Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

The Marathon Mentality

There’s a particular mindset held by endurance athletes, to help them get through long races.

Don’t think about the entire event at once, just concentrate on the next few steps, the next mile, the next whatever – this helps to keep the athlete from getting demoralized and overwhelmed by whatever it is they’re about to do.

One approaches shoots the same way, especially when said job is obviously going to be a complete peel. Don’t think about being here for 14 (or more) hours. Just think about the next set up, the next turnaround, the next little bit or you’ll never escape the pit of despair at the concept of such a long day followed by another long day followed by, you guessed it, another long day.

That was the rhythm of life. A few steps and then a few more steps and then a few more steps, and then we’re done for the day. See you tomorrow.

But then, COVID happened, everything shut down, and everyone was off work.

People got to see their families. People got to enjoy the homes that they worked so hard to afford. People had a life.

Personally, the shutdown was the first time in my adult life that I have ever been on a consistent sleep schedule. It was amazing. I’d forgotten that you’re not supposed to be fighting fatigue all day. I’d forgotten how it felt to be rested.

When we came back to work, there was an informal agreement that the production companies would keep the hours down, as being worn out can make one more vulnerable to illness, which seemed to be a bad idea in a pandemic.

And at first, the hours were a little shorter, but not for very long. Soon, we were back to the same old grind, with short turnarounds, and now COVID testing. Swabbing an entire crew takes time, so of course the hours got longer so we could still get the work done.

You understand, right? It’s just a few more hours.

The first AD on this show announced, during the safety meeting today, that “we’re going to be working really really long days, so don’t be afraid to ask for a hotel.”

In that moment, the entire crew was completely demoralized. You could see people’s hopes just sort of collapse.

Because now we’re thinking about the whole marathon, not just the next few steps.

Filed under: hazardous, long long drives, studio lots, Work

Armistice

People, for whatever reason, sometimes feel the need to take a stand.

Most of the time this isn’t about anything really critical – a parking space, which way the toilet paper is hung, what you really meant when you said “fine” the other day. It escalates to a point and then deflates.

But sometimes said stand will take down an entire production.

Actors and directors disagree about stuff all the time, and usually the one with more clout on that particular day wins fairly quickly, unless someone decides not to back down.

Today, our director and our actor (also a producer and said director’s boss) started arguing about what seemed like a fairly insignificant line of dialog, and it kept escalating as both of them decided they were right and weren’t going to back down over this newfound noble cause (totally worth dying -figuratively – for).

While all of us just stood there, doing nothing and waiting. Except now, under the rules of a pandemic gripped city, we couldn’t even grab a cup of coffee and retreat to the staging area to play Candy Crush and wait it out.

Crafty is set up too far away to get there and back at a moment’s notice, and we can’t be close together, so the staging area party is not happening.

So stand there we did. For an hour and a half. While they argued over one word.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I find that the sooner I’m off the stage, in my car, and out of the really uncomfortable PPE I have to wear for 12 hours a day, the happier my ears are.

So the arguing went on until they reached a compromise. They’d do it both ways and see which one worked better later.

Which, of course, was the suggestion we’d all thought of an hour earlier, but, you know.

Filed under: Work, , , , ,

The Memo

I have, for the entirety of my career, managed to largely avoid corporate America and all the office-related shenanigans, but sometimes worlds collide.

This show is on a lot, which is owned by a studio, which is owned by a multi-national corporation, which is probably owned by some musty old white guy or 30.

Still, since the dirty toolbelt people stay on the stages, we don’t have to deal with too much corporate silliness.

Except this week.

On lots, golf carts and bicycles are the preferred method of transportation, and usually they’re pretty tame. Most of the golf carts have a device on them to hold the speed down (which sucks on a big lot like Universal), but how fast does one really have to go?

Apparently, fast enough to hit someone and knock them over.

The story varies as to who hit whom, but one of the involved parties worked for Human Resources. In corporate zone – but no one really knew about it because all of us had other things to do. Like work.

Until the entire lot got THE MEMO.

A corporate passive-aggressive missive about how we all need to be super duper careful about not hitting people with golf carts, intentionally or otherwise. And how we shouldn’t talk on the phone while driving and shouldn’t drive drunk or stoned or whatever and how we have to all have drivers licenses, etc..

THE MEMO was printed out onto paper and handed out to every single person entering the lot. Including the people who were just there for the day, or people (like my department) who do not have access to golf carts.

The HR elves also taped THE MEMO to the windshield of every single golf cart on the lot, which seems a lot more… targeted to me than the random paper-wasting on a lot which advertises itself as being ‘green’.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not actually expecting efficiency or anything. I think I did, once, long  ago and was sorely disappointed.

 

 

 

 

Filed under: humor, mishaps, studio lots, Work

You Don’t Make Noise When You Sweat

On most stages, the air conditioning is set to arctic tundra, and the red ‘rolling’ light, when activated, cuts off the air, as blowing  air makes noise and sound people hate noise.

We’re  currently shooting on a converted warehouse stage, and they did a good job with it, but they don’t have the air conditioning tied to the light system and the noise was…problematic, so at some point, production just decided to shut off the air and not turn it back on.

In Northridge*. In August. With the outside temperature at a balmy 108.

Remember that story about the slowly boiled frog?

At first it wasn’t too bad, but as the temperature outside climbed, inside it just got hotter and hotter, but we’re always hotter than the important people because we’re moving around, so no one really pays attention to a sweaty crew.

At some point, someone brought a box fan from the office, which, to be fair, did move the hot air around a bit directly in front of video village.

By the time someone remembered to turn the air back on, it was too late. We were the boiled frog.

As the air grew increasingly stale, second meal arrived, and crafty set out Korean food, which is delicious, but doesn’t smell good in a hot room with no air circulation.

Don’t get me wrong, I like kimchi, but the burps aren’t great even when there’s ventilation. I guess it’s just lucky we wrapped before the farting started.

At wrap, I stepped outside and the 98 degree evening seemed cool and refreshing.

I’m going to sleep tonight with an ice pack behind my neck and a fan aimed at my head.

 

Northridge , a neighborhood in the northwest San Fernando Valley, is Spanish for “Jesus fucking Christ it feels like a goddamn oven outside.”

Filed under: long long drives, Work, , , , , ,

Everything is burning

Yesterday, I lost a day of work due to some schedule changes. This is unfortunate, but does happen sometimes.

The city is surrounded by fires, so the drive home was eerie and didn’t help my mood.

I was still anxious when I went to bed, as I’m trying to work as much as I can while it’s busy, in an attempt to save up enough money to get through the slow season without selling everything I have on eBay (I’m kidding. I don’t own anything anyone would want to buy).

This morning, I was still anxious.

Until I turned on the morning news.

Had I been going to work, I wouldn’t have checked the news before I left, so  I would have pulled onto the freeway and then been trapped in traffic surrounded by  the bonus fire that erupted in the Sepulveda pass last night.

Suddenly,  not having to leave seemed terrific, even more so when I realized that not only were several of my co-workers stuck on the freeway for hours, but the ones who got through had to breathe smoke all day – and they were making rain. In the wind. And the fire. ‘

If you’ve never been anywhere near a large fire, it’s not a pleasant experience. The sky is a weird color, it’s hard to breathe, one’s eyes burn, and the damn ash sticks to everything. It can’t be easily removed with just a dry cloth – it has to be washed off. I’ve had to do the same dishes three times today, and that’s with the windows closed.

The good news is I’ll be on an air-conditioned stage for the rest of the week, hopefully up wind of the fire and that damned ash.

 

Filed under: california, hazardous, life in LA, mishaps, Non-Work, Work, , , , ,

Looks can be deceiving

Sometimes you can look at a set and figure out right away if it’s going to be easy to light or not. Generally, the smaller the set, the worse things go for everyone. Like cramming 10 pounds of shit into a 5 pound sack.

Today’s main set was large,  lots of room, multiple doorways, all the windows opened (sometimes on sets they don’t), etc.. It should have been a breeze.

Except that it wasn’t.

We thrashed around for two hours trying to light it.

For some reason, this particular set was built without any ‘wild’ walls, and a hard ceiling that doesn’t move.

Wild walls are designed to be easily removed from the set, so that one can get certain camera angles or lighting, and a set really needs to have the ceiling raise up (or come off in small bits) so that when we need to have a light, say, in the middle of a room we can just drop power down from the grid and not have to worry about camouflaging cable that’s run right through the middle of the shot.

Of course, since we couldn’t run power up to the grid through the ceiling that didn’t move, we lit an entire scene from above and saw the whole fucking world, every single shot. The grips managed to drill some holes for us, but mostly we used a metric ton of tape and more time than we should have taken to do a fairly simple lighting set-up.

By the time it was over, my boss was rocking back and forth, muttering to himself while clutching his light meter to his chest.

We ended up having to move one scene to tomorrow, which will be nice and refreshing to end our day in the air conditioning, because we’ll be spending most of the day outside in the heat and humidity (okay, it’s Los Angeles humidity, which is dry compared to say, Texas).

Also, work has been so slow that my work shoe calluses went away, and now I have blisters on my feet. Guess I’ll be stopping by the drug store on the way to work to buy a metric ton of moleskin.

 

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

The shit zone

I haven’t worked in a shit-covered alley in quite some time. Not because people aren’t shitting in alleyways nowadays, but because Los Angeles has gentrified the shit out of most alleys. The human shit, anyways.

Most, but not all.

Today I got a last-minute call to go help out on a rig for a movie, which is really strange since I didn’t think we shot movies here any longer, but I haven’t worked in a few weeks, and the call was with a group of guys I really like, so off I went.

Our set was an alleyway between tenement apartments in a part of town that’s never seen skinny jeans, horn rim glasses, or pour over coffee – a real honest to God slum instead of a fake hipster slum.

You know what I mean.

No matter how much they steam clean alleys, they never get all the.. material. There’s still a smell, and since most people who shit in alleys do so leaning up against a wall, the walls and gates have to be cleaned about 2 feet up or there’s still a nasty surprise for the person running cable.

That brown crusty stuff on the bottom of the gate? It’s not rust.

The good news is that it’s been cool enough that the smell of baking excrement wasn’t as bad as it would have been in, say, July.

But still. The smell hangs in one’s nostrils, and as I was trying to tie some DMX cable up out of the shit zone, the soles of my shoes got a good soaking in a puddle of what I desperately hoped was water, but realized my error when, at lunch, the smell of piss wafted up from my shoes. Since I’m almost positive I didn’t pee on them, I have to assume the puddle was part of the alley which received insufficient steaming.

I’ve never been so happy to have a nice hot shower.

Tomorrow, I’m at another location with less pee but more toxic mold.

I’ll take it.

 

Filed under: california, crack of dawn, hazardous, locations, movies, toxic waste, Uncategorized, , , , , , , ,

All night, all night, all night

Night work is never ideal for me, the ultimate morning person.  One night is usually a pain, but doable – I just take a short nap, power through the rest of my day, go to bed early and I’m fine.

But multiple nights are much more difficult, since that pesky body clock thingy insists on waking me up at 7 am every single fucking morning, no matter how late I’ve been up the night before.

I have to get some rest, because I’ll have to function for the rest of the week and even I can’t manage to not sleep for more than a couple of days.

Last night went fairly quickly as we were running around the whole time, and I got home about 6 am, where I miraculously managed to get about four hours of sleep. That’s making me feel, well, not chipper, but semi-human.

I’ve got a 4 pm call about 40 miles away in the high desert, and they’re going to put us up in a hotel somewhere in northeast bumfuck, because driving back home through rush hour traffic and then driving back to work trough rush hour traffic would mean no rest for anyone, even the people who need it.

I normally prefer to sleep in my own bed, but this time I’m glad to have the hotel. Plus, it has a pool so I can get in a swim Wednesday morning before work.

Tonight, I’m going up in the condor, so I might manage a nap or two, which would be nice, but with this gaffer it’s unlikely.

Also, did I mention the doctor wants me to stop drinking so much coffee? Something about acid something. Whatever.

Filed under: distant location, locations, long long drives, Work, , , , , , , ,

A bird in the hand

Pigeons love old sound stages.

I don’t know why, but there’s almost always one or two lurking up in the perms, crapping on our cable and doing whatever it is pigeons do when they’re not crapping on everything.

Sometimes they get trapped on the stage when we’re shooting and fly around, bumping into things and crapping on everything until they either find their way out or we call cut and open the doors.

Today, right in the middle of a very long, very complex scene requiring concentration from the actors on the dead-silent stage (this show has a really serious AD staff) – the song of the flying rat.

And they kept singing (or cooing, or telling each other where to crap next) during every single sound take.

We tried everything. A laser pointer, a light aimed at them, luring them towards the small door with a trail of bread crumbs, throwing things at them, you name it.

They’d be quiet for a few minutes and then as soon as the stage got nice and quiet  would resume their conversation.

Eventually, the exasperated sound guy decided that it wasn’t worth the headache and they should just ADR the whole thing, and we moved on.

As soon as we opened the big doors of the stage for lunch, both birds flew out.

Filed under: studio lots, toxic waste, Work, , , , , , ,

Surprise, with an aftertaste of ouch

Sometimes one is just not prepared for the day one gets.

It was supposed to be a fairly light day, work-wise, which was just what I needed because tomorrow I know I’m going to get the shit beaten out of me.

We were supposed to change some tubes, run some light cable, then go home. Maybe 6 hours.

We showed up at 7 am, but the equipment we needed to start working didn’t arrive until 10 am, due to traffic.

Fine. Maybe 8 hours.

We changed our tubes, ran the cable we needed to run and were hopeful we might still get out by lunch.

Then, surprise!

We had another set full of fluorescent fixtures that no one knew about before. So we got more tubes, and changed those fixtures.

I suppose I should mention that the standard-issue fixture for drop ceilings (aka troffer), isn’t designed to have the tubes changed very often. The whole point of installing these fixtures is the lack of maintenance needed.

Stick them in the ceiling, and forget they were ever there. They should last for years.

Unless you rent out your space for shoots – then we have to change out the tubes for color balanced ones, which involves wrenching open the bottom of the fixture (the delicate plastic part), wrestling out the tubes by twisting them and swearing, breaking some of the tiny parts that aren’t that fucking important anyways because I have to do 100 more of these fucking things, shoving in tubes that are just a micron too long, so there’s more shoving and swearing and sweating and 20 years of dust from the fixture falls everywhere – which is really bad if you wear a bra, because guess where that dust likes to land?

You haven’t lived until you’ve stood in the shower and tried to scrub off a combo of asbestos* dust and sweat.

But we got it all done, albeit a bit later than we’d originally intended.

Then, we got the call.

Something, somewhere, had changed.

We had to go back to all the fixtures and change the tubes for a different color.

Dammit.

I’d just used up all my baby wipes scraping off the asbestos. Now I was going to get covered in it again and itch all the way home in rain traffic.

The rain isn’t predicted until midnight, but the mere mention of water falling from the sky is enough to send the entire city into a blind panic.

All of us were hoping to be home before said panic.

Alas, it was not to be and I spent 1.5 hours crawling home on a route that should have taken me 20 minutes.

Thanks, rain.

I’ll be standing outside all day tomorrow.

 

 

*If you’re in an office building built before the era of ‘holy shit this causes cancer’, look up. See those white tiles on the ceiling? They’re not the asbestos (maybe). The asbestos is the weird popcorn looking stuff that’s sprayed everywhere between those tiles and the actual ceiling. Calm down, it’s not going to get to you. Unless you’ve rented out the building to a movie, and the riggers came in and changed the tubes. If that happened, your lungs are fucked – but it’s okay, you won’t have any issues until you’re old and decrepit and too old to care. Or so I’m told. Excuse me while I cough. It’s totally unrelated.

 

 

Filed under: crack of dawn, cranky, hazardous, locations, movies, toxic waste, Work, , , , , , , , , , , ,

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