Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

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, , , , , , , , ,

Temptation

As our calls creep an hour later each day*, traffic becomes less of a concern. Our call today was 10 am so I didn’t have to worry about getting stuck in anything, but I still left early because I needed to get something to prevent the cement block in my sinuses.

I stopped at a small drug store near the location and got some Allegra, which generally wouldn’t be my first choice, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Or so I’m told.

I didn’t get to catering early enough to have breakfast, and we started out having to put all the lights back on the stands, as we’d taken them off the night before due to fear of them being blown over.

Probably an unfounded fear, as each stand had at least three shot bags on it.

Once we got set up and shooting, I snuck back to the caterer and grabbed a breakfast burrito, and then had to go unload equipment at yet another house – this one is serving as the production office.

The production house has the nicest pool of all the houses, and it’s the one that tempts me most to jump in. Apparently the heater has been broken for 6 months, but the pool is still being cleaned and really, I don’t think low 70s water would be that bad on a 90 degree day.

So I humped cable past said pool for about an hour (can’t get a cable cart past the yard’s landscaping, sadly), wishing that I had a set of dry clothes with me so I could ‘accidentally’ fall in.

Maybe Friday.

Two of us went over to Green Pool House to rig two rooms for two shots on Friday, but had to be rigged today as the important people will be coming to look at them and decide what they want.

Turns out, the director on this movie isn’t really allowed to make any decisions – it’s the studio suits that are really calling the shots – they’ve been shooting for months past the original end date, because said suits see a cut, don’t like it, and make them go back and shoot more.

They’ve also been through at least three sets of writers.

Awesome.

Someone gave me a script today, but since this movie builds on the past few movies of the franchise, I was unable to even begin to follow along, so I threw it in the trash.

*Two reasons – the main one is that the lead actress has a contractual 12 hour turnaround and since she’s in damn near every scene, we can’t come back until 12 hours after wrap – a 12 hour day for us is actually a 12.5 hour day, as we go ‘off the clock’ for a 30 minute lunch. The other reason is that we have night work Friday, and it’s easier on everyone if we gradually move the call instead of holding at a 7 am for four days and then coming in at noon on Friday.

Filed under: locations, long long drives, Los Angeles, movies, Work, , , , , , , , ,

The wind blows

For some strange reason, someone on this show decided to jump from a 6:30 am call time to a 9 am call time.

One would think that it would be great to sleep in, but the later the call, the heavier the traffic.

So I left my place a full hour early, anticipating to get stuck in the crawl, and then got lucky and got there way too early.

It was a nice calm day when I pulled out of the driveway, but by the time I got to location the winds had picked up – not just a light breeze, either. Violent gusts that bent trees and knocked over anything large and top-heavy – such as grip equipment or lights on stands.

The first thing we did in the morning – before we were in* – was frantically weight down the stands with all the sand and shot bags we could get from the grips, and then secure the equipment as well as we possibly could.

I finally got to see one of the other empty houses that’s being used as a location – it’s about a block away from the main house and has an incredibly green pool. Not intentionally green, mind you. Mosquito vector green. Someone told me it hasn’t been cleaned in about six months – oddly, the entire time the production has been shooting in this house.

The winds kept up all day and into the evening – by sunset my sinuses were a solid block of dirt and pollen – because we’ve killed the lawn on the property, there’s a layer of dust on everything – the carts, the equipment, the crew, the food. It’s like a music festival, except there are no tunes and you can’t get a toe ring.

The winds should die down by tomorrow afternoon.

Although California is currently in drought, I took a really long hot shower in an attempt to dislodge the mass in my sinuses – it was so bad even my ears were jammed up.

I need Claritin for the rest of the week.

*At call, the ADs will yell “we’re in”, meaning the work day has started. Most shows have a caterer that serves breakfast so everyone gets there early and mills about. It’s bad form to show up right at call, and it’s equally bad form to start working before one is called in, as one isn’t getting paid for that work. But, if it’s a choice between working five minutes early or losing a light due to it getting blown over….

Filed under: locations, long long drives, Los Angeles, movies, Work, , , , , , , , ,

An unexpectedly busy week

I had planned to swim Monday morning around 7, but I woke up with a sore shoulder, so instead I called into the union hall right when they opened and put myself on the available list. I figured since it’s busy I’d get a call in a day or two.

Five minutes later the phone rang.

Usually, calls from the hall in the morning are for work the same day, so half an hour later I was on the freeway driving to the furthest reaches of the San Fernando Valley.

There’s an entire neighborhood in the northwest valley that consists mostly of the very tacky spare homes of very rich people who live nearby in other very large homes, some of which are probably also very tacky

I don’t really get the concept of an extra house. Spare jacket? Sure. Spare car? Sure, especially if you have to get to work. Spare underpants? You betcha.

But a spare house a few miles away from your actual house? That just sits there and isn’t rented?

Maybe move one of the more annoying children into it, along with some help – okay, maybe I do get the spare house after all.

This call was for Super Hyped Horror Movie 5 (or 6, who’s counting). The lighting crew were a bunch of really nice folks that I’ve not met before, and since this is the new style of cinema verite, we didn’t do a whole lot of lighting.

I figured it would be a nice day with fun folks and I’d call in and pick up another day later in the week.

Until the end of the day when I was informed that I’m on for the entire week and since I’m now the best boy. I assume because I was available for the entire week.

Since this show has been shooting for months and I have no idea what’s where or which rental order is what, my job is mostly paperwork, for which I’m paid the princely sum of two dollars an hour more.

Hooray!

Filed under: locations, long long drives, movies, Work, , , , , ,

There’s no work, so I might as well have some fun

I’m sure one or two of you have heard of the Sharknado franchise. Movies, mainly – but I really wish they’d branch out into shark plush toys that come with a doll’s arm in the mouth.

These movies have made approximately a metric ton of money for the SyFy network, and they’re immensely popular among the viewing public.

Sharknado number three is currently shooting in Los Angeles, and for some reason isn’t a union signatory. I can only imagine it’s due to the inclusion of Ann Coulter, who probably refused to participate if the dirty smelly worker things were getting paid enough to live on. Greedy fuckers.

Seriously, though, this isn’t some little indie movie that may never make a dime.  It’s going to do very, very well and everyone knows it, especially the producers. The network has probably already pre-sold enough ads to finance three more movies and a spin-off Saturday morning cartoon.

But they don’t want to sign a union contract so the below the line workers can get their health care qualifying hours. Really, that’s what’s important to most of us.

So why not go out and picket? It’s not like I’m currently getting any work.

Except today. My bank account won’t allow me to keep driving to Santa Clarita if there’s no paycheck involved.

Daily picketing locations can be found on the Strikenado Facebook page.

Filed under: long long drives, movies, Non-Work, , , , , ,

Hooray! A computer!

After a return and about 15 angry emails, I now have a semi-working computer, which is great.

This one came with a bad SATA cable, but I yanked a good one out of the old machine and it’s fine.

It’s going to have to be fine.  I can’t deal with another return. I’ll murder someone.

What’s also great is that I’ve got a show. Not day playing on a show, but full-time on a show that’s running for 9 weeks.

It’ll take me through Thanksgiving, and it’s shooting at Sony, which is close to my apartment – not as close as Fox, but still under half an hour in the car and once it cools off I’ll be able to bike to work in about 40 minutes.

Sweet.

Since I’m going to be at the same lot for nine weeks, I decided to splurge and join the on-lot gym as it’s right there and instead of going to my gym and then driving back to work I can just show up early, work out and then go hit crafty (hey, I deserve it. I worked out). Also, being able to take a shower after a bike ride to work is awesome.

There’s been this big thing with the studios of going ‘green’ – not allowing bottled water on sets, replacing lawns with fake grass, etc… but not one of them have set ups for bike commuters (lockers and showers), which seems to me would be pretty fucking green.

