Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

Illegitimi non carborundum

Last night was frustrating – we can’t just loosely drape the lights over the hedges – they have to be passerby and gardener (oops, I meant “landscape technician”) proof and they’ll have to stay put for weeks – some of our shoddier work has already been knocked down and we’re going to have to do them over, which is sending our boss into panic mode as he’s afraid we’re not going to be done on time.

We have to wind the lights around any sturdy twigs we find in the foliage (since we’re only hanging the lights on the side facing the offices – no one cares about holiday lights in the parking lots), and some of the shrubbery is more difficult to wrap than others. Last night’s hedges had plenty of sturdy twigs, but my partner and I were both having problems getting the strands to stay where we put them (damn slippery leaves), so it took us our entire shift to finish about 60 feet of hedge.

At the beginning of the job, our boss warned us that some of the office workers might be belligerent when they saw us working on holiday lights so early, but everyone’s been pretty nice so far.

Last night, we were working right in between the studio president’s one miiilllllion dollar (C’mon, say it like Dr. Evil – you know you want to) office and the VIP parking lot. The execs had to walk by us as they were leaving for the day, and most of them passed by without even acknowledging our presence (we are, after all, just the help). The folks who did make comments were pleasant and surprised at how much work the lights were.

Then again, we were listening to Sinatra on the little portable CD player, and it’s hard to be a jerk when Frank’s belting out Witchcraft.

All was well until about 10 pm when a lady walked by us and snarled “Can’t you people at least wait until after Halloween?”

As I was opening my mouth to politely explain, she shook her head, muttered “Unbelievable!” and stomped off.

Lucky for me years of working on sets have rendered me utterly incapable of caring about someone’s attitude problems when they’re related to something that’s beyond my control.

As she stomped towards her BMW, still muttering to herself, I cheerily called after her “Think of it as a reminder to start shopping soon!”

She didn’t turn around.

I bet our boss gets a memo about the gardeners (oops, I meant “landscape technicians”) talking back to the important people.

Oh, and Happy Halloween. With my current hours, I won’t have to worry about getting ambushed like I did last year .

Filed under: Work

It’s Saturday for you but it’s Monday for me.

My days off are Thursday and Friday, and while it’s nice to have a weekday free for certain things that aren’t open on the weekends, this schedule makes it difficult to remember what day it is.

Saturday is my Monday, so last night I kept forgetting it that not only was it Saturday night, it was the Saturday night before Halloween, so as we were working outside, I kept wondering why there was so much traffic through the city at midnight on a weeknight (“Don’t these people have jobs?”), only to suddenly remember (or be reminded by my co-workers) that it’s not a weeknight for the rest of the local population – just for us.

At the end of the night, as we were prepping for the next days’ work by running cable (what do you mean, why are we running cable? We have millions of lights – that does add up to a lot of amperage, you know), one of the “See Hollywood and Stars!” tour busses rolled by in full party mode – loud music and drunken revelers dancing on the top deck of the old London city bus that now rattles around my neighborhood – only these days it’s full of tourists who take millions of pictures of anyone they think might be famous* – and once again I wondered what the hell was going on on a Monday night to warrant a party.

Wait – it’s not a weeknight, is it?

What day is it again?

*I know that tourism contributes a eye-popping amount towards the local economy, and I’m glad that people from around the world choose to spend their vacation time in Los Angeles, but goddammit, those busses are annoying as hell.

Filed under: Work

Snowball fight!

We spend the first couple of hours each day prepping the strands of lights that we have to use – we have to cut the tags off (because the white tags are visible in the greenery of the bushes and trees) and it’s better to do it all at once. That way there aren’t little amputated tags all over the lot (which pisses off the groundskeepers).

The room where we do this is right next to where a commercial has been shooting and blanketed part of the lot in snow – some of it fake, but some of it real. They don’t normally use real snow, and I have no idea why they did this time, but there it was, right there on the street collecting dirt (like real snow does) and making a terrible mess in the heat.

