Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

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, , , , , , ,

Ready, aim, fired!

I’d been doing a day here and there on a low budget for a friend of mine, and was supposed to come in to wrap a location this afternoon, but around 6 am I got a text informing me that the entire lighting crew had been replaced.

Not that any of said lighting crew were shedding any tears over this, mind you. Most had better paying jobs lined up within minutes, and firing crews is something that happens all the time on the lower rungs of the pay scale.

It usually happens like this:

Low Budget Producer (LBP), after four or five go-rounds of producing micro-budget cluster fucks and then foisting them off on some of the less-fashionable film fests, decides it’s time to run with the big dogs (so to speak) and gets a gig as Line Producer or UPM on what (for him or her) is a HUGE show, but is, in reality, just over million dollars (which, in movie world, is equivalent to the change you find under the couch cushions).

Now, LBP is used to dealing with small amounts of equipment (most of LBP’s previous shows have had lighting packages that fit nicely into a minivan that’s seen better days) and 10 person crews (two electric, one grip, three camera, director, two production assistants, and him/herself), so he or she takes a look at this show’s numbers, becomes horrified at how much the dirty toolbelt people are costing the show, and freaks out.

LBP can’t understand why we keep asking for more people (“can’t they come down out of the condor and work the set? Why do we need a wrap crew? Can’t the set guys just do it after we’re done? What, now you want water, too? It’s only 110 degrees out.”) and more equipment (“just pull the cable off the last set. I know we’re going back there tomorrow, but you can put it back in just before we shoot, right?”) and at some point decides that it’s a vast conspiracy (possibly right-wing, LBP’s not sure) to drive him or her crazy and run the production into the ground just for shits and giggles.

At this point, LBP starts making completely unreasonable demands – usually cutting crew and equipment orders to the bone while expecting things to get done more faster and more better with fewer people and less equipment – and when warned by the best boys of what’s going to happen (“We can try to rig three sets in four hours with two people who are ‘breaking away’ from the shooting crew when they have the time in between lighting set-ups, but we probably won’t be ready and you’ll all have to sit and wait while we scramble around trying to catch up”) if they stick to the plan, freak out again and decide to deal with the vast conspiracy (right wing, LBP’s now dead certain) by firing the crew and bringing in people who are more co-operative (read: less experienced).

Let me just take a moment to address any of you producer hopefuls that might still be reading:

Your crew is not trying to screw you over.

We are trying to do things in the most efficient way we know (based on experience. We’ve done this a lot), and sometimes that involves a scary amount of oddly-named stuff upfront (yes, they really are called ‘snakebites’ and we really do need a dozen of them). If an equipment list we’ve turned in really starts to make you dyspeptic, you can always come to us and ask us to try to get the numbers down for you and we’ll do the best we can.

We don’t want you to go over budget, really. We want you to help you impress your evil Porsche-driving overlords so you’ll get better-paying gigs and hire us to come work on them, but you have to trust us.

And I don’t mean that in the “fuck you” sense of the saying. I really mean it. Demanding that we defy the laws of physics and then throwing a temper tantrum when we can’t do it may be entertaining, but it’s ultimately unproductive.

DISCLAIMER: Just because someone is a producer on a low budget show does not mean they’re incompetent – I’ve worked with several who can shave the skin off a nickel and not kill the crew while doing it. These are the folks who trust their crew and let us do our job.

Filed under: mishaps, movies, rants, Work, , , , , , ,

All I needed was two popsicles and a ride home before curfew.

When I was a kid, I never did any babysitting, so I’m not certain that headline joke even makes sense. Be patient – it’s still really smoky here.

So I guess that made yesterday my first babysitting job.

Not for kids, but for the EPK (electronic press kit – you know all those promo bits where the director and cast of the movie sit in a chair in front of a set piece and do sound bites about the movie “Well, working with Joe Blow was just incredible and I know we’re doing something extraordinary here blah blah blah blah” Those are shot on the sets while the movie or TV show is filming) crew that were shooting on the main stage of the TV show I’ve been working on periodically.

Normally, EPK crews are a giant pain in the ass to the shooting crew of any production. Sometimes they show up and want to use our equipment and personnel to light their shot – which is bad if we also happen to need that equipment and personnel to light the movie they’re supposed to be promoting. Most of the time, they bring their own lights but want to use a bunch of ours for set dressing, or they set up right in front of our carts while we’re trying to work – all of us have made at least one accidental appearances in an EPK (I can’t remember which one I got nailed in – all I remember is my sister calling me and telling me that she’d seen me walk through some talking head shot that was airing on some entertainment program, and that I really needed to comb my hair).

Yesterday’s EPK crew, however, brought their own truck with their own equipment and their own guys. They were, however, using our power (it would have been silly for them not to), so two of us had to stay and babysit them because, of course, they didn’t know where anything is on the stage (if they need power pulled out from its hiding place, it’s much easier and faster if they have someone to ask than if they have to search around for it for an hour and then end up calling the best boy and asking him) and we were there to help them and make sure everything got put back in it’s regular spot at the end of the night.

They were all super nice folks (some of whom I remember from the bad old days of low budget music videos) and the day went really well – they had three set ups which were interview areas in different parts of the main set, and although we had a bit of a scramble trying to get them set up in all three at the same time, once we did it was clear sailing and all we had to do was hang out in the gold room and periodically walk around the set to make sure they were okay and answer the occasional random query about where things (various types of cable, the bathrooms, the commissary for lunch) were located. When they were done, they wrapped out their stuff and we wrapped our cable and got the set back to the way it was supposed to be and then called it a day.

I didn’t get a popsicle, though.

Filed under: studio lots, Work, , , , , , , ,

Crosstown traffic and unexpected noises

Yesterday’s work day was at Raleigh Manhattan Beach Studios, which is in Manhattan Beach (bet you didn’t see that one coming). Manhattan Beach is literally all the way across town from me – and involves travel on two of the most notoriously traffic-clogged freeways in the region (the 10 and the 405) – and yet, by using the sneaky surface street route, I made in to work in about 50 minutes (if I’d stayed on the freeway, it would have taken about an hour and a half to get there). A 7 am call time helped as well – with an 8 or 9 am call time at RMBS, there’s simply no route that will get me there in under two hours.

Yesterday was also a new crew (only one of whom I’d met before) and a new stage – when anyone comes into a set that they’ve never worked before, there’s a bit of confusion – where things are stashed, the best route through the set with a big light on a stand (which is too tall to roll through a normal height door), where the distro boxes are (they’re usually tucked behind walls, and more than once I’ve run power to a box 80 feet away, only to find out that there was a box hidden 10 feet away), things like that.

Luckily, whoever designed the rig on this stage was thinking – everything was hidden from camera, but in plain site from behind the set walls, and the other folks working the set were very helpful (and nice) and the day went smoothly.

Except that I’m now on the AD’s* shitlist for making noise during a take. But it’s not my fault – it was the coffeemaker, I swear.

This particular coffee machine had a little dispenser for hot water off to the side, and since I’m still croaking like a frog, I drank hot tea all day in an attempt to soothe my throat. Since I’m usually pretty good about gauging how much time I have before they call ‘rolling’ and I have to be quiet, I ran the hot water right before they rolled, figuring my tea could steep during the take when I had to be quiet – except that this machine made a weird pumping noise right after it finished dispensing water – and right after they’d rung the bell (the bell rings once at the start of the take, and twice when they’ve cut – that way, if you’re not anywhere near an AD, you still know when they’re rolling because the bell is really loud).

Whoops. I set my tea down and walked away very quickly, but I still got busted.

The day’s main topic of conversation in between takes was the impending rain – according to the news, it’s supposed to rain today (of course I just went outside to take the trash to the curb and it’s sunny and gorgeous) and you’d think the world was ending or something. It’s astounding what we just learn to live with here in LA – earthquakes, crime, smog, traffic, Brett Ratner – and yet the threat of water throws us into a panic.
Thanks to the world’s fastest director, we shot just under six pages in nine hours, and I got off work just in time to get stuck in traffic on the way home – but it was a gorgeous afternoon, so I didn’t mind sitting still and looking at the pretty clouds in the blue sky.

Wish me luck parking at the lot today. Since I opted to sit here and write while drinking tea instead of getting over there at the crack of dawn, I’m going to have a hard time of it.

* AD = Assistant Director. On TV shows, they’re the ones roaming around trying to make sure everyone stays quiet during takes. On movies, it’s a PA (production assistant), but for some reason TV shows don’t use as many PAs as movies do.

Filed under: life in LA, long long drives, studio lots, Work, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Avast! A free movie!

I hope your Talk Like A Pirate Day was a good one – although I’ve started to lose my voice, so the “arrr” was a bit difficult for me. Which, since that seems to be the cornerstone of all things Pirate, means I was pretty much fucked for this year.

Oh, well – there’s always 2008.

Tonight was the crew screening for The Kingdom, so I decided to double up and see two movies (since I’m back to work for the rest of the week so I have to squeeze the fun in while I can).

