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THE WORLD OF HOLLYWOOD

A voice for the techies

Beneath the din of star talk, a caustic blogger speaks up for the town's well-shod crews.

December 04, 2005|Mary McNamara | Times Staff Writer

HER arms are covered with dime-sized burn marks and her left wrist is popped out of its socket, but this is not a bad thing. Injuries are part of the job; injuries mean she's working steadily, and as any electrical lighting technician or grip, gaffer or best boy in Los Angeles will tell you, that is not always the case.

An electrical lighting technician, she is one of the thousands of dayworkers who make up the stage crews at studios and set sites around Southern California. The work itself is incredibly varied -- she can spend one whole day sitting, wrapped in a sleeping bag, minding a light 70 or 80 feet above a set, another dodging rats as she runs cable under a Beverly Hills mansion -- but two things are not. The days are almost always long -- 12 to 14 hours --and whatever she's doing, it's bound to involve lifting things that are very heavy and often very hot. Hence the burns. She doesn't make the credit list often, and she won't be buying a house in her West Hollywood neighborhood any time soon, but she likes the life well enough to have lived it for 15 years.

"But someday," the woman says, "I am going to make a chart describing how darn heavy some of the things are."

When she makes the chart, you will be able to read it online at www.filmhacks.blogspot.com. Because on top of being a steadily working lighting technician and a budding independent filmmaker, Peggy Archer is also a blogger.

Peggy Archer is, in fact, her nom de blog; for almost a year, her Totally Unauthorized site has offered one of the few truly behind-the-scenes looks at the film and television industry on the Internet. In cyberspace, where everyone can hear you kvetch, Hollywood blogs abound, written by personal assistants, low-level agents, publicists, journalists and, most often, screenwriters. Names are dropped, salaries estimated, unflattering celeb photos posted, and swimming-with-sharks encounters mercilessly, and often hilariously, described.

There is a blog devoted to stupid pitch letters, another detailing bad plastic surgery, a site where you can read about famous bad (and good) tippers from the waiters who served them, down to the dollar amounts. And when all else fails, there's always Defamer, fast becoming the IMDB of industry gossip.

But if you want to know what it's like to work on a set, there's no beating Totally Unauthorized. Archer has a clear voice, a good eye for detail and a deadpan delivery. She also patiently explains the lingo of her profession, from the crew list (a gaffer is the head of a lighting crew, a best boy is the gaffer's assistant) to internal slang ("jumping" is when you leave one show for another before the first has ended, a "kick" is a hard light that shines on the back of an actor's head, and "getting peeled" means being worked to death).

Over the last year, the growing popularity of the blog is obvious from the number of responses to each post; comments range from nonindustry types grateful to understand a bit more about the film and television shoots they see around them almost daily to commiseration from other below-the-line workers to technical questions from people just starting the business and looking to Archer to provide something of a primer. Over the past few months, some of her posts have been picked up by other sites, including Defamer.

With a few exceptions -- apparently Michael Bay screamed so much on "The Island" that at one point he lost his voice and then had to use a megaphone to keep screaming -- Archer doesn't trash anyone by name, and she leaves the talent alone entirely. Actors, she says, rarely mingle with the crew and that's fine -- both groups are busy doing their jobs. The only thing Archer and her colleagues ask of stars is that they show up on time, know their lines and then get the heck out of the way when the director yells "cut" and "move on" (which means move on to another scene).

"The good ones, the professional ones, go sit in their chairs between takes," she says. "Some people think this means they're snobby, but it doesn't. They're just smart enough to realize they are working on what is essentially a construction site, and their chair is a safe place to be."

Still, the general obsession with celebrity can intrude. When she was working on "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," it was weird to see women standing at the gates screaming for a sight of Brad Pitt, but she didn't give it too much thought until a photographer tried to sneak onto the Red Bull truck.

"Which meant no more free Red Bull," she says. "Which was quite a bummer."

While you won't find traditional dish on Totally Unauthorized, you will find an insightful chronicle of the often back-breaking labor that makes all the Hollywood magic.

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