Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

Friday Photo

Just because I didn’t want to leave you with a shitty post over the weekend, here’s some eye candy for the ladies (and some of the gents, too):

Happy Friday, ladies (and some of the gents)!

This was last night at the book release party for Taschen’s new coffee table book about penis. Yes, that’s right – an overpriced ‘art’ book about wang.

Since I have an overactive imagination, I’d pictured the book release party as being something right out of A Clockwork Orange – you know, giant penis sculptures, white foamy cocktails, etc.. The actual party was considerably less visually thrilling and more like every other book party I’ve been to. Crowded, hot, bar stocked with lukewarm chardonnay, but still fun.

I have to work all night tonight – at least I won’t be frying in the heat.

Filed under: Non-Work, Photos, , , ,

A glove-ruining kind of day

Some things are better in the summer – the beach, outdoor barbecues, swimming pools, street fairs, fresh produce.

But one thing that’s decidedly not better in the summer is running cable in a downtown LA alley that doubles as a de facto relief station for the area.

Although the temptation is to blame the mess on the local homeless population, many of the people who we saw pissing in the alley (right in front of us) did not appear homeless. They just appeared to not want to walk the 50 yards or so to one of downtown LA’s  self-cleaning public toilets.

Guess that cable just screams “hey, come relieve yourself here!”

Depressingly enough, most of us are used to dealing with a certain amount of human filth – it’s just something that’s to be expected when one works in certain parts of Los Angeles (although we’ve been known to simply leave extremely heavily soiled cable right where it is and call it a loss), and it wasn’t any worse than any other downtown alley in the morning while it was still cool – sure, we had to watch for the fresh liquid (thankfully, there was much more liquid waste than solid waste) on the ground and on the walls, but as soon as the sun moved into a position to be able to hit the alley the smell got really bad, really fast.

Normally, the production company will pay to have downtown alleys steam cleaned and then block off access until we’re done shooting (in order to prevent re-pooing of said alley), but this particular alley wasn’t able to be blocked as it serves as the access driveway for some of those overpriced downtown ‘lofts’, so I guess production just didn’t see the point of cleaning it in the first place.

Of course, the center of most alleys are not all that gross (admittedly, though, after years of working in downtown alleyways most of us have a pretty high filth tolerance), but we run our cable down the very sides – up against a fence or a wall, and that’s where most folks choose to do their business, if you get my drift.

While I’ll spare you some of the gorier details, I will say that I’m not sure which smells worse after baking in the summer sun – shit, piss, vomit, or used tampons.

At least I was on the crew that was laying the cable. I feel for the poor bastards who will have to wrap the stuff after it’s been pissed on (and worse) for days. I won’t be there. That’s one circumstance under which I have no problem at all turning down work.

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , , , ,

Like sticking one’s head in an oven

Summer has officially arrived Los Angeles – early last week the temperatures were in the 70’s, later in the week they were in the 90’s, and over the weekend they broke the triple digit barrier – although today it’s cooled off to a relatively brisk 90.

One of the advantages of living in a place that used to pass for a desert is that it cools off at night- the knowledge that once the sun goes down the temperature is going to be in the high 60’s or low 70’s it’s much easier to cope with 100 degrees during the day.

This past weekend, however, nature played a cruel joke on Los Angeles and it didn’t cool off at night so much as become marginally less hot and miserable, but still too hot to sleep.

If I wanted to toss and turn in my sweat-soaked bed at night, struggling to breathe and wondering how to sleep in a bathtub full of cold water without drowning, I’d go to Florida. Or NYC, but at least I could manage to sleep on the fire escape there.

Although I’m not near the beach, which is the preferred place to be when the weather gets this hot, at least I’m not in the San Fernando Valley, which is 10 degrees (or more) hotter. During the summer, I dread going into the Valley even though I sometimes have to do so.

Since I’m currently on a short enforced vacation due to bursitis in my left shoulder (what I really need to do is take a few weeks off, but right now I can’t do that because there’s not enough money in my account to survive another strike so I’m only taking a couple of days of turbo-rest and I can actually let the thing heal when SAG walk out and I’m unemployed for an entire month. Or four),  I decided to take the time to drive up into the valley to go to Contract Services for the I-9 debacle.

