Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

Sleep deprivation: 1. Me: 0.

So, my date was a complete disaster – I was so tired I was unable to be much of anything other than a zombie (skin tone 18% grey, staring into space, breathing through my mouth, responding to attempts at conversation with “unnnnhhhh”).

I think it’s a pretty safe bet that dude will NOT be calling me for date number 2.

The icing on the cake was my Sunday night bout of insomnia which left me further zombified this morning (skin tone 18% grey, staring into space, breathing through my mouth, responding to questions and requests with “unnnnhhhh”).

Luckily, first unit were shooting at the stage, which meant that there was that nifty cappuccino machine at crafty (you push a button, the machine makes a godawful noise, and then spits out something that’s almost, but not entirely unlike a coffee drink).

The downside of sharing a stage with the shooting unit is that we didn’t get a whole lot done – rigging makes noise, no matter how quiet we try to be. We had an hour in the morning before they got there to re-rig some stuff on a truss, but once they started shooting, we couldn’t really work inside anymore (the director’s doing what we used to call ‘full mag takes’. A camera’s magazine – the thing that holds the film before and after it runs through the camera – will hold around 12 minutes worth of film, and each time the ADs called “rolling” it was about that amount of time before they cut), so when we ran out of outside and/or busy work we went home.

Our bosses are trying to keep us busy, because there’s a lot of other work out there and they’re afraid if they lay anyone off, they won’t be able to get them back (they probably wouldn’t, either. I’ve been getting at least two work calls a week, as has just about everyone else on the crew).

We’ve got some stuff to do tomorrow, but it’s all inside (right next to the set that’s shooting), so it’s going to take forever to get it done.

Fine by me – the cappuccino machine will only be yards away, although I’m determined to get some sleep tonight, even if I have to resort to drastic measures (three martinis, or a sleeping pill, or an hour on the stationary bike, or hitting myself in the head with a mallet until I pass out, or some combination thereof).

Filed under: Work

I’m tired today.

We worked about 14 hours (6 am to 8:30 pm) yesterday – we scrambled to finish rigging a set which had the shoot date moved up three days, and then, at the end of the day when it would have been time to go home, we had a bunch of changes to make (stuff that the gaffer took a look at when first unit got in and and wanted done differently – this happens all the time because the lighting always looks a bit different on the actual set than it did in the drawings)  which took a few hours – first unit were shooting some stuff outside (which we’d rigged, and then were told to move at the last minute so it barely got done in time) while we tweaked, and we just managed to get out of there before they moved inside.

Then, this morning I had to get up early because the glazier came to replace the living room window that got broken last week – probably when some damn kid threw something at it, but I can’t prove that.

I have a date tonight, but I’m not certain that I’m not going to sleep through it.

Filed under: Work

Electricity and water

So, I got asked the same question about yesterday’s post twice in the comments and three times via email.

The answer is no.

No, I’m not concerned when I’m in the water with lights because the lights we put in the water are designed to operate safely while submerged – they’ve got special housings (to keep the actual light dry), waterproof connections on the cables (because the cable itself -any type of cable – is waterproof. It’s the connections where one piece of cable joins the next which are not), and they’re plugged into GFCIs (if you have a newer house, those outlets in your kitchen and bathroom with the little red and black buttons are GFCIs – ours are just a bit larger than yours, but it’s basically the same thing).

Also, when we’re wrapping a location, there’s no power to the lights – the generator goes with first unit, so by the time the wrap crew comes along, even if there were a normal light in the pool (like, say, a 10k thrown into the deep end by an angry DP), I still wouldn’t get shocked.

But GFCIs, hydropars and the like are fairly new. In the old days, they just took a bare bulb, coated the connector with epoxy so it wouldn’t shock anyone, dropped it in the water and turned it on (the glass on the bulb doesn’t break if you submerge it before you turn it on).

Like this:

Mystery Light

Of course, back when this thing was in regular use they were using DC power, which is much less likely to kill you than AC power (there’s a technical explanation why, but I’ve got to get to bed – I have to be up at 4:30 am again).

Oh, and here’s that link again:


Filed under: Work


I’m tired and I haven’t really felt like writing so far this week (but it’s only Tuesday, so hang in there).

Here’s a photo:


These are hydropars that we’d placed in the pool to light the beautiful exterior shot that turned out to be not so beautiful because it pissed rain all night the night they were supposed to shoot it.