In the afternoon, a friend and I went to see The Hunting Party. Run, don’t walk to see this one. It’s great. In fact, it was so good I may have to see it again.

Then, we went and had dinner and then to the Kingdom screening. The one thing they do at these screenings that makes me nuts is not allowing cell phones. I was waiting on tomorrow’s best boy to call and tell me what time to show up at work (which I consider vital information), so leaving the cell phone in the car would have been bad.

Listen, buddy – I’m the last person who’s going to pirate your movie with my cheesy fucking cell phone that takes two minutes of really crappy video. I ended up sticking the phone in my sock and the guard was so busy searching my huge rubbish-filled purse that he didn’t wand me.

Good thing I had the phone, too – the movie’s start was delayed 20 minutes because the director wanted to ‘say a few words’ beforehand (which mostly consisted of stories about how all the other audiences he’s screened the movie for just loved it, although he did thank the crew and mention that it was a ‘tough shoot’), and I was able, with the help of Verizon’s “let us rot your brain by letting you watch TV on your phone” feature to catch up on The Daily Show.

Turns out, my call time’s not until 7 am, so I was able to sit through the entire movie. I also didn’t see anyone I knew – probably because they were all working on something else, which is the down side of having your crew screening on a weeknight at 7ish, when most of us are still at work (the best time for crew screenings? Sunday afternoons or early evenings. We’ve gotten all our weekend errands done and, unless we’re working on one of those unholy Wednesday through Sunday shows, will actually be able to attend. Seriously – if you’re going to screen your movie and you want the working crew to actually be able to attend, do it on the weekend. It’s a complete fluke that I wasn’t working today and that my call time tomorrow was late enough that I could stay out until past 9pm).

I’m off to bed.

Filed under: humor, life in LA, movies, Non-Work, , , , , , , , ,

A weekend update’s better than nothing, right?

I’m normally an okay lift driver, but every now and then something happens and I fuck up. Wednesday, I got called in to be the condor person, and because they were running behind schedule, I went out to the location of the exterior scene (on the New York Street facades) to change the barn doors on the lights. Barn doors are metal flaps that attach to the front of the light to help control the beam (if the gaffer only wants the light to shine in a small area, then the operator will fold the barn doors partially over the lens so as to narrow the area that the light’s hitting).

There are two kinds of barn doors on lights – two way and four way. Two-way doors have, you guessed it, two doors and four-way doors have, of course, four metal doors.

Gaffers tend to like one or the other, and as a rule they’re very loyal to whatever type of door they like. This particular gaffer can’t stand two way doors and since the lamps had been hung with them, we had to go out and replace them with four way doors on about 10 heads that were hung somewhere in the facades.

The problem with that is that inside the facades, there’s not a direct route to anywhere, really. The interior stairways sort of wind around, and more than once, I’ve humped something heavy up what I thought was the correct stairwell only to find myself 10 feet from where I needed to be, but with no way to get there except to go all the way back down and then back up the correct stairway.

So, after a time of searching through the facades and not finding the lights, we finally had to get the gaffer on the radio (right in the middle of a lighting set-up when he was super-busy, of course) and have him tell us where the lamps were – turns out, they were hung on the outside of the facades in what was dressed to be a back alley, and to get to most of the lamps, we had to use a scissor lift.

Since we’d blown so much time wandering around looking for the lamps, we got in a hurry after being told we only had about an hour to remove the offensive barn doors and replace them – that’s not as much time as it seems like, since scissor lifts can be difficult and time consuming to manoeuvre when in tight spaces. I ended up getting the lift stuck on the uneven pavement, and in my attempts to get it unstuck, ran a tire through the ‘hero’ set piece.

Whoops.

Luckily, the standby painter (that’s the person who is there to fix things like this) got it repaired before the important people saw anything.

Then, Friday, I was back on an insert unit.

Insert units are fun because none of the important people show up – it’s just grabbing the stuff that the actors and the ‘A’ team can’t be bothered with (like a close-up of a watch or a photo or a hand picking something up), so we spent all day just jumping around grabbing bits. We had a fun day, even if lunch was two hours late – which meant the food was cold and mushy (hey, that’s what happens when it sits in a chafing dish for two hours).

Originally, we were supposed to do two episodes’ worth of inserts, but because we ran behind, we only did one – which is fine. We did an 11 hour day and I actually managed to get home in time to get some sleep before having to get up at 7 am in order to be at the MRI place by 8 (and be semi-coherent, of course).

