If you go into the film business, don't count on getting a lot of sleep. Sometimes it's work, sometimes its the 2am panic attack that keeps you staring at the ceiling all night, and sometimes it's the God of Sleep who's decided it'll be funny to watch you lurch around set the next day like a zombie.
Case in point, I'm working on an infomercial for a hair product. I don't find out until the day before the shoot that we're not at our usual studio in Northern, New Jersey, we are, in fact, at a different facility nearly a two hour drive from my home.
Call the first morning is 8am, which means dragging my ass out of bed at 5:15 to be ready to leave the house at 6:00. 5:15 isn't so bad. I've done plenty of shoots where I've had to get up at 3am.
I drive to set with a co-worker and we get ready to hit it. We need to light, get cameras positioned, and get the hell home. A standard day is 10 hours, so if we get it done in 10, we'll get back home in time to catch some Zs.
The God of Sleep doesn't want to hear that shit. Things start off badly, a clusterfuck snowball rolling down the mountain, growing as it pulls more snow up, building, building, building. First off, the director has a later call than the crew. This, of course, is insanity because without the director there to walk us through the shots, we have no fucking clue what we're doing. We start anyway, some general lighting we're pretty sure we're going to need.
When the director gets there we spend an hour or so dicking around with character placement, blocking, and so forth. We light our asses off, and by 2pm are in decent shape. Rehearse for an hour, do three more hours lighting, and we're home by 8pm.
God of Sleep says nay!
The rehearsal takes five fucking hours. By the time we get back to lighting we're already in overtime. We're not out of there until 10pm. This gets me home at midnight. I get my ass to bed as quickly as possible.
I nod off at maybe 12:30am. This is going to give me a fairly acceptable 4 and 3/4 hours of sleep. Not good, but liveable.
Here's the rub, and where the God of Sleep works his ironic magic. I live right next to a parkway. The parkway has a pair of overpasses no more than hundred yards from my front door. Low overpasses. It's a parkway, trucks aren't supposed to be on it. Yet every so often, a truck does get on, by accident, trying to take a sneaky short-cut, who knows, but they get on, and the signs indicating a lot bridge ahead are minimal at best. Not only that, but the overpasses come out of nowhere. As you cruise up the parkway, you come around this fairly sharp corner, and there, before you, is this hulking arch of solid stone.
When a truck hits an overpass, it's a pretty amazing sound. The first time you hear it you think some terrorist asshole finally got hold of a nuke and the apocalypse is upon you. The next few times you come awake in a limb thrashing panic convinced a small plane or helicopter is crashing in your kitchen. By the time it's happened a dozen times, you get kind of used to is and barely leap out of bed.
So 2:50am or so. Some hapless driver is cruising up the parkway maybe starting to wonder if he took a wrong turn or not. He comes around that corner and I can only imagine the terror in his heart as the overpass hoves into view, with no time to stop.
The result is an earth-shaking scream of metal and wood slamming into solid stone at 50 miles per hour. KAWHAMMMCRASHHHH. The sound throws me out of bed. I'm chewing on my own heart which has leapt for cover behind my teeth.
As I get my breathing under control, I realize what's gone down. Another fucking truck crash. I go to the window and take a look out. Not only a crash, but this one got stuck in the overpass.
Now usually I go out and take pictures of these truck crashes, I have a whole gallery of them. Here's a sample:
(This one hit at maybe 5am so the recovery operation lasted until dawn.)
But no pictures tonight, too durn late, too durn tired. (And to show you what a obsessive fellow I am, I actually feel guilty for letting this one get away and not going out to add it to my collection.) Unfortunately, as I try to get back to sleep, the crew that's been called to move the truck decides they have to rip it part piece by piece to get it unstuck. Lots of clanking, crashing and swearing. I am getting nowhere with the whole sleep thing.
I finally nod off again around 4am. I'm trying not to look at the clock, desperate not to let myself know how little time I have left to sleep before the alarm goes off.
Maybe 20 minutes after I've drifted back off to slumberland, the God of Sleep plays his final card. It's time to move the truck. Usually this involves nothing more ear shattering than the tow truck's engine revving as they tow the stricken truck a few hundred yards up the road to a spot where the shoulder is wide enough to move it off onto. Nothing an exhausted film dog couldn't sleep through.
This truck is different. To get it out from under the overpass, they've deflated the rear wheels. A big chunk of something is making contact with pavement, because when they start towing it, it drags, making the most ungodly rumbling, screeching noise you've ever heard. It's worse than the crash because it goes on, endlessly on, God's fingernails on the universal blackboard.
That wakes me up, and wakes me up good.
The dragging, well, drags on. And on. And on. The boys are taking their time, and it's ten minutes before the sound mercifully fades.
I stare at the ceiling. There is nothing left for me to do now but claim whatever scraps of sleep are left and try to make the best of it. I only hope the next day goes smoothly. It's not that much to shoot, no reason we can't get it done in 10 hours. Ten hours and a four hour commute I can handle on 2 hours sleep.
It's a lovely dream, but like all dreams, is vaporized by the bright light of morning. We work a bone-crunching 16 hours.
And the thing that really bother me? I didn't get a fucking picture.