Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

A Contagious Christmas

This has been the busiest December I’ve had in a long time. I worked almost every day, which was great, and thought that I’d managed to avoid the Holiday Death Plague currently being passed around here in Los Angeles.

Said plague featured a combination of the worst head cold one could possibly imagine and a tubercular cough that, like house guests, just won’t go the fuck away.

I was feeling pretty smug – I had three days of work the week before Christmas, no days of sickness, and one day off before I had to get on a plane to go visit the family and overeat.

Wednesday promised to be great – due to the slowest director in the world, we were going to get a hefty check, production were buying lunch, and holiday cookies were plentiful.

Mid-morning, one of our extras started to cough. I didn’t think much about it – after all I’d not gotten sick yet, which must have meant I was immune to the Holiday Death Plague. Throughout the day, her cough got worse and worse, and by mid-afternoon almost 20 people on set (including me) were starting to cough.

Refusing to believe that I was getting sick, I attributed it to dust from when I had to go up into the perms to drop out some power for a new set, but as I was driving home I finally had to admit to myself that the Death Plague had, in fact, won.

So, I spent the holiday sniffling, hacking and wheezing while stuffing my face full of fatty food and sweets. The day before I was to leave, my sister started coughing.

Whoops.

As of now, the head cold portion of the program is gone, but the cough is still lingering and frightening anyone who comes anywhere near me. I hope it’s gone before the middle of next week, which is when I have to work.

Filed under: studio lots, Work, , , , , , , , , ,

Scheduling

One of the things that directors never, ever think about but really should is how long it takes to move a 100+ person crew (and the associated equipment) when a show’s doing company moves (starting the day’s work at one location, then packing up and moving to an entirely different location).

Once the ADs call “we’re on the move”, we have to gather all our equipment, pack it onto our carts, walk the location to make sure we didn’t lose anything expensive, push the carts to the truck, load the carts, find a van and then travel.

All of this, as you might imagine, doesn’t happen instantaneously.

Today, we started out at one of Los Angeles’ many abandoned hospitals – we were shooting in the basement, and because the DP likes to see the whole world, we had to rig our lights into the dropped ceiling (not that difficult, but time-consuming).

Our intrepid director shot right up until lunch, and since we were just a teensy bit undermanned we couldn’t go eat lunch and then come back (after lunch, we would be needed to work the new set) so we had to wrap, load our carts onto a stakebed and then download before we could eat. Which was fine, except that the company broke for lunch about half an hour before we did.

The problem with this became apparent when it was time to go back to work and start lighting. They rehearsed, blocked and were ready to light, and all of lighting and grip were still at lunch for another 20 minutes.

The solution proposed by a very frazzled UPM was to have grip and electric take a half hour lunch (as opposed to the hour everyone else had), so we’d be back to work along with everyone else.

So that’s what we did.

We cut our lunch short to keep the day on schedule – because we’d all rather have that time at the end of the day when our feet hurt and we’re tired and want to go home.

Filed under: Work

Wow, things got busy!

There I was, expecting the usual not-so-busy December, and out of nowhere suddenly work is going gangbusters. Not that it’s a bad thing, it’s just… unexpected.

I’m bouncing back and forth between two shows crewed by awesome folks that I love to work with – a one-hour ensemble drama (let’s call it Been Done Before) and Yet Another Cop Show.

The two have been syncing up nicely. This week, I have four days rigging on Been Done Before, and Friday working the set on Yet Another Cop Show.

Since BDB is rigging, the hours are shorter (normally not over 10 hours), except today which was a bit longer because we had to rig at the world’s smallest loft.  Had we a cat handy, there wouldn’t have been room to swing it. Seeing a largish production trying to cram a crew into the space was probably hilarious, but I’ve very glad I didn’t have to work the set.

After helping the shooting crew move to the loft (the day’s second location), we went back to wrap our first location at the old LA Times building.  We were shooting in the currently unused Chandler-era executive offices on the top floor in a room called the Round Table – which features, unsurprisingly, a big round table. You’ve seen it in about a bazillion movies.

I really do believe that being honest (within reason) is the best way to live one’s life, but I have to tell you all – had there been a way for me to sneak the original Paul Horiuchi painting out of the building, I’d have done it. It’s just hanging on the wall in an empty office, making no one happy instead of inspiring joy and general well-being, which is a painting’s job.

Oh, well.

Once we’d gotten the shooting crew moved and wrapped, it was right in the middle of rush hour, so a co-worker and I went and had some Pho at a place around the corner from the Times building. Hot noodle soup is perfect on a cold night.

By the time we finished eating, the traffic had died down enough for me to venture onto the freeway towards home.

Tomorrow, we’re wrapping the world’s smallest loft, which shouldn’t take very long, and then Friday, it’ll be a split on YACS.

Five days this week! Yay!!!

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

Reinventing the wheel

Although there have been some stunning innovations in lighting in the past 50 years (HMI lamps, color-corrected flourescent tubes, moving lights, LED technology), most of the basic types of lights we use haven’t changed in a very long time, and there’s a reason why.

But sometimes, someone gets bored, gets a degree, and tries to take a good design and make it, well, design-ier.

Sometimes, this can yield good results, but usually just ends up making my day more difficult.

Meet the Mole 2k soft light, familiarly known as the zip light:

Zip Light

Zip light, photo courtesy of Mole Richardson

The design of this light hasn’t changed since back in the day when movies still had title cards, because said design works really well – it puts out a good amount of nice soft light so your actors look young and fresh, it doesn’t weigh very much, and it’s only 20 amps so you can plug it into a wall outlet if you’re really desperate and have a supply of those illegal (in California) and obsolete fuses.

Somethings that’s worked so well for so long really needs a re-vamp, right? Of course it does.

Enter the Germans.

This is the new, improved and extra awesome (or something) Arri 2k soft light.:

Photo courtesy of Arri Lighting

Please note that despite the sexy black paint job, it’s pretty much exactly the same fucking design as the Mole product, only with some some weird aluminum venting system (not pictured) which one would presume is there for a good reason, but actually just makes the head incredibly heavy and unbelivably hot. Any attempt on the part of a lamp operator to go anywhere near the lamp to, say, adjust it as per the gaffer’s instructions results in unsuccessful attempts to stifle screams as one’s  flesh starts to burn.

I normally like Arri’s lighting products (except the open face heads, which have way too much plastic on them. Plastic, as you will recall from elementary school science, melts when it gets really hot), but for the soft lights, I say stick with the original. It may be an ugly color, but it works.

Once the soft light debacle was over, we trudged over to our other stage to hang some spacelights.

Spacelights are a good example of a successful reimagination of an existing product.

The light they replaced was called a chicken coop:

Chicken Coop

Chicken coops are a colossal pain in the ass. They’re a big metal box filled with giant extra-fragile light bulbs (that aren’t made any longer, so you’re fucked if you break one):

Giant Light Bulb

Chicken coops are heavy, unwieldy, difficult to transport and store, don’t really put out all that much light for how huge they are, and just suck balls in general.

So some person figured out what they really did and made a better light that did the same thing. The Spacelight:

Image courtesy of Kaye Lites

They’re still a pain in the ass to transport and store, but they’re much smaller, use the same globes as the Mole 2k soft lights, they don’t weigh anything and they’re reliable. Except when someone tries to make the current model better, stronger and faster.

The problem with the original design was that the light itself was just a hoop of steel, so it would warp from the heat of the globes (and 6,000 watts does put out a lot of heat), and then the safety screen that has to go underneath the globes (globes don’t explode very often, but when they do, it’s a shower of molten hot glass which is funny, but very, very bad) wouldn’t fit and then one would have to break out the baling wire, make it fit as best as it would and pray that no one all that important was standing under the lamp if the globe blew.

In the photo above, you see the redesign of the original light – it’s structurally sound, vents heat (as well as one can expect), and is sort of heavy, but it’s not unmanageable.

Note: Any lamp, no matter if it’s in your living room or hanging on a stage, must have some sort of venting at the top so that heat, which rises, can escape. No venting and there will be a loud bang followed by darkness.

The spacelights we got today were an attempt to redesign the redesign. They had enough venting on the top, but the safety screens were bolted on, so changing globes was next to impossible.

Of course, the heads we had delivered had bad globes and we spent an hour trying to figure out how to get the damn things open to change the globes.

Eventually, we figured it out, but please, people. Sometimes the wheel is fine just the way it is.

Filed under: hazardous, studio lots, Uncategorized, Work, , , , , , ,

Know your limits

Normally, I don’t like to turn down work under any circumstances barring extreme weather, rabid bears, or Michael Bay.

Most of the time not even then.

But sometimes I get offered something that I know damn good and well is going to suck so much that it’s just better to stay on unemployment and carefully count my pennies, which means my fantasy of spending New Years riding through the streets in a limo spraying passersby with champagne is now on hold. Again.

This particular  job on offer was an internet series thing paying not very much (of course), but that wasn’t the problem.

The problem was the hours. The show had a 12 hour guarantee (which means we’d be working 14 hour days at the minimum) for a six-day week.

My problem centered around the six-day week. I’m not going to haul out the “I’m too old for this” cliché, but six-day weeks really hurt me, both physically and mentally.

Hell, I have enough trouble with five-day weeks. By day three, my feet hurt, by day four my shins ache before lunch. After lunch my knees join in and complain.  At the end of day five just walking is excruciating.

Day six? I can’t even get off the truck without the help of painkillers.

Once it’s all over, it takes two days to recover well enough to be able to do it all again the next week.

Six day weeks are beyond painful. That one day off  involves getting up, doing laundry, and then going back to sleep. No chance to clean the house, run any errands, get anything done. Bank? Forget it. Gym? Forget it. Friends? Pffft.

Oh, and since I won’t have any time to shop or cook (and we’ll get off work every night well after all my good take-out places have closed) there will be no food in the house, not even that really old jar of pickles that migrated to the back of the fridge.

I’ll eat that the second week when I wake up after a 19 hour day, ravenous because I didn’t want to eat the dubious looking second ‘meal’ that was set out at 4 am.

Not that I’ve been there a million times before or anything.

It was difficult for me to decline, since the job offer came from a very good friend, but sometimes I have to know my limits.

I’ll probably regret the decision once I’m scrounging for whatever loose change I can find in order to buy groceries, but for now it’s well worth it.

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

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