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)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Apocalypse Draws Near, again...

Pardon me while I briefly channel Andy Rooney


Yet further proof (as any were needed) that the End Times are indeed coming soon: IPhone/Starbucks junkies can now download a brand new app to their cherished digital communicators allowing them to order and pay for their favored blend of South American stimulant drug remotely via an IPhone. Presumably this means they can leave the car double-parked while dashing into the Starbucks to grab that waiting cup of Yuppie Joe, then rush back to continue their busy, busy day without unnecessary delay or actual human contact.

Look, I’m all for progress, but this sounds like the latest in an apparently endless series of “dumbest things I’ve ever heard” -- which no doubt means it will sell like the proverbial hotcakes.

Questions: Is there any end to the digital madness? Just when is “enough” enough?

Answers: No and never, I guess.

Onward we blunder into our Brave New World of the future...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Rain Dance

















The God of Hollywood must be appeased...


Autumn in New York is so beautiful they wrote a song about it, a haunting refrain expressing the complex emotions evoked by the seasonal shift as summer fades and the northern hemisphere tilts towards winter.

It’s nothing like that in LA, where the Santa Ana winds blew into town right on schedule this week, radically upping the fire danger while bringing brutally hot, dry, and miserable conditions for every living creature unable to scuttle indoors to the cool bliss of air conditioning. But for the events related in last week's post, I’d have been one of the lucky ones working in a cavernous air-conditioned sound stage, but having been rudely ejected from my comfortable cocoon into the sweaty Horse Latitudes of unemployment, I suffer through the baking heat along with the other 12% of California's residents currently out of work.

It’s 92 degrees here at the keyboard as I type, with the temperature steadily rising and nothing but a box fan over in the corner blowing hot air at me.*

I made a classic mistake back on the home planet – and fool that I was, did it knowingly. With the vibe so strong that our show was coming back, I didn’t bother to file for unemployment. My plans were to be away for only couple of weeks or so, and with the state Employment Development Department overwhelmed by a human tsunami of applicants, it didn’t seem worth the effort. I've recently heard several horror stories of people spending an entire day on the phone trying to break through the EDD voice mail system, of applications lost in the flood, and claims filed on the Internet (which the EDD voice mail helpfully suggests) being ignored because – due to the once-Golden State’s current financial difficulties (we’re flat broke, and then some) -- there simply aren’t enough bodies at the EDD to process them all. One old friend of mine (a gaffer who has had a terrible time finding work this year) finally had to call his congressman to cut through the confusion and red tape, and only then did his claim go through.

Given all that, why bother to file? Hell, I’d be back to work by the end of the month anyway, so screw it.

Thanks to the Not So Great Depression were currently enduring, millions of people from the normal world are getting their first taste of doing the EDD Shuffle. Until now, dealing with unemployment hasn’t been an integral part of their lives, but for those of us who followed the gypsy muse into the film biz, unemployment is regular stop on the road. Indeed, some of us came to Hollywood in part to avoid the regimentation of full-time work demanded by the Normal World, where each year is laid out in a grid pattern of 52 equal portions, only two or three of which might be reserved for “vacation,” while the rest is devoted to keeping one’s nose firmly strapped to the grindstone.

Nothing about that sounded good to me when I first came to Hollywood, but like so many things that held great appeal when young – multiple shots of Jagermeister at midnight, the occasionally heedless use of certain “controlled substances,” and a few expedient but ultimately poor choices of female companionship – the joys of intermittent employment tend to fade with age. Not working means no income, and as the years pile on, it becomes increasingly clear that there’s really no such thing as having too much money in the bank. When that Final Day of work comes to an end, and I walk away from the last set of my professional career, my wallet will begin the inexorable process of wasting away to nothing.

Since those who run out of money tend to wind up living under bridges and freeway overpasses these days, this is not a comforting thought.

Wanting to work won't make it happen, though, and that's where the EDD enters the picture as a bridge over economically troubled waters. The first time I filed for unemployment, my check came to forty bucks a week. This wasn’t much even then, but at the time and place (a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...), it was just enough to get by. The current maximum payment in California is $450/week ($475 with a $25 stimulus-boost from the feds), still barely enough to get by on in this vastly more expensive era. You won’t save a penny on unemployment, but it will buy groceries and pay the rent, keeping the wolf on the other side of your door until the phone starts ringing again. For the average free-lance Industry worker, unemployment checks are a Godsend without which many of us might have been forced out of the biz a long time ago.

That much hasn’t changed over the years, but nearly everything else about dealing with the EDD is now very different. Back in the old days, going on unemployment meant being assigned a day and time every two weeks to wait in line for the check -- mine was 10:55 a.m. every other Tuesday, with the 10:50 person in front and the 11:00 behind. This turned the ritual of going to unemployment into a social occasion, an egalitarian collection of actors, grips, juicers, and AD’s among all the civilians there for the same reason. The unemployment line could be a good place to network and compare notes as to what movies (and jobs) might be coming up in the near future. It also served to get you off your ass and see first-hand that in being unemployed, you were anything but alone.

Back then, it wasn't unusual to spot well-known actors/actresses waiting in those lines, by my only true celebrity sighting at the unemployment office happened during an argument with a burly EDD security guard over where to park my motorcycle. Having cut it close time-wise, I was in a hurry to take my place in line – but while he was going into explicit detail as to exactly where I could shove my motorcycle, the big guard suddenly shifted his gaze, then stopped in mid-sentence.

“Look," he blurted, "it’s Orson Welles!”

I turned around and sure enough, there was The Legend himself, emerging from an old convertible wearing an enormous blue terry-cloth bathrobe, holding a huge smoldering cigar in one hand. Unfortunately, he wasn’t there to wait for an unemployment check, but headed for an editing facility just across the street from the EDD office. After looking both ways (and making sure everyone in sight had seen him), he planted that giant stogie between his teeth, then squeezed his enormous frame through the doorway of a brick building and disappeared.

The magic of the moment completely defused my squabble with the guard.

 “Leave your bike here,” he shrugged, waving his hand at the very spot where a moment before he’d forbidden me to park. “I’ll keep my eye on it.”

Such is the magic of true celebrity in Hollywood. I never saw Welles again, but what had been an otherwise banal morning was forever burned into my memory banks.

The modern system of filing a claim via telephone or Internet, then receiving the checks in the mail, is doubtless more efficient, but I miss the camaraderie of going in every two weeks and waiting in line with the rest of the gainfully unemployed. The checks usually come in right on time, but operating from home while waiting for the phone to ring is an infinitely more isolating experience. After a while a cold paranoia begins to seep in, as you start wondering if maybe you’re the only one who isn’t working... and that way lies madness. So you get on the phone and call everybody you know, and when it turns out they’re not working either, you don’t feel quite so bad.

I’m not sure if misery really does love company, but being out there in the dark all alone isn’t much fun.

Other than doing it all from home, the basic ritual remains the same: when a job comes to its inevitable end, (assuming no other work is in sight), you call the EDD at 8:00 a.m. the next morning, answer the twenty or so quick questions, and voila – you’re on the dole. A packet from the state arrives in the mail a week later with all the essential information, including a claim form to be filled out and mailed the following Sunday. If you work at all during those two weeks, whatever money earned must be reported, and will be deducted from your check. Should your earnings significantly exceed the weekly award, you'll receive nothing at all -- but so long as you keep sending those forms in, your claim stays open until you resume full time work.

To me, that’s more than fair. An unemployment claim is good for a year, and given the hit-and-miss nature of free-lance work, it’s not uncommon for an Industry worker to keep tapping that claim throughout that year whenever the work dries up.

Gainful unemployment isn’t all Sweetness and Light, though. Failure to be straight with the EDD when reporting income (even an innocent mistake) can lead to serious consequences. When I was doing commercials, my best boy once forgot to report a single day’s income (the only day he’d worked that week) when he filled out and sent in the form. The EDD caught the mistake a few months later, and not only did they make him pay the money back, but he was barred from receiving any unemployment checks for twelve weeks thereafter. While unemployed (and needing that money), he had to keep sending in the forms every two weeks until all twelve unemployed weeks had elapsed.

Needless to say, he never made that mistake again.

The same thing nearly happened to me when the production company for a Nike commercial I’d worked on (a one day job) reported my income to the EDD for the week I was paid rather than the week I actually worked. Six months later the EDD jumped down my throat in a big way, convinced that I’d failed to report my income that week, but a frantic call to the production company up in Oregon eventually straightened things out. Fortunately, my habit was to keep the paperwork from all my jobs – every work date, call sheet, and a contact list with names and phone numbers – for at least a year after each job. People make mistakes, and once the EDD starts breathing fire at you, having such documentation might be the only way to avoid getting burned.

The most important reason to file is the money – money to pay rent, buy groceries, and keep the lights on without completely draining your savings – until you land another job. But filing a claim also serves as a ritual appeasement of the Hollywood Gods -- and sometimes it really does seem that until you file, work won't come.

That's why I call it "doing the rain dance."

After all these years, doing the rain dance has been burned into my psyche, so when unforeseen circumstances extended my stay on the home planet, I began to regret having ignored the basic code of free-lance life: hope for the best, but always assume the worst. Six solid months of more-or-less steady work dulled my instincts and left me complacent – which is why I found myself dialing and re-dialing the EDD’s number last Monday morning in a vain attempt to file a claim. No luck. Every attempt left me wading through the same robotic voicemail prompts only to have a metallic voice drone “Please call back later" -- at which point it hung up on me.

That's the sort of bureaucratic runaround that can push a guy down the road towards Ryder Trucks, if you know what I mean... so rather than add fuel to the growing fire within, I surrendered to reality and spent the next hour filling out the vastly more intrusive and complicated on-line claim form. At this point, I can only hope my claim doesn’t languish on the bottom of some digital slush pile beneath so many others lost the cyber-void of a paralyzed bureaucracy drifting helplessly towards the abyss.

What I’d forgotten back on the Home Planet was that when you want it to rain, you have to do a rain dance. Call it a ritual, call it superstition – call it what you will -- but filing for unemployment is the first thing to do when you want work to materialize from the ether. It’s as if there really is some fickle-but-attentive God of Hollywood that knows all, sees all, and is determined to make every one of us humble mortals toe the line -- or else. The EDD won’t actually get you a job, but sometimes it seems that only after enduring the hassle of battling the bureaucracy to file a claim – yet another example of the endless dues-paying modern life demands right up until the day you die – will the God of Hollywood allow your phone to ring.

One way or another, you‘ve got to do the rain dance.

But does this actually work, you wonder? Not according the wisdom of post hoc ergo propter hoc, the ancient Latin phrase positing that a causal relationship does not necessarily exist between one act and circumstances that follow. Although it’s hard to argue with such wisdom, I filed my EDD claim on Monday, and late Thursday afternoon the phone rang with a job for Friday. Yeah, it was just a one-day gig on a cable episodic show, but it broke the dry spell.  Besides, one thing has a way of leading to another in this silly business.

Did filing my claim finally appease the angry God of Hollywood? Who knows -- and who cares, because I choose to follow the ancient advice “go with what works” – and the rain dance works for me.



* Before those of you living in Arizona, Texas, New York, or anywhere else in the US write to tell me what a complete wuss I am -- and how much hotter it is in your particular corner of the world – save your breath. Seriously, I get it. I too have endured the summer heat of Florida, worked under the brutal Texas sun during July, and suffered in the cotton fields of North Carolina during August and September (shooting a movie, not picking cotton.) I’ve learned first-hand just how miserable the routinely extreme heat and humidity of other states really is.

Yes, it’s hotter and more miserable elsewhere, but life is graded on the arc of a curve based on local conditions to which we as individuals have grown accustomed. It’s all relative – if you were to beam an Eskimo from the North Pole to a parking lot in Phoenix at noon in mid- August, the poor bastard might well assume he’d been sent to Hell. As brutal as the heat can be in Death Valley (I’ve suffered there too – the hottest place in North America), it’s still not as bad as the heat our military people endure every day in the Middle East summers. So unless you’re over there carrying a hundred pound pack and God only knows how much in weapons, ammunition, and body armor, give your keyboard -- and me -- a break, okay?

As far as I’m concerned, mid-90’s and rising is frackin’ hot.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Odds and Ends























In a recent post, I chronicled a glancing encounter with a very free-spirited bicycle rider who was making the most of gridlocked rush hour traffic. As it turns out, there’s been something of an underground bicycle rebellion going on for some time now in the midst of our modern urban dystopias. I was familiar with the infamous “Critical Mass” gatherings that began every month in San Francisco during the early 90’s (and continue to this day) but didn’t realize pedal-bikers were doing their own aggressively confrontational thing all around the country, much less here in LA.

