Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

Finally! Some work!

Today, I was on the rigging crew for the first time in a long, long time. I don’t mind rigging and had the best day working with a really great bunch of guys.  Also, it’s not as hot this week as it was last week. It’s still seasonably warm (which, in August in Southern California is quite warm indeed), but that feeling that someone should be basting me was gone.

Our call time was 7:30, and we all did ‘new show’ paperwork (this is the second episode of the first season of this particular show so this is the first day they’ve had a location), and then went to the lamp dock to pick up our equipment.  When you pull equipment that’s to  be used at one location, it’s called a ‘drop load’, as in ‘we’re going to drop the load there, use it, and then return it’.

The drop load was there, but the truck wasn’t, so we counted and sorted and labeled and eventually drifted back to the stage where we helped the best boy pull some things off his truck for the location.

We then had coffee, and wandered back over to the lamp dock – still no truck.

Turns out, production had, for some reason, told transportation that we wouldn’t be going to rig until after lunch, so no one had gone to get the truck.

Boss: “That’s insane! Why would I wait until after lunch to put a rig in? I’d like to get home before next week.”

So, after our boss talked to the transpo captain, our truck appeared. Since we had a stake bed, which doesn’t have a roof, the truck was full of some sort of smelly, hard fruit and sticks. Guess they’d had it parked under a tree.

First order of business – find a broom and clean out the back of that truck. Nobody wants smelly crap stuck to the equipment, and more importantly, sticks add a degree of difficulty to loading a truck (some cart wheels won’t roll over them, one can slip on them, etc..)

That done, we loaded, headed over to the first unit truck, loaded some additional cable from there, and then headed out.

Once we got to the location and had a look at where, exactly, the cable run needed to go, it became very apparent due to some changes that had happened since the scout we were going to need more cable – just about double what we’d brought.

So we put in what we had, unloaded the dimmer packs and lights we’d brought, left two guys there to start getting the stuff in place and then headed back to the lot to  pull some more cable off the first unit truck, since apparently production wouldn’t allow any more equipment to be rented for that location.

Which is fine – equipment that rides on the main truck is usually marked with a particular color of tape so that we know not to return it (the bar codes have to match at the end of the season), and it’s not a big deal to lift some more cable.

By this time (about 2 pm) it had gotten hot. And humid (objectively humid, not humid for Los Angeles), and we were standing in the back of a stakebed (that still smelled faintly rancid from whatever that stuff was in the back) trying to get everything loaded in such a way that it wouldn’t fall over and become a big mess by the time we got to the location.

Since the trucks were ‘gate to gate ‘ (the trucks are parked with the cabs in opposite directions with the lift gates touching so that equipment can be rolled off one truck and right onto the other – sort of like a motorized Pushmi-pullyu), we were blocking some of the VIP parking spaces, but figured we’d be out of there soon enough.

Right when we had two heavy head carts on the truck but not tied down and our driver had headed off to the restroom, a man came wandering up, looked at me and said, “Excuse me, that white Mercedes is mine and your truck’s blocking me in. Do you think you can move the truck to let me out?”

I looked around for the driver, didn’t see him, so I told the man (I’m still to hot and tired to make up a clever nickname) that we’d move as soon as we could.

He said nothing, and looked down at his iPhone as he walked a few feet away to wait in the shade  of a fake bus stop while we found the driver.

The driver came out, apologized to the man for the inconvenience. The man ignored him. We strapped down the carts and pulled the truck forward enough for him to back out. He kept his head down, looking at his phone as he walked to the car. He pulled out and then drove off.

Our driver waved and cheerfully warbled “You’re welcome!”

The man didn’t wave back, although I’m fairly certain he was no longer staring at his phone.

We strapped our carts down and returned to the location to run cable.

Call time: 7 am

Wrap time 7 pm

I sweated off my sunblock before lunch so I resemble a cooked lobster. Awesome.

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

Hot burritos available at call

Not breakfast. Not catering. Hot burritos.

From where? I have no idea.

For the next few days, I’m doing a favor job for a very, very good friend of mine.

The rate is less than I’d make were I to stay home and draw unemployment, but we do things like this for our friends when they need us, and let’s face it – any work is good since for some inexplicable reason, I do like my job.

Ultra-low budget productions are at the very least, hilarious and we don’t have a big enough lighting package to really get in trouble. In fact, we’re limited to what we can plug into the wall at the location, so the worst thing that can happen is… Wait. I do know better than to even type that.

Update tomorrow, since we can’t shoot much beyond dark. We only have four lights.



Filed under: Work, , , , ,

All I needed was two popsicles and a ride home before curfew.

When I was a kid, I never did any babysitting, so I’m not certain that headline joke even makes sense. Be patient – it’s still really smoky here.

So I guess that made yesterday my first babysitting job.

Not for kids, but for the EPK (electronic press kit – you know all those promo bits where the director and cast of the movie sit in a chair in front of a set piece and do sound bites about the movie “Well, working with Joe Blow was just incredible and I know we’re doing something extraordinary here blah blah blah blah” Those are shot on the sets while the movie or TV show is filming) crew that were shooting on the main stage of the TV show I’ve been working on periodically.

Normally, EPK crews are a giant pain in the ass to the shooting crew of any production. Sometimes they show up and want to use our equipment and personnel to light their shot – which is bad if we also happen to need that equipment and personnel to light the movie they’re supposed to be promoting. Most of the time, they bring their own lights but want to use a bunch of ours for set dressing, or they set up right in front of our carts while we’re trying to work – all of us have made at least one accidental appearances in an EPK (I can’t remember which one I got nailed in – all I remember is my sister calling me and telling me that she’d seen me walk through some talking head shot that was airing on some entertainment program, and that I really needed to comb my hair).

Yesterday’s EPK crew, however, brought their own truck with their own equipment and their own guys. They were, however, using our power (it would have been silly for them not to), so two of us had to stay and babysit them because, of course, they didn’t know where anything is on the stage (if they need power pulled out from its hiding place, it’s much easier and faster if they have someone to ask than if they have to search around for it for an hour and then end up calling the best boy and asking him) and we were there to help them and make sure everything got put back in it’s regular spot at the end of the night.

They were all super nice folks (some of whom I remember from the bad old days of low budget music videos) and the day went really well – they had three set ups which were interview areas in different parts of the main set, and although we had a bit of a scramble trying to get them set up in all three at the same time, once we did it was clear sailing and all we had to do was hang out in the gold room and periodically walk around the set to make sure they were okay and answer the occasional random query about where things (various types of cable, the bathrooms, the commissary for lunch) were located. When they were done, they wrapped out their stuff and we wrapped our cable and got the set back to the way it was supposed to be and then called it a day.

I didn’t get a popsicle, though.

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

Crosstown traffic and unexpected noises

Yesterday’s work day was at Raleigh Manhattan Beach Studios, which is in Manhattan Beach (bet you didn’t see that one coming). Manhattan Beach is literally all the way across town from me – and involves travel on two of the most notoriously traffic-clogged freeways in the region (the 10 and the 405) – and yet, by using the sneaky surface street route, I made in to work in about 50 minutes (if I’d stayed on the freeway, it would have taken about an hour and a half to get there). A 7 am call time helped as well – with an 8 or 9 am call time at RMBS, there’s simply no route that will get me there in under two hours.

Yesterday was also a new crew (only one of whom I’d met before) and a new stage – when anyone comes into a set that they’ve never worked before, there’s a bit of confusion – where things are stashed, the best route through the set with a big light on a stand (which is too tall to roll through a normal height door), where the distro boxes are (they’re usually tucked behind walls, and more than once I’ve run power to a box 80 feet away, only to find out that there was a box hidden 10 feet away), things like that.

Luckily, whoever designed the rig on this stage was thinking – everything was hidden from camera, but in plain site from behind the set walls, and the other folks working the set were very helpful (and nice) and the day went smoothly.

Except that I’m now on the AD’s* shitlist for making noise during a take. But it’s not my fault – it was the coffeemaker, I swear.

This particular coffee machine had a little dispenser for hot water off to the side, and since I’m still croaking like a frog, I drank hot tea all day in an attempt to soothe my throat. Since I’m usually pretty good about gauging how much time I have before they call ‘rolling’ and I have to be quiet, I ran the hot water right before they rolled, figuring my tea could steep during the take when I had to be quiet – except that this machine made a weird pumping noise right after it finished dispensing water – and right after they’d rung the bell (the bell rings once at the start of the take, and twice when they’ve cut – that way, if you’re not anywhere near an AD, you still know when they’re rolling because the bell is really loud).

Whoops. I set my tea down and walked away very quickly, but I still got busted.

The day’s main topic of conversation in between takes was the impending rain – according to the news, it’s supposed to rain today (of course I just went outside to take the trash to the curb and it’s sunny and gorgeous) and you’d think the world was ending or something. It’s astounding what we just learn to live with here in LA – earthquakes, crime, smog, traffic, Brett Ratner – and yet the threat of water throws us into a panic.
Thanks to the world’s fastest director, we shot just under six pages in nine hours, and I got off work just in time to get stuck in traffic on the way home – but it was a gorgeous afternoon, so I didn’t mind sitting still and looking at the pretty clouds in the blue sky.

Wish me luck parking at the lot today. Since I opted to sit here and write while drinking tea instead of getting over there at the crack of dawn, I’m going to have a hard time of it.

* AD = Assistant Director. On TV shows, they’re the ones roaming around trying to make sure everyone stays quiet during takes. On movies, it’s a PA (production assistant), but for some reason TV shows don’t use as many PAs as movies do.

Filed under: life in LA, long long drives, studio lots, Work, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Avast! A free movie!

I hope your Talk Like A Pirate Day was a good one – although I’ve started to lose my voice, so the “arrr” was a bit difficult for me. Which, since that seems to be the cornerstone of all things Pirate, means I was pretty much fucked for this year.

Oh, well – there’s always 2008.

Tonight was the crew screening for The Kingdom, so I decided to double up and see two movies (since I’m back to work for the rest of the week so I have to squeeze the fun in while I can).

In the afternoon, a friend and I went to see The Hunting Party. Run, don’t walk to see this one. It’s great. In fact, it was so good I may have to see it again.

Then, we went and had dinner and then to the Kingdom screening. The one thing they do at these screenings that makes me nuts is not allowing cell phones. I was waiting on tomorrow’s best boy to call and tell me what time to show up at work (which I consider vital information), so leaving the cell phone in the car would have been bad.

Listen, buddy – I’m the last person who’s going to pirate your movie with my cheesy fucking cell phone that takes two minutes of really crappy video. I ended up sticking the phone in my sock and the guard was so busy searching my huge rubbish-filled purse that he didn’t wand me.

Good thing I had the phone, too – the movie’s start was delayed 20 minutes because the director wanted to ‘say a few words’ beforehand (which mostly consisted of stories about how all the other audiences he’s screened the movie for just loved it, although he did thank the crew and mention that it was a ‘tough shoot’), and I was able, with the help of Verizon’s “let us rot your brain by letting you watch TV on your phone” feature to catch up on The Daily Show.

Turns out, my call time’s not until 7 am, so I was able to sit through the entire movie. I also didn’t see anyone I knew – probably because they were all working on something else, which is the down side of having your crew screening on a weeknight at 7ish, when most of us are still at work (the best time for crew screenings? Sunday afternoons or early evenings. We’ve gotten all our weekend errands done and, unless we’re working on one of those unholy Wednesday through Sunday shows, will actually be able to attend. Seriously – if you’re going to screen your movie and you want the working crew to actually be able to attend, do it on the weekend. It’s a complete fluke that I wasn’t working today and that my call time tomorrow was late enough that I could stay out until past 9pm).

I’m off to bed.

Filed under: humor, life in LA, movies, Non-Work, , , , , , , , ,

Merrily we grind to a halt.

The reason to have a second unit on any shoot is either to enable the main shooting unit to work faster by not having to do small shots or to pick up stuff that either didn’t get shot due to time, wasn’t up to par for some reason, or got changed after the fact. Thus, second unit shoots are sort of a potpourri of random stuff, and today, we had two different directors as we were picking up scenes from two different episodes (television shows have a different director each episode).

Our first item up was a three-and-a-half page scene with four actors, and our first director bashed the thing out in five hours – that’s FAST. Normally, a scene that long would take most of a day (and the more actors the longer it takes because one needs to shoot the scene from a greater number of perspectives, called “coverage”. A scene with four actors will take longer than a scene with two actors, even if those actors are, say, standing around a table having a conversation), so of course we all got our hopes up that we’d continue at that pace and perhaps have, if not a short day, at least not a super long one.

Then, we switched directors.

The second director wasn’t nearly as quick as the first one – in fact, when the first unit guys came in (much later in the day) and found out who was directing the second half of our day, they just rolled their eyes and muttered something cryptic about it being a long one for us.

Apparently, this director is just – slow. Normally when things move very slowly, the reason is pretty obvious – complicated blocking (the actors movements around the set is the scene’s blocking), stunts, acts of various gods, whatever.

This director was just moving at the speed of molasses on a cold morning. Well, that, and doing a number of takes which would have horrified even David Fincher.

After the first guy who was so fast, that was just mean.

Really, though, it wasn’t that bad – I was on the dimmer board and since the board operator sits down all day I didn’t have to worry about my feet hurting, and this particular crew are a really great bunch of guys who are always fun to work with, so it was a good day.

Call time: 7 am

Wrap time: 9:30 pm

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

Just don’t call it a boat

Since the bulk of my nautical experience has been throwing up over the side of the Channel ferry and watching movies where a shitload of people drown, I learned a lot yesterday. Mostly, I learned what not to call things on a boat – whoops, I mean ship.

We were putting a rig in on a WW2 era merchant ship called the SS Lane Victory in San Pedro, and right off the bat I committed a gaffe by calling it a boat – and then proceeded to make an even bigger ass of myself by not being able to remember which side was port and which was starboard (don’t even get me started on forward and aft – I’m still a little shaky on which way the boat was facing. At least twice yesterday, I was unable to figure out where my boat lingo talking boss was and had to walk around in circles on the deck until I could see him. Luckily, my boss yesterday is a really terrific guy and tried his best to help me get the nautical terms through my thick skull so the next time I’m on the ship there will be less snickering).

The ship’s staff- who we’d nicknamed “The Old Salts” (who were actually not very salty at all. They were a terrific bunch of guys who were really interesting and I’m bummed that I didn’t have enough free time to talk to them. Guess I’ll have to go back on my own time) were there to help us (and were very kind about not making fun of our comparatively rudimentary knot-tying skills) and quickly winched all our cable and lights onto the ship using the 60+ year old equipment. There was no fumbling, no shouting, no confusion – they just whipped that stuff up onto the ship’s deck quicker than we could bring it to them – guess they’ve had a lot of practice.

Luckily, I remembered my knee brace, as there was really no direct route to any where on the ship, and there was a lot of ladder climbing (and stairways that may as well have been ladders and a really steep gangplank that may as well have been a ladder) all day. By the end of the day, both my legs were aching like I’d just had a strenuous workout at the gym.

The day’s big stroke of luck was my not having to climb the masts to put lights up at the top – my boss did it. Good thing too – although I’m not really afraid of heights, I do draw the line at climbing a 60+ year old metal ladder up the side of a mast on a floating ship. Of course, one of the Old Salts does it every day barefoot while smoking a cigarette (and he’s almost twice my age and in better shape than I’ll ever be in even if I were to take a year off work and do nothing but work out all day every day).

The first part of the day was really hot, but towards the end of the day it cooled off and there was a really beautiful sunset and a wonderful breeze.

The day’s really big news came from one of the Old Salts – apparently, the US Coast Guard thinks film crews are security risk and has advised the folks running the Lane Victory (and other similar locations) to no longer allow film shoots (obviously, because we’re dirty America-haters and can’t be trusted on locations. Either that or it’s because we don’t pick up after ourselves).

Really, now – terrorist plotting after work is way too much effort. When I got home last night I couldn’t even muster up the energy to make a sandwich.

At the end of the day, the best boy asked me to come back with the shooting unit that’s working today, but I’d already been booked on another show (which is good, but I hate saying no because I’m always afraid they’ll give up on me and not call me again) for tonight.

I left my house at 7:30 am, and just barely made my 9 am call, right under the Vincent Thomas Bridge.

We were released at 9:40 pm, and I got home at 10:15 pm.

My job tonight will give me three work days out of a four day week.

Not bad.

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

June 2023

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