Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

Heat wave!

As is usual for September, Southern California is experiencing very hot weather – this year, though, it’s hotter than normal, and the temperatures have been setting records all over the city, including the west side (the part nearest the ocean, which normally stays comfortable even when the rest of the city’s frying).

So when I went to work yesterday I was really glad that we were going to be on an air-conditioned stage all day. Really, really glad.

Except that the stage’s air conditioning broke. It wasn’t just our stage, either. Three or four of the stages on the lot had the air conditioning units give out – I guess it was because of the extreme heat outside.

We all thought it was really hot in the stage, until we walked outside.

Christ up a tree.

Walking out of the stage door felt exactly like it does when you open your oven door. I’m not exaggerating.

We checked Weather Underground, who reported the temperature in West Los Angeles as 105 degrees (40.5 C). Of course, it was likely much hotter than that on the lot as concrete and asphalt tend to intensify heat.

Even as we were leaving at almost 10 pm, the temperature still hovered around 100 (37 C).

Today, of course, we were outside all day – except for one shot where we were on another one of the stages that had no AC.

Lucky for us today was ‘only’ 90 degrees (32 C).  Not so lucky for us, the humidity skyrocketed so standing outside kind of felt like a steam room. Not a nice relaxing steam room that smells of eucalyptus, though.  A  steam room with not enough steam that’s full of people who had garlic last night for dinner and didn’t shower before entering.

Around 4 pm, it suddenly cooled off  to about 80 (26 C) and I’ve never been so happy.  It felt almost, but not quite, chilly.

When I got home tonight, inside felt hot, but not ‘oh, dear Gods’ hot like it did yesterday.

The cat’s been trying to jump into the refrigerator whenever I turn my back. It would be funny were it not such a pain in the ass to try to fish her out from behind all the food I bought that I haven’t had a chance to cook because I’ve been so busy.

Tomorrow, we’re out near the beach, which normally would mean ‘not so boiling hot’, but will probably be, well, boiling hot.

Filed under: Uncategorized

The amazing disappearing bicycle

On studio lots there are bikes – hundreds of them, and they’re everywhere. Since most lots won’t let you drive your car on (you’ll have to park in the structure and walk), folks bring bikes so it’s easier to get from one end of the lot to the other.

On smaller lots like Culver Studios or Sunset Gower (the original home of Columbia Pictures), one doesn’t really need a bike, but on larger lots like Sony or Universal they’re an absolute necessity (especially at Universal, which is HUGE).

Most folks ride old rusty beach cruisers (many with industrial sized baskets on the front which make steering interesting) that they don’t bother to lock, because why would you?

Some people keep a bike on each lot – they just find it and use it when they’re there, and then leave it sit when they’re not.

These bikes are easy to spot, as they’re the ones with the dusty seats and bird-shit spattered frames. If you get to the lot and need a bike, you can always borrow one of the obviously disused ones.  Which works out fine – if someone stops you and says “Hey! That’s my bike!” you just apologize, dismount and find some other beater to use while you’re there.

I brought my own bike to the Sony lot while I’m working there and the guys on our crew have a communal borrowed one that they’ve been riding for the duration of the show. Which is fine – most folks don’t mind people borrowing bikes as long as the bikes stay on the lot and get returned.  The folks who don’t want to share usually lock their bikes.

Since I’m currently having some mechanical issues with my bike (I need to repack the bearings in the front wheel), I’ve been locking it as I don’t want someone to borrow it and maybe get hurt if there’s some kind of  failure.

So after work today, I locked up the bike, walked to the car, dropped off my bag and then made a rash decision to visit the studio electronics store.

On the Sony lot, there’s a store where they sell discounted electronic goods – normally, the prices are about what you’d find on sale at retail outlets, but today they were having a sale and I’m just not strong enough to resist discount technobaubles.

Since I’d gotten the bike rack equivalent of rock star parking, I borrowed the crew’s communal bike from the rack in front of the parking structure, rode over to the store and bought a Blu-Ray player for $25.


Except when I came out, the bike was gone.

Shit, shit, shit.

When I mentioned to a passer-by that the bike had gone missing, he replied “Oh, once I lost mine for two months!”

