Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

Time for a rest.

Pilot season – when, unsurprisingly, the pilots for next season’s new TV shows are shot – is officially over.

Since I didn’t get a spot on a crew, I bounced around between three shows, sometimes only getting a few hours of turnaround before guzzling coffee and going to work another job.

Also, there’s a 5 am mental barrier for me.

Getting up at 5? Fine. No problem.

Getting up at 4:30? Anxiety about oversleeping which results in sleep so fitful I’d be more rested had I stayed up and shopped for shoes on eBay, especially since one of these shows was with a gaffer I love working for, but who is absolutely intolerant of anyone being even a nanosecond late to work.

In production world, 15 minutes before call is on time, and exactly at call time is late. Well, not late, but…frowned upon.

So I got there 20 minutes early every morning. And I worked. And then I worked. And I worked some more. And when I didn’t have work, I called our union hall and got send out on a job immediately, because there was so much work.

I’ve mentioned before that I enjoy going out on hall calls. I get to meet new people, who may hire me in the future, and in fact one best boy who had me as a hall call recommended me for full-time spot on a show. I didn’t get it, but it’s the thought that counts.*

Now it’s all over.

The pilots are finished, and the established episodics are ending their season within the next week or so, so it’s down time.

Which is a really good thing for me, because over the weekend I had an allergic reaction to an antibiotic and am now covered in hives.

Since I can’t seem to do anything that’s not excessive, these aren’t normal hives. They’re super hives that have spread into giant weeping mats of  blisters.

I can blame the initial upper respiratory infection on what the newsbots are calling the worst allergy season in 30 years, combined with working in a junkyard (which may or may not allow toxic waste if you slip the right person a few hundred bucks), and the city deciding to jackhammer the alley behind my place presumably for the sole purpose of coating the entire neighborhood in dust from the Yorty administration.  You know, for the lulz.

Of course I had to go off the antibiotics, and I have to wait until the reaction subsides before I start anything new.

So I’m itching, oozing, staggering around like a drunk, and coughing like a tubercular Victorian poet.

The elderly woman three apartments down keeps bringing me matzoh ball soup, which is great, but it’s 90 degrees and I don’t really want anything hot.

On the upside, WordPress has brought back the built-in spell check, so I can be lazy when I type.

Yay!

*It really does count, because a bad referral usually reflects badly on the person who made it, as in “What the fuck with that guy? You said he was good. You must be smoking shoelaces.” So any time anyone throws my name in for a job, I take that as a huge compliment even if I don’t get the call.

Filed under: california, crack of dawn, cranky, hazardous, locations, Los Angeles, mishaps, toxic waste, Work, , , , , , , , , ,

The check is in the mail

Ten days ago, I worked a micro budget favor job for a friend of mine who is trying to move up the food chain (which, of course, necessitates moving down the food chain first) and shoot.

I don’t have a problem with favor jobs. I don’t mind helping out friends or people who need it, but since my landlord won’t accept good intentions, I usually expect to be paid the amount I was promised.

The amount I was promised for this particular job was relatively small, but every little bit helps, and I factored that pay into the monthly budget. Job was on Friday, we were told checks would be mailed Monday.

No check.

Then we were told checks would be mailed Thursday.

Mailed on Thursday means it should show up in my mailbox on Saturday, or Monday at the latest.

Monday: No check.

Today, I worked a day on a commercial (and thankfully I know they’ll pay), and figured I’d look again when I got home.

No check, although I did get a dividend for some worthless stock – it’ll buy a shitty bottle of wine. But at least they paid, goddammit.

This is even more annoying because this was supposed to be a cash job.

Some time ago, crews got wise to the ‘promise and then skip out’ tactic, and began to demand cash. Usually at the end of the night, but some production companies had to pay upfront, and then pay again if they wanted more work.

I know, that statement makes us seem like greedy assholes, but you can only get burned so many times before you stop trying to make people like you.

So at the end of the day, we walked up to the money man, expecting to be handed envelopes.

He looked shocked.

“I never promised anyone cash. I never pay cash! Who told you I’d give you cash?”

I think that’s when we all knew.

Knew we were going to have to fight.

I haven’t had to do this in a long time – hopefully I won’t have to go to the office and make a scene, but I won’t hesitate if that’s what I have to do.

Remind me to tell the baseball bat story. It involves a shady production company, a bounced check, and a baseball bat.

Or someone who is currently working micro-budget can tell it, since I’m sure it’s the same story.

We’ll see what happens tomorrow.

Filed under: cranky, life in LA, mishaps, movies, rants, Work, , , , , ,

Sometimes you get lucky

Condors, although they’re manufactured to the same specifications, have wildly divergent handling characteristics.

Some of them have really flexy arms so the operator shifting his or her weight will make them bounce like crazy, some have really sensitive controls so no matter how light a touch one has, the arm shoots to the side like it’s doing the nae nae.

