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, September 19, 2010

Mission Accomplished

Thanks... but no thanks.
(photo by Johnny Magnusson)

During my early 20’s, while visiting the home front in my pre-Hollywood days, my father confronted me with a withering glare and a rather pointed question.

“Don’t you have any goals in life?”

His accusatory tone made it clear he'd already concluded that I did not, in fact, have any worthwhile goals, thus nailing my hide firmly to the cross of his own expectations.

As far as I was concerned, life was for living -- floating down the river to see what was around the next bend, not paddling furiously upstream towards some officially sanctioned, duty-bound, have-no-fun-in-the-process “goal.” I figured the nebulous mists of The Future would clear up in time, one way or another. Goals were fine for people already possessed by some burning desire, but striving to come up with one simply for its own sake seemed to me an exercise in absurd abstraction. Lacking the essential fire of desire, I saw no reason to trade the lovely day at hand for some vague promise of another, better day far off in the distant future –- a day that might never arrive. Long term thinking just wasn't part of the deal back then, a carefree time when life was all about today, tonight, and maybe tomorrow. There were pretty girls to meet, motorcycles to ride, and beer to drink. Next month could take care of itself. Next year? I'd drive off that bridge when I came to it.

Goals? I don’t got no stinking goals...

But there he stood, staring down at me like Mount Rushmore, his stony silence demanding a reply. I took the usual son vs. father umbrage at this challenge, and being something of a smart-ass at the time, came back with a typically snotty retort.

“Sure,” I nodded. “My goal is to never wear a suit and tie to work.”

My dad was not impressed, and -- since he had on a suit and tie at the moment -- doubtless somewhat insulted. But this was only the latest in a long barrage of testy exchanges over the years, and if he didn't like it, he certainly wasn't surprised by my back-of-the-hand reply. Besides, I’d given him a blunt but honest answer. With a resigned shrug of his shoulders, he dropped the subject.

Looking back now over the dusty remains of a woefully undistinguished career, I can finally declare “Mission Accomplished.” My stated goal has been achieved -- not once in nearly four decades of toiling for money have I worn a suit and/or tie to work. At this point, it's hard to imagine the circumstances that could arise to besmirch my spotless record.

This isn't much, as life accomplishments go, but it's all I've got. Although a juicer’s life inevitably leads to the galaxy of aches and pains that come with plundering one's body in exchange for money, at least there’s no requirement to wear the businessman’s monkey suit to work. Shorts and a T shirt are standard when working on stage or location sets -- and as my union newsletter constantly pleads of the rank and file, preferably a shirt without rude/crude obscenities printed on the front or back.*

It’s that kind of job.

A film set is a construction site, not a fashion show, so we dress for comfort and practicality first, in accord with the conditions we're likely to face over the course of what can be a very long day. Sooner or later, juicing involves the dirty task of running cable through some truly disgusting conditions, so for those who do the heavy lifting, there’s simply no reason to wear "nice" clothes to work. Long pants are good for cooler weather, night shoots, and in very rough country (or where there's a likelihood of snakes), but otherwise, most of the on-set crew (grip, electric, sound, camera, and art department) come to work in shorts and T shirts. Those who think ahead also bring a few layers in reserve to accommodate changing conditions -- sweatshirts and jackets at least, if not long pants.

It all boils down to those two words: comfort and practicality.

Oddly enough, it was coming to Hollywood that finally caused me to shed my casual, live-for-today grasshopper ways in favor of the diligent, nose-to-the-grindstone approach of Aesop's ant. Unless you happen to be plugged in by birth to the solid-gold connections of an Industry family, adopting a casual approach to the business of getting started in this town will result in six months on unemployment followed by a long drive back to wherever you call home. For most outsiders (above or below the line), it takes a very serious and sustained effort to gain a toehold in Hollywood, and once you manage that, your work has just begun. In the process, even a lazy, clueless smart-ass like I was can learn the kind of work ethic essential to building a good reputation -- and such a reputation is the real ticket to every level of success in this town.

My dad would be happy to know that I now have another goal: to grind through the next few years and cross the finish line with enough hours to bolster my anemic Industry pension and secure the post-retirement health plan. I may not make it, but that's the goal.** And since the purpose of a goal is to have a target to shoot for, if I achieve this one, I'll then have to come up with another goal further on down the road.

But that'll be then, and this is now. I'm taking it one goal at a time.

* I’ve never understood why anyone over the age of 14 would want to wear a shirt plastered with printed obscenities, but the list of things I don’t understand about modern life grows longer every day...

** Believe me, I understand how sadly pathetic this must sound to anybody just starting out in the biz. When you're young, with a world of promise and adventure ahead, such a "goal" holds only the stench of decay, dissolution, and death. Truth be told, I feel the same way, but life unfolds along a constantly evolving curve where the surprises -- good and bad -- keep coming whether you like it or not. One's perspective inevitably changes as the years pile on. Long about 2045, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.


Anonymous said...

First and foremost Mike, thanks for linking the "Monkey's Butt" posting - Most excellent!

Second, I can fully appreciate your sentiments behind parental advice. Mine told me that I will have to suffer work 5 days a week in order to afford myself the luxury of what I want to do on my weekends.

Never made sense to me either. :)

The Grip Works said...

Get working on the book Michael. .... push for it. It will be special. I know it will.
Do not allow it to fall by the wayside.

JD said...

Really! If someone can achieve a modicum of success with his tales of a Standby Painter in book form, so can you.

Michael Taylor said...

Anonymous --

Somebody in the biz once told me: "We all ran away to join the circus."

I think she was right...

Sanjay and JD --

I've been thinking about it, but haven't yet figured out a structure that might work. Thanks for the encouragement.

hazel motes said...

one of the more poignant and moving posts i've read. thanks, mike. i too dont understand why anyone over the age of 14 would wear tshirts with crude unfunny slogans. then ya gotta ask yourself, is that person over 14 REALLY over 14?

rhys said...

I also support the idea of you writing a book. I've worked in bookstores for a few years and those nuts-and-bolts non-fiction type books (with a health dose of humor) sell really well. People love to be entertained and educated while they read, even if the subject matter is esoteric.

My recommendations for books if you are looking for a particular structure in a similar vein would be: "You Want Fries with That" by Prioleau Alexander and "Smile While You're Lying" by Chuck Thompson. Both are pretty funny looks at somewhat esoteric topics. "Fries" is about a guy who quit his white-collar job and decided to try out a bunch of the worst jobs he could find - like pizza delivery guy and hospital tech. "Lying" is kind of a behind-the-scenes look at travel writing. I recommend checking them out as they are both very funny.

Michael Taylor said...

Hazel --

They say age is all in the mind, and although I've come to a point where I can't really agree with that -- my mind now writes checks the body can no longer cash -- it's undeniable that more than a few people never really do grow up. For some, that's a good thing -- but not for everyone.

Rhys --

Thanks so much for the recommendations. I'll definitely check those books out. I love a good read anyway, and maybe they'll spark some ideas within.