Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

Humping the American Dream

I don’t mind the drive to Vegas. The desert scenery is very pretty, and there are conveniently placed coffee joints right wherever I have to stop in order to give my aging vehicle a rest (the advantage to an SUV with a V-6 is that the gas mileage is really good. The disadvantage is trying to crawl up the really long hill just east of Barstow without blowing up the engine).

I made it in about 5 hours and checked into New York, New York. They bill this as being just like Manhattan, and I guess it is – my room was tiny, had no natural light coming into the window, my view out said window was the wall of the next building about 10 feet away, and I could hear the screaming baby in the next room through the paper-thin walls. Just exactly like New York City. Oh, and they wanted ten bucks a day for internet access. Fuck that.

After I got my stuff dumped into the room I went out, had a few cocktails and hit the Strip.

Hunter S. Thompson wrote that line about “humping the American dream” in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and while he was describing gambling while hopped up on goofballs (so to speak), I think it’s pretty descriptive of Vegas in general, especially after one has had a few cocktails.

Alcohol makes everything in Vegas better. After a couple of drinks, the over-blown decor in the casinos just seems whimsical, and the displays on the Strip (fake volcanoes, dancing waters, pirate shows, etc) seem magical and fun instead of cheesy and stupid.

I know it’s bad of me to promote alcohol use at all, but trust me on this one. Have the martini before you go out.

Sunday – met Dan and helped set up his seminar. Dan’s the person who got me the pass – this is the first time I’ve ever met anyone who only knows me through the blog (a lot of folks who know me in real life anyways read the blog, but it’s not the same thing). He turned out to be a very cool guy with a very interesting seminar about making your own camera rigs.

Sunday night I went to dinner at Red 8 – the Chinese place in the Wynn (the Wynn is right next to the convention center and there’s a handy shuttle), where the waiter was extremely unpleasant until he saw me taking a photo of my jellyfish salad (deelish, if you were wondering) and asked me why. “Oh” I said “I’m going to send it to a guy who writes a blog called Deep End Dining“.

The waiter cracked a huge smile and said “Eddie Lin! Did you see the TV show he was on? That guy’s crazy! You should have told me you knew Eddie Lin!”

He still charged me full price for the meal, but he was really friendly after that. I’ll take what I can get.

Thanks, Eddie. I’ll have to throw your name around more often.

Monday was the convention floor – and it was pure madness. NAB takes up the ENTIRE convention center, and the closest thing I can think of is a rugby scrum – people literally fighting over swag, vendors hawking wares like its a carnival sideshow, etc.. The whole thing was so big that my brain shut down. I had been given advice to peruse the floor map before I went in so I could plan on what I wanted to see – advice I ignored on Monday and was sorry when I staggered out into the afternoon heat of Las Vegas with a serious case of the brain rot. Over dinner Monday night I pulled out my map and had a good look at what was where so I could make a precision assault first thing in the morning.

Tuesday I got there as soon as the convention opened, hit the vendors I’d been interested in (mostly lighting stuff, of course), got out of there before the crowds got too crazy, then went over to the Bellagio and snuck into the pool for a couple of hours before heading home (the Bellagio’s pool is much better than New York New York’s).

Flat Stanley turned out to be a conversation starter, all right – but not in the way I’d hoped. Most people were happy to take a photo (some of them even took photos that included heads and background), but they all seemed to think that the Flat Stanley looked like me because my kid made it.

Me: “It’s my friend’s kid, actually.”

Them: “Amazing, isn’t it? They always make these look just like mom – I can really see the resemblance when you hold it up.”

Me: “It’s my friend’s kid.”

Them: “Just amazing. How old is your son?”

Me: “For fuck’s sake.”

Oh, and Cirque du Soleil is officially out of control:

It’s good to be home.

Filed under: Non-Work

This seems to be the closest thing to a vacation I ever get.

I’ve been to Las Vegas more in the past 12 months than in the preceding 12 years.

I’m not really a gambler, so I always kind of feel like an imposter, and yet circumstances as of late seem to keep sending me back.

