Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

Oh, Crap!

I forgot it was Halloween tonight, and didn’t get any candy on the way home from work.

Of course, I got ambushed as I tried to get from the car to the front door (I almost made it, too).

“Trick or Treeeeet!” yelled a fairy princess (I think she was a fairy princess – she could have also been Prom Night Barbie with a plastic scepter or a slutty party-going socialite with a misshapen golf club). “Give me something good to eat!”

I rummaged through my paper bag of take-out sushi (some nights I’m too tired even to open a can), trying to stall for time.

“Um.. let me see here… what do I have… You can have a salmon roll or… Miso soup! Yum!”

Dammit, why don’t they give you fortune cookies in Japanese restaurants? I could have made a run for it while she was distracted.

“MOMMY! She’s trying to give me food that’s not in plastic! And sounds yucky!”

Aw, fuck.

Mommy said “Leave the nice lady alone, honey”, but still glared at me as she hustled the kids past, and kept shooting me dirty looks until I slunk into the house.

So I guess now I’m the weirdo that tried to give a kid sushi on Halloween.

I should have offered her my wire-strippers. Or a cube tap.

Filed under: Non-Work

Sort of Friday Photo

Originally uploaded by Peggy Archer.

Well, it was taken on Friday.

This is the lit night exterior shot in an alley downtown.

Filed under: Photos, Work

Hey, that’s mine!

One of the things about working downtown LA is rats. Big, fat, sassy rats who aren’t afraid of you, chump.

Tonight, I left my light* for a few minutes to pee and make a sandwich (not simultaneously). When I came back, I saw a really big rat.

A really big rat perched on the arm of my camp chair (with nifty built-in cupholder), daintily sipping my coffee (I still can’t figure out how he got the plastic lid off the cup).

In case you were wondering, flapping your hands and yelling “Shoo!” does not frighten rats in downtown Los Angeles – in fact, it barely makes them look up from their coffee.

I had to lure him off my chair with part of my sandwich.

We’re in the same set-up tomorrow night. I’m going to load up a cup with sugar and milk, hunker down and wait – hopefully I can get a picture of the Really Big Coffee Sipping Rat.

Hey, it beats reading a hand-me-down issue of InStyle over and over. Once I learn which color is the new black, I kind of lose interest.

*When a gaffer places lights on top of buildings or in other hard to reach places, he (or she) usually wants to keep a guy next to the lamp all night – just in case. While this may seem excessive, it’s better than telling him (or her) that it will take 20 minutes to get someone across the street and up onto the roof to move said light 12 inches to the left.

Filed under: Work

What’s really behind those doorways

From the set of N.C.I.S, who didn’t make me sign anything promising not to take photos.

Filed under: Photos, Work

Damn that Murphy guy.

The drive to Santa Clarita ended up being not so bad – but that’s probably because I was going the wrong way. Even at 10 am, the traffic heading towards downtown was bumper-to-bumper.

I don’t go to Santa Clarita very often, and N.C.I.S. shoots in a converted warehouse that’s jammed into a huge industrial park where all the buildings look exactly the same from the street, so by the time I found the right place, I’d missed breakfast, but they’d locked everyone out to do a ‘private rehearsal’, so it all worked out and I ended up being able to grab something from the caterer after all.

For the most part, the day was uneventful – we were insanely overmanned for what we needed to do, and this show uses flat lighting, so there wasn’t a lot of hustling for us. Most of my day was me trying to get my bearings in a new set and figure out the dynamics of a crew I’ve not worked with before.

At lunch, they screened this week’s episode – I’m glad they did, because I’d never otherwise see this show – I will guarantee that it’s on at a time when I’m normally at work; which is why I don’t see that much television.

About an hour after lunch, while we were standing there waiting for camera to reload, I turned to the on-set dresser* and asked, “Why, if this is Naval Crime Investigation, is the lead guy a Marine?” He responded “Oh, the Marines fall under the jurisdiction of the Navy.” According to him, the first Marines were the guys that sat in the rigging of sailing ships with rifles, and they became their own branch of the armed forces sometime before WW1.

I had no idea.

About 10 pm the power went out. I don’t mean just the power to the stage, I mean the power to a large portion of Santa Clarita (all that darkness is odd for city dwellers – it’s so freaky looking up to the night sky in LA and seeing stars).

Of course, this happened just as we were getting ready to roll on our last scene of the night – a scene which had all five of our main actors sitting around a table in a set which immediately went pitch fucking black. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. Most of the crew carry flashlights, so everyone got out okay and there were no injuries (that I heard about, at least). Craft service had just put out dinner, so everyone (except us, of course) got to hang out in the parking lot, munching on gourmet hot dogs (only in California) and chatting in the car-headlight ambiance (in this case, it was a good thing. If they’re thinking about food, they’re not thinking about the delay – no department ever wants to be the one who’s holding up the show).

That extra manpower really came in handy, as we had to scramble to get our big tractor-mounted** generator (normally used only on location), a spare “tow plant” (we had two units running on two separate stages – lucky they had the smaller generator on hand or one of the units would have had to go home) and run cable to the stages so we could get the lights back on and finish the day’s work.

We got it done in about half an hour (very fast). I have to give an ‘attaboy’ to the actors and production team. They didn’t comment on the delay or ask any of us any questions (while it happened or afterwards). They just walked back in and got right back to work like nothing had happened.

About two hours later, one of the guys (who was outside for a smoke) announced over the walkie that the area was swarming with Edison trucks trying to get the power back on.

Although the power came back on about half an hour before we wrapped, we never switched back to stage power – we finished the night on the generators, and they’re going to leave the cable runs down today in case it happens again.

Call time: 10 am
Wrap time: 1 am

* The on-set dresser has nothing to do with wardrobe. Set Dressers are responsible for that stuff that makes a set look like, well, not a set. Paper, coffee cups, unopened mail, empty Chinese take-out containers – the general flotsam of life that accumulates in the corners of every room; even the really tidy ones. It may not seem like much, but it makes a HUGE difference on screen.
Sets are ‘dressed’ well before the shooting crew shows up, but the guy who stays on set and moves things around while we shoot is the on-set dresser. He (or she) also vacuums carpets, polishes grubby fingerprints off glass tabletops and wood furniture, replaces books that crew members have been reading, and generally keeps everything camera ready.

**No, not Grandpa Clampett’s rusty John Deere. ‘Tractor’ refers to the cab section of a tractor-trailer, or semi, or “goddammit, get those damn things off the road before they smash someone flat”. Film trucks will have generators mounted right behind the cab – usually two – called ‘the twins’ (as in “Shit, the power’s down to the whole area – start running cable and we’ll pull the twins around).

Filed under: Work

This is the best I can do before I’ve had coffee.

Normally, when I need work, I have to get on the phone – calling everyone I know and asking if they’re working and need guys.

When it’s busy (like now), I don’t have to work that hard; all I have to do is call our union, register as out of work and I’ll be sent out on a call within a few hours.

This won’t last, so I’m taking advantage of it while I still can.

Today, I’m off to NCIS (I have zero idea what that is) which shoots in Santa Clarita. Santa Clarita is a suburb about 30 miles north of L.A, and there’s only one way in and out – Interstate 5.

I have a 10 am call, and I’m going to have to leave in about 10 minutes in order to make it by 9:30.
(generally, one wants to be there at least 15 minutes early – 30 if there’s a caterer who’s serving breakfast. Arriving right at call time is considered ‘late’).

Plus, I have to stop along the way and get coffee so my brain will be working by the time I get there.

I promise I’ll be more coherent when I get home.

Filed under: Work

Just too good for words.

Got called for a job that I can’t take because I’m working on something else already – this is unfortunate, but happens all the time.

This particular call was for Fast and Furious 3. The notable thing about this is the rigging department’s outgoing voicemail message.

“Hello, you’ve reached the rigging office of Fast and Furious two… no, three…. wait. Four.”
“Which fucking movie is this? Two? Four? Oh.. Three. You sure? Okay, then”.
“You’ve reached the rigging office of Fast and Furious Three. Please leave a message, and we’ll call you back right away. If you need to page us, call XXX – XXXX. Thank you.”


Filed under: Work

The Pet Bull

Today, as we were sitting on the lift gate of the truck, waiting for production to finish the two-hour long meeting they just had to have in the set we needed to rig, we started talking about our pets.

One of the guys was waxing poetic about the greatest dog that he’d ever had – which happened to have been a pit bull. As he continued the story, it took me a few moments to realize that he was saying “pet bull” and not “pit bull”. It was on the tip of my tongue to ask “You meant pit bull, right?”, but I stopped and thought about it for a moment.

“Pet Bull” is, in fact, a very descriptive term. It brings to my mind a big, joyous drool factory of a dog who’s always jumping on you to kiss you, trying to crawl into your lap while you’re watching TV, wagging it’s entire back end when you get home from work, and dropping slobber laden chew toys at your feet in an attempt to get you to play ‘fetch’.

Turns out, this is a spot-on description of the dog.

The dog also loved everyone – the mailman, the cops, the guy reading the gas meter, muggers – with equal enthusiasm.

Since most people who get pet bulls – er, pit bulls – want them as guard dogs, the coining of a new phrase for a happy friendly pit bull seems perfectly logical.

Pit Bull + Pet = Pet Bull.

Makes perfect sense to me.

Tragically, the pet bull disappeared one night – stolen by robbers who broke into the house, took the TV, the stereo, the dog, and all the dog’s food and toys.

Good pet bulls make bad guard dogs, I guess.

Filed under: Work

You didn’t see nothin’.

Okay, let’s try this without the Vicodin (I tweaked the wrist at work yesterday, and then made the mistake of trying to update the blog last night – which resulted in one hell of an incoherent entry):

Yesterday, I was back on the Bones rigging crew (and thank heavens for that – the shooting crew had a 5 pm call, which means they probably called wrap at 7 or 8 this morning).

Most of what we were doing was wrapping out a courtroom set that we shot yesterday (the set was part of the recently cancelled show Head Cases: Bones shot in it Thursday, and House is shooting in it Monday).

One of the things that’s not so great about the new, evolved, safety-conscious film industry is that we have a ton of restrictions on what we can and can’t do, and all of the studios now have ‘safety compliance’ departments – which consist mostly of people who wander around and bust you if you violate that particular studio’s written safety policy*.

For work on elevated walkways (the permanent catwalk system or ‘perms’, and ‘greenbeds’ which are walkways hung just over the top of the sets), people not trained on and certified to use fall arrest systems (“yo-yo”s) must stay within the confines of the handrails at all times.

Someone (like me) who hasn’t got this certification may not stand on the knee or hand rails (to increase reach), crawl out onto the beams of the perms to retrieve objects, or go for a stroll on top of the set walls (which are outside the confines of the handrails).

Of course, we end up violating these rules on a fairly regular basis.

The trick is to violate the rules as quickly as possible to make sure that one doesn’t get caught. You can’t use the walkie to ask where the safety rep is, because production usually monitors walkie conversations, and if they hear a request for the safety rep, they’ll call them and send them to your stage.
For obvious reasons, it is unwise to use the walkie to announce intentions to break the rules – “Hey, I’m going to climb up onto the handrails of the walkway – somebody make sure the coast is clear.”

Naturally, there was one stubborn stinger (that’s what we call an extension cord) that I couldn’t get from the greenbed (despite my pulling really hard), so I had to go out onto the ceiling pieces of the set (not such a big deal if you know where to step, big problem if you don’t) in order to retrieve it. Of course, because I was in flagrant violation of Fox’s written safety policy, the damn thing had been taped down every few feet, requiring me to walk out further and further away from the greenbed in order to free it up. By the time I got the damn thing coiled up, I was standing on top of a set wall which was at least 20 feet away from the walkway.

Generally, among crew members, there’s a policy of turning a blind eye towards that sort of thing – it’s assumed that you know what you’re doing and are doing it for a good reason. If it becomes clear to a crew member that whomever’s violating a safety policy doesn’t know what he or she is doing, we’ll report it to that person’s direct supervisor (“hey, Bob – your new kid’s about to get himself killed. You might want to check on him.”).

Luckily, I didn’t get busted – although one of the painters looked up at me as I was WAY far off the greenbed. I just looked back at him and said (with a smile, of course) “You didn’t see nothin’, pal” to which he replied (also with a smile) “Wow. It sounds like there’s a voice coming from up there, but I can’t see anyone.”

*I wholeheartedly support the industry’s attempt to make the job less dangerous, and I applaud the safety program for basically forcing producers to pretend to give a shit about my health and welfare. I also do not condone or advise in any way, shape, or form violation of established safety procedures.

Rules, however, were sometimes made to be broken, and I’d just love it if they’d trust my judgment and knowledge of what’s safe and not safe – for myself – in any given situation.

Filed under: Work


I get asked the question “What made you start this blog?” a lot.

I started this blog to prove myself right.

After years of hearing “Wow, your job must be so interesting”, “People really would eat this up”, and “You should write a book” I started the blog – if only to prove to everyone that I’m really a complete bore and no one wants to read about me or my job.

I guess I’ve been proven wrong, as folks do seem to be interested, but I’m still afraid that I make my job seem a lot more action-packed and fascinating than it really is.

I blog about stuff that happens to me – but there’s a lot of time in between that stuff, and most of it’s spent waiting.

Waiting for talent.
Waiting on camera.
Waiting on lunch.
Waiting to see if they’re going to move on.
Waiting for the AD’s to call ‘cut’ so I can turn the page of the newspaper.
Waiting on the sun to go down so we can light the night exterior.
Waiting for no fucking reason at all.

Even rigging (setting up for the shooting crew) involves waiting:

Waiting to be let into the location.
Waiting for equipment to be delivered.
Waiting on the truck to show up so we can load it.
Waiting for the rigging gaffer to tell us what to do.
Waiting for the guys ‘up high’ to send the rope back down so we can tie on another load of cable.
Waiting on paperwork from the rental house.

I’d say that, on average, about 70% of my day is spent waiting.

When we have to wait, we take the time – even if it is just an attempt to stave off boredom – to talk to each other, find a common ground, and make friends of people we’d otherwise never speak to. I once had a 20 minute conversation with one of the biggest producers in Hollywood who never, ever would have spoken to me if we hadn’t been trapped on a set – waiting, of course – and both been huge Futurama fans.

No matter who we are, where we come from, or what job we do, the beast that is the film industry forces us all to wait – locked on a sound stage, trapped on a location with no cell service, shivering on a night shoot in the dead of winter – and thus we find a strange sort of equality.

Okay, maybe it is kind of interesting.

Filed under: Work

October 2005

Flickr Photos



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"If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better." -Anne Lamott

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