Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

No work, but plenty of excitement.

Sometime in the past few days, I hurt my thumb. The joint’s swollen and I can’t bend it. I have absolutely no idea how it happened (although I’m tempted to blame Cam-Lok connectors) but since I do tend to use my thumbs quite a bit, I figured I’d get it checked out.

When I showed it to the doctor, he said, “You fucked something up. Take some Motrin and soak it in warm water. Maybe that’ll clear it up.”

All that medical school for a diagnosis of “fucked up”? That, I’d already figured out.

“Tell me something I don’t know,” I said.

He thought for a moment. “Buy low, sell high?”

I like my doctor, but sometimes I really want to kick him. Plus, I already knew that.

So, I’ve got a bottle of Motrin and official medical advice not to use my thumb for the next three days. Wish me luck with that one.

In more exciting news, yesterday, LA county mental health services hauled my landlady off to the nuthatch.

She’s always been, um, eccentric.. but it’s gotten worse in the past few weeks. It all started when her kids tried to get a power of attorney (which is a reasonable request when one’s parent is 80, I think), and she freaked out. She interpreted it as an attempt at a pre-death asset grab and stopped eating or sleeping – she just cried all day and all night.

The lack of sleep turned into paranoia, and since my landlady lives next door, her pounding on my door at 1 am to tell me that the streetlight was watching her and that I should take my stove apart to make sure there weren’t any electronic bugs in it. “Check your oven, too! They might be listening to everything you say!”

Honestly, I didn’t realize how bad it had gotten. I’d heard pounding noises at night, but hadn’t really worried about them. She’s always been handy, so I figured she was boarding up the windows or installing shelves or something (sometimes I’ll do stuff like that when I can’t sleep). I’d offered to take her to the grocery store if she needed it, but she said she was fine.

Turns out, she’s ripped out all the electrical wiring in her house (because it was listening to her, I guess) and there’s a gas leak because in her zeal to find the ‘bugs’ – she knocked big holes in the walls and hit the gas line with a hammer.

The social workers who took her away yesterday were very nice, and implied that she’ll be okay soon, once she’s gotten some medical treatment.

I hope so. I haven’t heard anything about how she’s doing, but it’s been less than 24 hours, so there may be no news yet.

Filed under: Non-Work

‘Tis the Season – it’s official.

Beverly Hills has sprouted chandeliers in boxes.

Chandeliers in boxes

On Rodeo (remember, it’s pronounced Row-DAY-oh) Drive, of course.

Filed under: life in LA, Photos

Happy Thanksgiving!

To those of you outside the US, the Thanksgiving holiday is billed as a commemoration of… well, depending on who you ask, it’s either the commemoration of the onset of a genocide or a happy fuzzy friendship party thrown by some people who were probably really glad to see land.

In reality, it’s an excuse to pig out all day, fight with one’s family around the table, and gossip on the way home about how fucked up everyone is since Grandma (who was, after all, the one keeping everyone in line) passed away.

Since I’m going to a friend’s house, I’ll miss the fights and the gossip, but the pig-out factor is certainly still there. We’re doing potluck, and I’m attempting to bake the pumpkin muffins that I found on the faboo cupcake blog (although I’m not sure how well they’re going to turn out. I probably should have told my hosts I was bringing a bottle of cheap whiskey or something and then surprised them – although whiskey’s probably healthier than those cupcakes. I don’t even want to see the calorie count on those fuckers).

So, in the spirit of things, here’s a list of what I’m thankful for this year:

I’m thankful that I have a job which, although I bitch about it sometimes, I truly do enjoy.

I’m thankful that I have my health, and more importantly, that I continue to qualify for my health insurance (I have to work 300 hours per semester to keep it, and I’m unbelievably grateful that I’ve never lost it).

I’m thankful for all the wonderful folks who keep hiring me, and with whom I’d hang out even if they didn’t just because I like them.

I’m thankful for my rent-controlled place to live.

I’m thankful that my pet loves me (hey, with cats that’s not a given, you know).

I’m thankful for my family and friends, who put up with my shit and still seem to like me.

I’m thankful that I haven’t had food poisoning in a while.

I’m thankful for this court decision. I’ve had to 86 some hilarious comments due to fear of legal action, and now everyone can snark away without fear. Huzzah!

I’m sure there’s more, but right now I’m off to the gym. Hopefully I’ll be able to pre-emptively burn off those cupcakes.

I hope all of you have a very happy holiday, too!

Filed under: Non-Work

I certainly made up for those weekends I worked.

