Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

Hard Outs

Certain parts of Los Angeles have decided that film crews are a giant nuisance and have enacted laws to rein in the madness. Most of these areas are, of course, the areas where everyone wants to shoot because they aren’t instantly recognizable as Los Angeles.

One of these areas is the city of Pasadena, who, in a desperate bid to save their citizens from the horror of late-night shoots, have declared that any shooting in the city must be over by 10 pm – and that’s not ‘stop shooting at 10 pm unless you slip someone a couple of Benjamins’ like it is in certain parts of town. That’s a hard out, or ‘taillights’ by 10. That means that the dirty movie people and their accompanying cluster fuck must be on the freeway hightailing it out of town by 10 pm on weeknights. Period. No extensions.

This is fine with most of us. It guarantees that we won’t have a terribly late night, but sometimes the powers that be forget exactly how long it takes to stuff all that gear back into the truck and they do something like shoot until 9:30 and expect us to cram a two-hour wrap into 20 minutes (remember, that’s driving away at 10 pm, not cramming the last cart onto the truck at 10 pm).

Last night, we were graciously given almost hour to wrap our scattered gear (much of which was on a rooftop and had to be lowered down, which only happens quickly if we don’t care if the stuff breaks) back onto the trucks.

Too bad it took us 90 minutes to wrap.

If we’d been able to get our 48-footer down next to the location itself, we probably would have made it in the allotted time, but since the trucks were in a parking lot a few hundred yards away from the location (connected by a steep winding driveway), we had to wrap the gear, load the carts, push the carts onto a smaller stakebed, drive up the hill and then load the stuff into the big truck. Lather, rinse, repeat as the clock runs out.

Which meant that the trucks couldn’t roll that night – our driver told me that if they were caught on the city streets after our out time not only would the production company be fined, but the drivers would be ticketed as well.

So instead of making the move to the next location at night when there’s less traffic, the drivers were going to have to report to work a few hours early and drive the trucks to the next location early in the morning instead.

Luckily, it’s a long weekend this weekend in celebration of Labor Day, which celebrates the formation of unions* so the workers don’t get screwed by management anym… oh, wait.

Enjoy the extra day off anyways if you’re in the US. If you’re not – enjoy that day off in May that we don’t get here.

*Not so much, actually. Labor Day was never anything other than a day off for the downtrodden worker organized by the unions in the 19th century, but I’m more than willing to exaggerate if it helps me work a joke.

Filed under: Work, , , ,

Some unpleasant surprises

All studio lots have stray cat populations which are tolerated as cats are generally preferable to the rats that flourish with the aid of Los Angeles’ mild climate and discarded remnants of second meals*.

The studios have kitty population control programs, but since it’s just not possible to catch and sterilize them all, there are always at least 20 cats (give or take a litter or three) on each lot.

Normally, this isn’t a problem except when one of said kitties decides that a corner of our set is a dandy place to heed the call of nature. The big stage doors can be locked, of course, but it’s just not possible to seal off every entrance available to a six pound cat.

The nice thing about yesterday’s set was that all the wall outlets were wired. Many times on sets although there are electrical outlets built into the set walls (for realism), they aren’t connected to anything so they can’t be used, which is a pain in a set that, say, only has one entrance which is on camera and we have to try to cable over the wall when there are 30 people standing in the way. This, needless to say, is frustrating, so we’re always glad when we can plug a lamp into a working wall outlet.

The bad thing about yesterday’s set was that the wall outlets were wired, so as I was bending over to plug a lamp into an outlet (which, of course, was installed near the floor), my face came dangerously close to what I can only assume was recycled rat with a side of kibble. Of course, since all the important people were on set I couldn’t give into my initial urge, which was to jump backwards and scream “eeeeeeewwwww!”

Since I live with a cat and dump a litterbox on a weekly basis, you’d think I’d be used to the sight of cat shit, but seeing it in a corner of a set was, well, surprising – as was the puddle of urine I found on the upper floor of the set.

Damn cats.

I suppose I should have told one of the set dressers, but we got busy and I forgot.

They’ll find it soon enough.

*film crews must be fed every six hours. First meal (lunch, no matter what time of day) comes six hours after call, second meal comes six hours after the end of lunch. All of us pray we never see third meal, but we sometimes do.

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

Living it up at the Hotel California

The two things one must watch out for when shooting in hotels are sprinkler heads and guests.

During the first part of the day we were shooting in an unused conference room which had low ceilings, so although there were no guests lurking about there was a real risk of setting off the building’s fire sprinklers.

Since our lights burn at very high temperatures and the fact that we usually want to light the actors with the lamps above them (unless it’s a horror movie), usually this means having a 300+ degree lamp 2 inches away from a fire sprinkler with a melt point of 150 or so.

In case you’ve never been in a building that’s had it’s sprinklers set off, the water smells horrible (it’s been sitting in the pipes for years), and once it starts sprinkling it can’t be shut off. The firefighters have to shut off the water main, but even after that happens, the water comes out of the sprinklers until the pipes are completely dry.

Needless to say, no one ever wants to set off the sprinklers, so we do take every possible precaution to avoid it from happening.

