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, February 28, 2010

Ain't No Cure for the Wintertime Blues *

2010: Garbage in, garbage out...

March was supposed to be the good month, giving Winter the boot and welcoming the beginning of Spring. Everything bad was supposed to turn around in March, as this wretched garbage scow of a year finally shook off the flies, stopped taking on water, and began to ride a little higher in these oh-so-troubled waters. March would bring the warm sun and a brisk breeze to blow away the fetid stench of 2010, and with it, these winter blues.

A pilot with my name on it was scheduled to start on the first of March, offering three weeks of hard work – just the thing to burn off the toxic fat of the cold season, replenish a bank account coughing on fumes, and put me back in the game. I won’t go so far as to say working on set is what defines me, but after doing it for three decades (and then some), it remains above all else what I know how to do. I’m comfortable on set, where I know the roles and the rules. Without a call time demanding my daily presence, it’s easy to drift and sometimes get a little bit lost.

Eventually I adapt, of course -- like every other Industry work-bot in this boom-and-bust business, I’ve had plenty of experience not-working. Down-time is inevitable, and devising strategies for dealing with it comes with the turf in Hollywood. Exhibit A, in my case, would be this blog, Still, a steady and sustained diet of nothing can eventually bend the steel of even the most seasoned veteran. At a certain point I start wondering just who and what I really am anymore -- and that's when the desire to get back in harness transcends mere employment. By then, I feel an almost primal need to lift and carry and sweat, to grapple with the three-dimensional realities of Newtonian Physics, fully engaged in the on-set teamwork that makes this business hum.

In some ways, doing the actual work itself is more important than the money it will earn.

March was looking good for a while, but like many a best-laid plan, this one blew a tire, skidded off the road, and careened end-over-end down the steep rocky canyon, then -- like all self-respecting cinematic crashes -- exploded in a big ball of orange flame. Which is to say the phone rang last week with news that the pilot had been canceled due to “casting issues.” Just like that, three weeks of work gone in a flash, vanished into the murky February sky.

This is getting old.

Casting issues... I’m not even sure what that phrase really means anymore, but it doesn’t much matter. For whatever reason the job is dead, March a bleak windswept wasteland, Hollywood a killing floor soaked with the blood of countless promises that wound up on the wrong end of a quiet phone call in the dying light of a winter afternoon.

Sometimes I really hate this fucking business...

An extended drought of work is tough at any stage of a career. When you’re young and pushing hard to gain some momentum, a dearth of work can suck the wind right out of your sails (and your checkbook), causing you to cast a decidedly jaundiced eye on the whole concept of Hollywood. You begin to wonder if there might not be a better path to take in life, and ponder the potential alternatives. But eventually you pass the point of no return, suddenly too old for anything else -- and then it’s too late to launch a new career as a stockbroker, lawyer, appliance repairman, or large animal veterinarian. There's not much call for Tupperware or Amway salesmen these days, and the last time I looked, the local Home Depot didn’t have a Set Lighting aisle in need of a washed-up, broken-down, burned-out, ready-for-the-glue-factory juicer.

Given the current dismal state of our economy, WalMart probably has a two-foot high stack of applications on file waiting for that toothless old geezer out front to die and open up the greeter job.

They do shoot horses, don't they?

The thing is, this is what I know, what I do, and yes -- to a certain extent -- who I am. Whether that's good, bad, or ugly (or maybe a mixed-up ball of all three) is not for me to say, but it is what it is.

At this point of the ugly New Year, I’m 3-for-59, as in three days work over the first two months. The March pilot wasn’t going to fix all that, but it would have been the first major step towards salvaging what's shaping up as an ominously dark year in my little corner of Hollywood. But despite the gloomy title of this post, there really is a cure for those wintertime blues – and that would be a job. I’m hearing rumors of another pilot in April. Trouble is, those rumors come from the same source as the grand and glorious March pilot that just sank without a trace. This is not encouraging, but you don’t survive three decades in this town without learning how to hang on (by the fingernails, when necessary) to the one truly indispensable item on the free-lance tool belt: hope. Without hope, you really are lost in that bottomless abyss. So whatever else does or doesn't happen, you keep the faith that something good will eventually arise from the mist to keep this leaky boat afloat.

In that, the Hollywood life is a lot like every other form of existence in our troubled, fractious world -- you hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and take it one day at a time.

* With apologies to Eddie Cochran...


A.J. said...

Damn, that sucks. My March is looking pretty decent right now (by today's meek standards anyway) and I was hoping it was a sign that things are picking up. Fingers crossed that something good is heading your way soon.

Michael Taylor said...

AJ --

It's all relative, and a pretty decent March beats the hell out of an 0-for-31. Glad to hear you're working, and thanks for the good vibes...

Darryl Cowherd Jr. said...

Hey Michael it's been a while have thought of you on a few occasions over the years...I love your blog... ran across it looking for hope/gaffer jobs on google. It sounds like you and I are in the same boat right about now...Oh we had it good over the years but right now it stinks just trying to get 58 hours before April so my kids and I dont lose those health insurance benefits we need. Well gotta get back to reading your blog. Hope there is hope for all of us.

Peggy Archer said...

I know I sound like a broken record, but it'll get better soon.

I hope it'll get better soon.