Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

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, , , , , , , ,

A nice easy stage rig. Oh, wait.

For the next couple of days, I’m putting in a rig on a stage in Hollywood. It’s closer than Fillmore, but because of the traffic, it’s still an hour drive. It would be an hour on the bicycle, too, but since we’re doing late calls I’d have to ride across town well after dark and I’m not super comfortable with that.

Normally putting in a rig on a stage is a pretty nice gig – sure, we’re running cable, but we’re out of the sun and aside from some dust, the stages are relatively clean.

Except that this show doesn’t use a mill. All phases of set construction are done right on the stage while we’re rigging.

Financially, this seems like a great decision – this is a really big stage (almost 200 feet long), so there’s plenty of room to set up a mill on one end and save time and costs. Just build and paint the sets right there, and then you don’t have to walk them all the way across the lot.

But there’s the noise and the dust and the fumes from the paint – these stages all have exhaust systems, but they were designed to vent heat, not fumes and dust.

When we walked onto the stage at call time, it looked like a foggy day and the fumes from the lacquer the painters were using were… thick.

Of course, the set to which the lacquer was being applied was right next to the ‘pick point’ – the area up high where we’d be attaching the hoist so as to lift the cable up to the perms.

I’d asked for a mask, and the painters gave me one of those little paper ones, which work great against particulate, but not so much against the fumes.

All of us had to take turns stepping outside and taking a few deep breaths of the fresh (by comparison, of course. This is Los Angeles) air.

Thankfully, the spraying ended about an hour after we got there and for a time it was much easier to breathe.

Then, they started on the rocks.

It’s very interesting to watch movie rocks being made. The construction guys start with a big block of Styrofoam, and reduce it to rock shape with a saw and a Dremel. After that’s done they spray on the color and the texture.

The downside is that they started right after the paint fumes cleared.  Of course, the other ‘pick point’ on the stage was right over where they were shaving the Styrofoam, so the little bits got all over the cable and then when we picked up the cable to hoist it, those bits got all over us.

I’ve discovered that Styrofoam bits make me itch. I nearly clawed my skin off on the drive home.

Here in California, we’re supposed to be taking short showers to conserve water – I usually do just that, but I was so itchy and stuffed up that I stood under the really hot water for what seemed like an eternity while my sinuses cleared.

We’re up high all day tomorrow, so we have a later call time to wait for the fumes to clear. Hopefully the Styrofoam bits aren’t able to float up to the perms.

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

It doesn’t count if it’s not on

The way our schedule on this show works is that we shoot Thursday and Friday, and Monday – Wednesday we light.

For folks from single camera world, this is bizarre beyond belief.

Block it, light it, shoot it, move on.

But multi cameras don’t work that way.

We hang some of the big lights, they block. We hang some more lights, they rehearse and change the blocking. We hang more lights after moving all the previous ones, and then finally we shoot.

Which is fine – the rig days are shorter as our call time is after they finish rehearsing, but as soon as the actors and important people leave, they turn off the air conditioning on the stage.

In case you hadn’t been informed, it’s currently hotter than the proverbial four-balled tomcat here in Los Angeles.

So when we rig after the rehearsals, we go up into the lighting rig using either lifts or ladders.

Since heat rises, this makes the temperature in our working environment approximately 500 degrees.

Last night when I came home from work I was able to wring out my bra.

Ick.

Say what you will about desert heat, it’s considerably less sweaty than tropical humidity.

We’re all glad that tomorrow is a shoot day, so we’ll have chilled air for the entire day.

Hooray!

 

 

Filed under: studio lots, Work, , , , , ,

Friday Photo

Dimmer board mood lighting:

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

Have yourself a busy pre-Christmas

This has been an odd year. Totally dead, and then a completely frantic fourth quarter. I might have work between Christmas and New Years, which almost never happens.

No, I’m not complaining. Work is work and there’s nothing like an 8 month dry spell to really make one appreciate that paycheck (and the qualifying hours so I can keep my insurance. That’s nice, too).