Contract Services are the people who keep track of who in the union is in good standing, up to date on safety training and able to work, and a few years ago someone there had a really good idea.

For those of you not in the USA, when you work here you have to fill out a form called the I-9, which is a proof of citizenship/work eligibility. The information required to prove work eligibility is just about all someone else needs to apply for credit in your name, buy a bunch of expensive shit and then not make any of the payments and leaving you to sort it out, which can take years and years and turn just about every hair you have grey.

So, Contract Services decided that we’d all go there once every three years and fill out the I-9 info at the office and they’d keep it on file and not show anyone and the production companies could just give them the list of names and they’d tell them if we were cool or not, and then we wouldn’t have to fill it out the form for each job and subject ourselves to potential hair-greying problems.  Saving a couple of trees by reducing the amount of paper required would also have been a good thing.

Except that none of the production companies will accept the Contract Services on-file I-9, so we still have to fill one out each time we start a new show, plus since Contract Services simply will not admit that this program, while a good idea, just. isn’t. working.  we still have to go up into the inferno that is Encino once every three years and fill out that stupid fucking redundant form that no one ever accepts.  My complaints about this have so far fallen on deaf ears.

Perhaps I should complain louder. Or write someone a very angry letter which would probably be put in the same file as the I-9 and used against me at a later date.

I’ve been getting up at the crack of dawn and not going to the gym because of my shoulder, so I’m starting to bounce off the walls.  I’m not working tomorrow, either, but that will be the last day I can afford to be off work so that shoulder better hurry up and get better.

Dammit.

Just for a giggle (and because I’ve been home and able to partially catch up on my internets), Laurie at Crazy Aunt Purl has some hilarious pictures of what San Fernando Valley heat will do to a pillar candle:

http://www.crazyauntpurl.com/archives/2008/06/enough_talking.php

I won’t be able to completely catch up on my internets, though – the way I hold my arms when I type hurts that damn high-maintenance shoulder after a while.

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

From one extreme to the other

Monday, I was working the shooting set, so I showed up early, dosed up on free coffee, and then stood in the air conditioning (the stage was so cold I needed a sweater to keep from shivering) and walked lights around at the gaffer’s direction. The set was a slow one – hard to get into, hard to move around once inside, no place to stage lights within easy reach, so we did a bit of running, but still…

That air conditioning was awesome, and our gaffer and DP both understood about the access problems, so there were no ‘impatient moments’ all day.

Since Monday was the last day of shooting, I got invited back to wrap the stage, which was a good thing – nice guys on the crew and a stage so close to my house I can bike to work.

Originally, production wanted to wrap the entire stage in two days with two guys – luckily, they were shamed by the derisive laughter into giving us three days with four guys (that, and the production office is on a stage that was a very difficult and slow wrap, so they were more than likely already watching and re-thinking), which allows us to finish in time without killing ourselves (remember: haste makes injury).

The first day, we wrapped all the loose stuff on the floor (lamps, distro, etc..) and took down all the lamps and hardware from the pipe grid (luckily, no vertigo moments for me).

Today we realized just how lucky we were to get the extra days and extra guys when we went up in the perms and saw exactly how much cable was there – when you see a light hanging above a set, there’s a lot of cable associated with said lamp (enough to run across the perms from the ‘can’ to the lamp and then down to where the lamp’s hanging, usually right above the set. Average cable to hanging lamp ratio for stages that have power available in the perms is 150 – 200 feet. If there’s no power upstairs, then double that as the power will have to run from the ground up to the perms, then across and down again), but what we saw was bordering on overkill – and not laid out neatly either – this stuff looked like Medusa’s hair on a windy day. Twisted, knotted, piled up randomly – someone at some point had tried to make space on the floor by tying bunches of cable to the knee rail every five feet, which meant that we had to walk along while bent over and cut the ties before we could even start to wrap.

Normally, we wrap the stuff on top first and then work our way down, but when it’s not possible to find the top, we just have to pull.

One selects a cable, pulls like hell and if the cable doesn’t move at all (or if it moves a teeny bit and that vein in the forehead blows out from the strain), then one chooses another cable and pulls like hell.

Repeat until at least two colleagues have been tripped and mess is untangled enough to tell what’s what and then pull like hell again – only with more precision.

Did I mention that it’s currently about 90 degrees outside and all the heat in an un air-conditioned stage rises to the roof? We were all completely soaked in sweat within a few minutes, so we were all very happy to come down at lunch. Not so much to eat – a meal followed by wrapping cable in the heat in a bent-over position leads to a terrible mess that looks absolutely nothing like Medusa’s hair on a windy day, but more to get a break and walk upright for half an hour or so.

I wasn’t hungry, but was afraid not to eat at all, so I had the filling of about a quarter of a sandwich and an iced tea. I normally don’t drink really cold drinks (they hurt my fillings), but today the ice-cold felt so good I didn’t care.

Then, we went back up the the perms and finished wrapping the cable. After lunch, we had an extra guy who had been on the cluster fuck that was the other stage (and who came over to help us after they were done over there instead of going home and relaxing) and we went much faster with the extra person. We managed to get everything in the perms wrapped.

Tomorrow, we’ll lower it all down to the floor (one coil at a time, using rope because although this particular stage does have hoists available, production won’t rent one for us) and then check it in when the rental house guys show up.

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , , , , , ,

My Big Fat Mouth

Didn’t I, a while back, complain about not working enough?

Feast or famine, I guess.

Friday, I called in to the union hoping to get something for Monday, and instead got a job for that very night – good, but bad because I’d been up all day and wouldn’t have been safe on an all-nighter.

When I got there, i found out that I was just there to go up in the condor for the last shot, plus the crew were all guys that I used to know from back in the day when we were all non-union. Hadn’t seen them for years, so it was good to catch up and I was very glad I took the call, even though my condor malfunctioned (the basket wouldn’t rotate when I was 80 feet up in the air, so I couldn’t get the light exactly where the gaffer asked). I was out of there before midnight, which was good as it got me home before I was too tired to drive.

Right after I took the job for Friday, I got a call for Sunday. The advantage of working Sunday is that there’s absolutely no traffic on the roads, so I got to work way early and read the paper.
Had a good time, and I got to take some shots of the Doheny mansion while I was there. We didn’t have a super long day (we just had to rig around the outside of the house and only put some power inside – sometimes the Doheny mansion can be a very, very long rig because it’s so delicate inside that hanging lights takes forever) which was good as we got out right before it got really hot (3 pm in SoCal, if you were wondering).

The bad part is that we had to deal with these horrible things called Avenger stands, which are easily the worst designed piece of crap in the entire world. They crank up so high that you have to have a scissor lift to reach the light when they’re at full stick, and the wheels don’t really lock properly (there should be two different locks – a roll lock and a directional lock) and they are so heavy that the aluminum things holding the wheels bend so none of them even roll properly. They’re also awkward as shit (when unfolded, they wheel base is 8 feet wide!) and hard to steer. They’re impossible to roll when they’re folded up, and although someone invented a special cart to hold them until they’re ready to use, they’re still awful and they’ve injured several people I know (one severely enough to have had to retire permanently)

If I ever become as rich as Edward Doheny, I’m going to buy the company and all existing Avenger stands and set the entire mess on fire. I’d invite every crew member in the world who’s ever had to deal with those fucking things and we’d all have a hell of a party while we watched the stands melt into a lump.
Can you tell that we hate these stands? I can say ‘we’ because I’ve never met anyone who liked them. Anyone who had to move or lift them, that is. People who don’t actually have to touch them seem to love them.

Luckily, we were able to get the lights on the stands and in place without anyone getting hurt, which is really the important part.

Today, I stood on set (of a different show) in the air conditioning and it felt good.

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , , , , ,

Friday the 13th Photo

Century City on a foggy June morning

The last bit of our overcast cool mornings (aka “June Gloom”).

This is taken from the roof of Stage 12 at Culver Studios looking northeast towards Century City.

Also, I have discovered that my homegrown tomatoes are the key to instant popularity since this whole salmonella thing started. I brought some to work to eat with breakfast in the commissary and all of a sudden everyone loved me.

Sweeet. I should enjoy it while it lasts and carry a tomato with me whenever I leave the house for any reason.

Filed under: Photos, Work, , , ,

Pipe grid and other on-stage hazards

Today’s work was a continuation of yesterday’s work – rigging a set that’s scheduled to be shot tomorrow.

When we came in yesterday, there was no way for us to hang lights.  No greenbeds over the sets at all, and only a partial pipe grid left over from another set which hadn’t been pulled down.

Production had not wanted to pay for the grips to come in a few days early and hang the pipe (stages charge per day – it’s a lower rate for prep days and wrap days than it is for shoot days, but it’s still a day charge).

Since production didn’t want to pay for extra prep days, they scheduled the lighting rig and the set dressers to work at the same time.

If this doesn’t mean anything to you, it normally works like this: If we’re using a pipe grid (a grid of pipe over the set from which we hang lights and which we need to reach using scissor lifts or ladders), we like to hang lights before there’s a lot of furniture on the floor which just makes it hard to work.

With the ‘save money on a prep day by making all the monkeys work at the same time’ method, the poor set dressers would come in and make the set all ready to shoot, and then would have to move everything for us to hang lights. Then, they’d restore everything, make it look nice again and we’d have gotten changes to our notes so we’d have to make them move everything again.

Everyone took everything in good humor, though – all of us knew about the cluster fuck potential going in, so we were able to laugh about it as we fell over each other all day.

Also, partial pipe grid meant that we had to wait on the grips (who were finally allowed to come in and hang the pipe on the last day of the rig) to do the prep work for us before we could work over the section of the sets which just happens to be scheduled to shoot first tomorrow.

It worked out well for me, though. A rig that should have only taken a day and a half took two days – one of which went overtime.

My bank account luvs chaos.

Once the pipe grid went in and we were rushing to get finished (while the producer, who only reluctantly authorized the overtime, stood and watched us while checking his watch), I had to come down out of the lift because I got this weird vertigo thing that seems to only happen to me.

Pipe grids are hung from the perms with chains, so unless they’re secured to something, they sway a bit. When three people are frantically slamming lights onto them, they sway quite a bit. When I’m in a lift above the grid looking down, and it starts to sway, my brain can’t figure out what it is that’s swaying – for some reason, my brain sometimes decides that the pipe grid is stable and everything else in the world is swaying – as you can imagine, vertigo when one is 20+ feet up in the air is bad.

It doesn’t happen all the time, either. I don’t know if it’s the angle or touching the grid or my being tired or having wax in my ears or having eaten too much or to little earlier in the day which sets it off.

After I came down out of the lift, I staggered around like a drunk for a few minutes until I got my balance back. Luckily, one of my co-workers came to my rescue and switched places with me so I could stay on the ground and be the person moving stuff out of the way of the lift.

I have an early call tomorrow as well, so I’m going to bed before the sleeping pill kicks in and makes my typing really bad. Again.

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , , , ,

Trade-offs

I hate turning down work from best boys who call me regularly. What’s happened to me more than once is that said best boy decides that since I’m never available, he (or she) just isn’t going to bother even trying anymore.

This is a total burn as by the time I’m off whatever I was on that was keeping me too busy to come in and work, I’ve been replaced on the call list by someone else – and folks have a list that they go down when they have work. The higher up on that list one’s name is, the more often one gets work calls.

So, as much as I hated to do it, I had to turn down an offer of a day on a fairly regular gig Friday because of numbers.

It was for a one day call, and since the show I’m currently working for shoots on a lot which gives hiring priority to their own people, were I to lay myself off for that one day to go do another show, I’d probably not be able to get back on so I’d be giving up the five days of work I’ve currently got (on a lot that’s so close to my house I don’t have to drive and use expensive gas) for one day on another show.

Normally, I’m not hesitant to give up two days for one or to work for a lower rate if it’s someone who calls me regularly – the trade off being that I continue to be on that person’s call list and maintain relationships so I make more money in the long run.

But five days is a lot of money, and with a SAG strike looming, I’m in mercenary mode. Right now, it’s all about the money and my banking as much of it as I possibly can before I’m once again unemployed and watching news coverage of picket lines from the comfort of my living room.

If the SAG strike doesn’t happen after all (something we’re all desperately hoping), I’d love to have enough money by the end of the year to buy a car. I had enough right before the WGA strike, but had to use it to keep a roof over my head instead (before the comments about my extravagant lifestyle commence: not a new car. A new-to-me car).

Hmm.. I wonder if I can use the “you put me out of work” guilt to get John August to buy me a car.

