Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

Mirror, mirror.

I had sort of been dreading today’s work – well, wait. Dread’s not really the right word. How about fear?

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a group of guys that I really like and have a great time with whenever I work with them (the same crew from Homicidal Hamburglar), but this movie’s got a low budget and the best boy warned me ahead of time that we’d be undermanned (a gaffer, best boy, and three electricians. This is really bare-bones. Four electricians better, but five would be even more better. The reason for this is simple: Some of our lights take three people to lift onto the stand, so when all three of the juicers are out in the parking lot lifting an 18 k, every other department gets to stand around and watch the gaffer freak out because nothing else is getting done on set. This is So. Not. Good.).

Generally speaking, the lower the pay scale the faster and cheaper they try to shoot, and the harder the crew works. This combined with the fact that lower budgeted movies generally have smaller crews, and I was really afraid I was going to get my ass seriously kicked today.

Luckily, this turned out not to be the case. The gaffer was really understanding about our being spread really thin, and even though we really needed four or five people, he never once freaked out about lighting set-ups coming together slowly.

It’s a damn good thing he’s calm, too. When they scouted this location (a closed diner in Glendale that will soon be torn down and turned into lofts), no one seemed to notice that the majority of the interior walls are mirrored.

Mirrors are very, very bad. Normally, as long as the lights and stands are out of the camera’s direct line of sight, they won’t be seen. But with mirrored walls, there’s nowhere to hide. The camera sees around corners and behind walls. Since they were shooting action sequences, they had two cameras, so when the light was in a good place for one camera, the other one would see it.

All day, the conversation on the walkie went something like this:

Gaffer: “Okay, walk that lamp three feet left*. No. Wait. It’s in. Walk it back right. No. wait. It’s in. Dammit… Stand by.”

Me: “Standing by.”

Gaffer: “Goddammit – it’s in the mirror on “B” camera. Raise it up. No, lower it down. Okay, it’s good for “B” camera.  Dammit. Now it’s in the mirror on “A” camera. Just.. wait a minute while I talk to the DP.”

Poor guy. I’m really surprised that his head didn’t explode before lunch.

I’m back on this same show tomorrow ( I keep wanting to call it Things With Wings, although that’s not the title).

*”Walk the lamp” means move the lighting unit to the indicated direction (left, right, forward, back) The phrase applies even when the lamp’s on a stand with wheels.

Filed under: Work

8 Responses

  1. Christopher Boffoli says:

    Peggy: This may seem random, but I recall that you had a post before about some rigging you did up on Stage 30 at Paramount. I was just in there the other day and I was told that they’re going to be dismantling that set soon because Soul Train is apparently done. Have you heard anything about this?

    Peggy sez: I don’t know if it’s true, but I’ve heard the same rumor.

  2. Dave2 says:

    And I thought shooting mirrors was difficult for STILL photography… can’t imagine what it must be like for video.

  3. boskolives says:

    The mirror thing also kills those of us in the sound dept., keeping the boom and all of its shadows out of frame becomes an expanding nightmare. This is in addition to the increased echo and noise from the reflective surface of the mirror, it doesn’t only bounce light you know.
    Adding a second camera does far more than double the pain in the ass factor, even without mirrors it means that the close up will sound like the wide shot that’s taken at the same time, i.e. “Crap”, because we have to protect the wide camera’s frame line.
    Also, you’re exactly correct on the lower money – faster and more demanding schedule relationship, no cable utility person, but faster set changes to do as we race from location to location.

  4. Not4me says:

    In my experience, the lower the pay, the slower the crew works…
    since the director/producers can’t get their act together under 16 hours and everyone is on a daily flat, not an hourly rate.

  5. David H. says:

    Aww man! That DOES stink! Good thing they have pros like you. :-D What’d the gaffer end up doing after his conversation with the DP? Or did the conversation just keep happening every time?

  6. Burbanked says:

    As dorky and blog-fawning as this is about to sound, I just don’t care.

    I love love LOVE behind-the-scenes stories of production, especially when they’re not told in PR-friendly DVD press kit soundbytes. This post is like crack to me. Since I was a kid I’ve been fascinated by the true stories of what goes on behind the camera, even when it’s the seemingly mundane details like the problems caused by mirrors. These things – the ones that most people will never give a second thought to – are the ones that I find most intriguing.

    The people who make movies – all of the people – are artisans of the highest order in my opinion, each one tasked with creating new and innovative ways around these kinds of problems, purely for the sake of our amusement and entertainment. Thanks for your work and your blog, Peggy, and please keep telling us this great, wondrous crap.

  7. Dan says:

    I can’t quite imagine the conversation during the pre-production walk-thru. Didn’t anyone mention “Say, these mirrors might cause a lot of problems.”? I’m constantly amazed that the common sense filter in producers and directors brains seems to shut completely down once production money is in the bank.

  8. nezza says:

    One advantage of working in insurance: I don’t have to worry about mirrors.

    Although….there was one time at work when I was just about to go through a door, but stopped dead because I saw someone through the glass approaching rapidly from the other side. They stopped just as abruptly.

    Took me about 10 seconds to realise it was my own reflection. D’oh.

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