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, , , , , , , , , ,

The wind blows

For some strange reason, someone on this show decided to jump from a 6:30 am call time to a 9 am call time.

One would think that it would be great to sleep in, but the later the call, the heavier the traffic.

So I left my place a full hour early, anticipating to get stuck in the crawl, and then got lucky and got there way too early.

It was a nice calm day when I pulled out of the driveway, but by the time I got to location the winds had picked up – not just a light breeze, either. Violent gusts that bent trees and knocked over anything large and top-heavy – such as grip equipment or lights on stands.

The first thing we did in the morning – before we were in* – was frantically weight down the stands with all the sand and shot bags we could get from the grips, and then secure the equipment as well as we possibly could.

I finally got to see one of the other empty houses that’s being used as a location – it’s about a block away from the main house and has an incredibly green pool. Not intentionally green, mind you. Mosquito vector green. Someone told me it hasn’t been cleaned in about six months – oddly, the entire time the production has been shooting in this house.

The winds kept up all day and into the evening – by sunset my sinuses were a solid block of dirt and pollen – because we’ve killed the lawn on the property, there’s a layer of dust on everything – the carts, the equipment, the crew, the food. It’s like a music festival, except there are no tunes and you can’t get a toe ring.

The winds should die down by tomorrow afternoon.

Although California is currently in drought, I took a really long hot shower in an attempt to dislodge the mass in my sinuses – it was so bad even my ears were jammed up.

I need Claritin for the rest of the week.

*At call, the ADs will yell “we’re in”, meaning the work day has started. Most shows have a caterer that serves breakfast so everyone gets there early and mills about. It’s bad form to show up right at call, and it’s equally bad form to start working before one is called in, as one isn’t getting paid for that work. But, if it’s a choice between working five minutes early or losing a light due to it getting blown over….

Filed under: locations, long long drives, Los Angeles, movies, 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, , , , , , , , ,

Continuing Education

In order to shift liability for accidents onto the crew, we are required to undergo safety training.

The bulk of the classes were some time ago, and now it’s just the occasional add-on whenever someone gets hurt, or someone important thinks they might get hurt.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for education and safety training, I really am. An educated workforce is the best insurance against accidents.

This particular class was about process trailer safety. And that’s an important class, especially for people who haven’t had any experience with process trailers.

That funny-looking thing you see in the link is a process trailer. Because it’s asking a bit much of actors to remember their lines and drive at the same time (no snark here, it’s difficult), one puts the car on a trailer and tows it around while the actors mimic driving and say the lines.

It’s also very useful if your car is a stick shift and your actor doesn’t know how to drive one – or if you want a dolly shot of the car while it’s moving, or if you want…

Hell, there’s a million reasons to use a process trailer and very few to let an actor drive.

It was taught by a former AD, so it was a very interesting perspective on the whole thing, and despite the warnings I’d heard that the class was boring and useless I found it very interesting.

The only bad part is the driving all the way across town.

I’m not kidding. The training facility is on the other side of the Los Angeles Metropolitan area, and I have to traverse the worst traffic corridor in North America to get there.

So I went to the 12:30 to 3:30 class in the hopes of missing the worst of the traffic.

I combined errands and went to the bank, dropped off the recycling, swam in the 50 meter pool in the valley, and then hit the class.

I’d intended to go to Ikea after, but Obama is coming so I went straight home in the hopes of missing that clusterfuck.

Still no work, but I’m hearing it’s going to be really busy, soon.

Until then, I will continue with cleaning the apartment and weeding the garden – two tasks that get neglected when I get busy.

Filed under: life in LA, long long drives, Los Angeles, Non-Work, , , , , , , ,

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.

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

A crash and a bang and that’s lunch.

I’m starting a show next week (hooray for work!), so I’ve not really been looking for work – just getting some random projects done around the house (fun fact: the walls in my apartment are not plumb, as I discovered when I tried to anchor a bookcase to the wall. Awesome).

But I’m certainly not going to turn anything down, so when I got a call to work a stunt unit yesterday, of course I agreed.

Stunts are a producer’s nightmare – they take forever and you cannot for any reason rush a stunt performer. Because if you do, and there’s an accident…

I don’t really need to finish that sentence, do I?

So we set up, lit the very small set and then we sat. And sat and sat and sat. Then, we went to lunch, came back and sat some more. The actors sat. The camera people sat. The producer sat and gnashed his teeth.

This particular movie had a very bad experience with a thing called an accelerator rig (cable system to pull a stunt performer through the air rapidly), so they won’t use them any more* – the ‘kick the bad guy right through the ceiling’ scene had to be shot in little bits, which isn’t a bad thing as we got to do some lighting.

The last shot of the day was a fist fight on top of a train scene – which was really a fight in front of a greenscreen with fans blowing for extra realism. Aside from the scuffing of a very expensive costume, it was uneventful.

The main challenge was to light the actors without casting shadows onto the greenscreen. Easy on really big greenscreen set ups (you can get the actors way away from the walls), not so much on small ones – you can’t get your action far enough away from the screen to make it easy (the screen has to be lighted separately from the actors, and there can’t be any cross contamination – the actor light has to stay on the actor, and the greenscreen light has to stay on the screen).

But again, once it was done, we sat. Lucky for me my co-workers were really wonderful folks and we had a very good time.

I have to give the director credit – we did three really huge, complicated stunt scenes in under 12 hours. That’s amazing.

* I wasn’t there, but I’m told a part of the rig failed (mechanics, not human error) and almost bruised a very expensive actor.

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

Good news, everyone!

Normally one likes to ease into work after being idle for months.  It gives a chance to adjust to the hours, the early rising (which I do anyways, so no change there), the heavy lifting and the bad air from construction and paint.

Most of the time, that wish isn’t granted and one just gets thrown into 50 hours per week of whatever it is one’s not used to (heights, heat, cold, smelly air, Michael Bay).

One goes from wondering if there’s ever going to be any work to wondering if it’s possible to survive the week of work.

It does make it easier with wonderful nice co-workers and a boss who’s the greatest guy on earth, but still.

Monday was my last day (bonus day! Hooray!), and after a Tuesday of doing nothing and swallowing aspirin like there was no tomorrow, today I went to see Dr. Dreamboat to assess the shoulder and my general well-being after 11 days of paint fume-fueled upper body workout.

Turns out, the shoulder’s not bad. It’s ouchy, but it’s  not as jacked up as I’d feared.  Which is good.

I know you’re waiting for bad news, but there isn’t any. The shoulder is doing well, and I’m very pleased.

Next mission is to try to get a day at the end of the week – or, failing that, next week.  Yay work!

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

Cooperative obstructionism

The waning days of a rig are the most frustrating. Most of the work is done, so it’s just small tweaks – pan a light, add a gel, etc.. But since there’s more crap hanging in the air and stacked on the ground and stuff is harder to get to, the illusion of forward momentum is much harder to maintain.

Boss: “Pan that light. No, tilt it. No, wait. Dammit, that tree’s in the way. I can’t see. Stay there and I’ll get it moved”

It’s frustrating for us, it’s frustrating for the gaffer and the DP and people trying to dress the sets while we’re rolling lifts through them, and everyone else. And we can’t put anything off until tomorrow because the stage shoots tomorrow. And since all of us have to work the set, we can’t stay super late because there will be turnaround issues.

In our contracts,  we have specific turnaround times – the time between when we’re dismissed for the night and when we have to report to work in the morning. Although it can go as low as 8 hours (usually on what’s called a distant location where the crew is staying in a hotel and being driven to the set by the teamsters), it’s usually 10.

A forced call is when we’re brought back to work before that time has elapsed. When a call is forced, we start the day in whatever pay bracket we ended the last day in (double time, usually), which, as one can imagine, is expensive, so production never wants to force a call without a very, very good reason or rivers of tears from the director.

Also, it’s not good for a crew to have a call forced. We come to work tired and not at our best, which means we’re far more likely to have or cause an accident than we would be had we just gotten enough sleep.

So we tried our best not to destroy the sets as we added a few lights, changed some other lights and finally went home.

It’s as done as it’s going to get, and my main challenge tomorrow will be to stay away from the junk food at craft service.

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

Coming through!

I can’t figure out why so many tiny, tiny bars put themselves in the location books* Even the medium-sized bars are a challenge to shoot in because bars, while they’re designed to accommodate a largish number of people (or not) are generally not designed with traffic flow in mind. Actually, it’s the opposite. If you’re trapped and can’t leave your spot at the bar, you’re more likely to spend money.

Today’s  location was a very small and very, very trendy bar in Koreatown.  We came in on a two-hour precall** to light, and of course everything we did on our rig day yesterday got changed. So when call time rolled around, we weren’t ready but they wanted to rehearse so we got sent to breakfast.

Also of course, production blamed grip and electric for the delay in getting started.

The entire day was an exercise in how many times one could manage to clear a path by yelling over the roar of the loud conversations (oh, for the days when the ADs used to clear the sets for us to work. Long gone, of course.) and the din of the other departments trying to work, while navigating around the bar’s furnishings and various set debris without hurting anyone too badly.

Most of us are really good about  letting each other know that we’re back there (and moving when there’s someone behind us with something heavy), but every now and again someone gets bumped with a stand or a table or a camera front box, and there’s just nothing to be done about it.

We used a lot of the bar’s equipment for set dressing, which saved some money I’m sure, but a disappointing number of glasses got broken – some by me when I was on a ladder adjusting a rigged light, lost my balance and swung my leg around to regain it. Ooops. Put it on our tab.

Speaking of tabs, one of our actors decided to indulge in some stress relief and downed a few shots of the bar’s top shelf  liquor. Before lunch.

We were all very impressed that she managed not to flub too many lines or miss too many marks. I don’t know that I could do as well after drinking that much.

The caterer’s food is great, but it’s a bit heavy, so because we were shooting in Koreatown, I walked a couple of blocks to a noodle house  and had a bowl of delicious noodle soup with veggies and some spectacularly hot Kimchi. Despite downing mints, I’m pretty sure I could have cleaned the kitchen’s ovens with my breath, but it was so worth it. So much so that I might go back tomorrow.

Also, I’ve resigned myself to having a sore throat (and the voice of a boy in the throes of puberty) for the next couple of days as for some reason the zeitgeist has decreed all bars must be full of smoke, despite the fact that most bars don’t allow smoking any longer. But smoke we must, so they bring in a guy with a smoke machine and a fan and he fills the bar with this… stuff that’s not supposed to be bad for you but it makes me sick every time. Plus, it smells like my grandmother’s mothbally closet, and I certainly wouldn’t want to spend 14 hours in there.

* One can go to the film office of LA (or any city) and ask to see the location books – these are binders full of potential filming locations all over the city, usually categorized by area and specifics (mansion, tenement, hipster bar, etc..). Many of these locations are insanely difficult to shoot at and should be removed from the books immediately.  When I rule the world….

**Exactly what it seems. Because we have so much work to do, our call is earlier than general crew call.

Filed under: hazardous, locations, movies, Uncategorized, Work, , , , , ,

After the rain

Line drying

Since it’s almost never a good idea for lighting equipment to get wet, when there’s the threat of rain (or heavy dew overnight) we have to cover, with plastic, any carts and loose equipment not under some sort of cover.  For a long time, we just cut chunks off big rolls of landscaping plastic and wrapped that around the carts (and no matter how thorough a job one thought one had done, water always leaked in somewhere), but then someone invented these giant sandwich bag things called Bag-its. They come in all sizes and are super awesome, but are far too expensive to be considered a throwaway item, so they get re-used until they’re so battered that they fall apart (this takes a surprisingly long time to happen).

For obvious reasons, we can’t fold them up and put them away when they’re wet, so we have to dry them. The best way to do this is to suspend them from two stands like giant lines of plastic laundry.

We had to keep the sidewalk clear so that the nice people who live in this neighborhood could pass through, so we couldn’t just line them up like we usually do, and we only had enough space to dry three at a time.

Lucky for us there’s no rain predicted for the rest of our very short (due to the Thanksgiving holiday) week.

Filed under: camera, crack of dawn, locations, Photos, Work, , , , , , , , , ,

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