Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

Sometimes you get lucky

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.

 

Filed under: distant location, hazardous, locations, long long drives, mishaps, up all night, Work, , , , , , , , , ,

Friday Photo

image

The lights, reflected in our ‘pond’, which was an above ground pool.

Shooting in and around water when we’re burning lights that use as much electricity as a small house needs to be approached with caution.

Back in the old days, we used DC power around water, which is safer, but most modern lights won’t work with DC, so we have to use Shock Blocks – they’re giant GFCIs, much like the small ones you have in your kitchen and bathroom.

The way they work is that if they sense an interruption in the force, they assume there’s mortal danger and shut off the power. Usually, they do this right in the middle of the only take in 300 that’s gone right, or the exact moment the AD says “we only have time for one more before we lose the light”.

It’s also really important that we make sure everyone on set is plugged into the GFCI circuits – if something should happen and the water tank were to rupture, the GFCIs would shut off the power before anyone got electrocuted.

Hopefully.

But people get tired of the fucking things tripping and shutting off the power, so they steal a stinger and plug into a wall outlet.

If the lot safety people come by and see that, guess who gets fired?

That’s right, me.

Next time: The simultaneous fun and horribleness of going into the tank.

Filed under: camera, Los Angeles, studio lots, Work, , , , , , , , ,

Thankfully, a busy week

This week didn’t start out busy. This week started out with just Monday on a three camera kids show. Let’s call it Sassy Tweens.

Then, as I started the Tuesday morning worry, I got calls for Wednesday and Thursday within five minutes of each other. Sweet.

Wednesday was a condor call, on Been Done Before.  Since it’s been a while since I’ve been up in a condor, I had to  pause for a few minutes at about 50 feet to get my ‘air legs’.  Condor calls are usually 8 hours – so both of us came in before lunch, and helped work the set (a teeny tiny bar. Really teeny) and move back to the lot.

We wrapped about 11 pm, and I hurried home to get to bed as soon as possible because I had an 8 am call on a new TV show that has an unbelievable amount of security – a co-worker told me that one of the background actors tweeted the name of the show and security nailed him 10 minutes later.  A PA actually approached me and checked my name against the call sheet. Wow. Let’s call it Super Secret.

Please no guesses at the name in the comments. Don’t get me blacklisted from a show with a crew I adore.

We had a nice day on an air-conditioned stage (hooray!) and aside from being a little sleepy (I like to try to get at least 6 hours, and I  fell just a bit short), it was a great day with guys I  really like.

Today, I’m back on Sassy Tweens. That gives me four days this week.

Hooray for work!

Filed under: crack of dawn, locations, studio lots, up all night, Work, , , , ,

It takes some getting used to

Last night was my first time going up in the condor in almost a year. Although I’m not normally too terribly afraid of heights, it does take me a bit to adjust to being in a lift after extensive periods of time spent on terra firma.

We were shooting on a Y-shaped studio lot street, so we used three condors. Mine was the lowest, armed out over the intersection, mimicking various streetlights. This had two advantages. It kept me lower, so there was less adjustment panic, and since I was a few feet below the tops of the facades, I was sheltered from the wind (spring has not yet sprung here in Los Angeles, so it’s still a bit brisk at night, especially up in the air).

The other two condors, at opposite ends of the street, were ‘full stick’ (meaning they were at full extension of 80 feet, almost straight up) and at the mercy of the wind and fog.

At least it didn’t rain, but the billowing clouds did make for some entertaining nighttime viewing:

Misty night in the air

The operators in the other two condors told me that the wind died down after about an hour, so everyone had an easy night.

Most terrifying night in a condor ever was the night I was armed out over the LA river for an elaborate car chase scene – my base was on one of the bridges and my bucket was full stick, so the distance to ground was about 200 feet. Adding to the terror spawned by an overactive imagination was a windy night and a very ‘bendy’ condor arm (some of the arms flex more than others).

At the end of the night I think I might have kissed the ground.

Filed under: camera, Photos, studio lots, up all night, Work, , , , , , , , , , ,

Friday photo

20121207-190016.jpg

Condor. This time, I’m not in it. I’ve got several drafts that I’ll polish and post on my one day off this week.

Maybe.

Filed under: camera, locations, movies, Photos, up all night, Work, , , ,

Another un-uneventful evening.

Why is it that every time I make some blanket statement such as “condor nights are usually uneventful”, I’m  proven so very, very wrong?

As of late, condor duty has been anything but uneventful.

This last time, I was nowhere near any old, rotting bee-filled facades, plus I was full stick (meaning the condor was at maximum extension) in an 80 foot condor, so I figured that all I’d have to do was set some lights and then nap.

Except that this time, as soon as I got up and set, I made the mistake of looking down. I’m not normally afraid of heights, but this particular set was a sunken garden (and of course my condor was on a level above the garden), so it looked like I was up much higher than 80 feet.

I know it’s silly of me to be freaked out when I think I’m 100 feet up and not when I’m 80 feet up. If I fell, I’d be just as dead either way, but I guess it’s that I’m used to being 80 feet up so anything that looks higher up than that is outside what I’ll hesitantly call a comfort zone.

This particular condor not only had a super bendy arm (some of them have more rigid arms than others, so some bounce around more when extended. Bendiness varies by individual condor, not by make or model. Needless to say, I prefer the more rigid ones) so the basket swayed like crazy whenever I shifted my weight or the wind gusted or I hauled something up to the basket via my drop line (like the very important plate of second meal), but that or the illusion of extra height wasn’t what really rattled me.  Right after I got up to 80 feet my condor decided to start settling.

Settling is caused by air bubbles in the hydraulic line. When an air bubble gets into the right spot, the condor will make a popping noise and then drop a fraction of an inch. The condor can’t actually fall all the way to the ground, so it’s not dangerous, but it is disconcerting to be up that high and have that ‘pop and drop’ happen.

Luckily, when we turned around to shoot the other half of the scene the gaffer wanted the lights in a different spot so I was able to go down ‘on the stick’ (meaning the boom arm wasn’t fully extended) and went back up to a lower altitude so the popping wasn’t nearly as noticeable and the people on the ground looked a lot larger.

And thankfully there were no bees anywhere nearby.

Filed under: Work, , , ,

Bees, kitsch, and some food for thought.

Normally, being the guy up in the condor with the BFL (big fucking light) is fairly uneventful.

Raise platform up, set light(s) at gaffer’s direction, kill time until wrap.

Friday night, however, was different.

One of the lights must have been aimed at a hive somewhere in the New York Street facades because a few minutes after I went up I was surrounded by dozens of  bees, most of whom were successful in getting past the color gel and into the light (which meant they got toasted immediately), but the ones who weren’t able to figure out how to get around the gel became very, very cross and decided that flying full speed at the big thing in the basket was a great idea.

After a number of near-misses I decided to take the coward’s way out and huddled in the bottom of the basket with a blanket over me, sweating profusely as it was a warm night (I’d much rather sweat than get stung) and trying not to scream while we were rolling.

As we worked our way through a very long and complex scene, I huddled under my blanket, listening to the angry bees buzzing around me. After a time, most of them would find their way into the lights and that would be the end of that.

Just when I’d get optimistic about the bees having given up for the night, a fresh batch would fly up and the whole process would start over.

Thankfully, the last scene scheduled for the night was dropped, meaning I got to turn off my lights and enjoy a bee-free descent earlier than I’d anticipated.

Sunday night,  a friend of mine and I went to an on-lot screening of Ghost Town.

After the movie,  we went to eat at the weirdest restaurant in Los Angeles.

No, I’m serious.

It’s a Greek-themed seafood place, staffed by octogenarians  and no matter what one orders, an indiscriminate plate of something completely random which bears no resemblance to what was described on the menu appears.

I ordered kabobs and got what I think was supposed to be a salad, my friend ordered fish and got, well, I’m not sure what it was but it sure as hell wasn’t the red snapper.

This is a small price to pay for the ambiance of badly done Agean scenery murals, statuary draped in Christmas lights, a decrepit piano player and old men arguing about politics while one eats one’s mystery meal.

There’s some metaphor for life itself in there somewhere, I’m just not sure where.  Maybe in the sauce.

Wall mural

Piano player

Strange Greek place in Hollywood

Cell phone neon sign shot

Sorry about the shitty cell phone cam shots. I’d forgotten to bring my camera.

Filed under: Non-Work, Photos, Work, , , , , , , ,

My Big Fat Mouth

Didn’t I, a while back, complain about not working enough?

Feast or famine, I guess.

Friday, I called in to the union hoping to get something for Monday, and instead got a job for that very night – good, but bad because I’d been up all day and wouldn’t have been safe on an all-nighter.

When I got there, i found out that I was just there to go up in the condor for the last shot, plus the crew were all guys that I used to know from back in the day when we were all non-union. Hadn’t seen them for years, so it was good to catch up and I was very glad I took the call, even though my condor malfunctioned (the basket wouldn’t rotate when I was 80 feet up in the air, so I couldn’t get the light exactly where the gaffer asked). I was out of there before midnight, which was good as it got me home before I was too tired to drive.

Right after I took the job for Friday, I got a call for Sunday. The advantage of working Sunday is that there’s absolutely no traffic on the roads, so I got to work way early and read the paper.
Had a good time, and I got to take some shots of the Doheny mansion while I was there. We didn’t have a super long day (we just had to rig around the outside of the house and only put some power inside – sometimes the Doheny mansion can be a very, very long rig because it’s so delicate inside that hanging lights takes forever) which was good as we got out right before it got really hot (3 pm in SoCal, if you were wondering).

The bad part is that we had to deal with these horrible things called Avenger stands, which are easily the worst designed piece of crap in the entire world. They crank up so high that you have to have a scissor lift to reach the light when they’re at full stick, and the wheels don’t really lock properly (there should be two different locks – a roll lock and a directional lock) and they are so heavy that the aluminum things holding the wheels bend so none of them even roll properly. They’re also awkward as shit (when unfolded, they wheel base is 8 feet wide!) and hard to steer. They’re impossible to roll when they’re folded up, and although someone invented a special cart to hold them until they’re ready to use, they’re still awful and they’ve injured several people I know (one severely enough to have had to retire permanently)

If I ever become as rich as Edward Doheny, I’m going to buy the company and all existing Avenger stands and set the entire mess on fire. I’d invite every crew member in the world who’s ever had to deal with those fucking things and we’d all have a hell of a party while we watched the stands melt into a lump.
Can you tell that we hate these stands? I can say ‘we’ because I’ve never met anyone who liked them. Anyone who had to move or lift them, that is. People who don’t actually have to touch them seem to love them.

Luckily, we were able to get the lights on the stands and in place without anyone getting hurt, which is really the important part.

Today, I stood on set (of a different show) in the air conditioning and it felt good.

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , , , , ,

I really want to, but I can’t.

A sure-fire way to be certain a best boy never calls you back again is to refuse to do something, even if there’s a really good reason.

Yesterday, I was asked to go up in the condor and I had to do exactly that – over the walkie, no less.

“Um.. I’ve got a.. health situation right now that’s going to prevent me from doing that”.

One of the guys standing next to me immediately started teasing me: “What.. you got yer peeeeriod?”

Why yes, actually. That was, in fact, why I couldn’t get in a condor,  raise the basket to eye level of upper floor apartment dwelling yokels and then sit there for 10 hours. Thanks for asking.

Of course, I couldn’t actually say that, so I made some crack about not being able to get off the shitter because I’d eaten his mamma’s cooking the night before, but this was ill-timed.

Hopefully, it won’t be held against me and this particular best boy will call me back again.

Oh, well. It was probably better for me to refuse to go up than to go up and then have to come back down a few hours later.

In the ‘damn, I’m glad I wasn’t on that show’ department, one of our drivers told me another show that’s shooting a few blocks away had almost a quarter of a million dollars in cable stolen.

Since the copper market (cable is, of course, copper with a rubber coating) has skyrocketed and the scrap metal buyers downtown don’t ask any questions, unguarded cable lying around pretty much has a ‘free money’ sign on it.

Bet that security guard’s salary isn’t looking so expensive now, huh?

Filed under: locations, Work, , , ,

A weekend update’s better than nothing, right?

I’m normally an okay lift driver, but every now and then something happens and I fuck up. Wednesday, I got called in to be the condor person, and because they were running behind schedule, I went out to the location of the exterior scene (on the New York Street facades) to change the barn doors on the lights. Barn doors are metal flaps that attach to the front of the light to help control the beam (if the gaffer only wants the light to shine in a small area, then the operator will fold the barn doors partially over the lens so as to narrow the area that the light’s hitting).

There are two kinds of barn doors on lights – two way and four way. Two-way doors have, you guessed it, two doors and four-way doors have, of course, four metal doors.

Gaffers tend to like one or the other, and as a rule they’re very loyal to whatever type of door they like. This particular gaffer can’t stand two way doors and since the lamps had been hung with them, we had to go out and replace them with four way doors on about 10 heads that were hung somewhere in the facades.

The problem with that is that inside the facades, there’s not a direct route to anywhere, really. The interior stairways sort of wind around, and more than once, I’ve humped something heavy up what I thought was the correct stairwell only to find myself 10 feet from where I needed to be, but with no way to get there except to go all the way back down and then back up the correct stairway.

So, after a time of searching through the facades and not finding the lights, we finally had to get the gaffer on the radio (right in the middle of a lighting set-up when he was super-busy, of course) and have him tell us where the lamps were – turns out, they were hung on the outside of the facades in what was dressed to be a back alley, and to get to most of the lamps, we had to use a scissor lift.

Since we’d blown so much time wandering around looking for the lamps, we got in a hurry after being told we only had about an hour to remove the offensive barn doors and replace them – that’s not as much time as it seems like, since scissor lifts can be difficult and time consuming to manoeuvre when in tight spaces. I ended up getting the lift stuck on the uneven pavement, and in my attempts to get it unstuck, ran a tire through the ‘hero’ set piece.

Whoops.

Luckily, the standby painter (that’s the person who is there to fix things like this) got it repaired before the important people saw anything.

Then, Friday, I was back on an insert unit.

Insert units are fun because none of the important people show up – it’s just grabbing the stuff that the actors and the ‘A’ team can’t be bothered with (like a close-up of a watch or a photo or a hand picking something up), so we spent all day just jumping around grabbing bits. We had a fun day, even if lunch was two hours late – which meant the food was cold and mushy (hey, that’s what happens when it sits in a chafing dish for two hours).

Originally, we were supposed to do two episodes’ worth of inserts, but because we ran behind, we only did one – which is fine. We did an 11 hour day and I actually managed to get home in time to get some sleep before having to get up at 7 am in order to be at the MRI place by 8 (and be semi-coherent, of course).

The big surprise Friday was finding out that I had been designated the best boy. Normally, that means a hell of a headache for not a lot of money (think herding cats for 14 hours and then, just when you’re tired and ready to go home, having a mountain of paperwork dumped on you), but since we were just the insert unit the lot best boy* did the time cards and dealt with the equipment, and the crew we had were all really experienced and diligent, so really all I had to do was make the statement at lunch that we needed to make sure everything was “tits”** for first unit on Monday, and it just sort of happened by itself.

Sweeeeet, even though I can’t really take credit for it.

I’ll get results of this morning’s MRI later in the week.

*On studio lots, a show will have two best boys – one for the show, and one for the lot. The lot best boy deals with the lamp dock and all red tape involving set lighting and the studio, and the show best boy deals with the show and his (or her) crew and all location shooting.

** “Tits” is an unfortunate but heavily used (in the film industry, at least) term meaning really, really awesome.

Filed under: studio lots, Work, , , , , , , , , , ,

September 2017
S M T W T F S
« Aug    
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930

Flickr 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 871 other followers

Twitter Updates

Blogroll

Not blogs, but cool

%d bloggers like this: