Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

Another day, another abandoned warehouse

These were taken at the Firestone tire factory in South Gate. Built in 1922, it’s now awaiting the wrecking ball to make way for the only thing we seem to build in Los Angeles these days: Glass lofts with a Walgreens.

Enjoy!

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And one panorama:

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Filed under: camera, distant location, hazardous, locations, long long drives, , , , ,

I’m back!

I had to take a little break to deal with some problems personal enough to not be shared on the internet (I know, right? Weird), but I here I am again and thankfully, work seems to be picking up just as thunderstorms roll through Southern California.

The worst combination possible is a condor and thunder. Rain is fine (if a bit uncomfortable for the poor sap in the bucket), but as soon as any sort of turbo-charged static starts flying around, people get nervous.

So last night, with the predicted thunderstorms in mind, we kept an eye on the tall clouds that thankfully moved north and not west, just missing us.

Not even a drop of rain – good thing I brought my rain gear. It’s a pain in the ass to haul around two work bags, but the second one thinks “oh, it’ll be fine” and leaves the waterproof stuff at home or crew parking, that’s when the heavens open and Mother Nature’s fucked-up idea of a joke sloshes around in one’s shoes for six hours.

Last night, we were a splinter unit, shooting a couple of quick bits whenever we could get the actors from the main unit.

Since one can’t really light night exteriors until it’s dark, we placed a few lights that we all knew were going to move again, then waited for it to get dark enough to start lighting.

Then, we placed some more lights, had a run through with the stand-ins, then waited for actors.

Once the actors got there we adjusted the lighting, shot, and then waited while they went back to the main unit.

We adjusted the lighting again, then had some ice cream that our crafty guy ‘liberated’ from the main unit, then did our second bit when the actors showed up again, and then we wrapped.

The one downside was that those beautiful tall clouds is humidity.

Once the sun went down, it was a nice temperature – until we started wrapping.

The temperature didn’t change, but the act of moving around had me soaked in sweat after about five minutes, even though I still didn’t feel hot. Just sticky. Very, very sticky.

Once we got our equipment back onto the truck, we went home, at slightly under 8 hours.

A cold shower has never felt so good.

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

At least it’s a dry heat. Oh, wait.

After working on a show that I absolutely cannot write about (super-secret paparazzi bait) – and working 14 hour days so there was no way to do anything worth writing about besides work, I got a call to work on a cable show in Santa Clarita.

Good news: I was going against the traffic, and working with a crew of wonderful people. Bad news: It was 104 degrees, with ‘monsoon conditions’, which feels like one moved to Florida, but without the awesome Cuban food.

Lucky for us, we were on stage all day – the other unit were out in the parking lot, finishing up the previous day’s work that had to be cut short because several people had succumbed to heat-related illnesses (including one of the actors).

These stages have really powerful air-conditioning units, as they have to combat not only the external heat, but the inferno created by pumping enough electricity through large lights to power a city block.

But the air-conditioning only works when it’s turned on (insert joke here).

For some reason, this production has decided that they can’t chill the air while they rehearse. Which would be fine, except that when it’s that hot outside and we have lights burning, it takes a few minutes for the temperature in the stage to climb past 100 degrees, and the air-conditioning, when turned off for the hour or so it takes to rehearse a three page scene, just can’t catch up.

Although I don’t know the exact temperature, by lunchtime it was very, very hot on set.

Our actor  was begging for them to turn on the air during rehearsals, but no dice. Gotta keep it quiet.

At lunch, when we turned the lights off, the stage cooled off, but heated back up right afterwards.

You know the smell that wood saunas make? I can’t describe it as other than really superheated wood. That’s how the set smelled – so it was about as hot as a sauna.

Lucky for us, the director got us out of there in about 10 hours (super impressive for a 7 page day!), and I was able to crank the air in my car on the way home to my apartment.

Which is not air-conditioned, of course. But at least there are no 10ks.

 

 

Filed under: california, locations, long long drives, 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, , , , , , , ,

Back it on up

Shooting on a stage requires a backing*, for the obvious reason that if one sees white walls or staged equipment through a set window, the illusion of being in Victorian England/the frozen tundra/the Enterprise is ruined.

Back in the old days, backings were hand painted on canvas. There are still a few of those floating around, but most shows use a day/night backing.

When lit from the front, the backing appears as day. When lit from behind, the backing appears as night.

It’s genius.

You don’t need two backings and an army of grips to raise and lower them five times a day – the dimmer board operator makes the change instantly, and everything is wonderful and happy.

Except when you get your brand-new made-to-order backing and they forgot the ‘night’ part.

It looked great from the front, then, when the backlights were turned on, it looked like a daytime backing lit from behind without quite enough light.

There was a moment of silence as the department heads pondered that a) there was nothing they could do about it, and b) someone besides them was going down for this one.

Probably the backing designer, who was paid the price of a luxury car for this.

Not one of those crappy proletariat jobbies, either. A good luxury car.

Since the backing was custom ordered, I have no idea what anyone is going to do about this, and since Friday is my last day I’ll likely never find out.

Also, I learned that brand new backings smell like the worst mix of chemical slurry you can possibly imagine.

Remember your high school yearbooks and that weird benzene smell?

Imagine that, but 30 feet tall and 100 feet long.

In a stage with the doors closed.

When I recover, I’m going to really miss those brain cells.

*Also called a backdrop, but they’re both the same thing.

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

A nice easy stage rig. Oh, wait.

For the next couple of days, I’m putting in a rig on a stage in Hollywood. It’s closer than Fillmore, but because of the traffic, it’s still an hour drive. It would be an hour on the bicycle, too, but since we’re doing late calls I’d have to ride across town well after dark and I’m not super comfortable with that.

Normally putting in a rig on a stage is a pretty nice gig – sure, we’re running cable, but we’re out of the sun and aside from some dust, the stages are relatively clean.

Except that this show doesn’t use a mill. All phases of set construction are done right on the stage while we’re rigging.

Financially, this seems like a great decision – this is a really big stage (almost 200 feet long), so there’s plenty of room to set up a mill on one end and save time and costs. Just build and paint the sets right there, and then you don’t have to walk them all the way across the lot.

But there’s the noise and the dust and the fumes from the paint – these stages all have exhaust systems, but they were designed to vent heat, not fumes and dust.

When we walked onto the stage at call time, it looked like a foggy day and the fumes from the lacquer the painters were using were… thick.

Of course, the set to which the lacquer was being applied was right next to the ‘pick point’ – the area up high where we’d be attaching the hoist so as to lift the cable up to the perms.

I’d asked for a mask, and the painters gave me one of those little paper ones, which work great against particulate, but not so much against the fumes.

All of us had to take turns stepping outside and taking a few deep breaths of the fresh (by comparison, of course. This is Los Angeles) air.

Thankfully, the spraying ended about an hour after we got there and for a time it was much easier to breathe.

Then, they started on the rocks.

It’s very interesting to watch movie rocks being made. The construction guys start with a big block of Styrofoam, and reduce it to rock shape with a saw and a Dremel. After that’s done they spray on the color and the texture.

The downside is that they started right after the paint fumes cleared.  Of course, the other ‘pick point’ on the stage was right over where they were shaving the Styrofoam, so the little bits got all over the cable and then when we picked up the cable to hoist it, those bits got all over us.

I’ve discovered that Styrofoam bits make me itch. I nearly clawed my skin off on the drive home.

Here in California, we’re supposed to be taking short showers to conserve water – I usually do just that, but I was so itchy and stuffed up that I stood under the really hot water for what seemed like an eternity while my sinuses cleared.

We’re up high all day tomorrow, so we have a later call time to wait for the fumes to clear. Hopefully the Styrofoam bits aren’t able to float up to the perms.

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

More trains, fewer chickens.

After an 11 hour turnaround (reduced to 9 because of the hour commute each way), we were back in the rail yard.

Thankfully, today was just trains. Only trains. No chickens.

I checked.