When I’m 80 feet in the air with a 200 lb light that’s only affixed to the basket by a steel rod the diameter of a quarter, I do not, for any reason, want that basket jerking around.

Sometimes the hydraulics do this weird thing called settling, where the arm will drop a few inches at random intervals. It’s not dangerous, but it is nerve racking, and changes the position of the light, so eventually the gaffer starts yelling about the shadows, and guess who gets blamed for that?

Yup. The poor sap in the basket. That’s who gets blamed.

Friday night, I got super lucky. This particular condor had a nice stable arm that didn’t shake at all even at full extension during wind gusts, didn’t whip me around and didn’t settle. It was perfect. I thought about marking the base somehow (like with five spray-painted stars), so other operators will know how great it was.

The only bad thing that happened is that I under-dressed for the weather.

The weather report predicted a low of about 50, but in the canyon where we were shooting it was much colder. 35 degrees, according to my car’s thermometer at the end of the night. I had a stocking cap, a sweatshirt and a wind shell. And that was it.

I have a parka, I just didn’t bring it because 50 degrees.  You’d think I’d have learned by now, but apparently not.

Although I had a blanket with me, my feet got so cold they went numb. Even with the heater on extra hot the whole drive home, they didn’t warm up until the next morning.

But I eventually warmed up, and hopefully I’ll get a call back from the really nice bunch of guys I enjoyed working with a lot.

It’s nice to meet new people.

 

Filed under: distant location, hazardous, locations, long long drives, mishaps, up all night, Work, , , , , , , , , ,

Whoops. My bad.

Since I don’t have an employment agency, I get most of my work from people who work with me and like me and, hopefully, hire me.

So personal relationships are very important and it’s critical not to piss off best boys – if you piss them off, the calls stop.

Earlier in the week, I’d sent out some work texts, gotten a ‘maybe Friday’ back and not heard anything, so I called the hall and got sent out on a job for Friday night.

Which is great, but then I got a text from the first best boy. Turns out, he’d sent me a text that I hadn’t gotten and the job was still on.

Oops.

So now he’s pissed off at me.

Hopefully this job tomorrow will go well and they’ll call me, but it’s a pilot so it’ll only shoot for about 10 days.

The guy I pissed off is on a show that will go for 7 months. I really hope he calms down and calls me again.

 

 

Filed under: california, mishaps, movies, Work, , , , , , ,

It’s cold outside but I’m baking

This past week, I’ve been on a multi-camera show*. For lighting and grip, multi-cameras consist of three rig days and two shoot days. Rig days are only a few hours, because it’s all just fixes, tweaks and resetting the lights that the greens guys knocked out-of-place when they hauled around all the trees. Shoot days are normal 12 or 13 hour days.

Usually with multi-camera shows, once the shooting day starts we don’t do much of anything, because all the lights are rigged and really nothing works on stands.

Except this DP a single camera guy and still has the aesthetic of that world, so we’re walking a lot of lights around on stands every time a scene changes. This is not a bad thing at all, as working makes the day go faster, and today the perception of time passing quickly was a wonderful thing, as our stage’s air conditioning unit decided that it was going to take a vacation.

Perhaps to somewhere cooler.

Lucky for all of us, the crafty room had excellent air conditioning. You know how at parties everyone ends up in the kitchen? That was us today.

The director and I had a deep discussion about potato latkes while we huddled in the draft of air coming from the soda cooler, and I met more of my co-workers than I usually do as we wandered in, sighed in relief and then left without eating anything.

Right now I’m chugging water in an attempt to not wake up tomorrow feeling like I’ve been on a bender.

Speaking of tomorrow, although it would be lovely to have chilled air, I suspect I’ll need to wear summer clothes and keep hydrated.

*That’s not a really good description, since most ‘single camera’ shows use two cameras now. Multi-camera format uses four cameras and sets all open to one side, but I’m lost for a more apt name.

Filed under: california, mishaps, studio lots, Work, , , , , , , ,

Ready, Aim, Wait.

I’ve never had a producer tell me to stop working.

Today, he called a meeting and told us they may decide to shoot more in the main house. He delivered this news with the air of a man who has struggled a long time, but has finally come to terms with nothing ever making any sense ever again.

Sadly, we didn’t get that note until after we’d ripped out all the cable. Not the stuff in the flowerbeds that’s easy to reach – the cable that was run through the walls and in the crawl spaces of the house so the DP could have everything on a dimmer.

I’m noticing a trend with younger DPs – they want everything on a dimmer, all the time, even when they could use scrims. I guess that’s what they’re teaching them now in DP school, and that’s fine, but if you’re not shooting on a stage we have to put the entire location on our power – which, since houses are not built the same way sets are, means going through the very few areas of the house that aren’t visible.

In LA, that means the three-foot tall area between the rafters and the ceiling which is loosely termed an attic, or the 14 inches of crawl space under the floorboards, since the only houses here that have basements were built before the Wright Brothers took their first flight.

Since the ‘attic’ of this house is above the insulation, it gets really warm up there, and since we’re currently having unseasonable heat, it made sense to wrap that area first thing in the morning, before the space became a sauna and we made our medic do some work*.

So we’re now waiting to see if we have to re-do everything we undid.

No word on if they have to re-shoot the black glop.

*Whenever we’re on location must have a medic present. The medic is the one person on the crew that the producer doesn’t want to see doing any work – if the medic is watching Netflix or trying to stay awake, no one on the crew has been injured.

Filed under: crack of dawn, locations, long long drives, Los Angeles, mishaps, Work, , , , , , , ,

Survival Mode

The (hopefully) very last shot of this movie was a green screen of black goo shooting at the camera.

As fun as it is to make actors actually vomit, union reps and the health department frown on it, so we had to do a shot of the actress with her mouth open and a shot of the black goo shooting out of a pipe poking through the green screen that will be combined to make it look like projectile vomit.

So we lit the green screen, with the lights far enough back to be in the ‘safe’ zone, the camera had a Lexan shield in front of it, and all the spectators were well back from the screen.

Everyone was ready.

The first try was a trickle of goo which didn’t shoot out so much as dribble down the green screen leaving a really gross streak.

The special effects guys then turned up the power and tried again.

Still a trickle, but it looked more like a gloppy drinking fountain.The effects guys then had an extremely animated discussion, remixed the black stuff and did something to the pressure in the lines.

Everyone in the area had been lured into a false sense of security by the first two shots, so they went near the green screen to watch this attempt.

Pro tip: Any time you see effects guys get worked up about something, take cover. Preferably in the next county.

The guy with the trigger started a countdown.

5…4…

People edged closer to the camera.

3…2…

Phones were raised in anticipation of something really cool to put on social media.

1….

There was a noise like a gunshot and a titanic amount of mystery goo shot towards the camera with enough force to slam the Lexan shield against the matte box.

Since Lexan is a flat surface but very flexible, the shield bent over the camera – which protected it, but acted like a springboard and impressively extended the splatter range.

Blobs of… whatever the hell that was flew outward from the convenient boost like some sort of satanic Flubber.

My co-worker and I were standing 30 feet away at the rear of the catering tent (because what better place to make a mess), clawing at each other as we frantically tried to get behind… anything.

But there was nothing.

Someone’s panicky scream of “incoming”, when combined with that sensory perception thing where everything slows down convinced me to do the only thing I could do.

I turned and I ran.

Call me a coward if you like, but as I cleared the doorway of the tent, I heard the splats of the goo hitting the back wall – right where I’d been standing a few seconds before.

My co-worker chose another survival tactic – the cower. He bent over, making himself as small as possible and miraculously avoided getting slimed.

Everyone else? Not so much.

One of the PAs was wearing a pink T-shirt that I suspect will never be the same again, and I don’t even want to contemplate the number of phones that will never work again.

Filed under: hazardous, locations, Los Angeles, mishaps, movies, Work, , , , , , , , ,

I am so over 2015

Right before Christmas, I learned that a swim buddy who had gone to the doctor for stomach pain had been diagnosed with stage four gastric cancer.

In case you’re not familiar with stage four, it means ‘get your affairs in order, and soon’.

It was the last thing anyone expected – we knew he’d not been feeling well, but to go from “I need an antacid” to “They tell me I’m going to die and they can’t help me”, well, that’s… difficult.

We all want life to be fair. Good things should happen to good people, right?

People who love everyone and bring nothing but joy to the lives of others deserve all the best – like winning the powerball and dating vapid supermodels while relaxing in their obscenely awesome mansions.

Good people don’t deserve to be blindsided by the news that’s they’re going to die, painfully, really soon.

And when they do die, it hurts like hell.

You think it’s easier if you have time to prepare, but it’s not.

I can give you advance warning that I’m going to hit you in the head with a brick, and you can brace all you like, but you’re still getting hit in the head with a brick.

In the midst of all this, a co-worker headed home to the San Fernando Valley after working a day at Fox.

Since said co-worker had a newborn baby at home, he opted to ride his motorcycle so he could get home faster and spend more time with his son.

As he crossed over the Sepulveda Pass, two cars collided.

I’ve heard two stories.

One was a car swerving out of control, the other was flying debris.

Either story results in him dying on the scene.

The local news kept showing pictures of his downed motorcycle while trying to placate the irritated commuters who just wanted to get home.

Perhaps to their newborn sons.

The memorial services for both men were the same weekend. One on Saturday, one on Sunday. Both were lovely, thoughtful attempts to celebrate a life.

