Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

Every day at work is sometimes happy.

Yesterday afternoon, as I was sitting at home contemplating a visit to the gym, I got a last minute call from a friend who needed four people to come in and swap out fluorescent tubes in a set they’d shot that day (on the unused 10th floor of the LA Times building downtown).

When we swap fluorescent tubes, we work in teams of two – one person ‘up’ and one person ‘down’. The ‘up’ person sets up a ladder under the fixture, climbs up and pries open the fixture (which can take some work – those fixtures are not designed to be easily opened), takes out the tubes (in this case, the daylight balanced tubes that were used by the shooting crew), and hands them to the person on the ground, who takes them and hands off the tubes to be installed. Unless we start doing something really fancy (like moving fixtures or adding tubes to the existing fixtures) or have particularly stubborn fixtures this doesn’t take very long, so I figured I’d be out of there in five or six hours.

Of course, as we were finishing up, the rigging gaffer called and asked if we could go over and help out the regular riggers who desperately needed help wrapping out a set, since they were all running around trying to prep a location which was sprung on them at the last minute.

This particular show is notorious for last minute locations – for us, this means that after the best boy and rigging gaffer sit down with the schedule and figure out how many people they need on which days and how much additional equipment they’ll have to order, when they show up for work on any given morning and look at the call sheet, there’s a location in there that was never mentioned to them which they have to scramble to get ready, leaving them horribly shorthanded.

Normally, they’d just work on the next set and leave the stuff on the old one for a wrap crew to pick up the next day, but this production won’t let them do that – they don’t want to pay for the additional riggers or the two security guards to sit and watch the equipment all night, hence the scramble to get the set wrapped while they were still trying to rig the last location of the night (which had also been sprung on them last minute).

Aside from the usual cluster fuck, the really noteworthy thing about the day was the smell.

We were shooting in an industrial area about a mile away from the Clougherty Packing plant – also known as Farmer John’s.

For those of you not in Los Angeles, Farmer John’s is a locally produced sausage – I don’t mean the fancy ‘artisan’ sausage with herbs and chopped up fruit, either. I mean old-school grease-bomb breakfast sausage made in a walled plant in Vernon (an industrial area filled with century-old warehouses, decrepit train tracks and cockroaches the size of a famous-for-being-famous socialite’s tiny purse dog).

The interesting thing about the Farmer John factory is the wall around it. The wall surrounding the factory has been decorated with murals of happy, frolicking pigs, sunshine, and fluffy clouds. I think there’s the obligatory American flag and a soaring eagle, too.

What goes on inside (if the walls are to be believed), is that the cute little piggies march off joyfully (in tune to a happy song) into some sort of Willy Wonka-esque sausage machine and everyone lives happily ever after.

Or something.

All I know is that as we were working, about every half an hour the worst smell I could ever have possibly imagined would waft over the area. It smelled like rotten dog food on a hot summer afternoon.

No, that’s not true. It smelled much, much worse than rotten dog food on a hot summer afternoon. It smelled so bad I think I saw a cockroach faint.

The entire crew would just stop whatever we were doing and grimace until the stench abated.

None of us even wanted to begin to speculate about what, exactly, was going on inside Farmer John’s to cause the smell, and when craft service set out a tray of tacos filled with ground meat for dinner, most of us opted for the salad instead.

As soon as I got home I got in the shower and scrubbed myself raw in an effort to get the smell off.

I know it’s my imagination, but I can still smell it today.

Filed under: hazardous, locations, toxic waste, up all night, Work, , , , , , , , , , ,

September 2019
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