Saturday, April 7, 2007

I'm Tired Y'all part 3 of 5

Getting home late on Tuesday night, I checked email and found out that Wednesday’s gig was to start not in the morning, but at 4 pm, and run until midnight. And I had accepted a job that would begin at 6 am Thursday morning.

The producer said to arrive at WRAZ Fox-50. I got there on time, and found her and some other producers talking in their office. We watched, online, some footage we had shot a few weeks prior. After 20 minutes or so, I asked where the other crew was. “Oh, they’re down at the location setting up,” they said. I said, ”Shouldn’t I be there?” and they said, “yes, you should be there,” and gave me directions to it.

The location was a portion of the American Tobacco Historic District that was still stuck in its history. It was a warehouse that had been gutted and was being remodeled, but still looked like Ramadi. I walked on to set around 4:30 and saw, with dismay, lights already set up and the crew hard at work. I knew they would kid me about being late, and maybe, in some minds, I would be judged, to some degree, irresponsible, no matter what explanation I had. I hate being late anyway. It is even difficult when I am not late but am scheduled to arrive later than the rest of the crew, because that makes me feel like I’m “catching up” all day long. I don’t know where electrical cables are, I may not know where all the lights are, I may not know what’s really going on in the shot, all because I was not present for setup from the start, and nobody has time to explain all this to me when I do arrive. And when the sound guy makes a mistake or acts clueless, it usually happens right before or during shooting, and everyone knows it. So, walking up to set, I had a feeling that this would be one of those “days.”

Friend “A,” a cameraman and DP who had referred me for this job, saw me first and announced to everyone that I was “in the house.” Crewmembers looked up from what they were doing, and I noted with some relief that they were all friendly folks whom I knew well. I put on a relaxed smile and told friend “A” where I had been for the past half hour. He didn’t seem upset. He told me what was going on -- that we would be shooting host segments for the upcoming TV show “NC Most Wanted.” The host would be walking all around the area, friend “A” was not sure exactly where, with the camera way up on a camera boom, so I would not be able to use a microphone boom. “Oh and,” he said, “for one spot, we’ll have another guy over there in front of the green screen, acting like he’s in a different location. You know, like they do on The Daily Show?” Yep, I know. I’ve been to a taping of The Daily Show. And it’s hilarious that that has become a reference point for certain production techniques.

There was dust, rubble, chips of mortar and brick everywhere. I knew lots of noisy foot crunching was in the future if I didn’t sweep now, so I asked if I could sweep. “Sweep? We’d love it if you’d sweep,” said friend “A.” But he said I would have to cover the electronics.

So I looked around and found the black plastic Bisqueen. I cut huge sheets and found that already, pollen was sticking to them. I rubbed them off on my shirt and pants and put them over the camera and clipped them to the tripod. I covered the huge HD flat-screen TV that was out there for use in the shots too. And the DVD player that would feed it. Construction guys working in the ruins nearby had a broom that I borrowed, and I swept the area for about half an hour. Wind was gusting through, but mostly the pollen and dust was blown away from people and electronics.

After sweeping I looked around for other audio nuisances. The construction crew was gone, so they would not be making noise, but there were huge translucent plastic sheets over the large window gaps in the walls, and these sheets were blowing inward and outward like sails in the shifting wind, making loud snapping noises. I said that would be a problem. “Well, tear them down,” said friend “A.” I asked the producer if this would be okay. He said, “I don’t care. We owe them one anyway, ‘cause yesterday they left their truck parked in the driveway and we couldn’t get out.”

Alright. I had permission to go crazy on the plastic sheeting. It was all on the second floor of the gutted warehouse, and friend “M” was up there setting lights. I hollered up to him and asked how he got up there, and he said that inside, on first floor, there was a scaffold I would have to climp. “It’s kind of sketchy,” he said.

It was indeed. The orange scaffold had accessible rungs, but nearing the top, I was anxious about having to climb over the top rung to stand on the platform. I have health insurance, I thought, but I have no workman’s comp insurance. And I have not climbed on something like this in years. The lighting guys do it all the time, but I rarely have to. But I remembered how I used to climb on playground equipment a fair amount when I was a kid, so I tried to channel that image, and I made it to the platform.

From the scaffold platform, I had to climb up the final rungs and reach up through a hole in the ceiling that I would crawl through to get onto the second floor. I found some braces to grab onto there, and I gripped them and stood on tiptoe on the top rung of the scaffold and wiggled myself up until my waist was folded over the edge of the hole. I thought about the scissors in my waist pouch, how if I fell, they would no doubt impale me and everyone would think I was stupid for having them there. I told myself, if I became paralyzed from the neck down, there was always library school and a subsequent sedentary career.

Friend “M” had come over and he said, “you got it? I said it was sketchy.”

I got my knees up onto the ceiling and crawled away from the hole. Jesus. How many times would I have to do that?

Now I was on level with the noisy plastic sheeting. Wind was pretty fierce too, and the plastic was snapping dramatically. The window openings were big, and I could reach only a little way up the sides, and certainly not the top. I went to one window and tried cut it along the bottom with my knife. Then I tried to pull it off the sides and top, but it didn’t tear very well. I looked around. There were some metal angle braces about 6 feet long lying nearby, and I picked one up and started thrusting it at the top of the plastic, as if I were about the throw it like a javelin. It punched through the plastic easily. So I made perforations along the top, then down the sides. Then I went back and tried to hit the intact portions between my perforations. This required good aim, and it was tough. When the plastic had fallen off the top and one side of the window, I looked out from it and saw the other crewmembers milling around the set, which I had swept earlier. “Don’t nobody come under these windows,” I said, and they glanced up at me but didn’t seem concerned. So I finished tearing the plastic down, and I pulled it inside and threw it in a corner where the construction workers would find it the next day. They would not have my name or number to call and complain, so I wasn’t worried.

I did this on about 4 windows overlooking the set. Then I climbed back down, this time having to carefully wiggle backward on the floor until my waist again was at the edge of the hole, and feel around with my toe for the top rung of the scaffold, then wiggle backwards and make sure the ball of my foot was squarely planted on the rung, then give more weight to it and ease my hands down to lower handholds, and finally climb down to the platform. From there, I could sit and duck under a bar and just jump down to the floor.

On the set again, I could hear more plastic snapping, but I could not see any. I would have to go up again. But they called “lunch,” which was really dinner. I went with them to dinner knowing I had more plastic cutting to do, and I had not even started checking the audio gear yet.

After dinner I went up again and looked around the plywood second floor of the gutted building, watching my step all the way. The sun was setting and orangish rays were coming horizontally into the second floor from the windows that did not have plastic. There was some heavier plastic over some windows that did not overlook our set, but I didn’t think I could hear these snapping. Plus, they were reinforced with plastic ribbing, and did not really snap anyway in the shifting wind.

Friend “M” was up there working on lights again. We both could hear plastic snapping somewhere, but could not see where. With all the brick walls of neighboring buildings around, sound was bouncing everywhere and it was hard to spot its source.

He said the sound was coming from “right up there,” on third floor.

How would I get up there? I walked way into the building’s second floor, carrying my javelin, passing between vertical slats that would someday form the mountings for drywall, I reckon. These spaces would become offices that would be occupied by advertising agencies, insurance companies, managers and salesmen and marketers and executives. But now I could walk right through their walls like Shadowcat, and they would never know of my passing.

I found some temporary wooden stairs leading upwards, so I took them. On third floor, plywood was not everywhere, so I really had to watch my step lest I fall between joists. I found an opening leading out to a roof, so I walked out on it. There was some large structure, a “fourth floor,” there, and it was covered with Tyvek home wrapping, which was rattling some in the wind, but not too loudly. I didn’t think this was the big noise maker, and I couldn’t tear it down anyway, because I knew from working on a video about Tyvek home wrapping years ago that it’s part of the construction. It stays on the house after you finish the exterior siding, and it keeps moisture from getting into your house from the walls. I don’t know what you do if you live in a house built before there was Tyvek home wrapping. I guess your walls are moist, and you’re just fucked.

So I went back down again. We were to start shooting when it was dark, and I still had all the audio to set up. It was time to end the plastic tearing project.

Cables had to be rigged on the camera boom. A second camera had to be fed. I had to wire both the guys who would be on camera for the first “scene,” which was the Daily Show style green screen deal.

There was the question of whether to hide the body mics. The producer told me I could leave them exposed for this, since it was clearly a studio style shoot. But I always feel like I’m not doing my job if I leave the mics exposed. Granted, it needs to be done that way sometimes, and for live TV, you leave them clipped on the outside of clothing because you don’t want to take any chances on them slipping inside and getting muffled. But for this, I wanted to hide them if I could.

The host was a big handsome guy. His shirt and sport jacket were quiet -- not synthetic fabric -- so I took a chance on hiding his mic in his shirt. Then there was the other guy that he would be talking to, who would be in front of the green screen. He was a fat older guy in a suit, and sometimes these guys are the noisiest on a body mic. The folds of their neck fat rub on their collars when they speak or turn their heads slightly, and all their clothes fit tight and also creak and rustle a lot. And their ties flop around. But I hid the mic anyway, taking a chance.

I had luck. The host always spoke directly to camera, so he never turned away from his body mic, and he made only minor movements, so his clothes were very quiet. And the other guy sat absolutely still while he talked, so there was almost no noise from his clothes as well. And the set was dark, with ominous colored lights making pools of light on the rubble and bombed out brick walls. And the camera on the boom swooped down and up and side to side during the segments, so they really got the look they wanted.

The second guy was finished after the first spots, so he left. Then it was just the host. And he is a professional newscaster, so he never muffed a line. He banged out one segment after another, with teleprompter aiding him. Still, it took way longer than expected. We passed midnight, the expected finish time. We passed 1 am. It got really cold. I had worn long underwear and had been uncomfortable earlier, but now was glad I had it. We had cold Subway sandwiches long ago cooled and dried on their plastic party tray. Someone went out for fresh coffee and snacks. All during shooting, there was nothing for me to do but sit and turn one knob and listen, so I had plenty of time to worry about how I would feel on the next day’s shoot.

At 2 am we were done. It’s always great to get a microphone off the talent at the end of the “day.” Around 3 am I was done wrapping audio, and the lighting guys still had lots of work to do. I asked friend “M,” if they needed help, but both of us knew I had the early start the next day. Plus, we were on overtime at that point, so the production would want me to go home and get off the clock. So friend “M” told me to get lost.

On the way out, I had to pass through some offices in the Tobacco District. I stole some hard candy out of a receptionist’s jar.

At home I had clean laundry on my bed that I needed to put away. I just pushed it aside and collapsed, face down. I set the alarm to get up at 4:30 so I would have time to eat something before driving out to meet the crew for Thursday. When it went off, I couldn’t figure out what for -- it was too early wasn’t it? I had a feeling that it had interrupted me while I was doing something important, but I wasn’t sure what.

1 comment:

i zimbra said...

I really enjoyed this post, Elrond. Thanks so much. I love hearing about sound guy stuff.