The day went a bit easier, as we were in a different part of the rail yard and we had much better footing, so walking wasn’t quite as much of a challenge.

Most of our work was inside a train, and since we only had power on one side of the tracks, we had to run cable across the tracks – of course, any time a train had to move we had to disconnect the lights and wrap the cable back to clear the tracks.

This almost drove the gaffer nuts as we were working with HMI lights that need about 20 minutes to cool down before they’ll turn on again.

I’m nervous about crawling under a train, even if it’s not moving, so I kept trying to throw cable all the way across the track so I didn’t have to put my upper body under the car. To do this, I had to kneel in the dirt, but I was going to be covered in it by the end of the day no matter what I did.

We had a much shorter day today, as it was our last day in the rail yard, so all departments would have to wrap to the trucks.

It wasn’t possible to get the truck close to the set, and it wasn’t possible to get the carts over the tracks, so we had to push the carts down a ramp into the street (that we didn’t have a permit to use – whoops). Our boss finally got a stake bed, which made things much easier and we got the truck loaded in about an hour, which was really good.

Once again, I’d forgotten to bring clean clothes (left them in a bag next to the front door), so I drove home all dusty and then had a nice hot shower. It’s never felt so good.

I’m off tomorrow and then I have a stage rig on another show Thursday and Friday.

Filed under: crack of dawn, locations, long long drives, Work, , , , ,

Choo Choo Choo

Due to the events of the last year, productions are really jumpy about shooting anywhere near trains, so we had to travel to an appropriate location where trains don’t do things like barrel down tracks at 70 mph.

That location is Fillmore, California. It’s 60 miles from my place to the location. One way.

We were shooting at the Fillmore and Western Railway. They have historical and modern (well, modern for the US) trains and since it’s only a semi-active railway (they do scenic tours on the weekends, but it’s not active in the sense that freight or commuter trains come through), it’s a great place to shoot anything train-related and remain relatively safe.

Relatively safe because it’s a rail yard. Uneven ground, rocky footing, pointy things at head height, and chickens.

To be specific, 400 chickens. In a boxcar.

Don’t ask me why, I don’t know.

I do know that they qualified as a hazard because any time one got near them, they’d peck through the mesh cages. If the unlucky target wasn’t in pecking range, they’d spit water.

Do chickens spit? I’m not sure. I just know that one shouldn’t turn one’s back on them, and that’s hard when they’re in a boxcar and one must set a Kino Flo in the back corner.  They got me good. One was pecking and another was spitting.

I hate chickens.

I took perverse enjoyment in devouring the fried chicken served at lunch.

Every time the wind picked up, dust would blow into everything. By the end of the day I was completely coated in dust and chicken spit. I’d have spit back, but my mouth was all dry and gritty.

Since we’re coming back tomorrow and the trains will be in different areas, we had to clear all the cable that was crossing the tracks and drive the condors out of the rail yard.

It took us a while to do that, as the tracks were about 10 inches tall. we had to build a wooden bridge so that the lift’s tires could roll across the tracks without tipping over the lift of damaging the tracks.

Turns out, railroad tracks are more delicate than one would imagine, and they have sensors trigger the warning barriers. Those sensors are little pieces of wire attached to the outside of the track – if they’re broken, the bells and lights start, the gates come down and there’s no way to stop it until the sensor is replaced.

We finally managed to do it, thanks to a co-worker who is an off-road driving enthusiast. Apparently, guiding a condor over rail tracks is just like getting a vehicle over a very tricky bit of ground. I’m so grateful he was there or we’d have likely tipped that condor.

After my hour-long drive home during which I guzzled water and berated myself for not bringing a change of clothes, I got home and finally showered.

The water ran off brown, but the chicken peck marks don’t look as bad now.

We’re back tomorrow.

Filed under: california, crack of dawn, distant location, hazardous, long long drives, Work, , , , , , ,

Friday Photo

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The giant tape ball on the Paramount lamp dock.

Filed under: camera, Los Angeles, Photos, 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, , , , , , , ,

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