The Anonymous Production Assistant sent me the following UTube links to demonstrate what’s been happening on the crowded SoCal freeways when most of us aren’t looking. Neither displays quite the same level of giddy gonzo-insanity of the fellow I witnessed doing that no-room-for-error wheelie on a very thin strip of pavement between two lines of stalled cars, but they’re still breathtaking -- and being UTube, these are just a small sample of bikers-gone-mad videos available on-line:

Bikes on the Freeway

Bike Protest

*****************************************

My adventures on Facebook continue, leaving me astonished at how many of you are letting it all hang out in the public cyber-square. I suppose I’ve joined the madness too, albeit in a rather tentative manner, but have noticed a distinct uptick in Facebook referrals to this blog since I began posting a link on my homepage.

So I guess it’s not all bad, although something about the whole thing still feels slightly unsavory – which makes this, sent to me by an old friend and occasional blog-reader, deliciously appropriate.

Maybe I’m seeing a some limited value to this Facebook thing – but if I ever start to twitter and tweet, please, somebody come smother me with a pillow in my sleep so I won’t have to wake up...

******************************************

While back on the home planet I stumbled across a terrific interview on NPR with Mike Judge, creator of “King of the Hill” (a wonderful if under-appreciated animated show) and the very funny (hopefully not prescient...) movie ”Idiocracy”, among other films. At 40 minutes or so, this is not a short interview, but it’s really good (especially if you ever watched/enjoyed “King of the Hill”), and includes Judge’s low-key but priceless story of how the idea for “Idiocracy” hit him in the first place.

It should come as no surprise this seminal moment occurred during a long wait in line at Disneyland, where existential despair comes with the price of the ticket.

And if you too happen to be unemployed, then you’ve certainly got the time, so check it out.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Burned Again






















Last Person Leaving Stage Turn Out Lights


Woke up this morning, what did I see
A big black cloud hanging over me
I switched on the radio and nearly dropped dead
The news was so bad that I fell out of bed...


“Wish I Could Fly Like Superman,” by The Kinks


It’s a long hot drive back from the home planet, past the Dach-cow of the Harris Ranch -- close the windows and hold your nose -- and endless fields of once-green corn turning yellow in the tired sunlight of late summer. A car’s tires spin in a blur at 75 mph, with every second drawing me closer to the Doomed City of the Future, there to resume work on my comfortable little cable-rate sit-com. After a month in the cool coastal north, the oppressive heat of inland California takes some getting used to, but at least the horrendous fires that torched so many SoCal hillsides and suburbs were finally out or under control. Fully prepared for the onset of winter, I was ready to put my shoulder to the sit-com wheel for another ten to twelve episodes right up to the Christmas holidays.

The show has been airing every Tuesday night and getting decent numbers – nothing spectacular, but good for a new show – and as a bonus, the songs performed by our two young stars during the episodes were reportedly selling like hotcakes on ITunes. Our live studio audiences were extremely vocal in their enthusiasm on shoot nights, leading everyone to feel good about this one -- including the one actual “name” in our cast. During one of the later blocking days, he turned to us with a grin and said “I think we’re in for a five year run, boys.”

This was music to my ears. After three long years without a show -- hunting and pecking as a dayplayer/rigger trying to cobble together enough work to survive – it was about time. My roll of the dice last spring led me on a physically punishing trek through two difficult pilots, then the ordeal of getting this show up and running (which is like doing another pilot, essentially), but all that effort was finally paying off. Riding a five year wave wouldn’t quite take me all the way into the sunny beach of retirement, but it would supply most of the hours I need to secure post-retirement health coverage, and bolster an anemic pension plan.

To those of you in your twenties (still hoping to forge an Industry career of one sort or another) this doubtless sounds like more tiresome gray-haired mewling of the sort you really don’t want to hear -- but to me, it's reality looming right over the horizon. If you're lucky enough to live another thirty years (which sounds like an eternity now, but will slip away a lot quicker than you can imagine), you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

I'll be dead by then and unable to say "I told you so," but such are the inevitable realities of life.

