Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

It’s there, but I don’t have it

It’s been a very long time since I fell asleep at the wheel while driving home.

The first time, it was after a 16+ hour overnight in the high desert and I dozed off while stuck in rush hour gridlock. I woke up when my face hit the steering wheel, but luckily my foot never came off the brake.

There have been a few more times over the years – mostly just weaving on the road and having to roll down the windows or stomp the floor of the car with my left foot.

It just became a thing. Night work meant a fun drive home trying to out-weave the drunks, but I never felt concerned (if I should have is another post).

But I was really frightened Saturday morning when I dozed off while travelling southbound on the 405 at approximately 80 mph.

Luckily, I just weaved in my lane and then stomped the hell out of the floor of my car and made it home.

Wait.. let me back up.

This time of year work is thin, so when I got a call to work Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I said yes before I asked any questions.

It was only after I was booked that the best boy told me it would be all nights on the other side of town.

Nights bother me a lot more now than they did when I was younger – I have a much harder time adjusting, and if I’m flipping between days and nights it’s even worse.

It would have been bad form for me to say ‘no’ after accepting the job, even with the construction in the unit above me (they say they’re remodeling it, but really I just think they’re chopping holes in the walls, patching them and cutting them out again just for practice), so I was stuck.

Lucky for me I was with a wonderful bunch of guys that I really like a lot – but that construction starts up at 7 am and I can’t sleep later, even with earplugs and a white noise machine, so even with the interim days off I spent an entire week on so little sleep I think it might have qualified as cruel and unusual.

As an added bonus, Friday’s pre-call ‘breakfast’ of a seemingly harmless turkey burger resulted in a three-day bout with rotavirus.

I got picked up for this week as well, which is great, but it’s been 7 am call times all week. Between the sleep loss and the power cleanse today was the first day I’ve felt even vaguely human.

Tomorrow, our call time is 6 am in west bumfuck, so I will have to get out of bed at 4:30. AM.

We have 9 pages to shoot, but it’s all day exterior and we don’t have enough lamps to make daylight*, so it can’t go all that late.

Since I didn’t post anything last week, please enjoy an apology photo of uplit trees and a condor with someone besides me in the basket:

P1050103

 

*It is possible to shoot day exterior at night, but you need a lot of equipment. Like a 48 foot trailer full of HMIs. Then, when the sun goes down, we unload the truck and curse our poor life decisions.

 

 

 

 

Filed under: crack of dawn, cranky, locations, long long drives, movies, Photos, up all night, 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 don’t feel so good.

I was ready for the heat Monday. I drank water, I took electrolytes, I stayed in the shade whenever possible. Except for the sweaty smell (and the fact that my bowels stopped working for about 24 hours – TMI, sorry), I was fine.

I came home feeling not nearly as bad as I’d anticipated.  I made it through the hot day, and the next two days would be easy, right? On stage, in the shade where it would only be 100F.. cake.

Then, I woke up.

I rolled out of bed feeling like absolute shit. I felt like I’d been on a three-day long bender in Tijuana and topped it off with 6 am rotgut shots and one of those dirty water hotdogs from a street vendor. No sauerkraut.

I made the mistake of having a cup of coffee, which, instead of making me feel more awake, made me feel worse.

Once I got to the stage and started rigging lights, I didn’t feel any better. I was drinking water and taking more electrolytes and still felt bad.

Four liters of water later and I started to feel semi-human again. We got off work early-ish and I went to the gym, but didn’t work out. I jumped in the pool and the 80 degree water made me shiver – which, by the way, felt great. I then hung out in the cafe and played Words With Friends with one of the personal trainers until it was cool enough to return to my un-airconditioned apartment.

Wednesday, we had a much later call (10 am) because we had to wait for the set dressers to finish before we could start (doesn’t help us to wire up wall sconces when the decorator comes in at lunch and changes everything), and miraculously, I felt pretty good all day.

I kept drinking water just to be safe, though.

Today, it’s finally cooled off enough to be bearable. Let’s hope it stays that way.

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

Crack of dark

Over the years, I’ve gotten used to getting up early. Five am is pretty common, four am sucks but is doable, but yesterday I got up at 2:45. In the morning.

In a flash of foresight unusual for me, I have the alarm placed all the way across the room so I have to get up to hit the snooze button. In theory, this means if I get up, walk across the room to turn off the alarm I’ll stay up.  Most times this just means I get up, hit the snooze button and climb back into bed, but the shock of seeing the alarm go off at such a disturbing hour kept me up.

