Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.


The thing about the winter’s first night shoot is I always underestimate how cold it’s going to be – I’ve gotten used to summer, when a long sleeved T-shirt is enough. I bring a few warm things and think I’ll be okay, but I usually have at least one body part that feels like it’s going to freeze off.

Last night, in Chatsworth, the temperature was in the very low 40’s (if you think that’s not cold, then try standing outside all night in low 40’s), and I didn’t bring enough clothing (my torso was fine, but my legs were really cold). I also got stuck baby-sitting the condor (it’s being sent up unmanned, but someone has to stay with it just in case). Had I gone up, I’d have had my sleeping bag and would have been fine. Instead I got colder and colder and ended up trying to burrow under the camo netting* to keep warm.

Camo netting is not an effective blanket.

I ended up having to hike the half mile back to the truck and get my rain gear because I needed the extra layer.

Call time: 2:30 pm
Wrap time: 4:30 am

For the next two nights, we’re in Castaic, which is going to be super cold (the predicted lows are in the mid-forties, but we’re shooting right on the shore of the lake, so it’ll probably feel colder than that), but I’m ready. I’ve packed every warm thing I own, and if I have to, I’ll wear them all at the same time.

Since Castaic is so far away (and we’re on nights, so we’d be fighting the traffic both ways), we’re being put up in hotels. I’ll be back Friday morning.

*When a large piece of equipment which can’t be moved might be in the shot (last night it was the condor base – it’s normally our trucks), it’s draped with military-style camoflauge netting. It looks cheesy as hell to the eye, but the film can’t read it. Sort of. If you know what to look for, you can see it – but if you’re looking at the background trying to see the camo netting, the movie’s got bigger problems than a truck in the frame, now doesn’t it?

Filed under: Work

Four Day Weekend!

Now that I’ve recovered from the food coma, I have to get on a night schedule (we’re shooting nights all week next week), so tonight and tommorow night I have to find an excuse to stay up late (I’m normally a morning person, so this is a big deal) .

I think I’m going to go to M-Bar to see the Lenny Bruce show (okay, it’s not actually Lenny Bruce – it’s a guy named Jason Fisher who’s doing some of Bruce’s routines).

Although next week’s going to suck (I hate nights and working them intermittently for years is the main reason why I have such a terrible problems sleeping now), I’ll have fun tonight!

UPDATE: The show was great – although some of the material felt dated, I was surprised at how much of it still seemed relevant. Jason Fisher did a good job of giving the half-century old routine life, and I recommend the show highly if you’re interested in seeing some of Bruce’s material ‘live’.

Filed under: Non-Work

Casting agents couldn’t duplicate this if they tried

Today, we were shooting in an office building (in scenic Torrance) – and of course had to haul pretty much entire truck up to the second floor (at least they had a good elevator – I’ve gotten stuck before. I’ve also had to run lights up one at a time because the elevator wasn’t big enough to hold our carts. That sucks more than I can explain).

First thing in the morning, the production designer warned us that we had to be super careful with the doors in the office as they were very expensive (over $1500 each). Of course, it was about 10 minutes before one of the doors got scratched – but not by us (thankfully).

We’re still having generator problems, so my boss spent the entire day running around swapping out random stuff. Well over 100 years after it’s discovery, there’s still an element of voodoo to electricity – the littlest things can make portable generators go haywire. Basically, what’s happening is that our generator is having a problem with something somewhere in our cable or distribution and is having to work so hard that it shuts down ( a Power Factor problem – only click the link if you can speak fluent geek). When the generator shuts down, all the lights on the set go out. When this happens while they’re shooting, this is a huge problem.

What’s causing this is anyone’s guess. It could be one thing, or it could be five different things all working together. (I can’t really explain this very well without veering in to major tech-speak).

Luckily, the producers have been very gracious about it and are trying to work with my boss to find the problem and fix it (again, this is largely guesswork – and involves replacing most of our cable* and distro in the hopes that we’ll eliminate the problem).

The other source of amusement today was the pedometer reading.

Last weekend, on a whim, I bought a pedometer, just to see how much I walk at work (we’ve all been saying for years that we walk a lot every day, but no one I know has ever tallied it up). Today was the first day I wore it (well, I wore it Monday, but that doesn’t really count), and I kept checking it throughout the day.

I knew I walked a lot at work, but I had no idea just how much: from 6 am until 8 pm, I walked 16.9 miles. The camera loader (who probably walks way more than me) wants to wear it Monday.

Since tomorrow’s a holiday, after work, some of the crew went to Alpine Village in Torrance to have a drink. Alpine Village is a bad German themed, well, mall. It’s got bad German food, bad German Tschokes, and bad German music. Unbeknownst to us, after dark it’s also a major senior citizen nightspot.

The weird thing is the cover band was playing modern music. Kylie Minogue, Madonna, Santana, etc.. and the seniors, dressed to the nines (some of them in rather revealing disco-mamma wear), dancing like crazy. It was hilarious, but I hope I’m in that spry when I’m their age.

One of the sound assistants and I had a conversation that this would never be in a movie because casting folks can’t come up with stuff like this.

It’s true, you know. Casting people don’t want the background to upstage the actors.

Call time: 6 am
Wrap time: 8 pm
Senior party time: until 10:30 pm, when I ran out of steam and headed home.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

*In layman’s terms, electrical cable is a bunch of really thin wires held together by insulation. This is true for 4/0 (pronounced ‘four-ought’) cable (which can conduct hundreds of amps), your vacuum cleaner cord (which conducts about 18 amps), and everything in between. When the cable is mishandled, coiled backwards (it should always be coiled up clockwise), or run over by cars, these little thin wires break and the cable doesn’t conduct as much electricity. It is a possibility that fucked up cable could be causing the generator problem. Have I mentioned that there’s still an element of voodoo to electricity?

Filed under: Work

I threw up in Trader Joe’s

Monday morning I ordered my standard breakfast off the catering truck – an egg white and spinach omelet with a side of turkey bacon.

Three hours later, I was slightly nauseous and by lunch I was really nauseous, had stomach cramps, and was apparently pretty green around the gills. Despite my protestations that I could tough it out, my boss sent me home.

Good thing too. It got worse as soon as I got home (at least I made it home – I had visions of me pulled over on the side of the freeway, being sick into oncoming traffic). I called the doctor who told me I probably had salmonella and that I should try to drink fluids if I could.

The only problem was a complete lack of fluids in my house (I had a half bottle of wine, some coffee creamer and an expired can of Red Bull); so I went to Trader Joe’s to get some ginger ale and sparkling water. I figured there wasn’t anything left in my stomach, so I’d be safe as long as I got in and out quickly.

I’d forgotten about Thanksgiving.

Trader Joe’s was jammed – the lines stretched halfway across the store, and by the time I got to the checkstand I wasn’t feeling so hot. I managed to pay for my groceries, but I couldn’t quite make it out the door.

They were very nice about the whole thing, but I’m not sure I can go back in there.

Since I’m feeling better, I’m back to work tomorrow – when I talked to my boss on the phone, he said they’d been having generator problems and we’re going to have to swap out all the cable – I missed all the excitement.

Filed under: Work

Sunday’s quest

I put hot sauce on just about everything I eat – eggs, meat, cottage cheese (don’t knock it – nonfat cottage cheese, canned mandarin orange slices, walnuts and hot sauce is damn tasty. I just have to remember to take the Lactaid), quiche, BLT’s, rice, beans, pasta, toast, that cheap caviar from Trader Joe’s, salad, etc…

Hell, I’ve even tried hot sauce on ice cream (now that one didn’t work so well).

My favorite had been Cholula, but the caterer on this movie’s been stocking a brand called Tapatio, which is now officially my favorite. It’s got a good heat level, an excellent flavor, and it’s not too vinegary (Tabasco, while great on oysters and in cajun-style stuff, is a bit too thin for general use).

I’d seen Tapatio at restaurants, and had always reached over it to get to the Cholula, but now I’m converted.

My two missions today were getting the laundry done and procuring some hot sauce. I struck out at Whole Foods and that hot sauce store in the Farmer’s Market (although they do carry Cholula).

Third try’s a charm (or something like that) – I found it at Monsieur Marcel, a gourmet place that’s also in the Farmer’s Market (I’d gone in there looking for something else and just checked the hot sauce selection out of curiosity).

I bought two bottles (I was going to give one to my cousin, who also loves hot sauce; but screw her – she can rot in Tabasco land), and to celebrate my score, for dinner I had oven fries (slice potatoes, bake in oven till crispy) with about a quarter bottle of Tapatio – and a glass of the 2005 Beaujolais Nouveau, which held up surprisingly well to hot-sauce loaded potatoes.

Don’t hate me because of my hot sauce habit.

Hate me because I paired it with a perfectly innocent wine.


Filed under: Non-Work


There’s a lot more involved in loading a truck than one might think. Everything has to be tested (to make sure the lamps burn, the bolts in the stands are tight and the cable’s good), marked (if you’re carrying a rigging crew, everyone picks a different color tape to mark their equipment with – since the rental house bar codes everything, this helps keep everyone’s equipment in their own truck and makes end-of-show returns easier).

On this show, the gaffer is using a lot of his own lights, and he’s just come back from Canada (he left X-Men 3), so we’ve been having to change out the plugs on all the lights (and test them – a lot seem to have been broken by the shipping company), mark everything with our tape color (hot pink for us, yellow for the rigging crew), test fire everything, and then load it in the 48 foot trailer – and it has to be loaded in such a way that it can all be seen, found and gotten out quickly if the gaffer calls for it.

