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, , , , , , , ,

Hearing and Lady Problems

Normally, the gaffer is the head of the lighting department, but on shows with anything more than a passing resemblance to theater (operas, concerts, ice shows, ballroom dancing), there will also be a lighting designer, who is responsible for the theatrical lighting.

Anything that’s part of what would be the theater rig falls under the authority of the lighting designer, so since I was working a follow spot today, I was on the channel with the LD, and not the gaffer.

Normally, the LD sits in a sound proof booth and during the performance, will call out directions to the spotlight operators. The spotlights are given numbers to simplify things, so instead of having to remember names, the LD can just call out “spot 3, pick up downstage left”, or “spot 4, pan up to get the drummer”.

Which is great, when it works.

For this particular show, there was no booth for the LD, so he was sitting next to the monitor, and when they turned on the playback, all we heard over the walkies was something like a radio not quite on the right channel.

KKSSHHHHEHHHGHHLEFTSSSSKKKSHHHHFEETSSHHHHKKRIGHTKSSSHHHSFOURSSKKKKKKKDAMMIT

Since the venue in which we were shooting is not known for stellar acoustics, none of us could even hear what we were thinking.

The LD, once we explained that we couldn’t hear him during playback, sighed and just gave us direction in between takes.

Lucky for all of us there wasn’t too much movement on stage.

The main problem was that our spotlights were on a catwalk that required steep stairs and a ladder to reach – which was fine, except for the lack of a loo.

At this point, I’m sure someone is going to suggest I just pee in the chain bag.

First, eeew.

Second, I have my period, because of course I do. And trust me, no one wants to find that in the chain bag.

I got lucky today that the periods of inactivity coincided with when I needed to slip away, but tomorrow I might be fucked because the call sheet has performance numbers all day.

I’ll have to double up (tampon and a giant pad), and bring up a plastic bag and some wet wipes.

Good thing this show is requiring we all wear black clothes.

I’m back tomorrow and Friday.

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

Back it on up

Shooting on a stage requires a backing*, for the obvious reason that if one sees white walls or staged equipment through a set window, the illusion of being in Victorian England/the frozen tundra/the Enterprise is ruined.

Back in the old days, backings were hand painted on canvas. There are still a few of those floating around, but most shows use a day/night backing.

When lit from the front, the backing appears as day. When lit from behind, the backing appears as night.

It’s genius.

You don’t need two backings and an army of grips to raise and lower them five times a day – the dimmer board operator makes the change instantly, and everything is wonderful and happy.

Except when you get your brand-new made-to-order backing and they forgot the ‘night’ part.

It looked great from the front, then, when the backlights were turned on, it looked like a daytime backing lit from behind without quite enough light.

There was a moment of silence as the department heads pondered that a) there was nothing they could do about it, and b) someone besides them was going down for this one.

Probably the backing designer, who was paid the price of a luxury car for this.

Not one of those crappy proletariat jobbies, either. A good luxury car.

Since the backing was custom ordered, I have no idea what anyone is going to do about this, and since Friday is my last day I’ll likely never find out.

Also, I learned that brand new backings smell like the worst mix of chemical slurry you can possibly imagine.

Remember your high school yearbooks and that weird benzene smell?

Imagine that, but 30 feet tall and 100 feet long.

In a stage with the doors closed.

When I recover, I’m going to really miss those brain cells.

*Also called a backdrop, but they’re both the same thing.

Filed under: studio lots, toxic waste, Work, , , , , , , ,

More trains, fewer chickens.

After an 11 hour turnaround (reduced to 9 because of the hour commute each way), we were back in the rail yard.

Thankfully, today was just trains. Only trains. No chickens.

I checked.

The day went a bit easier, as we were in a different part of the rail yard and we had much better footing, so walking wasn’t quite as much of a challenge.

Most of our work was inside a train, and since we only had power on one side of the tracks, we had to run cable across the tracks – of course, any time a train had to move we had to disconnect the lights and wrap the cable back to clear the tracks.

This almost drove the gaffer nuts as we were working with HMI lights that need about 20 minutes to cool down before they’ll turn on again.

I’m nervous about crawling under a train, even if it’s not moving, so I kept trying to throw cable all the way across the track so I didn’t have to put my upper body under the car. To do this, I had to kneel in the dirt, but I was going to be covered in it by the end of the day no matter what I did.

We had a much shorter day today, as it was our last day in the rail yard, so all departments would have to wrap to the trucks.

It wasn’t possible to get the truck close to the set, and it wasn’t possible to get the carts over the tracks, so we had to push the carts down a ramp into the street (that we didn’t have a permit to use – whoops). Our boss finally got a stake bed, which made things much easier and we got the truck loaded in about an hour, which was really good.

Once again, I’d forgotten to bring clean clothes (left them in a bag next to the front door), so I drove home all dusty and then had a nice hot shower. It’s never felt so good.

I’m off tomorrow and then I have a stage rig on another show Thursday and Friday.

Filed under: crack of dawn, locations, long long drives, Work, , , , ,

Choo Choo Choo

Due to the events of the last year, productions are really jumpy about shooting anywhere near trains, so we had to travel to an appropriate location where trains don’t do things like barrel down tracks at 70 mph.

That location is Fillmore, California. It’s 60 miles from my place to the location. One way.

We were shooting at the Fillmore and Western Railway. They have historical and modern (well, modern for the US) trains and since it’s only a semi-active railway (they do scenic tours on the weekends, but it’s not active in the sense that freight or commuter trains come through), it’s a great place to shoot anything train-related and remain relatively safe.

Relatively safe because it’s a rail yard. Uneven ground, rocky footing, pointy things at head height, and chickens.

To be specific, 400 chickens. In a boxcar.

Don’t ask me why, I don’t know.

I do know that they qualified as a hazard because any time one got near them, they’d peck through the mesh cages. If the unlucky target wasn’t in pecking range, they’d spit water.

Do chickens spit? I’m not sure. I just know that one shouldn’t turn one’s back on them, and that’s hard when they’re in a boxcar and one must set a Kino Flo in the back corner.  They got me good. One was pecking and another was spitting.

I hate chickens.

I took perverse enjoyment in devouring the fried chicken served at lunch.

Every time the wind picked up, dust would blow into everything. By the end of the day I was completely coated in dust and chicken spit. I’d have spit back, but my mouth was all dry and gritty.

Since we’re coming back tomorrow and the trains will be in different areas, we had to clear all the cable that was crossing the tracks and drive the condors out of the rail yard.

It took us a while to do that, as the tracks were about 10 inches tall. we had to build a wooden bridge so that the lift’s tires could roll across the tracks without tipping over the lift of damaging the tracks.

Turns out, railroad tracks are more delicate than one would imagine, and they have sensors trigger the warning barriers. Those sensors are little pieces of wire attached to the outside of the track – if they’re broken, the bells and lights start, the gates come down and there’s no way to stop it until the sensor is replaced.

We finally managed to do it, thanks to a co-worker who is an off-road driving enthusiast. Apparently, guiding a condor over rail tracks is just like getting a vehicle over a very tricky bit of ground. I’m so grateful he was there or we’d have likely tipped that condor.

After my hour-long drive home during which I guzzled water and berated myself for not bringing a change of clothes, I got home and finally showered.

The water ran off brown, but the chicken peck marks don’t look as bad now.

We’re back tomorrow.

Filed under: california, crack of dawn, distant location, hazardous, long long drives, 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, , , , , , , , ,

Continuing Education

In order to shift liability for accidents onto the crew, we are required to undergo safety training.

The bulk of the classes were some time ago, and now it’s just the occasional add-on whenever someone gets hurt, or someone important thinks they might get hurt.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for education and safety training, I really am. An educated workforce is the best insurance against accidents.

This particular class was about process trailer safety. And that’s an important class, especially for people who haven’t had any experience with process trailers.

That funny-looking thing you see in the link is a process trailer. Because it’s asking a bit much of actors to remember their lines and drive at the same time (no snark here, it’s difficult), one puts the car on a trailer and tows it around while the actors mimic driving and say the lines.

It’s also very useful if your car is a stick shift and your actor doesn’t know how to drive one – or if you want a dolly shot of the car while it’s moving, or if you want…

Hell, there’s a million reasons to use a process trailer and very few to let an actor drive.

It was taught by a former AD, so it was a very interesting perspective on the whole thing, and despite the warnings I’d heard that the class was boring and useless I found it very interesting.

The only bad part is the driving all the way across town.

I’m not kidding. The training facility is on the other side of the Los Angeles Metropolitan area, and I have to traverse the worst traffic corridor in North America to get there.

So I went to the 12:30 to 3:30 class in the hopes of missing the worst of the traffic.

I combined errands and went to the bank, dropped off the recycling, swam in the 50 meter pool in the valley, and then hit the class.

I’d intended to go to Ikea after, but Obama is coming so I went straight home in the hopes of missing that clusterfuck.

Still no work, but I’m hearing it’s going to be really busy, soon.

Until then, I will continue with cleaning the apartment and weeding the garden – two tasks that get neglected when I get busy.

Filed under: life in LA, long long drives, Los Angeles, Non-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, , , , , ,

It’s there, but I don’t have it

It’s been a very long time since I fell asleep at the wheel while driving home.

The first time, it was after a 16+ hour overnight in the high desert and I dozed off while stuck in rush hour gridlock. I woke up when my face hit the steering wheel, but luckily my foot never came off the brake.

There have been a few more times over the years – mostly just weaving on the road and having to roll down the windows or stomp the floor of the car with my left foot.

It just became a thing. Night work meant a fun drive home trying to out-weave the drunks, but I never felt concerned (if I should have is another post).

But I was really frightened Saturday morning when I dozed off while travelling southbound on the 405 at approximately 80 mph.

Luckily, I just weaved in my lane and then stomped the hell out of the floor of my car and made it home.

Wait.. let me back up.

This time of year work is thin, so when I got a call to work Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I said yes before I asked any questions.

It was only after I was booked that the best boy told me it would be all nights on the other side of town.

Nights bother me a lot more now than they did when I was younger – I have a much harder time adjusting, and if I’m flipping between days and nights it’s even worse.

It would have been bad form for me to say ‘no’ after accepting the job, even with the construction in the unit above me (they say they’re remodeling it, but really I just think they’re chopping holes in the walls, patching them and cutting them out again just for practice), so I was stuck.

Lucky for me I was with a wonderful bunch of guys that I really like a lot – but that construction starts up at 7 am and I can’t sleep later, even with earplugs and a white noise machine, so even with the interim days off I spent an entire week on so little sleep I think it might have qualified as cruel and unusual.

As an added bonus, Friday’s pre-call ‘breakfast’ of a seemingly harmless turkey burger resulted in a three-day bout with rotavirus.

I got picked up for this week as well, which is great, but it’s been 7 am call times all week. Between the sleep loss and the power cleanse today was the first day I’ve felt even vaguely human.

Tomorrow, our call time is 6 am in west bumfuck, so I will have to get out of bed at 4:30. AM.

We have 9 pages to shoot, but it’s all day exterior and we don’t have enough lamps to make daylight*, so it can’t go all that late.

Since I didn’t post anything last week, please enjoy an apology photo of uplit trees and a condor with someone besides me in the basket:

P1050103

 

*It is possible to shoot day exterior at night, but you need a lot of equipment. Like a 48 foot trailer full of HMIs. Then, when the sun goes down, we unload the truck and curse our poor life decisions.

 

 

 

 

Filed under: crack of dawn, cranky, locations, long long drives, movies, Photos, up all night, Work, , , , , , , , ,

What’s a life got to do with it, anyway?

I suppose it’s not a huge secret that film sets aren’t exactly  the safest working environment. We routinely enter condemned buildings, work in extreme heat and/or cold (sometimes on the same day), navigate treacherous  footing, run cable through human waste, inhale asbestos and snack on lead paint chips (oh, wait. That’s just the ‘healthy’ baked potato chips. My bad).

In the past decade or so, there has been a concerted effort to make sets safer for everyone, and it’s been very successful.

But accidents sometimes still happen. Mostly those accidents are just that. Accidental. No fault, no blame just…Oops.

But sometimes, it is someone’s fault. In this particular case, a criminally negligent someone’s fault.

About a week ago, a film crew in Georgia were trying to get a shot for a Gregg Allman biopic – a dream sequence with a bed on railroad tracks.

At first it was just a terse announcement on some of the film-worker centric Facebook circles.

Camera assistant killed while shooting. No details.

Then, an ID. Sarah Elizabeth Jones, age 27.

Then, more details started to  emerge, and I began to suspect that this was going to get really bad.

Sadly, I was right. I hate being right.

The production company had requested a permit to shoot on the train tracks, and had been denied.

Someone decided to order the crew to set up the shot on the tracks anyhow.

Just stop and think about that for a second. Someone – we don’t know exactly who as the production company has suddenly gotten very, very tight-lipped and lawyered up – knew that they were not allowed to be on a live fucking rail line and decided to do it anyways.

A train came. About 15 minutes later, another train came. The crew began setting up, and in about 20 minutes, another train came. There was approximately one minute of warning. The crew tried desperately to clear the track in time, but one young woman was unable to do so and was struck while one of her co-workers tried to save her.

And died.

Died. For a stupid fucking movie. Produced by a fucking waste of carbon about a fucking has-been waste of carbon whose claim to fame is fucking Cher.

I jest, of course. The subject of the movie is completely irrelevant. It wouldn’t matter if it was a movie about a paralysed nun who saved a busload of adorable orphans from Nazis.

It’s not worth a life. Any life – even the life of someone who has chosen to wear a toolbelt and not get any glory or residuals.

The “Slates for Sarah” thing is very sweet, but the person who is responsible for this needs to suffer, and greatly.

Sadly, I don’t see that happening.

What I do see is (hopefully) more people saying ‘no’.

As in: “I’m sorry, Mr Producer. This isn’t safe. Oh, you want to fire me? Fine. I’ll live to work another day, and you can burn in Hell.”

Oh, wait. My bad. Burning in hell is too good for some people.

Filed under: mishaps, movies, rants, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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