Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

Hooray! A computer!

After a return and about 15 angry emails, I now have a semi-working computer, which is great.

This one came with a bad SATA cable, but I yanked a good one out of the old machine and it’s fine.

It’s going to have to be fine.  I can’t deal with another return. I’ll murder someone.

What’s also great is that I’ve got a show. Not day playing on a show, but full-time on a show that’s running for 9 weeks.

It’ll take me through Thanksgiving, and it’s shooting at Sony, which is close to my apartment – not as close as Fox, but still under half an hour in the car and once it cools off I’ll be able to bike to work in about 40 minutes.

Sweet.

Since I’m going to be at the same lot for nine weeks, I decided to splurge and join the on-lot gym as it’s right there and instead of going to my gym and then driving back to work I can just show up early, work out and then go hit crafty (hey, I deserve it. I worked out). Also, being able to take a shower after a bike ride to work is awesome.

There’s been this big thing with the studios of going ‘green’ – not allowing bottled water on sets, replacing lawns with fake grass, etc… but not one of them have set ups for bike commuters (lockers and showers), which seems to me would be pretty fucking green.

Guess they can’t get tax credits for having non-smelly bike commuters.

So after work today I waltzed over to the gym, credit card in hand, ready to sign up and work out.

Turns out, it doesn’t work like that.

One has to leave one’s email at the front desk with one’s name, show, guild or union affiliation, and email.

Then, after checking out your (probably bullshit, you sweaty fucking liar) story, someone will contact you and inform you of their decision.

In my case, the powers-that-be have deigned to allow me access.

Hooray.

Before I can go and work out, though, I must fill out a questionnaire, about my medical history, my family’s medical history, my workout history and general fat-assedness, and my primary care physician’s contact information.

Then, in block text, they WILL CONTACT MY PHYSICIAN TO DETERMINE IF I AM ABLE TO BEGIN A WORKOUT PROGRAM.

That one made me blink.

Begin? Begin?

Not to give away my age here, but I began a workout program when leg warmers and butt floss were acceptable gym-wear.

Except for the occasional surgery or distant location, I’ve never stopped working out.

I’ve never stopped riding my bike whenever possible.

I’ve never stopped trying to swim the stress away.

I’ve never stopped working out my problems by lifting weights.

So I have to decide if I want to attach a snarky letter to my application or let them call my doctor and let him be snarky.

I think I should let him be snarky. He so rarely gets the chance.

 

 

Filed under: cranky, humor, life in LA, movies, overspending, rants, studio lots, Work, , , , , , ,

It’s there, but I don’t have it

It’s been a very long time since I fell asleep at the wheel while driving home.

The first time, it was after a 16+ hour overnight in the high desert and I dozed off while stuck in rush hour gridlock. I woke up when my face hit the steering wheel, but luckily my foot never came off the brake.

There have been a few more times over the years – mostly just weaving on the road and having to roll down the windows or stomp the floor of the car with my left foot.

It just became a thing. Night work meant a fun drive home trying to out-weave the drunks, but I never felt concerned (if I should have is another post).

But I was really frightened Saturday morning when I dozed off while travelling southbound on the 405 at approximately 80 mph.

Luckily, I just weaved in my lane and then stomped the hell out of the floor of my car and made it home.

Wait.. let me back up.

This time of year work is thin, so when I got a call to work Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I said yes before I asked any questions.

It was only after I was booked that the best boy told me it would be all nights on the other side of town.

Nights bother me a lot more now than they did when I was younger – I have a much harder time adjusting, and if I’m flipping between days and nights it’s even worse.

It would have been bad form for me to say ‘no’ after accepting the job, even with the construction in the unit above me (they say they’re remodeling it, but really I just think they’re chopping holes in the walls, patching them and cutting them out again just for practice), so I was stuck.

Lucky for me I was with a wonderful bunch of guys that I really like a lot – but that construction starts up at 7 am and I can’t sleep later, even with earplugs and a white noise machine, so even with the interim days off I spent an entire week on so little sleep I think it might have qualified as cruel and unusual.

As an added bonus, Friday’s pre-call ‘breakfast’ of a seemingly harmless turkey burger resulted in a three-day bout with rotavirus.

I got picked up for this week as well, which is great, but it’s been 7 am call times all week. Between the sleep loss and the power cleanse today was the first day I’ve felt even vaguely human.

Tomorrow, our call time is 6 am in west bumfuck, so I will have to get out of bed at 4:30. AM.

We have 9 pages to shoot, but it’s all day exterior and we don’t have enough lamps to make daylight*, so it can’t go all that late.

Since I didn’t post anything last week, please enjoy an apology photo of uplit trees and a condor with someone besides me in the basket:

P1050103

 

*It is possible to shoot day exterior at night, but you need a lot of equipment. Like a 48 foot trailer full of HMIs. Then, when the sun goes down, we unload the truck and curse our poor life decisions.

 

 

 

 

Filed under: crack of dawn, cranky, locations, long long drives, movies, Photos, up all night, Work, , , , , , , , ,

Memories of ye Goode Olde Days

Everyone who has ever worked low budget anything remembers the struggle to get paid.

Minutes would slow to hours as one sat, face pressed against the window, scanning the street for the elusive postal carrier, hoping against hope that today, finally, that precious check would arrive.

One would call the payroll company and be told that the checks were cut, but that since there was no money in the account, they couldn’t be mailed.

Calls to the production company, of course, would go unanswered.

Then, after two weeks, one had the sinking realization that the check probably wasn’t coming and decide to take a more pro-active course of action.

I personally have planted my ass outside an accountant’s office with my back against the only door, knowing that I could wait longer to pee, eat, drink, sleep, whatever. Get a group of production workers together and every single one of us will have a story about the extreme measures to which we’ve gone to get checks.

The labor board was never much of a help because they didn’t move very quickly, and productions were notorious for closing the office and dissolving the LLC before they suffered any retributions for screwing the crew out of pay.

There was no pain in the world like the “this number has been disconnected” phone message – it meant there was never, ever  going to be a check, no matter what.

So the power got cut off, and the gas got turned off  (the phone could never, ever get cut off because how would one get jobs?), the car insurance lapsed, and the landlord got yet another excuse, and one loaded up on snacks from craft service because there was no money for food.

When one did manage to get a check, one hauled ass to the bank in the hopes of depositing it before it bounced.

Bounced payroll checks were the worst. Not only did one not get money, one had to pay for the bounced check.

I will confess to, on more than one occasion, having contemplated homicide when faced with the consequences of a rubber paycheck.

I will also confess to having accepted dates from men in whom I had no interest just for the free dinner.

Don’t judge me.

My grandmother, who lived through the Great Depression, once told me that hunger and desperation change you forever.

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve worked a job where the status of the checks was…indeterminate, but even now, when the check for the mid-month low budget is a few days overdue, the old fear grips me.

The empty mailbox makes me grind my teeth, and I frantically snap off lights while eating a cold dinner so I don’t have to use the stove. My pulse quickens as I try to figure out how to get to work without using any of the precious, precious, expensive gasoline in the car’s tank. I start a mental inventory of anything I own which has resale value.

Yes, thank you, I’m well aware that I’m completely overreacting. Intellectually, I know the checks will show up eventually, and if they don’t I can call our union and they’ll do the work to roll out the legal guns (so to speak).

But it’s so hard to be calm.

I guess now I’ve gained more understanding of my grandmother, who was almost as rich as Midas at the end of her life, yet still spent time clipping coupons and screaming at us to turn off the lights because the meter was running.

I really need that check.

 

 

Filed under: movies, overspending, rants, Work, , , , , , , , , , ,

Beachside barbeque

It’s hot. Really, really hot.

Normally, in Southern California, it’s hot inland and cool near the beach, which makes said beach an ideal spot for summertime day exteriors.

Unfortunately for most of us, inland seems to be the preferred summertime shooting location, so when I  got a call to work  on a low budget shooting at the beach with a bunch of really wonderful guys, I had a brief moment of joy.

Beach in Ventura? Sure. It’ll be nice and cool. It’s always nice and cool up there. Hell, I might not even have to run my car’s air conditioning during the 90 minute drive.

Except that now it’s not cool at the beach. And we weren’t shooting on a beach so much as a dusty highway turnout on a cliff above the ocean with no shade anywhere – no trees, no tall buildings, nothing. Just the sun, the heat, the wind and a haze of fine dust which permeated any fabric and formed a coating on skin, teeth, eyeballs, toes, etc…

The first day we lucked out and it was a relatively brisk 90 degrees F. Craft service only had one small cooler so most of the bottled water was also a relatively brisk 90 degrees. One of our more intrepid makeup artists put a teabag in a water bottle, set said bottle on a rock and brewed tea. The sun beat down all day. Had there been a way to get to the water, I would have jumped in – and I did briefly consider just jumping off the cliff, but with my luck I’d hit the rocks, break every bone in my body and just bake there because no one had cell service to call an ambulance.

