Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

The shit zone

I haven’t worked in a shit-covered alley in quite some time. Not because people aren’t shitting in alleyways nowadays, but because Los Angeles has gentrified the shit out of most alleys. The human shit, anyways.

Most, but not all.

Today I got a last-minute call to go help out on a rig for a movie, which is really strange since I didn’t think we shot movies here any longer, but I haven’t worked in a few weeks, and the call was with a group of guys I really like, so off I went.

Our set was an alleyway between tenement apartments in a part of town that’s never seen skinny jeans, horn rim glasses, or pour over coffee – a real honest to God slum instead of a fake hipster slum.

You know what I mean.

No matter how much they steam clean alleys, they never get all the.. material. There’s still a smell, and since most people who shit in alleys do so leaning up against a wall, the walls and gates have to be cleaned about 2 feet up or there’s still a nasty surprise for the person running cable.

That brown crusty stuff on the bottom of the gate? It’s not rust.

The good news is that it’s been cool enough that the smell of baking excrement wasn’t as bad as it would have been in, say, July.

But still. The smell hangs in one’s nostrils, and as I was trying to tie some DMX cable up out of the shit zone, the soles of my shoes got a good soaking in a puddle of what I desperately hoped was water, but realized my error when, at lunch, the smell of piss wafted up from my shoes. Since I’m almost positive I didn’t pee on them, I have to assume the puddle was part of the alley which received insufficient steaming.

I’ve never been so happy to have a nice hot shower.

Tomorrow, I’m at another location with less pee but more toxic mold.

I’ll take it.

 

Filed under: california, crack of dawn, hazardous, locations, movies, toxic waste, Uncategorized, , , , , , , ,

The check is in the mail

Ten days ago, I worked a micro budget favor job for a friend of mine who is trying to move up the food chain (which, of course, necessitates moving down the food chain first) and shoot.

I don’t have a problem with favor jobs. I don’t mind helping out friends or people who need it, but since my landlord won’t accept good intentions, I usually expect to be paid the amount I was promised.

The amount I was promised for this particular job was relatively small, but every little bit helps, and I factored that pay into the monthly budget. Job was on Friday, we were told checks would be mailed Monday.

No check.

Then we were told checks would be mailed Thursday.

Mailed on Thursday means it should show up in my mailbox on Saturday, or Monday at the latest.

Monday: No check.

Today, I worked a day on a commercial (and thankfully I know they’ll pay), and figured I’d look again when I got home.

No check, although I did get a dividend for some worthless stock – it’ll buy a shitty bottle of wine. But at least they paid, goddammit.

This is even more annoying because this was supposed to be a cash job.

Some time ago, crews got wise to the ‘promise and then skip out’ tactic, and began to demand cash. Usually at the end of the night, but some production companies had to pay upfront, and then pay again if they wanted more work.

I know, that statement makes us seem like greedy assholes, but you can only get burned so many times before you stop trying to make people like you.

So at the end of the day, we walked up to the money man, expecting to be handed envelopes.

He looked shocked.

“I never promised anyone cash. I never pay cash! Who told you I’d give you cash?”

I think that’s when we all knew.

Knew we were going to have to fight.

I haven’t had to do this in a long time – hopefully I won’t have to go to the office and make a scene, but I won’t hesitate if that’s what I have to do.

Remind me to tell the baseball bat story. It involves a shady production company, a bounced check, and a baseball bat.

Or someone who is currently working micro-budget can tell it, since I’m sure it’s the same story.

We’ll see what happens tomorrow.

Filed under: cranky, life in LA, mishaps, movies, rants, Work, , , , , ,

I’m back!

I had to take a little break to deal with some problems personal enough to not be shared on the internet (I know, right? Weird), but I here I am again and thankfully, work seems to be picking up just as thunderstorms roll through Southern California.

The worst combination possible is a condor and thunder. Rain is fine (if a bit uncomfortable for the poor sap in the bucket), but as soon as any sort of turbo-charged static starts flying around, people get nervous.

