Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

Tour de Courthouse

A few weeks ago, as I was leaving work, I was pulled over.

I had a burned out headlight, and given how incoherent I was after a 14 hour day, I’m surprised the cop didn’t haul me out and administer a field sobriety test, but he just gave me a fix-it ticket.

As he was finishing up, he told me I could go to any police station in the city to get a sign-off on the repair, and then go to any courthouse in the county to pay the small fine.

Sweet. I currently reside within a ten minute walk of both a police station and a (small) courthouse.

I figured I’d get the headlight fixed, get it inspected, then get it off the books and not even have to burn a gallon of very expensive (for America) gas.

So this morning, I rolled up to the West LA police station, ticket in hand, and asked at the desk to have someone check my car.

I was met with blank stares from the attending officers.

After an uncomfortably long pause, one of the civilian volunteers said “I’ve got this” and handed me a sheet explaining that the LAPD isn’t authorized to inspect vehicles and I’d have to drive to one of the county sheriffs’ inspection stations to get my signature.

Fine.

Except that the nearest inspection station happens to be in Beverly Hills.

I hate driving in Beverly Hills.

Under normal circumstances, the traffic is horrific because it’s apparently déclassé  to time one’s stop lights, but now it’s springtime and the tourist bloom is beginning.

In spring and summer, the normally crowded streets of Beverly Hills become impossibly clogged with tour busses and rental cars.

Which is great – the city and the county greatly appreciate your visit and your tax revenue, but residents tend to snap when traffic speeds drop from ‘slow crawl’ to ‘perambulate’.

This results in tempers accelerating from ‘recreational asshole’ to ‘nuclear war’.

Generally, I prefer to bike or bus it through the area – I can either sail past the problem or be encased in the T.Rex of vehicles and be safe from random punchings or headlocks.

But, if I must drive into the fray, 10 am on a weekday is a good time to do so.

Rush hour’s mostly over, and the lunchers haven’t started stalking parking spaces.

So, off I went – thinking I’d get inspected and paid off and then be back home in time to catch the afternoon talk shows.

I guess I wasn’t surprised when the clerk told me that although I got my inspection in Beverly Hills, because my officer had checked the ‘Chatsworth’ box on the ticket, that’s where I’d have to go to pay the fine.

To those of you not familiar with Los Angeles, Chatsworth is not near anything.

Not a freeway off ramp, not any sort of landmark, not any sort of train or bus stop or life support.

So because I’d tried to save gas by not driving, I then drove to the edge of civilization.

Where I stood in line for what seemed like an eternity behind a woman arguing with anyone who would listen that her failure to appear for her court date wasn’t her fault because she’d lost her phone and had written the judge a letter proving her innocence.

Lucky for me another window opened and I paid my $25 and then fought traffic back home.

I have work tomorrow (non-union, but it pays and it’s with a bunch of guys that I really like), and since I’m going downtown I’m going to take the bus.

I’ve had enough of the car for now.

 

Filed under: life in LA, long long drives, Los Angeles, mishaps, Non-Work, Off-Topic, overspending, travel, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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, , , , , , , , , ,

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, , , , , ,

But it’s a dry heat

“Someone said it might be too hot for the goat to work.”

Of course, we were shooting outdoors on what was predicted to be one of the hottest days of the year. In Griffith Park, which can be either nice and breezy or an intolerable furnace depending on one’s location.

Our first location was nice and breezy. No shade, but right in the wind so not too bad. Also, it was 7 am, and although it was getting warm, it wasn’t anywhere near scorching. Yet. All we were doing was rigging a process trailer, and then we’d leave the gaffer and one juicer to babysit while the rest of us went to rig.

Right after we got the process trailer on the road, we went  to another, less breezy location and rigged tomorrow’s set, which was shady but full of yellow jackets nesting in the muddy banks of the one creek that’s still running in the park.

Halfway through lunch is when it really started to get noticeably hot. We knew this because we were sitting outside in the heat while the network suits got to sit in the air-conditioned lunch trailer. Hey, they had a table read and had to concentrate.

After lunch we moved to our final location of the day, which was the side of a road right across from a cemetery. No shade, no wind and a construction site right next door so it was hot and dusty.  When I finally screwed up the courage to check the weather app on my phone, the temperature in downtown Burbank was 103.

