Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

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


Most of the time, the frat boys in the building next door  annoy the hell out of me.

Sometimes it seems as if all they do is have keggers on weeknights, blow enough pot smoke around to create a sinister fog which blankets the entire west side of the city, and talk loudly about which girls they’d like to bang. I’ve contemplated mass murder more than once.

Usually when said kegger is raging the night before I have a super early call.

So yesterday, as I was coming home from a bike ride, and saw the one with the faux-hawk putting a gas grill outside by the trash, of course I assumed he was up to no good.

Damn kids.

When I asked him what was up, he told me they’d gotten a bigger one and that this one still worked, but it wasn’t, well, new.

“Besides,” he said, “it’s dirty and none of us want to clean it ’cause that shit’s gross.”

An entire career spent pulling cable through unmentionable filth means that I’m not really afraid of dirt, so I took said grill off his hands and slowly, fearfully opened the lid to inspect the damage.

Maybe it’s the aforementioned career wallowing in filth, but the grill’s really not all that dirty. Nothing that some toxic chemicals and a good scrubbing won’t fix, but I’m a bit perplexed as to why they’d fill a gas grill with charcoal briquettes.

Is propane that expensive?  I think not.

It’s a really nice grill and once I get it cleaned up and the gas line working, I can indulge in instant gratification – outdoor cooking without waiting on the charcoal to heat up.


Tomorrow, I scrub.

Filed under: Non-Work, toxic waste, Uncategorized, , , , , , , ,

Friday Photo

Not Beer

Whenever there’s a scene with actors or background in a bar drinking, for obvious reasons they can’t be drinking alcohol, so any glasses you see are filled with non-alcoholic liquid. The best example is iced tea for whiskey. That bottle of jack is really filled with Snapple.

In this case, this particular glass is filled with watered down Coca Cola.

I feel bad for the actors who have to drink it and smile.

Filed under: camera, Photos, toxic waste, Work, , , , , , ,

Super Gross Friday Photo

Tuesday, instead of being on set, I was working with a friend in a machine shop, building some specialty lights for a gaffer we both know.

Which was great, as I really like the folks in this shop, and I was working for someone I like, and I was out of the bitterly cold wind that, for some reason, had been sweeping Los Angeles for about a week.

Ever since we had to go through a safety training class where a guy with 8 1/2 fingers told us that any electrical power tool would fuck us up and good, I’ve been scared shitless of them (drill press? Band saw? No, thanks. I like my fingers where they are – attached to my hands), so what I was mostly doing all day was assembly work.

Near the end of the day, I was installing a plug on the end of one of the fixtures:

Stock Picture courtesy of Hubbell.

One opens up the plug, attaches the stripped wires into the holes that will connect them with the prongs, then closes the plug and screws down the two big screws on the back there that act as strain relief (because if the ‘hot’ part of the wires are weighted or pulled on, they can come out).

These plugs need to be replaced quite frequently, so this isn’t something that is really all that new to me – I’ve done it thousands of times with no problems.

But as I was tightening down the second of the two strain relief screws, the plug, being round, rolled slightly, and the screw gun slipped.

Right into my finger, Phillips head bit first.

At first, I thought it was just a mash injury, which hurts like hell for a few minutes then goes away.

Then, I saw the blood.

My first thought after that was to get a bandage.

Then, I saw how much blood there was, and, upon rinsing in the sink, I saw the extent of the injury, and the metal dust that was in there.

So, although I felt really, really bad about leaving my boss there to finish up by himself, I went to the urgent care, where, after making me do paperwork for half an hour,  they shot Lidocane directly into the wound so they could open it up with some sort of Medieval torture device and clean it.

The doctor  informed me that screw gun injuries can’t be sutured because of the jagged edges, so I’d have to keep it elevated for the next 24 hours.

Good to know.

Next time, I’ll cut myself with something sharp instead.

Yesterday, I went back to the center for a bandage change and a checkup, which is when I took this:

....and that's why you always leave a note!

Entry point was just to the side of the nail bed, exit point (sort of, it didn’t so much penetrate as tear) is the big red blob near the tip of the finger.

Note this is 48 hours after, so a lot of the swelling had gone down, and it looked much better than it did Tuesday.

What the photo doesn’t really show is how deep it is. Frankly,  I’m surprised that the doctor couldn’t see bone when he opened it up. Also, before they cleaned it the whole wound was full of metal dust and other assorted crap.

Plus, it’s incredibly tender, but much less so today, three days later. I had to turn down three days of work this week  because it wouldn’t have been possible for me to touch anything and not scream and bleed.

I’m hoping to scare some work up for next week, so this damn thing had better heal up.

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

Hello, heat. I didn’t miss you.

It’s time for the annual ‘fry Southern California just when we thought it was autumn’ cruel joke that masquerades as Santa Ana winds.

Temperature today in West Los Angeles? 100F. Of course, we were outside for most of the day shooting dust against a green screen. Said dust was blown across said screen by two Ritter fans, which are so powerful that they created a mini dust storm, so of course my allergies went crazy before lunch.

Heat stroke? Check.

Can’t breathe? Check.

All I needed was some sort of catastrophic intestinal distress to really round it out. Oh, wait…

For lunch, they brought us Tito’s.

For those of you not familiar with Los Angeles, Tito’s Tacos has a completely undeserved reputation for good food.

Well, I suppose it’s ‘good’ in that they can take Grade C meat (mostly circus animal, some filler) and shredded newspaper and somehow manage to make a) the ‘food’ taste only moderately horrible and b) the intestinal after effects wait until just after you think you’re going to get away with it this time.

Every time I’ve eaten tacos from Tito’s, I’ve become ill (sometimes moderately, sometimes violently) within a few hours*, but since I was hungry and there was nothing else to be had I figured I’d eat something with no circus animal.

That turned out to be a bean and cheese burrito – I tried to surgically remove as much of the cheese as possible, but I guess some stuck (or there were remnants of trained zebra in the beans), as of course, a couple of hours after eating I found myself making a very hurried trip to the ladies’ room. Also of course, said intestinal distress hit just as we were getting ready to move inside the stage.


We spent the rest of the day on the stage, which was awesome – air conditioning and proximity to toilets are wonderful things indeed.

As I write this, it’s almost 9 pm and still about 90F. I predict a cold shower in my very near future.

Tomorrow, we’re inside all day, which is good since it’s predicted to still be hot as hell through the weekend.

*Late night Tito’s has taken out entire film crews before. One is hungry, so one eats and hopes for the best, only to end up stuck on the toilet cursing the day Tito was born.

Filed under: hazardous, mishaps, studio lots, toxic waste, Work, , , , ,

Words I never thought I’d say

“Sweet baby Jeebus, I am so sick of smelling this chocolate I think I’m going to puke.”

As soon as the words passed my lips, the world just felt.. wrong. Like I’d passed into an alternate dimension where everything was almost, but not entirely normal. Like the twilight zone (shit. Now I’m going to get hits from vampire tween searches).

A chill went down my spine and I wondered how I was going to return home from this deeply disturbing place.

Wait.. Let me back up.

Lately, I’ve been doing this thing where I sleep like a rock (and wake up not feeling very rested, but that’s another story), so when the phone rang at the crack of dawn yesterday morning, it didn’t register at first.  As I clawed my way to semiconsciousness, the call went to voicemail, so I shoved the cat off my face,  and upon listening to the message, found that it was someone calling to see if I were available to cover someone who called in sick.

I broke the dialing speed record calling back to say ‘yes’, showered, hopped in the car and headed across town (of course) to the stage.

Upon arriving I discovered that the bulk of the day’s work was several characters rolling around in what was supposed to be a mud pit. For some reason, instead of movie mud, this production opted to use chocolate pudding. Don’t ask me why. Guess they figured the actors were going to accidentally ingest it and it was better to be safe than sorry.

12 hours later, the smell of chocolate pudding mixed with cheap perfume and broken dreams was nauseating.

But that also could have been the smoke. In an effort to make the scene look like a strip club without actually going to a strip club, we used a doohickey that creates smoke, Basically, it superheats oil and spits out a vapor that looks like smoke. Don’t know what’s in it. It’s supposed to be harmless, but after a few hours on stage with the stuff, my eyes burn, my skin itches and I cough like a tubercular Victorian poet.

Productions are supposed to hand out ‘protection’ (no, not condoms, dust masks), but no one does because it’s useless against the smoke juice.

I usually feel like crap the next day, too.

It’s an occupational hazard since directors and DPs LOVE smoke. It makes the scene look all hazy and pretty (unless you overdo it and then your movie looks like an 80’s music video), so it’s a cross I’ll just have to bear.

The chocolate thing is a problem though. Hopefully I’ll stop hating the smell very soon.

Filed under: hazardous, movies, studio lots, toxic waste, Work

The Pee Pee Corner

I was all set to spend today reminiscing for your enjoyment.

I deposited my freshly-washed laundry in the dryer, sat down at the computer, and then the phone rang.

“Do you want to work today?”

You even have to ask?

What time and where, that’s all I need to know.

Turns out they needed a crew to rig a location at the last minute – so I pulled the damp laundry out of the dryer, hung it about the house (campsite chic – it’s all the rage), and took off.

Of course, crew parking was across the street from the old place (no, really. Right across the street), so what once would have been a 30 second stroll was now 70 minutes of fighting traffic and wishing my car had a ‘stun’ setting.

The day wasn’t bad – it was just changing some flourescent tubes and running some cable with folks that I like a whole lot and I’m always happy when they call me, even if it’s for a short day.

The problem with running cable on a sidewalk in Hollywood is knowing what’s going to happen to said cable as soon as the shooting company’s gone home for the night.

The clubs let out, there’s an inviting wall and a passerby with a bladder full of beer, and you can guess the rest. We know the cable’s going to get pissed on – and we have a pretty good idea of where most of the pissing will happen (that nice semi-private convergence of walls ), and we know who has to wrap the cable in the morning.

So we’ll march in tomorrow and deal with the cable in the pee pee corner as quickly as possible while holding our breath.

Hey, it beats not working at all, right?

Filed under: hazardous, locations, toxic waste, Work

Loud Dusty Noise

Once upon a time, when the world was new and our corporate overlords pretended to care about the health of the dirty toolbelt people, there was such a thing as a ‘build day’.

A build day was when the stage upon whatever it was to be shot got turned into a mill – the carpenters came in, cut wood (but not the cheese – at least not until after lunch), sawed, sanded, nailed, painted, etc…

Then, as if by magic, sets would appear. Once this step was complete, the rigging electrics and grips would come in and run cable, hang greenbeds, ‘rough in’ lighting, and so on. Then more painting, drapery, furniture, etc…

After all this was complete, the beautiful and important people would come in and do the real work.

This is now a thing of the past. In the wave of rampant stupidity that’s currently masquerading as cost cutting in Hollywood, this production decided to save money by having us and the grips rig during the build.

This, in case you’re unfamiliar with carpentry in general, means that we were trying to work over the cacophony of saws, grinders, welders, sprayers, and four loud radios (each, of course, tuned to a different station).

The noise made it impossible to hear someone 10 feet away, much less the boss standing on the stage floor, 48 feet below the perms, to give us any sort of direction, changes, or warnings (such as “stop dropping that cable in – the producer’s standing in the set”), since rigging crews don’t normally carry walkies and just yell at each other.

The noise was only one of the problems. In addition to the dust and probably toxic fumes,  this particular stage has air conditioning vents and fire sprinkler pipes that are placed very, very low over the walks – about 4.5 feet, so one has to duck to go underneath them, which is fine until one has a  60 lb. coil of cable on one’s shoulder.

Since I’m trying to keep my back from exploding, I bent my knees and did the ‘duck walk’ all day.

That, plus the trips up and down the stairs to the perms have left my legs aching.

But I was working with really wonderful people who I like a lot, so it was several  really good, albeit long, days.

Tomorrow, I’m back standing on set while eating crafty. I’ll feel like a vacation.

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

Shooting the poop

Today’s work involved poop. Not the rhetorical kind, the real (well, movie real, which we all know isn’t the same as real real) kind. The rodent kind.

Hero waves flashlight (not a normal one, a special movie one) around, discovers said poop, proves some plot point. Or something. I kinda zone out whenever I try to read the script.

Aside from the fact that shooting poop – even fake poop – is a ‘gimme’ day for bad shit-related puns (“I didn’t like that take. Let’s call it the flusher”), it was also a short day at 10 hours, so I got stuck in rush hour traffic on the way home from work.

Any other time, this would suck shit (see, I’m still doing it), but the recent February mini-heat wave we’ve had has made the city’s copious amounts of night-blooming jasmine start to flower so the drive home, while slow, smelled fantastic which abated my normal traffic related rage. Note: I hate synthetic jasmine perfumes, but I absolutely love the real thing. Right now, I’ve got all the windows in the house open and it smells so good even the cat’s happy.

If you’re ever in LA in the late spring or early summer, just step outside and breathe through your nose. You’ll smell it. You can’t get away from it. It permeates everything here, which is impressive considering that such a powerful smell comes from something that masquerades as an innocent shrub to which no one ever pays any mind.

I don’t think it’s summer quite yet (we’re due for more rain early next week), but it’s definitely on the way.

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

What a difference a decade makes

The last time I worked at the Redondo Beach power plant was at least 10 years ago. Maybe longer.  We ran cable all over the place and production issued us no safety gear, gave us no admonition to watch out for lead paint or broken floors or random dangerous things. We went in, did the job, brushed the paint chips off before we got in the car to go home and that was that.

Complaints about the interior of the plant would likely have been met with a helpful suggestion to shut the fuck up and get back to work.

This particular building was completely vetted for asbestos quite some time ago, so that’s really never been a concern (especially for those of us who worked at the Ambassador Hotel, which was asbestos central), but what’s left now is an astonishing amount of lead paint that’s peeling off almost every visible surface inside and outside the plant.

So this time, with the new kinder gentler film industry, we were issued hard hats, given a very long lecture by the studio’s safety department, and informed that a cleaning crew had been in for days in an attempt to manage the peeling lead paint in the plant. Although the lower level of the plant (where the actors were) was really, really clean (as in the cleanest industrial location I’ve ever seen), the metal mesh upper decks between the pipes where we were walking around and setting lights hadn’t been cleaned or sealed at all.

So each time we had to lean over to set a light, shimmied past the stands to get to a light, walked over the set,  or exhaled heavily we’d brush something or other and send a shower of dust and paint chips down on the actors who were sitting in the nice ‘clean’ set below. When there are sixteen lights, flags, stands, four electricians and three grips in a tight space it’s just not possible to avoid bumping or brushing up against things no matter how hard one tries.

Since the set was spread out over two levels of the plant, we put half our carts on the lower level and half on the upper level – of course, when I was upstairs, whatever I  needed was in the downstairs carts and when I was downstairs, whatever I needed was in the upstairs carts.  Also, due to the layout of the levels, the locations of the stairs and having to avoid those pipes made getting from one place to another a bit challenging.

Although the hard hat made me feel marginally safer, with the maze of pipes around narrow walkways, random metal bits sticking up out of the floors and protruding from the walls I bashed every single part of my body except my head. I should have worn body armor and shin guards.

Call time: 10:30 am

Wrap time: 2:30 am

Heading home after wrap, I got turned around and couldn’t find the entrance to the freeway – when I finally found one, there was only an on-ramp going in the wrong direction. Sometimes I hate you, Los Angeles.

Once I managed to get on the freeway I drove like the proverbial bat out of hell and got home at 3.

Filed under: hazardous, locations, long long drives, toxic waste, up all night, Work, , , , ,

February 2020
« Oct    

Flickr Photos



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 1,019 other followers

Twitter Updates


Not blogs, but cool

%d bloggers like this: