Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

Chasing the last bit of sunlight

In Southern California’s summer, day exteriors are a leisurely thing.

The sun rises at 5 am, and it’s not fully dark until almost 9 pm.

This time of year, however, when it’s fully dark by 6:30 pm, day exteriors are a rush – we have to get done before we run out of light.

When the daylight runs out and there’s still day exterior stuff on the schedule for the day(this happens all the time), we start having to set up more and more lights in an effort to finish the day while fighting the ever-deepening twilight. The trick is to do the wide shots (where you see the world) while there’s still light and then do the close ups after it gets dark – it’s easier to fake daylight on a shot where we’re only seeing the actor’s face and a bit of surrounding area.

No matter how you try to make night look like day on a wide shot, it never, ever works.

Luckily, last night we only ended up with six lights (all big ones – which have to go onto the shelves before we fill the aisle of the truck with carts – but having one’s truck “puked” on the last shot of the day seems to happen fairly often. ) off the truck at wrap and got out of there fairly quickly – good thing, too. We almost missed our “hard out”*.

*A “hard out”, also called “tail-lights”, means that we have to have our trucks pulling out at a certain time – this means that ‘camera wrap’ must be called an hour or two before hand, so that we can get our trucks loaded in time to make the hard out. In some parts of LA, this time is more flexible than others. Malibu is notorious for having a VERY inflexible hard out time of 10 pm.
It still amazes me how many times a production will shoot past the camera wrap time, get fined or whatever happens to them, and then blame the crew for not wrapping our gear fast enough – particularly if we’ve told them ahead of time that we have a two hour wrap and they only leave us 45 minutes until the out time.

Filed under: Work

So tell me… Do you feel lucky?

Once again today, we were shooting in a small set with only one entrance.

Generally, everyone tries to keep out of the doorway, because no one wants to obstruct someone else from getting in. It’s a very complicated dance, but we manage to do it and make it look easy somehow.


The one guy (I think he was either a producer or a network exec) who would refuse to move and then stare balefully at whomever was trying to get by- as if daring us pathetic drones to challenge his mightiness. He did it to us, grip, the set dressers and even camera (who normally don’t get quite as much shit as the rest of us).

So – if you happen to be someone who thinks that refusing to move out of the door into the set we’re lighting is some way of reminding us that you’re important, remember this:

If – while you’re trying to show me how inconsequential I am by not moving out of my way – I accidentally slam into you with a burning hot light or the pointy end of a steel stand, I’ll get fired.

My boss will send me home early after telling me that I really fucked up this time and he can’t hire me until the next show, and while I’ll feel a twinge of guilt about my brothers and sisters working the rest of the day with a short crew, I’ll have the afternoon off.

I’ll go to the gym, have lunch with a friend, maybe see a movie. Then, when I come home, I’ll make a few phone calls and be working on another show the next day. Plus, I’ll have a really, really good story.

You, on the other hand, will go to the hospital and will be lucky if you just get stitches.

Really now, who do you think is the winner here?

Filed under: rants, Work


Saturday and today I was working on an insert shoot for the last movie. Inserts are those really really close up shots – a pack of cigarettes, the face of an alarm clock, a hand reaching for something, a newspaper headline.

They’re usually not shot at the same time as the main movie, and they usually don’t use the actors – since all you’re seeing is extreme close ups on body parts, a double will do.

The editor’s usually there as well, since he or she knows what needs to be shot. They have playback of what’s been cut together so far – and the playback is checked constantly, as they have to match the lighting, costumes and props so everything will cut together (although a lot of time the lighting in inserts doesn’t match at all and they’re counting on the fact that you – the moviegoing public – won’t notice).

This time, they have the DP from the movie (running “A” camera. The “B” camera DP wasn’t on the movie), the same gaffer, the same electricians and the same grips. This is a very good thing as we usually remember how we lit something – especially if we did something unusual – in Saturday’s case, it was a scene in a diner where the gaffer had put a really yellow light outside the window, and the B camera DP wouldn’t have been able to match it had we not been there.

Tomorrow I’m back on the TV pilot. It’s supposed to rain, so it’s a good thing that we’re on a stage.

Filed under: Work

I have to see that guy more often.

It all started last week – I got that sciatica pain (right at the top of the butt) that normally goes away if I can just get everything to adjust. Normally, all I have to do is swing my hips around and it goes away, but not this time. This time, as the pain continued and I kept swinging my hips around to try and make it stop, more and more things started to hurt – by the end of this week, whenever I moved wrong, one of my hips would make this horrible popping noise which hurt enough to make me yelp like a puppy.

Last night, I called my chiropractor and begged him to see me after I got off work (he’ll see me on a Saturday night if I can convince him that it’s really an emergency). When I got there, his comment was “Wow – you’re really fucked up” and then he proceeded to make it better.

I love my chiropractor. I hadn’t realized how bad I’d felt until I felt better.

The problem with working long hours (and having 10 hour turnaround every night) is that it’s impossible to get anything done – I come home, go right to sleep, get up and go right to work. So, when I do get a day off, I don’t rest – I have to fit a week’s worth of life into 12 or so hours – laundry, stuff around the house, grocery shopping, car stuff, etc.. Plus, I feel guilty when I don’t work out, so I usually try to go to the gym.

According to the chiropractor, I’ve been running myself into the ground (not to mention eating too much crap and drinking too much coffee) and am ‘toxic’ and dehydrated, which has led to some sort of musculoskeletal freakout. When I told him I’d had plans to swim today, he hit the roof. “No swimming, no gym, no bike riding! I want you to rest tomorrow – stay home, stay off your feet.”

“I can’t stay in bed all day” I protested.

“Well, you should, but try to keep the activity to a minimum tomorrow. You have got to rest.”

So, although I didn’t work out, I did have to run some errands, so I was on my feet for a few hours. I hope this means I’m not going to hurt like hell for the rest of the week – this morning was the first day this week I’ve not had any pain, although my feet started to hurt near the end of the day.

Pilot season’s almost over, and in a couple of weeks there won’t be any work at all, and I can rest like hell then, but I have to work as much as I can while I’ve got the chance. I just need that smartass spine-mangler (and I say that with love) to get me through the next couple of weeks.

He’s also put me on a special diet – no meat, no sugar, limited caffeine, and lots of water. This is going to suck at work. One can only pee so often before it starts to become an issue with one’s boss (not to mention the problems finding something edible on the crafty table).

Tomorrow is some additional shooting for the last movie (so it should only be a 12 hour day), and then I’m back on the pilot for the rest of the week.

Filed under: Work

Many, many apologies for the three of you who are still reading

My brain is fried.

Monday – call time: 6 am, wrap time: 8 pm
Tuesday – call time: 5:42 am, wrap time: 8:30pm
Wednesday – call time: 6:30 am, wrap time: 10:30 pm

I had today off, and I spent the entire day doing laundry. I’m back to work tomorrow, then I’m doing reshoots for the last movie Saturday, off Sunday, reshoots again on Monday.

I wish I had the energy to type something interesting, but these long days really take it out of me.

Filed under: Work

More turnaround blues

Today’s wrap time was 8 pm, and tomorrow’s call time is 6 am.

Not only do we have a 6 am call, but we have a night exterior scheduled.

Gonna be a long day.

I’m off to bed.

Filed under: Work

The teenage DJ Starbucks

The first question that anyone working on location asks is “Where’s the nearest coffee place?”

It’s usually a Starbucks, although some of us prefer Peets or the Coffee Bean.

The other night I volunteered to go fetch our boss a latte, since the latte dispenser on the craft service truck was broken, and he was dragging and needed some caffeine.

I don’t mind going to get him coffee – he’s a great guy and I want to keep him happy, plus while I’m driving I get to sit down, which is a bonus for my sore feet. Also, the real toilets are a nice change from peeing in a portable ‘shitter’ that 100 people are sharing.

The Starbucks I found was having a DJ night. They had a guy spinning house on the turntables, and the joint was full of the local teenagers, doing whatever it is that teenagers do when they’re hopped up on overpriced coffee.

As I was standing at the counter, waiting to shout my order over the din, a kid spotted my walkie talkie (the surveillance headset/walkie contraption is such a pain to take off that I just leave it on) and asked me if I was a cop.

