Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

Hearing and Lady Problems

Normally, the gaffer is the head of the lighting department, but on shows with anything more than a passing resemblance to theater (operas, concerts, ice shows, ballroom dancing), there will also be a lighting designer, who is responsible for the theatrical lighting.

Anything that’s part of what would be the theater rig falls under the authority of the lighting designer, so since I was working a follow spot today, I was on the channel with the LD, and not the gaffer.

Normally, the LD sits in a sound proof booth and during the performance, will call out directions to the spotlight operators. The spotlights are given numbers to simplify things, so instead of having to remember names, the LD can just call out “spot 3, pick up downstage left”, or “spot 4, pan up to get the drummer”.

Which is great, when it works.

For this particular show, there was no booth for the LD, so he was sitting next to the monitor, and when they turned on the playback, all we heard over the walkies was something like a radio not quite on the right channel.

KKSSHHHHEHHHGHHLEFTSSSSKKKSHHHHFEETSSHHHHKKRIGHTKSSSHHHSFOURSSKKKKKKKDAMMIT

Since the venue in which we were shooting is not known for stellar acoustics, none of us could even hear what we were thinking.

The LD, once we explained that we couldn’t hear him during playback, sighed and just gave us direction in between takes.

Lucky for all of us there wasn’t too much movement on stage.

The main problem was that our spotlights were on a catwalk that required steep stairs and a ladder to reach – which was fine, except for the lack of a loo.

At this point, I’m sure someone is going to suggest I just pee in the chain bag.

First, eeew.

Second, I have my period, because of course I do. And trust me, no one wants to find that in the chain bag.

I got lucky today that the periods of inactivity coincided with when I needed to slip away, but tomorrow I might be fucked because the call sheet has performance numbers all day.

I’ll have to double up (tampon and a giant pad), and bring up a plastic bag and some wet wipes.

Good thing this show is requiring we all wear black clothes.

I’m back tomorrow and Friday.

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

Friday photo

image

Back side of the Fox lot facades under a cloudy sky. Lucky for us we beat the rain and drove home dry.

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

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, , , , , , , , , ,

A nice Tuesday on Stage.

Wait. It’s Tuesday, right? I had to check.

After getting home about 9 last night (90 minutes to get to work, just under 60 to get home), today I got to work a set on a nice air-conditioned stage with guys I really like.

Lucky for me, because I’m not sure I could have lifted more cable.

We walked lights around, talked about college basketball, and the heaviest thing I had to lift was a 2k, which was about all I could lift after yesterday. The older I get the more that 4/0 hurts me – and I go to the gym to try to stay in shape. I can’t imagine how horrible I’d feel otherwise.

During a break when one of the actors had to go to the other unit, some of us started talking about our least favorite places we’ve worked. The standards came up – The Ambassador Hotel, Kaiser Steel, Downey Studios, Pick-a-part junkyard, or any of the movie ranches during the summer.

Two of us – simultaneously – said shitters alley. Shitters alley was downtown (not the nice new downtown. The old, foul, nasty downtown) and it was, natch, the place were all the locals relieved themselves. Production would shoot in it because sometimes your script calls for a shit-splattered alley, and minimal set dressing was required.

They’d usually steam clean the ground, but the worst of the filth was usually about 24 inches up.

More than once, I threw away my clothes and drove home in my underwear.

Two of the younger guys couldn’t believe it. Turns out, shitters alley hasn’t existed in quite some time. I think it’s now a private gated park for high-end condos.

Fine with me.

I got a text right before lunch that my Wednesday call would be 5 am. A 12 hour day on a 9 am call with a one hour lunch means we’d be released at 10 pm, and I wouldn’t get to bed until about 11.

Since 5 am really means I have to be there about 4:45, I have to get up a little before 4 tomorrow, so I swapped with one of the guys on the unit that got dismissed after 7 hours.

Yes, I missed out on big money day, but I’ll be semi-human tomorrow. I hope. It’s already 8:30. I need to go to bed.

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

Monday Traffic and skipping the gym.

Friday, I got a call from the hall* to work on a rig (or a wrap, I wasn’t sure) in Orange County. Mind you, not super deep behind the orange curtain, but enough that I stressed about getting to work on time and left the house at 10 am, in the hopes of making my noon call with a few minutes to spare.

I managed to get there  about 20 minutes early to find, to my great happiness, we were the wrap crew, and since they were still shooting I sauntered over to crafty and grabbed some coffee.

I knew crafty from another show, knew a bunch of the set lighting people and grips, a few of the ADs and PAs, and most of the wrap crew, plus the rigging gaffer, who is a great guy and who was my boss on one of the first shows I worked on when I got into the union.

There was a lot of cable – or maybe there wasn’t, since I haven’t really pulled 4/0 in quite some time, but it looked like an awful lot, and I started to wonder what I was going to do when I collapsed face down into the lovely drought-tolerant landscaping, but because production were progressing through the sets, we got to wrap gradually, over a period of about 8 hours, which helped, but I was beat up when I crawled back into my car to drive home at 8 pm.

I was afraid I’d stiffen up, so I stopped off halfway and got some take-out and walked around the parking lot a bit, and I worked as I didn’t lock up too bad when I got home.

 

*Our union hall. When it’s super busy, one doesn’t have to work at finding work – just call and you’ll get a job pretty quickly. Plus, one gets to meet new people and expand one’s work contacts.

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

Fear and living dangerously

Work’s been busy – more so than in the past five (ish) years.

Which is a very good thing, but it’s been so dry for so long that all of us are working ourselves to a shell of what we could be had we paid attention in class.

Six hour turnaround? Sure, no problem.

Four am call two hours away? I’m there.

Three 19 hour days in a row? I love overtime. My kids don’t need me to read them a story.

In the past two months, I’ve worked as many hours as I had in the previous year (or so it feels like), and I’ve had some insanely short turnarounds – I went from one job right to another and my justification was that since I was in the condor for the first job, I could sleep.

One sleeps fitfully, at best, in a condor, so I had a few hours of shallow napping, took a shower, changed my clothes, and then worked another 14 hour day.

That, my friends, is madness, and I shouldn’t have done it as I was not able to work safely.

But I’m afraid to say no to anything.

It’s been so slow for so long and so many of us have been struggling, that we can’t really wrap our minds around the idea that it may be busy for quite some time and we can, if we like, turn down a job if we feel that we’ve just had a bit too much that week. It’ll be okay. There will be more work.

But that small part of my mind that functions as the town crier for impending disasters starts shrieking that this will be the last day I get for a long time, I won’t make my rent, and then I’ll end up face down in the gutter covered in my own filth and broken dreams.

For some reason, I believe that alarmist voice much more than I believe our call steward, who seems to think that there will be a lot of work for the next few years, at least.

I need to work on that. I’d love to be able to take a vacation and know that I’ll still have work when I come back.

That hasn’t happened in years.

For any of us.

Filed under: hazardous, humor, life in LA, locations, long long drives, Los Angeles, , , ,

Hot and dusty

It’s still 100 degrees in Los Angeles.

I’ve already worked three days this week, and two of those days, of course, have been day exterior.

Today, we were in a canyon park near the beach, so we got a little bit of wind  in the morning and we were mostly in the shade so it wasn’t too bad except for the dust and the poison oak.

The studio safety people had come through and placed pink flags wherever there was poison oak so that we could avoid it.

Of course, the flags were in the shot, so they were pulled up first thing, leaving us all to try to remember where, exactly, we needed to avoid.

At one point, video village got set up right in the middle of the area where we’re fairly certain was full of the stuff, but no one was sure, so we just have to wait to see if any of the important people get a rash.

As the vans drove by on the dirt roads, we all got coated in dust, and then as the day wore on and it got hotter and we started to sweat, the dust turned to a thin layer of salty mud.

At one point I wiped my face on a paper towel and was only mildly surprised at how much dirt came off.

Also, of course, we ran out of light because everyone forgets about the sun and canyons.

The weather forecast gives sunset as, say, 7 pm. But in a canyon, the walls are higher than the horizon, so one loses the light earlier. Our boss pointed that out on the scout, but no one listened and we had to light the last few shots.

Where did we need to place the lights? Right in the poison oak patch. Of course.

We parked at the beach so after work a co-worker and I jumped in the ocean just as the sun was going down, but the water is still gross and really warm, so it washed off some of the sweat mud, but wasn’t as refreshing as I’d like. The beach shower was colder.

Where am I working tomorrow? Why, outside, of course. In the valley.

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

I see dead people

For the past few weeks, it’s been extremely hot and humid here in Los Angeles.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s always hot this time of year, but the wonderful thing about living in an arid climate is that it cools off at night so, for a few hours, there is some relief. The important hours – when one is trying to rest without sweating like the proverbial whore in church.

Not lately.

It’s been so awful at night that sleep has been impossible – and not just for me.

Everyone on the crew (maybe the cast, too, but they have makeup) have black circles under their eyes and are downing coffee (iced, of course) as fast as they can.

It’s not just us, though. Tempers are flaring all over the city, as the police cope with near-record cases of cranky pants.

Excessive horn-honking, overly aggressive shouts of “points” when one isn’t carrying anything, passive-aggressive latte ordering, crafty grabbing*, scuffles over shaded parking spaces, crowded beaches,

Today, I snarled at a man in the grocery store for breathing.

No, really. That’s all he was doing. Through his nose, making that goddamn high-pitched whistle from hell.

I’ll kill him.

Wait…

I mean it’s cooled off tonight and maybe I can get some sleep so I’ll feel less homicidal tomorrow.

Although I have a 4 pm call in northeast Bumfuck, so I doubt it.

*Those peanut butter cups are mine. Fuck you and the horse you rode in on.

Filed under: crack of dawn, cranky, distant location, life in LA, locations, long long drives, Los Angeles, Work, , , , ,

Hurry up!

Today, we were shooting a promo about something exercise-related.

I know this since it took place in a gym and all the extras were very, very fit.

Actually, extras is a bit of a loose term here. Turns out, not all the extras were actors. Some of them were just gym rats that had gotten lured into the maelstrom by the promise of getting paid to work out for a few hours. They sure as hell weren’t

Which would be fine, of course, if we weren’t on a very, very tight schedule and shooting in a room with one entrance, 100 people, and 5,000 pounds of equipment, most of which was being carried one way or the other though the door every few seconds.

An added degree of difficulty was the non-actors didn’t really understand the lingo or what was going on with all the non-fit people wearing toolbelts, so they didn’t respond to ‘coming through’, ‘make a hole’, ‘excuse me’, ‘get out of my way’, or ‘I’ll fucking kill you I swear to God’.

I’m normally not that cranky, but when I’m carrying a really hot light I get…upset when I have to have it over my shoulder for longer than absolutely possible.

The ADs spent much of the day yanking people out of doorways and out from in front of our lights.

This particular location had a hard out at noon – which means completely out – gone, no trace, opening for business. No option to pay to extend that. Hard, hard out.

We told them we need about an hour to wrap out and, of course, they kept adding shots until about 18 minutes before 12, and we ended up in a shot that used damn near all of our equipment. Lucky for us the riggers were there to wrap the cable or we never would have made it. As it is, we got out of the building in time, but still had to load the truck, which wasn’t what the location wanted, but we can only do so much so fast.

 

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

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