But both services had the feeling that something, somewhere, was just not fucking fair, and someone, somewhere, needed to fucking do something about it.

FYI, given a choice, I’d choose the hit to the head with no warning.

The knowledge that it’s coming just makes it worse.

But thank your deity of choice that all the shitty stuff happened in January.

You know, get it all over with right away.

Or.. not.

A week ago, one of my teeth started to ache.

Said tooth has always been… difficult, ever since getting a shitty National Health filling while living in a certain un-named place.

Said shitty filling broke right after college and became an even larger shitty filling which never stopped giving me problems, but I’d go to the dentist, she’d say my bite was ‘off’, and grind until said bite was back on.

Then, Saturday, I had a nice hot cup of coffee and it felt like someone hit me in the side of the head with a very hot nail-studded brick.

All weekend I figured it was my bite, again.

Then, Monday, when I saw the dentist, I got The Look.

You know, the look you get when someone is about to tell you something that is exactly the opposite of what you wanted to hear.

“This isn’t a bite thing any longer, and I can’t fix it. The tooth is making you sick. I’m going to refer you to an oral surgeon”.

Then, the dreaded words: Root canal.

I’d never had a root canal, but I’d heard horror stories.

I must have paled or pissed myself or screamed or something, because she felt the need to pass me a tissue and assure me that the oral surgeons were ‘very good’ and I’d feel better right away.

I assumed I’d go for a consult – but when they finally saw me 90 minutes late (speaking of the brick and the warning, think about 90 minutes sitting in the waiting room of an oral surgeon reading the pamphlets about everything that can go wrong with various teeth), I was ushered into a room where a nice lady tried to chat about the weather while laying out instruments which would have given the Spanish Inquisition a massive boner. Or something.

So I had part (one – two is next week) of a root canal, which, honestly, wasn’t as bad as I had imagined.

Now my biggest problem is craft service and the lack of soft food.

Let’s all hope that’s it for the year.

Please, let this be it for the year.

Filed under: cranky, mishaps, Non-Work, , , , , , ,

Happy New Year

As is normal for the first part of January, I’m unemployed. Even in busy years, January just doesn’t see that much action.

Although this normally worries me (even though it’s been happening for years), I guess it’s not a terrible thing as this week I seem to have picked up some unholy cough from hell. I’m talking bent double with spasms in my lungs, wheezing like an asthmatic pug.

It could be that it was 40 degrees last week and 80 degrees this week, or it could be the 8 percent humidity, or it could be the sudden lack of cat hair in my lungs.

Or, I could have caught the plague when I was flying across the country on the screaming baby express.

Who knows?

I’m sure I don’t have the flu, since I haven’t got body aches or a fever, but whatever it is has moved into my lungs and is picking out wallpaper. Or something.

I’m just glad it’s relatively warm here. According to my sister, the high at her place tomorrow is supposed to be 2 degrees (F).

I love you, California.

I do have one day of work this week, but I’ll be up in a condor so hopefully no one will hear me wheeze.

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

Computerless for what seems like an eternity.

Call me a Luddite, but I love my desktop.

There’s something…civilized about sitting at a desk and writing. Nice big monitor, upright posture, movable keyboard (in case one’s posture becomes less upright), desk lamp (no green shade, though), space for the cat, no sore thumbs or cooked lap.

A little over a week ago, my elderly desktop finally died.

It’s been coming for a while. It got slower and slower, had to think about things longer and longer, and eventually became unable to play internet cat videos, which we all know spells doom.

So, I backed up my data (learned that lesson the hard way), and started browsing eBay for another tower.

The new tower got here the day the old computer died.

So I started to hook up the new tower and then noticed something odd about the monitor output. It was white, not blue, and had extra pins.

Great. More fuckery.

A friend lent me DVI-D monitor, and I turned on the new computer expecting blazing fast cat videos and… nothing.

Not even a peep. Not even BIOS. I tried opening the tower and checking the connections, I tried a different monitor, I tried screaming, I tried threats. Nothing.

So the new tower is DOA – which, I suppose isn’t a surprise given they shipped it parcel post wrapped in one layer of bubble wrap and no ‘fragile’ sticker.

I have a smart phone, but I hate trying to write more than one paragraph on it – the whole picking out letters on the tiny digital keyboard makes me want to find the cutest puppy in the entire world and kick the ever-loving crap out of it.

I now have a newer, much more expensive computer (with a warranty from a higher-rated seller) in transit, but it won’t be here until Monday and that’s the day I’m starting a new show – at a lot close enough to the house to bike!

So hopefully I’ll be back online before too much more time passes, and too many more puppies get kicked.

Filed under: computer, cranky, humor, mishaps, Non-Work, Off-Topic, rants, , , , , ,

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