Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

Friday Photo

Work light

Temporary worklight, in the permanents.

Filed under: camera, Photos, studio lots, Work, , , , , , , , ,

It takes some getting used to

Last night was my first time going up in the condor in almost a year. Although I’m not normally too terribly afraid of heights, it does take me a bit to adjust to being in a lift after extensive periods of time spent on terra firma.

We were shooting on a Y-shaped studio lot street, so we used three condors. Mine was the lowest, armed out over the intersection, mimicking various streetlights. This had two advantages. It kept me lower, so there was less adjustment panic, and since I was a few feet below the tops of the facades, I was sheltered from the wind (spring has not yet sprung here in Los Angeles, so it’s still a bit brisk at night, especially up in the air).

The other two condors, at opposite ends of the street, were ‘full stick’ (meaning they were at full extension of 80 feet, almost straight up) and at the mercy of the wind and fog.

At least it didn’t rain, but the billowing clouds did make for some entertaining nighttime viewing:

Misty night in the air

The operators in the other two condors told me that the wind died down after about an hour, so everyone had an easy night.

Most terrifying night in a condor ever was the night I was armed out over the LA river for an elaborate car chase scene – my base was on one of the bridges and my bucket was full stick, so the distance to ground was about 200 feet. Adding to the terror spawned by an overactive imagination was a windy night and a very ‘bendy’ condor arm (some of the arms flex more than others).

At the end of the night I think I might have kissed the ground.

Filed under: camera, Photos, studio lots, up all night, Work, , , , , , , , , , ,

Friday Photo

Full Moon

Balloon lights – one lit, one not. These are helium balloons with lights inside of them (hence the name) and they do a very good job of imitating moonlight.  You have to keep them away from trees on windy nights, though, or they pop.

Filed under: locations, Photos, up all night, Work, , , , , , , , , ,

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.


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


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

Friday Photo

All stands come in two versions – regular and low. Regular stands, at the lowest point, are about four (ish, I’ve never measured) feet high.  Should one desire to have the light lower than that, one must use the ‘low’ version of the stand, which is pictured here.

This is a ‘low crank’, which is used for large, heavy lights – the crank makes it easier to raise and lower them.

Low cranks are also used for large lamps that aren’t all that heavy, but are a pain in the ass to carry around – since the low crank has wheels, one can just drag the giant lamp around instead of straining one’s back and the credibility of the set lighting department.

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

Reinventing the wheel

Although there have been some stunning innovations in lighting in the past 50 years (HMI lamps, color-corrected flourescent tubes, moving lights, LED technology), most of the basic types of lights we use haven’t changed in a very long time, and there’s a reason why.

But sometimes, someone gets bored, gets a degree, and tries to take a good design and make it, well, design-ier.

Sometimes, this can yield good results, but usually just ends up making my day more difficult.

Meet the Mole 2k soft light, familiarly known as the zip light:

Zip Light

Zip light, photo courtesy of Mole Richardson

The design of this light hasn’t changed since back in the day when movies still had title cards, because said design works really well – it puts out a good amount of nice soft light so your actors look young and fresh, it doesn’t weigh very much, and it’s only 20 amps so you can plug it into a wall outlet if you’re really desperate and have a supply of those illegal (in California) and obsolete fuses.

Somethings that’s worked so well for so long really needs a re-vamp, right? Of course it does.

Enter the Germans.

This is the new, improved and extra awesome (or something) Arri 2k soft light.:

Photo courtesy of Arri Lighting

Please note that despite the sexy black paint job, it’s pretty much exactly the same fucking design as the Mole product, only with some some weird aluminum venting system (not pictured) which one would presume is there for a good reason, but actually just makes the head incredibly heavy and unbelivably hot. Any attempt on the part of a lamp operator to go anywhere near the lamp to, say, adjust it as per the gaffer’s instructions results in unsuccessful attempts to stifle screams as one’s  flesh starts to burn.

I normally like Arri’s lighting products (except the open face heads, which have way too much plastic on them. Plastic, as you will recall from elementary school science, melts when it gets really hot), but for the soft lights, I say stick with the original. It may be an ugly color, but it works.

Once the soft light debacle was over, we trudged over to our other stage to hang some spacelights.

Spacelights are a good example of a successful reimagination of an existing product.

The light they replaced was called a chicken coop:

Chicken Coop

Chicken coops are a colossal pain in the ass. They’re a big metal box filled with giant extra-fragile light bulbs (that aren’t made any longer, so you’re fucked if you break one):

Giant Light Bulb

Chicken coops are heavy, unwieldy, difficult to transport and store, don’t really put out all that much light for how huge they are, and just suck balls in general.

So some person figured out what they really did and made a better light that did the same thing. The Spacelight:

Image courtesy of Kaye Lites

They’re still a pain in the ass to transport and store, but they’re much smaller, use the same globes as the Mole 2k soft lights, they don’t weigh anything and they’re reliable. Except when someone tries to make the current model better, stronger and faster.

The problem with the original design was that the light itself was just a hoop of steel, so it would warp from the heat of the globes (and 6,000 watts does put out a lot of heat), and then the safety screen that has to go underneath the globes (globes don’t explode very often, but when they do, it’s a shower of molten hot glass which is funny, but very, very bad) wouldn’t fit and then one would have to break out the baling wire, make it fit as best as it would and pray that no one all that important was standing under the lamp if the globe blew.

In the photo above, you see the redesign of the original light – it’s structurally sound, vents heat (as well as one can expect), and is sort of heavy, but it’s not unmanageable.

Note: Any lamp, no matter if it’s in your living room or hanging on a stage, must have some sort of venting at the top so that heat, which rises, can escape. No venting and there will be a loud bang followed by darkness.

The spacelights we got today were an attempt to redesign the redesign. They had enough venting on the top, but the safety screens were bolted on, so changing globes was next to impossible.

Of course, the heads we had delivered had bad globes and we spent an hour trying to figure out how to get the damn things open to change the globes.

Eventually, we figured it out, but please, people. Sometimes the wheel is fine just the way it is.

Filed under: hazardous, studio lots, Uncategorized, Work, , , , , , ,

Friday Photo


The filament of a VNSP (very narrow spot) par globe, informally known as a ‘firestarter’ because the narrow, very intense beam of light can, in fact, start fires.

Filed under: Photos, Work, , , , ,

Friday Photo

Background slash of light

In the background of just about every night scene in every movie or TV show you’ve ever seen is The Slash.

It’s the thin diagonal line of light that highlights curtains, walls, blinds, trees, shrubbery and slow-moving extras.

The Slash is one of those things that has no base in reality at all, but looks really nice and brightens up the background in an interesting way so everybody does it.

Should you be very bored and have on hand a bottle of some sort of alcohol, I recommend putting on a movie with a lot of night interiors and taking a shot each time The Slash makes an appearance.

On second thought, maybe not. You might not make it to the end of the movie.


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

Bees, kitsch, and some food for thought.

Normally, being the guy up in the condor with the BFL (big fucking light) is fairly uneventful.

Raise platform up, set light(s) at gaffer’s direction, kill time until wrap.

Friday night, however, was different.

One of the lights must have been aimed at a hive somewhere in the New York Street facades because a few minutes after I went up I was surrounded by dozens of  bees, most of whom were successful in getting past the color gel and into the light (which meant they got toasted immediately), but the ones who weren’t able to figure out how to get around the gel became very, very cross and decided that flying full speed at the big thing in the basket was a great idea.

After a number of near-misses I decided to take the coward’s way out and huddled in the bottom of the basket with a blanket over me, sweating profusely as it was a warm night (I’d much rather sweat than get stung) and trying not to scream while we were rolling.

As we worked our way through a very long and complex scene, I huddled under my blanket, listening to the angry bees buzzing around me. After a time, most of them would find their way into the lights and that would be the end of that.

Just when I’d get optimistic about the bees having given up for the night, a fresh batch would fly up and the whole process would start over.

Thankfully, the last scene scheduled for the night was dropped, meaning I got to turn off my lights and enjoy a bee-free descent earlier than I’d anticipated.

Sunday night,  a friend of mine and I went to an on-lot screening of Ghost Town.

After the movie,  we went to eat at the weirdest restaurant in Los Angeles.

No, I’m serious.

It’s a Greek-themed seafood place, staffed by octogenarians  and no matter what one orders, an indiscriminate plate of something completely random which bears no resemblance to what was described on the menu appears.

I ordered kabobs and got what I think was supposed to be a salad, my friend ordered fish and got, well, I’m not sure what it was but it sure as hell wasn’t the red snapper.

This is a small price to pay for the ambiance of badly done Agean scenery murals, statuary draped in Christmas lights, a decrepit piano player and old men arguing about politics while one eats one’s mystery meal.

There’s some metaphor for life itself in there somewhere, I’m just not sure where.  Maybe in the sauce.

Wall mural

Piano player

Strange Greek place in Hollywood

Cell phone neon sign shot

Sorry about the shitty cell phone cam shots. I’d forgotten to bring my camera.

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

My Big Fat Mouth

Didn’t I, a while back, complain about not working enough?

Feast or famine, I guess.

Friday, I called in to the union hoping to get something for Monday, and instead got a job for that very night – good, but bad because I’d been up all day and wouldn’t have been safe on an all-nighter.

When I got there, i found out that I was just there to go up in the condor for the last shot, plus the crew were all guys that I used to know from back in the day when we were all non-union. Hadn’t seen them for years, so it was good to catch up and I was very glad I took the call, even though my condor malfunctioned (the basket wouldn’t rotate when I was 80 feet up in the air, so I couldn’t get the light exactly where the gaffer asked). I was out of there before midnight, which was good as it got me home before I was too tired to drive.

Right after I took the job for Friday, I got a call for Sunday. The advantage of working Sunday is that there’s absolutely no traffic on the roads, so I got to work way early and read the paper.
Had a good time, and I got to take some shots of the Doheny mansion while I was there. We didn’t have a super long day (we just had to rig around the outside of the house and only put some power inside – sometimes the Doheny mansion can be a very, very long rig because it’s so delicate inside that hanging lights takes forever) which was good as we got out right before it got really hot (3 pm in SoCal, if you were wondering).

The bad part is that we had to deal with these horrible things called Avenger stands, which are easily the worst designed piece of crap in the entire world. They crank up so high that you have to have a scissor lift to reach the light when they’re at full stick, and the wheels don’t really lock properly (there should be two different locks – a roll lock and a directional lock) and they are so heavy that the aluminum things holding the wheels bend so none of them even roll properly. They’re also awkward as shit (when unfolded, they wheel base is 8 feet wide!) and hard to steer. They’re impossible to roll when they’re folded up, and although someone invented a special cart to hold them until they’re ready to use, they’re still awful and they’ve injured several people I know (one severely enough to have had to retire permanently)

If I ever become as rich as Edward Doheny, I’m going to buy the company and all existing Avenger stands and set the entire mess on fire. I’d invite every crew member in the world who’s ever had to deal with those fucking things and we’d all have a hell of a party while we watched the stands melt into a lump.
Can you tell that we hate these stands? I can say ‘we’ because I’ve never met anyone who liked them. Anyone who had to move or lift them, that is. People who don’t actually have to touch them seem to love them.

Luckily, we were able to get the lights on the stands and in place without anyone getting hurt, which is really the important part.

Today, I stood on set (of a different show) in the air conditioning and it felt good.

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , , , , ,

June 2023

Flickr Photos



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