Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

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.


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

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, , , , ,

The one that got away

Partway through day two in the tent, a co-worker got on the walkie with a very important announcement:

“Oh, my God, a clown just dropped his pants.”

I’d been huddled in a corner with my head down, trying to find a bit of air that wasn’t full of dust, but when I looked up, there it was:

One of the clowns with his pants around his ankles and his polka dot boxer shorts swaying in the breeze.

I guess he just felt the need to air it out.

I normally have my camera in a pouch on my tool belt, but when it gets really hot said tool belt gives me an awful case of the flop sweat (we’re taking Niagara Falls here) so Friday I left it in my bag and just jammed my gloves in my pockets.

So when I saw clown undies, I dove for my bag, desperately scrabbling for the camera so I could have evidence that once in my life I had seen a pantless clown and lived to tell about it.

I found the camera, turned it on and raised it up to frame a shot – just after the clown pulled his pants up.

Damn, damn, damn.

Note to self: Next time, staple camera to face so I don’t miss any more shots like this.

In a way, Southern California’s fire season has worked in the crew’s favor – we were supposed to shoot the dusty location four days straight, but since we had a fire delay we have the weekend to recover before doing two more days in the tent.

I took advantage of the two days off and sat in the steam room at the gym for an hour yesterday and an hour today.

I’m still coughing, but I don’t taste dust any longer, so I’m calling it a victory.

Filed under: Work, , , , , ,

The abominable dusty everything.

Today’s set was a big tent in one of LA’s nature areas – and by ‘nature area’ I mean a big dirt lot adjacent to a man-made lake in the Valley.

The dirt floor of the tent was covered with a layer of sawdust, which must have seemed like a great idea at the time – until the couple of hundred extras and circus performers started tromping around and then it hit.

The dust cloud.

After a couple of hours, it was like a foggy morning in San Francisco in there, and the camera assistants were going through what I imagine was a week’s worth of canned air by blowing off the cameras every few minutes in an attempt to keep them dust free enough to work.

Everything was coated with dust – even though I was wearing one of those paper masks, I still tasted dust and felt grit between my teeth. Although it was hot, I probably didn’t drink enough water because that would have meant taking the mask away from my face, which would have meant ingesting extra dirt.

After lunch, there was some attempt to control the dust by sending two guys around to spray the floor with water from those 2 gallon portable garden misters, but that did nothing to help.

Even after having had the world’s longest shower, I still taste it. I think my lungs are now coated with dust.

At least I had a mask, though. Our actress not only had to navigate the dirt floor in spike heels, but wasn’t able to wear a dust mask because of her makeup. By the end of the day she was really starting to cough.

And in case you were wondering, 100+ extras can really do some damage to the portable toilets. I went in there to pee and wash my hands before driving home and every single stall looked like a natural disaster.

I’m going to brush my teeth for the fourth time and go to bed.

Filed under: Work, , , , ,

The work expands to fit the time allotted.

I usually bitch about working for much less than scale, but this particular job was a favor for a good friend of mine, so I just couldn’t say no. The rate worked out to considerably less than half of what I normally make, but the day had a 10 hour guarantee, which meant we got paid for 10 hours whether we worked that long or not, so the plan was to get there early, ‘hit it hard’ and get the hell out before it got too hot (also, working shorter hours would make us all feel better about the low rate).

We got there just after dawn, and with only a few hundred feet of cable to run and some lamps to rough in*, I figured I’d be out early enough to do laundry and get home in time to watch The Simpsons.
Not so much.

While the facades on backlots do have installed power, this production didn’t want to use it, so we had to run our own cable from the generator, over spider-infested piles of junk and through the maze-like interiors – inside the facades, there’s no such thing as a direct route from point A to point B. Although working inside the facades gave a break from the sun, everything was covered in dust.

I guess this part of the lot doesn’t get used much as there was at least a half-inch of dust everywhere. On the floor, on the window sills, hell, even the cobwebs in these particular facades were thick with the stuff.
When we walked across the floors, big puffs of dust rose and hung in the air before settling on our clothes and into the creases of our skin. By lunchtime, we all looked like those old photos of grime-coated coal miners – even my teeth felt gritty. Of course, running cable through the dust stirred up more huge clouds of it.

As the clock ticked and we crawled in and out of the facades, trams full of tourists passed by our set, leaning out over the side, frantically snapping pictures of us working.

I imagine their conversation went something along the lines of “Gawd, why are they all so dirty? The nice studio must be trying to help out some homeless people.”

Although I wanted to whip out the camera and shoot photos of the tourists shooting photos of me (and pointing. I seem to remember it being rude to point at someone and whisper while you’re looking directly at them), any action that can even remotely considered to be aggressive towards the trams will result in banning from the lot (and any associated work that takes place there. Try explaining that one to a best boy)

The thing about short days is that they’re almost never as short as promised. Somehow the work will find a way to expand – our boss will find more things to do, more little stuff that’s got to be rigged, more stuff that’s got to be changed after he talked to the gaffer, so day ended up running the full 10 hours instead of under 8. This isn’t really a problem – after all, 10 hours still feels, to me, like a fairly short day, but the dust and the sticky and the general uncomfortable made the time just crawl.

Isn’t it funny how the dust looks grey on the ground, but at the end of the day the shower water runs off black?

*Rough in means the lights are set up roughly where the gaffer thinks they might work, but the placement’s not exact.

Filed under: studio lots, Work, , , ,

Half a weekend goes well with panic attacks.

My main problem Friday night wasn’t the copious amount of poison oak all over our location, but the dust and pollen in the air. For some reason I always forget that if the location’s on a dirt road the approaching vehicles will make the inevitable dust storm worse. I then vow to never again leave my house without dust masks in my work bag. Then, after working all night I’m tired and I forget the whole thing.

Since the all-nigher and related allergy attack shot Saturday all to hell anyway I stayed on the sofa struggling to breathe and then on Sunday I went to see American Gangster (which I highly recommend even though this trend of three hour long movies is beginning to wear thin).

Monday was the day the panic started to set in. I haven’t got enough money saved to make it through a long strike. I’m going on vacation (for which I can’t get a refund were I to cancel so I might as well go) at a terrible time, and if this doesn’t get resolved soon I’m pretty sure I’m going to starve to death on the street, wallowing in a puddle of my own filth.

The incessant strike-related nattering of the local televised news-bots isn’t helping one little bit, either. Trust me guys, it’s a big world out there and there’s got to be something else you can air besides that one fucking clip of the picket line in front of Paramount. Didn’t someone cure some disease somewhere? Can’t you go look and double check?

When I really start to sit and worry, I can work myself up into quite a state, so in an effort to prevent that I spent Monday trying to find a home for one of the neighborhood’s random stray dogs (for some reason, people like to dump strays in my neighborhood. I don’t know why). This one looks like a purebred Chihuahua, but can’t be. Chihuahuas yap and make me want to drop-kick them and this one’s quiet and really nice, so I’m going to conclude that she’s some other flavor of ankle biter that shakes a lot and is difficult to housebreak.

So, after walking about ten miles in a vain attempt to wear out said ankle-biter (who seems to have a hell of a lot more energy than I do) so she’d appear less hyper than she really is when I dropped her off at a friend’s house (where she’ll stay until I either find her original owner or a new one), I was too tired to worry much, but today I’m rested and since a lot of other people are out of work (or will be soon) the phone calls are flying and everyone’s collectively working themselves up into a lather.

Although going three months at a time without work isn’t unheard of (for me at least), since I don’t have the savings pad that I’d really like to, if the strike outlasts my unemployment I’m going to end up sitting in a cubicle somewhere, rocking back and forth and muttering incoherently about my stapler.

And no one wants to read about that.

Filed under: life in LA, movies, Non-Work, up all night, Work, , , , , , , , , , , ,

There’s holes in them thar walls!

Somewhere along the line the people who own my building decided to replace all the plumbing.

Now, I don’t inherently object to this as in some parts of the house my water pressure is non-existent, but since the plumbers are knocking holes in the walls in order to access the pipes and are making some serious noise, of course I have to work tonight and with the destruction (right now they’re jackhammering up part of the patio) happening around me, there’s absolutely no way in hell I’m going to be able to take a nap before my 6 pm call time.


Holes in the walls

When I told the maintenance guy about my having to work tonight, he sort of stared at me for a moment and then asked “What are you going to do if you can’t take a nap?”

I’m just going to have to suck it up and consume as much caffeine as I can without actually having a heart attack, that’s what I’m going to do.

On the bright side, if society collapses any time soon, the ability to stay awake for a really long time will definitely be a major asset in a post-apocalyptic world. Also, the plumbers (there are four of them) are all in really good shape so there’s no half-moons going on.

Plumbing work

Filed under: Photos, up all night, Work, , , , , , ,

Photos and a question

First, the photos:

Really old cable.

Is it fiberglass or is it asbestos?

Now, the question:

This is really, really old cable. The cable we’ve used for, well, just about forever has rubber insulation, and this is clearly not rubber.

In a debate about what, exactly it was, half of Monday’s crew thought asbestos, and the other half thought some sort of fiberglass.

So, who’s right – or were we all wrong?

What the hell is this stuff and do I need to make a panicky call to my doctor because I got my face too close to it?

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

June 2023

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 1,177 other subscribers


Not blogs, but cool

%d bloggers like this: