Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

Friday Photo

Facade with oak tree

Facade with oak tree

One of the movie ranches* in the desert have spent the past few years building some really, really nice facades on their land.

Said facades are mostly metal (excellent for not catching on fire) and have outlets so one can power small lamps without having to run cable.

They’re also relatively new, which means they’re relatively clean inside, too.


Facade interior


*”Movie ranch” means exactly what one would think. It’s a ranch which is there to serve as a movie location.

Filed under: locations, long long drives, Photos, 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, , , ,

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.


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, , , , , , , , , , ,

December 2022

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