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)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A Hollywood Life: Always on the Bubble

Transience: passing quickly into and out of existence...

Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary

A set from a just-completed TV pilot, disassembled and ready for storage.

The film and television Industry is a study in transience. When a project -- be it a feature film, television show, commercial, or music video – is given the green light, a crew coalesces from the greater Hollywood diaspora like vultures gathering to feast on fresh road kill. That crew might consist of thirteen people or three hundred, many of whom have never met, coming together to form a unit able to manufacture a finished, screenable product out of thin air. Once their work is done, the crew will vanish back into the smoggy ether to await another phone call, and the next job.

There are no guarantees, no security, no nothing. Every job can be your last – and after a production wraps, the possibility remains that your phone might never ring again. For the first few years, that fear looms large, but it tends to fade with experience and the passage of time. After a while you find that something always seems to come along when you really need it. Maybe it won’t be the job you really wanted, but just as you’re starting to feel the cold fangs of panic sink deep into your chest, the phone will ring, and all is suddenly right with the world again.

Until it doesn’t, of course. Sooner or later it’ll happen to all of us, and at that point you’d better be prepared to find another career. If you can’t -- or won’t -- then you’re already on the slippery slope of retirement, like it or not.

That the fear never really goes away altogether is a healthy thing. An absence of fear breeds complacency, which in turn leads to getting fat and lazy, which is always the real danger. Word spreads fast in a big little town like Hollywood, and once the notion settles in that you’re not quite as hungry and sharp as you used to be, those with the power to hire will start calling other people.

Right now, at the end of pilot season, is always a nervous time. Nobody knows which pilots will get picked up, or what shows will return. There are a few cable shows already underway or gearing up, but network dramas and comedies are done for the next couple of months, and since there are always several shows “on the bubble” at the end of every season, this is a period of endless nervous speculation.

The LA Times recently ran an excellent article by Maria Elena Fernandez detailing exactly how the crew members of a show (“The Unit”) on that bubble deal with all this. If you missed it, you can read it here.

There’s always another side to every story, though, and when it comes to describing how pilot season feels from above-the-line, Rob Long has no peer. In this, one of Rob's recent “Martini Shot” commentaries on KCRW, he talks about the ephemeral nature of every pilot, and the difficulty of knowing exactly when – or if -- a given pilot is actually dead. As with most things having to do with the Industry, it’s not as simple as you might think.

At only four minutes, it’s well worth your time.

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