The cable all goes in the belly (lighting trucks have ‘belly boxes’ which are storage areas under the chassis of the trailer – they’re for heavy things like cable and distro, and they’re also good places to sneak a nap), the small lamps get loaded onto carts (so they can be rolled close to the set), and the BFL’s (Big Fucking Lights) and lights that don’t get used often get stowed on the shelves.

Since the rental house closed at 6 (and once the rental house closes, there’s nothing to do), I had the luxury of a free Friday night – which I utilized to the fullest by falling asleep halfway through The Magnificent Seven.

Exciting, huh?

I’m back on the low budget Monday.

Filed under: Work

The Turnaround Blues

“Turnaround” is the time between when wrap is called at night and call time the next morning. Generally, it’s between 10 and 12 hours (anything over 12 hours is cause for celebration), but that only applies if you stay on the same show everyday. If you move from one show to another, all bets are off.

I decided I needed a mini-vacation from the low-budget beatdown and took a two day call loading a truck with some really good friends of mine (whose show happens to be paying scale).

Of course, Tuesday was a 15 hour day on said low-budget beatdown – We closed the doors of our truck at midnight (at our location in bumfuck – a 45 minute drive for me), and today’s call time was 8 am at the rental house.

I’ll fill in on the load-in (Loading the truck at the beginning of the show = load in. Unloading the truck at the end of the show = load out) tomorrow.

Right now, I’m tired.

Filed under: Work

Fun with Teamsters!

For the last week, we’ve had a good-natured argument with the Teamsters over our truck being too far away from set (our truck’s actually been very close to set – right behind camera).

This is actually a big deal – having the truck close means being able to get stuff into set quicker, and means less distance to schlep things – plus, no matter how much stuff you’ve got staged right outside the set, the gaffer will always call for something that you’ve left on the truck. I think they have radar or something. If the truck’s two blocks away, that’s a huge problem.

Normally the camera truck is the closest to set (of course – they have the most pressure on them and the loader’s always running in and out of the truck), but grip and electric (separate trucks – having two departments share a truck is a fucking nightmare) are next in line. Murhpy’s Law being what it is, whomever’s truck is the furthest away will always get peeled and have to empty their truck (if you empty your truck completely, you say you’ve “puked the truck”).

Of course, if you piss off the Teamsters, they’ll make damn sure your truck is always the furthest away. I can walk onto a new show and tell you right off the bat who’s pissed the Teamsters off just by where the trucks are parked in relation to the set.

Today, we were shooting in a diner in the Valley (“Heavenly Pancakes”), and our driver literally put our lift gate four feet away from the back door of the restaurant.

Whenever our driver would walk by, our boss would say “Dammit, could you have gotten us any further away?” and then we’d all laugh.

We have a great bunch of Teamsters on this show.

Call time: 9 am
Wrap time: 10:00 pm.

Filed under: Work

Day 6

We’ve been in the same location for five days now, which has been nice, but tonight was the night we had to wrap out. Since we’re not carrying a rigging crew, that means after they called wrap, we worked for two hours after everyone else went home. We had to load our truck, and pull up all the cable we laid down on Tuesday of last week.

The rest of the movie’s going to be like this. I don’t think we’ll be in the same place for more than three days again.

We’re also going to be on ‘splits’ (a late morning call or near noontime call as there’s both day and night work) for the rest of the week. I don’t mind splits – I can still do things like go to the bank in the morning.

Right now I’m tired, and I have to be back at work in nine hours.

Call time: 9:00 am
Wrap time: 9:30 pm
We finished at 11:00 pm

Filed under: Work

I never thought this was actually going to happen to me.

I ache. On Sunday night, I still ache.

I must have walked 15 miles Friday (night exterior – lighting up an entire suburban block with only four of us. Between call and wrap, I sat down for a grand total of an hour – and that’s including lunch), and when I got up Saturday morning, I could barely walk. Normally I swim for an hour or so and then I feel fine, but no dice this time.

I remember telling my grandmother that the liniment she rubbed on her joints was gross and that I’d never do it. She’d just give me that look and say “you’ll be surprised the things you do as you age.” Sure enough, I’ve smeared my knees and ankles with this nasty smelly Chinese shit and am now wearing leg warmers to keep the chill off in the hopes that I’ll be able to walk without hobbling in the morning.

I so totally did not expect this to happen while still in my 30’s.

One week down, five to go.

I’m not sure I’m gonna make it.

Filed under: Work

November 2005

Flickr Photos



Random Quote

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

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,177 other subscribers

Twitter Updates


Not blogs, but cool

%d bloggers like this: