Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

Friday Photo

When statuary goes terribly wrong:
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Filed under: locations, long long drives, Photos, Work, , , , , , , ,

Tuesday photos, or that one time I went to jail.

There aren’t a whole lot of options available, if one needs to shoot in a jail. For obvious reasons, shooting in a working prison can be.. problematic, so we’re restricted to closed jails, which, in Los Angeles, means either Sybil Brand or Lincoln Heights, depending on if one wants ‘old timey‘ jail or modern jail.

For the past few days, we’ve needed modern jail, so we’ve been at Sybil Brand.

It’s been shot so much that it’s getting hard to tell what’s the original prison and what’s sets, but please enjoy some photos:
Height of technology, 1963

Hang up

 

Cellblock

Do NOT touch!

What freaks me out so much about Sybil Brand is the complete lack of anything plastic. Due to what I can only assume was budget, the prison wasn’t updated at all before it closed, so it’s a treasure trove of silly looking stuff that was the cutting edge in 1963:

Height of technology, 1963

And now it’s all in limbo, pending a review of how best to spend the taxpayers’ money – renovate or rebuild?

Until then, it’ll stay a shooting location and dog training center:

Whoops.

Dog training course

Filed under: camera, locations, Photos, Work, , , , , ,

On second thought, maybe don’t let it snow.

I’ve worked in all sorts of environments – asbestos-filled, slimy, stinky, smoky, rat-infested, prostitute-infested (oddly enough, not the same place), etc..

But this past week is the worst I’ve ever felt from something on set. My cough has escalated into full-blown bronchitis, and one of the actors got so sick he had to take a day off.

Needless to say, once someone important got sick production put a stop to the paper snow (which, it turns out, wasn’t movie snow, but acoustic insulation – the type that is mixed with plaster and sprayed onto ceilings).

This was a step in the right direction, but what they switched to was shredded styrofoam – and still continued to throw in front of fans because the shakers are ‘for big shows’.

This led to marginally less coughing, but a lot more itching.

I only itched a bit (as in I waited until I got home to claw my clothes off and scrub my skin raw), but two of my co-workers were driven to the brink of madness by the itching.

Instead of the inadequate mask from production, I stopped off at the hardware store and bought a better one, so yesterdays 15.5 hour cluster fuck (oh, that’s a post all on its own) left me with only a mild cough.

Today, we started the wrap, so we were only there for 8 hours – but I still wore my mask as the FX guys were sweeping up the flakes and it was really dusty.

After work, I went to swim, but was almost 15 seconds slower per 100 meters due to the difficulty breathing and the coughing.

Although it’s not being blown around any longer, the snow will continue to be a problem since it’s on (and in) everything. We’re going to have to use the compressed air to blow the stuff out of the lights we’re taking down from the pipe grid.

Outside, of course, and wearing masks.

 

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

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:

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, , , , , , , , ,

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, , , , , , ,

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, , , , , , ,

Friday Photo

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Prop guns in between takes.

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

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