We never put lamps directly under the sprinkler heads and we used a thermometer to keep track of the temperature, kept heat shields over the top of the lamps – plus we had the hotel’s engineering guys with us, who also had infrared thermometers and the morning was incident-free.

Back in the day, we used to tape a Styrofoam cup over the sprinkler head itself, but that seems to upset the fire marshall (and doesn’t work as well as you’d imagine unless you fill said cup with dry ice, which also seems to upset the fire marshall), so I haven’t seen anyone do that in a long time. Nowadays we just have to be aware of the location of the sprinkler heads and make sure that we don’t put any of our equipment too close to them.

This can be a bit frustrating for the gaffer as he or she sometimes can’t get the lamps in the exact right spot, but I’ve yet to meet anyone who has had a ‘damn the torpedo’ attitude about fire suppression systems – everyone in this industry has either been on The Show That Set Off The Sprinklers or has heard the stories*

In the afternoon, we moved down for a shot in the hotel’s lobby and had to contend with the second part of the equation – the guests. For some reason the amount of common sense displayed by hotel guests is in direct inverse proportion to the amount of money they shell out for the rooms.

Guests in low and mid-priced hotels will carefully watch their step, ask if we’re shooting and if it’s okay for them to walk through a work area. Guests in expensive hotels? Not so much.

The guests at expensive hotels walk around not paying attention to where they’re going, and then when they run into something they scream at the staff, who have understandably become insanely paranoid about movie crews.

Hotel Employee: “Excuse me. You’ll have to move that light”.

Me: “The one that’s over there in the corner with red flashing “danger” signs around it being guarded by three dobermans and a nest of trained hornets?”

Hotel Employee: “Yes, that one. A guest could walk into it and get hurt”.

Guests in expensive hotels also refuse to move out of the way of anyone carrying anything or vary their planned route for any reason at all – even if said planned route means that they have to clamber over the lower rungs of a ladder which is blocking a door to an outdoor patio instead of diverting four feet to either side and using an unobstructed door.  Really, at that point if you’re that invested in not veering to either side you may as well just walk under the fucking ladder.

Luckily, none of us were injured by errant guests and we only damaged the hotel a little bit.

We got finished early enough for me to go to the gym and swim for an hour, which was nice except the network hysteria about the swim team has led to a bunch of people with no clue about pool etiquette to have decided to try to break a world record after they get off work.

*Just because I know you’re wondering – I have, in fact, been on The Show That Set Off The Sprinklers. Twice.

Filed under: locations, Work, , , , ,

How much has to happen before it’s officially a bad day?

My internet connection is like an indifferent lover – it dissapears for days at a time and despite my desperate pleas, doesn’t tell me where it’s gone, who it’s with or when it’s going to come back. I always swear I’m going to leave it for something more reliable, but I never do.

This latest outage was almost a full week, and service was just restored this evening. I think it’s the heat.

I’m just about ready to break up for good, though. There are some decent deals on other, more attentive companies offering faster and better connections. Now that I have internet again I can look around and see who’s offering what in my area.

Speaking of stuff that I just don’t need, this morning as I was on my way into work a guy cut me off on the freeway and I slammed on my brakes without bothering to slap my hand on top of my cup of coffee, which, of course, went flying and completely soaked the front of my car – most of the coffee fell into the center console, soaking the flotsam that happened to be living there (’cause I don’t clean out my car often enough) and my bluetooth headset ( I plugged it in to see if it’ll charge. Keep your fingers crossed).

When I got home tonight, I had to soak the entire front section of the carpet in cleaner and then wet vac the whole unhappy mess. I could still smell coffee afterwards, so I got the screw gun and removed the center console in order to spray underneath. I hope I got it all – it’s really unpleasant in there right now. I love coffee, so you’d think I’d be overjoyed to have my car reek of it. Not so much.

I also hurt my back at work today. This particular set has a super-shiny (and super-slippery) floor. While it would be nice if construction could wait to lay the floor until after we hang the lights, sometimes that’s just not possible, so we have to put layout board (which is a very thick cardboard) under the scissor lifts so the tires don’t mar the floor. Since we weren’t given enough board to be able to cover the entire floor, we weren’t able to tape the board down and we had to keep picking it up and moving it to where the lifts needed to go. In case you were wondering, thick cardboard laid down over a slick surface does not give the best footing in the world, so I slid a few times and now my back’s killing me.

I’m going to have to dig out the back belt just to get through the day at work tomorrow.

Aside from the lack of internet, the searing pain and the coffee soaked vehicle, this week hasn’t been too bad. I’ve had 7 am calls on a lot which is fairly close to my house, but I’ve had to be there by 6:15 as this particular lot has a trash truck which makes its rounds along the only drivable route from the ‘crew’ gate to the parking structure around 6:30 or 6:45. There’s no way around the trash truck and getting stuck behind it will result in being late to work despite being on the lot with plenty of time to park and walk to the stage.

