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, May 10, 2009

Could Film Crews Run the World?

After working eleven of the past twelve days (and thus being fried to a mental and physical crisp), I had nothing to say today -- this was going to be another “hiatus” week for me. But while taking a Sunday morning stroll through the various Industry blogs I keep an eye on, one of them got me to thinking. The Script Goddess – riffing on a commercial currently running on television -- posted the spot followed by her suggestion that the world might be a better place if film crews were running things. This is a well-made commercial wherein the various members of a film crew use their individual skills to deftly guide a wedding party through several potential show-stopping, last-minute disasters to a successful conclusion. It's a cute spot that also makes a good point: when it comes to solving problems on the fly in time-sensitive, temporary situations, film industry professionals really do have the skills to make things happen.

But the key word here is "temporary," since much of what we do in Hollywood on a daily basis is meant to last only a few hours, days, weeks -- or at most, a few months. A hit episodic drama or sit-com will generally use the same core sets for the duration of the show, but such hits are few and far between. The vast majority of shows aren’t hits – and like those of us who work on them, they come and go with the seasonal tide. When a show is cancelled or not picked up, the sets are trashed (or in some cases, recycled), the cameras, lamps, cable, and grip equipment all goes back to storage, and the crew scatters to the four winds.

In Holllywood, everything is temporary.

On the job, all our efforts are directed towards solving whatever problems stand in the way of filming the desired shot. Once those problems have been solved, and the shot completed, we tear it all down and move on to the next shot, and another set of problems. In a way, we’re more like firemen or Emergency Medical Technicians than industrial workers* -- we do whatever it takes to solve the problem at hand quickly -- but the film and TV biz really is a manufacturing industry. We who work here create dreamscapes in the form of moving pictures, an ephemeral composition of light, shadow, and sound. Although the final product is essentially weightless, there’s nothing dreamy at all about the heavy lifting required to make a movie or television show, and some of those real-world skills do have applications beyond a Hollywood film set.

But once the fire is out, the tent city put up, the stoves hot and the lamps burning, we’d all be looking at our watches wondering just when this show is gonna wrap. We’re in this for the quick hit -- to get in, do the job, then move on -- not to hang in there over the long haul. A really big movie might take the better part of a year from the first day of filming on set to its theatrical premiere, while a hit TV show can last eight to ten seasons (unless it’s “Gunsmoke” or “Law and Order” – the exceptions that prove the rule). But during that time, many of crew people will come and go, moving on to other projects. Some of that is just the nature of the biz, but I think it also has something to do with the type of people who are attracted to a life in the Industry.

I came to Hollywood for several reasons -- some of which don’t add up to much in the withering glare of 20:20 hindsight -- but I liked the notion of working on a wide variety of interesting projects. To me, the idea of being chained to a desk for 40 years of shuffling papers while waiting for the retirement bell seemed like the worst sort of living death. Hollywood didn’t offer much in the way of security or stability, but I wasn’t preoccupied with such concerns at the time. Like most of my young peers back then, I came to Hollywood to work on movies, go on location, learn the craft, and have fun – to get out and do things -- and that’s just what most of us did.

We certainly didn’t come here to run the world, and although many of our skills might be useful in emergency situations, I don’t think the many seemingly intractable problems facing our planet are solvable by film crews (or anybody else, for that matter). And if we were somehow put in a position to “run the world,” I imagine most of us would get bored in a hurry – we’re just not wired for that kind of long-term, sustained-effort problem solving.

Personally, I’m not sure there really are any lasting solutions to the worst of our problems. Looking around at the world today, I think we crossed that Rubicon a while back, and that it’s now just a matter of time before the shit hits the fan in a Very Big Way. Duck-and-cover all you want, but one way or another, we’re all going to get splattered this time around.

But hey, I’ve been wrong before – and I really hope I’m wrong on this one...

* I don’t mean to stretch this analogy too far. Firemen and EMT’s save other people’s lives everyday, often at great risk to their own -- all we do is make movies and television. Beyond the fact that all of us employ our skills to solve temporary problems, then move on, there’s really no comparison at all...


doug said...

Perfect example of this is Local 52 setting up the work lights at the World Trade Center after 9/11. Angel Aerial has pictures of their water trucks being used to wet down the whole scene for dust suppression:

I was only a sophomore in high school when it happened, but I had the same mentality & was helping set up cots in our school gym which was turned into a triage center that day...

Scripty said...

Ah, Michael, you are as usual so correct in your assessment of Film. I agree, film crews are temporary magic. Its true..."we’re just not wired for that kind of long-term, sustained-effort problem solving."

But looking at the world around me these days, I'd give anything for even the smallest amount of magic!