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 12, 2010

Year Four?

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions...

Two pieces of burned-out lighting equipment: a thoroughly charred 20 amp Bates-to-Edison adapter, and one over-the-hill juicer...

In the inaugural post of this blog is a sentence that delivered its title:

“But if you want to hear the truth as I’ve lived it, about the real Hollywood - the blood, sweat, and tedium in the shadows behind all those bright lights – stay tuned.”

That sentence was also something of a manifesto. Throughout the work-in-progress evolution of the blog, I’ve done my best to tell the truth as I see it about life below-the-line. Moving to a more regular schedule (an Industry post every Sunday, with the occasional hiatus week when circumstance dictates) provided a useful discipline, forcing me to come up with something more-or-less readable once a week while allowing enough slack to wander off-topic in mid-week posts. Any regulars here know the deal by now, and at this point -- win, lose, or draw -- it pretty much is what it is.

Back in the depths of winter, I pondered abandoning the weekly format right about now, as the blog stares into Year Four. That line of thinking led me to seriously consider shutting it down altogether: a thousand days, give or take, sounded like a good stopping place. Sooner or later BS&T will run low on steam, and I'd rather follow the show biz maxim to "always leave 'em wanting more" than hang on until you're all yawning and heading for the exits. Although a certain amount of repetition is probably inevitable, I really don’t want to become that drunk down at the end of the bar who keeps telling the same stories and just won’t... shut... up. I’ve no desire to chew those old bones until there’s nothing left but dust my mouth and a buzzing in my ears. What I do want is for the blog to remain fresh and relevant to you, the readers, whether you’re a film student, film biz newbie, or an Industry veteran – and after these thousand-plus days, that’s getting harder.

It’s not the only issue, of course. There’s another writing project I’d like to get back to – one that was started before this blog began and has been gathering dust in the closet ever since. Given the realities of making a living in this town, there isn't enough spare time to keep the blog going strong and breathe life into that long slumbering beast. Whatever you think of these posts, you might be surprised how much time and effort goes into each one. If only I was good enough to sit down on Sunday morning with a cup of coffee and bang out a post in forty-five minutes, then go about my day... but that elusive dream won’t be achieved in this lifetime. Through many false starts and seemingly endless revisions, it can be a long time between the inception of an idea and finally hitting the “publish post” button. The process has gotten easier in some ways over these past three years, but in other ways, seems harder every time. Whether there’s been any noticeable improvement along the way isn’t for me to say. I can’t see this blog through your eyes -– the fresh eyes of a reader -- and thus have no idea whether a given post actually works as I’d hoped. It’s entirely possible that my intentions for any particular post are never fully realized, and that what I think I’m saying comes across as something very different to you.

Still, when a post does manage to resonate with readers, it can ignite a conversation between -- and among -- us all. I like it when that happens.* There can't be many amateurs (and very few professionals) who write for the simple, solitary pleasure of stringing words into sentences. It may start there, but writing is meant to be read, to communicate something interesting, evocative, or helpful to others. If it doesn't, then what's the point? There are other, much easier ways to pass the time than the quiet, sweaty practice of quasi-literary onanism.

Every now and then, though, an e-mail comes flying in like an arrow out of the blue – not in response to any particular post, but simply to connect across the cyber-void – from someone I’ve never met, and in all likelihood will never know. One such missive a few months ago came as a very pleasant surprise.

"Thanks for sharing your wisdom and insight from your decades of lighting experience. I'm going into my second year of juicing in Michigan, so finding a resource like you has been more than beneficial. I just started trolling through the archives from the beginning, and look forward to getting up to date."

"I hope you never discount the impact you have. I also hope you love writing this blog as much as you love the industry, because I would like to be reading it for a long time. I hope to see a book from you soon.”

That e-mail blew me away. When this blog began, I never dreamed it would still be around three years later. What started as quick succession of rants to get a few things off my chest eventually turned into something very different from my original intent. I still indulge in the occasional inchoate rant from time to time – hey, this will always be my soapbox above all else - but after a while it seemed important to dial down the whining in favor of trying to pass along some of what I've learned to the coming generation of Industry wannabes and work-bots. It’s seldom clear that such intentions actually succeed to any meaningful degree, so when an e-mail like that materializes unbidden from the ether, it means I must be doing something right.

And that’s good to hear.

Given the uncertain future of the film and television biz, it has occurred to me that I'm doing young people no favors in encouraging them to pursue Industry careers. The paths I followed on my way up are rapidly being washed away by the ongoing Digital Revolution, and I have no clue what the Hollywood landscape will look like once the dust finally settles. But until some environmental, economic, and/or nuclear catastrophe plunges our civilized societies into the New Dark Ages, people will demand their daily dose of on-screen entertainment, whether delivered in movie theaters, giant plasma televisions, or on absurdly small cell phone screens – and who knows what new viewing devices will emerge in the years to come. Modern humans require diversion from their daily grind of not-so-quiet desperation, which means somebody (lots of somebodies, actually) will have to create “content” to fill that need -- movies, television, webisodes, whatever. Twenty years from now I probably won't recognize much of anything about the Industry, but it’ll still be chugging along in one form or another.