Probably not worth the effort. I’m guessing it’s going to be much easier to guilt one of the actors.

Filed under: Work, , , , ,

Insert snappy title here

Normally, showing up to work late is a terrible thing in the film industry. The saying goes “15 minutes early is on time, right at call is late” (and much after call time without a really good reason means no more work calls from that show), but sometimes one gets a last minute call and then it’s okay to show up later.

I got called yesterday morning at 6:40 to be at work at 7 am, which was never going to happen (damn LA traffic), so it was just understood that I’d be there as soon as I could. Sure enough, I got stuck in traffic and didn’t get there until almost 8. There are some places in LA that, while they’re not all that geographically far away from me, take forever to reach because of traffic congestion and lack of side-street alternate routes.

When I finally got to work, we spent the day checking lights to make sure they worked – something you really should do before you’re on location and can’t get that light the gaffer wants now to fire up. Note – this only really happens with HMI lamps. Tungsten lamps do, on occasion, fail to work but since they only have two moving parts (flood/spot knob and on/off switch) it’s much easier and faster to troubleshoot and repair them right there on set before the boss starts screaming.  We generally don’t even attempt to fix HMI problems. We just send them back to the rental house and let them deal with it.

Hence the testing. The procedure to test HMI lamps is to set up the whole mess (head, feeder cables, ballast), globe it up (some of the lamps can’t travel with the globes installed due to breakage factor), turn it on and then wait to see if it flickers (which HMIs sometimes do) or if it’s putting out a really fucked up color and will need gel correction.  Then, we break everything down, label the heads which are putting out said fucked up color and load everything back onto the truck.

We did only do an 8 hour day, so we got done early enough that I was able to go vote and then do some work in the garden. Also, to check on the progress of Darth Tomato.

Having started out life as an innocent Sungold Cherry, Darth Tomato was somehow turned to the darkside (probably by my neighbor’s Home-Depot purchased plants – they’re nothing but trouble) and is now on a mission of intergalactic domination.

By using the Force and growing like crazy, Darth Tomato is now 10 feet tall and six feet wide and has only been in the ground since April. If this growth rate keeps up, Darth Tomato will blot out the sun to the entire western half of the US by next Thursday.

Darth Tomato currently has the grapevine in a sleeper hold and is shading all the surrounding plants, plus some poor light-starved hollyhocks next door.

Although I’m going to have to amputate some of Darth Tomato’s many diabolical limbs in order to keep peace with my neighbor (and salvage everything else in my garden, which is now being oppressed by shade), I’ll be sad when I do because all that evil makes Darth Tomato taste extra good.
The evil makes Darth Tomato extra yummy!

Mmmm.. evil makes a nice salad.

Filed under: Photos, Work, , , , , ,

Let’s all just calm down.

Today’s media freakout seems to be about the big fire on the Universal backlot.

The fire started in the New York Street facades, but no one on our local news seems to be explaining what a facade is or why they burn so well. I bet they’re not explaining it on your local news, either.

Basically, they’re lath and plaster over a wood frame, and from the outside they look just like buildings. Inside, they’re hollow with some rickety walkways, rotten fabric (hanging in the windows under the guise of curtains), and random piles of bird-shit splattered construction waste. Also, there are no fire escapes or emergency lighting and off the top of my head I can’t remember any fire sprinkler systems inside any facade I’ve ever seen (although I’m sure there are some somewhere).

Now, I’m certainly not pointing any fingers at anyone about this. The facades on all the lots look about the same, and when you consider how heavily used they are the accident ratio’s really not all that horrifying.

Universal Backlot

Stairway

Facade interior

Facade interior

Facade interior showing stairs

As you can see from the photos, moving from one part of a facade interior to another can be challenging – there’s not really a direct route from point a to.. well, any other point at all, so quick escapes aren’t easy. Also, the interiors aren’t well lit so had there been a production shooting and someone (such as myself) had been inside the facade babysitting a light, it could have been a lot worse than just some replaceable and heavily insured structures burning.

Let’s all just take a break from the media hysteria to be thankful that there were no people trapped inside those facades when the fire started, and to hope that the few firefighters who were injured recover quickly.

Happy Sunday.

It’s just stuff.

Filed under: Photos,

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