Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

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, , , , , , , ,

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, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Power problems

Back before modern technology, the gaffer used hand signals to direct the lighting techs, which  meant that said techs had to stay on set and pay attention.

Now, with the advent of communications technology, we have walkie talkies – we can hear the gaffer talk, to we don’t have to stand at attention all day – we can go get coffee, go play Candy Crush, read a book, whatever. As long as we’re back in the set when it’s time to light.

Handy? Sure. Even with the side effect of deafness caused by  that one person on every crew who is super loud and won’t move the damn mic away from his or her face even after being asked a thousand times.

We always get the same type of walkie – heavy, but with  a decent battery life. If there’s a lot of chatter on the channel, one may have to change at lunch. When the battery gets low, there’s a beep in the ear.

Out work today was what’s called a Pilot Presentation. It’s what you shoot before you shoot the pilot, so you can shop the show to the sort of people who will hand over wads of cash to create some fine, American-made entertainment.

On this particular day, production have tried to save money by using non-standard walkies. They’re much smaller, and have a fun feature where an actor’s voice announces  “channel one””channel two”, etc… If you spin the dial really fast, you can make him say “chanchanchanchan”, which is kind of fun.

It also announces when the battery is dead with the same actor saying “low battery”. Which is nicer than the beep, but happens way too often. By lunchtime, I’d had to change twice. Oddly, the voice did not let me know that battery death was imminent. Seems like a feature they’d want to add.

Other than fun with the walkie voice guy, it was a quiet day. Most of these presentations are only a short bit so once we’re lit, we’re sitting and waiting for wrap.

Tomorrow will be our long day, as they’ll shoot for 12 hours and then we’ll have to wrap the stage after that.

Filed under: locations, Uncategorized, , , ,

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, , , , , , , , , ,

September 2017
S M T W T F S
« Aug    
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930

Flickr Photos

Archives

Categories

Random Quote

"If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better." -Anne Lamott

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 872 other followers

Twitter Updates

Blogroll

Not blogs, but cool

%d bloggers like this: