Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

Why yes, I am an asshole. Thanks for noticing.

In a moment of spectacularly bad planning, I have a 5 pm call today (I’m the ‘8 hour guy’ who’s just coming in to help wrap), and I have no idea what time I’ll have to be at work tomorrow morning. If it’s 7 am, I’m totally screwed – rules about turnaround only apply when one is on the same show from day to day.

So I decided to spend the day running errands, and started out with a stop for coffee. While walking back to my car, an Indian (sub-continent, not North American) guy – complete with beads, turban, sandals and nearly incomprehensible accent – stopped me and said “You look happy on the outside, but you’re disturbed inside. You have too many thoughts. Let me see your right palm.”

Then he grabbed my hand and started examining it.

At this point, I figured I was being punked (or New-Age robbed) so I started frantically looking around for either a camera crew or Officer Friendly.

Personally, I think fortune-telling is bunk (I see claims of ‘seeing the future’ as a grave misunderstanding about the nature of time), but you can’t actually tell these people that, now can you?

I must have looked wary because he continued (still clutching my hand) more earnestly, “You have a very long life-line and will live a long time with happy life and successful. You will have three lucky news in December. There are two men who love you – one loves you too much and the other is bullshit but you won’t know it for some time.”

No, I think I can see the source of the bullshit just fine, but thanks.

“Now, if you will pay me $40, you will have happy life.”

I stared at his beads for a moment, idly wondering if they ever got caught in his chest hair and asked “Does that mean that I’m not going to have a happy life if I don’t pay you $40? ‘Cause I got some bad news for you, my friend.”

“Well how much do you have?”

“Nothing. I will pay you nothing. I resent being hustled.”


Awesome. I’m still going to live a long life, though. Everyone on both sides of my family has lived past 90 (except the ones that had accidents and died young, but for genetics purposes, they don’t count), so unless the asbestos exposure gets me first I’ve got every reasonable expectation of living far, far beyond my usefulness.

So there.

Later, as I was sitting in the laundromat waiting for the dryers to finish, a guy wearing a T-shirt expressing his patriotic disdain for anyone of Middle-Eastern ancestry, wandered in and demanded I give him money. “My phone ran out of minutes,” he said, shaking his pink Razr at me for emphasis. “I need ten bucks. Please, sir.”

Sir? You need to work on your panhandling skills, kid. Scoot.”


Actually, I was more of an asshole than he’d imagined. A few minutes later, after I watched him buy some meth from the tranny hooker who hangs out in front of the coffee shop (I guess he got someone to give him some money after all), I called the cops and gave them a very detailed description of him, his meth, and his t shirt.

My laundry done, I headed back home – only to arrive right as the school across the street was letting out and all the parking was being taken up by waiting parents.

Except one space, which I slipped into ahead of the lady who was trying to make an illegal U turn in her minivan despite the heavy traffic and nearby police cruiser.

“Hey!” she yelled out her window as I got out of the car and started to unload my laundry “I want that space!”

“I want one of those really ripped Calvin Klein models and a big tub of butter, but…” I trailed off with a gesture intended to convey my good-natured disappointment at the lack of condiment-covered male models roaming the streets of American cities.

Actually, I’m on a diet, so perhaps I should want a really ripped Calvin Klein model and a big tub of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.

She glared at me for a moment and then yelled “Asshole!” before driving off.

Wow. Three times in one day and I’m not even wearing a costume.

Do I get a prize for that?

Oh, and happy Halloween.

Filed under: humor, life in LA, Los Angeles, Non-Work, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

And then, the air cleared.

One of the things about Southern California is sudden wind shifts which would be cause for alarm anywhere else but are just par for the course around here.

A couple of days ago, the wind suddenly changed direction and started blowing from the west to the east, which helped in the firefighting efforts (by driving the fires back onto already-burned ground which obviously isn’t really good fuel), but has also cleared the air out considerably.

Since I dropped the ball on Friday and didn’t call around looking for work, I had today off , so I decided to enjoy the day and the clear air and went for a long bike ride.

Last week:

Smoky sky


Scattered clouds

I rode out to Westwood and went to the camera store (I was looking for an extra battery and another memory card, but they only carry branded stuff and I had such a severe case of sticker shock that slunk out of the store and decided to get the stuff off Ebay), hung out for a while, and then headed back home. During the ride back home, I saw this:

Public art gone horribly wrong.

Now, unless I’m mistaken that would appear to be an armadillo (although it’s not showing in the photo, it was kind of sparkly) attached to a streetlight.