I then shuffled into the kitchen, made coffee and had some breakfast since I correctly assumed there wouldn’t be any food options at 4 am at our location – a high school in the Valley at which I’ve worked many, many times.

The good part about starting work at 4 am is that it’s not hot yet, which is a big plus in September in Los Angeles.  We ran out our cable in the pre-dawn coolness, and although I forgot my headlamp (took it out of the work bag to change the battery, and when I got home I found it sitting right there on the coffee table where I’d placed it so I wouldn’t forget to put it in the work bag), I still managed to see well enough to not trip and fall.

We changed some tubes in the classroom and the hallway, and when the caterer opened we had breakfast.

I couldn’t figure out why I was so hungry, then realized I’d last eaten at 3 am and it was now 7:30.

After wolfing down various egg products, we rigged some lights, ran some more cable, wrapped the first location and then ran more cable in a thankfully not very smelly gym.

Also, we were very lucky that the school had no students that day. It’s not that I don’t like teenagers, it’s just that it’s incredibly difficult to work around them since they tend to form packs.

The other nice thing about really early calls is getting released early. Since this particular show doesn’t want to keep the rigging crew on for more than 10 hours, we were on our way home at 3 pm – before the traffic got bad.

Once I got home, it was a struggle to stay awake until 8, when I gave up and went to bed.

Filed under: crack of dawn, locations, long long drives, Work, , , , , , , , ,

Friday Photo

Three-Fers, cropped

Sometimes, when one is doing cable runs, one wants the ability to branch out and make a single cable into multiple cables – much like a power strip that you use in your house, only with a lot more power.

Enter the three-fer.

It allows us to plug three things into one cable. It’s usually used at a distribution box to allow the connection of an HMI ballast and some smaller cable (banded, as opposed to the heavy cable).

One has to be careful, though, as the three-fers aren’t rated for as much electricity as the cable and if overloaded can cause a fire.

Exactly like a power strip in your house, only with a lot more fire.

One of my greatest regrets in life was not having a video camera on The Night The Cable Caught Fire. It was *cough cough* years ago and the reactions of production (screaming, running around, tearing out of hair) compared to the reactions of the electricians (calmly walking to the shutoff and killing the power, then telling anyone who was in earshot about the *really* big fire they saw on another set) was priceless.

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

Wackiness Ensues

Friday, there was a big long discussion about the equipment we would need for our day exterior yesterday.

Since Monday was predicted to be overcast, we anticipated having to manufacture our own sunlight and requested a tow plant (a generator which is towed as opposed to being mounted on the tractor) and two 18ks.

Production shot us down and told us we could have a 5500 watt portable Honda (referred to as a putt-putt) and a 4k HMI.

The first problem we had was the rain. We were shooting inserts for a scene which had been shot in full sunlight, and since we were being rained on no matter how close we got the camera to the hand with the key (or something) the one small light we had just wasn’t enough to make the shot match, were we even able to use it.

Which brings me to the problem with the generator itself.

Most of these portable generators have a 60 amp outlet, which is enough to power one light which pulls about 40 amps.  So we were very surprised to see this:

Who thought this was a good idea?

That, dear readers, is a 60 amp outlet with a 20 amp breaker, thus rendering said outlet completely useless for our purposes.

None of us can figure out the logic behind  doing that, but clearly there was some as every single putt-putt on the lamp dock with a 60 amp outlet had a 20 amp breaker.

So, after a mad last-minute scramble, we procured a 1200 amp tow plant and an 18k (but just one – not the two that we’d asked for) to get the shots we needed.

At, might I add, considerably more expense and delay than had we been able to arrange all this Friday.

Once we got back to the stage, the rest of the day was all about screaming babies and trying desperately to get them to shut the fuck up and look adorable for 10 seconds.

The babies, of course, were having none of it, and since legally we can only keep them on set for a certain amount of time, we’ll have to go back and try to get the shot another day.

Oh, and Happy Valentines Day, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Filed under: Photos, Work, , , , , , , , , , ,

When will I ever learn?

It started out innocently enough.

We were rigging a location in one of Los Angeles’  more upscale neighborhoods. I’ve believe I’ve mentioned before that the more expensive the area, the more the residents hate film crews.

Since this was to be a night shoot, we had three condors to rig with BFLs (Big Fucking Lights).

Said condors were parked on the street – the bases didn’t block anyone’s ingress, but when we had the arms lowered to load them up, the basket of one of them was right in the middle of a driveway.

We figured that since it was the middle of the day, it wouldn’t be a problem as long as we worked quickly.

Oh, so wrong.

Just after we got the arm down, a woman came charging out at us like an angry hornet, yelling at us to get that damn thing off the street.

