Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

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, , , , , , ,

The non-exploding explosion

Sometimes, despite one’s best efforts, lighting equipment malfunctions – sometimes quietly, and sometimes loudly.

Most of us are used to small fires and medium kapows. They’re an occupational hazard (along with bad knees, the occasional shock and UV related eyeball damage) and it doesn’t seem to us like we downplay them, but we do, especially when compared to the reactions of witnesses from other departments.

Today, just after lunch, one of our security guards tapped me on the shoulder.

“One of the lights just exploded!”

Now, when someone tells me that a light exploded, the first thing I see in my mind’s eye is a column of flame shooting 20 feet into the air and shards of twisted metal and glass covering the blood soaked corpses strewn about the vicinity.

So, of course, I’m going to try to find out more information before I get any closer to that hot mess.
“Which light?” I asked.

“The big silver one!” he replied, gesturing frantically towards set.

Oh, that’s just fucking great. The ‘big silver ones’ are 18,000 watt  HMIs. I’ve seen one of those explode before. The column of flame wasn’t quite 20 feet high, but there was a lot of broken glass and I cut myself, so… blood.

I decided to follow-up before reacting.

“Tell me exactly what happened”

“The silver box made a loud noise and smoke came out!”

So, not really an explosion. More the aforementioned medium kapow. The silver box is the electronic ballast, and although they can have problems, actually exploding isn’t one of them.

It was probably coincidence. Or a squirrel.

I ventured over to set, reset the breaker on the ballast, and then the self-preservation instinct kicked in. I walked over to the lamp head and tried to strike it*.

Sure enough, there was a muffled “kumpfh” and a puff of something that might have been smoke, but was mostly bad smell from the ballast, followed by the lamp not igniting.

Okay.

So no one’s dead, nothing’s being consumed by an out-of-control inferno, and no one’s bleeding. Much.

Whew.

Makes having to tell the gaffer we’re down a light seem, well, no big deal.

Lucky for us, the kapow happened just as we were given  permission to downsize our HMI window barrage, so it all worked out well.

*One can strike, or turn on, an HMI from either the ballast or the head itself. Usually it depends on what’s easiest or, at the very least, not malfunctioning. You’d be surprised how often striking from the other end works.

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

Seems Legit to Me..

Sometimes, in the zeal to make the notoriously dangerous (no snark intended. Movie folks don’t have the safest jobs in the world) film industry safer, regulations get implemented that are mostly silly but every so often veer into the realm of the certifiably insane.

Currently, all sets with a roof (removable or not), must be equipped with heat detectors. Now, on the surface this may seem reasonable – the set’s roof prevents the fire sprinklers in the perms (which are activated by heat or sometimes by being backed into by a truck, but that’s a different story) from doing their job, so on paper, the detectors make sense. However, since most active movie sets use lights which generate heat, said detectors have added a whole new set of Things We Have To Do Before We Can Go Home.

Because, you see, it’s not enough to place heat detectors in a set which will be lit by large lights that generate lots of heat. We have to mark the location of the heat detectors with bright orange flags. These flags are about 12 inches (30 cm) long and two inches (5 cm) wide and are affixed to the heat detectors with Velcro ™, so that we, the fire department, and anyone who happens to wander into the set can spot said detectors.

The problem with this is that when we shoot, the flags have to be taken down.

So, first thing in the morning, we send a guy through the set in a manlift to pull down all the flags.

Then, at the end of the day when we’re on double time, we send the guy back around to put the flags back up, even if we’re shooting the same set the next day.

The next morning, we’ll walk into the set and send a guy around in a manlift to remove the flags.

It’s like some satanic Möbius strip. Or something.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m more than happy to drive around a set hanging flags while I’m on double time, as is everyone else, but with complaints from the higher-ups about labor costs being out-of-control, this can’t be helping.

Also, the pollen counts here in Los Angeles are the highest they’ve been in years – although my nose isn’t that bad, my ears are blocked so badly that I can hardly hear.  How do I know it’s allergies? Because it’s worse when I’m outside and at the end of the day when the medication’s worn off.

Oh, and Happy Pi Day.

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

Friday Photo

 

The filament of a VNSP (very narrow spot) par globe, informally known as a ‘firestarter’ because the narrow, very intense beam of light can, in fact, start fires.

Filed under: Photos, Work, , , , ,

Living it up at the Hotel California

The two things one must watch out for when shooting in hotels are sprinkler heads and guests.

During the first part of the day we were shooting in an unused conference room which had low ceilings, so although there were no guests lurking about there was a real risk of setting off the building’s fire sprinklers.

Since our lights burn at very high temperatures and the fact that we usually want to light the actors with the lamps above them (unless it’s a horror movie), usually this means having a 300+ degree lamp 2 inches away from a fire sprinkler with a melt point of 150 or so.

In case you’ve never been in a building that’s had it’s sprinklers set off, the water smells horrible (it’s been sitting in the pipes for years), and once it starts sprinkling it can’t be shut off. The firefighters have to shut off the water main, but even after that happens, the water comes out of the sprinklers until the pipes are completely dry.

Needless to say, no one ever wants to set off the sprinklers, so we do take every possible precaution to avoid it from happening.

We never put lamps directly under the sprinkler heads and we used a thermometer to keep track of the temperature, kept heat shields over the top of the lamps – plus we had the hotel’s engineering guys with us, who also had infrared thermometers and the morning was incident-free.

Back in the day, we used to tape a Styrofoam cup over the sprinkler head itself, but that seems to upset the fire marshall (and doesn’t work as well as you’d imagine unless you fill said cup with dry ice, which also seems to upset the fire marshall), so I haven’t seen anyone do that in a long time. Nowadays we just have to be aware of the location of the sprinkler heads and make sure that we don’t put any of our equipment too close to them.

This can be a bit frustrating for the gaffer as he or she sometimes can’t get the lamps in the exact right spot, but I’ve yet to meet anyone who has had a ‘damn the torpedo’ attitude about fire suppression systems – everyone in this industry has either been on The Show That Set Off The Sprinklers or has heard the stories*

In the afternoon, we moved down for a shot in the hotel’s lobby and had to contend with the second part of the equation – the guests. For some reason the amount of common sense displayed by hotel guests is in direct inverse proportion to the amount of money they shell out for the rooms.

Guests in low and mid-priced hotels will carefully watch their step, ask if we’re shooting and if it’s okay for them to walk through a work area. Guests in expensive hotels? Not so much.

The guests at expensive hotels walk around not paying attention to where they’re going, and then when they run into something they scream at the staff, who have understandably become insanely paranoid about movie crews.

Hotel Employee: “Excuse me. You’ll have to move that light”.

Me: “The one that’s over there in the corner with red flashing “danger” signs around it being guarded by three dobermans and a nest of trained hornets?”

Hotel Employee: “Yes, that one. A guest could walk into it and get hurt”.

Guests in expensive hotels also refuse to move out of the way of anyone carrying anything or vary their planned route for any reason at all – even if said planned route means that they have to clamber over the lower rungs of a ladder which is blocking a door to an outdoor patio instead of diverting four feet to either side and using an unobstructed door.  Really, at that point if you’re that invested in not veering to either side you may as well just walk under the fucking ladder.

Luckily, none of us were injured by errant guests and we only damaged the hotel a little bit.

We got finished early enough for me to go to the gym and swim for an hour, which was nice except the network hysteria about the swim team has led to a bunch of people with no clue about pool etiquette to have decided to try to break a world record after they get off work.

*Just because I know you’re wondering – I have, in fact, been on The Show That Set Off The Sprinklers. Twice.

Filed under: locations, Work, , , , ,

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Halfway through a wrap day

Get something out of those jockey boxes, I dare you.

Electricity and water

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