Along Santa Monica Blvd in Century City there’s some sort of strange public art thing. In addition to our friend up there, hanging from various street lights are giant shoes, a really phallic cactus, busts of random people, stylized petroglyphs, pithy sayings and a strange, smiling disembodied head which disturbed me so much I was unable to photograph it.

Since Santa Monica Blvd is the old Route 66, I guess I can understand the southwestern-themed items, but the weird, seemingly random heads just confused me. I rode back and forth along the stretch of Santa Monica Bl. a few times, trying to make some sense of the progression of weird art things, and then came to the conclusion that there was probably some sort of contest that resulted in a completely random collection of stuff hanging from what would otherwise be tasteful (for Los Angeles) beaux-artsish streetlights.

I have a 7 am call tomorrow, so I’m going to bed. Hopefully I won’t have nightmares about giant bronze heads floating in the sky.

Filed under: camera, life in LA, Los Angeles, Non-Work, Photos, , , , , , , ,

All I needed was two popsicles and a ride home before curfew.

When I was a kid, I never did any babysitting, so I’m not certain that headline joke even makes sense. Be patient – it’s still really smoky here.

So I guess that made yesterday my first babysitting job.

Not for kids, but for the EPK (electronic press kit – you know all those promo bits where the director and cast of the movie sit in a chair in front of a set piece and do sound bites about the movie “Well, working with Joe Blow was just incredible and I know we’re doing something extraordinary here blah blah blah blah” Those are shot on the sets while the movie or TV show is filming) crew that were shooting on the main stage of the TV show I’ve been working on periodically.

Normally, EPK crews are a giant pain in the ass to the shooting crew of any production. Sometimes they show up and want to use our equipment and personnel to light their shot – which is bad if we also happen to need that equipment and personnel to light the movie they’re supposed to be promoting. Most of the time, they bring their own lights but want to use a bunch of ours for set dressing, or they set up right in front of our carts while we’re trying to work – all of us have made at least one accidental appearances in an EPK (I can’t remember which one I got nailed in – all I remember is my sister calling me and telling me that she’d seen me walk through some talking head shot that was airing on some entertainment program, and that I really needed to comb my hair).

Yesterday’s EPK crew, however, brought their own truck with their own equipment and their own guys. They were, however, using our power (it would have been silly for them not to), so two of us had to stay and babysit them because, of course, they didn’t know where anything is on the stage (if they need power pulled out from its hiding place, it’s much easier and faster if they have someone to ask than if they have to search around for it for an hour and then end up calling the best boy and asking him) and we were there to help them and make sure everything got put back in it’s regular spot at the end of the night.

They were all super nice folks (some of whom I remember from the bad old days of low budget music videos) and the day went really well – they had three set ups which were interview areas in different parts of the main set, and although we had a bit of a scramble trying to get them set up in all three at the same time, once we did it was clear sailing and all we had to do was hang out in the gold room and periodically walk around the set to make sure they were okay and answer the occasional random query about where things (various types of cable, the bathrooms, the commissary for lunch) were located. When they were done, they wrapped out their stuff and we wrapped our cable and got the set back to the way it was supposed to be and then called it a day.

I didn’t get a popsicle, though.

Filed under: studio lots, Work, , , , , , , ,

An 11-step plan to keep oneself occupied during a normally boring day exterior

1. Notice that sky seems to be getting awfully dark and full of ash.

2. Wonder if ash-laden air contains enough oxygen to keep an adult human being conscious.

3. Begin to have trouble maintaining verticality.

4. Notice ground approaching head at a terrific speed.

5. Completely miss point of impact after hitting head on leg of crank-o-vator stand on way down.

6. Wake up in ambulance wondering what the hell just happened.

7. Notice that colleagues removed toolbelt, which was the only thing holding up pants.

8. Hope desperately that pants did not fall off during the trip from set to ambulance.

9. Regret choice to ‘go commando’ (due to laundry issues) this particular day.

10. Vow never to ‘go commando’ ever again, even if it means staying up all night washing underpants by hand.

11. Get released from hospital just in time to go back to set and help load truck because the producer called an ‘insurance day’ after four other crew members and director passed out, too.

Filed under: hazardous, life in LA, locations, mishaps, Work, , , , , , ,

I fell into a burning ring of fire.

The main topic of conversation on every set as of late has been the impending writers’ strike – since very little real information is forthcoming from anywhere, armchair quarterbacking is rampant – they’ll strike, they won’t strike, they might strike but they’re not sure, they’re having a naked tea party right now, and so on.

For the past few days, though, people have been talking about the massive fires and assorted issues (who we know who needs housing, the related bad traffic, the related bad air, when the hell this is all going to end and what they’re going to do when they catch the people who started a few of them).

The fires just keep getting bigger (pushed by Santa Ana winds – someone emailed me and asked me why the firefighters just can’t “do something” – they can’t really fight 100 foot tall flames which are being driven by 60 mph winds so they just have to wait for a break in the weather), although the light is gorgeous. One of the camera assistants today described it as “perpetual magic hour“, and that’s pretty accurate. The golden orange glow of the sun’s last rays has lasted all day.

It would be enchanting if it didn’t also smell of smoke and rain ash at seemingly random intervals – oh, and it’s really hot and the humidity is about 5%. I have a humidifier at home, but frankly it’s not doing jack shit right now. I suppose I should just be grateful that I’m not one of the approximately 500,000 people who have had to evacuate their homes, and am in not in an area that has any risk of burning.

Today, while standing at craft service perusing the morning snack, the conversation shifted back to the writer’s strike and what, exactly, the hell we’re all going to do if we get put out of work over the holidays.

A passing woman (I don’t know what department she was from – I only saw her a few times throughout the day) stopped, glared and spat “Those fucking assholes – they already make too much money. They can all go to hell.”

I just stood there, my mouth hanging open despite being filled with half-chewed food.

While I should note that some IATSE members do bear some ill will towards SAG, DGA, and WGA* members (many of whom routinely cross our picket lines and some of whom have hurled abuse at us while doing so), most of us, while we desperately hope the writers (and actors and directors) won’t strike, understand why they need to and will support them.

After all, we’re all in the same little boat that’s floating on rough seas and there’s a producer with scuba gear sawing a hole in the bottom and waiting to pick us off one by one if we don’t stick together.

However, even if she was a producer, saying something like that while standing on a set took some serious huevos. I just kind of stared, afraid to say anything because I was just a day player, but wanting to see if someone else was going to say something, but everyone just walked away, leaving just the two of us alone in a weird kind of standoff – her glowering and me with a mouthful of food.

Then, we started lighting so I had to chew what I had, throw out the rest and get the hell back to work.

*IATSE = International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees.

SAG = Screen Actors’ Guild

DGA = Director’s Guild of America

WGA = Writer’s Guild of America

Filed under: life in LA, Work, , , , , ,

Lawn care mishaps

Yesterday’s best boy is someone for whom I’ve not worked in a long time, but I’m always happy to hear from him since he’s a terrific guy. I’ve never once seen him get angry or blow his cool, which is remarkable given how high-stress the best boy position can be.

So when he got on the walkie sounding extremely stressed and upset, we all knew something was terribly wrong.

“Get over to staging, now.. move!”

Then, as we all started to walk very quickly, he said the ‘s’ word – sprinklers.

You know, sprinklers. Those things that you put on a timer so your lawn gets watered and you don’t have to think about it ever until a movie crew comes in to shoot in your house and you don’t know how to turn off the sprinklers because they’ve been set for years and you lost the manual so you lie to the location manager and tell him they’re turned off when really they aren’t*.

Then, said film crew comes along and parks our equipment right where it’s going to be easy to get to once we start running in and out of the house (which is usually in the driveway somewhere) and then after we get all settled in… it’s sprinkle time.

Although we always try never ever to appear panicked on set (makes everyone else nervous and it makes it seem like we’re not in control of the situation), having a lawn sprinkler go off right next to our head carts and distro boxes will make us scramble like, well, like people scrambling to get expensive lighting equipment out of water. When there’s a threat of rain, we carry these big plastic bags that go over the carts, but we generally leave them on the truck if the weather forecast is for clear skies.

The funny thing about this is that whenever there’s any kind of water, most non-set lighting people freak out about the cable getting wet. Really, this is no big deal – the cable itself is waterproof, and can get as wet as it likes – hell, the cable itself can be submerged in water and it’s fine. It’s the place where one piece of cable connects to the next that’s the problem (or when a piece of cable connects to a distro box).

Also, there are other, more expensive pieces of equipment that don’t like to get wet under any circumstances.

Like yesterday – the real panic was about the HMI lamps – those things can’t get wet under any circumstances**, and since we were told the sprinklers were off, we parked the cart right next to a sprinkler head (we weren’t even thinking about it – locations had told us they were off, so we picked the best spot).

Hence the scramble.