After spending most of the rig sweltering and thinking how nice it would be to jump in the pool and cool off, I got a chance today when I had to retrieve the three shot bags (the blue things in the photo – they keep the lamps from moving around) we’d left in the deep end.

Of course, I went in with just the swimsuit I wear when I lap swim, and what I’d forgotten is that without a weight belt, it’s damn near impossible to get to the bottom of the pool (in this case, about 7 feet).

The suggestion was made that I should just dive in and use the momentum to get to the bottom, but that water was really cold and whenever I got my head underwater, I kept doing that gasp-y thing that you do when you’re really cold.

Not a good thing when your head’s under water.

So, I ended up floating in the water, trying to guide the hook my co-worker was throwing to try to catch the handle of the shot bags.

I’d like to thank my co-workers for not laughing at me where I could hear it.

We’re back at the stage tomorrow.

I’m off to bed – I have a 6 am call tomorrow.

Filed under: Photos, Work

The granny punching was really top notch.

Thursday and Friday, first unit shot the tiled monstrosity house on the hill, so we went back to the stage to rig a set that they’ll shoot in about a week.

Second unit were shooting some bluescreen stuff while we were working, so we couldn’t work very fast due to having to stop and wait while they were rolling.

On the bright side, we had craft service and a caterer, so we all stuffed our faces and sucked down coffee all day both days. I’ve known this particular craft service guy for years and he’s really super nice and puts out terrific food, so I think I gained about five pounds.

I’ll burn it off Monday when we wrap the house. Wrapping is really hard work, because unlike putting the rig in, there’s no stopping while the supervisor thinks (“well, if we put the cable there, they might see it when they turn around. Hold on a minute and let me see if we can put it somewhere else”) – it’s just wrap the stuff, stack it up to count and then load it in the truck (at this location, it’s going to be loaded in the stakebed, driven down to the parking lot, unloaded and then loaded again), and there’s no down time.

That being said, one of the things I like about working off-production is that I’m out early enough to actually have a life.

Friday night, I went to screening of Hot Fuzz – with a Q&A afterwards with the director and the two stars of the movie (one of whom happens to be the co-writer). The movie was great, and during the Q&A, someone asked what part of the movie they found most gratifying – the immediate answers were kicking the shit out of James Bond (Timothy Dalton) and getting to punch a granny.

Just for the record, the movie’s great and the granny beating is really good.

The boys have a blog about the North American promo tour:

Filed under: Work

Boy, did I get that one wrong.

For the past few days, as we’ve been driven from basecamp to location in the stakebed, we’ve seen all these cars parked on turnouts on a certain section of Mulholland Drive – all driven by men, all just sitting there, with the occasional rebel who’s gotten out of the car and is talking to someone through the driver’s window.

As we passed them several times a day, day after day, we’d made the assumption that it was a place for a certain type of gentleman to meet like-minded gentleman, and had been making all sorts of inappropriate jokes as we drove by, but today one of our guys couldn’t stand the suspense anymore and had the driver pull the stakebed off the road, got out, and asked them what the hell they were doing there.

Turns out, they’re paparazzi, and they’re waiting outside Britney Spears’ house for her to come out so they can take her picture, follow her to wherever she’s going, or whatever it is that those guys do.

I tried to take a picture of them, but the sun was right behind them – when I shook my head and put the camera down, they all started to yell helpful suggestions, but we had to move on since we were running short on time to get the rig finished.

They asked if we had any tips for them, and the only thing I could think of to shout back was “buy low, sell high”.

I’m really tempted to go back on my day off and pick their brains about how to get a good shot in poor lighting conditions, since if anyone’s going to know, it’s those guys.

First unit shoot the house tomorrow and Friday, and then we come back Monday to wrap it out.

Filed under: Work


Beverly Hills Deer

This was one of four deer (two big ones, two little ones) who were watching us work while they dined on the homeowner’s expensive landscaping.

I’ve always heard tales about Los Angeles’ urban deer, but today was the first time I’ve actually seen one.

They weren’t all that afraid of us, either. They just kept eating and only looked alarmed if we got too close to them or made a lot of noise.

Right after I took this photo, they sauntered up the driveway, stopped briefly to sample the rental plants the set dressers had brought in, and then disappeared over the crest of the hill.

Filed under: Photos, Work

¡Estupido Gigante!

Certain houses are so difficult to shoot in that location managers really shouldn’t even bother showing them to anyone.

Yes, it may seem worth it when they see the exquisitely crafted whatever and the stunning view of the ocean and all they’ve had to pull into the driveway was a van carrying the director and assorted scout personnel, but really – sometimes someone should step up and plead for some kind of sanity.

For those of you not familiar with the area, all of the hillside neighborhoods in Los Angeles have a few things in common: streets which are so narrow that two large cars can’t pass each other (actually, in some areas the streets are so narrow that two sub-compact cars can’t pass one another and if one meets another vehicle, one of the two has to back up until they can find a driveway to pull into and let the other car pass), residents who park on said narrow streets anyhow, hairpin turns, and blind driveways (which are also steep and sometimes have hairpin turns).

You get three guesses at our current location and the first two don’t count.

Yup, that’s right – a house that has a steep narrow driveway with hairpin turns, which sits on a steep narrow road with hairpin turns and unfortunately parked neighbors.

The house (which looks sort of like an Arabian-themed Vegas casino with especially, um, exuberant tile work), is so far into the depths of the canyon (ok, make that heights of the canyon) that we can’t get our trucks anywhere near the place. Hell, we probably coudn’t get our 48 foot trailer* to the place which we’re using as a base camp – which is why we have a 10 ton truck (which I imagine barely got in there). Base camp is about a mile away from the location, and we have to send all the gear up on stakebed trucks, which only make it up the driveway with a lot of shoehorning on the part of the driver.

Basically, this means that we’re wasting a huge part of the day shuttling gear – and it’s not just us. Grip have a stakebed and are sending gear up, set dressing have a stakebed and are sending gear up, and they all have to be co-ordinated because stakebeds definitely can’t pass each other on the narrow canyon roads without someone having to back up quite a ways.

So, this house is going to take twice as long to rig just because of the access issues, and it’s costing production an insane amount of money – and this is just the rigging crew. When first unit lands, it’s going to get ugly.

We have three ten ton trucks (us, grip, and set dressing) and three stakebed trucks and we’re tripping all over ourselves because there’s just no room up at the house. First unit have three (or four) 48 foot trailers, multiple Starwagons (portable dressing rooms for the actors), a potty trailer (called a honeywagon), a caterer (who has two trucks and needs a big enough space for the entire crew to sit down and eat lunch), a camera 10 ton, craft service (which I think is a five ton), passenger vans and a shitload of stakebeds because they’re sure as hell not going to get those 48 footers up there.

Part of me wants to be a fly on the wall, and the rest of me is glad that I’ll be far, far away.

You know, there are quite a few tacky houses in more accessible parts of the city. Why not pick one of them?

*48 foot trailers are not actually 48 feet long – since the measurement is just for the trailer and not for the big truck-thingy that pulls the trailer, they’re actually closer to 60 feet long.

Filed under: Work

The sands, they were a blowing.

So, there’s this guy at the stage in Playa Vista (I don’t know which department he’s in), who drives his sports car to work every day, and once there lovingly covers it with a car cover so the nasty dusty parking lot won’t get it dirty.

I figured he was just really attached to his car, or maybe had a new paint job, and then didn’t think about it again until yesterday when there was a not-so-little sandstorm outside the stages. Now, there’s always dusty winds in Playa Vista due to construction, but this was a serious dust storm – the folks who got caught outside told us they couldn’t see three feet in front of them, and even though I didn’t go outside, I still spent the next few hours with grit in my teeth.

The winds blew part of the chain-link fence surrounding the offices over and blew this poor guy’s car cover clear across the parking lot (and since the car cover was still missing today, I’m guessing it eventually blew all the way to the ocean where it probably clobbered some poor surfer).

Now he’s just going to have to do what the rest of us do – drive a dirty car, although he still probably had the last laugh as at the end of the day his car was only a little bit dusty, unlike mine which is so filthy as to be unrecognizable – it was black, and now it’s a sort of streaky grayish brown*.

So, the first couple of hours today were spent trying to clean the 1/4 inch of dust and sand out of the trucks (and off the carts, and out of the truck that was closed up but still somehow got sand it it).

In fact, we spent most of the day on the truck, as it’s got to roll Monday morning – when you’re in the same location for a while, you don’t bother to tie things down – because there’s no need since the truck’s not going to move. After a few days, stuff accumulates and has to find it’s home before the truck moves (when stuff’s not tied down – like the coffeepot, the printer, lighting equipment, etc.. it flies around in the truck and breaks) , so that was most of the day – plus, we had to sort stuff that’s going to two different locations (total simultaneous rigs: four, plus the stage – I’m really surprised that my boss’ head hasn’t exploded yet).

On a happy note, I’ve got Sunday off now – yay weekend!

*For those of you not in Los Angeles – it’s a cardinal sin here to drive a dirty car. You can have a rusty old beater, but it had better be clean or you get dirty looks, and obscenities scrawled on the back window (or, if you’re very lucky, just a strategically placed ‘wash me’). In certain parts of town, a dirty car will get you followed by the police because you must be up to something.

Filed under: Work

I’ll bash you good!

Today, we were hanging lights (spacelights and Kino Flo Image 80s) from the biggest fucking truss rig I’ve ever seen – Since our airplane hangar cum soundstage has nothing installed so one can hang lights above the set, the grips put in this really massive truss rig – I wish I could take photos of it, since it’s impressive. Actually, I’m amazed that the roof of the place hasn’t fallen in from all the weight hanging from it, but that’s another story.

The problem with pipe grids (which is what this is, even though it’s truss and it’s hanging from chain motors), is that it’s much more difficult and time-consuming to rig lights than it is when one’s on a real stage with a permanent grid and walkways. Instead of just hoisting the stuff up, running it out and dropping it down to the lights, one must bring the cable up to the grid in the lift (and while we have two lifts for our department, only one of them is tall enough to reach the grid), then try to throw it laterally so it flies over more than one pipe (which always ends in tears – usually mine since I throw like a girl), or tie it to the bottom of the pipe grid, which means that one has to secure it to each pipe – by going up in the lift, tying off the cable, going down in the lift, rolling forward a few feet, going up in the lift, tying off the cable, going down in the lift, rolling forward a few feet….

You get the picture.

Someday, when I rule the world, all stages (even the ones that used to be airplane hangars) will have perms and walkways and anyone thinking a pipe grid’s “good enough” – even if it is really cool and impressively large – will be beaten to death with a frozen ham (or a C-Stand arm, whatever’s closer).

My job today was to stay in the staging area and put the pipe clamps* on the Image 80s before we sent them over to the folks who were hanging them from the truss rig.

Pipe clamps and lights that hang from them have a safety device called a cotter pin, which theoretically slides through the lined-up holes on both the junior pin and pipe clamp and prevents the thing from falling on someone’s head if the thing works itself loose.

Yeah. See that photo in the link? Cotter pins only look like that before they’ve been used. Once they’ve been used (because after the pin’s been run through the holes, the end’s bent to stop it from slipping out), they look sort of like, well… they look all bent and fucked up. They’re also hell to force through a hole that’s just barely big enough for them when they’re perfectly straight. The ideal tool to get them to go thorough the hole would be a hammer, but…

I’m afraid to use a hammer on an expensive piece of lighting equipment (not the pipe clamp, the lamp), because if I miss, then I either hit a) the bale of the lamp or b) my thumb. Either way, it hurts (Boss: “How’d that lamp get broken?” Me: “Ummmm….”), so I end up using the butt end of my poor, abused screwdriver (it doesn’t work very well, but it doesn’t cause as much damage if I miss).

I shouldn’t be bashing it at all, but sometimes I’m not a patient person and this particular item brings out my inner Homer Simpson and I lose all ability to do anything other than hit it and say “D’oh!”.

I was going somewhere with this, but I just saw the time (after 9 pm) – I’ve got to get up at 4:30 am, so I’ll have to remember whatever point it was I was trying to make another day.

*As you can see from the photo in the link, a pipe clamp is a sort of metal sleeve with a hook on it – the hook goes over the pipe, and the metal sleeve goes over the light’s junior pin**.

**For those of you who are now completely confused, look at the linked photo – the big U-shaped thing attached to the light in the photo is called the bale – the little pointy thing at the very bottom of the photo is the junior pin. This size pin is used for heavier lights – lights that weigh less have what’s called a baby pin. There’s no such thing as a senior pin, since I just know that was what you were thinking.

Filed under: Work

April 2007

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