Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

Looks can be deceiving

Sometimes you can look at a set and figure out right away if it’s going to be easy to light or not. Generally, the smaller the set, the worse things go for everyone. Like cramming 10 pounds of shit into a 5 pound sack.

Today’s main set was large,  lots of room, multiple doorways, all the windows opened (sometimes on sets they don’t), etc.. It should have been a breeze.

Except that it wasn’t.

We thrashed around for two hours trying to light it.

For some reason, this particular set was built without any ‘wild’ walls, and a hard ceiling that doesn’t move.

Wild walls are designed to be easily removed from the set, so that one can get certain camera angles or lighting, and a set really needs to have the ceiling raise up (or come off in small bits) so that when we need to have a light, say, in the middle of a room we can just drop power down from the grid and not have to worry about camouflaging cable that’s run right through the middle of the shot.

Of course, since we couldn’t run power up to the grid through the ceiling that didn’t move, we lit an entire scene from above and saw the whole fucking world, every single shot. The grips managed to drill some holes for us, but mostly we used a metric ton of tape and more time than we should have taken to do a fairly simple lighting set-up.

By the time it was over, my boss was rocking back and forth, muttering to himself while clutching his light meter to his chest.

We ended up having to move one scene to tomorrow, which will be nice and refreshing to end our day in the air conditioning, because we’ll be spending most of the day outside in the heat and humidity (okay, it’s Los Angeles humidity, which is dry compared to say, Texas).

Also, work has been so slow that my work shoe calluses went away, and now I have blisters on my feet. Guess I’ll be stopping by the drug store on the way to work to buy a metric ton of moleskin.

 

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

All night, all night, all night

Night work is never ideal for me, the ultimate morning person.  One night is usually a pain, but doable – I just take a short nap, power through the rest of my day, go to bed early and I’m fine.

But multiple nights are much more difficult, since that pesky body clock thingy insists on waking me up at 7 am every single fucking morning, no matter how late I’ve been up the night before.

I have to get some rest, because I’ll have to function for the rest of the week and even I can’t manage to not sleep for more than a couple of days.

Last night went fairly quickly as we were running around the whole time, and I got home about 6 am, where I miraculously managed to get about four hours of sleep. That’s making me feel, well, not chipper, but semi-human.

I’ve got a 4 pm call about 40 miles away in the high desert, and they’re going to put us up in a hotel somewhere in northeast bumfuck, because driving back home through rush hour traffic and then driving back to work trough rush hour traffic would mean no rest for anyone, even the people who need it.

I normally prefer to sleep in my own bed, but this time I’m glad to have the hotel. Plus, it has a pool so I can get in a swim Wednesday morning before work.

Tonight, I’m going up in the condor, so I might manage a nap or two, which would be nice, but with this gaffer it’s unlikely.

Also, did I mention the doctor wants me to stop drinking so much coffee? Something about acid something. Whatever.

Filed under: distant location, locations, long long drives, Work, , , , , , , ,

A bird in the hand

Pigeons love old sound stages.

I don’t know why, but there’s almost always one or two lurking up in the perms, crapping on our cable and doing whatever it is pigeons do when they’re not crapping on everything.

Sometimes they get trapped on the stage when we’re shooting and fly around, bumping into things and crapping on everything until they either find their way out or we call cut and open the doors.

Today, right in the middle of a very long, very complex scene requiring concentration from the actors on the dead-silent stage (this show has a really serious AD staff) – the song of the flying rat.

And they kept singing (or cooing, or telling each other where to crap next) during every single sound take.

We tried everything. A laser pointer, a light aimed at them, luring them towards the small door with a trail of bread crumbs, throwing things at them, you name it.

They’d be quiet for a few minutes and then as soon as the stage got nice and quiet  would resume their conversation.

Eventually, the exasperated sound guy decided that it wasn’t worth the headache and they should just ADR the whole thing, and we moved on.

As soon as we opened the big doors of the stage for lunch, both birds flew out.

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

Surprise, with an aftertaste of ouch

Sometimes one is just not prepared for the day one gets.

It was supposed to be a fairly light day, work-wise, which was just what I needed because tomorrow I know I’m going to get the shit beaten out of me.

We were supposed to change some tubes, run some light cable, then go home. Maybe 6 hours.

We showed up at 7 am, but the equipment we needed to start working didn’t arrive until 10 am, due to traffic.

Fine. Maybe 8 hours.

We changed our tubes, ran the cable we needed to run and were hopeful we might still get out by lunch.

Then, surprise!

We had another set full of fluorescent fixtures that no one knew about before. So we got more tubes, and changed those fixtures.

I suppose I should mention that the standard-issue fixture for drop ceilings (aka troffer), isn’t designed to have the tubes changed very often. The whole point of installing these fixtures is the lack of maintenance needed.

Stick them in the ceiling, and forget they were ever there. They should last for years.

Unless you rent out your space for shoots – then we have to change out the tubes for color balanced ones, which involves wrenching open the bottom of the fixture (the delicate plastic part), wrestling out the tubes by twisting them and swearing, breaking some of the tiny parts that aren’t that fucking important anyways because I have to do 100 more of these fucking things, shoving in tubes that are just a micron too long, so there’s more shoving and swearing and sweating and 20 years of dust from the fixture falls everywhere – which is really bad if you wear a bra, because guess where that dust likes to land?

You haven’t lived until you’ve stood in the shower and tried to scrub off a combo of asbestos* dust and sweat.

But we got it all done, albeit a bit later than we’d originally intended.

Then, we got the call.

Something, somewhere, had changed.

We had to go back to all the fixtures and change the tubes for a different color.

Dammit.

I’d just used up all my baby wipes scraping off the asbestos. Now I was going to get covered in it again and itch all the way home in rain traffic.

The rain isn’t predicted until midnight, but the mere mention of water falling from the sky is enough to send the entire city into a blind panic.

All of us were hoping to be home before said panic.

Alas, it was not to be and I spent 1.5 hours crawling home on a route that should have taken me 20 minutes.

Thanks, rain.

I’ll be standing outside all day tomorrow.

 

 

*If you’re in an office building built before the era of ‘holy shit this causes cancer’, look up. See those white tiles on the ceiling? They’re not the asbestos (maybe). The asbestos is the weird popcorn looking stuff that’s sprayed everywhere between those tiles and the actual ceiling. Calm down, it’s not going to get to you. Unless you’ve rented out the building to a movie, and the riggers came in and changed the tubes. If that happened, your lungs are fucked – but it’s okay, you won’t have any issues until you’re old and decrepit and too old to care. Or so I’m told. Excuse me while I cough. It’s totally unrelated.

 

 

Filed under: crack of dawn, cranky, hazardous, locations, movies, toxic waste, Work, , , , , , , , , , , ,

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, , , , , , , , , ,

Monday Traffic and skipping the gym.

Friday, I got a call from the hall* to work on a rig (or a wrap, I wasn’t sure) in Orange County. Mind you, not super deep behind the orange curtain, but enough that I stressed about getting to work on time and left the house at 10 am, in the hopes of making my noon call with a few minutes to spare.

I managed to get there  about 20 minutes early to find, to my great happiness, we were the wrap crew, and since they were still shooting I sauntered over to crafty and grabbed some coffee.

I knew crafty from another show, knew a bunch of the set lighting people and grips, a few of the ADs and PAs, and most of the wrap crew, plus the rigging gaffer, who is a great guy and who was my boss on one of the first shows I worked on when I got into the union.

There was a lot of cable – or maybe there wasn’t, since I haven’t really pulled 4/0 in quite some time, but it looked like an awful lot, and I started to wonder what I was going to do when I collapsed face down into the lovely drought-tolerant landscaping, but because production were progressing through the sets, we got to wrap gradually, over a period of about 8 hours, which helped, but I was beat up when I crawled back into my car to drive home at 8 pm.

I was afraid I’d stiffen up, so I stopped off halfway and got some take-out and walked around the parking lot a bit, and I worked as I didn’t lock up too bad when I got home.

 

*Our union hall. When it’s super busy, one doesn’t have to work at finding work – just call and you’ll get a job pretty quickly. Plus, one gets to meet new people and expand one’s work contacts.

Filed under: distant location, locations, long long drives, Work, , , , , ,

Lights, Camera, Shop!

One of the occasional perks of my job is wardrobe and prop sales.
Most of the really nice (read: expensive) stuff is rented, but the cheaper stuff is usually purchased, in multiples, and kept beyond the date by which it can be returned to the store.

There are reasons for this, of course – spills, tears, and daily wear make multiple items necessary, and hanging onto the items for so long is a must in case there are re-shoots.

So a few times a year, the nice folks in wardrobe will let the crew pick through the racks and sell off some fairly nice things for Salvation Army prices.

Tags

Today, I was really in the right place at the right time.

As we breakfasted before call, one of the costumers wheeled up a rack and told us to grab whatever we wanted, gratis.

Most of the items had weird logos on them, but a few things were really nice and (I hoped) my size.

I wasn’t sure because I couldn’t try anything on.

As totally willing as I was to whip off my top at the old Barney’s warehouse sale (deep discounts, no dressing rooms), I have to pretend to maintain some semblance of professionalism at work, which means just guessing on the size and hoping.

Of the five tops I got, four fit, which is pretty good.

One item that I thought might be too big was, predictably, too big.

But it’s a really nice soft cotton T-shirt so I might just wear it anyways.

Tomorrow, I’m on a special effects shoot which will mainly be sitting around and wondering where my life went so fucking off course.

At least I’ll look good.

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

Sometimes you get lucky

Condors, although they’re manufactured to the same specifications, have wildly divergent handling characteristics.

Some of them have really flexy arms so the operator shifting his or her weight will make them bounce like crazy, some have really sensitive controls so no matter how light a touch one has, the arm shoots to the side like it’s doing the nae nae.

When I’m 80 feet in the air with a 200 lb light that’s only affixed to the basket by a steel rod the diameter of a quarter, I do not, for any reason, want that basket jerking around.

Sometimes the hydraulics do this weird thing called settling, where the arm will drop a few inches at random intervals. It’s not dangerous, but it is nerve racking, and changes the position of the light, so eventually the gaffer starts yelling about the shadows, and guess who gets blamed for that?

Yup. The poor sap in the basket. That’s who gets blamed.

Friday night, I got super lucky. This particular condor had a nice stable arm that didn’t shake at all even at full extension during wind gusts, didn’t whip me around and didn’t settle. It was perfect. I thought about marking the base somehow (like with five spray-painted stars), so other operators will know how great it was.

The only bad thing that happened is that I under-dressed for the weather.

The weather report predicted a low of about 50, but in the canyon where we were shooting it was much colder. 35 degrees, according to my car’s thermometer at the end of the night. I had a stocking cap, a sweatshirt and a wind shell. And that was it.

I have a parka, I just didn’t bring it because 50 degrees.  You’d think I’d have learned by now, but apparently not.

Although I had a blanket with me, my feet got so cold they went numb. Even with the heater on extra hot the whole drive home, they didn’t warm up until the next morning.

But I eventually warmed up, and hopefully I’ll get a call back from the really nice bunch of guys I enjoyed working with a lot.

It’s nice to meet new people.

 

Filed under: distant location, hazardous, locations, long long drives, mishaps, up all night, Work, , , , , , , , , ,

Fear and living dangerously

Work’s been busy – more so than in the past five (ish) years.

Which is a very good thing, but it’s been so dry for so long that all of us are working ourselves to a shell of what we could be had we paid attention in class.

Six hour turnaround? Sure, no problem.

Four am call two hours away? I’m there.

Three 19 hour days in a row? I love overtime. My kids don’t need me to read them a story.

In the past two months, I’ve worked as many hours as I had in the previous year (or so it feels like), and I’ve had some insanely short turnarounds – I went from one job right to another and my justification was that since I was in the condor for the first job, I could sleep.

One sleeps fitfully, at best, in a condor, so I had a few hours of shallow napping, took a shower, changed my clothes, and then worked another 14 hour day.

That, my friends, is madness, and I shouldn’t have done it as I was not able to work safely.

But I’m afraid to say no to anything.

It’s been so slow for so long and so many of us have been struggling, that we can’t really wrap our minds around the idea that it may be busy for quite some time and we can, if we like, turn down a job if we feel that we’ve just had a bit too much that week. It’ll be okay. There will be more work.

But that small part of my mind that functions as the town crier for impending disasters starts shrieking that this will be the last day I get for a long time, I won’t make my rent, and then I’ll end up face down in the gutter covered in my own filth and broken dreams.

For some reason, I believe that alarmist voice much more than I believe our call steward, who seems to think that there will be a lot of work for the next few years, at least.

I need to work on that. I’d love to be able to take a vacation and know that I’ll still have work when I come back.

That hasn’t happened in years.

For any of us.

Filed under: hazardous, humor, life in LA, locations, long long drives, Los Angeles, , , ,

Hot and dusty

It’s still 100 degrees in Los Angeles.

I’ve already worked three days this week, and two of those days, of course, have been day exterior.

Today, we were in a canyon park near the beach, so we got a little bit of wind  in the morning and we were mostly in the shade so it wasn’t too bad except for the dust and the poison oak.

The studio safety people had come through and placed pink flags wherever there was poison oak so that we could avoid it.

Of course, the flags were in the shot, so they were pulled up first thing, leaving us all to try to remember where, exactly, we needed to avoid.

At one point, video village got set up right in the middle of the area where we’re fairly certain was full of the stuff, but no one was sure, so we just have to wait to see if any of the important people get a rash.

As the vans drove by on the dirt roads, we all got coated in dust, and then as the day wore on and it got hotter and we started to sweat, the dust turned to a thin layer of salty mud.

At one point I wiped my face on a paper towel and was only mildly surprised at how much dirt came off.

Also, of course, we ran out of light because everyone forgets about the sun and canyons.

The weather forecast gives sunset as, say, 7 pm. But in a canyon, the walls are higher than the horizon, so one loses the light earlier. Our boss pointed that out on the scout, but no one listened and we had to light the last few shots.

Where did we need to place the lights? Right in the poison oak patch. Of course.

We parked at the beach so after work a co-worker and I jumped in the ocean just as the sun was going down, but the water is still gross and really warm, so it washed off some of the sweat mud, but wasn’t as refreshing as I’d like. The beach shower was colder.

Where am I working tomorrow? Why, outside, of course. In the valley.

Filed under: hazardous, locations, Work, , , , , , , ,

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