Season Four, Day Five
It's never easy…
(Photo by Andre Williams)
The first few days of getting any show up and running are very physical. Arising to the blare of an alarm clock before 5 a.m. is the worst of it for me, but once on stage there's a real satisfaction in working at a steady pace, hanging and powering the lamps while joking and laughing with the rest of the crew. This lighting crew hadn't worked together in more than four months, so we had some catching up to do.
Not everybody is back, of course. A certain degree of turnover from one season to the next is the norm in Hollywood, for any number of reasons. One or two people -- having apparently offended The Powers That Be in some way last season -- weren't asked to come back, while others landed new shows since we wrapped back in April and are no longer available. We have new set dressing and construction crews this season, along with a new production designer and camera coordinator. A young woman who performed some mysterious tasks in the office the last two seasons is gone, having managed to land a Writer's Assistant gig on another show. She was a lot of fun, and her big smile will be missed, but she wants to write for a show someday, and one path to a chair in the Writer's Room is an assistant's job. We send her a collective Hollywood air-kiss and wish her well.
But for the most part, the crew from Season 3B (don't ask…) is back for Season Four.
The pleasant on-set vibe ended on Day Five.* We started at 6:00 a.m. sharp and went at it hammer-and-tongs with a palpable sense of urgency. Problems with the dimmer console (which crashed five times on Day Four) prevented our OCDP from being able to get a jump on the lighting, so he was all cranked up on Day Five. The pipe grid was jammed with lamps, cable, and grip equipment by then, which meant much of the work had to be done from ladders rather than man-lifts... and working off the very top of a wobbly single-sided 12 step ladder is a draining endeavor.
And of course, very much against The Rules.
Hanging lamps is enough work in a man-lift, but using a ladder requires climbing to the top step carrying a heavy steel stirrup hanger, a lamp, and a safety cable. The stirrup hanger bolts onto the pipe grid, the lamp bolts onto the stirrup hanger, and the safety cable is then installed to make sure the lamp won't fall on an actor's head if something unexpected happens. Then the power cable is tossed up and over the pipes to an open circuit at the nearest breakout. Once the lamp has been labeled with the proper circuit number using white gaffer's tape and a magic marker, it must be roughly aimed in full-flood mode with the switch on so the dimmer operator can bring it up whenever the DP or gaffer want. Then you climb back down the ladder, move it, and repeat the process until all the lamps are up or somebody calls "wrap." That ever-more crowded pipe grid means that much of the remaining work has to be done while in a very precarious position, sometimes standing on one leg and leaning out into space while hanging onto the pipe with one hand to keep from falling.
It's a bit like doing a series of intense isometric exercises all day long, each progressively more difficult than the last, and that just wears me out.
Our dimmer problems were compounded by a defective opto-splitter (a device that distributes DMX control cable to the 40-odd LED heads we're using again this year), which sank us down to the wheel hubs in soft, deep sand. And as tensions mounted, the proverbial shit began its inevitable roll downhill.
At a certain point in every job, there comes a grim moment when I'm tired, sweaty, frustrated, and faced with a situation that seems all but impossible. Suddenly in the grip of serious grumpitude, the words "I can't do this one more fucking day" echo through my head. That moment arrived deep into the afternoon of Day Five, when the rising tide of obstacles to getting the job done pushed me to my personal limit -- and right then I felt like Gulliver tied down by a thousand tiny Lilliputian ropes.
Something similar doubtless happens to all my fellow juicers and grips from time to time, and I suppose we each have our own ways of dealing with these internal melt-downs. I paused to vent for thirty seconds or so, cursing as quietly but vehemently as possible, then took a deep breath and went back to work. That's the only way I know to get through such a frustrating, dispiriting situation… and gradually, bit by bruising bit, I crawled out of that dark existential hole back into the light.
Okay, so maybe I won't retire today after all...
With Day Five behind us, the worst was past. If Day Six was no picnic, at least the dimmer was finally working properly and the lighting looked reasonably good. There's much more to do before we shoot our first show, of course -- dozens of niggling little details to be dealt with -- but what lies ahead will be a cakewalk compared to Day Five.
It helped that the schedule shifted into show-mode two days later. Instead of rising before the crack of dawn, we can now sleep in to a civilized hour before heading to work in the early afternoon. We'll toil late into the nights, of course, but that's the deal on a multi-camera show. Besides, the sun doesn't shine, the wind doesn't blow, and the rain doesn't fall on stage unless it's in the script, and the only "day" or "night" are those we create with lighting.
And so with fingers crossed -- and a brand new pair of gloves -- we're on our way…
* It's also the day one of my fellow juicers snapped that picture at the top.