Life in Hollywood, below-the-line

Life in Hollywood, below-the-line
Work gloves at the end of the 2006/2007 television season (photo by Richard Blair)

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Another Monday

Mind if I play through?

“They call it stormy Monday, but Tuesday’s just as bad...”

Stormy Monday, by T-Bone Walker*

Week Two brought an end to the pre-dawn calls, partly thanks to our ever-morphing schedule, but mostly due to the return of Daylight Savings Time. Although my alarm clock went off only thirty minutes later than last week, half an hour more sleep makes a big difference. Traffic was heavier and more frantic, but hadn't yet congealed into the peristaltic gridlock of morning rush hour, and the bright sky overhead opened up the surroundings as I cruised east on Third St. towards downtown LA. That was mostly a good thing, but a disturbing vision greeted me as I waited for a red light at the southern cusp of the Wilshire Country Club: there on the putting green of the Seventh Hole stood two figures clad head-to-toe in white Haz-Mat suits, complete with gas-mask respirators. One carried the flag away from the hole while the other wrangled something off a golf cart. For a moment it looked like a bizarre scene from some black comedy set in the (hopefully) distant future -- two well-protected duffers playing a round of golf in the urban dystopia of post-apocalyptic Los Angeles.

They were just carpet-bombing the turf with toxic pesticides and fertilizers, of course, keeping the emerald-green grass as smooth as a billiard table for the wealthy members of the Wilshire Country Club, but the image was indeed a harbinger of the week to come – a symbolic warning that no matter how bad things are, they can always get worse.

Monday was another rig day. Rather than work on stage, our task du jour was to put in a location rig on the ground floor of the studio’s office building complex. That meant a reunion with my old friends 4/0, 2/0, and the 76 pounds-per-braided-roll horror of five-wire banded cable, which together would power a pair of LTM 18K’s, a 12K HMI Par, four 4K Pars and four 1200 pars. A fat tungsten package would arrive later to be rigged in two interior locations, but that was for another day. Given that this studio supplies no equipment whatsoever – instead trucking in all necessary gear from a rental house in the Valley - we would thus enjoy none of the usual benefits of working at a studio while suffering all the disadvantages of working on location.

Such a deal. Leave it to the wizards at Disney to create this kind of magic... but after last week’s march through the Valley of Cable-Rate Death, it's no surprise.

First up was the heavy stuff: a pair of a five piece 4/0 runs from the two gennies on opposite sides of the building. Just as most mothers eventually forget the pain of childbirth (or so I’m told...), the sheer, dead, vertebrae-crushing weight of a hundred foot roll of 4/0 had slipped my mind since I’d last wrangled the stuff, which made for a jarring re-introduction to the reality of location rigging. Fortunately, the Best Boy had fortified our crew with several strong young studs fresh off the rigging farm, every one of them less than half my age and raring to go. I did my best to keep up, but it was those kids who did the truly heavy lifting.

I suffered through another They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? flashback for a moment, and had to remind myself that it's all in the great scheme of things -- I’ve hauled my share of back-breaking cable over the decades, and now it’s their turn. Still, it's humbling to face the fact that I can no longer do what used to be routine.

There's no doubt about it -- getting old is a bitch.

Once the cable and distro were in place, we assembled the entire lighting package – mounting every lamp on its stand, then hooking up the ballasts and running out the head feeders. When that was done, we split up to deal with the mountain of detail required to get all three sets ready for an early morning call the following day, when we would become the first-unit shooting crew while the core crew of this show rigged sets for us. Apparently the two crews will alternate rig-and-shoot days until this pig is all dressed up in a mini-skirt, pumps, and lipstick, then sent out on the street to make Pimp-Daddy Disney some money.

I got the job of powering twelve Par 64 cans on two lighting trees, along with eighteen LED Blasters for a fashion show runway scene, circuiting everything back through the dimmer to give the gaffer and DP total control. The par cans weren’t so bad - requiring nothing more than stingers, mason line, cube taps, and patience – but powering the LED Blaster units was a real pain in the ass. Well, knees and back, actually. Mounted low along the runway, the Blasters were just eighteen inches off the floor, each with its own much-too-long control cable to be run underneath the runway back to the proper jack in one of two electronic control units. Before hooking them up, each cable had to be taped and numbered at both ends to facilitate trouble-shooting in case something went wrong.

Thoroughness counts when putting in any kind of rig. If a problem were to crop up with the Blasters (or any of the other lamps), all that labeling would allow the trouble to be diagnosed and rectified much faster – and in a business where time is money (especially when cursed with an excitable, trigger-happy little garden-gnome of a director who just wants to shoot-shoot-shoot when not yelling ”What the fuck are we waiting for?”), avoiding or minimizing down-time is crucial. The idea is to do the rig right and thus ensure there will be no problems when filming, which is why I sat there with white gaffer’s tape and a Sharpie, labeling every one of those eighteen long, skinny cables – a tedious but essential step before tackling the infinitely more painful task of running each cable from its Blaster head back to the controller, a hands-and-knees job the whole way.

The labeling was easy, but running those cables was no fun at all. Hands-and-knees work gets old in a hurry, and finishing this job took a while. By the time it was done, I felt a hundred and fifty years old -- stiff, sore, and hurting everywhere. Our work day over at long last, I washed up and limped back to my car staring at a decidedly unwelcome reality: as location rigs go, this one was minimal, but it still kicked my ass all the way around the block and back again. Not even getting paid full union scale could bring back the physicality and endurance I need to work a location like this, and full scale will remain a fantasy so long as I’m slaving for Disney.

It was a tough end to a tough day, and a rocky beginning to what promised to be another hard week. That's the way it's been in this new year thus far -- every week hard and harder. But as I inched homeward through the molasses of evening rush-hour traffic, another realization settled in: maybe I can’t keep up with the young studs slinging cable on location anymore, but there are other ways to remain valuable and hang on to my spot with the crew. So long as I can still do all the other work that must be done – and there's a ton of it - I should be able to earn my keep. It’s a matter of going with the flow, bending to the inevitable, and making it work for me as much as possible.

That’s important, because I intend – and need - to keep working for a while.

So another Monday has come and gone. Now it’s on to Tuesday...

* There are dozens of great versions of this blues classic, but you'd be hard pressed to find a better cover than this one by the late, great Albert King...


maaarc said...

What is the mason line used for?

Michael Taylor said...

We used black mason line to tie the stingers tight to the lighting trees -- both of which were on camera.

A.J. said...

"...maybe I can’t keep up with the young studs slinging cable on location anymore, but there are other ways to remain valuable and hang on to my spot with the crew."

That's exactly how I often feel. And I'm one of the "young" ones. :)