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, August 28, 2011

The First Week















It's all hard, but the first week is the hardest.


I walked on stage early Monday morning to find a brand new and considerably larger set for Season Two of my little cable show. The pipe grid hanging above those new sets was empty, a bare steel skeleton ready to be rigged with a dense array of stirrup hangers, lamps, meat-axes, flags, and teasers -- but for the moment, only a thin layer of fine sawdust adorned those cold metal pipes, a residue of the ongoing process of building, sanding, and painting the sets.

Getting a show up and running from a standing start is a daunting task, and with only one short week to rough-in the lighting, our work was cut out for us. We had just five days to hang, power, adjust, move -- in some cases, repeatedly -- well over two hundred lamps to light the sets for actor's rehearsals the following week.* As usual, all this would have to be done while the carpenters, painters, and set dressers did their work, which meant the juicers and grips working in man-lifts -- me being one of the former -- would have to be very careful not to drive over (and thus crush) anything or anybody down below, all the while trying to avoid dropping a fifteen pound stirrup hanger or fifty pound lamp on some hapless innocent unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the worst possible time.

There's a reason we call that four-by-four area directly in front of a lift "the Kill Zone."

So we got to work. The dimmer operator took two young, strong day-players up hight to wrangle cable and drop dimmer leads while my fellow core-crew juicer and I climbed into our respective man-lifts and began hanging lamps. As someone much older and wiser once said: "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step," and it's true -- one by one, lamp by lamp, that empty pipe grid began to fill up. It went slowly at first, but before long we were back in our familiar working groove, and by the end of that first ten hour day, nearly fifty lamps had been hung and powered. Those were the easy ones, of course -- and as the grid filled up, working amid those pipes became increasingly difficult. It was tough enough working around the lamps we'd already hung, but hard on our heels were two grips busily installing meat-axes, flags, and teasers to cut and shape the light from our lamps. All that grip equipment takes up a lot of space, making it much harder for us to add, power, and adjust any additional lights -- and there are always going to be more lamps to add. Worse is when we have to go back and move a lamp already burdened with the additional weight of a meat-axe (a clever but ungainly combination of a big C clamp and two sliding gobo-arms) and a large flag. The lamps are heavy enough, so my habit is to remove all that crap and hand it off to the nearest grip. Once the lamp is in the right place, he (or she) can re-install the grip equipment.

Two steps forward, one step back.

Such is the nature of the beast when gearing up a show, where everyone is constantly in somebody else's way. It took all five days of that first bloody week, but by Friday night a measure of order had emerged from the chaos. Getting there took an enormous effort (with much remaining to be done), but if we all limped into the weekend like survivors of the Bataan Death March, at least we'd accomplished something -- and fully earned our paychecks for the week.

Although the first week is the hardest, we're not done with the heavy lifting just yet. Following the contours of the first few episodes (where the set is essentially a construction site), all the permanent sets will be re-painted and re-furnished as the season unfolds -- which means the lighting will have to be adjusted on a continual basis. The first week was a blur, but we'll be very busy for a while. The truth is, working on a show never really gets easier, but evolves to a different degree and variety of difficulty. With each episode being custom-made to fit the requirements of the individual script, new challenges will arise every week -- and that means we'll be pushing that big rock up the steep hill for a long time.

It's been a while since I've worked a show that survived its first crucial season to earn a shot at another. It's a nice feeling, a rare (and doubtless fleeting) sense of stability in the typically storm-tossed Hollywood seas. After all those brutal one-after-another pilots and shows that could have (and should have) continued, Season Two of this one is officially underway.

And that feels good.


* Most new or returning shows allow at least seven or eight days to rough-in the permanent sets and any swing sets for the first episode.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Season Two






















People come, people go, but nothing ever changes.

(Bastardized from – and with apologies to -- Grand Hotel)

Heading into the heat of late summer, good news came over the telephone: my little cable show was picked up for a second season. The re-up order of fifteen episodes is better than the ten to twelve most cable networks typically offer, and there's an option for nine additional episodes if we manage to bark, roll over, and dance on our hind legs with sufficient enthusiasm to please our masters. Should all go exceedingly well, this would pan out to a twenty-four episode season, and if that’s not quite the thirty we got last year, hey, who’s counting?

Well, me for one, but beggars can’t be choosers in today’s Hollywood, so I’ll take what I can get and be happy about it -- or at least a lot less unhappy than if the show had been cancelled, leaving me standing on the dock watching the entire fleet of new season shows sail over the horizon.