The big surprise Friday was finding out that I had been designated the best boy. Normally, that means a hell of a headache for not a lot of money (think herding cats for 14 hours and then, just when you’re tired and ready to go home, having a mountain of paperwork dumped on you), but since we were just the insert unit the lot best boy* did the time cards and dealt with the equipment, and the crew we had were all really experienced and diligent, so really all I had to do was make the statement at lunch that we needed to make sure everything was “tits”** for first unit on Monday, and it just sort of happened by itself.

Sweeeeet, even though I can’t really take credit for it.

I’ll get results of this morning’s MRI later in the week.

*On studio lots, a show will have two best boys – one for the show, and one for the lot. The lot best boy deals with the lamp dock and all red tape involving set lighting and the studio, and the show best boy deals with the show and his (or her) crew and all location shooting.

** “Tits” is an unfortunate but heavily used (in the film industry, at least) term meaning really, really awesome.

Filed under: studio lots, Work, , , , , , , , , , ,

I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!

Thursday night was supposed to be a fun night – I was on a show that’s got a fantastic crew with whom I always have a great time. Plus, once they moved outside for the big night exterior, I was going up in the condor, which meant even if I couldn’t catch a nap I’d still be able to enjoy the cool breeze that blows 80 feet above the lot on summer nights.

But it didn’t work out like that.

I suppose at this point I should rewind about 10 years (or so).

One night (dark and stormy, of course) before I’d gotten into the union, after a 16 hour day on a low-budget nightmare, our truck broke down and we had to move all our equipment into a replacement truck after wrap but before we could go home (on locations camera, lighting and grip almost never get to go home at wrap – we have to shove all our crap back into our trucks and that can take a while).

The method for doing this is to back the trucks up so the rear ends face each other and the lift gates overlap (in the ‘up’ position about four feet off the ground), and just schlep the stuff from one truck to the other. If you put the trucks side-by-side and go up and down and up and down on the gates, it takes forever and your gates drain their batteries and die right before it’s time to load the really heavy stuff.

At some point during the transfer, I lost my footing on the wet lift gate and fell off the side. On the way down (or maybe when I fell on the surface of the parking lot) I seriously fucked up my left knee (as opposed to my right knee, which I only mildly fucked up) and spent the next couple of hours sitting on the ground, trying to keep from crying as my co-workers finished swapping trucks (I’d car pooled with my boss that day and had to sit there and wait. Not that I’d have been able to drive anyways – I had a stick shift at the time and my left knee wasn’t really working very well).

Production, of course, had sent the medic home at wrap as they didn’t want to keep paying him to sit around while those sweaty people worked.

The next day, I called in sick and went to a doctor who listened to the tale and took one look at my pitiful attempt to walk then started a workmen’s comp claim. He’d gotten to the point where he was ready to order MRIs and figure out exactly what was wrong, then the production company contested the claim (since heaven forbid they pay for an injury), and since I couldn’t afford health insurance, I couldn’t get it treated – I just iced it and stayed off of it for a couple of weeks, and then used a brace at work for a few months while I became better acquainted with over-the-counter painkillers.

After a while, it became normal – I just had a bad knee, and every so often it would act up and I’d have to stay home on the couch, with an ice pack and the remote control waiting for it to settle down. It’s amazing how quickly we learn to live with certain things.

Then, on Thursday night, the knee became incredibly painful – worse than it’s ever been before, and for the life of me I can’t remember doing anything to make it start. I didn’t fall, didn’t run up a bunch of steps, didn’t twist with my weight on it, didn’t kick anyone (hard). I just reported for work and it started hurting right before lunch.

Maybe my knee doesn’t like the commissary.

Lucky thing I went up in the condor because by that time I wasn’t sure if I could even finish out the night and getting off my feet for a few hours bought me some time (now would be a good time to mention that quite a few of us keep working when we’re injured, as we don’t want to be perceived as whiners or ‘high-maintenance’. Generally, the only time I’ll go home is if I’m vomiting so much that I can’t stand up).

It hurt even worse Friday, so I went to the doctor and he x-rayed it, became extremely agitated by said x-rays (he jabbed the image with his finger and said “What the hell is that?”) and then gave me a referral to go see an orthopedist.

My appointment’s Wednesday morning, and I’m going to strap a brace on the knee and try to work tomorrow night. I should be done by 7 am, and then it’s just a not-so-quick drive across town to the doc. Don’t bother telling me I’m nuts, I already know.

Hopefully I won’t have to climb any stairs.

Filed under: mishaps, studio lots, up all night, Work, , , , , , , , ,

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