Besides, I think we each end up on the road to Hell (or elsewhere) following our own inner muse. I try to avoid sugarcoating any aspects of working below-the-line, highlighting the bad as well as the good that accompanies a Hollywood life. Indeed, I've probably spent more time bad-mouthing the Industry than I should, but it’s hard to ignore bullshit when the stuff is up above your knees.

And as one who spent my formative years in a barn, I know exactly what that smells like.

None of us can see very far into the gray mists of the future, but for the time being I'll keep the lights burning here at Blood, Sweat, and Tedium. Thanks for tuning in, for paying attention, and for your patience when I wander a bit too far off the Hollywood reservation.

Onward -- with the best of intentions -- into Year Four, and toward the gates of Hell...

* What I'll never understand is how one post can strike sparks while another (usually one I've put the most effort into...) lies on the cyber-sidewalk flatter than a stale tortilla. Go figure...


The Grip Works said...

This one needs a bit of time.
This blog ( I know D hates the word blog) and Dollygrippery are staples in my cyber diet.
This blog in particular for a couple of reasons.
The first is that I knew nothing about episodic television,and your blog opened my eyes to that world.
Also, living exactly halfway across the world, it is hugely reassuring reading both BS&T and Dollygrippery, to know that the same issues that plague us are the ones that plague you.
Michael, there is great humanity in your writing. Please do not imagine that because there is no reply to what you wrote, that people are not reading, and people are not moved.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
There are many posts that are so profound, that no response is really appropriate or adequate.

I truly hope all of this finds its way into a book one day.

Please ...


Anonymous said...

...wipes the sweat from his brow. Half way through this post I thought you were wrapping cable on this blog. Thank the below the line gods you aren't. When I was young I thought the coolest job in the world would be to work on set in the industry. I found a different career but have greatly enjoyed learning about what it's like behind the curtain. You and Ms. Archer have given me a great education.

I'll tune in for as long as you broadcast.

Nathan said...

I, for one, am glad to see you'll be sticking around for a while. Just reading the Left-Coast's perspective (not to mention, the difference between on-location vs. in-studio with an audience), is always an eye-opener for me. Besides that, I get a kick out of your personal observations on things.

You are hereby humbly requested to continue entertaining me for the foreseeable future.

D said...

I can strongly reiterate the previous posts. I was actually going to forbid you to stop publishing but thought that was a little forceful. Every time I read one of your posts I think, "Damn, I wish I could write like that." they are so carefully crafted that the care and thought you put into them jumps out of the screen. I know it can be hard coming up with topics, much less finding time to do the actual work (as evidenced by my now almost two week old post on my page) but you definitely have a large and growing audience. You may not stop.

homelessgaffer said...

Your blog has kept me more informed of my own industry and encouraged me to keep going more times than I think are healthy. I also found Dollygrippery through your blog and that in itself is worth something. Keep writing, I am sure you'll at least turn out to be a very well spoken drunk at the end of the bar.

A.J. said...

What they said. :)

Michael Taylor said...

Sanjay, Anonymous, Nathan, D, Homelessgaffer, and AJ --

Thanks one and all for your very generous responses. I'm not sure this blog is worthy of such high praise, but I do appreciate and will take to heart your kind words.

To channel Groucho Marx just a little bit, let's put it this way -- I'm gratified (and lucky) to have readers with such good taste...

Note to D -- although your website is more technically oriented (by design) than most other Industry blogs, it takes a back seat to none when it comes to prose. But thanks for the compliment.

Anonymous said...

I'm very glad to hear you're not hanging up the keyboard. As an occasional blogger (okay, okay, "web essayist"), I know just how much time goes into every post, and how that time eats into that precious free time left over after the day job. I also know the struggle to figure out something interesting to say, and then to tease it into something coherent, find an illustration or two, check your facts, and then double-check that it all still hangs together. So I'm very grateful that you bother with it all. Your blog (er..."web essay series") is one of a handful that I follow regularly, and is a pleasure to read.

For me, living in a flyover state, and working as an electrical engineer, it's enlightening to read that my industry isn't the only one where we're all exhorted to "do more with less" and for less and less reward.

hazel motes said...

yes, yes, yes. do not, not, not stop writing/publishing.
I am aware of the time and effort it takes to write what might appear to some and breezy 20minute post. ANd I thank you for your many past posts and future ones to come.
I found it shocking and amusing that Sanjay (the grip works) knew nothing about episodic television as having worked 3months with him on a shoot in india, he is a virtual storehouse of knowledge. Now I wonder if Sanjay's brain is poisoned by this knowledge of episodic television-the beast that can strip you of the will to live both as a participant in production and a viewer at home. Ah well.
Keep up the good work mr taylor.
thanks again.