Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

When will I ever learn?

It started out innocently enough.

We were rigging a location in one of Los Angeles’  more upscale neighborhoods. I’ve believe I’ve mentioned before that the more expensive the area, the more the residents hate film crews.

Since this was to be a night shoot, we had three condors to rig with BFLs (Big Fucking Lights).

Said condors were parked on the street – the bases didn’t block anyone’s ingress, but when we had the arms lowered to load them up, the basket of one of them was right in the middle of a driveway.

We figured that since it was the middle of the day, it wouldn’t be a problem as long as we worked quickly.

Oh, so wrong.

Just after we got the arm down, a woman came charging out at us like an angry hornet, yelling at us to get that damn thing off the street.

At first we thought she was trying to get her car out of the driveway, and we explained to her that we’d raise the arm back up for her to back out, but it turns out she was getting upset about the condor base parked in front of her house (and probably the whole shoot in general).

I can’t blame her. I hate it when a fucking film crew invades my neighborhood. Bastards. Who do they think they are?

The main problem was that she wanted us to move the base of the condor, which we’d put there because our boss the Rigging Gaffer told us to do so. The Rigging Gaffer was presumably informed of condor placement by the Gaffer, who was asked to have ‘some sort of big light’ in that place by the Director of Photography.

Me? I’m just following orders. I can’t move the condor to the next house over. I’ll get yelled at and likely beaten (or something) if I start to think for myself.

In any case, crew people are not encouraged to try to problem solve when it doesn’t involve inanimate objects, so any angry homeowners must be sent to the locations people, who are all much better  at dealing with umbrage than are rigging crews.

After being told that we were looking for the locations manager, she rolled her eyes, told us that wasn’t good enough and added “Get that thing out of here or I’ll have it towed!”

I couldn’t help myself.  She stood there, glowering at me while holding her auto club card and her cell phone, poised to dial, and I responded with “I’d like to see that.”

She turned purple and accused me of mocking her, but I was serious.

I would love to see Billy Joe from BJ’s towing show up, whistling a happy tune, expecting to hitch up some Honda and finding an elevated work platform with an 80 foot boom arm. Hell, besides ‘a shitload’ I don’t even know how much those things weigh. When the rental company pick them up and drop them off, they come in a 48 foot flatbed trailer with a full-sized tractor.

Somebody please video that and upload it to YouTube. I need a good laugh.

Eventually, it all got smoothed over, after the locations guy told her I wouldn’t be back the next day (I’m on a different show and was only on a one day call). She’ll look out at the shooting crew, not see me and feel a flush of beige triumph that she got that awful toolbelt person fired.

Joke’s on her, though. She’ll still have a condor parked in front of her house.

Filed under: locations, Work, , , , ,

What a difference a decade makes

The last time I worked at the Redondo Beach power plant was at least 10 years ago. Maybe longer.  We ran cable all over the place and production issued us no safety gear, gave us no admonition to watch out for lead paint or broken floors or random dangerous things. We went in, did the job, brushed the paint chips off before we got in the car to go home and that was that.

Complaints about the interior of the plant would likely have been met with a helpful suggestion to shut the fuck up and get back to work.

This particular building was completely vetted for asbestos quite some time ago, so that’s really never been a concern (especially for those of us who worked at the Ambassador Hotel, which was asbestos central), but what’s left now is an astonishing amount of lead paint that’s peeling off almost every visible surface inside and outside the plant.

So this time, with the new kinder gentler film industry, we were issued hard hats, given a very long lecture by the studio’s safety department, and informed that a cleaning crew had been in for days in an attempt to manage the peeling lead paint in the plant. Although the lower level of the plant (where the actors were) was really, really clean (as in the cleanest industrial location I’ve ever seen), the metal mesh upper decks between the pipes where we were walking around and setting lights hadn’t been cleaned or sealed at all.

So each time we had to lean over to set a light, shimmied past the stands to get to a light, walked over the set,  or exhaled heavily we’d brush something or other and send a shower of dust and paint chips down on the actors who were sitting in the nice ‘clean’ set below. When there are sixteen lights, flags, stands, four electricians and three grips in a tight space it’s just not possible to avoid bumping or brushing up against things no matter how hard one tries.

Since the set was spread out over two levels of the plant, we put half our carts on the lower level and half on the upper level – of course, when I was upstairs, whatever I  needed was in the downstairs carts and when I was downstairs, whatever I needed was in the upstairs carts.  Also, due to the layout of the levels, the locations of the stairs and having to avoid those pipes made getting from one place to another a bit challenging.

Although the hard hat made me feel marginally safer, with the maze of pipes around narrow walkways, random metal bits sticking up out of the floors and protruding from the walls I bashed every single part of my body except my head. I should have worn body armor and shin guards.

Call time: 10:30 am

Wrap time: 2:30 am

Heading home after wrap, I got turned around and couldn’t find the entrance to the freeway – when I finally found one, there was only an on-ramp going in the wrong direction. Sometimes I hate you, Los Angeles.

Once I managed to get on the freeway I drove like the proverbial bat out of hell and got home at 3.

Filed under: hazardous, locations, long long drives, toxic waste, up all night, Work, , , , ,

Welcome back to work. Have some coffee.

I’m a habitual early riser – barring an all-night shoot or some sort of post-midnight catastrophe, I’m up by 8 (if I manage to do anything productive by noon is a completely different story). So when I got a mid-day call to report to work at 3 pm the first thing I did was go to my favorite overpriced coffee joint and order the equivalent of a Big Gulp. Saying ‘no’ to the job didn’t even enter my mind, once I figured out I’d be able to make it to the location on time. Right now I’m in no position to turn down any sort of work – even if it means my having to prop my eyelids open with toothpicks on the drive home. Killer bees at the location? Dust storms? Toxic waste? Poison Oak? Hottentots? Rabid gophers? Michael Bay? Fine, fine. Just tell me when to show up.

Being picky about which jobs one takes is a luxury reserved for when it’s busy. If I’m fielding work calls every day, I can afford to turn down the two-and-a-half hour drive or horrible pay rate or the location that’s hotter than hell/infested with angry rattlesnakes/oozes green goo.

This time, though, I got lucky – the drive wasn’t too bad and I was working with a great bunch of guys who I like a lot, so I had fun and my pre-work coffee guzzle turned out to be unnecessary as we didn’t work that late. I was home by midnight.

Filed under: 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, , , , , ,

Just like running on the beach

There’s a weird thing that happens whenever I’m the board operator on a show and it’s going to be a ‘light’ board day – which means that when we’re in a setup that’s not using the dimmer board, I’m expected to jump in with the set guys and help out. I don’t mind doing this, but as soon as I decide we’re not going to use the board and I should go work on set the gaffer will call for something on the board – not as I’m thinking about it, either. As soon as I’m far enough away from the board that it’s going to take a minute to get back there and the gaffer’s going to notice the delay, that’s when it happens.

So I spent the first half of the day being a victim of bad timing and having to scramble back to the board without having anyone see me running (running on a set is a very bad thing – it makes you look like you’re not in control), and then when I got to where I was supposed to be, having to disguise my wheezing from the gaffer over the walkie.

Then, we moved to a night exterior on a construction site. Most of our equipment is loaded on carts so we can roll it around fairly quickly, but those carts don’t work very well on unpacked dirt at construction sites – we’d unloaded some of our carts off the stakebed (since it was only one scene, we didn’t move our 40 footer, we just loaded everything into a smaller truck) into the street, only to have our boss tell us that the carts and truck needed to move to the other side of the set – across about 100 yards of loosely packed, uneven, rock-strewn dirt. Somehow the carts didn’t make it back onto the truck before it moved, so we ended up having to push them.

Remember those old Tom and Jerry cartoons where the cat would run after the mouse and then run off the edge of a table to find himself in thin air with his feet going like crazy while not going anywhere? That was us trying to push head carts across the construction site. We managed to do it (with two people per cart and a lot of straining), but my legs are still sore today. At the end of the day on the way back to crew parking, one of my co-workers compared walking on the dirt all night to running on the beach, and that’s about how it felt, were we running on the beach while pushing a steel cart loaded with 300 lbs. of equipment.

Call time: 10 am.

Wrap time: 11:45 pm.

Also, in today’s episode of Things I Really Wish I Hadn’t Eaten: The soggy meatball sandwich doused in some kind of unholy gravy-like liquid that was set out as second meal at 10 pm. Blech.

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

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