So last night, with the predicted thunderstorms in mind, we kept an eye on the tall clouds that thankfully moved north and not west, just missing us.

Not even a drop of rain – good thing I brought my rain gear. It’s a pain in the ass to haul around two work bags, but the second one thinks “oh, it’ll be fine” and leaves the waterproof stuff at home or crew parking, that’s when the heavens open and Mother Nature’s fucked-up idea of a joke sloshes around in one’s shoes for six hours.

Last night, we were a splinter unit, shooting a couple of quick bits whenever we could get the actors from the main unit.

Since one can’t really light night exteriors until it’s dark, we placed a few lights that we all knew were going to move again, then waited for it to get dark enough to start lighting.

Then, we placed some more lights, had a run through with the stand-ins, then waited for actors.

Once the actors got there we adjusted the lighting, shot, and then waited while they went back to the main unit.

We adjusted the lighting again, then had some ice cream that our crafty guy ‘liberated’ from the main unit, then did our second bit when the actors showed up again, and then we wrapped.

The one downside was that those beautiful tall clouds is humidity.

Once the sun went down, it was a nice temperature – until we started wrapping.

The temperature didn’t change, but the act of moving around had me soaked in sweat after about five minutes, even though I still didn’t feel hot. Just sticky. Very, very sticky.

Once we got our equipment back onto the truck, we went home, at slightly under 8 hours.

A cold shower has never felt so good.

Filed under: hazardous, locations, Los Angeles, 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, , , , , , , ,

Survival Mode

The (hopefully) very last shot of this movie was a green screen of black goo shooting at the camera.

As fun as it is to make actors actually vomit, union reps and the health department frown on it, so we had to do a shot of the actress with her mouth open and a shot of the black goo shooting out of a pipe poking through the green screen that will be combined to make it look like projectile vomit.

So we lit the green screen, with the lights far enough back to be in the ‘safe’ zone, the camera had a Lexan shield in front of it, and all the spectators were well back from the screen.

Everyone was ready.

The first try was a trickle of goo which didn’t shoot out so much as dribble down the green screen leaving a really gross streak.

The special effects guys then turned up the power and tried again.

Still a trickle, but it looked more like a gloppy drinking fountain.The effects guys then had an extremely animated discussion, remixed the black stuff and did something to the pressure in the lines.

Everyone in the area had been lured into a false sense of security by the first two shots, so they went near the green screen to watch this attempt.

Pro tip: Any time you see effects guys get worked up about something, take cover. Preferably in the next county.

The guy with the trigger started a countdown.

5…4…

People edged closer to the camera.

3…2…

Phones were raised in anticipation of something really cool to put on social media.

1….

There was a noise like a gunshot and a titanic amount of mystery goo shot towards the camera with enough force to slam the Lexan shield against the matte box.

Since Lexan is a flat surface but very flexible, the shield bent over the camera – which protected it, but acted like a springboard and impressively extended the splatter range.

Blobs of… whatever the hell that was flew outward from the convenient boost like some sort of satanic Flubber.

My co-worker and I were standing 30 feet away at the rear of the catering tent (because what better place to make a mess), clawing at each other as we frantically tried to get behind… anything.

But there was nothing.

Someone’s panicky scream of “incoming”, when combined with that sensory perception thing where everything slows down convinced me to do the only thing I could do.

I turned and I ran.

Call me a coward if you like, but as I cleared the doorway of the tent, I heard the splats of the goo hitting the back wall – right where I’d been standing a few seconds before.

My co-worker chose another survival tactic – the cower. He bent over, making himself as small as possible and miraculously avoided getting slimed.

Everyone else? Not so much.

One of the PAs was wearing a pink T-shirt that I suspect will never be the same again, and I don’t even want to contemplate the number of phones that will never work again.

Filed under: hazardous, locations, Los Angeles, mishaps, movies, Work, , , , , , , , ,

Temptation

As our calls creep an hour later each day*, traffic becomes less of a concern. Our call today was 10 am so I didn’t have to worry about getting stuck in anything, but I still left early because I needed to get something to prevent the cement block in my sinuses.

I stopped at a small drug store near the location and got some Allegra, which generally wouldn’t be my first choice, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Or so I’m told.

I didn’t get to catering early enough to have breakfast, and we started out having to put all the lights back on the stands, as we’d taken them off the night before due to fear of them being blown over.

Probably an unfounded fear, as each stand had at least three shot bags on it.

Once we got set up and shooting, I snuck back to the caterer and grabbed a breakfast burrito, and then had to go unload equipment at yet another house – this one is serving as the production office.

The production house has the nicest pool of all the houses, and it’s the one that tempts me most to jump in. Apparently the heater has been broken for 6 months, but the pool is still being cleaned and really, I don’t think low 70s water would be that bad on a 90 degree day.

So I humped cable past said pool for about an hour (can’t get a cable cart past the yard’s landscaping, sadly), wishing that I had a set of dry clothes with me so I could ‘accidentally’ fall in.

Maybe Friday.

Two of us went over to Green Pool House to rig two rooms for two shots on Friday, but had to be rigged today as the important people will be coming to look at them and decide what they want.

Turns out, the director on this movie isn’t really allowed to make any decisions – it’s the studio suits that are really calling the shots – they’ve been shooting for months past the original end date, because said suits see a cut, don’t like it, and make them go back and shoot more.

They’ve also been through at least three sets of writers.

Awesome.

Someone gave me a script today, but since this movie builds on the past few movies of the franchise, I was unable to even begin to follow along, so I threw it in the trash.

*Two reasons – the main one is that the lead actress has a contractual 12 hour turnaround and since she’s in damn near every scene, we can’t come back until 12 hours after wrap – a 12 hour day for us is actually a 12.5 hour day, as we go ‘off the clock’ for a 30 minute lunch. The other reason is that we have night work Friday, and it’s easier on everyone if we gradually move the call instead of holding at a 7 am for four days and then coming in at noon on Friday.

Filed under: locations, long long drives, Los Angeles, movies, Work, , , , , , , , ,

The wind blows

For some strange reason, someone on this show decided to jump from a 6:30 am call time to a 9 am call time.

One would think that it would be great to sleep in, but the later the call, the heavier the traffic.

So I left my place a full hour early, anticipating to get stuck in the crawl, and then got lucky and got there way too early.

It was a nice calm day when I pulled out of the driveway, but by the time I got to location the winds had picked up – not just a light breeze, either. Violent gusts that bent trees and knocked over anything large and top-heavy – such as grip equipment or lights on stands.

The first thing we did in the morning – before we were in* – was frantically weight down the stands with all the sand and shot bags we could get from the grips, and then secure the equipment as well as we possibly could.

I finally got to see one of the other empty houses that’s being used as a location – it’s about a block away from the main house and has an incredibly green pool. Not intentionally green, mind you. Mosquito vector green. Someone told me it hasn’t been cleaned in about six months – oddly, the entire time the production has been shooting in this house.

The winds kept up all day and into the evening – by sunset my sinuses were a solid block of dirt and pollen – because we’ve killed the lawn on the property, there’s a layer of dust on everything – the carts, the equipment, the crew, the food. It’s like a music festival, except there are no tunes and you can’t get a toe ring.

The winds should die down by tomorrow afternoon.

Although California is currently in drought, I took a really long hot shower in an attempt to dislodge the mass in my sinuses – it was so bad even my ears were jammed up.

I need Claritin for the rest of the week.

*At call, the ADs will yell “we’re in”, meaning the work day has started. Most shows have a caterer that serves breakfast so everyone gets there early and mills about. It’s bad form to show up right at call, and it’s equally bad form to start working before one is called in, as one isn’t getting paid for that work. But, if it’s a choice between working five minutes early or losing a light due to it getting blown over….

