Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

Living it up at the Hotel California

The two things one must watch out for when shooting in hotels are sprinkler heads and guests.

During the first part of the day we were shooting in an unused conference room which had low ceilings, so although there were no guests lurking about there was a real risk of setting off the building’s fire sprinklers.

Since our lights burn at very high temperatures and the fact that we usually want to light the actors with the lamps above them (unless it’s a horror movie), usually this means having a 300+ degree lamp 2 inches away from a fire sprinkler with a melt point of 150 or so.

In case you’ve never been in a building that’s had it’s sprinklers set off, the water smells horrible (it’s been sitting in the pipes for years), and once it starts sprinkling it can’t be shut off. The firefighters have to shut off the water main, but even after that happens, the water comes out of the sprinklers until the pipes are completely dry.

Needless to say, no one ever wants to set off the sprinklers, so we do take every possible precaution to avoid it from happening.

We never put lamps directly under the sprinkler heads and we used a thermometer to keep track of the temperature, kept heat shields over the top of the lamps – plus we had the hotel’s engineering guys with us, who also had infrared thermometers and the morning was incident-free.

Back in the day, we used to tape a Styrofoam cup over the sprinkler head itself, but that seems to upset the fire marshall (and doesn’t work as well as you’d imagine unless you fill said cup with dry ice, which also seems to upset the fire marshall), so I haven’t seen anyone do that in a long time. Nowadays we just have to be aware of the location of the sprinkler heads and make sure that we don’t put any of our equipment too close to them.

This can be a bit frustrating for the gaffer as he or she sometimes can’t get the lamps in the exact right spot, but I’ve yet to meet anyone who has had a ‘damn the torpedo’ attitude about fire suppression systems – everyone in this industry has either been on The Show That Set Off The Sprinklers or has heard the stories*

In the afternoon, we moved down for a shot in the hotel’s lobby and had to contend with the second part of the equation – the guests. For some reason the amount of common sense displayed by hotel guests is in direct inverse proportion to the amount of money they shell out for the rooms.

Guests in low and mid-priced hotels will carefully watch their step, ask if we’re shooting and if it’s okay for them to walk through a work area. Guests in expensive hotels? Not so much.

The guests at expensive hotels walk around not paying attention to where they’re going, and then when they run into something they scream at the staff, who have understandably become insanely paranoid about movie crews.

Hotel Employee: “Excuse me. You’ll have to move that light”.

Me: “The one that’s over there in the corner with red flashing “danger” signs around it being guarded by three dobermans and a nest of trained hornets?”

Hotel Employee: “Yes, that one. A guest could walk into it and get hurt”.

Guests in expensive hotels also refuse to move out of the way of anyone carrying anything or vary their planned route for any reason at all – even if said planned route means that they have to clamber over the lower rungs of a ladder which is blocking a door to an outdoor patio instead of diverting four feet to either side and using an unobstructed door.  Really, at that point if you’re that invested in not veering to either side you may as well just walk under the fucking ladder.

Luckily, none of us were injured by errant guests and we only damaged the hotel a little bit.

We got finished early enough for me to go to the gym and swim for an hour, which was nice except the network hysteria about the swim team has led to a bunch of people with no clue about pool etiquette to have decided to try to break a world record after they get off work.

*Just because I know you’re wondering – I have, in fact, been on The Show That Set Off The Sprinklers. Twice.

Filed under: locations, Work, , , , ,

2 Responses

  1. C’mon, Peg — don’t tease us for too long. Other than getting a serious shock, falling (or dropping a big light on innocent heads from up high), setting off the fire sprinklers on location remains one of the greatest fears of any juicer. I’ve managed to avoid this horror-show over the course of 30 years — usually through being very careful, but more than once due to simple dumb luck — and I’ve not doubt it will remain a concern until I finally crawl into the safe haven of retirement.

    Do tell your stories — changing the names to protect the innocent, of course. Inquiring minds who wander the same minefield want to know.

  2. CookieDuster says:

    Have not popped a sprinkler head. But I did manage to melt a good section of an overhead panel in the cockpit of a luxury airliner once. Needless to say, the head of the airline being interviewed was none too happy, but he hid his displeasure quite well.

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