It was just one of those days. The fifteenth day of my last real job in Hollywood began with a full elbow-flapping
scramble to power up eight new wall sconces and table lamps the set-dec
crew had added to a swing set sometime after we'd wrapped the night before. We discovered this
on our own, of course, since -- as usual -- the Art Dept didn't bother
to give us a heads-up... but three of us got after it and had everything
burning fairly quickly, at which point we settled in for the usual watchful-waiting tedium of grinding out the day's work.
All in all, business as usual.
So it went for the next five hours or so. But with just fifteen minutes before we broke for lunch, the tide turned rather decisively. We'd just finished
a scene in one set and were moving to the next, the floor of which had
been carefully painted with a big red-on-white logo earlier in the
morning, then cordoned off with a symbolic barrier of blue paper tape and paint cans to prevent anyone from walking on it. I'd already maneuvered around that tape barrier half a dozen times during the morning, taking care not to step anywhere near those paint cans.
That's when I noticed a problem with our lights. We'd laboriously rigged
thirty-five two-foot Kino Flo tubes in that set the previous week, taping every single power cable up and out of sight behind the set-pieces. I figured the tape wouldn't hold, but given the extremely tight quarters (thanks so very fucking much, Mr. Art Director and Set Designer), there was no other way to secure those cables up and out of the cameras view. I'd had to re-tape several cables in the days since, but here were two more of the goddamned things drooping down into the set and on camera. Grabbing a roll of white tape, I walked straight towards the problem with a laser focus, determined to fix it right now, suddenly oblivious to that tape barrier... at which point all Hell broke loose.
It was a quiet sort of Hell audible only to me. I looked down in confusion to see a tsunami of bright blue paint spilling on my pant legs, boots, and all over that carefully painted red logo and the clean white floor. I tried to back out of this rapidly metastasizing mess, but the tape stuck to my pant legs and pulled the rest of the paint cans over, adding their contents to the multi-colored disaster.
It was only then that I fully comprehended what had just happened.
Mortified, I looked up and saw that only one person on the crew had witnessed my blundering snowshoe act: one of the grips, who stood there staring at me with a look of better-you-than-me pity in his eyes. I looked around for the First AD, but he was nowhere in sight, so grabbed a roll of paper towels from crafty and beat a hasty retreat to the nearest bathroom.
My cleanup of pants and boots was neither rapid nor particularly successful -- the paint dried quickly, and much of it just wouldn't come off. As I scrubbed away, it occurred to me that I really should have notified somebody about this -- the standby painter, at least -- but that was water under the bridge at this point, so I just kept scrubbing. Besides, somebody had surely discovered the disaster by now and raised the alarm.
I did my best, then went back on stage and found the standby painter down on his knees touching up that big red logo. Not a trace of blue paint remained, which seemed utterly miraculous to me. I confessed my sin to him and offered a profuse apology, but he just laughed it off. With the crew at lunch for a full hour, his touch-up job had time to dry, so no harm, no foul.*
This was extremely gracious of him, but I still felt like a goddamned idiot.
We shot that scene after lunch with nobody any the wiser, then moved on to the other swing set with all those newly-added practicals. Once the cameras moved on to another again, I unplugged all the lamp cords powering those fixtures, and started wrapping them. Every cord but one slithered right through the mouse-hole with no problem, but the last cord refused to cooperate. Since it was no longer connected to live power, I pulled out my dykes and cut the line... which is when a bright blue spark erupted between those small steel jaws, accompanied by a loud "pop!"
Fuck me. Having apparently neglected to disconnect that line after all, I'd just cut a hot line, offering yet more evidence that my brain simply wasn't working properly today.
Given that I was wearing gloves and using insulated dykes, I didn't get shocked, so the only damage was a small hole in the jaws of those dykes, where 120 volts of AC power had instantly vaporized the steel. But again, I felt like an idiot. I'd made two colossally stupid mistakes in less than four hours -- the kind of blunders I hadn't made in the past thirty years.
It was just that kind of day.
I managed to get through the rest of it without falling off a ladder, dropping a light, or burning the stage down, then limped home feeling more humiliated than tired -- but very tired nevertheless. Come 3 A.M., I understood why, awakening with what felt like a Gila Monster crawling down my throat. Illness had come to stay for a while.
I tossed and turned for the next two hours, unable to sleep while trying to decide whether to go to work anyway and suffer through the rest of the week to make a decent paycheck -- thus exposing the rest of my crew to whatever crud had afflicted me -- or call in sick in the hopes of recovering sufficiently to at least salvage the final week of this show?
Although I had no desire to end my last real job in Hollywood with a bang, neither did I want to close my career whimpering from the sick bed. All my free-lance instincts told me to power on through this gig, then say goodbye and walk into whatever awaits in the New Year knowing that I'd finished strong, head high. But it's not so easy to hold your head up when sick, and I might just as easily wind up even sicker and unable to work at all. Facing a no-win situation, the Greater Good had to factor in to choosing between the lesser of two evils -- and there was no way I could justify passing this illness to my fellow crew members.
It was just another iteration of the free-lancer's eternal dilemma.
So I opted for discretion rather than misplaced valor, giving up the rest of this week so that I might work the next. I didn't want to be Typhoid Mike, ruining the rest of my crew's Christmas by getting them sick too. Besides, I really wasn't in any shape to do real work... so I texted the Gaffer to replace me, then stayed home to rest and recover for the next four days, with a roll-of-the-dice promise to return the following Monday at the start of what promised to be a very long, ass-kicking six day week.
Would I make it?
I didn't know, but was determined to try.
*Granted, I was an idiot for blundering through that flimsy barrier like Godzilla marching through Tokyo, but one might reasonably question the wisdom of the painters using paint cans with lids that weren't fully secured to anchor their Maginot Line of blue paper tape. I'll bet this painting crew won't do that again...