Thursday, July 18, 2019

This Is Why We're All Doomed.

Actual photo of our background from the other night.

It started out as a rather nice evening for our night exterior. The weather was warm enough that you didn't need a jacket, yet cool enough that you weren't sweating. The sun hadn't totally set yet when the company moved outdoors, giving us enough time to set up our staging area and a few lights before we really needed them.

Thankfully, we had a lighting balloon scheduled for the night, making out workload that much easier.

Balloon lights are magical things. They come in all shapes and sizes, they can light the middle of the set without having to hide a stand (just the occasional tie line that that keeps it from floating away), they come with their own operator/tech so other than running them power, you pretty much don't have to do anything with them, and since they're their own thing, we don't think twice about leaving them up at the end of the night as a giant, soft work light during wrap (okay, this part, I do feel a little bad about... But not bad enough to stop taking advantage of it. Sorry!).

An example of a helium filled balloon light at work.

Our balloon light was already set up and in position by the time we moved outside and our tech was tying down the last of the support lines to a pipe running along the side of a building. Everything seemed to going smoothly. But as the night wore on, the wind picked up...

So the thing about giant balloons, as you can imagine, is that they don't do particularly well in the wind. At some point, even a light breeze can turn even the smallest of these things into a sail, slamming it every which way, and it becomes unsafe to fly. And we were well past the light breeze.

"What do you think, Balloon Tech?," our Gaffer asked over the radio as he watched the balloon bob and sway in the wind, "Do you think keeping you up is a good idea, or should we bring it down?"

"Well, I wouldn't exactly call keeping this thing flying a good idea, but it's holding okay for now," replies our Tech. "We can keep going and see if the weather gets worse."

"10-4, sounds like a good plan." While he would've pulled the trigger without hesitation, our Gaffer is obviously relieved to get the okay to keep using the balloon. Plan B for our lighting set up would've involved more work on our end for not as good of a result, not to mention stopping production for several minutes to do so. Plus, it's always a painful conversation with the UPM about why they're paying a lot of money for a piece of equipment we can't even use.

So we continue on with the shoot, and other than the occasional jostle by the wind, our balloon keeps floating on with the Balloon Tech trying her best to steady it.

Another thing to note about balloon lights is the way they're tied down. There's usually three or more tie lines coming from them depending on their size, so they can be anchored. And obviously, it's best to spread the points out so the wind can't tug it too far in any particular direction. But while the tie lines are great for keeping the balloon from going left, right and up, unless you can position the lines to be perpendicular from the balloon (which in this case not gonna happen as it's 30+ feet up in the air), there's not a whole lot keeping the balloon from going down, other than the helium itself. So the system usually works... Unless it's windy. Which, in case you forgot, it was.

A few minutes later, I'm over at staging when I look over at the balloon just as a huge, down gust of wind hits it and pushes the thing right towards a herd of background that are standing directly underneath it! 

Just before it could do any damage though, our Balloon Tech weaves through the crowd and manages to keep the balloon from smacking down on anyone. A second later, the swell lets up and the Tech releases her hold on the balloon, sending it back up again and we resume shooting. I walk over to see if the Tech needs a hand.

"No, I got it. But thanks," the Tech says and she re-ties a line while shaking her head in disbelief.

"Is everything okay?" I ask. "That was a close one."

"Yeah, it's just..." she looks around and her voice lowers, "People can be so stupid. You saw what just happened, right?"

"Yup. The balloon was coming down and you saved it before any damage was done or anyone got hit by it."

"But I almost didn't get to it fast enough because everyone was in the way and not moving. I mean, a giant ball of light comes speeding at them from the sky and all they could do is STAND STILL. AND STARE AT IT." She shakes her head again. "I mean, seriously? Two dozen people and not one of them moves out of the way. They're all idiots!"

"Well," I quip, "isn't that how the dinosaurs became extinct?"

"Ha. Ha," she deadpans with a slight smirk on her face.

The winds died down towards the end of the night with thankfully, no more near incidents. But the event from earlier on in the evening stuck in my mind. A ball of light comes hurtling out of the sky and no one moves out of its path. Basic survival instinct doesn't seem to exist. If Darwinism came in to play, no one would have survived. The general population is stupider than I originally thought (and that's saying something).

We, as a civilization, are all doomed.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Sorry, I Can't Stay.

I loved it here.

After spending a grueling three months on a show, I was back on the day playing market and couldn't be happier.

The first on my call list was a crew I've known for several years now. No matter how long I've been apart from these guys, they always welcome me back with big smiles and family style hugs.

And since they usually worked with the same production company, the whole crew would welcome me back with open arms as well, from the camera guys to the stand-ins to crafty. Even the Producers would give me a smile and a nod whenever I returned.

It was always easy to fall into a good work rhythm with these guys. They had a system down and it was like clockwork; when it came time to light the set, everyone had their purpose, and they did it in the most efficient manner. And yet, despite them working like a finely tuned military operation, I always found a way to contribute. Even as just a day player, I was one of the team.

And everyone got along really well, which can be a rare find. There was never any drama between anyone and when outside forces came knockin', everyone had each other's backs, whether it be emotional support or a physical one.

These guys were great. My favorite team to work with. I love them and whenever I'm on another show, I can't wait to work with them again.

But 100% of the time, if given the opportunity to work on another crew, I'd leave them in a heartbeat.

To me, this crew represents comfort and family and stability. I can always predict the hours because of the way production likes to run things. I can predict which lights will be called for and how they will be used because that's their style of lighting. I know I won't have to touch anything more than a piece of 2/0 because 4/0 is just unheard of around here. It's a great place to just come in, do your work, and clock out. No muss. No fuss. No challenge.

Me? I need the challenge. I need the hardships. The long hours. I need the (occasional) idiot on the crew that makes it harder on everyone sometimes. I (very occasionally) need the workouts that only 4/0 can provide. I need the curve ball lighting challenge that forces me to solve a problem creatively. I need the parade of DPs and Gaffers that make me look at things in a new way and think outside of the box.

I need the challenges, being uncomfortable, and the unfamiliarity. I feel like I still have, and need, room to grow and while everything is always great with these guys, it feels like something is missing here. There's a whole lot for me to learn in this business still and while these guys are industry vets in their own right, this isn't the place for me to learn it.

Home is a great place to come back to. Home is where they welcome you with open arms, whether you've been gone for two weeks or two years. Home is where you go when you need a break from the world. It's where you leave to find yourself. It's where you leave to become yourself.

These people are my family. My home. I love them. But I can't stay here.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Photo Of The Day.

I'm still trying to figure out what percent genius and what percent stupid this is.

(Thankfully, this wasn't seen at work. It was nabbed from Facebook.)

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Radio Silence.

When I was starting out - before the days when every juicer and grip wore a walkie on their belt - I marveled at the "set ears" of the veteran crew members. They'd hear things I didn't, and would immediately run to deal with whatever the issue was on set. It took me a while to develop my own set-ears, but when I did, it made me a lot more valuable on set. I wonder if the ubiquity of radios in modern times keeps on-set techs from hearing anything that doesn't come over those radios... and of course, cell phones are probably the worst thing to happen in terms of distracting the crew's attention from the business at hand. 
Of course, I fully understand saying this makes me Grampa Simpson waving my cane while yelling at the clouds...

I started to post a reply to his comment when I realized it was probably going to be a lengthy one. So I'll make a post about it instead.

Michael, scoot over because I'm going to be yelling at the clouds right next to you.

Wonder no more. Radios, do in fact, keeps on-set techs from hearing anything that doesn't come over them.

I've been a day player on too many shows to count where we're all sitting at staging during a scene when I hear a "cut" and some commotion going on set. As a day player, trying to follow the leads of the regulars, I'll usually ask something along the lines of, "Are we moving on?" or "Should we go see what's going on?" And 100% of the time (though I don't know why I keep asking the question) the answer always is, "If he (the Gaffer) needed anything, he'd call it over the radio."