The temperature at our roadside set? 107 – 41.666 C for those of you on metric.

That’s when the rumor started that the goat wouldn’t work because of the heat.

Which makes one wonder, if it’s too hot for a goat is to too hot for a film crew?  Of course, there’s no such thing as Humane Society monitors for the health and well-being of the dirty (and today, smelly) toolbelt people.

The heat felt like opening an oven door. The fans in the truck were blowing such hot air that they felt like standing in front of a heater. Even the cooling tents equipped with giant misters that production had rented weren’t really helping once a certain heat threshold had been passed, but I have no idea what the number was. 102? 105? 106? It all melted together into hot and miserable.

I started to fantasize about diving into the ocean off McMurdo Station. In the winter.

“But Peggy”, I hear you thinking “in the winter, the ocean there is frozen so you’d just lay there on the ice and get freezer burn with the penguins.”

Fine. That would be just fucking fine.  Throw me a goddamn Popsicle while I’m down there and I’ll be just ducky, thanks.

Lucky for us we didn’t have to do much lighting, so we could mostly cower in what little shade was cast by the trucks. I kept pouring water over my head to cool off and my hair would go from soaking wet to bone-dry in about two minutes. Also, for some reason, the sunblock washed off of my chin, but not the rest of my face, so now I’ve got what looks like a big red chin bindi. Or a giant pimple.

Awesome.

Then, right about 6 pm, on the last shot of the day when it had cooled down to a relatively brisk 102, the goat worked.

So I guess now we know at what temperature a goat can work.

I managed to get enough water in me that I kept having to pee, and took some electrolyte tablets every couple of hours so right now I don’t have that feeling like I’ve been beaten with a pillowcase full of doorknobs.

Lucky for me, I’m rigging on the stage tomorrow, so although it’ll still be hot (they don’t turn on the stage air conditioning if no one’s shooting), I’ll be out of the sun.

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

The beginning of the end, maybe?

This past weekend was a real eye-opener for me. I knew the industry was slow here in Los Angeles, but when I sat in a continuing education classroom at Contract Services with a bunch of guys who are usually always busy (and I mean always), all anyone could talk about was  how thin work has gotten around here.

Yikes. If the heavy hitters aren’t making ends meet, what hope do the rest of us have? I’m currently getting enough work to keep the wolves at bay, but that, of course, can change at any time.

For those of you not familiar, over the past few years several other states (and countries) have been handing producers suitcases full of cash in order to lure film production away from California. I think the technical term is incentives, but really it’s a bribe.

And it’s worked very successfully.  There is currently almost no production in California, but Louisiana and Georgia (the newcomer to the world of corporate kickbacks) are hopping.

I love my job and I’d like to keep doing it, but I’d rather drink poison than move to Georgia or Louisiana (nothing personal, you understand), so the question is how long I can hang on. An added complication is my being  well past the age of being able to snag a rich husband.

Note to parents of girls: Look at my life. This is what happens when you teach your daughters self-reliance. They end up alone, without  Botox, veneers, or overpriced sports cars and worrying about how to pay the bills.

I just have myself and the cat, so as long as I can get enough hours to keep my health insurance, I’ll tighten my belt and soldier on.

But what about the people with families?

One state ends their sop and another starts up. Since most of these subsidies actually cost the states money (currently for every dollar of film revenue that Louisiana brings in, it spends $7.30*), it’s baffling that they keep doing it, but I’m certainly not one to underestimate the capability of humans to not in any way, shape or form learn from our mistakes.

Most of us who have spent our entire working lives in the film industry have skills that don’t easily translate to the real world, and even if we do decide to branch out, we have resumes that are confusing and frightening to anyone not familiar with the transient nature of film production (“No, it’s the same job, for the same people.. just with a different name on the letter head”).

So Wednesday, I have a career counseling appointment at The Actors’ Fund to see if I have any chance of any sort of work at all once production in California dries up for good.

Or, even better,  if I can manage to start some sort of business that legally appropriates taxpayer money just like the studios are doing.

I suspect not, but we’ll see.

*http://www.labudget.org/lbp/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/LBP-Report.Louisiana-Film-Tax-Credits.pdf

Filed under: cranky, life in LA, rants, , , , ,

Friday Photo(s)

Sometimes, one wants to break up the light just a bit – either to give the impression of a window, or tree leaves, or just to make the background look more interesting, motivation be damned.

