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 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, , , ,

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, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Free!

Most of the time, the frat boys in the building next door  annoy the hell out of me.

Sometimes it seems as if all they do is have keggers on weeknights, blow enough pot smoke around to create a sinister fog which blankets the entire west side of the city, and talk loudly about which girls they’d like to bang. I’ve contemplated mass murder more than once.

Usually when said kegger is raging the night before I have a super early call.

So yesterday, as I was coming home from a bike ride, and saw the one with the faux-hawk putting a gas grill outside by the trash, of course I assumed he was up to no good.

Damn kids.

When I asked him what was up, he told me they’d gotten a bigger one and that this one still worked, but it wasn’t, well, new.

“Besides,” he said, “it’s dirty and none of us want to clean it ’cause that shit’s gross.”

An entire career spent pulling cable through unmentionable filth means that I’m not really afraid of dirt, so I took said grill off his hands and slowly, fearfully opened the lid to inspect the damage.

Maybe it’s the aforementioned career wallowing in filth, but the grill’s really not all that dirty. Nothing that some toxic chemicals and a good scrubbing won’t fix, but I’m a bit perplexed as to why they’d fill a gas grill with charcoal briquettes.

Is propane that expensive?  I think not.

It’s a really nice grill and once I get it cleaned up and the gas line working, I can indulge in instant gratification – outdoor cooking without waiting on the charcoal to heat up.

Sweet.

Tomorrow, I scrub.

Filed under: Non-Work, toxic waste, Uncategorized, , , , , , , ,

Friday Photo

Not Beer

Whenever there’s a scene with actors or background in a bar drinking, for obvious reasons they can’t be drinking alcohol, so any glasses you see are filled with non-alcoholic liquid. The best example is iced tea for whiskey. That bottle of jack is really filled with Snapple.

In this case, this particular glass is filled with watered down Coca Cola.

I feel bad for the actors who have to drink it and smile.

Filed under: camera, Photos, toxic waste, Work, , , , , , ,

Super Gross Friday Photo

Tuesday, instead of being on set, I was working with a friend in a machine shop, building some specialty lights for a gaffer we both know.

Which was great, as I really like the folks in this shop, and I was working for someone I like, and I was out of the bitterly cold wind that, for some reason, had been sweeping Los Angeles for about a week.

Ever since we had to go through a safety training class where a guy with 8 1/2 fingers told us that any electrical power tool would fuck us up and good, I’ve been scared shitless of them (drill press? Band saw? No, thanks. I like my fingers where they are – attached to my hands), so what I was mostly doing all day was assembly work.

Near the end of the day, I was installing a plug on the end of one of the fixtures:

Stock Picture courtesy of Hubbell.

One opens up the plug, attaches the stripped wires into the holes that will connect them with the prongs, then closes the plug and screws down the two big screws on the back there that act as strain relief (because if the ‘hot’ part of the wires are weighted or pulled on, they can come out).

These plugs need to be replaced quite frequently, so this isn’t something that is really all that new to me – I’ve done it thousands of times with no problems.

But as I was tightening down the second of the two strain relief screws, the plug, being round, rolled slightly, and the screw gun slipped.

Right into my finger, Phillips head bit first.

At first, I thought it was just a mash injury, which hurts like hell for a few minutes then goes away.

Then, I saw the blood.

My first thought after that was to get a bandage.

Then, I saw how much blood there was, and, upon rinsing in the sink, I saw the extent of the injury, and the metal dust that was in there.

So, although I felt really, really bad about leaving my boss there to finish up by himself, I went to the urgent care, where, after making me do paperwork for half an hour,  they shot Lidocane directly into the wound so they could open it up with some sort of Medieval torture device and clean it.

The doctor  informed me that screw gun injuries can’t be sutured because of the jagged edges, so I’d have to keep it elevated for the next 24 hours.

Good to know.

Next time, I’ll cut myself with something sharp instead.

Yesterday, I went back to the center for a bandage change and a checkup, which is when I took this:

....and that's why you always leave a note!

Entry point was just to the side of the nail bed, exit point (sort of, it didn’t so much penetrate as tear) is the big red blob near the tip of the finger.

Note this is 48 hours after, so a lot of the swelling had gone down, and it looked much better than it did Tuesday.

What the photo doesn’t really show is how deep it is. Frankly,  I’m surprised that the doctor couldn’t see bone when he opened it up. Also, before they cleaned it the whole wound was full of metal dust and other assorted crap.

Plus, it’s incredibly tender, but much less so today, three days later. I had to turn down three days of work this week  because it wouldn’t have been possible for me to touch anything and not scream and bleed.

I’m hoping to scare some work up for next week, so this damn thing had better heal up.

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

Hello, heat. I didn’t miss you.

It’s time for the annual ‘fry Southern California just when we thought it was autumn’ cruel joke that masquerades as Santa Ana winds.

Temperature today in West Los Angeles? 100F. Of course, we were outside for most of the day shooting dust against a green screen. Said dust was blown across said screen by two Ritter fans, which are so powerful that they created a mini dust storm, so of course my allergies went crazy before lunch.

Heat stroke? Check.

Can’t breathe? Check.

