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, April 1, 2012

Enough is Enough

The straw that breaks the camel's back...

The desire to meddle on the part of the corporate lawyers, producers, and studio suits -- people who don't have the slightest understanding of the difficulties we who work below-the-line face doing our jobs on set every single day -- knows no bounds.

We've long had to deal with the dictates of OSHA, which seems to operate under the assumption that every person who works with their hands is some kind of brain-damaged Morlock incapable of making intelligent decisions regarding his/her personal safety on the job -- thus the six-inch long, fine-print list of directions for use on the side of ladders used on sets throughout the film and television industry.

As if anybody has the time, inclination, or need to read such directions before climbing up a goddamned ladder...

Still, those OSHA warnings are a mere annoyance. Vastly more intrusive and onerous are the Industry Safety Regulations laid down in a series of mandatory classes designed first and foremost as a firewall to protect the deep pockets of the corporate-owned studios and their subsidiaries from any liability due to lawsuits by workers injured on the job. Having supposedly informed us all how to be safe on set via these classes -- which we had to attend or be denied the opportunity to work -- it is now officially each individual's fault if he-or-she falls off a ladder, out of a man-lift, or finds some way to stick his/her tongue inside a hot spider box.

Actually, the latter really would be the fault of the individual involved. We can't blame the producers for everything.

But the latest mandate is just too much: a "safety helmet" all juicers will be required to wear while working with live electricity on set. Studio reps supplied the prototype (the so-called "Set Lighting Safety Helmet," or SLSH, pictured in the photo above) for my crew to try out as we rig, light, and shoot a television pilot. This thing is supposed to protect us from EMF emissions, arc flash due to hooking up hot, and the pulse of gamma radiation generated when igniting high voltage HMI lamps, among other things. One of the studio suits even claimed it would prevent us from suffering concussions in the event of a fall. When I asked how the hell we were supposed to climb a ladder -- much less do any actual work up there -- while wearing this ludicrously huge helmet, he just smiled. The final production model will be much smaller and lighter, he said: "About twice the size of an NFL football helmet, and it won't weigh more than ten pounds, max."

In other words, considerably larger than a basketball and as heavy as a big sack of flour. Swell -- I already wear a belt laden with the tools of my trade all day long, and now I'm supposed to wear a giant electronic safety helmet? I tried the damned thing on, and it's like being strapped into one of those old-fashioned deep sea diving rigs from World War II. You can't actually see out of it, of course -- that's one of the safety features, designed to protect a juicer's eyes from retinal damage due to sparks and electric arcing -- but tiny digital cameras on all four sides feed into a high definition 3-D screen inside the helmet to provide a full 360 degree view.

"This will enable you to see around and behind you at all times while wearing the helmet," the studio rep said, "and with the built-in radio, you'll never have to carry a walkie-talkie again."

Granted, I hate wearing a walkie-talkie, but trading ten ounces from my belt for ten pounds on my head doesn't sound like progress to me.

The studio rep brushed me off when I commented that anybody who takes a fall while wearing this stupid thing is likely to get his/her neck broken. "Our testing thus far indicates that shouldn't be a problem."

Hmmm... a sentence laden with qualifiers like "thus far" and "shouldn't" -- why am I not reassured?

This is unbelievable.

They want us to field-test two of these helmets on set for the next three weeks, then report back on how they might be improved for general -- and mandatory -- use at some point in the not-too-distant future. We're not the only ones, either. According to the studio rep, crews all over town are being offered the opportunity to provide feedback during pilot season.

No need to wait -- I've got some feedback for these clowns right now: throw this ridiculous piece of Rube Goldbergian junk into the LA river and run away fast, before some Good Citizen calls the cops.

Our dimmer operator, a savvy young techno-geek, tried it on and posed for the photo. He thinks it's pretty cool, but only because he won't have to wear the damned thing while sitting behind his dimmer console. Gaffers won't suffer this burden either, but Best Boys and juicers -- the grunts of set lighting who already take the brunt of the heavy lifting all day long -- will soon have to shoulder this new and utterly absurd burden just to keep our jobs.

Count me out. Enough is enough, and this is too goddamned much. If these fools think I'll wear something like this on set, they're out of their frikkin' minds. It's been a good thirty-five years, but no more. I'm done.

So long, Hollywood. I'll see you in my dreams...

To view a schematic and complete technical specs of the new Set Lighting Safety Helmet, click here.


A.J. said...

Do they make them in girl sizes?

Ed (sloweddi) said...

Yes, but... you are required to attend 3 extra safety classes, they only come in one color (pink) and it's not the "pretty" one, it will cost you $12 more, and when you go to supply to get the one they tell you is waiting for you some nimrod will say they can't find it and besides they only have womanz sizes not girls :-)

Happy April

Nathan said...

You think you've got it bad. They're issuing Safety Underwear for the Locations Department. Not only are they highly uncomfortable, they're truly unbecoming!

local16 said...

I feel like this is an april fools practical joke of some sort...

JD said...

Actually, a bump cap and safety glasses while working aloft aren't a bad idea. Most approved safety eyewear filter over 90% of UV.

Michael Taylor said...

AJ --

Sloweddi's right -- pink only, and not in your size...

Ed --

What you said.

Nathan --

Ouch, babe -- I feel your pain.

Local 16 --

If you click the link in italics at the very bottom of the page, the April Fools nature of this post will become apparent. This blog is all about the truth of life below the line, but given that April 1 finally fell on a Sunday -- and having had the photo on hand for a year or so -- I figured I'd venture out on the thin ice of attempted humor.

But as is glaringly apparent, there's a reason I'm not a comedy writer...

The head gear is actually one of the many "Cronie-cones" our DP loves to put in front of his back-cross lights on a sit-com set. While wrapping a show last year, the dimmer op put one on his head and I snapped the photo. It'll be a long time before April 1 falls on a Sunday again, so rest easy -- no more jokes here in the foreseeable future.

JD --

I wear a baseball cap, often turned backwards, while working in a lift up in the pipes to cushion the occasional (and inevitable) head-bangs. But that's as far as I'm willing to go -- a hard hat is out of the question. No way will I wear one of those unless such use becomes mandatory... and hopefully I'll be done with all this by the time that dark and dismal day arrives.

As for UV glasses -- there's rarely any source of UV on a sit-com stage, and most such sources (HMI lamps and Xenons) are shielded to protect people's eyes. I don't see much reason to wear UV eye protection in the normal course of juicing on any show, much less a multi-camera production.