Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

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

2 Responses

  1. Peggy: Could you give us a few words about flat lighting and why it is simplier for you than what you usually have to rig.

  2. Peggy Archer says:

    Yes.. I’ll do a post on it when I’ve not just gotten home from work and am brain dead.

    Remind me if I forget, please.

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