Look at it this way: it’s the quality-of-life difference between being able to hobble down to the local Denny’s for the tasty Tuna Melt Special on Wednesday nights (and to flirt with that cute 40-something waitress), or being stuck at home listening to talk radio while gumming down a few spoonfuls of Costco dog food on day-old bread.

For many reasons (not the least of which is having a steady gig for a change), this little show had turned into something of a Godsend. Sure, I’d rather be on a network show paying full union scale, but those are few and far between nowadays. In a world where you take what you can get -- and where I've heard chilling stories of veteran juicers being forced to take eight to ten dollar an hour "New Media" jobs just to keep their family health coverage -- this show was lively, fun, and relatively easy on my aging back. It was also enabling me to bounce back from a truly dismal 2008, an annus horribilis if I've ever seen one. I usually return to LA wishing I could turn right around and head back north, but this time I was looking forward to getting back to work.

Maybe that’s what angered the Gods of Hollywood. Remember, in every war movie Hollywood has ever produced, the guy who seems a little too happy -- who dares laugh a little too loud because he doesn’t seem to grasp the seriousness of the moment -- is always the one who gets killed two scenes later.

So the phone rang Monday morning with my gaffer on the other end -- but the news was not at all what I expected: rather than head back to the studio to shoot episode 11, we’d be wrapping the stage.

The show had been canceled.

I was stunned. The network had paid to hold the stage and all that expensive equipment for a full month (unprecedented in my experience) only to pull the plug in the end. The audience-viewer numbers had been decent for a brand new show – at least as good as ”100 Questions”, another show on the same channel – but the official word was that they “wanted more teen drama and less comedy.” That could mean a lot of things, I suppose, but maybe the suits upstairs decided they can sell more Crimson Hooker lipstick, trainer Wonder Bras, and skin-tight, low-cut $250/pair designer jeans to twelve year old girls watching steamy teen dramas rather than a family comedy.

“Follow the money,” Deep Throat said -- and in that case, tell me again how these cynical bastards have the nerve to bill their network as "family friendly?”

I don't know -- maybe everything on television aimed at sub-21 year old viewers simply must be a vampire show or who’s-sleeping-with-whom-now drama these days. Maybe those stuffed-shirt suits and their Ouija Board focus groups actually know what they’re doing, and kids really don’t want to laugh anymore. All I know is that everyone I’ve talked to since the news hit has been shocked at this turn of events. Whatever math the geniuses upstairs at ABC/Disney are using just doesn’t add up down here on earth.

It could be something else, of course -- some kind of high-powered, blood-on-the-rosewood-desk type of vengeance played out in the upper echelons of the network suites. All I know is that for three and a half months, I had a good job that was supposed to go another three months at least, and had the potential of sustaining a five year run. But now, with the three day wrap over and done, I’ve got nothing, just like the rest of our cast and crew. Whatever their reasons, the Gods of Hollywood turned their cosmic thumbs down, and that's all folks.

There's not much comfort in finding that nobody else at the studio – many of whom have been toiling in the bowels of Television a lot longer than I have – saw this coming either. Like the sucker-punch that leaves you on your knees and gasping for breath, it caught us all by surprise.

Compounding the damage is that this was a cable show. Operating in a non-traditional (read: non-network) time frame has a price, and for the crew of this show, that means being suddenly out of a job at a time when all the new and returning shows for the Fall season are up and going – and fully crewed-up. With no real jobs to be had, we’ll all be working the phones trying to line up enough day-playing gigs until pilot season rolls around next spring.

And then -- if we’re lucky -- maybe we’ll get to roll the dice again, and hope for the best. That’s just the way it is in Hollywood, where a dozen shows die for every one that lives. With this show dead and gone, instead of heading back to work on Monday morning, I’ll be on the phone to Unemployment and going back on the dole.

It was fun while it lasted, but didn’t last nearly long enough -- which just goes to show there's a reason they call Hollywood Blvd "The boulevard of broken dreams."

Same as it ever was...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Year Three















"Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."
E.L. Doctorow


I’ve always taken to heart E.L. Doctorow’s meditation on writing, which suggests that we don’t necessarily have to know exactly where we’re going to get there in the end -- and if the journey is indeed the destination, then we’re likely on right path whether we know it or not, with something new (if not necessarily good) right around the next corner.

This serves pretty well as a guiding principle for writing, which for me has always represented a stumble into the unknown. I’ve started many a post without any solid idea where it should go, how it will end, or exactly what I’m trying to say. More often than not, the ideas and words seem to materialize from the mist -- sometimes one at a time, sometimes all in a rush – and only when it’s finally done do I begin to understand what it’s really about.

I think the same principle applies to real life, and suspect that’s pretty much what most of us do anyway. Plans? Sure, we all make plans for the future, but even those who attempt to chart the course of their lives all the way into retirement (and beyond...) are only imagining a fantasy reality somewhere out there in the impenetrable murk. There's nothing wrong with such carefully constructed plans, but nobody knows what blind curves and thousand-foot drop-offs lie on the road ahead. Plans are fine as a general idea, but a rigid adherence to those plans can lead you right over the edge and into the abyss. Flexibility is important in every aspect of life.

It's all part of the deal – you don’t really find out what lies ahead until you get there, and at that point you just have to wing it.

One year ago marked the first anniversary of this blog’s launch. Now, as then, I have no idea where it’s going: I’m just pushing on into the clammy gray mist, following those twin beams of light and hoping for the best. Having noted that first year with an explanation of how it all came about, I won’t bore you with a re-hash. I’ll add only this: if you’re new to this space, it might be helpful to read the very first post, which lays out where this blog comes from, and what I’m trying to do here.

Whether the second year was any more successful in meeting those ephemeral goals is hard to say. “Blood, Sweat, and Tedium” remains – as always – a work in progress, navigating that foggy road at night. I’ve repeated myself a few times, and doubtless will again as the future unfolds, but in an effort to avoid that (and my tendency to whine about how hard this type of work can be), I’ve begun to push the envelope in my definition of suitable blog material. Judging by the underwhelming response to some of these efforts, it’s clear that such experiments don’t always work. That’s okay -- you don’t have to like what you find here; hell, you don’t even have to read it. This blog is one grain of sand on the infinite beach of the Internet, a single tiny voice bleating into the solar wind. If it doesn’t grab your interest or attention, there’s a vast array of other choices at your disposal, and they’re all just a click away.

Much like baseball, blogging seems to be an endeavor rooted more in failure than success, so if I pop up, ground out, or flail at an unhittable strike three more often than any of us would like, such is the nature of this beast -- and my own learning curve. I do my best to write interesting, engaging posts, and when I fall short, it’s not for lack of effort. In the words of Chief Dan George (Little Big Man), “Sometimes the magic works, and sometimes it doesn’t.”

To the handful of you who have been here from the beginning (and who occasionally take the time to let me know what you think), thanks for hanging in. To everyone else, welcome aboard. I never expected this accidental blog to still be going after two full years, and have no idea what the third year will bring. But that doesn’t really matter anymore -- it is what it is, so I’ll just keep doing what I’ve been doing and try not to look any further down the road than the next post out there in that impenetrable fog.

I hope you’ve been enjoying this as much as I have. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Oops...

















Uh, is he gonna be my friend too?


It was a moment of weakness, I admit. Back on the home planet -- the land of milk and honey, where the lion lies down with the lamb and.. well, somebody gets screwed, I guess -- I allowed my guard to drop. With my guns left at the door, I was defenseless against that one final entreaty to join the massed hordes of Facebook. Like you, I've recieved -- and ignored -- many such requests, and felt guilty every time. How churlish indeed to turn down the open handed offer to be a "friend"...

Undermined by red wine, my resistance wavered, then crumbled, and I signed up. This went against all my Luddite instincts, but what the hell -- "how could it hurt?" I wondered, staring into the glowing screen in my wide-eyed cherubic innocence.

I had no idea what was coming, nor how many "friends" I was about to have.

The tsunami hit fast and hard, flattening the door and shattering all the windows to paralyze my puny back-woods dial-up Internet connection. Facebook was created for the modern broadband era, not dial-up (all I have here in the boonies), which means I've spent waaaay too much time the past couple of days confirming "friend" requests and attending to other Facebook maintenance.

I was once told "Never 'friend' anyone you haven't met face-to-face." Although that was doubtless sound advice, it proved impossible to follow. I have no problem "friending" any readers of this blog (and if Steven Woodring is one of those -- dude, I'm sorry, but your name doesn't ring a bell), but when those names aren't familiar, I'm not going to sign on. No offense, but what's the point? If I don't know your name, then you probably don't know me either -- there are thousands of Michael Taylors out there*, of which I am but one.

Probably not the right one, either.

So now my Gmail is hopelessly bogged down, awash in Facebook detritus. This would be no big deal back in the land of wireless broadband, but with my horse-and-buggy dial-up, it takes a very long time to confirm this newly-acquired friendship status, one bloody request at a time. So if you have "friended" me (and I really hate this modern sickness of morphing familiar nouns into vaguely creepy verbs -- it's a linguistic version of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers") but I have not replied, rest easy and don't be offended. Once the water has been bailed out, the door fixed and windows replaced, I'll get back to you.

Maybe.

And for anyone in my Gmail address book who received an unwanted invitation to join facebook -- an invitation with my name on it, that I did not knowingly initiate -- I apologise. I had no idea what forces would be set in motion the instant I signed on. If only someone had written "Facebook for Dummies" for me to read first (and assuming I'd read it), this all could have been avoided.

But that's our modern era, isn't it? No more secrets, no more privacy, no more hidden humiliations: now we just strip naked, bend over, and spread our cheeks for all the world to see -- and once you've seen one, you've pretty much seen 'em all. It's American Idol on-line, without all the weeping and commercials.

I don't know... maybe it's a great thing I have yet to recognize. Perhaps I'm just suffering from some form of buyer's remorse, and will come to embrace Facebook as another utterly indispensable part of life -- and how did I ever live without it? But right now, it feels as if something's been lost I didn't even know I had -- and now it's gone for good. Whether that something was important or will truly be missed remains to be seen.

On the upside, Facebook (along with its evil twin and Tool of the Devil, Twitter) have combined to accomplish something I never expected to see: they've made blogging look rather staid and respectable in comparison. For a long time, blogging has been regarded by many as just another form of narcissistic navel-gazing, but with the Facebook/Twitter axis lowering the bar so radically, blogging suddenly seems like a solid, responsible quasi-journalistic endeavor.

Maybe that's the secret to success in modern life: grading on the curve. We don't actually have to get better at whatever it is to look good -- we just need something else big to come along that looks infinitely worse, and thus drops the commonly accepted standards of relative quality.

Facebook, Twitter: mission accomplished.

So what will I do once this post hits the trackless void of cyberspace?

I don't know -- post it on Facebook, I guess...




*a fact that was brought to my attention in a forceful way by the LAPD, and will be the subject of a future post...

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Hiatus Week #237









Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Hollywood anymore...


I’m back on the home planet for a brief respite from all that is Hollywood and Lozangeles, and that means calling another Hiatus Week. If you’re new to this blog, or haven’t had a chance to take a stroll through the gallery of greatest hits (cough...), you can do so here. Very few of these posts are particularly timely, which is to say their relevance to a reader curious about the reality of Industry life is not diminished simply because they weren’t written this morning. If you haven’t done so, check it out – you might find something worth your time.

Just don’t forget to scroll down the page, or else it will appear as though that one little click didn’t take you anywhere at all...

But if you've been there and done that (or it just doesn’t float your boat), you can’t go wrong with Tim Goodman, ace TV critic of the San Francisco Chronicle, who is currently in the process of flaying and skinning the shows of the new Fall television season, then nailing their hides to the wall. His latest column deftly skewers three of the CW Network’s shows, and it’s a good one. It caught me by surprise -- I damned near spit a freshly-inhaled mouthful of Red Tail Pale Ale all over my keyboard while reading it.

You can have the same fun right here.

I'll be back in a week or two. Meanwhile, there's a pale blue sky and lots of water to stare at...

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Wednesday Photo















One very small compartment of one very large prop box...

Every prop master has a big prop box on wheels, full of whatever odds and ends he (or she, in this case) might possibly need for the show. Directors are known to have "brilliant" ideas at the worst possible moment -- like thirty seconds before the cameras roll -- so a good prop master is always prepared to make the magic happen. Since a medical drama requires very different props than a police procedural or family sit-com (where this box lived), that takes some doing.