To achieve said neat-o pattern, one uses a cucaloris.  Such as this one:
Cucaloris
This is a ‘hard’ cucaloris, as it’s made of wood, and is, as such, hard. Duh, right? Some versions are varying degrees of opacity on a screen material, and those are called ‘soft’ cucalori (I’m not sure that’s the correct plural, but it looks better than ‘cucalorises’).

The effect that it has can be either subtle or dramatic, depending on if the shadow is sharp or fuzzy.
Shadow patterns

Obviously, the sharper the lines on the shadow, the more obvious the pattern is.

The classic example of breaking up the light for texture is the window blind pattern on a blank wall, but if you look at day exteriors, many of them have this cucaloris pattern.

When I googled “motivated lighting” to find an example, what came up number one in the image search? My photo from the Mind of Mencia ‘cockfight’ sketch. Awesome.

Filed under: camera, movies, Photos, Work, , , , , , ,

Some weeks are better than others

This week started out so well. Work’s picking up, the weather’s been gorgeous, etc…

Until Tuesday, when I decided to go to the grocery store, and because I needed some bulky stuff, I took the car.

Midway through my backing out of my parking space in the six-space carport, the neighbor’s little rat-dog ran across the alley and under my wheels, and in an attempt not to flatten said rat-dog, I swerved and hit the support post instead.

Which would have been fine, except my current car is apparently made of vacu-formed tinfoil as the low-speed oopsie resulted in the following:

One torn off driver’s side mirror

One severely dented front driver’s side door.

One fucked up front quarter panel.

One fucked up front bumper.

One $500 deductible.

One rat-dog owner refusing to admit that she’s at fault.

Awesome. So now, I’m on the hook for five Benjamins and my car has to go to the body shop for an undisclosed amount of time.

Also, I’ve spent eons on the phone with said insurance company and will now get a point on my license and jacked-up rates for the foreseeable future.

Lucky for me my insurance covers a portion of the rental car – not all of it, of course, but some of it.

Gods bless America.

So for the next week or so, I’ll be driving a Prius, which is what the rental car company gave me. Side of smug is on the house.

And five days of work turned into three.

How was your week?

Filed under: cranky, life in LA, mishaps, Non-Work, Off-Topic, overspending, , , , , , , , ,

More foot fallout

Yesterday was our last day of work before 2010 – the main show goes down tomorrow and won’t come back until after the new year.

We had a late call and an easy day – well, set lighting did. The first part of the day was ‘drive-bys’ up in the desert, which meant that the camera guys, the director, the ADs, and the grips, etc.. all piled into a van and drove around with the camera stuck out the window of said van in order to get day exterior driving shots. Since they had no lights or power of any kind with them, there was no reason to send along an electrician, so we came in at lunch after the rest of the crew returned to the stage.

Since we came in at lunch, we only worked about six hours, which means we beat the rate (we get paid for 8 hours minimum, so if we finish in less than that we beat the rate) which is always nice – kind of like a Christmas bonus.  At the end of the day, we had a little impromptu party in one of the morgue sets. We had ice and margarita mix (no booze though. The film industry used to run on hooch and cocaine, but now we have the kinder, gentler, more responsible version and none of us would even dream of breaking the rules. Honestly. You can trust us) and a blender set up on a table where a fake rotting corpse usually rests, and we made virgin drinks and chatted before we drifted off to try to not think about the fact that it’s almost Christmas already.

Today, I ran some errands and went to the gym. When I got home and opened the mail, I got a nasty surprise.

When I was on state disability, they were supposed to report all those hours to the health plan so I’d keep my health insurance – I got the letter in the mail today telling me that I haven’t worked enough hours and am ineligible for insurance. Of course, none of the disability hours were reported. I have ‘banked’ hours that I can withdraw to qualify, of course, but had the disability hours been reported it wouldn’t be necessary. I’m also afraid to draw out of my bank since the past couple of years have been so slow. I’m afraid I won’t work enough to rebuild it, and then when it really slows down (like when the writers go on strike again and hours required to qualify jump from 300 per semester to 400 per semester) I’ll be fucked.

What the hell? The folks at the state disability office told me it was all automatic and that I wouldn’t have to do anything, because I anticipated this very situation and asked.

