Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

The logic escapes me.

I miss so much of the off-camera drama when I day-play*. This may or may not be a good thing.

Today, I noticed that this particular show’s lead actor was listed on the call sheet under a fake name. Although I’ve seen this a few times on movies starring whichever unfortunate soul is the current paparazzi whipping boy (or girl), I’ve never once seen it on a TV show.

Of course, I asked my boss about it.

Turns out, said actor had a stalker who bluffed his (or her – the stalker’s gender wasn’t specified) way onto the lot and harassed the poor guy. So production, in an attempt to foil the stalker and protect the actor decided to give him a fake name on the call sheet (they also beefed up security and moved his trailer to a less accessible location).

Setting aside the fact that someone who’s savvy enough to be able to get onto a studio lot is going to be able to figure out the little bit of call-sheet subterfuge in about 15 seconds, is that the best you people can do nowadays? Have we, as a nation, really become so unimaginative?

Of all the people in the world to stalk, you pick an actor ? Come on.

I don’t have anything against actors per se (longtime readers will remember that I used to date one), but really – as a group they’re just not that interesting. Trust me on this one.

When I mentioned something to that effect, a co-worker asked which person I’d stalk, were I so inclined.

We got called to deal with some on-set emergency or other before I could answer, but after giving it some thought I’m fairly certain I’d stalk Henry Kissinger.

It would be fun! I’d sneak into his house and tape pictures of Cambodian children maimed by land mines to his bathroom mirror, call him up at 3 am and make some sort of bad wordplay using the word ‘junta’ (hey, it’s easier than Pinochet), sign him up for Noam Chomsky’s email list, maybe periodically FedEx him a box containing little models of the Eiffel Tower, tiny plush-toy condors (if Gund doesn’t make those, they should start) and a scrawled note on stained paper about knowing what he did last summer (or something).

Plus, I speak German so I can harangue him in his native language, too. You know, just to keep things interesting.

Everybody wins!

Yes, I realize this less of a stalking and more of a grudge (and/or terrorizing of a parenthetical war criminal with one foot in the grave), but really, are they all that different?

Both are emotionally unhealthy and a waste of energy which could be used for something productive.

On the other hand, SAG will soon go on strike and I’ll have nothing but time on my hands. All I’ll need then is a plane ticket, a tube of lipstick and a plastic wrapped…

Oh, never mind. I’d rather stay home and paint the kitchen.

*Day players aren’t permanent crew on any one show. They work a day here and a day there on different shows.

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

The sun’s still up and I’m off to bed

Tomorrow morning I have to be at work at 4:30. In the morning.

Not get up at 4:30. Be at the lot, on the truck and relatively coherent at 4:30. This means I need to get out of bed somewhere in the 3ish range.

The really sucky part is that the nearest branch of McCoffee used to open at 4 am but recently changed their hours. Now, they open at 4:30, which doesn’t help me one little bit.

I know the obvious solution would be to make coffee at home, but the only coffeemaker I have is a french press and I seriously doubt I’m going to be co-ordinated enough that early in the morning to be able to figure out that one.

I’m lucky if I’m able to speak that early in the morning. Besides, McCoffee is easy. I just swing by, refuse to call it a “grande”, pay my money and I’m on my way. A work day ritual, if you will.

Hopefully the donut shop where all the cops hang out will have some decent Java.

On the bright side, we’ll be going to lunch at 10:30 am (six hours from call), so the food at the commissary won’t be aged and we’ll get in before the rush.

I’m going to pack my bag before I go to bed (at 7:30pm) – the last time I had a call this early, I forgot my cell phone and my sunglasses.

Filed under: crack of dawn, Work, , , ,

An unexpected reunion

When I strolled onto the stage, I wasn’t expecting anything other than the normal workday (set it up, break it down, set it up, break it down, lunch, repeat, go home), but I saw someone I haven’t seen in at least 2 years – the Local 80 Goddess.

She’s a good friend, but we don’t see each other that often due to conflicting schedules, so we got to catch up between lighting set-ups, which was nice.

This sort of thing happens a lot in the film industry – we develop occasional friends that we see when we’re on a show with them or when we happen to run into them, not because we don’t like them, but just because there never seems to be time. I’m off, friend’s on a show. Friend is off, I’m on a show. I’m on a show in Utah, friend is on a show in Texas (not so much anymore, of course, but back in the day the LA crews used to travel a good bit more than we do now and it was one more excuse not to be able to return phone calls), and so on. We’re happy when we see each other, but so many friendships (for me, at least) seem to get put on hold and picked up again at the whim of the work schedule.

It’s amazing I manage to keep any friends at all, really.

Speaking of work, it’s starting to slow down a little bit – the few TV shows that were shooting are wrapping up in anticipation of a SAG strike (which is now going to put me out of work even if it doesn’t happen), so I’ll have more spare time to catch up and do the stuff I didn’t get to during the earlier strike-induced four months of unemployment.

At least it’s cooled off some – it even rained a bit today. I’ve got the windows open now and I’m actually a bit chilly, which is very nice. I still have residual brain lag from the weekend heat, and the combination of hot and dry had convinced the neighborhood ant population to invade my kitchen looking for water, shelter, and cheap booze.

I’ve been using the hippy citrus spray, and it’s not working that well, but I’ve always been hesitant to spray anything stronger on a food preparation surface. I won’t have to worry about it for a few more days though, thanks to the rain.

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

I never seem to learn

I have a birthday coming up and I’ve decided that the perfect gift for me (in case you’re shopping) is a Bad Idea Monkey.

Basically, I need a monkey to sit on my shoulder and hit me over the head with a blunt instrument whenever I have a really bad idea – which, this past weekend, occurred about every 10 minutes.

Friday: The news predicted a gradual warm-up over the weekend, so I figured it would be an excellent day to ride my bike out to Santa Monica so I could go to the ‘good’ gym (it’s not all that great, it just has a lower Band-Aid (TM) to pool water ratio than does the gym that’s close to my house). Needless to say, the warm-up was not, in fact, gradual and I got caught by the heat on the ride home. At one point I figured it was a great idea to find a bus and get on it as I was relatively certain I could feel my brain swelling (or shrinking, depending on your viewpoint), and sat in the shade for a few minutes while I failed to find any spare change anywhere on my person. I guess it was a win, though because I did find some electrolyte tablets which kept me conscious until I got home.

Saturday: I figured that since the weather had officially been set to ‘broil’, I needed some straw to use as mulch for my garden to keep the soil from turning into a hard dry wasteland (plants, I’m told, do not like this). Of course, the place to get straw is a feed store, and the feed stores in Los Angeles are all located in the hottest parts of the city, so I drove north until the air felt like a furnace, parked in a vast wasteland of blacktop, and then single-handedly wrestled two bales of straw into the cargo area of my carpeted SUV. Also of course, I hadn’t thought about any type of carpet/straw barrier method so the bales immediately started shedding straw bits all over the inside of my car. Since my air conditioning works but using it makes my fuel economy go from moderately bad to laughable, I stupidly got on the freeway with two bales of straw in the back and all the windows down. I’m still picking bits of straw out of my hair.

Bad Idea Monkey, where are you?

Sunday: I got up early to go throw the straw into the garden, but then realized it was the weekly farmer’s market so I went there first. Market starts at 8:30, I got home around 9:45 and didn’t get to the garden until after 10 am. Then, I had to wrestle two bales of straw out of the back of the truck and into a wheelbarrow (in case you were wondering, a bale of straw is much longer and wider than a wheelbarrow and as such must be placed in the wheelbarrow on the narrow side, making the wheelbarrow top and front heavy) and then push precariously overloaded wheelbarrow up a hill to the actual garden.

Once I got the straw there I had to cut the bales, break it (mostly) out of the flakes and lay it down. Then I had to pull out yet another tomato that got the ick, water, and then go and clean the three inches of straw leavings out of the back of the truck. All this in 100+ degree heat. I sweated off my sunblock and got burned, so of course I then went to an LAist barbecue where I continued to fry until it finally cooled off about 8 pm. My back’s now starting to itch and I’m betting it’s going to start peeling while I’m at work.

Wow. I really need that monkey.

I’ll be on an air conditioned stage tomorrow which is good, and the weather’s supposed to be 20 degrees cooler.

Filed under: Non-Work, , , , , ,

And the heat’s on

For the past couple of weeks, it’s been cool and overcast in LA, which is always something I enjoy knowing that once it really gets hot I’m going to broil straight through until Thanksgiving.

Each day that I’m not sweating profusely is a meteorological special happy place.

Since I haven’t worked so far this week, I’ve been out on the bike every day enjoying the mist and the cool air (and not using overpriced gasoline, which is always good).

Well, that’s going away now. The cool days are becoming fewer, the hot days are becoming more frequent and the news is predicting record heat over the weekend (and issuing warnings about heat stroke and general sweatiness). It’s easily 20 degrees warmer today than it was yesterday and going to get even hotter, which I’m predicting my tomatoes will not like one little bit.

I’ve already lost two to my garden’s soil borne tomato wilt (also known as “creeping crud”, “icky” and “goddammit”) – one of the two Marvel Stripe plants I had and sadly, my only Jetsetter (the perfect food porn tomato – perfectly round, perfectly red, perfectly tomato-y, perfectly hard to find. Oh, well. Maybe next year), and I’m desperately hoping the extreme temperature shift won’t finish off the rest of them.

I’m also not sure if I should call the diet a success or failure so far. I’ve only lost 5 lbs (target was 10), but my body fat percentage has gone from 26% to 22%.

I don’t think that muscle weight is any better for my knees than fat weight, so I may have to re-think my strategy of hell-bent weightlifting until I can grate cheese on my abs.

Guess I’ll sweat some of it off this weekend by just going outside.  Although if bits of Southern California keep catching fire I may have to stay indoors.

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

Nectar of the gods

Over the weekend I did a favor job for a good friend of mine (who’s gotten me a lot of work, so gets the occasional weekend on a student film out of me. Everyone else who asks me to work on a student film? Go to hell – and I mean that in the nicest possible way) that shot in southern Orange County.

I rarely make it south of the “orange curtain” just because there’s not that much down there that really interests me. Don’t start with the Disneyland. I hate Disneyland. It’s hot, there’s endless lines, totally lame rides and annoying characters from cartoons I never liked much as a kid (now, if they had a Bugs Bunny land, I might feel differently).

Luckily I managed to hitch a ride down there so I didn’t have to worry about spending a bazillion dollars in gas, and the students were all really nice and fun, and we actually got some great helpers so the day wasn’t too bad.. except for the food. The instructor/producer decided not to provide coffee for the crew, which baffles me as Hollywood marches on caffeine since cocaine became something to which one should just say no (or something).

Not that I was expecting stellar food or anything. It’s students – I understand that they can’t afford on-demand cappuccinos or food that’s not something college-aged stoners like.

So, when I decided not to eat the provided lunch of extra-yeasty chain ‘deli’ sandwiches that had been sitting on a table in a warm room for four hours (“it’s okay, we asked for no mayo”) and ventured out, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself smack in the middle of the largest Vietnamese community outside of Vietnam.

For me, this means one thing:

Pho.

I love pho. I could eat it three times a day every day, and over the weekend, that’s exactly what I did – except when my curiosity got the better of me and I tried the goat curry, which was also incredibly delicious.

This particular pho place was by far the best I’ve had. It seemed to be popular – at lunch on the first day, I looked up from my bowl and I was the only white person in the joint. I’m calling it a pretty good find considering I just pulled into the first place I found figuring that even if it was bad it would be better than the salmonella on white waiting back at the set. If I’m ever back in southern Orange County, I’ll know where to eat.

After a bowl of pho, some spring rolls (unlike deli sandwiches, these are better when held at room temp) and a glass of super-strong Vietnamese coffee I was ready to go back and deal with the students for the second half of each 14 hour day (plus, the commute back up to LA).

The only bad part is that the weekend of gorging on noodles and beef broth has left me lethargic and bloated up like a puffer fish. I’m trying to care that I didn’t get to the gym today, and I just can’t work up the energy.

Maybe tomorrow.

Filed under: long long drives, Work, , , ,

Ready, aim, fired!

I’d been doing a day here and there on a low budget for a friend of mine, and was supposed to come in to wrap a location this afternoon, but around 6 am I got a text informing me that the entire lighting crew had been replaced.

Not that any of said lighting crew were shedding any tears over this, mind you. Most had better paying jobs lined up within minutes, and firing crews is something that happens all the time on the lower rungs of the pay scale.

It usually happens like this:

Low Budget Producer (LBP), after four or five go-rounds of producing micro-budget cluster fucks and then foisting them off on some of the less-fashionable film fests, decides it’s time to run with the big dogs (so to speak) and gets a gig as Line Producer or UPM on what (for him or her) is a HUGE show, but is, in reality, just over million dollars (which, in movie world, is equivalent to the change you find under the couch cushions).

Now, LBP is used to dealing with small amounts of equipment (most of LBP’s previous shows have had lighting packages that fit nicely into a minivan that’s seen better days) and 10 person crews (two electric, one grip, three camera, director, two production assistants, and him/herself), so he or she takes a look at this show’s numbers, becomes horrified at how much the dirty toolbelt people are costing the show, and freaks out.

LBP can’t understand why we keep asking for more people (“can’t they come down out of the condor and work the set? Why do we need a wrap crew? Can’t the set guys just do it after we’re done? What, now you want water, too? It’s only 110 degrees out.”) and more equipment (“just pull the cable off the last set. I know we’re going back there tomorrow, but you can put it back in just before we shoot, right?”) and at some point decides that it’s a vast conspiracy (possibly right-wing, LBP’s not sure) to drive him or her crazy and run the production into the ground just for shits and giggles.

At this point, LBP starts making completely unreasonable demands – usually cutting crew and equipment orders to the bone while expecting things to get done more faster and more better with fewer people and less equipment – and when warned by the best boys of what’s going to happen (“We can try to rig three sets in four hours with two people who are ‘breaking away’ from the shooting crew when they have the time in between lighting set-ups, but we probably won’t be ready and you’ll all have to sit and wait while we scramble around trying to catch up”) if they stick to the plan, freak out again and decide to deal with the vast conspiracy (right wing, LBP’s now dead certain) by firing the crew and bringing in people who are more co-operative (read: less experienced).

Let me just take a moment to address any of you producer hopefuls that might still be reading:

Your crew is not trying to screw you over.

We are trying to do things in the most efficient way we know (based on experience. We’ve done this a lot), and sometimes that involves a scary amount of oddly-named stuff upfront (yes, they really are called ‘snakebites’ and we really do need a dozen of them). If an equipment list we’ve turned in really starts to make you dyspeptic, you can always come to us and ask us to try to get the numbers down for you and we’ll do the best we can.

We don’t want you to go over budget, really. We want you to help you impress your evil Porsche-driving overlords so you’ll get better-paying gigs and hire us to come work on them, but you have to trust us.

And I don’t mean that in the “fuck you” sense of the saying. I really mean it. Demanding that we defy the laws of physics and then throwing a temper tantrum when we can’t do it may be entertaining, but it’s ultimately unproductive.

DISCLAIMER: Just because someone is a producer on a low budget show does not mean they’re incompetent – I’ve worked with several who can shave the skin off a nickel and not kill the crew while doing it. These are the folks who trust their crew and let us do our job.

Filed under: mishaps, movies, rants, Work, , , , , , ,

Friday Photo

Dolly Track

The wooden wedges under the dolly track are to keep the track perfectly smooth and level – you’d be surprised how many bumps and craters there are in any supposedly level ground.

Since movie cameras don’t have image stabilization, even the slightest little divot in the track, on screen, will look like the camera operator got picked up and shaken mid-dolly move.

My call today is noon, which means I’m not getting home until well past midnight (the split: half day, half night. Also known as “Fuck You Friday”. You wanna have a weekend? Afternoon call. Fuck you). As long as I get home before the Friday night drunk drivers descend on my neighborhood, I’m fine. A couple of weeks ago there was a three a.m. drunken drag race right in front of my house. Ah, Hollywood…

I’ve almost got enough hours to make sure that I keep my health insurance in the event of another protracted work stoppage. Yay!

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

The work expands to fit the time allotted.

I usually bitch about working for much less than scale, but this particular job was a favor for a good friend of mine, so I just couldn’t say no. The rate worked out to considerably less than half of what I normally make, but the day had a 10 hour guarantee, which meant we got paid for 10 hours whether we worked that long or not, so the plan was to get there early, ‘hit it hard’ and get the hell out before it got too hot (also, working shorter hours would make us all feel better about the low rate).

We got there just after dawn, and with only a few hundred feet of cable to run and some lamps to rough in*, I figured I’d be out early enough to do laundry and get home in time to watch The Simpsons.
Not so much.

While the facades on backlots do have installed power, this production didn’t want to use it, so we had to run our own cable from the generator, over spider-infested piles of junk and through the maze-like interiors – inside the facades, there’s no such thing as a direct route from point A to point B. Although working inside the facades gave a break from the sun, everything was covered in dust.

I guess this part of the lot doesn’t get used much as there was at least a half-inch of dust everywhere. On the floor, on the window sills, hell, even the cobwebs in these particular facades were thick with the stuff.
When we walked across the floors, big puffs of dust rose and hung in the air before settling on our clothes and into the creases of our skin. By lunchtime, we all looked like those old photos of grime-coated coal miners – even my teeth felt gritty. Of course, running cable through the dust stirred up more huge clouds of it.

As the clock ticked and we crawled in and out of the facades, trams full of tourists passed by our set, leaning out over the side, frantically snapping pictures of us working.

I imagine their conversation went something along the lines of “Gawd, why are they all so dirty? The nice studio must be trying to help out some homeless people.”

Although I wanted to whip out the camera and shoot photos of the tourists shooting photos of me (and pointing. I seem to remember it being rude to point at someone and whisper while you’re looking directly at them), any action that can even remotely considered to be aggressive towards the trams will result in banning from the lot (and any associated work that takes place there. Try explaining that one to a best boy)

The thing about short days is that they’re almost never as short as promised. Somehow the work will find a way to expand – our boss will find more things to do, more little stuff that’s got to be rigged, more stuff that’s got to be changed after he talked to the gaffer, so day ended up running the full 10 hours instead of under 8. This isn’t really a problem – after all, 10 hours still feels, to me, like a fairly short day, but the dust and the sticky and the general uncomfortable made the time just crawl.

Isn’t it funny how the dust looks grey on the ground, but at the end of the day the shower water runs off black?

*Rough in means the lights are set up roughly where the gaffer thinks they might work, but the placement’s not exact.

Filed under: studio lots, Work, , , ,

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