Friday night I dragged a friend to a nightclub and we saw.. get ready for it.. 2 Live Crew (remember them?) for some sort of comeback tour or something. I’m still not sure exactly what happened, but here’s some video:

2 Live Crew

(Thumbnail because WordPress won’t allow video embeds from Jumpcut).

Yeah, I know. I thought it was going to be a lot funnier, too (actually funny, not two drink minimum funny). Plus, it was damn near pitch black in there so I’m surprised I was even able to get the shitty pixel-fest you see here.

I’ll spare you the clip of the dancer shaking her thang for the camera. There are six (or so) clips on Jumpcut, so feel free to re-edit them and see if you can make something interesting out of it.

Saturday night, I decided that I had not, in fact, been ready for that jelly and decided to stay home.

Sunday, I went to see the new James Bond. Without veering into spoiler country, it’s long. Too long. By about half an hour. There is absolutely no excuse for a movie with a plot that thin to be over two hours, although Daniel Craig (for whom I’ve had a girl boner since Layer Cake) was great.

I’m not expecting to get any work this week, since Thursday’s a holiday.

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

Thanks a lot, now get out.

“Well”, my boss said as he came in our room right after our coffee break, “I’ve got some bad news for you.”

Sometimes things get cut, jobs get shortened and then sometimes people get cut from the crew. Not fired, just.. no longer needed for this particular job.

Guess what happened to me yesterday?

Yup. Since my partner and I were doing all the hedges, and the park that had it’s decorations get cancelled was apparently all hedges (and would have taken a week for us to complete), we got laid off.

Although the extra week’s pay would have been nice, this isn’t that big of a deal, really. One of the first lessons one has to learn in this industry is that layoffs don’t mean a thing – somehow the crew size can no longer be justified to management and someone has to go. Happens all the time.

If I wanted stability, I’d have gotten a real job, now wouldn’t I?

The funny thing is that throughout this whole job, we’ve been jokingly telling one another to stop moving so fast or we’d work ourselves out of a job.

I’m still taking today off, since that six days in a row thing hurts me bad (and I have no more clean work clothes), but I’ll start to make calls tomorrow. Hopefully I’ll turn up something for next week, and if not, I’ll have some time to work on other things – like the cupcakes I got talked into baking for Thanksgiving next week.

Oh, shit – Thanksgiving is next week.

Bet I won’t get any work, then. Hello, unemployment check.

Filed under: Work

People, please!

This morning, as I was drinking my coffee and catching up on my reading I came across an article which made reference to “all the gaffers” on a set.

This (and I’ve seen the same mistake before) makes me nuts.

There is one gaffer per shooting unit. He (or she) works directly with the Director of Photography (DP for short) to light the scene and is the head of the set lighting department. If you see more than one gaffer lighting a set at the same time, something’s gone terribly wrong.

All those people moving lights around are called lamp operators or “juicers”. As a side note, you are safe referring to “all the grips” on set, although grips do not handle lights. They have enough to do without having to do my job (which would be moving lights around and, it seems, confusing certain magazine contributors).

So, if you’re thinking about dropping the “all the gaffers” bomb, please refer to this handy dandy guide to lighting-related crew folks:

Director of Photography: The guy (or gal) who makes the creative decisions about how the scene will be lit and shot. The DP is the head of the camera department, but he (or she) also decides the general look of the lighting and what “mood” the scene should have.

Gaffer: The gaffer (remember, there’s only one), after discussing the scene with the DP, is the person who gets on the walkie talkie and tells us exactly what kind of lights to use and where to place them. The gaffer, since he (or she) stays on set, is also a good source of information about what’s going to happen later in the day (“Remember when we wrapped that set because they were done shooting in it? Start getting it ready again. It’s up next”).

Best Boy Electric: The gaffer’s assistant, so to speak. The best boy is responsible for hiring additional crew and laying them off when they’re no longer needed, supervising the lighting crew (“You’re late again, asshole. You owe everyone a Starbucks drink after lunch”), which can be like herding cats some days, ordering equipment from the rental house and making sure it doesn’t get lost or damaged, and keeping track of everyone’s hours so we get paid the correct amount. Unless we start to get peeled really badly, the best boy is never on set.

Lamp Operators: On set, our job is to carry out the gaffer’s instructions about which lamps he (or she) wants and where. If we don’t have a rigging crew, we show up early (a “pre-call”) in order to run cable from the generator to the set and try to grab the best equipment staging area before the grips get it.

