Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

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.

Please.

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, , , , , ,

6 Responses

  1. David H. says:

    Yikes. That sucks. I worked on a show once where it rained cats and dogs and we didn’t stop shooting, even when the equipment was clearly getting wet. Stupid choice of the field producer, I think.

  2. Scripty says:

    “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.”–That would be me, well I don’t freak out BUT… after being told several horror stories about cable and rain…..I’m always really leery about stepping near the cable runs. Maybe the old timers were just trying to spook me when I was a newbie. Still… to this day (15 years later) I’m pretty careful not to stand in a puddle near cable.

    Peggy sez: That’s simple common sense, actually. We don’t waterproof it like we do the lamps and the distros, but you still shouldn’t stand in a puddle near it – you could get a shock even if the insulation’s not compromised. Why take the chance?

  3. boskolives says:

    A similar thing happened several years ago to a crew I was working on. It was a feature shooting on the grounds of the Veterans Administration in Westwood, except it was at 3 a.m. on the first night of a week of all-nighters.
    Everyone went from a near Zombie state to full on crash mode in about 2 seconds, nothing was hurt by the water but a lot of people got minor injuries from running into and tripping over things in the dark to grab stuff.
    Ever since then I’ve made a point of putting visqueen over any sprinkler heads that are even near to my sound cart, and then a sandbag on top of that.
    Of course the more prepared you are, the less likely that whatever it is that you fear will happen.

    http://boskolives.wordpress.com/

  4. Galen says:

    You should come up to Vancouver sometime and see wet gear! our 3/6 cable is called joy and it is from the mines so the connections are all pretty water resistant unlike your connectors which I have witnessed go up in flames after being wet and then frozen.
    In fun HMI stories, a spfx guy soaked the back of an 18k (it hadn’t been turned on yet thank god) with a two inch hose. The light worked 3 days later when we tried turning it on. The Gaffer (who owns the light) almost tackled the fx guy, it was pretty funny I watched the whole scene from a lift.. There were no hard feelings in the end.

  5. Proto says:

    Whew, whoever thought of the cones was thinking on their feet.

  6. nezza says:

    I read this on my lunchbreak at work the other day, chuckled quietly, and got interrogated.

    Sorry to hear your newspaper didn’t make it….

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