Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

You dropped a bomb on me

Yesterday’s location was an abandoned furniture store in one of LA’s many overbuilt suburbs – our director, after surveying the half empty shopping mall and the few customers circling the vast parking lot like vultures,  referred to the place as ‘one exit too far’.

Although the actual store which housed our set was really big, there was one problem – lingering farts left by.. someone.  All would be well and I’d be going about my day and then I’d walk into the fallout of a gastric war zone.

At one point, I asked local 80 goddess: “does this whole building smell like a fart”?

“No, it’s little pools of farts.”

“Oh, good. I thought it was my imagination.”

At first, we thought it might be the production company’s air conditioning guy – the large portable studio A/C units get parked outside the building and the cool air is moved through the set via flexible ducts that lay on the floor (often running right through our staging area, meaning we have to step over a 24″ round pipe while carrying heavy equipment, but that’s a different story).

As the shoot moves to different areas around the building, the A/C guy has to re-run the tubes – bending over and stretching the flexible tubes out, so it seemed a reasonable assumption, but the smell was pervasive when he was outside the building at craft service, so no go on that idea.

Then, we thought that it might be someone who was sitting outside near the ac intake vent and farting  but the smell wasn’t coming out of the tubes, which we figured out after a game of ‘rock, paper, scissors’ to determine who had to stick their head in the tube and breathe deeply.

After polling the rest of the crew, we decided that it was someone doing a “drive by”.  Gas, on set, can be used as a weapon. Load up on beans*, walk by target, let loose, walk away.

The targets of drive bys are normally fairly predictable – someone who’s being a prick but who can’t leave the set or the video village area: director, DP, producer, actor.  Normally, when someone in Grip or Electric farts, it gets mentioned on the walkie, but since there was radio silence, none of us had any ideas.

The gas continued throughout the day, and we never figured out who was doing it or  the intended target.

We never figured out who it was, or the intended target – if anyone.  I guess sometimes gas is just gas.

*I’ve been told that the best ammunition for a drive by is a hard boiled egg and a Dr. Pepper.

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

Friday photo

trudging towards set

The enemy of film crews who roll just about everything we have on wheeled carts is sand.  Deep soft sand makes it impossible to use the wheel (which is a nifty invention) and means that we have to pick up everything and carry it.

Many of the lights we use aren’t all that heavy, but have multiple parts (head, scrims, barn doors, ballast, feeder cables, stand) which can’t be carried by one person, so the normal solution is to throw the whole ugly mess in a cart and bring it to set.

Not so much with the sand.

Large lamps can’t be moved easily, either, since the wheeled stands won’t roll in deep (or shallow, for that matter) sand – which means that they require four guys to move them.

We hate that. So does our boss, who can’t get lamps placed as quickly as he or she would like due to the increased need for manpower because of that sand.

This particular set was in the bed of a mostly dry river (it’ll be a mostly full river once the rains start), so we ended up having to carry equipment over the deep soft sand all night.

Luckily we had enough manpower so things came together fairly well, but boy do my calves hurt now.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Speaking of being late

I thought I had Monday off, but I got an early morning call to come in and cover someone who had called in sick. Unexpected work is my favorite reason to be pulled out of a dead sleep at 7 am.

I gathered my things, jumped in car, and after a stop for coffee, decided to get some gas for the drive across town and back. As I was pulling out of the station, my car died. No smoke, no clunk,  nothing – it just shut off.

After swearing and trying unsuccessfully to restart it, I called a tow truck. Luckily I broke down a few blocks from the mechanic where I normally take my car, so I figured I could get a tow fairly quickly, get a rental and get to work. I then sat and sat while said tow truck failed to show up.

At some point when dust started to settle on me, I called my boss and suggested that since I was going to be a while he might be better off to call someone else who would be able to show up before lunch.

Right after that, the tow truck showed up and hauled my car to the mechanic.

Although I’d reserved a rental car at a company with an office near the garage, I didn’t bother to pick it up as I thought I wasn’t working, and figured I could cancel it from the land line once I got home and had some breakfast.

I started walking the mile (or so) home and when I was about halfway there, my boss called and told me the other day player who they’d called had also broken down on the way to work and couldn’t make it in at all, so  I had to do an about-face and march to the rental place to get the car – and still no breakfast.

After getting stuck in line behind the tourists with endless questions, I grabbed the keys to my econo-sedan, got on my way and showed up at work about two hours before lunch.

Luckily everyone seemed to think the entire episode was hilarious.  Except me, of course.  At least the car didn’t die late-night in the parking lot of some godforsaken cell-service free movie ranch at 2 am.

The car needed a new fuel pump so between that and the rental I worked for free Monday.

I turned the rental back in this morning – it was kind of fun to turn corners at speed, although I’m used to an SUV so sitting down that close to the road kind of freaked me out.

What I want now is one of those nifty GPS units. I had fun programming in a destination, driving off of the planned route and listening to it freak out (“please return to the highlighted route” pause “please return to the highlighted route” long pause “recalculating”).

It takes so little to amuse me these days.

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

Reflections of late

Nothing will make me panic faster than thinking I’m going to be late to work. Not only do I hate being late in general, but being consistently tardy is something that will get one’s name dropped from the call list in fairly short order.

I wasn’t late this morning, but I was cutting it a bit close (generally, I try to get to the lot about 1/2 an hour early, so I can find parking, wander over to the stage and then have  breakfast and not have to rush. Getting to work later than 15 minutes before call time is cutting it too close for comfort), so when I pulled up to the guard gate, I was happy to see only one car in front of me.

A car which pulled up just short of the gate and then stopped while the driver made a phone call. Of course, he was close enough to the gate that I couldn’t drive around him.

Normally this wouldn’t have bothered me, but that cold clock-related fear gripped me after a couple of minutes of waiting on Mr. Phone Call I did something that I almost never do: I leaned on the horn.  Then, I stuck my head out of the window and yelled at him to either move forward or get out of the way so I could go through the gate and get to work.

He looked startled, and then gave me that weak sort of ‘I know this is my fault but go away’ wave and didn’t pull forward, so I leaned on the horn again. By then, I was really freaking out about sitting there just outside the guard gate while the clock ticked. Not only did I have to find parking, but I had to walk all the way across the lot to the stage.

It’s hard to explain just how frowned upon tardiness is in film crews, but it’s easy to explain why.  Mainly it’s because we have to a lot of work right at call – if we’re on location, we’re unloading our trucks right at our call time and showing up late means that we’re short a guy just as we get to push heavy carts up a hill or run additional cable or change all the tubes in the the Kinos.  On stage it’s not quite so frantic but we’re still usually busy clearing out whatever set they’re using to rehearse or setting up some light we’re going to use later so it’s unfair to the rest of the crew to be late, and that gets noticed.

Smelly? Toothless? Wearing an offensive T-shirt? Covered in boils? Had a stroke last week and can’t use one arm? Fine, fine.. we’ll work around it. But show up after call time without a damn good excuse and word gets around.

“Yeah, he’s an okay worker, but he was… late.”

Some crews are more tolerant than others, of course, but no one counts ‘tardy’ as a quality they’re willing to overlook.

For someone who gets work based on repeat calls and referrals, this is the stuff of nightmares.

After a few more excruciating minutes during which I contemplated using my car to push his to the gate, the guard came out and got my chatty friend to move. He pulled forward and got his pass, and then drove veeeerrrrrry slowly into the parking garage.

I tore like hell through the garage, found a parking space fairly quickly and then hightailed it across the lot as fast as I could, got to the stage with a few minutes to spare and then found out that the gaffer was late that day.

At least it wasn’t me.

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

What a difference a decade makes

The last time I worked at the Redondo Beach power plant was at least 10 years ago. Maybe longer.  We ran cable all over the place and production issued us no safety gear, gave us no admonition to watch out for lead paint or broken floors or random dangerous things. We went in, did the job, brushed the paint chips off before we got in the car to go home and that was that.

Complaints about the interior of the plant would likely have been met with a helpful suggestion to shut the fuck up and get back to work.

This particular building was completely vetted for asbestos quite some time ago, so that’s really never been a concern (especially for those of us who worked at the Ambassador Hotel, which was asbestos central), but what’s left now is an astonishing amount of lead paint that’s peeling off almost every visible surface inside and outside the plant.

So this time, with the new kinder gentler film industry, we were issued hard hats, given a very long lecture by the studio’s safety department, and informed that a cleaning crew had been in for days in an attempt to manage the peeling lead paint in the plant. Although the lower level of the plant (where the actors were) was really, really clean (as in the cleanest industrial location I’ve ever seen), the metal mesh upper decks between the pipes where we were walking around and setting lights hadn’t been cleaned or sealed at all.

So each time we had to lean over to set a light, shimmied past the stands to get to a light, walked over the set,  or exhaled heavily we’d brush something or other and send a shower of dust and paint chips down on the actors who were sitting in the nice ‘clean’ set below. When there are sixteen lights, flags, stands, four electricians and three grips in a tight space it’s just not possible to avoid bumping or brushing up against things no matter how hard one tries.

Since the set was spread out over two levels of the plant, we put half our carts on the lower level and half on the upper level – of course, when I was upstairs, whatever I  needed was in the downstairs carts and when I was downstairs, whatever I needed was in the upstairs carts.  Also, due to the layout of the levels, the locations of the stairs and having to avoid those pipes made getting from one place to another a bit challenging.

Although the hard hat made me feel marginally safer, with the maze of pipes around narrow walkways, random metal bits sticking up out of the floors and protruding from the walls I bashed every single part of my body except my head. I should have worn body armor and shin guards.

Call time: 10:30 am

Wrap time: 2:30 am

Heading home after wrap, I got turned around and couldn’t find the entrance to the freeway – when I finally found one, there was only an on-ramp going in the wrong direction. Sometimes I hate you, Los Angeles.

Once I managed to get on the freeway I drove like the proverbial bat out of hell and got home at 3.

Filed under: hazardous, locations, long long drives, toxic waste, up all night, Work, , , , ,

Wednesday Photo

Yay! Election’s over and the world is still here!

Clouds over the hills

This photo comes to you courtesy of the owner of a tall building on Wilshire Blvd. who forgot to lock the door to the roof. I would have climbed up the ladder onto the billboard platform (which would have been about 25 feet higher), but I had on the wrong shoes.

I’m working tomorrow, which will probably be my only day this week – one day a week breaks me even with unemployment, which is good, but it doesn’t allow me to put anything into savings.

Guess I’ll just enjoy the view and try not to worry.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Tuesday Photo

Since I, for one, need a giggle today:

Poster

Spotted on Fairfax Ave just north of 6th St.

I’m glad I voted early – the lines at my polling place are unbelievable.

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

Election fatigue

For the three of you who’ve been living in a cave for the past few months, tomorrow we have an election. Not just any election, but the most annoying, highest media hysteria and pundit-rich election that I can remember.

Every time I turn on the television or the radio, a barrage of scare-tactic ads burst forth informing me that if I don’t vote a certain way, life as we know it will end on Wednesday. The blue guy, the red guy, vote for love, vote for change, vote for families, vote for a train (or something), and what will become of the children?

The name-calling, the inflammatory rhetoric, the outright lies, the vaguely icky celebrity endorsements, the hostility, the polarization of the country, the reams and reams of glossy junk mail, flyers being pushed aggressively at passers-by, plus all sorts of lawn signs that have sprouted like mushrooms all over the city. I shudder to think of the strain on our already bursting landfills.

The real irony here (for me, at least) is that I’ve already voted so I’ve signed off on the whole process.

Last week, I ventured down to the bowels of Norwalk and voted early at the county registrar – I got lucky and went on a day when there were no lines, so I was in and out in under an hour.

If I hadn’t, I would have had an early call tomorrow and worked until after the polls closed (plus, they’re expecting record turnout so no in and out quickly this time). Of course, because I took the time to vote early, I’ll be off tomorrow.

Whichever, I won’t have to stand in the line now, but I’m getting tired of the rhetoric and outright bile that’s currently spewing from people who really should know better than to behave like this. If I hear one more person dust off that hoary “commie” speech or refer to anyone else as a ‘brownshirt’, I’m going to scream.

When did we become a nation of 6 year-olds? Can’t we all just be adults about this?

I know for a fact that it’s possible to respectfully disagree with someone and not resort to childish name calling – if I get in political arguments at work, the chances are that I won’t get called back again, so I just have to smile and say something along the lines of “Well, we’ll just have to agree to disagree on that one. Where’s crafty and how’s the coffee on this show?”.

I’m extremely opinionated and if I can learn to respectfully disagree and change the subject in order to find common ground, then so can everyone else.

Don’t make me pull this election off the road and come back there to teach you some manners.

Thankfully, in just about 24 hours it will all be over.

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

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