Since it’s a breach of lot etiquette to not return the bike to where you got it, I’m going to get to work a bit early and see if whoever borrowed it returned it overnight so I can bring it back to the rack where either it’s owner or my boss will expect to find it in the morning.

If not, I’m just going to hope that the bike eventually finds its person and that the boys forgive me. Which they should, since they can always borrow another bike.

There are plenty to go around.

Filed under: mishaps, studio lots, Work

These aren’t the doors you’re looking for

Doors, meet lights.

The problem with taking the barn doors off of the lights for the run of an entire movie is that at some point, said doors must be returned to their respective lights.

This isn’t as easy as you might think – due to it being so busy, about half of the lamps are sub-rentals (rental house doesn’t have enough of something, so gets it from another rental house), and must be returned with the doors and scrims (metal mesh circles that are used to reduce the intensity of the light) that they came with.

Since some rental houses are better about marking their stuff than others, this can be a bit of an adventure.

Also, one particular manufacturer (coughcoughArricough) makes lights that are just barely a different size than any of the other manufacturers. Which means that doors from another lamp won’t fit them, but they’re so close it’s tempting to just hit them and make them fit.

Stupid Germans.

After sorting out five different rental houses and three different manufacturers, everything worked out fine.

Plus, I barely tore out any hair.

Between two shows, I’ve gotten four days this week. The way the taxes are structured, I don’t really lose all that much money working four days as opposed to five.

Tonight’s Blogger Prom, which last year was a complete blast.

Last year, though, I was still on disability and didn’t have to worry about getting up and going to work the morning after.

This year, I have a 6 am call tomorrow, so I won’t be able to stay late.  It’ll still be lots of fun, though.

Filed under: crack of dawn, Work

Can’t write. Sleeping.

Work is currently beyond busy – busier than it’s been in several years. Which is great.

It’s great for everyone, but especially great for day players like yours truly who sometimes are lucky to work three days per week.

I’m currently working six days a week and could do seven if I had enough clothes to last me or the will to do laundry after I’ve worked a 12 hour day, but I don’t so tomorrow,  I’m getting up, going to the farmer’s market (I’m mostly rigging next week and therefore will need to bring my own lunch), going to do laundry, and then neglecting to clean the house before I go to bed. At 8 pm because of a super early call Monday.

Yay work, but boy am I tired.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Speaking of insurance…

Yesterday there was a meeting between the motion picture insurance execs and the ‘craft locals’ – us, grips, art department, and painters.

This turned out to be a very long lecture to make us understand why the plan is probably going to have to cut costs by slashing our benefits or killing 20% of us at random.

According to Mr. Health Plan Executive, the reason expenses keep spiraling upwards at an alarming rate is because the ‘participants’ (that’s us) are lazy, chain-smoking, prescription drug abusing fatasses who drink too much. Also, we’re ugly, which for some reason is costing the health plan money. Or something.

Maybe cute people are cheaper to insure.

And I think there was one more in there, but by the time that came up I’d squeezed my  apparently Jabba the Hut like bulk up out of my chair to get another cup of free coffee – got to keep that blood pressure up, you know.

By the time the browbeating and a sales pitch about how great Kaiser Permanente (the original HMO) is and why we should care ended, I’d had enough.

I decided I didn’t need to stay around for the lecture about how internet piracy is killing the film industry and gutting our insurance plan* which is already strained to the hilt by my personal unhealthiness, poor hygiene, and bad attitude.

All of this sitting was cutting into my gym time.

So I slipped out and headed to said gym, where I felt much better after a workout and a swim which sadly was cut short due to an unexpected water aerobics class.

I then acted upon my frustrations by going to a bar, eating a bacon cheeseburger with fries, drinking booze and sleeping with a producer. Oh, and I think there was some chocolate.

I feel so dirty.

*  Below the line crew folks don’t get residuals paid out directly the way actors do. We get residuals paid into our insurance and pension fund. So stop downloading movies illegally unless you really want me to spend my golden years eating cat food to save money and talking to myself as I ride the bus.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Four out of four!

The eternal dayplayer struggle is to get a full week – which this week I did! Due to the holiday weekend, it was only a four-day week, but I got work all four days!


Please enjoy a photo:


This was taped to the back of a set wall. I can’t remember which show, though.

Filed under: Photos, Work

Lift Gate Ponderables

Day exteriors mean that certain departments don’t have a whole lot of work to do.

Grips end up running around like crazy all day but once we’ve run power to the coffeepot we do a lot of sitting and talking.

Today, the talk turned to the toll that runaway production has taken on all of us.

Personally, I make about half of what I did a decade ago, due to most of the movies leaving town. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t begrudge anyone anywhere any work – we all have to look out for each other because no one else is going to do it, but it would be nice to not have to worry about money. You know, like I used to be able to do.

The story’s the same for all of us. For some folks, it involved more material goods (boats, nice cars, dinners out, sexy shoes, etc..) and for some folks it involved family (private schools, ballet lessons, summer camps, etc..), but  for all intents and purposes the gravy train has come to an end.

Now we’re just scraping by, hoping like hell to get enough hours to keep our health insurance (currently we have to work 400 hours per semester to keep said insurance. Doesn’t sound like a lot until you think about the fact that it’s not unusual for crew folks to go a month or so without working when it gets slow), and hoping against hope that we’ll get enough hours to be able to retire with a pension (current requirements: 30 years and 60,000 documented work hours).

Since I didn’t get in the union until I was about 30, the chances that I’ll be able to retire with a full pension are slim to none. I’m just hoping to get enough hours to be able to retire with some semblance of insurance, but if you believe the bleating of the producers, our health insurance is bankrupting them. And by bankrupting, I mean that they have to buy the $50,000 German sports car and not the $90,000 German sports car – plus they have to endure the humiliation of having a girlfriend with real tits.

Oh, the horror.

I realize this is all subjective, and  to someone who is struggling to make ends meet on minimum wage and hoping they don’t get sick because they can’t afford insurance I look like a greedy fucking pig for bitching about my middle class income and reasonable (once you think about the bigger picture) co-pays. Perhaps the same way Mr. Producer with his cut-rate Porsche and embarrassing saggy-tits girlfriend looks to me.

But where’s the breaking point?

At what point do I decide that I can no longer make a living doing a job that I really enjoy and start thinking about a plan B?

And what kind of plan B can I possibly have? I’m not qualified to do anything other than lift heavy things and wax poetic about meaningless shit.

Sure, it’s busy right now (which is great), but the busy periods are fewer and farther between and the bank account gets drained faster. The fact that I’ve had to rely on  charity grants to make my rent twice in as many years is really food for thought*.

When do I throw in the towel? And what the hell do I do after?

It’s a question a lot of us are asking ourselves these days, and unfortunately there are no easy answers.

*The fact that some wonderful people hire me consistently (even though they know me) is the reason I’m still in the industry. I’m very grateful for what I have.

Filed under: Uncategorized

A bit of a challenge

On very low-budget freebie jobs (like the one I did over the weekend), usually the help one gets is in the form of students who have been press-ganged into working for free on what they’re promised is going to be an awesome life experience.

What it mostly turns out to be is a lot of boredom alternating with periods of hard work.  Sometimes the students are into it and try to have fun, and sometimes they’re not.

Sunday night, we had to light a night exterior and our helpers were two teen or very early 20’s girls who, once they saw they were supposed to be helping me (a totally uncool mom-like entity), completely lost interest and decided to hang out with the ‘super cute’ art department guys. Although I can’t really blame them for this (I’m certain a cute art department guy is way more interesting than I am), it did kind of suck when I needed help.

Like when we needed a light to go fairly high up in the air – we used a par can and a mombo combo stand.  This particular type of stand is very large and heavy – its maximum height is about 24 feet, and it weighs about 50 lbs, so it’s normally a two person carry. It’s primarily a grip stand, but occasionally set lighting will borrow one if we have to send a small lamp really high up and don’t have the luxury of anything fancy like a condor.

Since I was in a hurry to get one of the stands from the truck to the place where the DP wanted the light five minutes ago and couldn’t find any of my ‘helpers’ (who turned out to be sitting in the living room of the house, flirting with said art department guys), I just picked up the stand, threw it over my shoulder and stomped across the uneven grass of the house’s front lawn, muttering angrily to myself.

The problem with carrying 50 lbs of steel on one’s shoulder is that said shoulder isn’t really designed for that sort of thing, so when I woke up Monday, my shoulder was incredibly sore – I thought is was a pulled muscle and tried to work it off, but it just kept hurting. Turns out it’s a hairline fracture in the collarbone.  Of course, since I was tired I forgot to mention the steel stand and the shoulder to the doctor, so I’m just guessing about the cause.

The doc thinks it was a purse strap and now wants a bone density test (although the way I load up my purse, it weighs about 50 pounds, so that may actually be a plausible theory).

It’s not stopping me from working, I just have to be careful how I lift things. As long as I keep the left arm close to the body, it’s fine. It’s when I try to wing the elbow out away from my side and lift that it really hurts.

So yesterday, I’d be doing something like hanging a lamp, reach out to the side and then get a reminder that I shouldn’t do that.

Since it’s a holiday weekend, I’ve got an extra day for the damned thing to heal before I have to be back at work on Tuesday.

Filed under: mishaps, Work

All nighters galore!

To recap: I spent Thursday and Friday nights teetering 80 feet above downtown Los Angeles in a condor, but didn’t get as much sleep as I’d hoped for as I kept having to re-adjust all night. Normally, once you go up and get in position, that’s it until wrap so you can sleep (or nap in between worrying about some drunk clocking you, in my case), but sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way.

The shots kept changing, and I kept having to readjust my light and the position of my bucket (the part where I’m at). This was complicated by the seemingly endless web of power lines that were in my way no matter what I did. When I’m operating an elevated work platform (i.e. condor), I have to stay a certain distance away from all power lines, and can’t arm my bucket out over any sort of power line at all.  This complicates things when a gaffer’s attempting to do any sort of precision lighting.

Gaffer: “I need you to move about 20 feet left on the arm”

Me:”No can do, sorry. Power lines”.

Gaffer: “Fuck. Can you go right?”

Me: “About five feet and then I’m into the lines on the other side.”

Gaffer: “Fuck. Come down and move your base”.

Moving the base entails descending 80 feet, disconnecting the power feeders, rolling off the leveling blocks and then re-assembling the whole mess 15 feet to the right.

Which is much better than hitting a power line and dying, but it resulted in my only getting a couple of quick cat naps on the one night where I really, really needed to actually get some sleep.

Of course.

After they called wrap just after dawn, we had to drive the condors three blocks to the crew parking area, as we had a police escort and the riggers who were coming in later that day wouldn’t have that and even though car vs. condor usually works out in favor of the condor, why tempt fate?

Finally staggered home, caught a nap on the couch, and then went to the warehouse location near the beach where we lit three scenes in about 8 hours, all of which looked pretty good given that I was starting to see things that weren’t there.

I got home Saturday around midnight, slept about six hours, got up and frantically cleaned the house for the inspector (entering accompanied by the building manager), then went to work again.

Sunday was night exteriors, which we tried to keep small due to having a crew of two, but which still resulted in our running around like crazy in a very dicey neighborhood (apparently there was a shooting a few weeks ago), until about 2 am.

I’ve mentioned before that the all-nighter no sleep thing was a lot easier when I was younger, and it’s not getting any better.

Between the no sleep and the being on my feet all night, I woke up Monday hurting like hell and hobbling around like an old woman (bent over, clutching my lower back, shuffling my feet because it hurt too much to lift them). Despite that, I finished up the house and then waited for the inspector.

He came, looked at the smoke detectors, and then left. The whole thing took about 10 minutes. The building manager was too anxious about the inspection to be rude to me, so the whole event was, if not pleasant, at least not as painful as I’d anticipated.  I went and did laundry, drove to the gym,  swam for half an hour and stretched, hurt less, went home, slept almost 11 hours.

I worked on Tuesday on a friend’s show which is normally a really easy and fun show to work, but I was still groggy and not all there so it was a lot harder than it really had to be – plus, I still felt crappy this morning after sleeping for 10 hours last night. Guess I’m still trying to make up that sleep deficit.

I’m working tomorrow, so we’ll see how I feel after another night’s sleep.

I’m still internetless, so I’m just going to wind it up while I still have the neighbor’s intermittent wireless signal.

Filed under: crack of dawn, locations, up all night, Work

September 2010

Flickr Photos



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