The Dishwashers: Grunts of the LA Movie Scene

The streets around my hotel were covered with piles of movie-making gear.

If it’s not too cliché for me to say it: they are filming a movie on the streets and in the air around my hotel in Downtown Los Angeles. Two helicopters chase one another in circles around the glass towers of the Westin Bonaventure. There are lighting trucks parked up and down the street. It’s after ten at night and there is a lot of activity. The film in production is Batman Rises. Christian Bale is rumored to be somewhere nearby. I saw the bat motorcycle, but didn’t get a picture. Why not? See below.

honkin' lighting gear for Batman filming.


I met some Production Assistants, (PA’s) on the corner, and struck up a conversation with them. They were funny and easy to talk to and seemed to enjoy what they were doing, which was:
A. smoking
B. Keeping people like me from taking pictures of the production.
C. Keeping people like me out of areas that would disrupt the production
D. Smoking
“You know what we are? We’re the dishwashers.” One of them told me. An apt parallel – people totally critical to the success of the enterprise, but also totally replaceable. Not a union job, I learned – you needed something like 60 days of this kind of work to apply for a union job. If these guys were the dishwashers, then the busboys were also out in force. Busboys: riggers, had everything hanging from their belts. Gloves, wrenches, rolls of gaffer’s tape.  They moved with a little more nervous energy than the PA’s.

All of these guys had a look. Central casting or wardrobe couldn’t create or deliver it. For all of the glitzy perfection that is a final product that we pay ten dollars to see, the equipment and the people who make it are rough-looking, distressed. These guys had patina. Jeans, baseball caps, crew T-shirts from previous projects.  At least two walkie-talkies each on their belts. I hereby nominate PA’s and riggers for LA’s Best Dressed award. They have tons of style without trying. And they don’t sacrifice function for fashion.

And, yes, they were all working on their own screenplays.

I told them I worked for Adobe and that I was here as part of the MAX conference. As usual, there was a lot of discussion about Flash and the iPhone. I went over the approved talking points, played it mostly for comic effect. Apple hates us, etc. (not entirely true) And we talked about a conference session I had hoped to attend (but couldn’t, damnit.) on shooting and editing with HDSLR cameras. Yeah, digital still cameras that shoot HD video are being used to shoot indie, and I suppose even studio productions. The first time I saw a Canon 5D with a matte box attached to it, I thought it looked insane – but hey, that would work, I guess. And cost a lot less than a Sony video camera, especially the lenses.
So we talked a bit about the look of HDSLR video. “It looks too digital.” We decided.
“But then you can use filters in Premiere Pro to make it look like film.” I told them. Does that make any sense? I guess it does. Nods all around. (Actually, they said Final Cut Pro, and I had to smack them around a bit. I have mouths to feed, after all.) While I was trying to increase my street cred with the real movie guys here on Figeroa I let slip that,
“Oh yeah, I know, the “look” of film, hey, man, I’ve shot and I’ve edited 16mm.”
“This is being filmed on 16mm,” one of them told me quickly and with zero irony in his voice, “you know, for that look.” OK, now I realized that they were playing with me. I deserved it.

A car which was part of the production was towed nearby. It was a rig in which the actors sat and pretended to drive while the whole thing was actually towed by a camera truck. A crew of men began efficiently unhitching lighting gear from one side and then reconfiguring it on the other side of the car. The PA’s described what was happening. Basically, they had to reconfigure all of the lighting and camera equipment to the other side of the car for a reverse angle shot. I saw IMAX cameras, cool. I hid behind a bus shelter and took a picture. Plausible deniability for us both.

I saw the batcycle – or whatever it’s called. I was assured that it was a fully functioning motorcycle, and that Christian Bale had driven it earlier in the evening. “It’s badass, it hauls.” But I didn’t take any pictures, they told me not to. See? These guys command respect. Plus, I’m a rule follower.
Earlier in the day, I saw 40 cops walking into my hotel, most carrying plates of food. But when I saw the GCPD stenciled across the back of one of their jackets I realized that they weren’t real cops. I’m such a sucker. (Really? Do I have to do this? Gotham City Police Department.)



It was midnight. We said goodbye. They would probably be working on the set for at least another two hours. Good luck with the screenplays, guys, I hope you sell them and direct them.

My souvenir from LA.

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