having grown and changed--completing their arc.

This is how Lawson describes his experience with Grimm. Now that this dream job is ending, he's finding himself in a situation a lot like where he started, only he's grown in the process.

Landing The Perfect Gig

When he was hired by the show, Lawson had been working as a freelancer for 28 years. He said Grimm was like winning the trifecta of production.

"It was my chance to work on a creatively interesting show, with a healthy budget, that was being shot in and around Portland--a place I'm so proud of," he says. "It's like I'd grabbed the brass ring."

Work on the show was challenging, with an early call time on Monday mornings, an aggressive production schedule all week, and then all-night shoots most Fridays. (Oh for the days of shooting day-for-night like they did on Bonanza.) But being renewed season after season was proof that they were creating something special.

Having the regular paycheck as a union employee was nice. Not only did Lawson have the security of a regular income, but he was also covered for extras like family health insurance and retirement.

What To Do When The Your Long-Term Gig Is Wrapping Up

Knowing the show was going to end allowed Lawson to plan ahead for his next step.

"It's like I'm a freelancer again," he says. "So I've been doing all the things that we as freelancers need to do." By that he means doing regular networking, putting himself and his company out there.

There's this myth floating around the production world that if you do work that's incredible enough, you won't have to make an effort to network anymore. While a great piece on your reel may get you noticed, you can never stop purposefully connecting with the people who might hire you or recommend you.

Lawson gives the following advice to anybody whose long-term gig is about to end:

1. Start before it's over. Connect with the people you used to work with before.

2. Give yourself time to grieve the loss. It's OK to be sad about this creative family breaking apart. Don't rush into something else right away.

3. Be open to a transition. Your opportunity may not lie in doing exactly what you've been doing up until now.

4. Remember, there's no blueprint that's guaranteed to work. Everybody has a different story about how they got into the business. Your next step will also be unique.

How One Connection Made All The Difference

With regard to the last two points, Lawson credits Oregon production icon Bob Schmalling for a major turning point in his career as a Key Grip.

"Back in the early 1990s I was working a lot as a 1st Assistant Director, looking to get into the DGA," says Lawson, "when Bob Took me to lunch at the Burgerville on SE Hawthorne and 12th. He told me he was going to stop working as a Key and become General Manager of Pacific Grip and Lighting. He told me I should take over the Key Grip duties and forget about the DGA."

Lawson went on to Key Grip for many Movies of the Week, feature films, and network series. (His professional credits in this role are too long to list in this post.)

As production people we tend to think that success lies in getting the best gear and creating the best work. That's important. But not as important as staying connected with the right people, seeking to help and be helped.

The lesson is, even if you have a regular job on the hottest show, you still need to make regular networking a habit.

And remember, whether you're working on the best production ever or you're in a situation you hate--this too shall pass.

So plan for it.

Photos courtesy of Bruce Lawson. Click on image to go through gallery.