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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

"Then the dimmer board went down," she wrote recently from the set of "Bones." "Twice. We continued to run like crazy -- at one point, I was standing under the catwalk, and I felt something dripping on me. I thought it was an overturned water bottle. I looked up, and it was one of the other juicers [lighting technicians] sweating like he was in a sauna. Of course, every time crafty [craft services] brought food, he'd do it right when we were lighting, so by the time we got done, the food was gone.... I ate about half a rancid salad (when you're running around and sweating, you can't eat anything heavy like a burger or spaghetti or you'll throw it up. All of us have learned this the hard way)."

Risks in revelation

ARCHER started her blog on a bet. A friend who is not in the entertainment industry sighed once too often about how fascinating and glamorous Archer's job must be. To prove her wrong, Archer began chronicling her days on a blog, promising her friend that no one would read it. And just when it looked like she was right, people began posting responses.

A few months ago, Totally Unauthorized was listed on Craigslist Top Ten Hollywood blogs, and when Archer recently posted that work had her so wiped out she was afraid she would be too incoherent to blog, the overwhelming response was that incoherence was much preferred to silence.

"I guess people like to hear what it's really like," she says. "At least I am putting my overpriced education to some use."

Still, revealing the world she inhabits is not without risks; she does not want to be photographed or described, for fear that if her identity became public she would lose work. Already, she has heard through the grapevine that one television show won't be hiring her again because of Totally Unauthorized.

"If people are really reading closely," she says, "there is enough on the site to give me away. Fortunately, most people who work on a set are too tired to do much Internet surfing."

That she is now a top industry blogger is no more surprising to her than that she is a lighting technician. Archer grew up in L.A. surrounded by the movie industry, but she got her master's degree in art. "That's nothing," she says. "I know a grip who's a lawyer; another one's got a degree in electrical engineering."

In her 20s, Archer directed music videos, but the pressure, she says, quickly produced a bleeding ulcer and a personality change that she describes in language that cannot be printed here. So she looked around for something else to do.

She didn't have to look far.

"The grips and electricians all seemed like they were having a great time," she says. "And they had all this great stuff -- belts and tools, very cool."

Archer soon realized she could never be a grip, a job that requires the ability to build a set from the lighting perspective. "To be a grip you have to be one of those kids who built the Eiffel Tower out of Legos," she says. "You have to see things where there is nothing. It is not an entry-level job, and it is not something I can do."

Twenty years ago, it might have been odd for a woman to be on a crew at all. These days it is not as uncommon -- of the 2,000 members of the lighting technicians union, Local 728, 68 are women. Archer is not a large woman, and there are a few things she is physically incapable of doing on the job. "I have a hard time lifting anything more than 50 pounds over my head," she says. "But the union will tell you even a big strong guy shouldn't be doing that."

For the most part, gender is not an issue on set.

"I guess when women first showed up, there were guys who'd say, 'Oh, I'll get that, honey,' " she says. "And if someone said that to me I'd be like, 'Great, you go to your chiropractor.' But it doesn't happen much. The guys," she says with a grin, "have caught on."

Trips to the chiropractor are part of the job description. So is the emergency room and occasionally the surgeon. On her blog, Archer has chronicled the trouble with her constantly popping wrist (the doctor says the real problem is her elbow), her feet, her knees, her back. She works in $400 boots that she has resoled a few times a year, but footwear is always an issue -- tennis shoes are out, but so are steel-toed boots. "Drop something on a steel-toe, the steel toe will give," she says. "The steel toe gives and you're looking at a smashed toe. You really would prefer the toe be cut off than smashed. Because if it's cut off, they can sew it back on."

Painful lessons

ON her site and in person, Archer is matter-of-fact about the physical damage crew members face. "This is why you never see an old electrician," she says with a laugh. It's also why she gets so angry when the sore subject of runaway production comes up.

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