Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

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, , , , , , ,

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, , , , , , , ,

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, , , , , ,

Friday Photo

When statuary goes terribly wrong:
P1050578

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

Tuesday photos, or that one time I went to jail.

There aren’t a whole lot of options available, if one needs to shoot in a jail. For obvious reasons, shooting in a working prison can be.. problematic, so we’re restricted to closed jails, which, in Los Angeles, means either Sybil Brand or Lincoln Heights, depending on if one wants ‘old timey‘ jail or modern jail.

For the past few days, we’ve needed modern jail, so we’ve been at Sybil Brand.

It’s been shot so much that it’s getting hard to tell what’s the original prison and what’s sets, but please enjoy some photos:
Height of technology, 1963

Hang up

 

Cellblock

Do NOT touch!

What freaks me out so much about Sybil Brand is the complete lack of anything plastic. Due to what I can only assume was budget, the prison wasn’t updated at all before it closed, so it’s a treasure trove of silly looking stuff that was the cutting edge in 1963:

Height of technology, 1963

And now it’s all in limbo, pending a review of how best to spend the taxpayers’ money – renovate or rebuild?

Until then, it’ll stay a shooting location and dog training center:

Whoops.

Dog training course

Filed under: camera, locations, Photos, Work, , , , , ,

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