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Sunday, August 9, 2009
Directors: Part Two
Uh, what about us?
From baseball to politics, all hot streaks eventually come to an end. After cruising through four consecutive episodes graced with three exceptional directors, our luck ran out when the next director du jour turned out to be yet another refugee from SAG trying to carve out a more sustainable career in the DGA. This guy pretty much grew up over the course of half a dozen seasons starring on a show I never watched, although many of you doubtless did. For obvious reasons, I’m not going to say who he is, but most readers would recognize the name. Given that he came of age working on a television show, with ample opportunity to absorb the Industry basics, I figured he might make a good director.
I figured wrong. Although he was an intense young man, quite vocal, seemingly decisive, and very energetic in darting onto the set to drop pearls of wisdom in the various actor’s ears, it all turned out to be a cruel illusion – much sound and fury, signifying nothing. This became increasingly clear as we plodded our way through the blocking/pre-shoot day in such painfully slow manner that it nearly put the entire crew (and worse, some of the actors) to sleep. Shoot night was more of the same – dulled by constant repetition and endless re-takes, some of our actors lost their well-honed edge, forgetting lines and blowing takes as the night dragged on and on.
I suppose I shouldn’t complain -- in a business that so often turns into a straight trade of time for money, I ended up with enough unexpected overtime to fatten my usual anemic cable-rate paycheck. And truth be told, it’s not as though we on the crew were sweating under the lash all that time (mostly we just stood around waiting for this kid to finally get it right), but a little of that goes a long way. As the hours slogged on, it began to feel like the drip, drip, drip of Chinese water torture. Hurry up and wait is one thing -- here, we were just waiting, and as Tom Petty once sang, “the waiting is the hardest part.”
Whatever it is that makes a really good director – the snap, the juice, the magic – this kid just doesn’t have it. Still, my first instinct was to give him the benefit of the doubt. Like so many actors-turned-directors, he probably found his commercial appeal fading as he aged from a cute teenager to a not-so-cute adult, and with a wife and two kids to support, the guy had to find some way to earn a decent living. From what I saw, it seemed he hadn’t had the chance to direct much television – which left hope that someday, given sufficient practice, he might rise to the Industry Standard of Acceptable Directorial Mediocrity.
After all, he’s very young – in his early 30’s, considerably younger than most sit-com directors I’ve seen -- which made it reasonable to chalk up his incompetence to inexperience. Hey, everybody has to learn, and it was his extremely good fortune (aided in no small part by his television acting pedigree) to have the opportunity of learning on the job while being paid better than four thousand dollars a day.
Nice work, if you can get it.
Then I booted up the computer at home and checked out his IMDB resume -- and there I learned that he isn’t some wet-behind-the-ears neophyte, but has directed lots of television over the past few years – dozens of episodes on a wide variety of shows. This eye-opener led me to conclude that either this kid is a very slow learner, or else was so horrendously lame in the beginning that reaching his current level of low-grade incompetence represents a considerable achievement in itself.
But the capper – and what finally tipped me to the true nature of this guy – came once the show was finally in the can. After the exhausted actors made their curtain-call, with the music playing and all the suits congratulating each other down on the floor, he walked up to one of the camera operators directly in front of me and pumped the guy’s hand with an effusive “Thanks so much.”
He didn't have a word for me -- not so much as a nod or any sort of eye-to-eye acknowledgment of my existence as a member of the crew.
I suppose it’s possible he knew this camera operator from the old days when he was just a pup starring on his first (and only) hit show, but watching him make the rounds, it seemed clear that he considered the camera operators and production support people (ADs, script, and camera coordinator) to be “the crew.” The rest of us – the juicers who sweated atop 12 step ladders re-hanging heavy lamps on a swing set after the production designer brought in a virtual forest of trees tall enough to block all the lamps we'd already hung (a nasty, dangerous task with very little room for error), and the grips who hung the pipes, set the flags, and moved all those walls – apparently don’t register on his radar. In this kid’s world, the people who lit, dressed, and propped the set don’t really count.
I’ve got nothing against the camera department – a genial group of guys who did a good job -- but on a sit-com, they show up for two days at the end of the week after all the heavy lifting has already been done. Without a lot of hard work by the juicers, grips, set dressing, and prop departments, the sets would remain as empty and dark as Dick Cheney's heart. As the saying goes, “without us, television is radio.”
But did this young director think to acknowledge any of the Morlocks who did all that hard, dirty work? Did he even bother to thank the gaffer or key grip as representatives of the lower orders on set? Nope. All he could see were the camera operators who breeze in to make their thousand bucks for a couple of days labor, then sail on out into the night without working up so much as a bead of sweat.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but fuck this jerk. It’s bad enough he’s such a crappy director, but failing to give even a crumb of credit to a hard working, seriously underpaid crew is pouring salt on the open wound. I sincerely hope we never see this little prick again.
Ah, but next week (our final episode in this run) we get one of the Good Ones back, a wonderful director who has already done two of our shows this season – and a man who makes a point of thanking the crew after the show.
It's the little things that mean a lot. If you're going to fuck us, as they say -- and working on the cable-rate certainly qualifies as getting fucked -- then at least give us a kiss.
That's not so much to ask.