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, , , , , , , , , ,

Pipe grid and other on-stage hazards

Today’s work was a continuation of yesterday’s work – rigging a set that’s scheduled to be shot tomorrow.

When we came in yesterday, there was no way for us to hang lights.  No greenbeds over the sets at all, and only a partial pipe grid left over from another set which hadn’t been pulled down.

Production had not wanted to pay for the grips to come in a few days early and hang the pipe (stages charge per day – it’s a lower rate for prep days and wrap days than it is for shoot days, but it’s still a day charge).

Since production didn’t want to pay for extra prep days, they scheduled the lighting rig and the set dressers to work at the same time.

If this doesn’t mean anything to you, it normally works like this: If we’re using a pipe grid (a grid of pipe over the set from which we hang lights and which we need to reach using scissor lifts or ladders), we like to hang lights before there’s a lot of furniture on the floor which just makes it hard to work.

With the ‘save money on a prep day by making all the monkeys work at the same time’ method, the poor set dressers would come in and make the set all ready to shoot, and then would have to move everything for us to hang lights. Then, they’d restore everything, make it look nice again and we’d have gotten changes to our notes so we’d have to make them move everything again.

Everyone took everything in good humor, though – all of us knew about the cluster fuck potential going in, so we were able to laugh about it as we fell over each other all day.

Also, partial pipe grid meant that we had to wait on the grips (who were finally allowed to come in and hang the pipe on the last day of the rig) to do the prep work for us before we could work over the section of the sets which just happens to be scheduled to shoot first tomorrow.

It worked out well for me, though. A rig that should have only taken a day and a half took two days – one of which went overtime.

My bank account luvs chaos.

Once the pipe grid went in and we were rushing to get finished (while the producer, who only reluctantly authorized the overtime, stood and watched us while checking his watch), I had to come down out of the lift because I got this weird vertigo thing that seems to only happen to me.

Pipe grids are hung from the perms with chains, so unless they’re secured to something, they sway a bit. When three people are frantically slamming lights onto them, they sway quite a bit. When I’m in a lift above the grid looking down, and it starts to sway, my brain can’t figure out what it is that’s swaying – for some reason, my brain sometimes decides that the pipe grid is stable and everything else in the world is swaying – as you can imagine, vertigo when one is 20+ feet up in the air is bad.

It doesn’t happen all the time, either. I don’t know if it’s the angle or touching the grid or my being tired or having wax in my ears or having eaten too much or to little earlier in the day which sets it off.

After I came down out of the lift, I staggered around like a drunk for a few minutes until I got my balance back. Luckily, one of my co-workers came to my rescue and switched places with me so I could stay on the ground and be the person moving stuff out of the way of the lift.

I have an early call tomorrow as well, so I’m going to bed before the sleeping pill kicks in and makes my typing really bad. Again.

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , , , ,

I really want to, but I can’t.

A sure-fire way to be certain a best boy never calls you back again is to refuse to do something, even if there’s a really good reason.

Yesterday, I was asked to go up in the condor and I had to do exactly that – over the walkie, no less.

“Um.. I’ve got a.. health situation right now that’s going to prevent me from doing that”.

One of the guys standing next to me immediately started teasing me: “What.. you got yer peeeeriod?”

Why yes, actually. That was, in fact, why I couldn’t get in a condor,  raise the basket to eye level of upper floor apartment dwelling yokels and then sit there for 10 hours. Thanks for asking.

Of course, I couldn’t actually say that, so I made some crack about not being able to get off the shitter because I’d eaten his mamma’s cooking the night before, but this was ill-timed.

Hopefully, it won’t be held against me and this particular best boy will call me back again.

Oh, well. It was probably better for me to refuse to go up than to go up and then have to come back down a few hours later.

In the ‘damn, I’m glad I wasn’t on that show’ department, one of our drivers told me another show that’s shooting a few blocks away had almost a quarter of a million dollars in cable stolen.

Since the copper market (cable is, of course, copper with a rubber coating) has skyrocketed and the scrap metal buyers downtown don’t ask any questions, unguarded cable lying around pretty much has a ‘free money’ sign on it.

Bet that security guard’s salary isn’t looking so expensive now, huh?

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

April 2023

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