Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

Imagination is a bastard

Apologies for the lack of posts. I’ve been alternately anxious and busy  or anxious and idle, neither of which really lends itself to any sort of creative thought process.

Work’s been busy – mostly TV, but a few low-budget features (never thought I’d see any of those again), but since the low-budget producers have been out-of-town where costs, in general, are lower, they’re sweating us more and more to cut costs. Since we can only talk the rental houses down so far, this means that the additional manpower we need to do the job efficiently and safely gets cut.

So, a day which would normally need five guys gets three, and only then after the best boy fights with production about it. When things don’t get done right away because we don’t have enough people, we get yelled at. (“You had eight hours to wrap that set! What the fuck is wrong with you?” “Well, that eight-hour estimate was with 4 guys and you cut us down to two. What do you expect?”)

The threat of taking the production out-of-town hangs over our head like some dangling sharp thing in some disputation which I forget these days.

No matter how busy it gets, we’re all worried about how long it’ll last. It used to be so predictable. Busy until the holidays, then a couple of weeks off, and then picking up in mid-January, going through May, a month or two off, and then picking up again.

No longer. We all know this isn’t going to last, and it’s stressful. I’ve heard  far too many stories about lost insurance, lost houses, and kids having to go live with ex-spouses for stability and consistent meals.

Also, I’m fighting with California’s unemployment department. They’re threatening to revoke my eligibility to get benefits for three years due to a clerical error on my part which amounts to pocket change. Awesome.

So I sit down in front of the computer and try to write something and all I can do is worry. About my bills. About my future. About my co-workers, who are all in the same boat.

And I can’t write anything because I can’t stop worrying.

So I turn off the computer and I sit in front of the TV, watching stupid movies because I just want some sort of distraction so I can spend an hour or so not being so fucking worked up.

On the bright side, I’m very glad that I don’t eat when I get stressed, or I’d weigh 780 lbs right now. I have no idea how much that is in Kilos, other than a fuckload.

Filed under: Non-Work, Off-Topic, rants, Work, , , , , , , ,

Friday Photo

Wet Down

For some reason, the accepted visual language of the movies means that all streets are wet at night. Anywhere, anytime, any place. Night = wet street.

Which is fine. These visual cues help movie viewers to figure out time and place without tiresome dialogue about it (“We’re going to go outside at night!” “Swell!”).

To achieve wet streets takes water. On location, it’s water trucks, but on studio lots they use hoses to spray the street with water right before we shoot.

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

The non-exploding explosion

Sometimes, despite one’s best efforts, lighting equipment malfunctions – sometimes quietly, and sometimes loudly.

Most of us are used to small fires and medium kapows. They’re an occupational hazard (along with bad knees, the occasional shock and UV related eyeball damage) and it doesn’t seem to us like we downplay them, but we do, especially when compared to the reactions of witnesses from other departments.

Today, just after lunch, one of our security guards tapped me on the shoulder.

“One of the lights just exploded!”

Now, when someone tells me that a light exploded, the first thing I see in my mind’s eye is a column of flame shooting 20 feet into the air and shards of twisted metal and glass covering the blood soaked corpses strewn about the vicinity.

So, of course, I’m going to try to find out more information before I get any closer to that hot mess.
“Which light?” I asked.

“The big silver one!” he replied, gesturing frantically towards set.

Oh, that’s just fucking great. The ‘big silver ones’ are 18,000 watt  HMIs. I’ve seen one of those explode before. The column of flame wasn’t quite 20 feet high, but there was a lot of broken glass and I cut myself, so… blood.

I decided to follow-up before reacting.

“Tell me exactly what happened”

“The silver box made a loud noise and smoke came out!”

So, not really an explosion. More the aforementioned medium kapow. The silver box is the electronic ballast, and although they can have problems, actually exploding isn’t one of them.

It was probably coincidence. Or a squirrel.

I ventured over to set, reset the breaker on the ballast, and then the self-preservation instinct kicked in. I walked over to the lamp head and tried to strike it*.

Sure enough, there was a muffled “kumpfh” and a puff of something that might have been smoke, but was mostly bad smell from the ballast, followed by the lamp not igniting.

Okay.

So no one’s dead, nothing’s being consumed by an out-of-control inferno, and no one’s bleeding. Much.

Whew.

Makes having to tell the gaffer we’re down a light seem, well, no big deal.

Lucky for us, the kapow happened just as we were given  permission to downsize our HMI window barrage, so it all worked out well.

*One can strike, or turn on, an HMI from either the ballast or the head itself. Usually it depends on what’s easiest or, at the very least, not malfunctioning. You’d be surprised how often striking from the other end works.

Filed under: hazardous, locations, mishaps, Work, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I’m late but it’s not my fault

Late Sunday night I got a call to work a follow spot for a show on the Fox lot.

Fox is an easy commute for me, so I left about 40 minutes before call time, so I’d be able to perhaps grab a bite before we got called in.
I was driving east on Santa Monica when, for some odd reason, the traffic stopped. I figured it was an accident, so I cut around and finally ended up completely gridlocked at a barricade manned by the world’s most annoyed police officer. Then, I checked Twitter and found out the President was once again, screwing up traffic on the Westside during morning rush hour.
Can’t they have him sleep in until, say, 10?

So I sat there, in sight of the lot but unable to  get there. I begged the officer to let me abandon the car, walk across the road and then come back and get it later. No deal.

I then tried to get out of the car to get to the trunk to get my newspaper.

“I’m going to have to ask you to stay in your vehicle, ma’am”
I just really wanted something to look at besides the minute hand on my watch ticking further and further past my call time, but an annoyed peace officer with a large gun can be very persuasive.

Out of nowhere, a newsbot appeared at my driver’s side window. I wondered how the hell they’d gotten through the traffic.

“May we interview you about the traffic??

I declined, and gestured towards the increasingly irate looking police officer. “Interview him.”

The officer’s facial expression failed to change as he slowly reached down and put his hand on his truncheon.

The newsbot backed off.

Worst part was seeing the traffic from another street being released and causing a  horrible jam up at the entrance to the parking garage while I was still being held at the barricade.

Walked onto set one hour late. To the minute.

At least both camera operators, half the grip crew and the producer were also late.

Filed under: Work, , ,

I don’t feel so good.

I was ready for the heat Monday. I drank water, I took electrolytes, I stayed in the shade whenever possible. Except for the sweaty smell (and the fact that my bowels stopped working for about 24 hours – TMI, sorry), I was fine.

I came home feeling not nearly as bad as I’d anticipated.  I made it through the hot day, and the next two days would be easy, right? On stage, in the shade where it would only be 100F.. cake.

Then, I woke up.

I rolled out of bed feeling like absolute shit. I felt like I’d been on a three-day long bender in Tijuana and topped it off with 6 am rotgut shots and one of those dirty water hotdogs from a street vendor. No sauerkraut.

I made the mistake of having a cup of coffee, which, instead of making me feel more awake, made me feel worse.

Once I got to the stage and started rigging lights, I didn’t feel any better. I was drinking water and taking more electrolytes and still felt bad.

Four liters of water later and I started to feel semi-human again. We got off work early-ish and I went to the gym, but didn’t work out. I jumped in the pool and the 80 degree water made me shiver – which, by the way, felt great. I then hung out in the cafe and played Words With Friends with one of the personal trainers until it was cool enough to return to my un-airconditioned apartment.

Wednesday, we had a much later call (10 am) because we had to wait for the set dressers to finish before we could start (doesn’t help us to wire up wall sconces when the decorator comes in at lunch and changes everything), and miraculously, I felt pretty good all day.

I kept drinking water just to be safe, though.

Today, it’s finally cooled off enough to be bearable. Let’s hope it stays that way.

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

But it’s a dry heat

“Someone said it might be too hot for the goat to work.”

Of course, we were shooting outdoors on what was predicted to be one of the hottest days of the year. In Griffith Park, which can be either nice and breezy or an intolerable furnace depending on one’s location.

Our first location was nice and breezy. No shade, but right in the wind so not too bad. Also, it was 7 am, and although it was getting warm, it wasn’t anywhere near scorching. Yet. All we were doing was rigging a process trailer, and then we’d leave the gaffer and one juicer to babysit while the rest of us went to rig.

Right after we got the process trailer on the road, we went  to another, less breezy location and rigged tomorrow’s set, which was shady but full of yellow jackets nesting in the muddy banks of the one creek that’s still running in the park.

Halfway through lunch is when it really started to get noticeably hot. We knew this because we were sitting outside in the heat while the network suits got to sit in the air-conditioned lunch trailer. Hey, they had a table read and had to concentrate.

After lunch we moved to our final location of the day, which was the side of a road right across from a cemetery. No shade, no wind and a construction site right next door so it was hot and dusty.  When I finally screwed up the courage to check the weather app on my phone, the temperature in downtown Burbank was 103.

The temperature at our roadside set? 107 – 41.666 C for those of you on metric.

That’s when the rumor started that the goat wouldn’t work because of the heat.

Which makes one wonder, if it’s too hot for a goat is to too hot for a film crew?  Of course, there’s no such thing as Humane Society monitors for the health and well-being of the dirty (and today, smelly) toolbelt people.

The heat felt like opening an oven door. The fans in the truck were blowing such hot air that they felt like standing in front of a heater. Even the cooling tents equipped with giant misters that production had rented weren’t really helping once a certain heat threshold had been passed, but I have no idea what the number was. 102? 105? 106? It all melted together into hot and miserable.

I started to fantasize about diving into the ocean off McMurdo Station. In the winter.

“But Peggy”, I hear you thinking “in the winter, the ocean there is frozen so you’d just lay there on the ice and get freezer burn with the penguins.”

Fine. That would be just fucking fine.  Throw me a goddamn Popsicle while I’m down there and I’ll be just ducky, thanks.

Lucky for us we didn’t have to do much lighting, so we could mostly cower in what little shade was cast by the trucks. I kept pouring water over my head to cool off and my hair would go from soaking wet to bone-dry in about two minutes. Also, for some reason, the sunblock washed off of my chin, but not the rest of my face, so now I’ve got what looks like a big red chin bindi. Or a giant pimple.

Awesome.

Then, right about 6 pm, on the last shot of the day when it had cooled down to a relatively brisk 102, the goat worked.

So I guess now we know at what temperature a goat can work.

I managed to get enough water in me that I kept having to pee, and took some electrolyte tablets every couple of hours so right now I don’t have that feeling like I’ve been beaten with a pillowcase full of doorknobs.

Lucky for me, I’m rigging on the stage tomorrow, so although it’ll still be hot (they don’t turn on the stage air conditioning if no one’s shooting), I’ll be out of the sun.

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

October 2012
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