Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

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.


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, , , ,

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.




And one panorama:


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, , , , , , , , , ,

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, , , , , , ,

November 2015
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