Someone I know through the blog hooked me up with a pass to NAB, so I’m leaving tomorrow and coming back on Tuesday (I’d stay longer but I’ve really got to try to drum up some work for next week).

I normally go to Vegas with The Blonde, who makes for great theater but is a bit stressful to travel with. This time I’m going by myself, which should be fun just because it means I’ll be able to spend part of the trip actually relaxing by the pool without worrying what trouble I’m going to have to deal with next.

“You’ll have a great time,” my friend said when I told her why I’d be missing the Blasters concert a group of us had planned to attend Saturday night. “You’ll tear the town up – just like Hunter S. Thompson.”

“Um, yeah” I said.

A nice sentiment, as we’re both huge fans, but Vegas isn’t the same town as it was when Thompson terrorized it.

It’s not the 70’s anymore and the strongest thing I’m going to ingest is a watered-down vodka tonic.
The Dunes is gone, and while the Flamingo’s still there it’s a moldering hulk with a half-assed remodel awaiting a date with the wrecking ball so that we can have yet another themed resort hotel/casino.
One cannot – anywhere in Vegas, or Nevada for that matter – get a steak for $1.99 and I’m pretty sure that Hunter S. didn’t have to bring along Flat Stanley.

When another friend heard that I was going to Vegas, she insisted I take along Flat Stanley for her kid’s school project.

“You know, just take Flat Stanley’s picture in a variety of interesting places, but you have to be in the photo or it doesn’t count.”

“I’m traveling by myself. How am I supposed to get in the photo?” I asked.

“You’re a college graduate, I’m sure you’ll figure it out”.

So now my plans to do not a lot (besides gawking at all the cool NAB stuff and lounging by the pool) have changed and I have to spend at least part of the weekend cajoling complete strangers into taking our picture at various locations around the Strip.

One thing I’m sure of, though. Flat Stanley will be a hell of a conversation starter.

Filed under: Non-Work

It’s official – the magic’s gone.

One of my DVD rentals was the TV show Firefly.

It’s a good show, but while watching it, all I could think was “Damn, I feel sorry for the poor bastards that had to work on that thing”.

On a TV show, you have standing sets, swing sets, and locations.

Standing sets stay the same episode after episode – once the lights are rigged they don’t move around (much – unless you’re the victim of an excessively cost-cutting producer who forces you to pull the lights out of one standing set and put them in another each time you move), and all we really have to do is move around the ‘floor units’ (lights that are on stands and not hung in the rig) each time we shoot the set.

A swing set is a set that’s only there for a short time as it’s only going to be used in one episode. On a TV show, every time you see a place just once, that’s a swing set. Watching Firefly, I noticed that over half of each episode seems to have been swing sets (alien spaceship, ballroom, bar interior, bad guy’s office, etc..).

A swing set has to built, dressed and lit before it can be shot – that requires a lot of man-hours even if there’s a rigging crew, and once it’s ready to go the lighting always has to be tweaked, set pieces have to be changed, etc… Needless to say quite a bit of this tweaking takes place with the producers standing there, yelling about how we’re not working fast enough.

Oh, and you’d think it would take less time to build and light a really small but complex set – like the interior of a spaceship with teeny little cubbyholes everywhere, wouldn’t you? You’d be wrong. Sometimes the teeny cubbyhole-laden sets are the worst.

Here are my thoughts on shooting in those little western town sets (all the backwater towns on Firefly seem to be western-themed).

The magic’s been gone for a while (I know too much – so I notice things like boom mic shadows, lighting mis-matches, sound glitches and actors looking in the wrong direction on a reverse angle), but the fact that I was sitting on my couch thinking about how badly the crew must have gotten spanked instead of rooting for our intrepid heros as they escape just in time really brought it home.

I wonder if this is how magicians feel when they watch a magic show.

Poor bastards.

Filed under: Non-Work

So I’m selfish. I can live with that.

It’s still incredibly busy out there, but over the weekend I decided to be selfish and take a few days off.

I didn’t get offered any work, so I didn’t turn down anything down for Monday or today, I just didn’t didn’t make any effort to get on the phone and see who’s hiring.

A friend of mine called on his way into work and was shocked that I was at home, stirring risotto and getting ready to put a movie in and relax when everyone else in town is standing on a set somewhere.

I know that I have to make hay while the sun shines – but at some point, I just can’t anymore and have to take some time to rest.

Four days in a row (five, counting tomorrow) has felt like a six week vacation, and I really needed that.

I’ll make work calls tomorrow.

Filed under: Non-Work

Now that’s motivation

Crew people generally fall into two camps – those of us who will use any means necessary to avoid working harder than we absolutely have to, and those of us who think that if you’re not busting your ass, you’re not really working.

One thing we all agree on, though, is this:

Since we get paid for at least 8 hours whether we work that long or not, when we have an opportunity to “bust it out” and go home while we’re still on the clock, we’ll do exactly that.

We all worked as fast as we could, and tore out the Sports Arena rig in 7 hours – someone had the stroke of genius to move our trucks inside the loading area (on the rig they were parked outside the arena due to the loading dock being blocked), which sped things up quite a bit and we didn’t get wet in the rain that took me by surprise when I stuck my head out the door. I’d forgotten my rain gear (I had to wash it, it was just too rancid-smelling and I’d forgotten to pack it back into the car), so I was really glad to be inside, although I got soaked walking to my car after we’d been released.

I used my ‘bonus hour’ to go to a great noodle joint in Little Tokyo called Suehiro.

Best. Noodles. Ever.

Happy Easter!

Filed under: Work

I will get rid of this.

I haven’t been to see The Sweater Queen in a long time.

I’ve had this horrible cough that’s not going away, and I’m hearing reports of it lingering in some co-workers for six weeks. I can’t live like that for so long – I sound like I’m in the final stages of some ruinous 19th century disease, and this morning my ‘normal’ doctor told me there’s nothing he can do to make it go away faster, so I went to the Dark Side – of hippie curative tonics, chakras, and discussions about the moon’s feelings (or whatever it is hippies discuss. I tend to tune it out).

The Sweater Queen has long fuzzy hair, wears a long fuzzy sweater (no matter what the temperature), a long fuzzy skirt, and has quite a few long fuzzy cats and dogs running around her slightly fuzzy-looking Topanga shack*. She’s an odd duck, but boy does she know her shit when it comes to herbal remedies.

She gave me this vile tea to drink – and I mean vile. Bilge water vile. Boiled dirty gym sock vile. Korean acupuncturist vile**.

When I got home and actually made the tea, the smell from the steam was so bad it made the cat run and hide for an hour, but the stuff really works. Minutes after drinking it, the cough hadn’t gone away completely, but was noticeably improved. I have to screw up my courage (and hold my nose) in order to drink another cup before I go to bed tonight. I would spike it with vodka (it would still taste bad but then I wouldn’t care as much), but The Sweater Queen specifically mentioned no alcohol whatsoever until the cough is gone.

So I’m back at work tomorrow – we’re tearing out the Sports Arena rig, and I have to carry a container of this nasty tea with me so I can ‘sip it at intervals throughout the day’. Blech.

At least I won’t have to worry about someone else drinking it.

*For my non-Los Angeles based readers: Topanga Canyon is what’s politely referred to as an “artist’s colony” and has been for years. Quite a few of the residents built their own houses – some out of whatever they could find – and despite the real estate boom, there are still quite a few home-built shacks in Topanga Canyon. Hence, “Topanga shack”.

**Korean acupuncturists are apparently famous for making patients drink unbelievably nasty-tasting stuff. I learned this from my chiropractor, who, when I was complaining about not wanting to see an acupuncturist like he’d recommended because I didn’t want another round of drinking something that came in a packet with no English on it and tasted like radioactive dirt, he said “So don’t see any more Koreans.” “How did you know he was Korean?” I asked. “That’s a trademark of Korean acupuncturists,” he said. “I think they think it’s funny.”

Filed under: Non-Work


We had a 6 am call at Culver, which is a good thing – it’s before the traffic and I can make it from my place in about half an hour (a 7 am call and it’s 45 minutes, an 8 am call and it’s an hour. Fucking traffic), but the day I chose to cut it close because I wanted that extra 10 minutes of sleep is the day I got nailed by security – normally, everyone working at Culver parks in an off-site parking area and then walks onto the lot, and most of the time you can just wave at the parking guard and drive on without being stopped. I guess they figure that if you’re pulling in at 5:45 am, you’re there to work.

Sometimes, though, you get a parking lot guard who demands to see your pass. This means driving over to the main gate of the lot, waiting in line of cars because everyone else tried to sneak it too and got busted so you all had to come over at the same time and are now sitting there waiting like jackasses because if you’d just done this the right way to begin with you’d be at work now and not on the phone frantically trying to call your boss to tell him where you are (whew), then having the main gate guard make 50 phone calls because your name’s not on his little list (because the boss didn’t call in drive-on passes for the crew, and why should he? We’re parking off-lot and don’t need them), then being issued a parking pass for the lot you just left, then having to drive past the very smug parking lot guard while waving the hard-won parking pass.

The whole process takes about 20 minutes, so of course I was late.

Once I actually got to work, we spent the whole day pulling out the lights and cable from the perms (nice, happy solid wood 48′ perms that don’t scare the bejeezus out of me) above the set that’s being torn down. They’re constructing another set on the same stage, so it was a day filled with paint fumes and worries about whether or not I have enough brain cells left to huff fumes all day without … wait … what was I thinking about?

The Madonna dancers in the next stage spent the day rehearsing with their elephant door open, and the disco-ish beat mixed oddly well with the 80’s classics coming from our construction crew’s boom box.

I’m off tomorrow.

Filed under: Work

My big exciting weekend

Working weekends really fucks me up – on Saturday, I kept thinking it was Tuesday, and on Sunday night I kept waking up in a panic thinking it was Thursday and I had forgotten to put out the trash.

Today, I wandered around in a daze, not really knowing what day it was at all, until I saw the Monday chili special at the BBQ place near Culver Studios (and then I went back to being confused as soon as we got back on the lot – must have been the hot shirtless dancers for the Madonna video on the next stage. I know they’re gay but they’re still nice eye-candy).

The weekend’s work was rigging the LA Sports Arena for the DFISM*.

Rigs go in in layers – first the cable and distribution boxes are laid out, connected, “gak”** is added, and once that’s all sorted out we hang lighting units, then connect everything together, then fix problems, should they arise.

Laying cable is pure muscle. The technique hasn’t changed in 100 years: pick the cable up and put it down, then repeat – first from the trucks that it’s delivered in, onto the ground to count it; into a stakebed truck to drive it to the other side of the arena, then onto the ground to sort it again and back into a cable cart to wheel it across the icy arena floor to where it’s going to live for the next few days.

Saturday – all 12 hours of it – was laying cable (the LA Sports Arena is very, very large and requires a LOT of cable to get from the generators to the set).

Sunday – yet more cable. For the first half of the day, I got the ‘girl job’, which was sending coiled cable up to the catwalks via the winch. Not the hand-eating kind of winch, though. We’re using a high speed chain motor, which our Local 33 brothers had to operate for us due to some union jurisdiction thing (so basically what I was doing was attaching our cable to the chain and then stepping back while the other guy pushed the ‘up’ button). The 33 guys were a really cool bunch and it was great hearing stagehand stories for a change (fresh material, you know). At some point, though, all the cable had been sent up and I had to go up high to help the boys run the cable through the catwalks along the roof of the arena (what I really wanted to do was take a nap in the cable cart, but that’s not a good thing for my boss to catch me doing).

The permanent catwalks in the Sports Arena are not constructed the way stage perms are – stage perms are made of wood and have a wooden grid underneath them. Not only do they feel solid when you walk on them, the grid gives the illusion of some sort of floor and somehow makes the distance to the ground less intimidating. I’m very rarely nervous or afraid of falling out of a stage perm (the exception being the tall stage at Sony – I think the perms are 70 feet up, and it’s scary as hell despite the grid).

The Sports Arena’s catwalks, however, are metal (not mesh, either – it’s thin metal sheets welded together – they almost look like a wood floor made of metal, if that makes any sense) floored walkways that flex and creak like hell when you walk on them – plus there’s no grid so you’re looking 80 feet straight down to the deck with nothing to break up the visual of the ant-like co-workers scurrying about below.

Of course, since I have an overactive imagination, the whole time I was up high I kept envisioning that three seconds of free-fall followed by the sudden halt.

After lunch, we had to hang lights on the truss over the ice rink***, and of course they froze the rink before we had to walk on it – the location lady told us she tried to get them to hold off, but they were in a hurry so they wouldn’t wait. Oddly enough, the rubber mats we had to walk on (so we didn’t fuck up the ice) were more slippery than the ice itself, so we ended up walking on the ice anyways. In case you were wondering, walking on rink ice in work boots will cause it to crack.

Today, some of us were back at Culver to tear out the rig on the main stage – others were left to ‘assist’ first unit at the arena. I can’t even begin to explain how much being on the rigging crew and having to help first unit sucks – so I’ll just leave it at my being very, very glad to have been on the tear-out crew (where I’ll be for the next few days).

Oh, and the car’s problem was the water pump. Three Benjamins later and he’s purring like the proverbial kitten.

The cough I can’t shake is getting progressively worse – I keep trying to stay home and rest, but I have an aversion to turning down work. My best friend gave me a ride into work today (after I dropped the car off) and spent the entire drive reading me the riot act about not slowing down.

Easy for her to say – she’s got a steady job. Me, I have to make enough money to get through the slow periods, plus I’m nervous about the potential SAG/WGA strike next year so I’m attempting to hoard as much cash as possible – even if that means working while I’ve got a cough.

I’m off to bed – hopefully I won’t have any more garbage-can related panics tonight.

*Dumb Fucking Ice Skating Movie

**”Gak” is what we call the little stuff that sits at distro boxes – bates cables to connect lights, extension cords (“stingers”), etc…

***Ice rinks, in their unfrozen state, are smooth concrete, and are prepped by being flooded with about half an inch of funny-smelling (sort of lysol-ish) water, which is sprayed on in layers while it’s being frozen via elements in the concrete. Apparently it takes about a day to get the ice ready to skate on.

Filed under: Work

Friday Photo

Just because I like clouds and we so rarely have them here in Los Angeles:

LA Harbor

So there.

Filed under: Photos

Not again…

The car I’ve been driving for the past year has just broken down.

On the way home from work*, it started making a rattling noise (which stopped once the engine warmed up, which is why I kept driving even though I spent the entire drive begging the car to make it home), lost oil pressure at idle (the pressure was fine when I pressed the accelerator) and when I got home and opened the hood to have a look, noticed the whole engine compartment was covered in coolant.

Gods, I hope it’s just a hose, but I can’t do anything about it until Monday, since I’m working all weekend, and my call tomorrow is so early that I’ll never get to the garage (I have to be at work at 6:30, and the garage doesn’t open until 8).

Luckily, I’ve got a ride to work tomorrow and Sunday. We’re rigging the LA Sports Arena for some movie – I don’t even ask what it is anymore. I just want to know what it pays.

*At Culver Studios – there’s a rumor around town that it’s being torn down to make way for condos, and I’m happy to report that the rumor is 100% false.

The studio was bought by some real estate types, but according to our best boy, they have no desire to tear out 15 or so stages, and undertake a possible hazmat cleanup of the site in order to maybe make a profit in three years if LA’s real estate market doesn’t crash before then.

They’d much rather do nothing and rent the stages to film crews. Besides, Las Vegas has about half the stages there, so they’ve certainly got some coin coming in from those guys.

Filed under: Non-Work, Work

April 2006

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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