Friday, July 15, 2005

"Danika" Day 11

Today was a fun day - we shot car crash stuff on the Universal back lot's New York Street.

Universal Backlot

The buildings in the foreground look real, but are in fact facades (the white thing in the background is Universal Studios Theme Park). This is what they look like on the inside:

Universal Backlot

Due to the technical nature and required safety precautions, even simple car crash stuff like our shot today (minivan runs red light, gets t boned by school bus) is insanely complicated. They have to take out the gas tank and fuel line of the van (so it won't explode and burn when it gets hit), and then they have to rig up a cable to pull it through the scene (there's no gas tank, so the engine can't run), and then they have to rig the windows with explosive charges so they'll blow out in a cinematic manner. The timing of stunt drivers has to be perfect, so they rehearse it a million times to make sure they've got it right.

Since they can only do the stunt once (we only have one van), the scene gets shot with a bunch of cheap cameras that are placed in metal boxes called 'crash housings' and then hidden in the set.


Since it's all day exterior, we didn't have much to do. We ran some cable in case we had to get out lights, but they got everything done with available light.

The grips, on the other hand, were really busy all day.

Grip rig

They had a bunch of cameras rigged in vehicles, they had a big green screen to rig, and they just generally got slammed. I almost felt bad for them as I sat on the gate of the truck and read my paper.

Rigging right next to us, in the 'town square' (no matter how they dress it, it's still recognizable to me as the set of "Back to the Future") was a TV show called "Ghost Whisperer".

They were getting territorial, and tried to stop us from crossing some line which marked 'their' turf - there was some sort of producer pissing match, and ours must have won because we ended up being able to use a little bit of their space to rig the van, although they still refused to let us run cable through the area.

The only bummer is that we couldn't get a golf cart (they've all been rented), so we couldn't sneak into the theme park and go on the "Jurassic Park" ride, as we're at the opposite end of a HUGE lot.


They had a shot on another part of the lot (I have no idea what it was), and they had extras (background actors) driving the cars because the stunt drivers were busy rigging the crash. One of the AD's told me they shot it seventeen times with the extras driving and still couldn't get the choreography right. Then, some of the stunt drivers freed up, went up there and they got it right on the second try.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

"Danika" Day 10

Today was our last day in the house. The entire two weeks we've been here, the neighbors have been pissed off about it, so tonight they called the permit office to try to make us have an earlier 'out time' and then the cops - to make sure we left on time. The cop showed up at lunch (4:30 pm), and then sat there, tapping his watch until 9:30, which was the time we were required to wrap (in order to be completely out the house - 'tail lights' - by midnight).

The rumor was that the cop was going to 'pull the plug', or forcibly shut us down if we tried to go late, but the official wrap time was 9:31 pm.

Still insanely hot, both inside and out. The upstairs bedroom felt like a sauna, and for some reason it got insanely humid after lunch. I felt like I was in Louisiana or something. The upside is that I've been drinking so much water that my skin looks great - really great. I look like I've spent a million bucks on it.

Although I wanted to be on the wrap crew, I'm still on first unit. The wrap crew came in at 6 pm - just as it was cooling off, and they were out of there before midnight.

I'm so glad we had a wrap crew (we needed one because we wouldn't have made our turnaround if we'd had to wrap the house ourselves) - our last setup was HUGE. Although this Gaffer tries not to 'die big', I think we had every single light off the truck. The wrap guys would wrap a lamp and put it on the cart, and then one of us would run down and grab it. Eventually they gave up and all went to craft service until we were set.

Quote of the night from AJ, the set dresser, as he ran up and down the stairs trying to make his only set of sheers cover both the upstairs and downstairs picture windows:

"I hate this shit so much, you don't even know."

Dying big

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

"Danika" Day 9

The only thing I remember about today is the heat.

Crushing, inhumane, draining heat. The air conditioner couldn't keep up and the set got hotter and hotter - and I thought it was bad until I stepped outside and the blast of air felt just like it does when you open your oven door to check on something that you're cooking.

Craft Service has a TV in his trailer and one of the guys told me that the official temperature for today where we're shooting was 104 degrees F (40 degrees C).

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

"Danika" Day 8

It was hot today - by noon we all had that 'not so fresh' feeling; sticky, grubby, sweaty.

When they initially called me to work on the show, the best boy said "The pay's not that great, but we have a really small lighting package, so we can't get too crazy".

There are advantages and disadvantages to having a small lighting package. The advantage is that you don't have to run a lot of cable, and you can't get crazy and start 'flamethrowing', but the disadvantage is that you don't have that many lights. Every time we 'turned around' (had a shot looking in the opposite direction from the previous one), we had to march the big heads from one side of the house to the other. Since all the scenes today were day scenes, as it got later in the evening we had to aim more lights into the windows as we slowly lost the light.

We had an extra guy yesterday, but we really, really needed him today.

Doing way too much work when you're shorthanded is known as 'getting peeled'.

The Gaffer came outside at one point, surveyed the lighting set up and the exhausted, sweat-soaked crew and said "I'm really sorry, guys. I had no idea this was going to get this big". I still think he's a great guy, and I'm still happy that he's not a screamer.

Cupcake's replacement is a a guy who's nice enough, but who's nickname is 'panic attack' (courtesy of the guys on the Paramount lot). He gets overwhelmed in the middle of a set up and starts to get wound up and freaked out. This is a bad thing. One of the things you never, ever want to do is make production think that you're not in control. It makes you look like you don't know what you're doing.

Production are freaking out about the damage to the house (it's not that bad, actually. I think they thought they weren't going to have to make any repairs. As it is now, all they'll have to do is shampoo the carpets, repaint and fix a couple of scratches on the wood floor).

We had to have a meeting about it first thing in the morning. Since set lighting didn't cause any of the damage (we've been really careful), after the meeting the Gaffer jokingly said "So, guys - there was a lot of damage to the house yesterday. Keep up the good work, everyone!"


Originally uploaded by Peggy Archer.

The new camera's not as good in low light as the old one, but here's my attempt at art in low light.

Monday, July 11, 2005

"Danika" Day 7

The day started out in chaos. The shooting order changed at the last moment - we started out downstairs, moved upstairs, moved back downstairs, moved back upstairs and then finally moved outside - where we hustled to light the scene and then sat there for an hour, waiting for it to get dark enough to shoot a night exterior.

At least half today's work was reshooting stuff that the director didn't get, or decided after the fact that he didn't like.
This is insanely demoralizing to a crew. You shoot a scene in teeny tiny pieces and it seems like it takes forever, but then you're done and you move on to the next scene, getting through the work bit by bit. To go back and reshoot something that you did a day or week or a month ago makes us feel like we're not making any progress.

One of the interns ( the producer dug up a bunch of USC students and convinced them to slave away for college credit since she can't afford Production Assistants) is very, very nice, but dumber than the proverbial pillowcase full of hammers. Simple requests such as "photocopy this call sheet and hand it out to the crew at wrap so they know what time to show up tommorow" tax his mental abilities and he overloads and just shuts down. The result of this 'mental shutdown' is him standing perfectly still with a blank stare while he processes whatever information it was that caused the mental logjam.
Unfortunately, he usually does this at the worst time in the worst place - for example, in the only doorway into the set right after they've called "Moving On!"*

Today, the second AD had enough of the complaints from the crew (I overheard one of the grips saying "How the hell am I supposed to get into the set when Forrest Gump is parked in the fucking door?"), and banned him from the set.

He spent the rest of the day in the backyard, sitting on an HMI ballast, forgetting to call 'rolling' and 'cut'**. I thought about trying to explain to him why he shouldn't sit on them (they emit a sort of electrical energy that many folks believe causes cancer - aka "the ass rot"), but then decided not to bother.

He told our boss that he wants to be a camera assistant. Fat fucking chance.
That's possibly the highest stress crew position. Camera department is unforgiving of mistakes - if you make one screw up such as being out of focus on a shot (movie cameras don't have auto focus. The first assistant camera has to watch the rehearsal, measure the actors distance from the camera, and if the actor moves or the camera moves during the scene, manually change the focus while the camera is rolling), or loading the film wrong, you cost the production a LOT of money and you get fired.

What do you do when you're too dumb to be a crew member? And how do you tell someone that?

On the bright side, Cupcake got a commercial late Sunday night - he's on it today through Wednesday, but the best boy is so pissed off at his last minute cancellation (generally, once you're booked for a day it's really, really uncool to cancel unless you're deathly ill) that he'll probably not hire him back.

The weather report on the news predicts 102 degrees F tomorrow in Sherman Oaks.

* After a take, the AD's will yell one of two things. "Moving On" or "Going Again".
"Moving On" means "we've gotten this take and we're going to move on to our next bit so get in here because the lighting's going to change."
"Going Again" means they're going to do another take so you can continue to read your paper or drink your coffee.

** This is vital information.
"Rolling" means that we're rolling sound and everyone should really shut the fuck up. "Cut" means it's okay to continue the conversation. The AD's yell it on set, and then it's relayed to the folks outside the set via the PA's.
Forgetting to call "rolling" and "cut" means that I have no idea we're shooting and might screw up the sound by talking or working during a take.

Sunday, July 10, 2005


always seem too short. By the time I do my laundry, clean up the house and get my stuff ready for Monday, it's over.

I feel like I haven't had any time to have fun - but being cameraless this past week has worked my nerves more than I can say, so I went to Best Buy (I know, I'm lame. I'm supposed to go to some website no one's ever heard of and haggle them down in Kurdish, but I want the instant gratification of paying my money and getting something right away) on Saturday morning.

Although the camera I really wanted was the pimped out Sony Cyber-Shot, since I don't have a pimped out salary I got the Fuji FinePix 345, which was on sale.

My major qualm with my old Canon Power Shot 200 (don't laugh. I bought it a long time ago, and it took an unbelievable amount of abuse before it finally died) was that it didn't take close up pictures worth a damn - the new Fuji has a pretty decent macro lens on it, which I'm happy about.


One my ongoing work problems is my feet. Standing for 12 hours a day every day make them hurt like hell. By the end of the week, the pain has crept upward - my feet, lower legs and knees ache and it takes all weekend to recover.

I've tried every kind of shoe, insert, sock.. I've tried acupuncture and magic magnets. I've tried custom orthotics (my insurance pays for them) and changing my shoes three times a day. I've tried sitting down every chance I get. Nothing helps. I'm okay on Monday and Tuesday, but by Wednesday the pain starts, and by Friday night just trying to walk without limping is difficult.

The only thing that seems to help at all is swimming. If I can just make the time to swim a few laps my feet feel better right away. Something about the scissor kick, I guess. Unfortunately, it's hard to make myself go swim after being at work for 12+ hours, so I swam yesterday, and I'm going to go again today as soon as I wait the obligatory hour after eating.

I think we're wrapping out of the house Thursday, so I don't know if I'll be on shooting crew or get bumped down to the wrap crew. I hope the wrap crew. I'll work 6 hours, get paid for 8, and will have time to swim. If we really 'hit it hard' (i.e. work as fast as we can) we might even be able to get out of there before it gets too hot.