Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

Let it snow, let it snow

Back in the days when the film industry was young and innocent, someone clever noticed that real snow, when brought onto a set with really hot lights, immediately melted.

The solution was to pile up a shitload of soap flakes or white-painted cornflakes (no, really), but those had… issues. Bugs and rats love cereal flakes and when humans are exposed to soap flakes for long periods of time the line for the toilet starts to get very long – not to mention the mess when it rains.

Then, someone very, very, clever devised a solution. A substance called Phoamaide or Foamite, very similar to the stuff in fire extinguishers, mixed with asbestos or those trusty soap flakes.

This is what we used for years – well, except the asbestos. I think they stopped using that last year*.

Then, someone came up with the brilliant idea to use small flakes of plastic. It won’t melt, it glitters just like real snow and it wafts gently to earth just like those nice big perfect flakes you want to see on Christmas morning unless you have to drive.

Also, it can be quickly vacuumed up (and reused) and won’t attract vermin or give your expensive actor a weapons-grade case of the shits.

The plastic is still used in cases where the snow needs to fall from the sky.

But if the snow is just sitting on the ground productions usually use a combination of paper snow, blankets, and foam (keep it away from animals and foliage). It doesn’t fall nicely, but it won’t kill fish if it washes into the watershed (okay, maybe the foam will make them sick but they’ll get better), so there’s a satisfying lack of guilt.

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But the paper stuff is extremely dusty, and creates a haze in the air which even the manufacturers warn not to breathe.

It doesn’t bother me when we’re outside (unless it gets wet and I walk through it. Then it has to be chiseled off the bottom of shoes and good luck getting it out of the car), but as soon as I get on a closed stage with it, its non-stop misery.

My eyes itch, my nose stops up, my head hurts, my throat burns and I start to cough like a tubercular Victorian poet.

And that’s just with the stuff lying on the ground minding its own business.

This particular show is using effects fans to blow the flakes into the air, creating even more dust. They’re also spraying the shit out the “realistic” plastic ivy with foam, but I suspect that’s the least of my worries.

Today is day two of the episode and I already feel like crap – the last day of the show is Monday, so I have four more days of this to endure.

*I’m joking. I think they stopped using the asbestos in the late 1980s.

Filed under: crack of dawn, hazardous, Photos, studio lots, toxic waste, Work, , , , , , , , , , , ,

I Miss You, Winter. I’ll Never Again Take You for Granted.

Day exteriors are usually pretty uneventful for electricians. We might move around a few lights, but generally the ones getting worked are the grips.

But even if we have an easy day work-wise, this time of year the heat makes everything seem more difficult.

The heat can be not so bad or completely terrible, depending on where one is shooting. Yesterday, we were shooting in the cement-lined quad of a community college.

A few trees, but not even a hint of a breeze and the thing about cement is that it radiates the heat back – even the soles of my feet were hot, and my face got burned under the brim of my hat just from the reflected heat.

The only time I have ever passed out from the heat at work was under similar circumstances – hot day, cement quad, relentless sun.

In addition to the heat, it’s suddenly gotten uncomfortably humid here in Southern California. Not Florida humid, but 40% is like a steam bath to those of us accustomed to the desert.

One of the things I notice about humidity is that I never get any relief from the sweat. It doesn’t evaporate, it just clings to me and makes me clammy and smelly. I also tend to not drink enough water when it’s humid.

This production, in an effort to be ‘green’ doesn’t supply water bottles, only those teeny waxed paper cups.

Luckily I remembered to bring my own bottle, but I clearly didn’t drink enough as by wrap I had no strength left.

Even carrying a head feeder across the quad’s pitiful patch of burned grass made me feel like Atlas.

I downed about a liter on the drive home, and thought I’d be okay, but I woke up this morning sore and feeling hungover, even though I’d had no alcohol.

Today was day two in the heat (in a different location with more trees and marginally less cement) and my strategy was to mix electrolyte powder with every other bottle of water, and to make sure to keep the bottle somewhere I could get to easily – I can’t hang it on my belt as a liter of water is surprisingly heavy, but I kept it near (but not on top of) the HMI ballasts, so as we moved the heads around I would see the bottle and take a swig.

I think it worked as right now I don’t feel terrible and I had to pee about every hour.

I’m still going to try to get through another liter with the powder before I go to bed, though.

Tomorrow, we’re on stage all day – a stage with crappy air conditioning, but at least we’ll be out of the sun.

Call time Monday: 6 am

Wrap time Monday: 8 pm

Drive home: 45 minutes

Call time today: 6:30 am

Wrap time today: 7 pm

Call time tomorrow: 8 am

 

Filed under: crack of dawn, hazardous, locations, long long drives, Work, , , , , , , , ,

Friday Photo

The source of the smoke:

P1050082

Filed under: crack of dawn, locations, Photos, up all night, 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:

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*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, , , , , , , , ,

My phone explodes!

Normally, May and June are slow months. The television shows are on hiatus, the pilots are done, and any movies left in town are already crewed or haven’t started yet.

Movies – especially the ones that shoot in the desert – like to wait until it’s really super fucking hot to start principal photography.

So, just like January, I curtail my spending as much as possible, and use the time to complete some projects around the house, reorganize the dresser drawers, brush the cat, sell unwanted stuff on eBay, etc..

But this May has been different. Not only have I been working pretty consistently, I’m getting calls for multiple jobs the same day at least once a week.

It’s freaky. Not bad, mind you, but not expected.

Of course, I’m answering ‘yes’ to every call I can.

Sadly, this means I’ve had some very short turnarounds the past few days, as minimum ‘off’ time rules don’t apply when one is moving from one show to another.

Tomorrow, my call is 11 am – an hour drive from my place, which means I’ll work until 11 pm and be home by midnight – at the earliest , and then I have an 8 am call on another show Friday morning.

It’s all wonderful – work while it’s available and rest later.

Filed under: crack of dawn, locations, long long drives, Work, , , , , , ,

I haven’t spent an entire day lifting cable in some time.

This is both a good thing and a bad thing.

It’s good because, well, I haven’t had to lift cable in quite some time, and bad because the only thing that gets one fit for lifting cable is lifting cable. Last I checked, they don’t have a 4/0 machine at the gym.

I got a call from the union hall (haven’t had one of those for a while) to wrap a location yesterday at one of our local sports arenas. Arenas are great because they have nice wide ramps and large freight elevators, but bad because most rigging gaffers feel the need to run cable all the way around said arena.

As most arenas are not small,  that’s a lot of cable.

I don’t have any problems pulling (rolling the stretched out cable into a coil – it’s called pulling because one straddles the cable and pulls it into a coil while it’s flat on the ground) cable. I can use the overdeveloped swimmer’s muscles on my back all damn day – plus it increases my sprint speed in the pool, so everybody wins.

What hurts me is lifting the cable – and moving cable from one place to the other is just about the same as it’s always been.

One picks up the 100+ lb coil of cable. One deposits said coil onto some sort of wheeled contraption. Then, one wheels the cable to the truck and lifts it again.

Coil, lift, drop. Coil, lift, drop. Coil, lift, drop. Lunch (light, unless you want to puke while you’re lifting), then repeat.

We were very, very lucky that the temperature stayed relatively low at 78 degrees, so the heat wasn’t the factor that it will be later in the year.

After we finished loading the truck, the best boy asked me if I wanted to unload the truck at the lot today.

I was sore, but work is work – and these are really nice guys that I’d love to call me back again, so of course I said yes.

The sequence for unloading the truck is just about the same for loading it, but without the coiling part.

Lift, drop, count, lift. Lift, drop, count, lift. Lift, drop, count, lift. Lunch (light, unless you want to puke while you’re lifting),  repeat.

Someday I’m going to produce a ‘Get Fit With Cable’ exercise video and make a mint.

Or not. The shipping costs would kill any profit margin.

Since I haven’t been doing many cable lifts lately, I started to hurt a little bit before lunch on Thursday, and really, really started to hurt before lunch today.

Right after lunch, we found out we had to rig two sets, which was a bit of a relief as it would allow me to use different muscles for a couple of hours.

By the time we were dismissed, I was filthy, smelly and sore. I briefly considered going to the Korean spa and soaking myself in the hot tub, but settled for  take-out (I am so not cooking tonight) and got the side-eye from just about everyone in the place.

Fuck them. I’m eating dinner after enjoying a very hot shower and a smearing of the biceps with ointment.

Filed under: crack of dawn, locations, long long drives, studio lots, Work, , , , , , , ,

Thankfully, a busy week

This week didn’t start out busy. This week started out with just Monday on a three camera kids show. Let’s call it Sassy Tweens.

Then, as I started the Tuesday morning worry, I got calls for Wednesday and Thursday within five minutes of each other. Sweet.

Wednesday was a condor call, on Been Done Before.  Since it’s been a while since I’ve been up in a condor, I had to  pause for a few minutes at about 50 feet to get my ‘air legs’.  Condor calls are usually 8 hours – so both of us came in before lunch, and helped work the set (a teeny tiny bar. Really teeny) and move back to the lot.

We wrapped about 11 pm, and I hurried home to get to bed as soon as possible because I had an 8 am call on a new TV show that has an unbelievable amount of security – a co-worker told me that one of the background actors tweeted the name of the show and security nailed him 10 minutes later.  A PA actually approached me and checked my name against the call sheet. Wow. Let’s call it Super Secret.

Please no guesses at the name in the comments. Don’t get me blacklisted from a show with a crew I adore.

We had a nice day on an air-conditioned stage (hooray!) and aside from being a little sleepy (I like to try to get at least 6 hours, and I  fell just a bit short), it was a great day with guys I  really like.

Today, I’m back on Sassy Tweens. That gives me four days this week.

Hooray for work!

Filed under: crack of dawn, locations, studio lots, up all night, Work, , , , ,

After the rain

Line drying

Since it’s almost never a good idea for lighting equipment to get wet, when there’s the threat of rain (or heavy dew overnight) we have to cover, with plastic, any carts and loose equipment not under some sort of cover.  For a long time, we just cut chunks off big rolls of landscaping plastic and wrapped that around the carts (and no matter how thorough a job one thought one had done, water always leaked in somewhere), but then someone invented these giant sandwich bag things called Bag-its. They come in all sizes and are super awesome, but are far too expensive to be considered a throwaway item, so they get re-used until they’re so battered that they fall apart (this takes a surprisingly long time to happen).

For obvious reasons, we can’t fold them up and put them away when they’re wet, so we have to dry them. The best way to do this is to suspend them from two stands like giant lines of plastic laundry.

We had to keep the sidewalk clear so that the nice people who live in this neighborhood could pass through, so we couldn’t just line them up like we usually do, and we only had enough space to dry three at a time.

Lucky for us there’s no rain predicted for the rest of our very short (due to the Thanksgiving holiday) week.

Filed under: camera, crack of dawn, locations, Photos, Work, , , , , , , , , ,

It’s seven PM and I’m going to bed

Although long days are normal for me, there’s a huge difference between a 12 hour shooting day and a 12 hour rigging day.

On the shooting crew, there are times where one isn’t doing anything and can sit and rest (or go to crafty, or read the paper, etc…). On a rigging crew, there’s no rest except when one is on one of three designated breaks throughout the day ( coffee, lunch, and afternoon) or when one can sneak off to the restroom.

Since we’re working 6 am to 6 pm on a lot that’s all the way across town (no, really) from my place,  and I’ve got a commute on either side (about 40 minutes in the morning and an hour at night), I get up (at about 4:45), go to work, come home, shower and go to bed.

No time for much else, although last night I did sacrifice some precious sleep time to go stand in line at my polling place and vote.

I’m off to bed.

Filed under: crack of dawn, long long drives, movies, studio lots, , , ,

Crack of dark

Over the years, I’ve gotten used to getting up early. Five am is pretty common, four am sucks but is doable, but yesterday I got up at 2:45. In the morning.

In a flash of foresight unusual for me, I have the alarm placed all the way across the room so I have to get up to hit the snooze button. In theory, this means if I get up, walk across the room to turn off the alarm I’ll stay up.  Most times this just means I get up, hit the snooze button and climb back into bed, but the shock of seeing the alarm go off at such a disturbing hour kept me up.

I then shuffled into the kitchen, made coffee and had some breakfast since I correctly assumed there wouldn’t be any food options at 4 am at our location – a high school in the Valley at which I’ve worked many, many times.

The good part about starting work at 4 am is that it’s not hot yet, which is a big plus in September in Los Angeles.  We ran out our cable in the pre-dawn coolness, and although I forgot my headlamp (took it out of the work bag to change the battery, and when I got home I found it sitting right there on the coffee table where I’d placed it so I wouldn’t forget to put it in the work bag), I still managed to see well enough to not trip and fall.

We changed some tubes in the classroom and the hallway, and when the caterer opened we had breakfast.

I couldn’t figure out why I was so hungry, then realized I’d last eaten at 3 am and it was now 7:30.

After wolfing down various egg products, we rigged some lights, ran some more cable, wrapped the first location and then ran more cable in a thankfully not very smelly gym.

Also, we were very lucky that the school had no students that day. It’s not that I don’t like teenagers, it’s just that it’s incredibly difficult to work around them since they tend to form packs.

The other nice thing about really early calls is getting released early. Since this particular show doesn’t want to keep the rigging crew on for more than 10 hours, we were on our way home at 3 pm – before the traffic got bad.

Once I got home, it was a struggle to stay awake until 8, when I gave up and went to bed.

Filed under: crack of dawn, locations, long long drives, Work, , , , , , , , ,

September 2014
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