Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

Hot and dusty

It’s still 100 degrees in Los Angeles.

I’ve already worked three days this week, and two of those days, of course, have been day exterior.

Today, we were in a canyon park near the beach, so we got a little bit of wind  in the morning and we were mostly in the shade so it wasn’t too bad except for the dust and the poison oak.

The studio safety people had come through and placed pink flags wherever there was poison oak so that we could avoid it.

Of course, the flags were in the shot, so they were pulled up first thing, leaving us all to try to remember where, exactly, we needed to avoid.

At one point, video village got set up right in the middle of the area where we’re fairly certain was full of the stuff, but no one was sure, so we just have to wait to see if any of the important people get a rash.

As the vans drove by on the dirt roads, we all got coated in dust, and then as the day wore on and it got hotter and we started to sweat, the dust turned to a thin layer of salty mud.

At one point I wiped my face on a paper towel and was only mildly surprised at how much dirt came off.

Also, of course, we ran out of light because everyone forgets about the sun and canyons.

The weather forecast gives sunset as, say, 7 pm. But in a canyon, the walls are higher than the horizon, so one loses the light earlier. Our boss pointed that out on the scout, but no one listened and we had to light the last few shots.

Where did we need to place the lights? Right in the poison oak patch. Of course.

We parked at the beach so after work a co-worker and I jumped in the ocean just as the sun was going down, but the water is still gross and really warm, so it washed off some of the sweat mud, but wasn’t as refreshing as I’d like. The beach shower was colder.

Where am I working tomorrow? Why, outside, of course. In the valley.

Filed under: hazardous, locations, Work, , , , , , , ,

I see dead people

For the past few weeks, it’s been extremely hot and humid here in Los Angeles.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s always hot this time of year, but the wonderful thing about living in an arid climate is that it cools off at night so, for a few hours, there is some relief. The important hours – when one is trying to rest without sweating like the proverbial whore in church.

Not lately.

It’s been so awful at night that sleep has been impossible – and not just for me.

Everyone on the crew (maybe the cast, too, but they have makeup) have black circles under their eyes and are downing coffee (iced, of course) as fast as they can.

It’s not just us, though. Tempers are flaring all over the city, as the police cope with near-record cases of cranky pants.

Excessive horn-honking, overly aggressive shouts of “points” when one isn’t carrying anything, passive-aggressive latte ordering, crafty grabbing*, scuffles over shaded parking spaces, crowded beaches,

Today, I snarled at a man in the grocery store for breathing.

No, really. That’s all he was doing. Through his nose, making that goddamn high-pitched whistle from hell.

I’ll kill him.


I mean it’s cooled off tonight and maybe I can get some sleep so I’ll feel less homicidal tomorrow.

Although I have a 4 pm call in northeast Bumfuck, so I doubt it.

*Those peanut butter cups are mine. Fuck you and the horse you rode in on.

Filed under: crack of dawn, cranky, distant location, life in LA, locations, long long drives, Los Angeles, Work, , , , ,

At least it’s a dry heat. Oh, wait.

After working on a show that I absolutely cannot write about (super-secret paparazzi bait) – and working 14 hour days so there was no way to do anything worth writing about besides work, I got a call to work on a cable show in Santa Clarita.

Good news: I was going against the traffic, and working with a crew of wonderful people. Bad news: It was 104 degrees, with ‘monsoon conditions’, which feels like one moved to Florida, but without the awesome Cuban food.

Lucky for us, we were on stage all day – the other unit were out in the parking lot, finishing up the previous day’s work that had to be cut short because several people had succumbed to heat-related illnesses (including one of the actors).

These stages have really powerful air-conditioning units, as they have to combat not only the external heat, but the inferno created by pumping enough electricity through large lights to power a city block.

But the air-conditioning only works when it’s turned on (insert joke here).

For some reason, this production has decided that they can’t chill the air while they rehearse. Which would be fine, except that when it’s that hot outside and we have lights burning, it takes a few minutes for the temperature in the stage to climb past 100 degrees, and the air-conditioning, when turned off for the hour or so it takes to rehearse a three page scene, just can’t catch up.

Although I don’t know the exact temperature, by lunchtime it was very, very hot on set.

Our actor  was begging for them to turn on the air during rehearsals, but no dice. Gotta keep it quiet.

At lunch, when we turned the lights off, the stage cooled off, but heated back up right afterwards.

You know the smell that wood saunas make? I can’t describe it as other than really superheated wood. That’s how the set smelled – so it was about as hot as a sauna.

Lucky for us, the director got us out of there in about 10 hours (super impressive for a 7 page day!), and I was able to crank the air in my car on the way home to my apartment.

Which is not air-conditioned, of course. But at least there are no 10ks.



Filed under: california, locations, long long drives, Work, , , , , , , , , ,

It’s cold outside but I’m baking

This past week, I’ve been on a multi-camera show*. For lighting and grip, multi-cameras consist of three rig days and two shoot days. Rig days are only a few hours, because it’s all just fixes, tweaks and resetting the lights that the greens guys knocked out-of-place when they hauled around all the trees. Shoot days are normal 12 or 13 hour days.

Usually with multi-camera shows, once the shooting day starts we don’t do much of anything, because all the lights are rigged and really nothing works on stands.

Except this DP a single camera guy and still has the aesthetic of that world, so we’re walking a lot of lights around on stands every time a scene changes. This is not a bad thing at all, as working makes the day go faster, and today the perception of time passing quickly was a wonderful thing, as our stage’s air conditioning unit decided that it was going to take a vacation.

Perhaps to somewhere cooler.

Lucky for all of us, the crafty room had excellent air conditioning. You know how at parties everyone ends up in the kitchen? That was us today.

The director and I had a deep discussion about potato latkes while we huddled in the draft of air coming from the soda cooler, and I met more of my co-workers than I usually do as we wandered in, sighed in relief and then left without eating anything.

Right now I’m chugging water in an attempt to not wake up tomorrow feeling like I’ve been on a bender.

Speaking of tomorrow, although it would be lovely to have chilled air, I suspect I’ll need to wear summer clothes and keep hydrated.

*That’s not a really good description, since most ‘single camera’ shows use two cameras now. Multi-camera format uses four cameras and sets all open to one side, but I’m lost for a more apt name.

Filed under: california, mishaps, studio lots, Work, , , , , , , ,

Ready, Aim, Wait.

I’ve never had a producer tell me to stop working.

Today, he called a meeting and told us they may decide to shoot more in the main house. He delivered this news with the air of a man who has struggled a long time, but has finally come to terms with nothing ever making any sense ever again.

Sadly, we didn’t get that note until after we’d ripped out all the cable. Not the stuff in the flowerbeds that’s easy to reach – the cable that was run through the walls and in the crawl spaces of the house so the DP could have everything on a dimmer.

I’m noticing a trend with younger DPs – they want everything on a dimmer, all the time, even when they could use scrims. I guess that’s what they’re teaching them now in DP school, and that’s fine, but if you’re not shooting on a stage we have to put the entire location on our power – which, since houses are not built the same way sets are, means going through the very few areas of the house that aren’t visible.

In LA, that means the three-foot tall area between the rafters and the ceiling which is loosely termed an attic, or the 14 inches of crawl space under the floorboards, since the only houses here that have basements were built before the Wright Brothers took their first flight.

Since the ‘attic’ of this house is above the insulation, it gets really warm up there, and since we’re currently having unseasonable heat, it made sense to wrap that area first thing in the morning, before the space became a sauna and we made our medic do some work*.

So we’re now waiting to see if we have to re-do everything we undid.

No word on if they have to re-shoot the black glop.

*Whenever we’re on location must have a medic present. The medic is the one person on the crew that the producer doesn’t want to see doing any work – if the medic is watching Netflix or trying to stay awake, no one on the crew has been injured.

Filed under: crack of dawn, locations, long long drives, Los Angeles, mishaps, Work, , , , , , , ,

It doesn’t count if it’s not on

The way our schedule on this show works is that we shoot Thursday and Friday, and Monday – Wednesday we light.

For folks from single camera world, this is bizarre beyond belief.

Block it, light it, shoot it, move on.

But multi cameras don’t work that way.

We hang some of the big lights, they block. We hang some more lights, they rehearse and change the blocking. We hang more lights after moving all the previous ones, and then finally we shoot.

Which is fine – the rig days are shorter as our call time is after they finish rehearsing, but as soon as the actors and important people leave, they turn off the air conditioning on the stage.

In case you hadn’t been informed, it’s currently hotter than the proverbial four-balled tomcat here in Los Angeles.

So when we rig after the rehearsals, we go up into the lighting rig using either lifts or ladders.

Since heat rises, this makes the temperature in our working environment approximately 500 degrees.

Last night when I came home from work I was able to wring out my bra.


Say what you will about desert heat, it’s considerably less sweaty than tropical humidity.

We’re all glad that tomorrow is a shoot day, so we’ll have chilled air for the entire day.




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

The World Keeps Spinningp

The monsoon has arrived.

Not in Los Angeles, of course, but in the desert to the east. The clouds squat over the horizon, threatening.

We don’t get the desperately needed rain, but we do get the heat and humidity.

