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, March 9, 2011


On a winter afternoon...

Sunset through the looking glass

Last week was pretty easy, considering how hard a five day work week in this business can be, but Friday didn’t end until well after 10:00 pm – which meant getting home close to 11:00. Unwinding from a shoot night takes some time (and a good double shot of Knob Creek small-batch Kentucky Bourbon), so I didn’t go down for the count until after 1:00 a.m. And that meant waking up Saturday feeling like a zombie in desperate need of a steaming plate of sweet, fresh brains.

Anybody working an episodic show would consider getting home before midnight on Friday a gift from heaven -- which is why I remain in the low-stress/low-pay cloister of multi-camera sit-coms. You won't find too many juicers my age tied to the whipping-post of episodic television, because like it or not (and I don't, but that doesn't seem to help), age takes a toll. Every year, every month, every week seems just a little bit harder than the last... so it was no surprise that after such a sluggish start to the weekend, I got very little done over those two days.

I did, however, take a leisurely stroll through the archives of my new favorite blog, 365 Jobs -- yes, the very same blog I mentioned last Wednesday, before I’d had time to leaf through the past two months worth of posts. There are some real gems waiting for you on those shelves, including this.

Read it. You’ll be glad you did.


Much has been written and said about the ongoing implosion of Charlie Sheen’s life and career – too much, really. At this point, the studio has supposedly fired him, abandoning the final would-have-been-worth-millions season in favor of cutting the cord with their increasingly troublesome star.

Having never met or worked with the man, I’ve got no fuel to add to that fire, no sage insights on the situation or finger-wagging, tongue-clucking “advice” for anyone involved. It's just a mess, that's all, with no winners on either side. The studio just watched an enormous pile of money vanish into thin air (and that's before the inevitable tsunami of lawsuits), while Sheen edges ever-closer to the lip of the abyss. The people I feel sorry for are the entire production crew, who just went from the best gig in sit-coms since "Seinfeld," straight to the unemployment lines. Those poor bastards are shit out of luck.

Do not pass "Go." Do not collect two hundred dollars.* Just stare at your TV and scream...

Lost in the subsequent media frenzy was the full content of Chuck Lorre’s infamous vanity card -- the card that sank a thousand jobs. The last line got all the press (Lorre declaring "I'll be pissed if Charlie Sheen outlives me"), but those eight words came at the end of a long paragraph leading up to the punch line heard 'round the media world. Had Lorre written that undeniably well-constructed paragraph for Jon Stewart to deliver on "The Daily Show," it would have gotten a huge laugh. Instead he posted it -- as is his habit -– on screen at the tail end of an episode of “Two and a Half Men.”

Big mistake, Chuck. What a hellacious shitstorm that -- and the law of unintended consequences -- kicked up...

I'm currently following three shows on FX.** As it happens, that cable network runs syndicated episodes of "Two and a Half Men" immediately before each of those programs, so I see the tag and end-credits at least three times a week. I've noticed Lorre's vanity cards in the past, but paid no attention. They're on screen for only an instant, and pack so much micro-font prose into a such a cramped space that it would require a TIVO freeze-frame on a 60 inch HD plasma screen to read the damned things -- and in keeping with my 20th Century Luddite ways, I have neither. Thus I never knew (or cared) what those vanity cards were all about. I suspect the overwhelming majority of the show's viewers are in the same boat, which is probably why Chuck Lorre figured he could get away with indulging in a little free-range snark as an inside joke for the amusement of the in-the-know Hollywood crowd.

I finally heard the full text of that card on a recent “Martini Shot” commentary by veteran TV writer/producer Rob Long, who explained the origin and purpose (assuming there is a valid purpose) of the vanity card. When you hear the entire statement, it doesn't come off quite so cold and cynical -- really, it's just the slightly-skewed lament of another rich-but-mortal guy on the potential/inevitable unfairness of life. To me, it sounded like a tongue-in-cheek joke, not a shot fired across Charlie Sheen's bow. But none of that matters now. The damage is done, and the only remaining question is how long and hot the fires of this very public self-immolation will burn.

At any rate, this "Martini Shot" is a good one, well worth your three-and-a-half minutes.


On a different, but related note, one of the listener remarks to that commentary is worth repeating: an entertaining and informative dissertation on the last brutal mile of emotional broken glass every filmmaker must cross -- naked, on all fours -- to finally expel his/her cinematic baby from the womb out into the cold, cruel world.

Note: the following will make a lot more sense if you listen to the "Martini Shot" commentary first...

“Just a little clarification of what an answer print is. An answer print is more accurately the last step in the post cycle before a movie is released. Or the beginning of the end. The actual end. The light at the end of the grueling filmmaking tunnel. I guess for anyone besides a producer, the answer print means you'll soon get to see your family and loved ones again, catch up on the lives of your children, wonder why your wife is spending so much time with her pilates instructor, try to salvage the family dynamic with a trip to Hawaii. You strike your answer prints once everything is completed and joined on film (final picture with color and mixed sound). The answer prints are used to QC the final product. Not a whole lot to do after the answer print except spend a ton of money if something isn't up to snuff. And checking the answer print? It's a total bitch. You've seen the movie so many times at this point that you're ready to gouge your eyes out and Van Gogh your ears. But still you have to sit and watch the whole damn thing very carefully. Over and over. Until you do actually gouge your eyes out and Van Gogh your ears. This is why so many people in Hollywood are blind and deaf and wear sunglasses all the time. They don't hear notes and their follow-up movies look like shit. All because of the damn answer print. It's a tragedy, really. So many great filmmakers and craftsmen left to the dust bin of Hollywood lore only because no one figured out a better way to QC the final product. Also, all that blindness and deafness really ruins your enjoyment of Hawaii.”

Now that's the kind of been-there-done-that insider wisdom they won't teach you in film school. Someone named "Nathan" wrote this wonderful paragraph, but I have no idea who he might be.

After reading it, though, I'd sure love to see one of his movies.

* For anyone too young to recall, this is a reference to the board game "Monopoly."

** "Justified," "Archer," and "Lights Out."

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