I know California’s broke and cutting staffing to the bone, but this is just inexcusable.

I’ve got all the paperwork still so all I have to do is spend the better part of the day tomorrow on the phone doing the telephonic equivalent of bashing my head against a brick wall, but honestly I can think of a whole list of things I’d rather be doing with my time.

I just know this is Karmic payback for my calling Joe Lieberman a waste of carbon on Twitter, even though I stand behind the statement 110%.

Stupid foot. How long is this going to go on?

Speaking of the foot, please enjoy the latest photo while I field more email from creeps:

Foot

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , , , , ,

If I’m going to get screwed, could someone at least buy me a drink first?

Inconsistency is the nature of working freelance in any industry, so of course I have good years and bad years, but I’ve been extremely lucky in that I’ve always been able to earn enough to make ends meet.

Work like hell in the good years, save it up for the bad years.

However, this last 16 months have been terrible for just about everyone.  When it should have been busy, it was dead, and when it was normally dead, it was stone dead.  Although a lot of us had hoped it would pick up in March, unfortunately this doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.

Although I’ve been able to scrounge up a day or two each week (which is a lot more than others have managed), I’ve completely run through any savings I had and am now dependent upon my state unemployment insurance to fill in the gaps.

Which is fine – by pinching my pennies and foregoing all the things that make life extra wonderful (sushi, wine, periodicals, etc…) I’ve managed to scrape by.

Until today, when I opened the mail, expecting to get an unemployment check and finding that they’ve invented a new ‘waiting period’ out of the blue – which, of course, fell on a week when I didn’t work and was due the full amount.

For those of you fortunate enough to be unfamiliar with unemployment, when one first files a claim one is forced to endure a waiting period of a week during which no benefits are payable – I don’t know why that is. I guess they hope I’ll find a job and won’t  bother to file the rest of the paperwork.

Normally, though, there’s only one withheld week per claim, and my ‘fuck you, loser’ week was in January, so this random withholding of benefits confuses and angers me, but at least I’ve got company.

Upon making a few phone calls, I discovered that just about everyone I know has had benefits withheld for that week, so I’m guessing the the state of California, in a desperate attempt to save money, has just decided to screw the unemployed people out of a week’s worth of benefits.

Normally, this would just make me roll my eyes at the stupidity of it all, but last week I made some promises to the utility company which I now can’t keep – so I may lose my internet again if calling and begging to keep the power on  doesn’t help.

Thanks, California. Thanks a lot. This is much better than a 2.5% tax increase on people who have a net income of over $250,000. Bleed me dry instead. I totally understand your logic one this one. Assholes.

Speaking of economic uncertainty, one of my aunts who lived through the Depression (the real one in the 1930’s), has agreed to take questions about how to stretch your dollar (or pound, or euro, or whatever) and what life was like back then. Although it’s for something that will go on LAist (I’ll happily crosspost here if you all would like),  if you’ve got a question for her, feel free to either email me or post it to the comments and I’ll relay it.

Filed under: Non-Work, , , , ,

A nice Friday surprise.

When I staggered out to the mailbox this morning, there it was, waiting for me – the judge’s written decision in the unemployment case.

I won! The judge ruled that my mistake (which resulted in an overpayment last year and caused a delay of benefits and a fine this year) was made because of poor organizational skills and sloppy accounting on my part and not a deliberate attempt to defraud the state of California.

Although I’m not sure how thrilled I am about having a judge pretty much call me an idiot in a written decision, at least the state has to refund the penalties to me now.

If I’ll ever get them is another story – the California unemployment folks seem to be doing anything they can to avoid paying out claims. I know one person who is owed almost 8 weeks worth of checks and can’t get an explanation as to the cause of the delay, another who has had to go to three different offices to verify his identity in person and still hasn’t been issued a check, and another person who is getting one check out of every four that she’s owed – also with no explanation of why.

Even if I never see any of the money, at least now I’m not viewed as a criminal by a group of bureaucrats who may or may not have souls.

Speaking of surprises, I saw this while riding my bike the other day:

Not a couch, but still odd.

I wonder if the homeowner was hoping that some passerby would take them. When she saw me taking pictures of them, she ran out of the house to yell at me in what I think might have been Russian, but I’m not entirely certain.

Filed under: couches, Non-Work, Photos, , , , , , ,

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