I’ve been working a lot of long days outside (or in un-airconditioned warehouses, which is pretty much the same thing).

After 14 hours in 100 degree heat I can’t manage to do anything other than come home, take a cold shower and try to find space in the fridge to sleep.

I’d cry, but my tears are too hot.

I was trying to figure out how to write yet another apology post when Twitter blew up with something I so desperately hoped was another celebrity death hoax.

I’ve worked with Robin Williams several times over the years, most recently on the TV show The Crazy Ones. He was an unfailingly nice guy – and I don’t mean celebrity nice.

Really nice. He was a fellow cyclist and we talked about bike trips, the virtues and drawbacks of front racks, and where best to store bananas so they didn’t get all squishy and leaky.

He was like this with everyone – genuinely friendly and interested in whatever everyone else was doing with their lives.

Everyone who ever met him loved him.

It’s been one rotation of the planet – from light to dark and back into light, and I’m still completely devastated.

It tears my heart out that this beautiful person, beloved by so many, in the end, felt he had nowhere to turn and no one to help him.

I can wish all I want that he’d called someone – anyone – and tried to find his way into the approaching light.

But he didn’t.

Meanwhile, we continue to fly through the indifferent void of space as our seven billion little fiefdoms on the pale blue dot rotate into and out of the light.

That’s life. Dark and light, dark and light, dark and light.

Approximately 30,000 people in the United States commit suicide every year.

30,000 souls feel that there is no more rotation and the dark is unending.

Yes, I know that suicidally depressed people aren’t exactly rational, but their friends and family are.

So don’t pass by. Don’t turn your head away and tell yourself it’s none of your business. Get involved. Ask if someone needs help. Listen if they want to talk.

Help them see the light again.

We all owe that to Robin.


Suicide Prevention Center


NAMI Depression Resources




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

I Miss You, Winter. I’ll Never Again Take You for Granted.

Day exteriors are usually pretty uneventful for electricians. We might move around a few lights, but generally the ones getting worked are the grips.

But even if we have an easy day work-wise, this time of year the heat makes everything seem more difficult.

The heat can be not so bad or completely terrible, depending on where one is shooting. Yesterday, we were shooting in the cement-lined quad of a community college.

A few trees, but not even a hint of a breeze and the thing about cement is that it radiates the heat back – even the soles of my feet were hot, and my face got burned under the brim of my hat just from the reflected heat.

The only time I have ever passed out from the heat at work was under similar circumstances – hot day, cement quad, relentless sun.

In addition to the heat, it’s suddenly gotten uncomfortably humid here in Southern California. Not Florida humid, but 40% is like a steam bath to those of us accustomed to the desert.

One of the things I notice about humidity is that I never get any relief from the sweat. It doesn’t evaporate, it just clings to me and makes me clammy and smelly. I also tend to not drink enough water when it’s humid.

This production, in an effort to be ‘green’ doesn’t supply water bottles, only those teeny waxed paper cups.

Luckily I remembered to bring my own bottle, but I clearly didn’t drink enough as by wrap I had no strength left.

Even carrying a head feeder across the quad’s pitiful patch of burned grass made me feel like Atlas.

I downed about a liter on the drive home, and thought I’d be okay, but I woke up this morning sore and feeling hungover, even though I’d had no alcohol.

Today was day two in the heat (in a different location with more trees and marginally less cement) and my strategy was to mix electrolyte powder with every other bottle of water, and to make sure to keep the bottle somewhere I could get to easily – I can’t hang it on my belt as a liter of water is surprisingly heavy, but I kept it near (but not on top of) the HMI ballasts, so as we moved the heads around I would see the bottle and take a swig.

I think it worked as right now I don’t feel terrible and I had to pee about every hour.

I’m still going to try to get through another liter with the powder before I go to bed, though.

Tomorrow, we’re on stage all day – a stage with crappy air conditioning, but at least we’ll be out of the sun.

Call time Monday: 6 am

Wrap time Monday: 8 pm

Drive home: 45 minutes

Call time today: 6:30 am

Wrap time today: 7 pm

Call time tomorrow: 8 am


Filed under: crack of dawn, hazardous, locations, long long drives, Work, , , , , , , , ,

I haven’t spent an entire day lifting cable in some time.

This is both a good thing and a bad thing.

It’s good because, well, I haven’t had to lift cable in quite some time, and bad because the only thing that gets one fit for lifting cable is lifting cable. Last I checked, they don’t have a 4/0 machine at the gym.

I got a call from the union hall (haven’t had one of those for a while) to wrap a location yesterday at one of our local sports arenas. Arenas are great because they have nice wide ramps and large freight elevators, but bad because most rigging gaffers feel the need to run cable all the way around said arena.

As most arenas are not small,  that’s a lot of cable.

I don’t have any problems pulling (rolling the stretched out cable into a coil – it’s called pulling because one straddles the cable and pulls it into a coil while it’s flat on the ground) cable. I can use the overdeveloped swimmer’s muscles on my back all damn day – plus it increases my sprint speed in the pool, so everybody wins.

What hurts me is lifting the cable – and moving cable from one place to the other is just about the same as it’s always been.

One picks up the 100+ lb coil of cable. One deposits said coil onto some sort of wheeled contraption. Then, one wheels the cable to the truck and lifts it again.

Coil, lift, drop. Coil, lift, drop. Coil, lift, drop. Lunch (light, unless you want to puke while you’re lifting), then repeat.

We were very, very lucky that the temperature stayed relatively low at 78 degrees, so the heat wasn’t the factor that it will be later in the year.

After we finished loading the truck, the best boy asked me if I wanted to unload the truck at the lot today.

I was sore, but work is work – and these are really nice guys that I’d love to call me back again, so of course I said yes.

The sequence for unloading the truck is just about the same for loading it, but without the coiling part.

Lift, drop, count, lift. Lift, drop, count, lift. Lift, drop, count, lift. Lunch (light, unless you want to puke while you’re lifting),  repeat.

Someday I’m going to produce a ‘Get Fit With Cable’ exercise video and make a mint.

Or not. The shipping costs would kill any profit margin.

Since I haven’t been doing many cable lifts lately, I started to hurt a little bit before lunch on Thursday, and really, really started to hurt before lunch today.

Right after lunch, we found out we had to rig two sets, which was a bit of a relief as it would allow me to use different muscles for a couple of hours.

By the time we were dismissed, I was filthy, smelly and sore. I briefly considered going to the Korean spa and soaking myself in the hot tub, but settled for  take-out (I am so not cooking tonight) and got the side-eye from just about everyone in the place.

Fuck them. I’m eating dinner after enjoying a very hot shower and a smearing of the biceps with ointment.

Filed under: crack of dawn, locations, long long drives, studio lots, Work, , , , , , , ,

Nature hands me my ass

I had it all figured out for today – I was going to get up early, pack my lunch, and then walk the two blocks to the bus stop so I could save some gas and get that nice eco-smug feeling. What’s not to love?

The bus was due at 6:05 (have to be across town for a 7 am call), and as I was getting ready to leave, the cat started following me around and crying.

I picked her up and was petting her, then her eyes bulged and a veritable fountain of vomit erupted. She didn’t even make that ‘huk huk huk’ noise. Just puked.

It went everywhere.  Down my shirt, into my bra, in my hair where I turned my head to keep said puke out of my mouth.

Since I definitely didn’t want to spend the next 11 hours smelling like cat barf (or any barf, really), I peeled off my now very gross clothes and hopped in the shower.

So much for that bus ride.

After a frantic wash and clothing change, I looked at the time and went pale. I might make it, I might not, and one can never predict what the traffic’s going to do.

So, I texted the best boy with the information that I might be late because my cat barfed on me.

Worst. Excuse. Ever.

Shockingly, I made it to work with minutes to spare and we climbed up into the perms.

In response to a comment on the last post – not only do rigging crews not get lunch*, they don’t even get air conditioning.

The air is only turned on when the shooting company arrives. Since it’s currently July, it’s quite hot in the perms.

Our boss has made the very sensible decision that we’re only to be ‘up high’ before lunch, and then in the hottest part of the day we come down and do work on the floor (wiring fixtures, labelling equipment, etc…).

So the morning was all about sweat and sore muscles (after two days of carrying cable, I’m in serious pain), and the afternoon was all about frustration as we attempted to re-install some fixtures from last season in exactly the same places they were before.

The clock ran out before we finished, so we’ll have to try to pick it up tomorrow.

After we were dismissed, I walked out to my car, which was parked on the street as this particular lot has the most difficult parking ever so it’s  just easier.

I’d parked under a tree and the avian residents had left their calling card, so to speak.

Although the idea was to get back across town before the traffic got too bad, I had to stop and get the car washed, as I couldn’t see out of the windshield.

Damn animals.

*Film crews can either be on production, which means the shooting unit, or off production, which means anything not actively making the movie. On production means one gets free parking, free meals, climate control and craft service. Off production means you get reasonable hours (usually) and don’t have to carry a walkie, but you have to pay for your own food and parking (depending where you are. Paramount Studios, for example, charges for parking, but if you’re on production you get a voucher. Riggers have to suck up and pay it).

Filed under: long long drives, mishaps, studio lots, Work, , , , , , , , , , ,

November 2015
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