I am attempting to keep this blog a little more current while I am shooting in Texas. Today marks the end of my first week here, and I wanted to share some stories of what being on set is really like. Bottom line: it’s not always pretty.
The main character in our little story is the heat. We shoot almost every single day outside in the sun, and the mercury continuously clocks in at over 100°. Add humidity to the mix, and you have one very uncomfortable shooting environment.
Our first day was in Alvin, TX, about one hour from our production office in Richmond. Without getting into too many details, our show is about restoring old equipment; preferably diesel powered equipment. The first one up was a vegetable farmers’ International Harvester Farmall 140 tractor. I don’t know much about it beyond that it was manufactured sometime in the early 70’s. The unit needed urgent attention as it had no seat, but plenty of rust. I’m not sure what the show has in store for it, but it will be interesting to see a pimped out tractor.
As for shooting this, it couldn’t have been a harder introduction. We ran out of water very quickly and there was absolutely no shade for most of the day. The farm itself was suffering from a severe drought (it has not rained here in over 200 days). The tow truck for the tractor died, and our host’s trailer had a faulty A/C unit, though he was very patient about it.
also had my share of sound problems. There was significant radio interference at one point, and I had to resort to a boom. This was not good in such a loud environment, but having people waiting in triple digit temperatures was simply not an option. Otherwise the day went well, but the thought that there were 10 plus weeks of production did seem daunting after it was over.
Day 2 was not any easier. Our next vehicle was a cement mixer at a stone supply company. The heat was even worse, since the ground was covered in white rocks and sand that acted as a mirror for the heat. Beyond that, the wind really picked up and blew dust all over the place, so keeping our gear clean was a constant chore. At one point, the wind was so bad it almost collapsed video village (this is where the director and producers watch the video feeds from).
The mighty International Farmall 140 Tractor
The sound problems continued. On shows like this, production wants all mics hidden. This requires me to carefully attach those small radio mics (see previous post below) to the actors clothing with mole skin. Normally I could just attach the mic to the actor’s skin, but with the heat the tape wouldn’t even stick. On this day, the heat was so bad that the sweat soaked the shirt so bad the adhesive wouldn’t even stick to the clothing for very long.
Beyond that, every time the actors moved, the sound of tiny pebbles getting crushed ruined the dialogue. Mics can be more sensitive than the human ear, so it sounded like people talking while stepping on Rice Krispies. Ugly, ugly sound. My solution was to lay down furniture pads on the ground. It completely eliminated the problem. I got mostly great audio, but we still had to watch out for the endless semi trucks, airplanes, and trains.
Day 3 was a really long trip. We left at 6:00am for Crystal Lake, TX, which is very close to Galveston. I have fond memories of this area when Mom took us there to visit Uncle Dave’s family, but maybe it seems so pleasant because we had an epic family implosion a day or two later in San Antonio.
The camera department prepares the jib arm.
The gentleman who owned the soon-to-be-restored Diesel Semi Truck (circa 1991) owned a sanitation business. Specifically, he changes out Port-A-Potties, so as you can imagine, this location wasn’t whole lot of fun. It didn’t smell as bad as I thought it would, but eating lunch was still kind of hard. As for audio, this was my best day so far. The area is pretty desolate, so traffic noise was limited. I was able to avoid overload and clothing noise, and the owner was very accommodating shutting down his workers’ trucks for me.
On the way back, we had to take a ferry back to cross the peninsula. As I looked over the Gulf of Mexico, I remembered how good of a way this is to make a living. It certainly beat my old, windowless office at Columbia.
The next day was a pick-up truck at a construction site. Not much to report here. Since it was deep in the woods, the audio was very clear, though the guest did tend to breathe very heavily from the heat and how hard he was working. The post-production folks are going to have fun with him later in the editing room, I’m sure.
And that brings me to today, which just so happens to be my birthday. My present? A 5:00 am call time. Ugh! We drove to La Porte, TX to pick up an old steam roller. This one really got to me. The sun was just becoming unbearable, and I really struggled to stay hydrated. The issues with sweat and the mole skin removed, and I resorted to using a vampire clip at the end (this is a small mic holder with two little metal “teeth” to attach to the shirt. That fixed the placement issue, but we were still shooting next to a Freeway. Not much we could do about this, so I just did the best I could.
Looking back on all of this, ll I can say is that this has really been a pleasure. On the other hand, I am really missing Jen, and I hope to see her soon, even if I have to fly her out here. On this, my 28th birthday, I am relieved to say I am extremely grateful. I used to hate birthdays, since I usually spent them alone. Even though I spent this one working, I'm still very grateful for many things: good family, the best girlfriend ever, and a great job. I can’t really ask for more out of life.