All I needed was some sort of catastrophic intestinal distress to really round it out. Oh, wait…

For lunch, they brought us Tito’s.

For those of you not familiar with Los Angeles, Tito’s Tacos has a completely undeserved reputation for good food.

Well, I suppose it’s ‘good’ in that they can take Grade C meat (mostly circus animal, some filler) and shredded newspaper and somehow manage to make a) the ‘food’ taste only moderately horrible and b) the intestinal after effects wait until just after you think you’re going to get away with it this time.

Every time I’ve eaten tacos from Tito’s, I’ve become ill (sometimes moderately, sometimes violently) within a few hours*, but since I was hungry and there was nothing else to be had I figured I’d eat something with no circus animal.

That turned out to be a bean and cheese burrito – I tried to surgically remove as much of the cheese as possible, but I guess some stuck (or there were remnants of trained zebra in the beans), as of course, a couple of hours after eating I found myself making a very hurried trip to the ladies’ room. Also of course, said intestinal distress hit just as we were getting ready to move inside the stage.

Awesome.

We spent the rest of the day on the stage, which was awesome – air conditioning and proximity to toilets are wonderful things indeed.

As I write this, it’s almost 9 pm and still about 90F. I predict a cold shower in my very near future.

Tomorrow, we’re inside all day, which is good since it’s predicted to still be hot as hell through the weekend.

*Late night Tito’s has taken out entire film crews before. One is hungry, so one eats and hopes for the best, only to end up stuck on the toilet cursing the day Tito was born.

Filed under: hazardous, mishaps, studio lots, toxic waste, Work, , , , ,

Words I never thought I’d say

“Sweet baby Jeebus, I am so sick of smelling this chocolate I think I’m going to puke.”

As soon as the words passed my lips, the world just felt.. wrong. Like I’d passed into an alternate dimension where everything was almost, but not entirely normal. Like the twilight zone (shit. Now I’m going to get hits from vampire tween searches).

A chill went down my spine and I wondered how I was going to return home from this deeply disturbing place.

Wait.. Let me back up.

Lately, I’ve been doing this thing where I sleep like a rock (and wake up not feeling very rested, but that’s another story), so when the phone rang at the crack of dawn yesterday morning, it didn’t register at first.  As I clawed my way to semiconsciousness, the call went to voicemail, so I shoved the cat off my face,  and upon listening to the message, found that it was someone calling to see if I were available to cover someone who called in sick.

I broke the dialing speed record calling back to say ‘yes’, showered, hopped in the car and headed across town (of course) to the stage.

Upon arriving I discovered that the bulk of the day’s work was several characters rolling around in what was supposed to be a mud pit. For some reason, instead of movie mud, this production opted to use chocolate pudding. Don’t ask me why. Guess they figured the actors were going to accidentally ingest it and it was better to be safe than sorry.

12 hours later, the smell of chocolate pudding mixed with cheap perfume and broken dreams was nauseating.

But that also could have been the smoke. In an effort to make the scene look like a strip club without actually going to a strip club, we used a doohickey that creates smoke, Basically, it superheats oil and spits out a vapor that looks like smoke. Don’t know what’s in it. It’s supposed to be harmless, but after a few hours on stage with the stuff, my eyes burn, my skin itches and I cough like a tubercular Victorian poet.

Productions are supposed to hand out ‘protection’ (no, not condoms, dust masks), but no one does because it’s useless against the smoke juice.

I usually feel like crap the next day, too.

It’s an occupational hazard since directors and DPs LOVE smoke. It makes the scene look all hazy and pretty (unless you overdo it and then your movie looks like an 80’s music video), so it’s a cross I’ll just have to bear.

The chocolate thing is a problem though. Hopefully I’ll stop hating the smell very soon.

Filed under: hazardous, movies, studio lots, toxic waste, Work

The Pee Pee Corner

I was all set to spend today reminiscing for your enjoyment.

I deposited my freshly-washed laundry in the dryer, sat down at the computer, and then the phone rang.

“Do you want to work today?”

You even have to ask?

What time and where, that’s all I need to know.

Turns out they needed a crew to rig a location at the last minute – so I pulled the damp laundry out of the dryer, hung it about the house (campsite chic – it’s all the rage), and took off.

Of course, crew parking was across the street from the old place (no, really. Right across the street), so what once would have been a 30 second stroll was now 70 minutes of fighting traffic and wishing my car had a ‘stun’ setting.

The day wasn’t bad – it was just changing some flourescent tubes and running some cable with folks that I like a whole lot and I’m always happy when they call me, even if it’s for a short day.

The problem with running cable on a sidewalk in Hollywood is knowing what’s going to happen to said cable as soon as the shooting company’s gone home for the night.

The clubs let out, there’s an inviting wall and a passerby with a bladder full of beer, and you can guess the rest. We know the cable’s going to get pissed on – and we have a pretty good idea of where most of the pissing will happen (that nice semi-private convergence of walls ), and we know who has to wrap the cable in the morning.

So we’ll march in tomorrow and deal with the cable in the pee pee corner as quickly as possible while holding our breath.

Hey, it beats not working at all, right?

Filed under: hazardous, locations, toxic waste, Work

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