Of course the parking structure has it’s own entrance, but only execs are allowed to use it. The rest of us have to come in the peon gate and drive across the lot to said structure while trying to outrun the delay causing trash truck. This has forced me to get to work very early, which means I’ve been able to sit on the tailgate while drinking my coffee and reading my paper before we’re called in, so I haven’t really minded.

I’ve also been working with some really wonderful people, so in that respect it’s been extra nice week.

Today I had a 6 am call and I would have been there around 5:45 but I had to stop and try to mop up spilled coffee, which, by the way, I didn’t cry over.

Oh, wait. That was milk. Never mind.

Filed under: mishaps, Non-Work, Work, , , , , , , , , , ,

I am so ready for summer to end.

It’s time for the annual heat wave (now with extra humidity!) that turns Los Angeles into Miami West. Although this seems to have taken everyone by surprise, it happened last year and the year before that and the year before that. Before that, I forget. Must be the heat.

Huge thunderheads hang in the sky east of the city, and while they’re very pretty (as clouds go) they’re making everyone completely miserable and smelly. I keep getting invites for afternoon events and there’s just no way in hell I’m going to even bother putting on makeup and trying to look human.

Every morning I wake up early intending to get in a workout and a bike ride before the heat gets really bad, but I’ve just not been able to do it. Maybe it’s because it’s not actually cooling off in my house at night. This is just cruel and unusual, if you ask me. If I had any energy, I’d fire off an angry letter to someone.

What I have been doing is seeing a lot of movies, but I have to be careful because I don’t want to run out of movie passes. I buy them every time I work on a lot where they’re sold (and save them for occasions like this), but I only have a few left so I’ve got to ration, which takes away one source of free air conditioning for a few hours.

Tomorrow, I have my first appointment with the therapist (who seems like a nice lady and I’m not sure I should subject her to me), who will hopefully have an air-conditioned office. After that, since we’re in for at least 8 more weeks of heat, I think I’m going to have to shave my pussy.

Seriously.

She’s obviously really uncomfortable and has been following me from room to room scolding me whenever I happen to be home – you know, just in case I didn’t already know that it’s hot and sticky and she’s wearing a heavy fur coat. She’s also shedding like mad. She should be bald already, but since she isn’t I’m starting to doubt that there’s actually a cat underneath all that fur.

The only problem with this plan should be obvious. The last time I tried this (with a former cat) I ended up in the emergency room. My sister suggested filling the water bowl with whiskey, but I’m kind of afraid to try it – what if something happens mid-clip and I have to take her to the vet?

Then he’ll ask why the cat can’t stand up and I’ll have to explain that she’s drunk. He already thinks I’m horrible because of the whole eye incident, so I think a kitty blood-alcohol level would make him call the PETA hit squad.

You know, the more I think about it the more I become convinced that it’s a really bad idea.  I think I’ll just use my last AMC pass and go see IMAX Batman.

There are rumors of work Saturday night, which, while I’ll have to try to get turned around (since I’ve been going to bed* before 10 every night), will at least be not too hot.

In other news, Los Angeles county is threatening to require that calorie counts of meals be posted on the menu right next to the price, which I predict will, at the very least, cause mass confusion around here (“wait. The hamburger’s 800 dollars? What? It’s only ten dollars? Well why do you have that number there if it’s not the price? I don’t get it”)

*What I really mean is laying in the bed with the fans turned on high, sweating profusely and wishing I lived in Greenland.

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

Weekends can be dangerous

Some locations are only available on the weekends.

Parking garages in business parks, for example. Not shootable on weekdays when workers fill the spaces, but on weekends, they’re a wasteland just begging for some stunt driving, which is what we were shooting on Saturday.

This particular parking garage was in Santa Clarita, which, if you’re not familiar with Southern California geography, is north of the city and approximately three degrees cooler than the surface of the sun. It was so hot up there that I stopped having to pee despite drinking copious amounts of water all day. I’d just go to the bathroom for the opportunity to make a big puff out of toilet paper and desperately dab at whichever body part I could easily reach in a futile attempt to dry off.

We were shooting on the lower levels of the parking garage and were all very grateful for the cover provided by the roof. It was hot inside (and full of exhaust fumes, of course), but not nearly as hot as it was outside with the sun beating down and reflecting off the acres of cement and steel. Near the end of the day there was a shot on the roof of the garage (involving a helicopter and gunfire) but as we didn’t light it (a wide shot during a day exterior means little, if any lighting) our boss was the only one who had to be up there. Poor guy.

Despite the heat and the humidity (storms over the desert, while they’ve given us some lovely puffy clouds in the sky, have made it feel like Miami around here) the day went fairly smoothly – since we were doing driving shots all day the lighting was fairly simple and there’s a huge difference between the ‘artiste’ type of director and stunt directors. Stunt directors just want to get the stuff shot and move on so they can get their day while the drivers are still fairly alert.

Even the fairly simple stunts take a lot of time to set up, rehearse and shoot (and it’s not possible to rush stunt people) so we had a 14 hour day. In one of nature’s cruel jokes, just as we were leaving the temperature dropped and a nice refreshing cool(ish) breeze picked up.

Filed under: locations, Work, , , , , , , , ,

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