After we’d moved our carts (and put traffic cones over the sprinkler heads to contain the spray), we surveyed the damage, and luckily only two of the heads (the light itself) got wet and none of the ballasts, so we just didn’t use those, which wasn’t a problem since we were working for one of the (increasingly rare) DPs who don’t overlight, so we only used about half our stuff.

The real tragedy was that my newspaper got soaked before I had a chance to read it.

Note to homeowners: If you don’t know how to turn off the sprinklers, please for the love of all that’s holy tell the location person that – no one’s going to think you’re stupid. Hell, they probably don’t know how to turn off their sprinklers at home, either, but instead of letting it go and potentially causing tens of thousands of dollars of damage to equipment (because set lighting’s not the only ones who have stuff that doesn’t like water), just say something and someone will figure out the system.


Once my boss got to the sprinkler control panel, it took him about 90 seconds to turn them off.

*After the panic died down, the homeowner finally confessed.

**Tungsten lamps – which are the same color temperature as your indoor light bulbs and are much less finicky than HMIs – can get wet (when they’re not burning, of course – when they’re burning they shouldn’t get too wet because the lens can crack and if water gets inside it can cause a short) and they’re fine, because they have no electronic parts in them.  HMIs are full of electronic gizmos that react really badly to water – or getting too hot, or getting too cold, or getting power that’s not the exact right kind.

Filed under: locations, Work, , , , , ,

Back again after all this time

For the past two days (Wednesday and today), I’m working on a show that I’ve not worked on for almost two years. In the interim, they’ve completely changed crews (twice, I hear), although they’re still on the same stages in Hollywood.

The sets are still the same, but the stash points and staging areas have all changed, so I’m not that familiar with the stages or this crew’s slang terms for things (every crew has their own lingo and on some crews that lingo is more, um, obtuse than on others), but I managed to get through the day yesterday, although we’re on a different stage today and I’m finding myself having trouble navigating through this particular set, so I’m doing a lot of set up work at the carts (when the gaffer calls for a light, I’ll pull it off the cart and get it ready and then hand it off to someone who’s capable of running the rat maze of a hospital set more quickly than I am).

The ‘new’ crew are all really nice, plus, there’s enough of us that we’re not getting worked half to death – and since we’re in a stage with wifi all day and not moving too much I was hoping to catch up on some internets.

That’s probably not going to work out, though. This DP’s a “tweaker”. This means he’s always adding and moving lights up until the last minute (and sometimes between takes) so I’m not getting to sit down very much. This is opposed to the show I’ve been working on (and hence have gotten used to), where once they’ve declared the scene ‘lit’, they walk away (most of the time – everyone changes something at the last minute sometimes).

This is actually not a bad thing – this particular stage is so vigorously air conditioned that it feels like a meat locker. Every time I sit down, I get really cold since I didn’t bring a jacket with me (I usually don’t when I’m working inside all day), so really moving around is the better choice.

My stomach is feeling much better, although I’m still not eating much due to about three million canker sores which have suddenly appeared in my mouth – this makes eating rather painful, and today the caterer served Mexican food, which I can assure you is not something to be avoided when one has a mouth full of sores.

Tomorrow, I’m on another show, and since we’re going to be here until at least 10 pm I’m hoping once again to get lucky on the turnaround time.

UPDATE: Of course, every single morsel of food that’s been on the craft service table today has been loaded with salt. Second meal tonight is Italian food which I’m not going anywhere near. It hurts just to think about it.

Filed under: studio lots, Work, , , , , ,

Third time’s a charm, I guess

I hate getting sick at work – there’s this guilt at leaving the crew a ‘man down’ if you go home, but you’re no good to anyone if you stay and continue to be sick, so the crew’s a man down anyway so why not puke (or whatever else it is that you’re having to do) in the comfort of one’s home and not in a semi public restroom (or worse, the portable ‘shitters’ that we use on location)?

Guess what happened to me today?

We broke late for lunch, so they had to hold the commissary open for us (past their normal closing time of 3 pm), so I guess the food just sat there in the steam trays festering and growing… something.

It was so tempting, too. They were serving corned beef and cabbage. I love corned beef and cabbage, and it’s actually a good choice to hold for a while because you really have to work to dry out something with that much fat (an occupational hazard of ours is production telling the caterer that we’re going to break at a certain time, and then getting delayed and breaking an hour after the food’s mummified from sitting and waiting for us to break).

Right after they called us back from lunch (and as soon as we started lighting, of course) I started not feeling so great and had to go to the ladies room. Right when we really started lighting (and right when I really needed to be back on the set to help my co-workers), my lunch decided to come back up.  Yuck.

The one good thing is that it was over quickly, and once lunch came up I felt well enough that after a quick visit to the on-lot nurse (at the insistence of our lot best boy who’s a great guy and just has my best interests at heart) I was able to stay at work. The last couple of times I’ve eaten something bad and been sick at work it’s been much, much worse (here and here).

I still haven’t wanted to eat anything (it’s now almost midnight and this happened at around 5 pm), but at least I’m not defiling the plastic plants in my neighborhood food store.

Oh, shit. It’s almost midnight.

I have to be back at work (but on a different show this time so it’s damned lucky we wrapped when we did because all the rules about turnaround* don’t apply when one’s on a different show the next day) at 8 am.

*Turnaround is the time between when wrap is called on one day and the call time the next day. 12 hours is ideal, 10 hours is common and 9 hours, while allowed, is generally considered to be poor sportsmanship on the part of production.

Filed under: mishaps, Work, , , , ,

Of all the days for me to pack light.

Generally, what I take to work is about the same no matter what I’m doing – items get added and subtracted depending on circumstances (rain gear, for instance, isn’t necessary in the summer months). In an effort to pack light, if I’m certain I’m not going to need something I won’t bring it.

Yesterday, I thought I was going to be the board operator, so I left certain items at home – like my toolbelt. Really, I don’t need the toolbelt if I’m going to be sitting in a chair pushing buttons all day, so it’s just added weight in the bag that my back will thank me to leave at home. Ditto the stiff work shoes that give me ankle support when I’m carrying something heavy – if I’m sitting in a chair all day, I can get away with wearing soft sneakers that are much more comfortable.

So when I got to work yesterday, I was surprised (and a little dismayed given what I’d left at home) to find the regular board operator siting there – first unit were out on location, so he’d stayed behind. Since he’s been running the board on this show since it started, he’s really the best choice for the job under any circumstance (I’m just the redheaded stepchild here), so I just inwardly groaned at now being woefully unprepared to do my job.

Luckily, I was able to borrow some gloves (the one thing I absolutely cannot do without), and then if I needed a tool throughout the day I just had to find one of my co-workers and beg.


Lucky (or unlucky) for me everyone just thought this was funny.

The other serious miscalculation I made involved the gym. Last week, I got clearance from the doctor to go back to the gym (I have to wear the knee brace at work, and am still forbidden from running, but it’s a start), so on Sunday I worked out like crazy, thinking I’d be sitting in a chair most of the day yesterday.


Of course, this particular set is two levels, and three guesses who kept having to go upstairs and up the ladders? Actually, going up wasn’t bad – it was coming down that really hurt.

It’s probably better that I didn’t sit all day, because this morning I’m not nearly as stiff as I would have been – so I guess I can’t really complain. I’m also a lot less tense right now.

At wrap, one of our actors commented: “You seem much happier today than usual”

I don’t know if I was happier or just distracted because of the pain. Probably a little bit of both.
When I don’t work out, I get cranky. I guess the gym is where I vent my pent-up modern city dwelling aggression, so I’m much calmer when I’m working out (I guess this makes me an addict) – On the drive home, I didn’t yell insults at the other motorists nearly as much as I usually do. I just sat in the car, happily listening to the new CD I bought, and then when I got home, I soaked in a tub full of Epsom salts before I went to bed.

I’m still a little sore this morning, but since I know that I’m going to be running around, I can pack accordingly (laptop? no. Work shoes? Yes. Arnica cream for sore legs? Oh hell, yes)

I might even bring my gym bag and try to hit the gym after work (depending on what time we wrap and how much turnaround we have).

Filed under: mishaps, Work, , , , , , , ,

Hooray for reduced traffic (I think).

It used to be, that when I wrote something about, say, refusing to take a cat across town to see a fucking kitty eye-doctor, I’d get hate mail from what seemed like every wacko with a pulse and a keyboard.

That was back in the Blogger days – when I moved the blog, I lost around 60 percent of my traffic, which, I’m told, is normal (so much for my thinking I was special and that people would love me enough to update their damn bookmarks), so after yesterday’s declaration of kitty-type hatefulness, I didn’t get one hate mail.

Not one.

I got a hate Meebo message, which I’m counting as about one-third of an actual email due to the extra lameness factor of trying to scold a total stranger in text-speak (“u r mean”).

I’m not sure if it’s just harder to email me via WordPress, or if no one cares anymore. Either way, I win.

Filed under: Non-Work, Off-Topic, overspending, , , , , , ,

October 2007

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

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