Filed under: locations, long long drives, Los Angeles, movies, Work, , , , , , , , ,

An unexpectedly busy week

I had planned to swim Monday morning around 7, but I woke up with a sore shoulder, so instead I called into the union hall right when they opened and put myself on the available list. I figured since it’s busy I’d get a call in a day or two.

Five minutes later the phone rang.

Usually, calls from the hall in the morning are for work the same day, so half an hour later I was on the freeway driving to the furthest reaches of the San Fernando Valley.

There’s an entire neighborhood in the northwest valley that consists mostly of the very tacky spare homes of very rich people who live nearby in other very large homes, some of which are probably also very tacky

I don’t really get the concept of an extra house. Spare jacket? Sure. Spare car? Sure, especially if you have to get to work. Spare underpants? You betcha.

But a spare house a few miles away from your actual house? That just sits there and isn’t rented?

Maybe move one of the more annoying children into it, along with some help – okay, maybe I do get the spare house after all.

This call was for Super Hyped Horror Movie 5 (or 6, who’s counting). The lighting crew were a bunch of really nice folks that I’ve not met before, and since this is the new style of cinema verite, we didn’t do a whole lot of lighting.

I figured it would be a nice day with fun folks and I’d call in and pick up another day later in the week.

Until the end of the day when I was informed that I’m on for the entire week and since I’m now the best boy. I assume because I was available for the entire week.

Since this show has been shooting for months and I have no idea what’s where or which rental order is what, my job is mostly paperwork, for which I’m paid the princely sum of two dollars an hour more.

Hooray!

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

There’s no work, so I might as well have some fun

I’m sure one or two of you have heard of the Sharknado franchise. Movies, mainly – but I really wish they’d branch out into shark plush toys that come with a doll’s arm in the mouth.

These movies have made approximately a metric ton of money for the SyFy network, and they’re immensely popular among the viewing public.

Sharknado number three is currently shooting in Los Angeles, and for some reason isn’t a union signatory. I can only imagine it’s due to the inclusion of Ann Coulter, who probably refused to participate if the dirty smelly worker things were getting paid enough to live on. Greedy fuckers.

Seriously, though, this isn’t some little indie movie that may never make a dime.  It’s going to do very, very well and everyone knows it, especially the producers. The network has probably already pre-sold enough ads to finance three more movies and a spin-off Saturday morning cartoon.

But they don’t want to sign a union contract so the below the line workers can get their health care qualifying hours. Really, that’s what’s important to most of us.

So why not go out and picket? It’s not like I’m currently getting any work.

Except today. My bank account won’t allow me to keep driving to Santa Clarita if there’s no paycheck involved.

Daily picketing locations can be found on the Strikenado Facebook page.

Filed under: long long drives, movies, Non-Work, , , , , ,

Tuesday photos, or that one time I went to jail.

There aren’t a whole lot of options available, if one needs to shoot in a jail. For obvious reasons, shooting in a working prison can be.. problematic, so we’re restricted to closed jails, which, in Los Angeles, means either Sybil Brand or Lincoln Heights, depending on if one wants ‘old timey‘ jail or modern jail.

For the past few days, we’ve needed modern jail, so we’ve been at Sybil Brand.

It’s been shot so much that it’s getting hard to tell what’s the original prison and what’s sets, but please enjoy some photos:
Height of technology, 1963

Hang up

 

Cellblock

Do NOT touch!

What freaks me out so much about Sybil Brand is the complete lack of anything plastic. Due to what I can only assume was budget, the prison wasn’t updated at all before it closed, so it’s a treasure trove of silly looking stuff that was the cutting edge in 1963:

Height of technology, 1963

And now it’s all in limbo, pending a review of how best to spend the taxpayers’ money – renovate or rebuild?

Until then, it’ll stay a shooting location and dog training center:

Whoops.

Dog training course

Filed under: camera, locations, Photos, Work, , , , , ,

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