Not sure how to argue with that. Especially with a regular crew member. They'd know better than a measly day player who's never been on the show before, right?

But nine times out of ten, if I get up and go investigate myself, I find the Gaffer moving or adjusting something on his own.

So why doesn't he call for a hand over the radio? Because by the time he's done transmitting and the guys wake up from their Facebook stupor (plus a second or two of the usual, "What did he just ask for?" looks and questions among the guys) and one of them makes their way to set, it's usually faster for the Gaffer to have done it himself anyway. Does it mean he needed help? No. Does that mean he didn't want help? Probably not.

It's like setting up a small light. I could do it myself, sure. But I would appreciate it if you ran power for me or grabbed the stand. Especially if you had free hands. And even more so since it's your job.

And even more to the point, if I had to do this repeatedly by myself despite knowing there are four other guys just sitting on their butts, scrolling through their phones, I would get annoyed after the first few times. And if I was the boss, I'd probably be annoyed before that.

Listen, I get that sometimes there's a lot of downtime in our day. But what I don't get how people don't think they need to pay attention during that downtime. Like, work is still being done somewhere by one department or the other and since all the departments are interconnected, don't you think there's a good chance that an SLT is needed on set? If the Gaffer's not adjusting a light between takes, Special FX needs a stinger for a fan or the dolly needs a bump or the food stylist needs power or etc, etc.

But for some reason, a lot of guys don't realize this and won't take their eyes off their phones unless they hear something being called for over the radio. And even then, there's often conversations like this...:

Me: "Can you grab the stand? I'll get the light."
Juicer: "Huh?"
Me: "Can you grab the stand?"
Juicer: "For what?"
Me: "...a Tweenie. Didn't he just call for one over the radio?"
Juicer: "Oh, I dunno. I wasn't paying attention."


Saturday, May 11, 2019

Sounds That I'd Recognize Anywhere.

I'm hanging out at staging with my fellow lamp operators when I hear a faint thump mixed with a slight metallic rattle coming from the direction of the set. Knowing exactly that causes that sound, I turn the corner and find the Gaffer setting a light by himself.

I give him a hand, and he walks away to look at the monitor so he can direct me on how to focus it.

"Pan it to the left a little bit...," he calls over the radio, "Stop. That's good right there. Thank's A.J."

The other guys, hearing the talk over the walkie talkie, decide to get up off their butts from staging to see what's going on. Seeing as how they all arrived "just in time," all but one of them turn right back around so they can go back to paying attention to their phones. The guy that stays behind gestures to his ear-piece.

"Did he call for that light over the radio?"
"No," I reply.
"Then how did you know he needed a hand?"
I give him a little shrug and say, "I heard a baby stand moving around."

Some cats recognize the sound of a can opener being used. Some dogs recognize the jingle of car keys. A mother might be able to recognize their baby's cry in a full nursery. Some people can recognize a lover's laugh from three rooms away. I, as someone who is forever single and alone, can recognize certain sounds from anywhere on a sound stage.

In the bustle of a set, I can identify the sound of the brake on a Roadrunner stand being released.
I can identify the unmistakable cranking sound of a Roadrunner going up (or down).
... Or anything involving a Roadrunner, really.
I know exactly what it sounds like when the handle of a lunch box falls over as it settles.
I know the distinct "buzz" that a surge of electricity brings to a BFL* that was just fired up.
And the distinct "buzz" an 18K makes when it fails to strike.
I know the rhythmic "click" of a Joker ballast that's about to go bad.
And the rattle a loose globe in a Par Can makes.
Or worse, the rattle a broken lens makes in a fresnel head.
I know when a dolly is charging even when I'm all the way over at Crafty.
Even the "plop" of a wrapped stinger hitting the ground or milk crate is something that I can pick out in a busy room.

I may not be able to recognize a baby's cry, but I sure can recognize the sound a baby stand makes.

I don't need to wait for a call over the radio to know that a light needs to be adjusted/added/moved. I know something's happening because I hear a stinger being dropped on the ground or the unmistakable squeak of a lunch box handle moving. I don't need to see that the light is moving before I rush over to help. I'm already there before it moves because I heard the creak and click of the brake being released.

I'll admit, it is a little weird to pick up on things like that. I don't expect my co-workers to recognize the sound a stinger makes and come running,** but I can't tell you how many times I've had to stop a conversation because of something I heard in the background and know I had to go back to set. Despite what I'd imagine to be eventual hearing loss due to people shouting in my ear-piece all day, my ears automatically perk up to any sounds of work related activity. I'm honestly not sure if it's a gift, a burden or an obsession. Or maybe it's all three.

It's like having eyes in the back of my head or a tingling Spidey sense. I can't help it. I mean, you can't exactly tell yourself to stop hearing things. But what I do know is that it seems to make me a better set lighting tech. The Gaffer may not have needed help with that light (or else he would've called for it over the radio) but I'm sure he appreciated me being there.

* Big Fucking Light.
** Also, let's acknowledge that there's a difference between recognizing and registering. I'm sure every SLT worth their salt knows what a crank stand sounds like, but not everyone registers that the sound means work is being done when they're distracted by Facebook and the sound becomes nothing more than background noise.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Technology Is Our Friend.

"I'm not a big fan of newer vehicles. I mean, all the new amenities and features are great and all, but that just means there's more shit that can go wrong and break."
                                                                       - The guy at the car rental place.

"Shit," my colleague mutters above me.

I look up at him from the bottom of the ladder I'm holding as he hangs a light and ask him what's wrong.

"I can't get the damn thing to turn on," he says.
"Stupid question, but is the stinger hot?"
"...And you hit the power button?"
"Yeah. Do you think we have the right address?*"
"It doesn't matter," I reply. "The Gaffer wanted us to run this one manually."
"So maybe we should make sure it's in the right mode? He wanted to run it full daylight, so it needs to be in bi-color or color temp mode and not RGB. And not in DMX control."

My co-worker just stares down blankly at me.

"Do you want me to go up there and look at it?"

"Yes," he says with a relieved sigh.

We switch places on the ladder and now I'm staring at the control panel of this fancy new light.

I go through the usual steps:
Is the line hot? (Check.)
Is the unit turned on?** (Check.)

Still nothing.

I start to toggle through the numerous menu and setting buttons.

Is it out of DMX control? (Check.)
Is it under manual control? (Check.)
Is it out of RGB mode? (Check.)
Is it out of gel mode? (Check.)
Is it out of FX mode? (Check.)
Is it in color temperature mode? (Check.)

Still nothing.

I start getting a little creative trying to find a solution. I clear out all the DMX settings. I revert the address back to zero just in case. I even do a factory reset in the off chance that there's something deep within the menu system that I don't know about but someone had activated. I channel all the tech support help lines I've ever called and unplug the power and re-boot the system a few times. As a last ditch effort, I make sure the magenta and green setting are set at zero because I am officially out of ideas on what to do.

Still nothing.

I'm about to give up when I notice something on the corner of the display. I fiddle with a knob and the light comes on.

"You did it!" my colleague exclaims. "What was the problem? I can never figure out this new LED shit. Too many options on them."

I climb down the ladder so I can see the expression on his face as I tell him what the issue was.

"The dimmer was turned down all the way on the dial."

Damn technology.

* Most lights these days, unless they're a tungsten light, have a DMX-able option where the unit can be controlled from a lighting console. The address is how the board knows it's communicating with the correct light.

** Fun Story: We had learned the day before that with this particular model, just because the display was on does not mean that the light is turned on. It took a couple of us quite a few minutes to figure that out. Though when the next guy couldn't figure it out, it was a lot of fun to be "that person" who just walked right up, pushed a button and saved the day.  :)

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