Rig to Wrap
"They call it Stormy Monday, but Tuesday's just as bad…"
Stormy Monday, by the late, great T-Bone Walker
It was a Monday, all right -- one of those ugly first days of the week that comes wrapped in barbed wire, when every seemingly straightforward task veers off track into a bloody slog through the logistical underbrush.
I haven't had to work a pilot start-to-finish for four years now, which was long enough to forget just how challenging the process really is. Not all pilots go that way, of course -- the six sweet-and-easy days I put in on another pilot last month were proof of that -- but those were exceptions to the rule. Wading through deep, shifting sands is standard operating procedure during pilot session, where the constant evolution from first draft all the way through final edit is a process of endless change. Some of those changes are easier to deal with than others. While it's simple enough for the writers to cut or add a few lines, or a director to adjust the blocking of a scene, adapting to those changes often means a lot of hard, physical work for the lighting crew.
That's the nature of the job, but if solving the many problems required to light (and re-light) a show can be satisfying, that doesn't mean this was one of those a whistle-while-you-work Mondays.
Far from it.
My personal bete noir turned out to be the front row -- 90 feet of two-inch steel pipe running the entire distance above and in front of the audience grandstand. From that pipe were hung the big flat-screen monitors and speakers that will allow the audience to see and hear what the cameras and microphones record, but since this was a sketch comedy pilot rather than a normal sit-com, we added a dozen 1000 watt par lamps and six 2000 watt soft-lights -- the former to add a few spots of color to the scene, and latter to illuminate the audience, who would be part of the show.
I hung the pars and soft lights last week, but was called off to do something else, so one of my fellow juicers ran the circuits to power them... but Monday brought changes. It was decided that a few shots of the audience using a camera mounted on a Techno-Jib would spice up the show, but since the center section of the front row pipe was too low to allow that, so grips would have to raise a thirty foot section by six feet -- which meant I had to free up many of those carefully rigged power cables. That was no big deal, but another decision from on high turned this ordinary Monday stormy. The pars had been gelled and circuited with three colors so that each color could operate independent of the others -- but now we were to shift to two different alternating colors, which meant re-circuiting the entire rig, and with the juicer who did the original rig running power up high in the catwalks, I was saddled with this unhappy task. It wouldn't have been so bad if I'd had two hours of uninterrupted and unimpeded access to the pipe, but other more pressing issues kept arising, and I was repeatedly pulled off away to take care of something else.
So it went, all day long. I'd get back to that cursed pipe for twenty minutes or so -- five of which were squandered while I tried to remember what I'd already done and what remained -- before I'd have to leave to help somebody else with a more important job. Other than the constant interruptions, two things made the pipe job such a bitch. The juicer who circuited those lamps is a very meticulous guy who did a really great job, with all the power cables tied neatly and tightly to the pipe, which is exactly the kind of job you want when rigging for a full season run of twenty shows -- but a pilot is just one show shot over three days, after which it's all torn down. Standard practice on a pilot is "rig to wrap," meaning do every job safely, but quick and dirty, because there's so much to be done and not a lot of time to do it all.
Rather than follow this first rule of pilot season, my fellow juicer had tied every cable and taped every connection to survive a 9.0 earthquake -- there was no slack at all -- which left me no choice but to pull most of his beautiful rig apart and start all over again. A few cables could remain, but even those had to be traced down, re-marked, then patched into new circuits.
The second problem was that the audience seating below the center section of pipe had been enlarged to make the most of the Techno-Jib shots, which meant the only way I could get to that part of the pipe (to change the gels and re-rig all the cables) was to take my lift up, fully extend the "porch" over the added seating, then lean out as far as humanly possible, at which point I could just barely reach the pipe, lights, and cables. Not only was this difficult, painful, and somewhat dangerous (it's not all that hard to fall out of a lift in those circumstances), but it made for an extremely slow and tedious process.
And that's how series of seemingly innocent creative decisions on the part of several different departments can combine to turn a relatively simple task into an all-day logistical nightmare -- and then some. Much to my frustration, the constant interruptions prevented me from finishing the job by the time wrap was called late Monday night, which meant I was right back at it again first thing Tuesday, still stiff and sore from the previous day's isometric exertions.
By then I'd abandoned the scissor-lift in favor of working atop an eight step ladder in the grandstand, which -- thanks to the ladder having to be placed right at the lip of a two foot drop-off amid the audience seating -- was no less difficult or dangerous, but at least it kept that big lift off the main set, where it would have been in the way of everybody else.
Once this onerous job was finally done, I climbed down off that ladder and was immediately assigned another task, because such is the nature of the pilot season beast -- pushing the big rock up the steep hill, all the way to the top.
I'll be glad when this one's over…
Next: Pilot Season, Part Five