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.  :)

Monday, April 15, 2019


Image result for fuck you money

As everyone in this business knows, you gotta stock up for the lean times. You work when you can, especially if you live the life of a day player because you never know where your next paycheck is coming from. Between the unpredictable highs and lows of production schedules, it's just good planning to save up some money during highs so you can still survive during the lows.

In addition to this "Unemployment" fund, I like to stockpile a little extra for what's fondly known as "Fuck You"* money. "Fuck You" money is a reserve in your bank account for when you encounter a job you don't want, whether it be because of shitty conditions, a ridiculously far commute, a company that doesn't align with your moral beliefs, or, as is usually the case, the people you'll be working for are assholes. This money allows you to say "Fuck You" to the job and gives you the ability to turn it down. It's what makes it possible for you walk away from a job simply because you don't like it.

The beauty of my "Fuck You" money is that it comes from what I like to believe is hard work. For the longest time, I took every job that came my way, whether the pay was great or not. I'd swing from crew to crew, earning my keep with each one and in the end my "Fuck You" stash not only gives me financial security to walk away from a shitty job, but ironically enough, it comes with job security as well. The list of people I could work for grew with my funds, so even if I turn down a job, I have a pool of potential bosses to pull from before I even have to dip into my "FY" fund.

And above all that, just knowing you have the power to walk away from something is a beautiful thing and one of the Best. Feelings. EVER.

Image result for fuck you money

* Not to be confused with its cousin, the "Oh Shit" fund that's meant to cover unexpected emergencies like a broken leg or broken roof.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Value Of A Stinger.

Overheard on the set the other day from a Special FX* guy:
"So I was on this one show, and the electricians kept messing with my fans. Burning out the motors, you know? So to get them back, I started stealing their stingers.** Just like, one a day until I ended up with about fifteen or so of them. And they're like, $250 a pop! That's over $3500 I got from them! And those things are great to have around the house. They're totally waterproof, you know? Totally waterproof. And when you burn them up, you just replace the connectors on them and keep going! And that's so easy to do. Even an idiot can do it. Literally. Something's wrong with you if you mess it up."

Okay. Soooo much wrong to unpack there.

First off, unless you're plugging your fans somewhere you're not supposed to (like a 220v line or a dim channel, etc) I have absolutely no idea how we can "burn out the motors." Like, I'm having a hard time trying to think of an intentional way to do this, which means that if it was done on purpose, you must've been one helluva dick to warrant that type of effort in retaliation. Repeatedly.

Secondly, stingers are one of the cheapest things we rent. And one of the most of. There's nothing with a higher count on our equipment rental list than stingers. Which means we lose them. A lot. One a day might be on the high side, but between every department borrowing a couple (and often when we're not looking), it's definitely not unheard of. So it's not exactly a big deal. I mean, I've been on more than one crew who refers to them as "expendables."

"What? Losing $250/day isn't a big deal??" you might ask? It might be, if the guy wasn't a clueless moron. I don't know where he's getting his figures from, but I have never seen a rental house charge more than about $100/stinger lost. And that's for the fifty footers. The twenty five footers go for even less and based on this guy's apparent IQ level on the subject matter, there's a more than great chance he didn't go for the gold and only target fifty foot pieces for his collection. But let's give him the benefit of the doubt and say he did. His bounty would've still only netted him about $1500 of stingage, not over $3K. And keep in mind, that's the replacement cost rental houses charge. It costs waaaaay less for them to actually get another one. Just because you're paying $X amount doesn't mean something is actually worth $X. If you tried to turn around and sell the lot to someone who actually knows what they're doing for that amount, they'll laugh in your face.

"What? A $1500 replacement fee isn't a big deal??" you might ask? No, not really. On a bigger show, no one's even going to blink an eye at that L&D.*** And figures can almost always be talked down. Rental agents try to keep everyone happy. I've seen them write off the smaller items (ie: stingers) to help the bottom line, which makes the Best Boy happy (because the numbers look better, and in turn, makes them look better), Production happy (they get a lower L&D bill), and the Rental House happy (they're still charging us for something and in the end, the house always wins anyway). And happy people mean repeat business in the future. So even if Mr. SPFX thinks he's shoving it to the Electricians, honestly, I don't think anyone really gives a damn (or for that matter, thinks twice about why a few extra stingers are missing).

Thirdly, and most importantly, STINGERS ARE NOT WATERPROOF. Like, at all. The connectors are technically not even water resistant (and yes, there's a difference between the two terms). When we use them in wet conditions, we use all kinds of protections, from wrapping and elevating the connections to using GFCIs, because, and I can't stress this enough, STINGERS ARE NOT WATERPROOF. Do waterproof ones exist? Sure. But I guarantee you the ones he has are not it. I've honestly never actually seen one on set, and I'm pretty sure the standard rental houses don't carry them for liability issues.

And lastly, what the hell is he doing that he's "burning up the connectors"?? We may fry them all the time on set because we sometimes have faulty equipment running sizable electrical loads, but this guy was talking about using them around the house! If you're burning them up even semi-frequently, you've got a bigger problem than the delusion of a few stingers costing more than my rent.

Listen, if this was a P.A. or even a Grip or someone else that I overheard, it barely would've registered on my radar. I wouldn't expect them to know all this. But this was a SPECIAL EFFECTS guy. The guy on set in charge of blowing things up. And burning things down. And a whole slew of other things that often include electricity, water, high voltage, fast things, and fire; often all at once and all while keeping the crew safe. To hear such misconceptions come out of this guy's mouth is very concerning, to say the least.

But, he did get one thing right though. He's proof that even an idiot can change the plug on a stinger.

*Special Effects/FX is the department in charge of most "movie magic" that's done in real time on the set. Everything from smoke, fire, atmosphere, wind, explosions, etc, to making the leaves on a tree outside a window move from the "wind" and, literally, the kitchen sink.

**Fancy movie talk for "extension cord."

***Loss and Damage.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Dear ADs...

Dear ADs,

A word of advice: If I (a day player on their first day of a show) can't figure out who the 1st AD is within ten minutes of watching the set? 

You're doing it wrong.

Crew members everywhere.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Mountain Top Revelations.

It was the first nice day in So-Cal the whole week during the first winter that felt like winter to me in several years. I'm sitting at home, feeling a little restless after finishing up some boring paperwork and boring phone calls, so I decide to get some fresh air and burn up some of this excess energy I had.

I grab a light jacket and a bottle of water and head for a hiking trail not too far from where I live. This trail kicked my butt last time and that was when I actually finished it. The first time I tried it, I don't think I made it even half way up the mountain before I called it quits and turned back around.

Anyway, I figured this would be the perfect trail for me that day. I'd go up maybe a quarter of it, get tired, come back down, and head home for a hard earned hot cocoa. Mission accomplished.

But the quarter mark came and went and I still had energy to burn. So I kept going. The half-way mark came and went, and yet I still kept going.

A couple hours and five uphill miles later, I found myself at the top of the Verdugos. It was a clear day and I could see downtown and even all the way to the ocean. The sun had just started its Western descent and bathed the whole town below me in a glow of golden light.

Normally, this trail is a popular one on the weekend. But today was a weekday that I had off and I was alone on top of the mountain. As I sat there, basking in the solitude and my victory, I was grateful to not be working full time.

It's one of those contradictions. Everyone wants to be full time on a show and collect a steady paycheck, but once you're on a show, all you want is a day off.

I've been very fortunate to have found myself with full time spots on one show after another, especially since it wasn't that long ago that I was wondering if I'd ever be good enough to be considered as "full time" material. But after almost two full years of non-stop shows, all back to back, I think I'm due for a break.

I want to have a day off in the middle of the week every once in a while. I want to have the freedom to run an errand without battling the weekend crowds. I want to be able to visit a museum where I can get up close to the exhibits without getting in the way of someone's selfie. I want to be able to go downtown without having to pay the ridiculous up charge for Saturday parking. I want to spend some time only working 48 hours a week instead of 65+.

I want to be able to sit on top of a damn mountain and watch the sun set with no one around but me and my thoughts.

It's here that I realized how much I missed the life of a day player.

Thursday, February 14, 2019


Oh. My. God. Hands down, I thought he was the hottest guy on set. He was tall, had blue eyes that seemed to change shades like the summer sky, and when he smiled, like really smiled, he had the cutest dimples ever. I would smile when those dimples came out. They were so deep I could see them from across the room.

I'd study him from afar, watching him when I didn't think anyone would notice. Not only was he super cute, but he was super nice to everyone, too. He was friendly with people from every department and hung out with everybody, from the PAs to the security guards.

And we must've been on the same snacking schedule because I'd often find myself perusing the crafty table with him. It sounds silly to say, but I cherished those moments. They were the favorite part of my day.

Sometimes, while waiting between lighting set ups, I'd "casually" maneuver myself to where he'd be hanging out. I'd strike up a conversation and we'd joke around a little bit. I'd mess around with the little knick-knacks he kept on his carts and he'd draw silly pictures on the tools from my belt.

I obviously wasn't the only one who was interested in him. One day, a pretty blonde showed up in his department. The new day-player seemed to sit up a little straighter whenever he was around and she'd try to strike up a conversation. He didn't seem to mind talking to her and together, they looked like they'd make a good looking couple. The kind you might find posing with a puppy inside the new picture frame you just bought. They looked that good together.

I passed by them on my way to the craft service table one day when I heard him quickly end the conversation and in seconds he was walking next to me. He put his arms around my shoulders as we walked and asked what we were eating that day. I brushed it off as him just being hungry and playful, but I was secretly elated that not only did he have his arm around me, but he ditched a conversation with a pretty girl for me.

Soon after that, my favorite part of the day was when we'd see each other in the morning when we got to work. His whole face would light up like he was excited to see me and he always pulled me in for a hug. And if no one was around, he'd keep the hug extra long, until it was almost like the hug had already ended and now he was just holding me. Sometimes, I'd bury my fact in his chest and just enjoy the feeling of his arms around me. It was nice. Really nice. And the best way to start the day.

Eventually, we started spending our lunch times together. Normally, everyone hates hour long lunches, but he and I loved them on this show. We'd spend the extra time just talking over cups of coffee, or we'd just walk around the neighborhood we were shooting in.

On really long days when we both were feeling kind of tired, like all exhausted crew members, we'd search for a place to take a nap. When we'd find a quiet, secluded place to lie down, we'd cuddle as we slept. Him with his arms around me and me with my face in the crook of his neck, it seemed like we just fit. It felt like we were the only two people in the world during moments like this. I felt safe with him. I felt like I belonged there.

Lunch times were now my new favorite part of the day.

It was here in one of our napping nests that he first kissed me. It was soft, barely a whisper on my lips but that was enough to make me want more. I absolutely kissed him back.

By this time, our show was starting to wind down. With only a couple weeks of shooting left, everyone was starting to talk about which project they'd hope to move on to next. Meanwhile, in our lunch time hideouts, we'd kiss, nap, and talk about our own plans for when the show ended.

I'd tell him how sad I'll be to not see him every day and he'd tell me that we'd find a way to keep what we have going, especially since neither of us had another job lined up.

"Once this show is over, I'm going to take you out on a date," he'd tell me, "So we're absolutely still going to see each other after wrap. We'll figure it out."

I'd nod in agreement, but sometimes, he'd say that almost pleadingly, and I never knew if he was trying to convince me or if he was trying to convince himself of our plan.

Time passed way too quickly and before I knew it, our last day of shooting was here. We spent our last lunch curled up in each others arms, talking about our soon to be first real date.

"So, when are you free?"
"I'm scheduled for a few days of wrap, so I'll be free as a bird by next Wednesday."
"Great," he said, "I'll be done before that, so I'll call you early next week and we'll get a plan going."

I nodded and kissed him. I could feel his smile on my lips.

A few hours later, our show ended. And a few days after that, my department was done wrapping out. And a few days after that, I still hadn't heard from him.

What we had ended up being a "Showmance." A flirtation and romance that has an expiration date that coincides with the show's. A relationship that only exists in the confines of a bubble where you're around each other 12+ hours a day, 5 days a week.

I guess he and I weren't meant to exist in the real world.

I was absolutely serious about continuing our relationship after we wrapped and for a while, I'd wondered if it was me. If I had done something wrong or off putting. Or did I just miss the signs that pointed to him being non-committal? Did he just tell me what I wanted to hear? Or did he really mean those things he'd whisper in my ear, but just not enough to last through the convenience of the show?

Whatever it was, it was obvious that I was way more in to our "relationship" than the other way around and I stopped checking my phone for messages from him. I stopped trying to figure out what went wrong. I stopped making imaginary excuses for him, like maybe he's just really busy or maybe he lost my number or maybe his text got lost in the digital ether. But the truth is, if he really wanted to get a hold of me, he could. I'm not that hard to find.

I could have been his so easily. If only he felt the same way.

And with that, I let him go. I let the show go. I let go of our hideouts, our walks, our lunch times. I let go of the stolen glances from across the room. The winks he'd send my way when no one was watching. The sweet nothings he'd whisper to me. The inside jokes. The hope that he'd finally mutherfuckin' call me. Like a dandelion in the wind, I stopped holding on to the promises that I shouldn't have believed. I let them go.

Months later, I'm digging through my tool bag and pause when I find one that he had doodled on. The Sharpie marks had faded to almost nothing, but it was enough to remind me of him, the show, and the moments we shared in what feels like a million jobs ago. I wonder if he ever thinks of us. I wonder if he still keeps those knick-knacks on his carts and do they remind him of me? Does he smile if they do? I haven't seen him since, but it's a small industry and I'm sure it's only a matter of time before our paths cross again.

Until then, I hope he's doing well and that he's somewhere smiling that megawatt smile of his. The one that makes his dimples so deep I want to poke my finger in them. The one that I realized later on, he never did around me, even when it was just the two of us.

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