“No,” I said. “We’re filming in the area.”

He brightened noticeably at this. “What movie are you working on?”

Now, sometimes this question is fine. Sometimes I have the time to chat about what I’m doing, what my job is, what the actors are like, how whomever it is can get into the industry, etc..

Sometimes I’m in a hurry or I just don’t want to deal with it, and I need a quick ‘out’.

On these occasions, there’s an answer which will instantly kill the interest of anyone casually inquiring about a film project – when they ask what you’re working on, you tell them it’s a mayonnaise commercial.

As soon as someone hears the words “mayonnaise commercial” they instantly and completely lose all curiosity about whatever it is I do, whatever else it is I have to say, and the film industry in general.

I don’t know why this is. I only know that it’s a free pass out of a conversation that I sometimes just don’t feel like having.

The other night was one of those times.

I told the kid I was working on a mayonnaise commercial.

“A what?”

“A MAYONNAISE COMMERCIAL”, I yelled over the music.

The kid’s face fell. “Oh,” he said, and turned away, disappointed.

Works every time.

Just do me one favor: if, when you ask them what they’re working on, a crew person tells you it’s a mayonnaise commercial – please interpret that as a polite way of telling you that they just can’t have that particular conversation at that particular moment.

Maybe they’re tired, maybe they’re busy, maybe they’re sweaty and the Gold Bond ™ just ran out, maybe it’s almost lunch or they just got dressed down by their boss.

Just don’t take it personally – it really isn’t about you.

Filed under: Work

Ah, splitsville

For the next two days, we’re working splits.

A split is a workday that’s half daytime/half nighttime – some people hate them, but I don’t mind them at all – today’s 11 am call (noon crew call, but we’ve got an hour pre-call) means I’ll miss the traffic both ways, and still get home at a decent hour (decent in that I don’t have to see the sun come up as I’m driving home, which I hate).

Tomorrow’s a split too, but I have to get up early to go back to the podiatrist in order to pick up my orthotics (about fucking time, too. My feet have been killing me this week).

Filed under: Work

Not a bad first day

First shooting days are usually for ironing out glitches, but today went really smoothly – we were shooting in an abandoned hospital near Pasadena (yesterday makes the third time in a calendar year that I’ve shot there) which happens to have pretty easy access in and out. It’s also helping that they’ve got a nice long shooting schedule (this is over 10 shooting days, and hour-long TV shows are usually on an 8 shooting day schedule), so we’re not being run ragged.

Plus, this is one of the nicest crews I’ve worked with. Everyone’s polite, relaxed and we made good time – it was only a 12 hour day.

We were still sorting out our Kino Flo order today – we have tungsten and daylight balanced tubes, and we’re carrying enough tubes to do a complete swap (so we can make all the heads daylight or tungsten), but the rental house sent over too many tubes, so I was put to the job of sorting out and sending back the excess.

I was trying to explain my progress to my boss, and since he was busy with other things that were more pressing, he just said “I trust you to get it right” and walked off.

That makes me nervous. As soon as he signed off on it, that was pretty much a guarantee that I’m going to fuck it up somehow.

I had planned to go swim after work, but I got a terrible headache right at wrap and went straight home.

We’re in the same area (not the same location, though) tomorrow, so maybe on my way home – since I go right by a gym with a pool.

Filed under: Work


For some inexplicable reason, Universal Studios Theme Park has a viewing station with those telescopes that cost a quarter aimed right at the lamp dock.

Why anyone would find the lamp dock worthy of three minutes and a quarter is beyond me.

Since we spent most of the day waiting on sub-rentals*, all we were doing was sitting on the liftgate, shooting the shit and putting on a really lame show for those folks feeding quarters into telescopes in the hopes of seeing something interesting.

Hopefully one of them complained to the management that the help weren’t being interesting enough.

I’m off to bed – call time tomorrow is 5:30 am.

*When a rental house doesn’t have a particular piece of equipment, they lease it from another rental house and give it to us to use. Rental houses hate sub-rentals since they don’t make money on them.

Filed under: Work

March 2006

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