Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

Survival Mode

The (hopefully) very last shot of this movie was a green screen of black goo shooting at the camera.

As fun as it is to make actors actually vomit, union reps and the health department frown on it, so we had to do a shot of the actress with her mouth open and a shot of the black goo shooting out of a pipe poking through the green screen that will be combined to make it look like projectile vomit.

So we lit the green screen, with the lights far enough back to be in the ‘safe’ zone, the camera had a Lexan shield in front of it, and all the spectators were well back from the screen.

Everyone was ready.

The first try was a trickle of goo which didn’t shoot out so much as dribble down the green screen leaving a really gross streak.

The special effects guys then turned up the power and tried again.

Still a trickle, but it looked more like a gloppy drinking fountain.The effects guys then had an extremely animated discussion, remixed the black stuff and did something to the pressure in the lines.

Everyone in the area had been lured into a false sense of security by the first two shots, so they went near the green screen to watch this attempt.

Pro tip: Any time you see effects guys get worked up about something, take cover. Preferably in the next county.

The guy with the trigger started a countdown.


People edged closer to the camera.


Phones were raised in anticipation of something really cool to put on social media.


There was a noise like a gunshot and a titanic amount of mystery goo shot towards the camera with enough force to slam the Lexan shield against the matte box.

Since Lexan is a flat surface but very flexible, the shield bent over the camera – which protected it, but acted like a springboard and impressively extended the splatter range.

Blobs of… whatever the hell that was flew outward from the convenient boost like some sort of satanic Flubber.

My co-worker and I were standing 30 feet away at the rear of the catering tent (because what better place to make a mess), clawing at each other as we frantically tried to get behind… anything.

But there was nothing.

Someone’s panicky scream of “incoming”, when combined with that sensory perception thing where everything slows down convinced me to do the only thing I could do.

I turned and I ran.

Call me a coward if you like, but as I cleared the doorway of the tent, I heard the splats of the goo hitting the back wall – right where I’d been standing a few seconds before.

My co-worker chose another survival tactic – the cower. He bent over, making himself as small as possible and miraculously avoided getting slimed.

Everyone else? Not so much.

One of the PAs was wearing a pink T-shirt that I suspect will never be the same again, and I don’t even want to contemplate the number of phones that will never work again.

Filed under: hazardous, locations, Los Angeles, mishaps, movies, 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, , , , , , , , , ,


Two alternate spellings of ‘overtime’ are ‘animal’ and ‘baby’.

Animals, even the best trained ones, are unpredictable and only sometimes do what you want them to do when you want them to (babies, of course, never, ever do anything on cue).

So when I got a call to work on a green screen unit, I figured it would be a fairly uneventful day. Once the screen is lit we don’t have too much to do, and green screen work normally goes fairly quickly unless there are stunts involved.

Then, we met the world’s most uncooperative giraffe. I’ve only been on one other shoot which used a giraffe – a commercial many years ago. I guess that giraffe was better behaved because aside from remembering that it was really. fucking. tall. any memory of the rest of the day is long gone.

This particular giraffe was only about six years old so not fully grown (according to the trainer, they grow until they’re 12), and was in no mood to stand in front of a green screen. Maybe it was the fact that there was a tiger 100 feet away, but he was antsy (the giraffe, not the tiger) and dragged his handlers all over the set while the camera operator tried desperately to keep him in frame.

The problem with a 16 foot tall giraffe is that it’s very, very difficult to convince him to do something if he gets it in his head not to do it.

The handlers would attempt to direct the giraffe by pulling on the rope attached to his halter, but the giraffe would just plant his feet and bend his neck to some visually disturbing angle instead of walking. In the ‘things I didn’t know’ file is that a giraffe has a very flexible neck – this one could bend his head all the way back to his tail.

At one point, he decided he’d had enough of the handlers and started trying to gore them with his.. I don’t know what they’re called – horns? Antlers?

I don’t know what his name was, but I think they mostly call him ‘shithead’. According to the trainer, his temperament is representative of most giraffes, who are apparently not team players.

We also used an elephant, with whom I’ve worked before. She’s a complete sweetheart and unlike many human actors I’ve seen, hit her marks every time.

The zebra was cute and did okay, except for occasionally deciding that the grass was more interesting than the handler’s treats – which meant that instead of walking from one side of the frame to the other, he’d stand there and graze, ignoring the handler and the director’s frantic shouts.

The emu wasn’t very friendly, either, and he scared me. I’ll confess to not being overly fond of birds, and a great big one with weird red eyes just made me want my mommy.

Also, what is it about power cable that makes it such an attractive place to poop if you’re an animal? Every one of them would wait until they were standing right over the cable and then let loose. I was glad I didn’t have to wrap it.

Since I thought it was going to be a short day, I didn’t bring a book or a newspaper or anything to pass the time. All I could do is watch the pissed off giraffe rampage around in front of a green screen.

Which, when I think about it, is much more entertaining than the paper.

I’m not complaining, though. Between the giraffe, the waiting on actor availability and the creepy emu, we had just under a 14 hour day, which is just what my bank account needs right now.

* according to The Phobia List, this is a fear of wild animals – although I probably shouldn’t imply that I’m afraid of them.  I’d like them to keep their distance (fleas, you know), but if they get to close to me, I can always hit ’em with a combo stand

Filed under: Work, , , , , , ,

April 2023

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"If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better." -Anne Lamott

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