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 29, 2010

Wednesday Potpourri

At the studio commissary for lunch recently, I noticed two tall, elegant Indian women walk in, look around, then get in line. Both wore their native garb of ankle-length brightly colored saris. More followed, and before long, there were at least thirty waiting to order their lunch, including several men dressed in what appeared to be police or military uniforms. For a moment I thought they must be a group of Indian film executives taking a tour of the studio – but then I remembered my day on the rigging crew installing dimmers on a sound stage where the new television comedy “Outsourced” was scheduled to be shot.

There’s been some controversy in the press concerning “Outsourced” – accusations of cultural insensitivity, borderline racism, and taking a point-and-laugh stance towards anybody not born here in America. There’s also been speculation that a comedy riding the premise of American jobs going overseas might not find a receptive home audience in such economically stressed times. There may be some meat on the bones of both arguments, but not having seen the show (nor do I work on it – installing those dimmers was a one-day job), I can’t address the first objection. As to whether an American audience will tune in: if a show is genuinely funny, people will watch. If not, they won’t. Time will tell on both counts.

My first thought upon walking on that stage was that the network is spending a ton of money on the show, which features huge and elaborate sets lit from a vast network of green beds hung overhead. Green beds! I haven’t seen that many green beds in a couple of years. God, would I love to work on a show smart enough to use green beds rather than relying on the clumsy pipe grid system my own show uses. Green beds cost more to install, but they save time and money in the long run, making the job of lighting a show so much easier and faster.

My second thought – upon seeing all those Indians in the commissary – was that this show could be a serious economic bonanza for a lot of Indian actors here in LA who otherwise might be scrambling to find work.

"It's an ill wind," they say, "that blows no good."

I heard a fascinating interview on KCRW’s “The Business” with Ken Kwapis, showrunner of “Outsourced” and a man with a lot of experience directing pilots. I’d never really thought about the difference between directing a pilot vs. an episode of an already established show, but Ken talks about that and other things (including what he learned while directing the pilot of "The Office") in this very interesting half hour.

The interview also has a link to a clip from the pilot of “Outsourced,” which portrays the show in a much better light than I’d expected after reading of the various controversies swirling around. If I had no life at all and nothing to do but stare wide-eyed, slack-jawed, and drooling at the Toob while drinking myself to sleep every night, I might even tune in.


The LA Times ran an interesting piece in the Sunday paper on the genesis, evolution, and eventual success of “Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” FX’s little show that could. Starting with a pilot shot and edited for a hundred bucks – according to the LA Times, at least – the show is now cruising into it’s sixth season with a per-episode budget of $1.5 million. How such an unlikely turn of events came about is a fascinating story well told by the Time’s Meg James, and should be an inspiration for anybody trying to get their own little show off the launch pad. While I’m not so sure that “Sunny” charts a path others can follow (or that, in the words of FX general manager John Landgraf, “We’ve actually kind of invented... a new business model”), it does point to the value of trying new approaches rather than butting one’s head bloody against the brick walls of the Hollywood’s status quo. There is no one way to get things done anymore – it’s all up for grabs. Anybody who doubts that really should read the article.


On a completely different note, here’s an interesting video of the late, great Johnny Cash singing the Nine Inch Nails song “Hurt.” Johnny Cash and Trent Reznor wouldn’t seem to be a workable combination, but I like this one a lot.

I found the link on a “Fresh Air” interview with Mark Romanek, director of the features “Never Let Me Go,” and “One Hour Photo,” and veteran music video director who made the “Hurt” video with Johnny Cash. The interview offers yet another interesting perspective for any young wannabe directors out there.

Check it out.


Phil Jackson said...

What sort of set up is a green bed? I've only seen a grid pipe system.

Michael Taylor said...

Phil --

Green beds are temporary scaffolding hung over sets from the perms -- permanent beams -- up high at the top of the working space on a sound stage. Large steel hangars are suspended from chains, after which the green beds (so named because they're painted green) are raised from the floor by a hoist and lowered into place on the hangars -- with a grip up there to make it all happen. I've never measured one, but I'd guess they're about four feet wide and ten feet long. Once they're hung and nailed together, then stabilized with wooden high braces, they create a very useful work platform ringing each set. Most green beds have holes drilled to accept lamps, so there's often no need for any other rigging to set a lamp -- you just stick the bale in the hole and aim it where the gaffer wants it. Much of the basic lighting can be done this way, with a small package of floor units used to supplement the lighting when needed.

Green beds are great -- the juicers have fast, easy access to the lights, while the grips can set flags and teasers from up there, and boom operators can work off the floor, thus opening up crucial space on the set itself.

I'll do a post on green beds soon, and include photos so you can see what they look like.

Trixie said...

Worked on the pilot redo of "Sunny Philly"....sucked. Swore I'd never take a job offer like that again. Lowest wages possible, busted hard long hours, in the most disgusting, unaccessible, might as well be The Ambassador Hotel-like conditions. Shit hole, dirty, environment. The "Above the Line" folk as I remember, were a pain in the ass too.
I don't welcome "non-union attitude" productions out of Union Production Companies. My back can't get anymore broken for the "aw....little show that could, syndrome"

Michael Taylor said...

Trixie --

That makes sense. I didn't understand how they could make an episode for only $400K without thoroughly abusing the crew -- and apparently they didn't. How very special that the Above-the-Liners were assholes to boot.

Some things never change. I'm glad to hear you're working on better shows these days.

Thanks for tuning in...