Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

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

Friday photo

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Condor. This time, I’m not in it. I’ve got several drafts that I’ll polish and post on my one day off this week.

Maybe.

Filed under: camera, locations, movies, Photos, up all night, Work, , , ,

And why wouldn’t it?

Today was our last day in our ‘hero’ house, so we had, in addition to the day’s work, some scenes to re-shoot (one because the producers didn’t think our stunningly beautiful lead actress looked ‘pretty enough’), and about a million inserts.

The call sheet looked like a Tolstoy novel before editing, and we all knew it was going to be a long day – even if they wrapped on time, we still had to load our truck. In the rain, of course, because why wouldn’t it be raining on the day we had to clean up and load our truck?

After several weeks at a location, you get comfortable and stuff spreads out despite efforts at housekeeping, so there’s a massive last-minute expedition to hunt down the scattered gear and organize it (Boss: “Why are the tweenie* doors on the back of the toilet in the bathroom?” Me: [pause] “I. Don’t. Know.”)

After they finally called wrap – at the last minute before the producer stomped on set and pulled the plug, because why wouldn’t they use every minute they had to finish the massive call sheet – we were cleaning out the house, happy to be done with the place, but trying to work as quickly as we could as the siren call of home and a hot shower was too much to resist.

The homeowner had thoughtfully provided wooden ramps so we could wheel carts up the low stairs into the house, as I was carrying one of the aforementioned tweenies down the ramp, I slipped on the wet wood and landed right on my knee.

Of course. If I’m going to get hurt at work, why wouldn’t it be right at wrap when my co-workers really need me? I’m told I screamed like a girl when it happened, although I have no such recollection.

Our medic iced the knee, gave me some painkillers and some paperwork to fill out (in that order. Hope I did it right), then wrapped it (the knee, not the paperwork) so it would hold weight and I hobbled out to help load the carts.

One of my co-workers had slipped on the same ramp a few hours before and injured the opposite leg, so we joked that between us we made one complete electrician.

I’m icing the knee now in the hopes that the swelling will go down – I’m officially in 10 hour turnaround (the elapsed time between when one is dismissed for the day and when one must report back to work the next day), so I can’t ice for too long.

That sleep thing needs to happen.

Tomorrow’s work is in a hospital, so if the knee really hurts I know where there will be a doctor or three.

Call time: 9:30 am

Wrap time: 9:30 pm

We closed the doors of our truck at 11:00 pm.

*The tweenie is one of the workhorses of the lighting department. It’s a 650 watt light that’s small enough to hide easily, but puts out a nice amount of light, and no matter how many of them we order, it’s never enough.

 

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

Obstacle courses and other obstructions

I’m sure there was a really good reason the producers of this movie opted to shoot in a private home instead of building a set on a stage.

I just can’t think of it. The house is in the flight path of both LAX and Santa Monica Airport, so there’s a constant stream of jets and single engine planes flying over. The damage list is already alarmingly high (film crews don’t mean to destroy your house, it just kind of happens) in both the ‘hero’ house and the house next door where we’re staging equipment.  We’re also racking up overtime because of crowding and noise.

The problem with even the largest house is that the walls won’t come out, so traffic jams happen when the DP decides to, say, place the camera in the only door leading into a small bathroom or at the base of the only staircase.

On a stage, the walls of a set can wild (come out easily) for faster access and there’s always a way around whatever equipment’s causing the traffic jam.

The other problem in our current location is our own self-generated noise. Since this particular home is built in the loft style with very high ceilings and a lot of tile, there’s no noise dampening at all.  Even whispered conversations are magnified, and because the important people have taken to sitting in the set and talking (and laughing, and singing show tunes) while we’re trying to work, it’s almost impossible to hear anything, even with the walkie turned up all the way.

The ADs can’t do anything about it because it’s the executive producers doing the laughing and singing, so we all just have to suck it up and try to do our best.

The other problem we’re having is equipment. This particular rental house (and the producer usually chooses the lowest bidder) apparently sent all their good gear to the subsidy states, because we’re being sent out some spectacularly old equipment.

The problem with old equipment is that it almost never works properly, since it’s not been maintained. It’s just been sitting in some warehouse, waiting for either the scrapper or a show that doesn’t have a choice about taking it.

Even the dust on this thing was old.

Yes, that’s a light that’s so old it was manufactured in West Germany. I think stirrup leggings were still in fashion when West Germany ceased to exist.

Why has this thing not been scrapped? Oh, right. Because they can send it to us, and not have to bother shipping any of the good equipment back from Louisiana.

Except that this light, along with about 40% of our other lights, didn’t work.

The rental house has been out every single day to exchange bad lamps, ballasts, stands, etc…

But the new stuff they bring out isn’t any better than the busted up garbage we’re sending back. Normally, after a few fuck ups, the rental house gets embarrassed and starts sending out the nice new shiny stuff that they normally only send out on commercials (commercials pay the best, so they get the best stuff).

But since I’ve not seen anything shiny or new, I’m guessing this isn’t going to get any better.

Filed under: locations, movies, Photos, Work, , , , , , ,

Insurance day

Friday was all about  being in the right place at the right time.

I was rigging on some re-shoots of a movie that shot back east (as most of them do now), and happened to be standing there when the best boy got a call asking  if anyone knew of any lamp operators that were available.

Some people prefer just to rig for various reasons – shorter hours, less chaos, etc.. and some folks on rigging crews do not like to work set, but some of us are perfectly happy doing both.

So as I was standing there, gathering supplies I needed to run DMX in the perms, my name got thrown in the hat for a lamp operator on a movie that – wait for it – is actually shooting in Los Angeles.

Jaw, meet floor.

There are several totally awesome things about this particular movie -  it’s crewed by a great group of folks that I really like to work with, and it’s running through the middle of December. And the main location is really close to the apartment so the morning commute is a breeze. Also, kickass caterer.

I’m not dayplaying, I’m actually full-time, and I can’t remember the last time that’s happened.

Today was my first day, and as usual, was spent getting acquainted with the set, where the power is, how the gaffer likes things done, etc..

About three hours into the day, the ADs announced that our main actor would not be in due to illness. Actual illness, mind you, not coked-out former starlet “illness”.

When things like this happen, the production company calls the insurance company*, informs them that they won’t be able to shoot that day and the insurance company has to cover the costs.

Production companies hate insurance days and try to never, ever use them, but sometimes your actor gets sick or your set burns down or no one can find the director because he went to Tijuana over the weekend with two of the extras and there’s nothing to be done about it other than to throw in the towel.

So, we spent some time cleaning up and organizing our carts, and then left. I went to a nearby restaurant and celebrated the full-time gig with a glass of wine and a fantastic lunch (chickpea and rosemary soup with a nice glass of wine. And bread), then came home, changed and went for a run.

Followed, finally, by a swim.

As of right now, we’re working tomorrow and I’m so happy about it.

*Every production has insurance. One can’t get permits or rent equipment without it.

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

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Halfway through a wrap day

Get something out of those jockey boxes, I dare you.

Electricity and water

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