Life in Hollywood, below-the-line

Life in Hollywood, below-the-line
Work gloves at the end of the 2006/2007 television season (photo by Richard Blair)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Hiatus Week -- Is The Crew Laughing?

“Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.”
Peter Drucker

I’ve been blathering a lot about life in the sit-com world lately, a niche of the Industry that remains a mystery to all but those who work there. During my first twenty years in Hollywood, I knew nothing at all about sit-coms, and cared even less. I came to LA to work on movies -- but after spending several hard years tied to the whipping post of low budget, non-union features, it dawned on me that I really wasn’t having much fun anymore.

And this kind of work is much too hard if you're not having any fun.

It was time for a change, so when opportunity knocked, I spent the next decade-and-a-half doing television commercials and music videos, with only an occasional return to Feature Land. The base rate of pay in commercials was much better, and unlike low-budget features, commercials actually paid overtime. An added bonus was the relatively short duration of each individual job -- there was always light at the end of the tunnel, which helped make even the toughest jobs tolerable. Earning twice the money with a lot more time off was an equation I could (and did) live with for a long time.

Now we pause for a brief digression...

Any film students reading this -- young people straining at the leash for the opportunity to work on feature films -- will be properly horrified right about now, convinced that I must be the worst form of sell-out imaginable. For so many young and idealistic film students, anyone lured from the True Path of features by the siren song of dirty filthy money is a lost soul indeed. That's how I saw the world back when I was young and falling in love with movies, but time and experience on the front lines of Hollywood taught me that a keen appreciation for movies doesn't necessarily have to be expressed by working on them. Although I know at least one juicer who rose to become a feature director, a person really has to want it to walk that particularly bruising path. I didn't. Not everyone is cut out to be an auteur.

But before you render your harsh and righteously scornful judgement, walk a few miles in my work boots -- and I wish you the best of luck in your own careers.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled program...

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: nothing good lasts for long in Hollywood. When commercials headed north in the late 90’s, fate led me into the strange world of sit-coms. The transition wasn't easy. After averaging two work days per week during the previous 15 years, I found myself toiling five days a week, three weeks a month. Even with the fourth week off (the “hiatus week”), this felt way too much like the ball-and-chain of a full time job.* Then there was the matter of money: sit-coms paid standard union scale, roughly half what I used to make doing commercials.

Still, you do what you must in life, so I made my peace with sit-coms. In time, I realized this type of work suited me better than any other option as I limp down the stretch after thirty hard years. I even came to like that three weeks on, one week off schedule – and like it enough to adopt it for this blog. Until now, my goal has been to post something readable every Sunday, but since I don’t have a show heading into the new television season (and those of you who slogged through the last two posts know exactly why...), I’ll go back to day-playing and rigging wherever and whenever I can. That means longer, harder, more physical work days, which equates to a lot less free time. Rather than strain to put up a decent post every single Sunday, I’ll shoot for three posts a month, followed by a “hiatus week.” When sufficiently inspired/motivated, I might post something short on these Hiatus Sundays -- hopefully an occasional guest-post from other Industry voices -- but on some of those fourth Sundays, you'll find nothing but flies circling a plate smeared with crusty leftovers here at "Blood, Sweat, and Tedium."

Such is life.

That’s the plan, anyway – and if plans are nothing more than something to hang one’s hat on (Peter Drucker’s nose-to-the-grindstone Puritan Ethic philosophy notwithstanding), then that’s where my hat now hangs.

I leave you with two items: a short and amusingly confusing bit of dialog from Ashton Kutcher on his new reality show (courtesy of San Francisco Chronicle TV critic Tim Goodman), and a recent meditation from Rob Long, offering his above-the-line perspective on those of us who do the heavy lifting: The Crew is Laughing.

It’s a good one, and only four minutes long. Check it out.


*Yeah, I know – compared to the vast majority of jobs in the real world, this is dream schedule. We all grade our lives on the curve, however, and I speak here in the highly relative terms of life in Hollywood. Bear in mind that for the lowly juicer, that hiatus week is unpaid. Still (assuming I have enough to cover the monthly nut), I’ll gladly trade money for time. When the money runs low, I can always work to get more – but when my time expires, it’s Game Over.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I feel exactly the same way about "selling out." It seems so easy when you're in film school, but now...

Great blog, by the way. Love it.