I’d originally been booked (on a TV show featuring a former movie star who understandably likes the TV hours better) for three rigging days this week (Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday), which then became two (Tuesday, Friday). It happens. Things change.

Then, I got the call at 6 am Monday morning to come in and cover someone on first unit (the shooting crew) who had called in sick.

The only downside was that I’d been out the night before, and thinking I wasn’t working the next day, had a bowl of spicy ramen with extra garlic (and then grated more garlic over it – after all, the cat was the only one who was going to have to smell me) and sake.

The sake wasn’t the problem. It was the garlic. It was coming out of my pores, and whenever I exhaled, a malodorous cloud hung in front of my mouth.

So, I made my apologies about the way I smelled as soon as I got there, and then tried not to breathe on anyone for the rest of the day.

Originally the plan had been for me to work the rig Tuesday, but since there was still a sickness related opening on the crew, I stayed on the production unit and someone else was called in to rig.

Which was fine – the shooting crew are wonderful nice folks that I really enjoy working with, and we were on a stage – which, although overheated (our actress gets cold at any temperature below ‘brimstone’), is still nice.

Out of the sun, actual flush toilets handy, and a set that pretty much lights itself, so my biggest problem was finding power drops for the stinger-related needs of the crew.

My sick co-worker got better, so I was off today.

I rode the bike to the garden, did some digging and some hand-wringing over the raised-bed wood replacement I’m going to have to do very soon, and then headed home.

I’m off tomorrow, so I’m safe to eat garlic tonight.

Filed under: studio lots, Work, , , , , , , ,

Friday Photo

20131101-135610.jpg

A backdrop against a stage floor and a pit. On sound stages, any part of the floor that’s hollow underneath the boards must be marked, because if you roll a lift over it, the floor can collapse.  This one’s pretty small, but there are a few stages where most of the floor is covering a pit and trying to hang lights when you can’t use a lift can be trying, especially if you’ve got tall sets.

Yesterday was my first day out from behind the dimmer board – I took a one day call on a friend’s TV show shooting right down the street from my pad.  In addition to the wonderfully short commute, it was really nice to be able to go to the bathroom when I wanted to, visit crafty when I wanted to, and the crew were all very nice folks that I really enjoy working with. They even got us out early (5 pm) so folks could go home and have Halloween with their kids.

Thankfully, it’s still busy out there so I’ve already got at least four days next week.

Hooray for work!!

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

Friday Photo

When working up high, it’s very, very important to stay safe and be certain that nothing falls. Even something seemingly harmless like a roll of tape or a pen can cause problems if it plummets 40 feet.
So, everything is either kept in a container (a box, a milk crate, etc…) or tied off to the rails.

Like this:

20131004-191306.jpg

Normally, one wouldn’t bother to tie off a can of iced tea, but this happened to be in a high traffic area (near the ladder) and clearly someone felt the need to stay safe. And keep their tea out of the cardboard box of water and soda we’d brought up with us.  Anything in the main drink/snack stash is community property and subject to drinking by anyone at any time. But a can, tied off to a railing is clearly private property.

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

Offensensitivity

Wherever bored dudes congregate, eventually all sorts of graffiti will appear. Mostly names and dates, but also the occasional drawing of a penis, boobs, or political endorsement.

But a few years ago a female co-worker and I found the granddaddy of all obscene scrawls. Naked women in the dirty magazine pose (on the knees with naughty bits facing the audience) with graphically detailed genitals.

If you’re female in this business you have to be able to ignore quite a bit that would, in any other industry, result in a successful lawsuit, but this was a bit much, even though we both admired the artistic talent and attention to detail.

This was a man who could definitely have found the clitoris.

My co-worker decided she didn’t want to spend the next few months looking at these, and used her own considerable artistic talent to make them not so….female.  And very well endowed.

We’re down for a week on the sitcom (actress is “sick”), so I took a day rigging at the very stage where the naughty drawings had been. Of course, the first thing I did upon going into the perms was have a look.

Someone had blacked out the altered naughty bits and added a bit of choice narrative alongside about “art”.

I’m not sure which one I found better – the fact that someone had taken the time to black out dick drawings, which are on just about every surface in the perms (I usually don’t photograph them, but they’re there, trust me), or the dogged effort to compose a few paragraphs about artistic freedom in the medium of marker and wooden beam.

Kudos to you, anonymous freedom guy.

And yes, I feel safe in assuming it was a guy.

In other non-genital related news, it’s finally cooling off here in Los Angeles. Today felt not at all like the surface of the sun, which was nice.

After our down week, I go back to sitcom world for another week or two and then I’m back to hustling any best boy I can find for work.

I will, however, have gotten my required 400 hours to keep my benefits through the end of 2014, for which I am extremely grateful.

Also, I have no idea what’s going on with those super annoying text link ads that you’re seeing. I’m trying to figure out how to turn them off.

Filed under: studio lots, Work, , , , , , , , ,

New School / Old School

Since I’ve decided I can only learn one new thing at a time, I’m going to be making my lighting maps the old-fashioned way – with paper and a template.

When I came up with the idea, it seemed reasonable enough – just go and buy a template and then I’ll be tracing my way to not having to learn a fucking CAD program on top of everything else I’m trying to absorb.

Except that prancing into Studio Depot, whipping out my credit card and bypassing technology wasn’t as easy as I’d imagined.

The templates haven’t been stocked in quite some time, since apparently everyone in the world is using the aforementioned fucking CAD program.

Guess I’m going to have to have a talk with the gaffer about how we’re going to map this. Hopefully he’s got a template somewhere and can bring it in.

Maybe in a week or so I’ll be able to tackle new learnings, but right now my brain is worn the hell out.

Also, it’s hotter than ass here in Los Angeles, so there’s that.  Wait. I was trying to make a point, then I kept sweating and now I… forgot.

UPDATE: Filmtools has them. Sweet.

Guess where I’m going after work tomorrow?

Filed under: studio lots, Work, , , , , , ,

Sweaty and itchy

Most types of lights have ‘tails’ with heavy rubber jackets, but some units, like striplights, far cycs, and cyc strips, are hung and tilted down (positioning the tail on top of the light where the heat vents) which makes the heat too much for standard coatings, and a special fireproof jacket is used.

Back in the day, these jackets were made of asbestos, but now they’re a type of woven fiberglass cloth stuff:

20130724-235300.jpg

I’m not 100 % sure which material we’re looking at here.

Whatever this is sheds bits all over the place, and any contact that it makes with bare skin results in ferocious itching. Should one manage to wash the whatever-they-are particles off the skin, the particles that have lodged in one’s shirt will take up residence on said freshly washed arms.

My first job Monday morning was to circuit (connect to power, label, etc..) the far cycs, and I got that fiber all over me.

Certain types of pain one just learns to live with. I’m standing for 12 hours and my feet hurt. Got it. I’m lifting things all day and my shoulders hurt. Expected. The painters are spraying right under me and my sinuses are clogged. Yup, that’s normal.

But then one thing like itching gets thrown in the mix and it all goes to hell. All of a sudden I notice the aching feet and the smell of paint and the sweat pooling up in my bra. And it bothers me.

Right at the apex of my itchy nightmare, I was sent ‘up high’ to feed some cable out of the perms.

Oddly enough, the sweat rolling off me (no, really. It was about 110 degrees in the perms) was what finally stopped the itching.

Today, I outsmarted the fiber from hell and wore a long-sleeved shirt while I worked. Then, I finished and removed said shirt by pulling it over my head, which deposited the fiber in my hair, so my head itched all day.

I can’t win for losing.

Just for posterity, I’d like to point out that actual asbestos is marginally less itchy than the fiberglass stuff.

How I know that is probably a blog post all on its own.

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

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