Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

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.

20140708-202549-73549792.jpg

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, , , , , , , , ,

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

Update: Posted this on Thursday. I lost a day in there somewhere. I really have no idea how that happened.

When warning labels rage out of control:

IMG_1612

I get padding the pointy parts of the helicopter when the film crew is around. We’re clumsy and prone to not looking where we’re going.

I can’t help but imagine that the pilot knows damn well to remove those things before flight. Also, you know how people run to the helicopter and duck to avoid the spinning rotor blades?

They’re nuts. Those things are scary and not very far off the ground. I’m not going anywhere near the damn helicopter until they’ve stopped spinning.

Filed under: hazardous, locations, Photos, 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, , , ,

Oops.

Have you ever had an entire week disappear? Just vanish – a few fuzzy recollections, but for all intents and purposes, it was only a day.

That’s what happened to this past week. I know it was there, I got some work (hooray!), ate lots of holiday bad-for-me food, drank some wine, but mainly it’s just… gone.  I blame the stuffing.

Yesterday, I got a day with wonderful guys that I always enjoy being around.

We shot in a gym swimming pool, where our hero fearlessly dives into the shallow end to save the drowning scantily clad girl.

No, it really is fearless. Diving into the shallow end is super dangerous.

One of the things that it’s very important to remember about shooting around any sort of water is that said water does not go well with electricity. Sort of like purple and lime green.

So when we shoot around water we use these things called ground fault circuit interrupters when we work around water.

They’re a fairly recent invention, but they’re lifesavers. So much so that we never, ever, ever shoot around water without them. Hell, we use them when there’s a light drizzle three miles away.

So all of us were very surprised when the rental house forgot to send them out.

Oops.

Luckily, we were able to plug into the gym’s outlets, which were all GFCI (like the ones you have in your kitchen – with the little buttons in between the outlets), and this DP doesn’t like to use large lighting units.

By the time we got all our shots, including the giant crane shot that saw the entire world, it was a 14 hour day,

If I’m only going to get one day, it might as well be a long one.

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

Friday Photo

Windshield, post-explosion

Explosions for movies are all about the sound and fury. Huge colorful flames, ear-splitting noise, and little, if any, debris.

The reasons for this should be obvious. Expensive people standing around, expensive cameras, expensive cars, expensive equipment, and last night a very expensive (I’m not sure but I feel safe assuming here) helicopter.

So one does not, in any way, shape, or form, want debris flying off of one’s perfectly safe explosion.

But sometimes it just can’t be helped.

Cars, for example. One can weaken the frame, strip the vehicle as much as possible and try to minimize the debris, but there’s always going to be crap flying everywhere, and last night was no exception.

We had the ‘hero’ explosion (which shook the bridge!) and then when we went in for coverage, we had to step around a truly impressive debris field.

Unfortunately, this was for the television show that fears and hates free publicity, so no shots of the actual explosion – just the aftermath.

I don’t know about you, but I find safety glass hilarious, especially after it’s been blown 30 feet in the air and slammed into the road surface of a bridge.

Filed under: hazardous, locations, long long drives, Photos, up all night, Work, , , , , , ,

What a difference a week makes

I’ll admit I’ve gotten a bit soft, sitting in my nice dimmer room, chair at the ready, no rain, no cold, wearing slippers on show day (when I can’t leave the board) is a possibility…

Then, the show ended, and after making a few calls, I got five days on a one hour drama which has already aired but has such tight security I’ll call it Sooper Secret.

Five days in a row is great, but after day one (call time: 5 am. Wrap time 8pm. Commute: One hour each way) I wondered how my feet were going to hold up.

The fun part was shooting on a closed bridge in the city of Long Beach.

Working on roads that are closed to traffic is fun – the surface is smooth so carts and stands don’t get stuck anywhere, and there’s enough room so that everyone can get around easily.

Working on roads that aren’t closed is scary as hell – one never knows when a driver will accidentally (or, sometimes purposely) take aim at one of the carts or crew members (I can tell you from personal experience that imported German sedan vs. cart full of HMI ballasts isn’t pretty – and there’s no clear winner), despite the presence of police officers and lots of cameras.

The bad part was the truck being approximately 500 miles away from the set – and no direct route back. So if we needed something that didn’t come up in the stakebed, it took a very long time to get it.

Lucky for us the gaffer’s not a screamer.

Tonight was mainly driving stunts, and tomorrow we blow up a car!

Filed under: hazardous, locations, long long drives, up all night, Work

Saturday Photos

Film crews will sit down just about anywhere.

Dusty? Sure. Hard? Great. Pointy? Awesome. Pile of cow crap? Nice and soft.* Just get me off my feet for five minutes.

Yesterday, we worked at a bus repair yard for a school district. No one sat down all day. It might have been the grease, or the barrels labelled ‘hazardous waste’, or a combination of both, but standing just seemed… prudent.

Wait.. Which kind of waste?

So when we moved inside a bus for a long scene, our boss asked the guy who was stuck inside the bus manning a light if he wanted someone to relieve him so he could go to crafty or the bathroom or whatever.

“Nope. Got a nice seat and a breeze. I’m good.”

Here’s what was creating the breeze:

How to keep a bus cool

Guess it worked just fine. We were all too jealous of the sitting down part to ask.

Call time: 10:30 am. Wrap time: 1 am.

* That one might be a tiny bit of exaggeration, depending on how long I’ve been standing and whether or not I’m wearing rain gear.

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

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