Guess they can’t get tax credits for having non-smelly bike commuters.

So after work today I waltzed over to the gym, credit card in hand, ready to sign up and work out.

Turns out, it doesn’t work like that.

One has to leave one’s email at the front desk with one’s name, show, guild or union affiliation, and email.

Then, after checking out your (probably bullshit, you sweaty fucking liar) story, someone will contact you and inform you of their decision.

In my case, the powers-that-be have deigned to allow me access.

Hooray.

Before I can go and work out, though, I must fill out a questionnaire, about my medical history, my family’s medical history, my workout history and general fat-assedness, and my primary care physician’s contact information.

Then, in block text, they WILL CONTACT MY PHYSICIAN TO DETERMINE IF I AM ABLE TO BEGIN A WORKOUT PROGRAM.

That one made me blink.

Begin? Begin?

Not to give away my age here, but I began a workout program when leg warmers and butt floss were acceptable gym-wear.

Except for the occasional surgery or distant location, I’ve never stopped working out.

I’ve never stopped riding my bike whenever possible.

I’ve never stopped trying to swim the stress away.

I’ve never stopped working out my problems by lifting weights.

So I have to decide if I want to attach a snarky letter to my application or let them call my doctor and let him be snarky.

I think I should let him be snarky. He so rarely gets the chance.

 

 

Filed under: cranky, humor, life in LA, movies, overspending, rants, studio lots, Work, , , , , , ,

It’s there, but I don’t have it

It’s been a very long time since I fell asleep at the wheel while driving home.

The first time, it was after a 16+ hour overnight in the high desert and I dozed off while stuck in rush hour gridlock. I woke up when my face hit the steering wheel, but luckily my foot never came off the brake.

There have been a few more times over the years – mostly just weaving on the road and having to roll down the windows or stomp the floor of the car with my left foot.

It just became a thing. Night work meant a fun drive home trying to out-weave the drunks, but I never felt concerned (if I should have is another post).

But I was really frightened Saturday morning when I dozed off while travelling southbound on the 405 at approximately 80 mph.

Luckily, I just weaved in my lane and then stomped the hell out of the floor of my car and made it home.

Wait.. let me back up.

This time of year work is thin, so when I got a call to work Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I said yes before I asked any questions.

It was only after I was booked that the best boy told me it would be all nights on the other side of town.

Nights bother me a lot more now than they did when I was younger – I have a much harder time adjusting, and if I’m flipping between days and nights it’s even worse.

It would have been bad form for me to say ‘no’ after accepting the job, even with the construction in the unit above me (they say they’re remodeling it, but really I just think they’re chopping holes in the walls, patching them and cutting them out again just for practice), so I was stuck.

Lucky for me I was with a wonderful bunch of guys that I really like a lot – but that construction starts up at 7 am and I can’t sleep later, even with earplugs and a white noise machine, so even with the interim days off I spent an entire week on so little sleep I think it might have qualified as cruel and unusual.

As an added bonus, Friday’s pre-call ‘breakfast’ of a seemingly harmless turkey burger resulted in a three-day bout with rotavirus.

I got picked up for this week as well, which is great, but it’s been 7 am call times all week. Between the sleep loss and the power cleanse today was the first day I’ve felt even vaguely human.

Tomorrow, our call time is 6 am in west bumfuck, so I will have to get out of bed at 4:30. AM.

We have 9 pages to shoot, but it’s all day exterior and we don’t have enough lamps to make daylight*, so it can’t go all that late.

Since I didn’t post anything last week, please enjoy an apology photo of uplit trees and a condor with someone besides me in the basket:

P1050103

 

*It is possible to shoot day exterior at night, but you need a lot of equipment. Like a 48 foot trailer full of HMIs. Then, when the sun goes down, we unload the truck and curse our poor life decisions.

 

 

 

 

Filed under: crack of dawn, cranky, locations, long long drives, movies, Photos, up all night, Work, , , , , , , , ,

Memories of ye Goode Olde Days

Everyone who has ever worked low budget anything remembers the struggle to get paid.

Minutes would slow to hours as one sat, face pressed against the window, scanning the street for the elusive postal carrier, hoping against hope that today, finally, that precious check would arrive.

One would call the payroll company and be told that the checks were cut, but that since there was no money in the account, they couldn’t be mailed.

Calls to the production company, of course, would go unanswered.

Then, after two weeks, one had the sinking realization that the check probably wasn’t coming and decide to take a more pro-active course of action.

I personally have planted my ass outside an accountant’s office with my back against the only door, knowing that I could wait longer to pee, eat, drink, sleep, whatever. Get a group of production workers together and every single one of us will have a story about the extreme measures to which we’ve gone to get checks.

The labor board was never much of a help because they didn’t move very quickly, and productions were notorious for closing the office and dissolving the LLC before they suffered any retributions for screwing the crew out of pay.

There was no pain in the world like the “this number has been disconnected” phone message – it meant there was never, ever  going to be a check, no matter what.

So the power got cut off, and the gas got turned off  (the phone could never, ever get cut off because how would one get jobs?), the car insurance lapsed, and the landlord got yet another excuse, and one loaded up on snacks from craft service because there was no money for food.

When one did manage to get a check, one hauled ass to the bank in the hopes of depositing it before it bounced.

Bounced payroll checks were the worst. Not only did one not get money, one had to pay for the bounced check.

I will confess to, on more than one occasion, having contemplated homicide when faced with the consequences of a rubber paycheck.

I will also confess to having accepted dates from men in whom I had no interest just for the free dinner.

Don’t judge me.

My grandmother, who lived through the Great Depression, once told me that hunger and desperation change you forever.

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve worked a job where the status of the checks was…indeterminate, but even now, when the check for the mid-month low budget is a few days overdue, the old fear grips me.

The empty mailbox makes me grind my teeth, and I frantically snap off lights while eating a cold dinner so I don’t have to use the stove. My pulse quickens as I try to figure out how to get to work without using any of the precious, precious, expensive gasoline in the car’s tank. I start a mental inventory of anything I own which has resale value.

Yes, thank you, I’m well aware that I’m completely overreacting. Intellectually, I know the checks will show up eventually, and if they don’t I can call our union and they’ll do the work to roll out the legal guns (so to speak).

But it’s so hard to be calm.

I guess now I’ve gained more understanding of my grandmother, who was almost as rich as Midas at the end of her life, yet still spent time clipping coupons and screaming at us to turn off the lights because the meter was running.

I really need that check.

 

 

Filed under: movies, overspending, rants, Work, , , , , , , , , , ,

Beachside barbeque

It’s hot. Really, really hot.

Normally, in Southern California, it’s hot inland and cool near the beach, which makes said beach an ideal spot for summertime day exteriors.

Unfortunately for most of us, inland seems to be the preferred summertime shooting location, so when I  got a call to work  on a low budget shooting at the beach with a bunch of really wonderful guys, I had a brief moment of joy.

Beach in Ventura? Sure. It’ll be nice and cool. It’s always nice and cool up there. Hell, I might not even have to run my car’s air conditioning during the 90 minute drive.

Except that now it’s not cool at the beach. And we weren’t shooting on a beach so much as a dusty highway turnout on a cliff above the ocean with no shade anywhere – no trees, no tall buildings, nothing. Just the sun, the heat, the wind and a haze of fine dust which permeated any fabric and formed a coating on skin, teeth, eyeballs, toes, etc…

The first day we lucked out and it was a relatively brisk 90 degrees F. Craft service only had one small cooler so most of the bottled water was also a relatively brisk 90 degrees. One of our more intrepid makeup artists put a teabag in a water bottle, set said bottle on a rock and brewed tea. The sun beat down all day. Had there been a way to get to the water, I would have jumped in – and I did briefly consider just jumping off the cliff, but with my luck I’d hit the rocks, break every bone in my body and just bake there because no one had cell service to call an ambulance.

Not even my hat helped me.

I have yet to find the perfect hat for hot weather. Ball caps don’t provide enough coverage, and anything with a brim seems to either just hold in heat (if it’s cloth or felt) or let sun through the holes in the straw.  I’ve got tiny little sun damage dots on my forehead from straw hat leakage.

I tried a damp bandana underneath the hat, but I changed my mind and wrapped in around my face as a dust mask in the failed hope of eating marginally less dust.

 

Day two sprouted some EZ ups so there was a bit more shade, and chairs under the shelter became hot property – as soon as one got up for any reason, one’s chair would be occupied.

Also, they only had two bathrooms for 40 people, so the restrooms very quickly became unusable, which meant that people didn’t drink any water to avoid having to brave the toilets, so one PA passed out.

The actor has been 90 minutes (at least) late to work every single day, so we do nothing for the first two  hours we’re there. This particular production team seemingly haven’t caught on to the fake call time trick.

Tonight we’re downtown – and it’s projected to still be 99 degrees in the late afternoon, which is when we’re scheduled to go into work.

Hopefully they won’t run out of water.

Filed under: hazardous, locations, long long drives, movies, Work, , , , , , ,

What’s a life got to do with it, anyway?

I suppose it’s not a huge secret that film sets aren’t exactly  the safest working environment. We routinely enter condemned buildings, work in extreme heat and/or cold (sometimes on the same day), navigate treacherous  footing, run cable through human waste, inhale asbestos and snack on lead paint chips (oh, wait. That’s just the ‘healthy’ baked potato chips. My bad).

In the past decade or so, there has been a concerted effort to make sets safer for everyone, and it’s been very successful.

But accidents sometimes still happen. Mostly those accidents are just that. Accidental. No fault, no blame just…Oops.

But sometimes, it is someone’s fault. In this particular case, a criminally negligent someone’s fault.

About a week ago, a film crew in Georgia were trying to get a shot for a Gregg Allman biopic – a dream sequence with a bed on railroad tracks.

At first it was just a terse announcement on some of the film-worker centric Facebook circles.

Camera assistant killed while shooting. No details.

Then, an ID. Sarah Elizabeth Jones, age 27.

Then, more details started to  emerge, and I began to suspect that this was going to get really bad.

Sadly, I was right. I hate being right.

The production company had requested a permit to shoot on the train tracks, and had been denied.

Someone decided to order the crew to set up the shot on the tracks anyhow.

Just stop and think about that for a second. Someone – we don’t know exactly who as the production company has suddenly gotten very, very tight-lipped and lawyered up – knew that they were not allowed to be on a live fucking rail line and decided to do it anyways.

A train came. About 15 minutes later, another train came. The crew began setting up, and in about 20 minutes, another train came. There was approximately one minute of warning. The crew tried desperately to clear the track in time, but one young woman was unable to do so and was struck while one of her co-workers tried to save her.

And died.

Died. For a stupid fucking movie. Produced by a fucking waste of carbon about a fucking has-been waste of carbon whose claim to fame is fucking Cher.

I jest, of course. The subject of the movie is completely irrelevant. It wouldn’t matter if it was a movie about a paralysed nun who saved a busload of adorable orphans from Nazis.

It’s not worth a life. Any life – even the life of someone who has chosen to wear a toolbelt and not get any glory or residuals.

The “Slates for Sarah” thing is very sweet, but the person who is responsible for this needs to suffer, and greatly.

Sadly, I don’t see that happening.

What I do see is (hopefully) more people saying ‘no’.

As in: “I’m sorry, Mr Producer. This isn’t safe. Oh, you want to fire me? Fine. I’ll live to work another day, and you can burn in Hell.”

Oh, wait. My bad. Burning in hell is too good for some people.

Filed under: mishaps, movies, rants, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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