Although they wrapped several days ago, it’s taking them some time to scrape the snow up and throw it into dumpsters (where it’s been melting into a funny-smelling lake through which we’ve been driving our golf cart at full tilt to see how big of a splash we can make) and there’s still quite a bit left, so we went out to play in it on our coffee break.

They’ve cordoned off the area that was covered with snow in order to facilitate clean-up, but people have been driving carts through it anyway – it’s the best shortcut on the lot. As we were standing there, trying to see how well the snow would pack (not so much – it’s mostly ice), the best boy of another show (he’s a great guy and I like him a lot) drove by in a golf cart and guessed what I was thinking – he floored the golf cart, but let’s face it, those things aren’t that fast. I managed to throw accurately, and nailed him right in the back. I had to run through three inches of slush to get him so I had to work the rest of the night in wet shoes, but it was so totally worth it.

Filed under: Work

So it’s come to this…

For the next five (or six, I’m not sure anymore) weeks, I’m going to be putting up holiday lights at a studio*.

I’m working with a bunch of guys whom I’ve never met before, but who all are really cool and it’s a fun group, but basically I’m a glorified gardener right now.

A gardener who’s making union scale plus a night premium, so I certainly can’t complain (okay, I can complain about being attacked by a bougainvillea that wasn’t in the holiday spirit – I never realized that those things had half-inch long thorns, and apparently they don’t enjoy being draped in lights).

The hours aren’t so bad – 2:30 pm to 1 am. We’re working a nights because our presence is upsetting to the important folks – after all, everyone wants to read the great American novel, but no one wants to watch the room full of chain-smoking monkeys typing away.

*I’m not going to name it, as I’m currently an employee of the studio and not a production, and I’m not certain what the policy on blogs is, so let’s all just keep our guesses to ourselves, shall we?

Filed under: Work

Friday Photo

Cable Cart

Taken at the Los Angeles Sports Arena (slated for destruction soon, which is probably why they didn’t really care that we were rolling cable carts across the basketball court), October 2006

Filed under: Photos, Work

To sleep, perchance to stay that way for a few hours longer.

On Saturday, I’m starting a job that will have me in splits (half day, half night – about 4 pm to about 3 am) for five weeks.

When I’m given a chance to fall into a consistent sleep pattern, I tend to be a fairly early riser – I’m almost always up before 8 am. This must stop if I’m going to make it through the first week of this job without being a raging bitch and tormenting my co-workers.

I’ve been trying to stay up late and sleep late, but no matter how late I’m awake, I’m still out of bed by 8 am.

Dammit. I’m working a split today (on a commercial), so hopefully I’ll be able to stay asleep later tomorrow.

Filed under: Work

At least I know I’m not crazy.

Yesterday’s work was preparing a set for a TV show – we were getting it ready for first unit to shoot and I don’t think it’s been used in a while, because a lot of the power had been re-routed to other sets and some of the lights had been taken down.

My job was to check and make sure all the practicals (a lamp you can see on screen), wall sconces*, and duplexes (wall outlets) worked in this huge set – there were about 50 practicals and duplexes.

I got all of them working, except two sconces and a duplex (all on the same wall) – I had the dimmer board operator bring them up on the dimmer system, and nothing came up. I checked again, and tried the neighboring numbers. I crawled all over the set to see if they’d been repatched into ‘hot’ power (sometimes the dimmers get wacky and we have to do this). Nothing. My boss went up into the perms to check the power up there. Nothing. We couldn’t find where they were powered from.

I damn near went bananas trying to find the tails (because if I can find the cable that’s powering the sconces – the tails – I can trace them out and find where they’ve been plugged in), and at some point during the process I’m fairly certain my boss formed the opinion that I was an idiot (Boss: “They have to be plugged in somewhere.” Me: “I got nothin'”).

On the back side of the big set, and directly behind the wall with our dead sconces, they were painting a walk in closet set – as I stood there, staring at the top of the wall, hoping I could make the connecters for the lamps appear by sheer force of will, I noticed that the floor had sawdust on it.

“Say, when did you guys build the set on this side of the wall?”

The painter looked up “Yesterday, why?”

“Would you happen to know if they disconnected some of our cables?”

Just then, one of the construction guys walked by.

“Oh, yeah. You had three connectors back there – I figured you didn’t want connections sealed in the wall so I cut them off for you. I figured you could drill down with a [piece of equipment only the construction department has], then pull a new cable up so your connectors will be on top of the wall.”

In the construction guy’s defense, he’s right. One does not want cable connectors buried between walls where no one can get them. In any power run, the connections are always the weak point. Cable almost never catches fire (it can, but you really have to work at it). Connectors melt and/or burst into flame all the time.

But I’m not a construction guy with an arsenal of strange drill bits and power tools which one needs a license to operate. I’m set lighting – you want to know what I’ve got on my toolbelt? I’ve got a Leatherman, a pair of moldy gloves, and a chalk bag full of clothespins, that’s what I’ve got. Drill down, indeed.

When I told my boss what had happened and why I wasn’t able to get the sconces on, he wanted to know if we could just cut thorough the wall directly behind the sconces and duplex – he figured they’d have clothes hanging in front of it (since the set’s a closet), so no one would see the holes or our power.

“I don’t think so,” the painter said. “I don’t know how they’re going to dress this and if it’s in the wrong place, it could get ugly.”

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, brother, but it’s ugly now – I have to have those lights on because of course, if we can’t get them on, guess what they’re going to point the camera at first thing?

When I told the rigging gaffer that his solution wasn’t going to work, he just shrugged and said “Well, go get the [piece of equipment only the construction department has] and start drilling. We’ve got to get those hot.”

So, we got the [piece of equipment only the construction department has], figured out how to use it and then cut straight down through the set wall to the sconces – then we tied the cable to the string we’d sent down and pulled it up. It took us over an hour to do the two sconces, and we couldn’t get to the duplex at all because it was on the bottom of the wall and the [piece of equipment only the construction department has] wasn’t long enough to cut through 10 feet of serious miscommunication.

Due to the shape of the big set (and how the second set was built behind it), we couldn’t even drill to the duplex from the side. I ended up putting the plate back on and labeling it “N.F.G.” where the dimmer number would be.

*What is it with set designers and wall sconces? I can count on the fingers of one hand how many homes I’ve been in that have wall sconces, and in movie-world, every single private home has them on every single wall.

Filed under: Work

Friday Video

I got a late start today, due to my having had way too much fun at Carly’s book party last night, so here’s something to keep you amused while I’m recovering:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ru-GyJHfuc

I’m not sure if I should be proud or ashamed of the fact that I’ve burned the nerve endings off of my fingertips through years of handling 12K Par scrims.

There’s a longer version on YouTube, in which I attempt to prove, with a shaky boom up (my knees aren’t what they once were), that the stove’s burner is indeed lit:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zzbtkiSXe9s

Filed under: Non-Work

How to tell when the film industry is way busy:

When rental houses start sending out really old equipment that normally sits on the shelves and gathers dust.

This is a lug connector:

Lug End

Since lug ends can’t be connected directly together, they’re clamped onto a bus bar (a big metal plate made of copper, because that’s one of the better electrical conductors) which is inside a distro (or spider – they’re similar, only the distro box has outlets so you can plug things into it and the spider box doesn’t) box:

Distro box

Since the copper’s ‘hot’, there’s a leeetle platic shield over it (with holes on top so you can reach and tighten the set screw that’s on the top part of the connector and holes on the side to stick the cable into – it’s worth noting that the hole which one shoves the cable through isn’t much bigger than the cable end. Normally not a big deal, but just try it when you’ve been awake for 18 hours), which, although it looks pretty flimsy, is surprisingly strong.

This requires a special tool – the T-Handle:

T handle

The method for connecting lug end cable is to slip the open end of the lug over the bus bar (it just fits), positioning it under the hole in the plastic. Then, stick the end of the metal shaft of the T-handle into the little hole in the set screw on the lug and turn until the whole mess is tight enough not to move around.

Do you see the flaw in this system? Once the cable is energized (and the type of cable, 4/0, carries 400 amps per hot leg, and we usually run three hot legs – that’s more “juice” than I have in my entire house) things can still get to the copper through the holes in the plastic. Rainwater, spilled coffee, pee (there’s a rumor that the original dog who played Spuds MacKenzie died when it peed on an energized distro box – the power traveled up the urine stream and cooked the poor doggie. According to Wikipedia it’s not true after all, but the story’s been going around since I’ve been in the biz).

Lug connectors were industry standard for many years, but nowadays most shows use a type of connector called Cam Lok(TM), which is much safer (there’s no exposed metal parts – the connectors twist together and when connected are water resistant), and doesn’t require any additional tools to connect together (just wrists of steel).

The point of all this is that rental houses will generally only send out lug cable if they have no Cam-Lok left (or if someone specifically requests it for some strange reason), since most people don’t want the lug cable – plus, those lugs are metal, and when one of those ends breaks loose from the coil of cable that you’re carrying over your shoulder and smacks you in the shin, it’s beyond painful (I think “lug-to-the-shin” torture is banned by the Geneva convention).

Yesterday was a commercial which basically was different people standing and talking against a white background. Once we got set up (and after we tried and failed to send the lug cable back and get some Cam-Lok cable), there was nothing to do – and I always forget that most stages have wireless internet these days and I leave my computer at home, so once I read the paper I was fucked until they called wrap and it was time to tear everything out.

I had to borrow a T-handle since if I still own one (and I’m not sure that I do) it’s somewhere in the purgatory for forgotten gear (i.e. in a bin somewhere in my hall closet).

Warning: Girly content ahead. Proceed at your own risk:

Over the holiday weekend, I hit the Fred Segal sale. For those of you not in Los Angeles, Fred Segal is a horribly overpriced clothing store that’s frequented by, well, people who can afford horribly overpriced clothing, but once a year they have a 75% off sale which gets the prices knocked down to levels manageable for the hoi polloi.

Although I almost never buy anything, I always go. Free entertainment, you know.

This year, I found the best pair of shoes ever:

Nine hundred dollar shoes

All the shoes were 50% off, so these were marked down to… wait for it…. $450.

Yup, that’s right. The normal price of these shoes is NINE HUNDRED DOLLARS.

WAY too rich for my blood, but they sure were purty.

I didn’t set the white balance on the camera correctly – they’re silver, not gold.

Here’s a side view:

Side view

Sigh.

Even if I could afford it, I’m not sure I would pay it.

According to the salesperson, about 15 women had tried them on, looked at the price, sighed heavily and then put them back on the rack.

Oh hell. Who am I kidding – I so would pay it if I had that kind of cash. Never mind that they were horribly uncomfortable and completely impractical for anything other than sitting in a chair and looking alluring. When you have shoes like that, you don’t even have to get up. People will do things for you.

Filed under: life in LA, Non-Work, Work

Mid-week music video

Late-night call times somehow seem just wrong – first off, there’s the drinking coffee at 10 pm. Then, there’s going home and going to bed at 6 am.
Then, there’s the aforementioned sleeping all day (okay, not all day, from about 10 am to 3 pm, but it’s that time of year when the weather’s not too hot and it’s beautiful to be outside, so I HATE being in during the day).
Then, there’s the recovery time.

I got to work Wednesday at midnight, and we were done by 6 am (the joys of being ‘off production’. We were just coming in to wrap out and load the truck. We ended up spending most of the night standing around waiting for them to call it. I think we only worked for about two hours, and in case you’re wondering I have no idea who the video was for. Some forgettable rap group) , although it was this morning before I felt human again. The older I get, the more those all-nighters (or semi-all nighters) hurt me.

Filed under: Work

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