At first we thought she was trying to get her car out of the driveway, and we explained to her that we’d raise the arm back up for her to back out, but it turns out she was getting upset about the condor base parked in front of her house (and probably the whole shoot in general).

I can’t blame her. I hate it when a fucking film crew invades my neighborhood. Bastards. Who do they think they are?

The main problem was that she wanted us to move the base of the condor, which we’d put there because our boss the Rigging Gaffer told us to do so. The Rigging Gaffer was presumably informed of condor placement by the Gaffer, who was asked to have ‘some sort of big light’ in that place by the Director of Photography.

Me? I’m just following orders. I can’t move the condor to the next house over. I’ll get yelled at and likely beaten (or something) if I start to think for myself.

In any case, crew people are not encouraged to try to problem solve when it doesn’t involve inanimate objects, so any angry homeowners must be sent to the locations people, who are all much better  at dealing with umbrage than are rigging crews.

After being told that we were looking for the locations manager, she rolled her eyes, told us that wasn’t good enough and added “Get that thing out of here or I’ll have it towed!”

I couldn’t help myself.  She stood there, glowering at me while holding her auto club card and her cell phone, poised to dial, and I responded with “I’d like to see that.”

She turned purple and accused me of mocking her, but I was serious.

I would love to see Billy Joe from BJ’s towing show up, whistling a happy tune, expecting to hitch up some Honda and finding an elevated work platform with an 80 foot boom arm. Hell, besides ‘a shitload’ I don’t even know how much those things weigh. When the rental company pick them up and drop them off, they come in a 48 foot flatbed trailer with a full-sized tractor.

Somebody please video that and upload it to YouTube. I need a good laugh.

Eventually, it all got smoothed over, after the locations guy told her I wouldn’t be back the next day (I’m on a different show and was only on a one day call). She’ll look out at the shooting crew, not see me and feel a flush of beige triumph that she got that awful toolbelt person fired.

Joke’s on her, though. She’ll still have a condor parked in front of her house.

Filed under: locations, Work, , , , ,

What a difference a decade makes

The last time I worked at the Redondo Beach power plant was at least 10 years ago. Maybe longer.  We ran cable all over the place and production issued us no safety gear, gave us no admonition to watch out for lead paint or broken floors or random dangerous things. We went in, did the job, brushed the paint chips off before we got in the car to go home and that was that.

Complaints about the interior of the plant would likely have been met with a helpful suggestion to shut the fuck up and get back to work.

This particular building was completely vetted for asbestos quite some time ago, so that’s really never been a concern (especially for those of us who worked at the Ambassador Hotel, which was asbestos central), but what’s left now is an astonishing amount of lead paint that’s peeling off almost every visible surface inside and outside the plant.

So this time, with the new kinder gentler film industry, we were issued hard hats, given a very long lecture by the studio’s safety department, and informed that a cleaning crew had been in for days in an attempt to manage the peeling lead paint in the plant. Although the lower level of the plant (where the actors were) was really, really clean (as in the cleanest industrial location I’ve ever seen), the metal mesh upper decks between the pipes where we were walking around and setting lights hadn’t been cleaned or sealed at all.

So each time we had to lean over to set a light, shimmied past the stands to get to a light, walked over the set,  or exhaled heavily we’d brush something or other and send a shower of dust and paint chips down on the actors who were sitting in the nice ‘clean’ set below. When there are sixteen lights, flags, stands, four electricians and three grips in a tight space it’s just not possible to avoid bumping or brushing up against things no matter how hard one tries.

Since the set was spread out over two levels of the plant, we put half our carts on the lower level and half on the upper level – of course, when I was upstairs, whatever I  needed was in the downstairs carts and when I was downstairs, whatever I needed was in the upstairs carts.  Also, due to the layout of the levels, the locations of the stairs and having to avoid those pipes made getting from one place to another a bit challenging.

Although the hard hat made me feel marginally safer, with the maze of pipes around narrow walkways, random metal bits sticking up out of the floors and protruding from the walls I bashed every single part of my body except my head. I should have worn body armor and shin guards.

Call time: 10:30 am

Wrap time: 2:30 am

Heading home after wrap, I got turned around and couldn’t find the entrance to the freeway – when I finally found one, there was only an on-ramp going in the wrong direction. Sometimes I hate you, Los Angeles.

Once I managed to get on the freeway I drove like the proverbial bat out of hell and got home at 3.

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

Welcome back to work. Have some coffee.

I’m a habitual early riser – barring an all-night shoot or some sort of post-midnight catastrophe, I’m up by 8 (if I manage to do anything productive by noon is a completely different story). So when I got a mid-day call to report to work at 3 pm the first thing I did was go to my favorite overpriced coffee joint and order the equivalent of a Big Gulp. Saying ‘no’ to the job didn’t even enter my mind, once I figured out I’d be able to make it to the location on time. Right now I’m in no position to turn down any sort of work – even if it means my having to prop my eyelids open with toothpicks on the drive home. Killer bees at the location? Dust storms? Toxic waste? Poison Oak? Hottentots? Rabid gophers? Michael Bay? Fine, fine. Just tell me when to show up.

Being picky about which jobs one takes is a luxury reserved for when it’s busy. If I’m fielding work calls every day, I can afford to turn down the two-and-a-half hour drive or horrible pay rate or the location that’s hotter than hell/infested with angry rattlesnakes/oozes green goo.

This time, though, I got lucky – the drive wasn’t too bad and I was working with a great bunch of guys who I like a lot, so I had fun and my pre-work coffee guzzle turned out to be unnecessary as we didn’t work that late. I was home by midnight.

Filed under: Work, , , , , ,

Lawn care mishaps

Yesterday’s best boy is someone for whom I’ve not worked in a long time, but I’m always happy to hear from him since he’s a terrific guy. I’ve never once seen him get angry or blow his cool, which is remarkable given how high-stress the best boy position can be.

So when he got on the walkie sounding extremely stressed and upset, we all knew something was terribly wrong.

“Get over to staging, now.. move!”

Then, as we all started to walk very quickly, he said the ‘s’ word – sprinklers.

You know, sprinklers. Those things that you put on a timer so your lawn gets watered and you don’t have to think about it ever until a movie crew comes in to shoot in your house and you don’t know how to turn off the sprinklers because they’ve been set for years and you lost the manual so you lie to the location manager and tell him they’re turned off when really they aren’t*.

Then, said film crew comes along and parks our equipment right where it’s going to be easy to get to once we start running in and out of the house (which is usually in the driveway somewhere) and then after we get all settled in… it’s sprinkle time.

Although we always try never ever to appear panicked on set (makes everyone else nervous and it makes it seem like we’re not in control of the situation), having a lawn sprinkler go off right next to our head carts and distro boxes will make us scramble like, well, like people scrambling to get expensive lighting equipment out of water. When there’s a threat of rain, we carry these big plastic bags that go over the carts, but we generally leave them on the truck if the weather forecast is for clear skies.

The funny thing about this is that whenever there’s any kind of water, most non-set lighting people freak out about the cable getting wet. Really, this is no big deal – the cable itself is waterproof, and can get as wet as it likes – hell, the cable itself can be submerged in water and it’s fine. It’s the place where one piece of cable connects to the next that’s the problem (or when a piece of cable connects to a distro box).

Also, there are other, more expensive pieces of equipment that don’t like to get wet under any circumstances.

Like yesterday – the real panic was about the HMI lamps – those things can’t get wet under any circumstances**, and since we were told the sprinklers were off, we parked the cart right next to a sprinkler head (we weren’t even thinking about it – locations had told us they were off, so we picked the best spot).

Hence the scramble.

After we’d moved our carts (and put traffic cones over the sprinkler heads to contain the spray), we surveyed the damage, and luckily only two of the heads (the light itself) got wet and none of the ballasts, so we just didn’t use those, which wasn’t a problem since we were working for one of the (increasingly rare) DPs who don’t overlight, so we only used about half our stuff.

The real tragedy was that my newspaper got soaked before I had a chance to read it.

Note to homeowners: If you don’t know how to turn off the sprinklers, please for the love of all that’s holy tell the location person that – no one’s going to think you’re stupid. Hell, they probably don’t know how to turn off their sprinklers at home, either, but instead of letting it go and potentially causing tens of thousands of dollars of damage to equipment (because set lighting’s not the only ones who have stuff that doesn’t like water), just say something and someone will figure out the system.

Please.

Once my boss got to the sprinkler control panel, it took him about 90 seconds to turn them off.

*After the panic died down, the homeowner finally confessed.

**Tungsten lamps – which are the same color temperature as your indoor light bulbs and are much less finicky than HMIs – can get wet (when they’re not burning, of course – when they’re burning they shouldn’t get too wet because the lens can crack and if water gets inside it can cause a short) and they’re fine, because they have no electronic parts in them.  HMIs are full of electronic gizmos that react really badly to water – or getting too hot, or getting too cold, or getting power that’s not the exact right kind.

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

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