Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

A bird in the hand

Pigeons love old sound stages.

I don’t know why, but there’s almost always one or two lurking up in the perms, crapping on our cable and doing whatever it is pigeons do when they’re not crapping on everything.

Sometimes they get trapped on the stage when we’re shooting and fly around, bumping into things and crapping on everything until they either find their way out or we call cut and open the doors.

Today, right in the middle of a very long, very complex scene requiring concentration from the actors on the dead-silent stage (this show has a really serious AD staff) – the song of the flying rat.

And they kept singing (or cooing, or telling each other where to crap next) during every single sound take.

We tried everything. A laser pointer, a light aimed at them, luring them towards the small door with a trail of bread crumbs, throwing things at them, you name it.

They’d be quiet for a few minutes and then as soon as the stage got nice and quiet  would resume their conversation.

Eventually, the exasperated sound guy decided that it wasn’t worth the headache and they should just ADR the whole thing, and we moved on.

As soon as we opened the big doors of the stage for lunch, both birds flew out.

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

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, , , , , , ,

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, , , , , , , , ,

On second thought, maybe don’t let it snow.

I’ve worked in all sorts of environments – asbestos-filled, slimy, stinky, smoky, rat-infested, prostitute-infested (oddly enough, not the same place), etc..

But this past week is the worst I’ve ever felt from something on set. My cough has escalated into full-blown bronchitis, and one of the actors got so sick he had to take a day off.

Needless to say, once someone important got sick production put a stop to the paper snow (which, it turns out, wasn’t movie snow, but acoustic insulation – the type that is mixed with plaster and sprayed onto ceilings).

This was a step in the right direction, but what they switched to was shredded styrofoam – and still continued to throw in front of fans because the shakers are ‘for big shows’.

This led to marginally less coughing, but a lot more itching.

I only itched a bit (as in I waited until I got home to claw my clothes off and scrub my skin raw), but two of my co-workers were driven to the brink of madness by the itching.

Instead of the inadequate mask from production, I stopped off at the hardware store and bought a better one, so yesterdays 15.5 hour cluster fuck (oh, that’s a post all on its own) left me with only a mild cough.

Today, we started the wrap, so we were only there for 8 hours – but I still wore my mask as the FX guys were sweeping up the flakes and it was really dusty.

After work, I went to swim, but was almost 15 seconds slower per 100 meters due to the difficulty breathing and the coughing.

Although it’s not being blown around any longer, the snow will continue to be a problem since it’s on (and in) everything. We’re going to have to use the compressed air to blow the stuff out of the lights we’re taking down from the pipe grid.

Outside, of course, and wearing masks.

 

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

Let it snow, let it snow

Back in the days when the film industry was young and innocent, someone clever noticed that real snow, when brought onto a set with really hot lights, immediately melted.

The solution was to pile up a shitload of soap flakes or white-painted cornflakes (no, really), but those had… issues. Bugs and rats love cereal flakes and when humans are exposed to soap flakes for long periods of time the line for the toilet starts to get very long – not to mention the mess when it rains.

Then, someone very, very, clever devised a solution. A substance called Phoamaide or Foamite, very similar to the stuff in fire extinguishers, mixed with asbestos or those trusty soap flakes.

This is what we used for years – well, except the asbestos. I think they stopped using that last year*.

Then, someone came up with the brilliant idea to use small flakes of plastic. It won’t melt, it glitters just like real snow and it wafts gently to earth just like those nice big perfect flakes you want to see on Christmas morning unless you have to drive.

Also, it can be quickly vacuumed up (and reused) and won’t attract vermin or give your expensive actor a weapons-grade case of the shits.

The plastic is still used in cases where the snow needs to fall from the sky.

But if the snow is just sitting on the ground productions usually use a combination of paper snow, blankets, and foam (keep it away from animals and foliage). It doesn’t fall nicely, but it won’t kill fish if it washes into the watershed (okay, maybe the foam will make them sick but they’ll get better), so there’s a satisfying lack of guilt.

20140708-202549-73549792.jpg

But the paper stuff is extremely dusty, and creates a haze in the air which even the manufacturers warn not to breathe.

It doesn’t bother me when we’re outside (unless it gets wet and I walk through it. Then it has to be chiseled off the bottom of shoes and good luck getting it out of the car), but as soon as I get on a closed stage with it, its non-stop misery.

My eyes itch, my nose stops up, my head hurts, my throat burns and I start to cough like a tubercular Victorian poet.

And that’s just with the stuff lying on the ground minding its own business.

This particular show is using effects fans to blow the flakes into the air, creating even more dust. They’re also spraying the shit out the “realistic” plastic ivy with foam, but I suspect that’s the least of my worries.

Today is day two of the episode and I already feel like crap – the last day of the show is Monday, so I have four more days of this to endure.

*I’m joking. I think they stopped using the asbestos in the late 1980s.

Filed under: crack of dawn, hazardous, Photos, studio lots, toxic waste, Work, , , , , , , , , , , ,

I didn’t like those clothes anyways.

There are two downtowns in Los Angeles.

The first is the newly gentrified downtown of nice restaurants, microbreweries, amenity-laden lofts and a Starbucks on every corner.

That’s a nice downtown. Nice to visit, nice to work, relatively clean and safe.

Then, there’s the other downtown. The older downtown. The downtown from…before.

The downtown of smelly bars open at 6 am, aggressive entrepreneurs (one of our drivers was solicited and I was informed that I needed to buy some drugs), houseless citizens, and what basically amounts to open sewers.

Why, oh why, when people have an entire city in which to defecate do they always choose to do so on our cable? I’ve never been able to figure it out.

Honestly it wasn’t as bad as it could have been –  we came in to wrap about an hour after the shooting crew had left, but that was still enough time for the locals to… decorate our cable.

In this situation, there’s always a decision to make.

Do we wrap the (relatively) clean cable first, saving the gross stuff for last, or do we dive in and deal with the stuff that might make us sick when it’s before breakfast and we still have empty stomachs?

In this case, we decided to wrap the ‘clean’ stuff first, in the hope that the sun would dry up the worst of the filth, which sometimes happens. Mostly in the summer.

Then, it’s just a matter of avoiding the piles of dried up I don’t want to know*.

At one point, I noticed a discarded syringe a few inches from my foot.

Lucky for me, the needle was gone. One of my co-workers saw a syringe with needle intact, though. Yikes.

Lucky for all of us we finished wrapping and had everything staged by the truck, ready to be loaded, by the time the nice lady who was screaming about invading lizard people started doing what looked like the Watusi while she crapped in the middle of the street.

Ah, downtown. It used to be like this everywhere.

I’ve been on the show where the cable was covered with so much runny shit that the best boy called the rental house and told them if they wanted the cable back, they could don hazmat suits and come and get it.

We loaded the truck, threw away our gloves, and headed out.  I decided to make a stop at an en route Korean Spa to relax and scrub off the worst of the funk.

They almost didn’t let me in, which I sort of understand, given how I must have smelled.

Lucky for me, I had some clean clothes in my gym bag and was able to soak, sweat and shower so I could head home not smelling like skid row.

I’ve got tomorrow off and then Friday I’m working on a nice studio lot where the filth won’t kill me right away.

Hooray!

*I know what it is. I just don’t want to think about it. I’ve never stopped being grossed out by piles of human  excrement on the pavement.

Filed under: hazardous, locations, movies, toxic waste, Work, , , ,

Saturday Photos

Film crews will sit down just about anywhere.

Dusty? Sure. Hard? Great. Pointy? Awesome. Pile of cow crap? Nice and soft.* Just get me off my feet for five minutes.

Yesterday, we worked at a bus repair yard for a school district. No one sat down all day. It might have been the grease, or the barrels labelled ‘hazardous waste’, or a combination of both, but standing just seemed… prudent.

Wait.. Which kind of waste?

So when we moved inside a bus for a long scene, our boss asked the guy who was stuck inside the bus manning a light if he wanted someone to relieve him so he could go to crafty or the bathroom or whatever.

“Nope. Got a nice seat and a breeze. I’m good.”

Here’s what was creating the breeze:

How to keep a bus cool

Guess it worked just fine. We were all too jealous of the sitting down part to ask.

Call time: 10:30 am. Wrap time: 1 am.

* That one might be a tiny bit of exaggeration, depending on how long I’ve been standing and whether or not I’m wearing rain gear.

Filed under: hazardous, locations, Photos, toxic waste, Work, , , , , , , , , , , ,

December 2016
S M T W T F S
« Nov    
 123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
25262728293031

Flickr Photos

Tags

Origami bird

Window view

More 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 856 other followers

Twitter Updates

Blogroll

Not blogs, but cool

%d bloggers like this: