Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

The non-exploding explosion

Sometimes, despite one’s best efforts, lighting equipment malfunctions – sometimes quietly, and sometimes loudly.

Most of us are used to small fires and medium kapows. They’re an occupational hazard (along with bad knees, the occasional shock and UV related eyeball damage) and it doesn’t seem to us like we downplay them, but we do, especially when compared to the reactions of witnesses from other departments.

Today, just after lunch, one of our security guards tapped me on the shoulder.

“One of the lights just exploded!”

Now, when someone tells me that a light exploded, the first thing I see in my mind’s eye is a column of flame shooting 20 feet into the air and shards of twisted metal and glass covering the blood soaked corpses strewn about the vicinity.

So, of course, I’m going to try to find out more information before I get any closer to that hot mess.
“Which light?” I asked.

“The big silver one!” he replied, gesturing frantically towards set.

Oh, that’s just fucking great. The ‘big silver ones’ are 18,000 watt  HMIs. I’ve seen one of those explode before. The column of flame wasn’t quite 20 feet high, but there was a lot of broken glass and I cut myself, so… blood.

I decided to follow-up before reacting.

“Tell me exactly what happened”

“The silver box made a loud noise and smoke came out!”

So, not really an explosion. More the aforementioned medium kapow. The silver box is the electronic ballast, and although they can have problems, actually exploding isn’t one of them.

It was probably coincidence. Or a squirrel.

I ventured over to set, reset the breaker on the ballast, and then the self-preservation instinct kicked in. I walked over to the lamp head and tried to strike it*.

Sure enough, there was a muffled “kumpfh” and a puff of something that might have been smoke, but was mostly bad smell from the ballast, followed by the lamp not igniting.

Okay.

So no one’s dead, nothing’s being consumed by an out-of-control inferno, and no one’s bleeding. Much.

Whew.

Makes having to tell the gaffer we’re down a light seem, well, no big deal.

Lucky for us, the kapow happened just as we were given  permission to downsize our HMI window barrage, so it all worked out well.

*One can strike, or turn on, an HMI from either the ballast or the head itself. Usually it depends on what’s easiest or, at the very least, not malfunctioning. You’d be surprised how often striking from the other end works.

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

…But wait, there’s more!

Today was an insert day on Been Done Before. Inserts, in case you’re not familiar, are those little close up shots of things like a finger pointing or a pencil being broken or a computer monitor which are not shot with the actors, but are shot with doubles after the fact – a week or so on a TV show, a few months later on a movie.

The reason is time. It’s going to slow the production down too much to stop and shoot inserts, and really, until you get a rough cut you don’t really know what inserts you’ll need, so why not just wait?

We were supposed to be on the same stage all day – in several different sets, but still, a very manageable day.

Until a shot got added.

A day exterior, to be shot all the way across the lot, after dark.

We packed up our carts and every HMI we could find, traipsed across the lot and rolled on the shot, even though it’s not going to match because they didn’t have the same stuff in the background.

Some days, I think a lot about Sisyphus.

Can’t imagine why.

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

Insert snappy title here

Normally, showing up to work late is a terrible thing in the film industry. The saying goes “15 minutes early is on time, right at call is late” (and much after call time without a really good reason means no more work calls from that show), but sometimes one gets a last minute call and then it’s okay to show up later.

I got called yesterday morning at 6:40 to be at work at 7 am, which was never going to happen (damn LA traffic), so it was just understood that I’d be there as soon as I could. Sure enough, I got stuck in traffic and didn’t get there until almost 8. There are some places in LA that, while they’re not all that geographically far away from me, take forever to reach because of traffic congestion and lack of side-street alternate routes.

When I finally got to work, we spent the day checking lights to make sure they worked – something you really should do before you’re on location and can’t get that light the gaffer wants now to fire up. Note – this only really happens with HMI lamps. Tungsten lamps do, on occasion, fail to work but since they only have two moving parts (flood/spot knob and on/off switch) it’s much easier and faster to troubleshoot and repair them right there on set before the boss starts screaming.  We generally don’t even attempt to fix HMI problems. We just send them back to the rental house and let them deal with it.

Hence the testing. The procedure to test HMI lamps is to set up the whole mess (head, feeder cables, ballast), globe it up (some of the lamps can’t travel with the globes installed due to breakage factor), turn it on and then wait to see if it flickers (which HMIs sometimes do) or if it’s putting out a really fucked up color and will need gel correction.  Then, we break everything down, label the heads which are putting out said fucked up color and load everything back onto the truck.

We did only do an 8 hour day, so we got done early enough that I was able to go vote and then do some work in the garden. Also, to check on the progress of Darth Tomato.

Having started out life as an innocent Sungold Cherry, Darth Tomato was somehow turned to the darkside (probably by my neighbor’s Home-Depot purchased plants – they’re nothing but trouble) and is now on a mission of intergalactic domination.

By using the Force and growing like crazy, Darth Tomato is now 10 feet tall and six feet wide and has only been in the ground since April. If this growth rate keeps up, Darth Tomato will blot out the sun to the entire western half of the US by next Thursday.

Darth Tomato currently has the grapevine in a sleeper hold and is shading all the surrounding plants, plus some poor light-starved hollyhocks next door.

Although I’m going to have to amputate some of Darth Tomato’s many diabolical limbs in order to keep peace with my neighbor (and salvage everything else in my garden, which is now being oppressed by shade), I’ll be sad when I do because all that evil makes Darth Tomato taste extra good.
The evil makes Darth Tomato extra yummy!

Mmmm.. evil makes a nice salad.

Filed under: Photos, Work, , , , , ,

Lawn care mishaps

Yesterday’s best boy is someone for whom I’ve not worked in a long time, but I’m always happy to hear from him since he’s a terrific guy. I’ve never once seen him get angry or blow his cool, which is remarkable given how high-stress the best boy position can be.

So when he got on the walkie sounding extremely stressed and upset, we all knew something was terribly wrong.

“Get over to staging, now.. move!”

Then, as we all started to walk very quickly, he said the ‘s’ word – sprinklers.

You know, sprinklers. Those things that you put on a timer so your lawn gets watered and you don’t have to think about it ever until a movie crew comes in to shoot in your house and you don’t know how to turn off the sprinklers because they’ve been set for years and you lost the manual so you lie to the location manager and tell him they’re turned off when really they aren’t*.

Then, said film crew comes along and parks our equipment right where it’s going to be easy to get to once we start running in and out of the house (which is usually in the driveway somewhere) and then after we get all settled in… it’s sprinkle time.

Although we always try never ever to appear panicked on set (makes everyone else nervous and it makes it seem like we’re not in control of the situation), having a lawn sprinkler go off right next to our head carts and distro boxes will make us scramble like, well, like people scrambling to get expensive lighting equipment out of water. When there’s a threat of rain, we carry these big plastic bags that go over the carts, but we generally leave them on the truck if the weather forecast is for clear skies.

The funny thing about this is that whenever there’s any kind of water, most non-set lighting people freak out about the cable getting wet. Really, this is no big deal – the cable itself is waterproof, and can get as wet as it likes – hell, the cable itself can be submerged in water and it’s fine. It’s the place where one piece of cable connects to the next that’s the problem (or when a piece of cable connects to a distro box).

Also, there are other, more expensive pieces of equipment that don’t like to get wet under any circumstances.

Like yesterday – the real panic was about the HMI lamps – those things can’t get wet under any circumstances**, and since we were told the sprinklers were off, we parked the cart right next to a sprinkler head (we weren’t even thinking about it – locations had told us they were off, so we picked the best spot).

Hence the scramble.

After we’d moved our carts (and put traffic cones over the sprinkler heads to contain the spray), we surveyed the damage, and luckily only two of the heads (the light itself) got wet and none of the ballasts, so we just didn’t use those, which wasn’t a problem since we were working for one of the (increasingly rare) DPs who don’t overlight, so we only used about half our stuff.

The real tragedy was that my newspaper got soaked before I had a chance to read it.

Note to homeowners: If you don’t know how to turn off the sprinklers, please for the love of all that’s holy tell the location person that – no one’s going to think you’re stupid. Hell, they probably don’t know how to turn off their sprinklers at home, either, but instead of letting it go and potentially causing tens of thousands of dollars of damage to equipment (because set lighting’s not the only ones who have stuff that doesn’t like water), just say something and someone will figure out the system.

Please.

Once my boss got to the sprinkler control panel, it took him about 90 seconds to turn them off.

*After the panic died down, the homeowner finally confessed.

**Tungsten lamps – which are the same color temperature as your indoor light bulbs and are much less finicky than HMIs – can get wet (when they’re not burning, of course – when they’re burning they shouldn’t get too wet because the lens can crack and if water gets inside it can cause a short) and they’re fine, because they have no electronic parts in them.  HMIs are full of electronic gizmos that react really badly to water – or getting too hot, or getting too cold, or getting power that’s not the exact right kind.

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

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