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, September 13, 2015

I'll Be Back...

Once more into the breach on the subject of the Five Pecker Billygoat…

In response to a recent post, a reader asked why I would choose to use a 100 amp Billygoat -- with its five non-fused, un-breakered edison plugs -- over a 100 amp Lunch Box, which has five circuits (with two plugs each) protected by circuit breakers.

The simple answer is, I wouldn't -- I prefer to use a Lunch Box most of the time. But as a mere juicer on the crew, I have to work with what's on hand. The decisions as to what equipment we use comes from higher up the departmental food chain, and are subject to budgetary, time, and availability issues.
We often make do with what we've got on set, and so long as the gaffer isn't asking me me to power five 2Ks through a Billy Goat, it's no big deal.

In some circumstances -- as pictured above -- a Billygoat is faster and easier to rig than the heavier, bulkier Lunch Box. This one is being used to power five 1K par lights hung on a pipe that serve as the front bounce-fill for one of our swing sets.  The paper load of fifty amps (ten per plug) is easily handled by the Billygoat, so that's what we used.  In a business where time is money -- and swing sets come and go -- you do what works and move on to the next task.

As summer morphs into fall -- although it's still hotter than the proverbial hinges of Hell in LA -- I'm taking a couple of weeks off from the Blood, Sweat and Tedium of my Hollywood life.  

And so is the blog.

We'll be back...

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Condor Duty

A juicer's view from the condor bucket 80 feet straight up...
                                    (Photo by Kevin Brown)

I had a chance to go up in a condor recently (an articulating lift something like this) for my current show, and the experience reminded me of many a past night spent up in the bucket. There's something, well, elevating -- in every sense of the word -- about rising up into the night sky. It was fun, but that's mostly because I didn't have to go over thirty feet, and the lift was a brand new, with solid hydraulics. 

But once I get up over forty feet, it's not so much fun anymore.

The fear of falling is one of our most primal terrors, and for good reason. Early humans may have lived in the trees before descending to walk upright on land, but thin air remains the natural realm of birds, not people. Before modern medicine, even a relatively short fall could injure one of our early hominid ancestors to the point where he or she could no longer keep up with their hunter-gatherer tribe, or remain one step ahead of the big, hungry predators of the time. Modern technology has made flight a routine experience for us, and modern medicine can indeed work wonders, but we still have a healthy fear of falling. 

Working on set as a juicer or grip requires dealing with that fear on a regular basis. On stage, we do much of our work atop ten and twelve step ladders, and utilize man-lifts that go up twenty feet -- and when we have to climb atop the rails of that lift to get the job done, we do so in blatant but unavoidable violation of our official industry safety rules.

But when a production goes outside to film at night, it often involves lighting from condor lifts, which go much higher -- anywhere from 40 to 180 feet.*

Some juicers really enjoy condor duty. Once the bucket of the lift has been rigged with a BFL or two, then fully pimped-out with a chair, bottles of water (as the water is consumed, the empty bottles then serve as a portable honey wagon), furniture pads and/or a sheet of Visqueen to cut the wind and keep the lamp operator warm, he-or-she is set for the night. All that juicer has to do is take the bucket up high, turn on and adjust the lights, then relax until fresh instructions crackle over the walkie-talkie.**  

With a smart phone, iPad, or a good book to ease the boredom of waiting, the juicer shouldn't break a sweat until wrap is called, and even then he'll barely get his shirt dirty.  That's one reason condor duty is considered by many to be such a sweet deal -- you sit up there in relative comfort watching the ground crew down below scurry around busting their asses all night -- but there's one sticking point. Condor duty is only good if you don't have a problem with heights, because condors these days can go really high. The sheer height is bad enough, but what can make being up in that bucket a white-knuckle experience is the lack of stability. Every time you move the arm or bucket, things begin to move around a lot -- and the higher you go, the more it moves, which triggers our ancient reptilian brain and the fear of falling.

I've never had a real problem with heights on stage, because the catwalks and perms don't move -- they're as stable as solid ground -- but in a swaying bucket, 60 feet up suddenly feels like 100 feet... and I really don't like that feeling anymore.

While working on my first real movie (as a PA drafted to work with grip and electric), I went up almost every night in a scissor lift or a big forklift hefting a steel basket rigged with two 10K lamps. This freed up one of the real juicers to work on set while giving me a bird's eye view of what was happening on set down below. I loved it, and later enjoyed going up much higher in condors when I finally became a real juicer. I was young back then, with a young man's optimistic faith in technology and misplaced sense of immortality. Granted, there was always a certain pucker-factor when going up full-stick, but the perceived danger was part of the appeal. Now that I'm a lot older (and have considerably less faith in beat-up, oft-used rental equipment), I don't do serious condor work anymore. I'm happy to go up thirty or forty feet, but much beyond that gets a bit squirrely. Plus, you can't move very much in a condor -- the lamp operator has to sit still so the light hitting the set from his BFLs won't bounce around -- and at this stage of life, my aging back gets very stiff after sitting still for any length of time. Then at wrap, down comes the condor and suddenly there's a frenzy of work to do... and invariably I'll tweak something in my cold, stiff back. Once that happens, I'm pretty much limited to wrangling stingers for the rest of the night.

All in all, it works out better for everybody if I stay on the ground and work up a sweat while the young people head up into the night sky. I've done my time in condors, now it's their turn.

Besides, there's no way in hell I'm going up full-stick in a 120 footer, much less that 180 foot monster. I'll leave that to the fearless youngbloods, thankyouverymuch…

* I don't know if anybody has put lights in a 180 footer and used it on a shoot yet, but 80 to 120 foot condors are commonly used for filming.

**  I have no idea how female juicers deal with the inevitable problem of bladder relief when up high in a condor. If you really want to know, ask Peggy Archer or A.J....