Not even my hat helped me.

I have yet to find the perfect hat for hot weather. Ball caps don’t provide enough coverage, and anything with a brim seems to either just hold in heat (if it’s cloth or felt) or let sun through the holes in the straw.  I’ve got tiny little sun damage dots on my forehead from straw hat leakage.

I tried a damp bandana underneath the hat, but I changed my mind and wrapped in around my face as a dust mask in the failed hope of eating marginally less dust.

 

Day two sprouted some EZ ups so there was a bit more shade, and chairs under the shelter became hot property – as soon as one got up for any reason, one’s chair would be occupied.

Also, they only had two bathrooms for 40 people, so the restrooms very quickly became unusable, which meant that people didn’t drink any water to avoid having to brave the toilets, so one PA passed out.

The actor has been 90 minutes (at least) late to work every single day, so we do nothing for the first two  hours we’re there. This particular production team seemingly haven’t caught on to the fake call time trick.

Tonight we’re downtown – and it’s projected to still be 99 degrees in the late afternoon, which is when we’re scheduled to go into work.

Hopefully they won’t run out of water.

Filed under: hazardous, locations, long long drives, movies, Work, , , , , , ,

What’s a life got to do with it, anyway?

I suppose it’s not a huge secret that film sets aren’t exactly  the safest working environment. We routinely enter condemned buildings, work in extreme heat and/or cold (sometimes on the same day), navigate treacherous  footing, run cable through human waste, inhale asbestos and snack on lead paint chips (oh, wait. That’s just the ‘healthy’ baked potato chips. My bad).

In the past decade or so, there has been a concerted effort to make sets safer for everyone, and it’s been very successful.

But accidents sometimes still happen. Mostly those accidents are just that. Accidental. No fault, no blame just…Oops.

But sometimes, it is someone’s fault. In this particular case, a criminally negligent someone’s fault.

About a week ago, a film crew in Georgia were trying to get a shot for a Gregg Allman biopic – a dream sequence with a bed on railroad tracks.

At first it was just a terse announcement on some of the film-worker centric Facebook circles.

Camera assistant killed while shooting. No details.

Then, an ID. Sarah Elizabeth Jones, age 27.

Then, more details started to  emerge, and I began to suspect that this was going to get really bad.

Sadly, I was right. I hate being right.

The production company had requested a permit to shoot on the train tracks, and had been denied.

Someone decided to order the crew to set up the shot on the tracks anyhow.

Just stop and think about that for a second. Someone – we don’t know exactly who as the production company has suddenly gotten very, very tight-lipped and lawyered up – knew that they were not allowed to be on a live fucking rail line and decided to do it anyways.

A train came. About 15 minutes later, another train came. The crew began setting up, and in about 20 minutes, another train came. There was approximately one minute of warning. The crew tried desperately to clear the track in time, but one young woman was unable to do so and was struck while one of her co-workers tried to save her.

And died.

Died. For a stupid fucking movie. Produced by a fucking waste of carbon about a fucking has-been waste of carbon whose claim to fame is fucking Cher.

I jest, of course. The subject of the movie is completely irrelevant. It wouldn’t matter if it was a movie about a paralysed nun who saved a busload of adorable orphans from Nazis.

It’s not worth a life. Any life – even the life of someone who has chosen to wear a toolbelt and not get any glory or residuals.

The “Slates for Sarah” thing is very sweet, but the person who is responsible for this needs to suffer, and greatly.

Sadly, I don’t see that happening.

What I do see is (hopefully) more people saying ‘no’.

As in: “I’m sorry, Mr Producer. This isn’t safe. Oh, you want to fire me? Fine. I’ll live to work another day, and you can burn in Hell.”

Oh, wait. My bad. Burning in hell is too good for some people.

Filed under: mishaps, movies, rants, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A crash and a bang and that’s lunch.

I’m starting a show next week (hooray for work!), so I’ve not really been looking for work – just getting some random projects done around the house (fun fact: the walls in my apartment are not plumb, as I discovered when I tried to anchor a bookcase to the wall. Awesome).

But I’m certainly not going to turn anything down, so when I got a call to work a stunt unit yesterday, of course I agreed.

Stunts are a producer’s nightmare – they take forever and you cannot for any reason rush a stunt performer. Because if you do, and there’s an accident…

I don’t really need to finish that sentence, do I?

So we set up, lit the very small set and then we sat. And sat and sat and sat. Then, we went to lunch, came back and sat some more. The actors sat. The camera people sat. The producer sat and gnashed his teeth.

This particular movie had a very bad experience with a thing called an accelerator rig (cable system to pull a stunt performer through the air rapidly), so they won’t use them any more* – the ‘kick the bad guy right through the ceiling’ scene had to be shot in little bits, which isn’t a bad thing as we got to do some lighting.

The last shot of the day was a fist fight on top of a train scene – which was really a fight in front of a greenscreen with fans blowing for extra realism. Aside from the scuffing of a very expensive costume, it was uneventful.

The main challenge was to light the actors without casting shadows onto the greenscreen. Easy on really big greenscreen set ups (you can get the actors way away from the walls), not so much on small ones – you can’t get your action far enough away from the screen to make it easy (the screen has to be lighted separately from the actors, and there can’t be any cross contamination – the actor light has to stay on the actor, and the greenscreen light has to stay on the screen).

But again, once it was done, we sat. Lucky for me my co-workers were really wonderful folks and we had a very good time.

I have to give the director credit – we did three really huge, complicated stunt scenes in under 12 hours. That’s amazing.

* I wasn’t there, but I’m told a part of the rig failed (mechanics, not human error) and almost bruised a very expensive actor.

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

I didn’t like those clothes anyways.

There are two downtowns in Los Angeles.

The first is the newly gentrified downtown of nice restaurants, microbreweries, amenity-laden lofts and a Starbucks on every corner.

That’s a nice downtown. Nice to visit, nice to work, relatively clean and safe.

Then, there’s the other downtown. The older downtown. The downtown from…before.

The downtown of smelly bars open at 6 am, aggressive entrepreneurs (one of our drivers was solicited and I was informed that I needed to buy some drugs), houseless citizens, and what basically amounts to open sewers.

Why, oh why, when people have an entire city in which to defecate do they always choose to do so on our cable? I’ve never been able to figure it out.

Honestly it wasn’t as bad as it could have been –  we came in to wrap about an hour after the shooting crew had left, but that was still enough time for the locals to… decorate our cable.

In this situation, there’s always a decision to make.

Do we wrap the (relatively) clean cable first, saving the gross stuff for last, or do we dive in and deal with the stuff that might make us sick when it’s before breakfast and we still have empty stomachs?

In this case, we decided to wrap the ‘clean’ stuff first, in the hope that the sun would dry up the worst of the filth, which sometimes happens. Mostly in the summer.

Then, it’s just a matter of avoiding the piles of dried up I don’t want to know*.

At one point, I noticed a discarded syringe a few inches from my foot.

Lucky for me, the needle was gone. One of my co-workers saw a syringe with needle intact, though. Yikes.

Lucky for all of us we finished wrapping and had everything staged by the truck, ready to be loaded, by the time the nice lady who was screaming about invading lizard people started doing what looked like the Watusi while she crapped in the middle of the street.

Ah, downtown. It used to be like this everywhere.

I’ve been on the show where the cable was covered with so much runny shit that the best boy called the rental house and told them if they wanted the cable back, they could don hazmat suits and come and get it.

We loaded the truck, threw away our gloves, and headed out.  I decided to make a stop at an en route Korean Spa to relax and scrub off the worst of the funk.

They almost didn’t let me in, which I sort of understand, given how I must have smelled.

Lucky for me, I had some clean clothes in my gym bag and was able to soak, sweat and shower so I could head home not smelling like skid row.

I’ve got tomorrow off and then Friday I’m working on a nice studio lot where the filth won’t kill me right away.

Hooray!

*I know what it is. I just don’t want to think about it. I’ve never stopped being grossed out by piles of human  excrement on the pavement.

Filed under: hazardous, locations, movies, toxic waste, Work, , , ,

Right down to the wire

Monday and Tuesday were out load out days for the movie, which we’d all taken to calling She Dies in the End.   Loadout days are when we drive the truck back to the rental house, unload it, count it and then call all the other departments to find out if they’ve got any of the items we’re missing, usually extension cords.

We then loaded up the gaffer’s personal equipment and drove it to his storage space (in a hailstorm, of course), and after that I figured I was done for the year. A few days to clean up the disgraceful pigsty that I call an apartment, do the laundry, then get packed up for the annual guilt induced pilgrimage back east to overeat and argue.

But Tuesday, as I was on my way home under suddenly clear blue skies (of course, the rain and hail stopped right as we finished), a friend called me and asked if I was available for Wednesday and Friday for another low budget feature that I suppose we should call Teenage Emo Love.

I thought, for a split second, about saying no, then came to my senses. Of course I was available.

So I spent another 14 hours standing in yet another very small house with only one entrance – a small narrow stairway with no handrail (don’t ask me why they took it off).

Lucky for my knees, I ended up mostly being one of the outside people. I stood on the platform they’d constructed for the big HMIs that were aimed into the second story windows and moved lights around.

I’m back today, for their last day of shooting – which is a split (half day and half night), and then I come home, take a nap and then fly out.

Happy Holidays.

Filed under: hazardous, locations, movies, up all night, Work, , , , , ,

Coming through!

I can’t figure out why so many tiny, tiny bars put themselves in the location books* Even the medium-sized bars are a challenge to shoot in because bars, while they’re designed to accommodate a largish number of people (or not) are generally not designed with traffic flow in mind. Actually, it’s the opposite. If you’re trapped and can’t leave your spot at the bar, you’re more likely to spend money.

Today’s  location was a very small and very, very trendy bar in Koreatown.  We came in on a two-hour precall** to light, and of course everything we did on our rig day yesterday got changed. So when call time rolled around, we weren’t ready but they wanted to rehearse so we got sent to breakfast.

Also of course, production blamed grip and electric for the delay in getting started.

The entire day was an exercise in how many times one could manage to clear a path by yelling over the roar of the loud conversations (oh, for the days when the ADs used to clear the sets for us to work. Long gone, of course.) and the din of the other departments trying to work, while navigating around the bar’s furnishings and various set debris without hurting anyone too badly.

Most of us are really good about  letting each other know that we’re back there (and moving when there’s someone behind us with something heavy), but every now and again someone gets bumped with a stand or a table or a camera front box, and there’s just nothing to be done about it.

We used a lot of the bar’s equipment for set dressing, which saved some money I’m sure, but a disappointing number of glasses got broken – some by me when I was on a ladder adjusting a rigged light, lost my balance and swung my leg around to regain it. Ooops. Put it on our tab.

Speaking of tabs, one of our actors decided to indulge in some stress relief and downed a few shots of the bar’s top shelf  liquor. Before lunch.

We were all very impressed that she managed not to flub too many lines or miss too many marks. I don’t know that I could do as well after drinking that much.

The caterer’s food is great, but it’s a bit heavy, so because we were shooting in Koreatown, I walked a couple of blocks to a noodle house  and had a bowl of delicious noodle soup with veggies and some spectacularly hot Kimchi. Despite downing mints, I’m pretty sure I could have cleaned the kitchen’s ovens with my breath, but it was so worth it. So much so that I might go back tomorrow.

Also, I’ve resigned myself to having a sore throat (and the voice of a boy in the throes of puberty) for the next couple of days as for some reason the zeitgeist has decreed all bars must be full of smoke, despite the fact that most bars don’t allow smoking any longer. But smoke we must, so they bring in a guy with a smoke machine and a fan and he fills the bar with this… stuff that’s not supposed to be bad for you but it makes me sick every time. Plus, it smells like my grandmother’s mothbally closet, and I certainly wouldn’t want to spend 14 hours in there.

* One can go to the film office of LA (or any city) and ask to see the location books – these are binders full of potential filming locations all over the city, usually categorized by area and specifics (mansion, tenement, hipster bar, etc..). Many of these locations are insanely difficult to shoot at and should be removed from the books immediately.  When I rule the world….

**Exactly what it seems. Because we have so much work to do, our call is earlier than general crew call.

Filed under: hazardous, locations, movies, Uncategorized, Work, , , , , ,

It’s the 6th day that gets you

The problem with six day weeks isn’t days one through five. Those days are fine. Long and filled with silliness, but fine.

Nope it’s the 6th day. That’s the shitty day. The day when one hurts as soon as me gets out of bed. The day when one can’t seem to focus or remember much for longer than a few minutes.

Sunday, I got up, shuffled to the kitchen and stared into the fridge for about a minute before I realized that everything inside had gone bad and would need to be thrown out.

I then did laundry, shuffled around aimlessly and then went back to bed.

I’ve started out our last week tired and unable to think – and  this week will most likely be 14 hours every day with 10 hour turnaround every night.

So I come home and make some incoherent notes and then go to bed.

The posts are there, I just haven’t gotten to them yet – When I can, I’ll go back and actually post them. I know it’s ‘blog cheating’, but it’ll still be entertaining, I promise.

I’m off to work after the Monday 10 hour turnaround for the Tuesday 14 hour  day.

Filed under: cranky, locations, movies, up all night, Work

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