A shaft of light
June 28, 2016 • 10:58 am 2
There are two months of the year where work is usually scarce for me – January and June. I always know it’s coming and prepare for it as best I can, but near the end of the month, with rent and bills due, I panic.
I know that there will be more work (and soon), but still. I panic.
I worry that I’m going to drain my bank account on the first of July, never work again, lose my apartment and have to consolidate into a shopping cart.
I worry about not being able to pay my bills and trying to live without electricity.
Or even worse, the internet.
I start looking around for stuff I can sell, even though I don’t own anything of any value.
So today I’m in panic mode. I have to pay rent, cell phone, electricity bill, gym, car insurance and union dues all this week.
Yes, I know I’m over-reacting, but I can’t stop myself.
It’s like this every single fucking year.
You’d think I’d learn.
May 25, 2016 • 10:13 pm 1
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.
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.
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.
May 6, 2016 • 4:26 pm 0
April 18, 2016 • 8:44 pm 0
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.
*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.
March 22, 2016 • 8:31 pm 3
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.
March 21, 2016 • 8:21 pm 0
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.
March 15, 2016 • 8:58 pm 4
Ten days ago, I worked a micro budget favor job for a friend of mine who is trying to move up the food chain (which, of course, necessitates moving down the food chain first) and shoot.
I don’t have a problem with favor jobs. I don’t mind helping out friends or people who need it, but since my landlord won’t accept good intentions, I usually expect to be paid the amount I was promised.
The amount I was promised for this particular job was relatively small, but every little bit helps, and I factored that pay into the monthly budget. Job was on Friday, we were told checks would be mailed Monday.
Then we were told checks would be mailed Thursday.
Mailed on Thursday means it should show up in my mailbox on Saturday, or Monday at the latest.
Monday: No check.
Today, I worked a day on a commercial (and thankfully I know they’ll pay), and figured I’d look again when I got home.
No check, although I did get a dividend for some worthless stock – it’ll buy a shitty bottle of wine. But at least they paid, goddammit.
This is even more annoying because this was supposed to be a cash job.
Some time ago, crews got wise to the ‘promise and then skip out’ tactic, and began to demand cash. Usually at the end of the night, but some production companies had to pay upfront, and then pay again if they wanted more work.
I know, that statement makes us seem like greedy assholes, but you can only get burned so many times before you stop trying to make people like you.
So at the end of the day, we walked up to the money man, expecting to be handed envelopes.
He looked shocked.
“I never promised anyone cash. I never pay cash! Who told you I’d give you cash?”
I think that’s when we all knew.
Knew we were going to have to fight.
I haven’t had to do this in a long time – hopefully I won’t have to go to the office and make a scene, but I won’t hesitate if that’s what I have to do.
Remind me to tell the baseball bat story. It involves a shady production company, a bounced check, and a baseball bat.
Or someone who is currently working micro-budget can tell it, since I’m sure it’s the same story.
We’ll see what happens tomorrow.
March 2, 2016 • 7:09 pm 1
One of the occasional perks of my job is wardrobe and prop sales.
Most of the really nice (read: expensive) stuff is rented, but the cheaper stuff is usually purchased, in multiples, and kept beyond the date by which it can be returned to the store.
There are reasons for this, of course – spills, tears, and daily wear make multiple items necessary, and hanging onto the items for so long is a must in case there are re-shoots.
So a few times a year, the nice folks in wardrobe will let the crew pick through the racks and sell off some fairly nice things for Salvation Army prices.
Today, I was really in the right place at the right time.
As we breakfasted before call, one of the costumers wheeled up a rack and told us to grab whatever we wanted, gratis.
Most of the items had weird logos on them, but a few things were really nice and (I hoped) my size.
I wasn’t sure because I couldn’t try anything on.
As totally willing as I was to whip off my top at the old Barney’s warehouse sale (deep discounts, no dressing rooms), I have to pretend to maintain some semblance of professionalism at work, which means just guessing on the size and hoping.
Of the five tops I got, four fit, which is pretty good.
One item that I thought might be too big was, predictably, too big.
But it’s a really nice soft cotton T-shirt so I might just wear it anyways.
Tomorrow, I’m on a special effects shoot which will mainly be sitting around and wondering where my life went so fucking off course.
At least I’ll look good.
February 21, 2016 • 3:50 pm 0
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.