Key Grip: The key grip works with the DP and the gaffer. Grips don’t touch lights unless they’re being nice and helping us out. The rule of thumb is that anything which casts a shadow is grip – one can’t just aim a light at a set and leave it, because of a phenomenon known as “spill”. Lighting is a precise thing, and one only wants the light to shine on a certain area of the set (or the left half of the actor’s face) – so the key grip instructs his crew where to place “flags” to keep the light only on one area.

Best Boy Grip: same as the BBE (best boy electric), different truck.

Dolly Grip: The grip who’s in charge of the camera dolly. No, not the dress-wearing kind of dolly, but a very heavy wheeled hunk of steel which can roll (on metal track), and has an arm which can raise and lower the camera in order to create those fancy moving shots that take forever to set up and audiences don’t even notice. Dolly track, when laid down, must be perfectly level or the camera shakes as the dolly’s moved down the track.

Grips: Grips, in addition to precision shadow-casting, are responsible for general safety on set. They build ramps, reinforce stairs and handrails, move set walls, hang pipe grids and greenbeds (walkways which are suspended over a set), build tents outside building windows so we can shoot night scenes during the day, and assemble and operate those gigantic, complex camera cranes.
Don’t believe those ads on the back pages of certain film-related publications (“Learn to be a grip movie technician in 10 days!”). Grip is not an entry-level position.

On a show with more than one shooting unit, these positions will be duplicated for the second unit, and shows with rigging units will have a rigging gaffer and rigging key grip with associated personnel. On shows without a rigging crew, the best boys are responsible for pre-rigging sets.

I could go on (and on and on and on), but I’ll stop here.

If you’re writing something and aren’t sure about what any particular crew person does, please don’t guess – just email me and ask. Although I sometimes take a few days to answer emails, I’ll be more than happy to help.

Unless you want me to go insane – in that case, just keep it up with “all the gaffers”. I’ll eventually snap, I promise.

Filed under: Work

A very food-centric post today.

Yesterday afternoon as we were getting into work, there was a Red Hot Chili Peppers (honestly, I didn’t think those guys were still around) video shooting on the lot – as soon as we found out, we all sauntered over to the set which was on the lot’s New York Street.

Not so much to see the band (I can’t speak for my co-workers, but I really don’t care that much), but to see if there was anything good at the crafty table and to say “hi” if any of us knew any of the crew, since this job will be over in a couple of weeks and we’re all on the make for future employment.

I’d not met the crew before, but they all seemed nice (even though they were having a typically long day), and the food was typical music video fare*.

Once we’d said our hellos, determined that nothing there was of much interest to any of us, and had gotten our crew set up in their respective work areas, our boss told us that there were two other parties on the lot last night.

One was a screening of a movie followed by a wine and cheese reception in the parking lot next to the water tank and the other was a dressy party and silent auction for some charity. The charity party let the lot workers pick over the buffet left-overs, and I was bad and overindulged on corned beef. I love corned beef, even if it is about 90% fat and really bad for me.

So, I’m off to the gym right now to try and work off the million calories of yummy I ate last night.

*Craft Service/Catering hiearchy is as follows:

Commercials: Expensive caterers, craft service people who shop at high-end markets and stock everything but the kitchen sink and will, if asked nicely, accommodate special requests (soymilk, sugar-free snacks, strange tropical fruits, etc..). Commercial craft service doesn’t come cheap, but you get what you pay for, after all.

Large budget movies: Although the between-meals spread’s not quite as elaborate as commercial fare (but still good) there’s still a wide variety of stuff to eat (both healthy and not) and the catered food’s worthy of an expensive restaurant.

TV shows: Hit or miss, depending on how much the producer’s budgeted, but since TV shows shooting on studio lots don’t have caterers (they can give the crew a half-hour lunch if food is provided or an hour-long “walkaway” if it’s not. Why pay for a caterer if there’s a commissary 200 yards away?) those shows tend to have better crafty, plus they’ll have bread and cold cuts for sandwiches.

Music Videos: Normally stocked with the type of food that musicians and their hangers-on like to eat – junk food and lots of it, unless the artist is on a diet and then there will be a veggie platter with a tin of low fat ranch dressing.

Low budget movies: Cheap coffee (with powdered creamer which I hate) and a box of stale cookies, plus some of those sodium-laced ramen noodle packets if they were on sale at Costco. Hey, what would you put out if you had to feed 40 people on $100 per day?

Having said that, I’ve been on a couple of low budget movies that have had decent food. Once again, it depends on what the producer’s willing and able to spend. Having one of the lead actors get sick from eating cheese that’s been sitting at room temperature for six hours and then hysterically accuse the producer of trying to poison them will increase the food budget pretty quickly.

Filed under: Work

Quick, Look Busy!

At some point between wrap on Tuesday and call time on Wednesday, our boss got spoken to by lot management about us not looking busy enough.

It’s important to make it clear that the problem was not our not working fast enough or doing good work (what we’ve done so far looks great, and we got a compliment from the CEO himself on how nice everything looked), but that we weren’t giving the appearance of being productive worker bees as the important people sped past us in their cars on the way through the security gate.

We’ve actually been working pretty quickly, but every so often we have to stop for a few moments to a) stand up straight b) think for a moment c) untangle lights or d) have a sip of water.

Apparently all these things are completely unacceptable, and we must be moving at all times or memos are sent and threatening phone calls are made.

I should probably note that moving around more than absolutely necessary is something that all of us, after years of having to conserve one’s energy throughout long days, have learned not to do. Repeatedly picking things up and putting them down in order to justify the crew size to the bean counters just means I’m going to run out to gas right when it’s time to load the truck at the end of the night.

All these memos and calls (this is just the latest volley in the ‘crack the whip on the dirty laborers’ round of memos*) have been hard on my boss, who is a terrific guy and doesn’t deserve to have this kind of shit heaped on his head when he is, in fact, doing a pretty bang-up job.

After I protested that for once in my life I was actually working and not just running out the clock, my boss sighed and said “Look, just make them think they’re getting their money’s worth – make sure they see some kind of activity as they pass by. If they see you just standing there they think you’re goofing off.”

“Don’t they see the lights? Isn’t it obvious that we’re making progress?”

My boss, who is very diplomatic, just said “Well, you know how these people are”.

Good point.

Unfortunately, I do know how these people are. It’s just that usually, they have no idea what exactly it is that I do (they just have some vague idea that my carrying weird looking equipment into and out of the set prevents them from standing in the doorways), so they can’t normally tell if I’m really working or just filling my down time by fucking off while I get off my feet (“I’m very, very busy here. If I don’t get these widgets organized by size and color, we won’t be ready to light the next set”).

This time, it’s different. Everyone knows how to do holiday lights, right? We’ll never get away with blatantly staged busyness when people actually know what we’re doing, will we?

Apparently, we will.

Whenever an overpriced luxury sedan would pull out of the executive parking lot, one of us would yell “Incoming!” and we’d all start trying to look busy – fiddling with lights, moving things from one pile to another, crouching down and standing up again. At one point, my partner just started waving his arms around as the cars drove by.

“C’mon, man.. No one’s going to fall for that. You look like a crazy person.”

“Oh, please. They can’t tell what I’m doing. They just see movement. You know how these people are.”

I guess it worked, since my boss didn’t get any angry phone calls last night.

*What the fuck is it with the memos? I’m not used to this – I’m used to insane people screaming and throwing things, which is easier to cope with than a seemingly endless round of passive-aggressive memos. In times like this, I remember exactly why I decided to bypass corporate America.

Filed under: Work

It’s an ill wind that blows nobody good

Or something like that.

For those of you not in Southern California, we’re currently being fried by Santa Ana winds.

A Santa Ana wind feels like… well, you know when the oven’s on “high” and you crack the door open and get that blast of hot air right in the face? That’s what a Santa Ana feels like. The humidity plummets (I think it’s at 16% right now), the temperature skyrockets (it’s over 90 degrees), people get cranky and drive worse than usual – I’ve been riding my bike to work and I’ve been honked at, flipped off and had more near-misses than normal.

Right now, I’m very grateful to be working in the evenings – it cools off about 6 pm when we get back from dinner, and the rest of the night is really nice.

Although the Santa Ana winds are traditionally believed to be evil, they do have one big advantage:

As long as they’re blowing, there’s no way it’s going to rain.

Filed under: life in LA, Non-Work

Ain’t life a bitch?

So after years of lifting 100 lb coils of cable and not having back problems (knee and foot problems, yes, but the back’s generally fine), what finally gives me a pain in the back?

Putting in fucking holiday lights, that’s what.

It’s the constant bending down and straightening up that’s done it (stretch up to reach the top of the hedge, bend down to anchor the lights to the base, repeat for 10 hours). My lower back’s killing me, but it’s not bad enough to warrant my staying home so I’m just torturing my co-workers by bitching about it.

I’ve got an ice pack on it right now. Hopefully it’ll feel better by morning for my next shift of bending and stretching.

“TUESDAY” AM UPDATE: It feels much better this morning – I figure if I put the ice pack on it during lunch, I should be fine.

Filed under: Work

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  • Knee has started locking up if I keep it bent for too long. Awesome. 12 hours ago
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