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, October 24, 2010

The Halloween Show

It's Wardrobe Hell...

Extras in costume sitting in the audience seating area, waiting for their scenes in the pre-shoots for the Halloween show.

A film crew is a bit like a miniature city, with each department a distinct neighborhood connected to, but apart from the others. Given the collaborative nature of the medium, we all work together as a unit, but some departments work closer than others, sharing more common ground. Grips and juicers work closely together, and are thus very familiar with the obstacles each must face. Props and Set Dressing also share such an affinity, as do Hair and Makeup.

Then there's the Wardrobe Department.

As a juicer, I very rarely have occasion to interact with Wardrobe. Most of my work is done on (and above) the set before filming commences. Wardrobe works both ends of the block, with lots of frantic activity well behind the scenes, and at least one or two wardrobe assistants on set during filming to make last-minute adjustments before and between takes. That said, much of their work -- choosing, buying, or renting the appropriate wardrobe for each character in every scene of each episode -- is done by the time the actors walk in front of the cameras. Occasionally a Wardrobe girl (in my experience, they're mostly female) will knock on our door asking for a new or brighter light bulb to illuminate her work area, but other than saying "hi" at the craft service table, that's about it.

It's probably a safe assumption that Wardrobe pays as much attention to set lighting as we do to them -- which is minimal -- but every now and then a show comes along that leans very heavily on their considerable skills. When that happens, even we who spend our work days running cables and hanging lamps up in the pipe grid can't help but notice Wardrobe's hard work.

The Halloween show is always different, often fun, and occasionally something special. The nature of the occasion -- people letting their Freak Flag fly for one night of festive make-believe -- allows the writers considerable leeway in crafting their usual 22 minute trifecta of the A plot, B plot, and rimshot tag. Actors always appear on set in the costume of their character, but most Halloween episodes require separate -- often very elaborate -- costumes for the entire cast and a raft of extras. The Halloween episode we recently shot included a scene of a rollicking Halloween party featuring two dozen extras, all of whom had to be provided with uniquely distinctive costumes.

This was a nightmare for the Wardrobe Department. Since the actual Halloween party was only one of many scenes in the show, Wardrobe had to shoulder their usual work load along with handling (and dressing) a couple of dozen extras in extremely creative and colorful costumes, some of which were very complicated. They hired extra help to get through this show, of course, but the sheer logistics of their operation was daunting, to say the least.

The only thing I could compare it to was if we'd been asked to light a huge and elaborate music video shoot on a separate stage in addition to lighting the usual show -- and I would absolutely hate that.*

There was no complaining from our Wardrobe Department, though -- they just went about their business in a very focused manner, and the results were impressive. They did a fantastic job. I never got a chance to see the finished episode, but during the filming on set, those costumes looked terrific.

Under our lighting, of course...

* Having squandered too many long, ugly days and nights of my professional life doing music videos back in the day, I have no desire to repeat the experience...


Anonymous said...

Hi Michael,
You say "Having squandered too many long, ugly days and nights of my professional life doing music videos back in the day, I have no desire to repeat the experience..."

I couldn't agree more, especially the "long" part. That said, these don't seem to be those days filled with options for me like they used to be. Now, if someone calls and offers a gig I say "sure, no problem" before the question is finished. It truly sucks.

Oh yeah, about the rag pickers (you say wardrobe, I say tomatoe), my dream gig would be setting up the wardrobe for Charly Sheen on "Two and a half men". Ummm, let's see, which bowling shirt and shorts combo will it be today?

Jerry w
just a random director of acoustics

Penny said...

And you SHOULD take pride in your lighting, Mike. Departments thrive in their own world most of the time, but in the end (as you know) it's all about pulling together for the finished product.

Cheers to our next episode!

Michael Taylor said...

Jerry --

Music videos well and truly suck, but if I had no other work prospects, I'd take one. It's all a matter of options. I've been fortunate to have other choices.

You might be right about Charlie Sheen, although I suspect he brings enough baggage along to make Wardrobe's job a lot tougher than it looks.

The thing is, EVERYbody works hard in this business -- not always at the same time on the same job, but we all have our own cross to bear, one way or another. I occasionally enjoy a "juicer's holiday" on location, when the sun and the grips do all the work, but come nightfall, I'm getting my ass kicked hauling heavy cable and lamps. I've seen more than a few sound guys loaf through some very easy days on set -- coming in late, leaving early, and never breaking a sweat in between -- but I've also seen them bust their tails all day long.

It's all relative and varies from job to job. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.

Penny --

Aw shucks, ma'am, a'hm just a juicer doin' the best ah can in this crazy, mixed-up world...

But seriously, the DP and Gaffer deserve all the credit for the lighting. I'm a mere vessel, a neck-down work-bot there to carry out their wishes -- and on a good day, that's enough.

Amen to the next episode...