Still, ours is not a perfect world. Several of my favorite crew members from Season One (in different departments) won’t be coming back – some for reasons of their own and others who were victims of highly questionable decisions by the Powers That Be. When someone works hard, pays attention, is always there when needed, and does a terrific job that often extends well beyond the normal call of duty, they’ve fully earned their spot on the crew and in the “family” we form on stage. It never occurred to me that most of the departed wouldn't be back for another good year, and I remain stunned at the stated reasons for kicking them out the back door. What’s right is right, and this is wrong by any measure.

Trouble is, this business has never even approached being a pure meritocracy, and that's not going to change anytime soon. The Industry has been disappointing and pissing me off in that regard with some regularity for more than three decades now. I’m grateful to be returning for Season Two, but hate to see good people get screwed out of their jobs for no valid reason -- and there’s not a goddamned thing I can do about it.

Hollywood, same as it ever was.

So I’ll do what I always do -- what every Hollywood work-bot learns early on: make the best of the situation and keep going. The day I can’t manage that, for whatever reason, will be the day I’m finished in this town. Those left behind were good at their jobs, so I wasn’t surprised when they picked up new (and hopefully better) gigs on other shows. Still, that won't ease the sting of being bitch-slapped and kicked out the back door – which they certainly didn’t deserve -- nor will it restore the warm sense of “family” our show enjoyed last season. For the moment, that’s gone... but as the weeks pass, the new crew members will be assimilated and a new stage family formed. For one reason or another, a few people move on or are tossed overboard every season, and if nobody likes it, the survivors keep on rowing through the choppy seas just the same.

Television is different from the world of features, commercials, or game/reality shows, where the crew lineups typically shift from job to job depending on the production company, director, and DP. When I was working features as a juicer and Best Boy, it was typical to see a completely different cast of set dressers, props, sound, or production departments from one film to the next. But where a feature is usually shot in two to six months, a hit television show can remain in production for a decade or more with much of the core crew working the entire run. When a show like that comes to an end, everybody feels it on a gut level. I was a regular day-player over the final two seasons of “Will and Grace,” working with people who had been together for the better part of a decade. At the final wrap party -- and it was a good one -- there were a lot of tears in that crowd.

But in Hollywood (and increasingly the world beyond), the only constant is change -- willing or not -- so back to the stage I'll go to help rig and light a brand new set and do my best to make Season Two a winner.* As usual, there are no guarantees. We could be done and the show cancelled by Christmas, with the entire crew joining the ever-growing ranks of unemployed in America. The only sure thing is that we’ll be going at it hammer-and-tongs for the first few weeks before the dust begins to settle.

Anything beyond that is just wishing on a dream.

When we report on stage for our first day of work, I’ll salute the missing, wish them well on their new shows, then put my shoulder to the wheel and start pushing the big rock up the steep hill one more time. Win, lose, or draw, the show goes on.

So long Scooter, Bruce, and Justin. Good luck, Red. Take care, Dev, Brian, and Tracy. Know that you will be missed, and that -- inshallah -- we'll all meet again down the road.


* The old set was all but destroyed in the first season’s final episode.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Wednesday Morning, Three A.M.

















Maybe this is why we don't make movies in Hollywood anymore...

(photo taken last Sunday on Hollywood Boulevard near Vine)


Kurt Sutter bared his soul on his unique blog recently, explaining exactly what it takes to be a successful showrunner on a one hour television drama. Nearing the projected halfway point in the “Sons of Anarchy” story arc, he takes stock of how far he and his creative team have come and where they go from here. This is honest, revealing, interesting stuff:

“The greatest gift god has given me is the ability to learn. When I stop being teachable, I'm dead -- creatively and personally. Running a television show requires a level of authority and control unlike any other job in Hollywood. You are king of your little television realm. All decisions big and small pass your desk. From the words on the page, to the color of a porn set, to the montage music, I make or sign off on every decision. That vision and that authority is needed for a show to run smoothly and to be successful. A singular vision is key. Shows fail when that vision is lost. That's why so many big network shows tank, because executives refuse to empower their creatives. So how does one be a teachable king? How do you instill confidence in your cast and crew that you have a sure hand on the rudder while still being vulnerable enough to learn from your mistakes? There's the big fucking rub.”

It’s a great post. You can read the rest here.

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In last week’s Martini Shot, Rob Long tells a very short story about a callow young man, an expired AMEX card, one utterly cool, very understanding restaurant owner, and the lessons learned. It’s a good one.

Check it out...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Back on the Gang


















Photo courtesy of MPTV Images


The phone rings in the evening with an offer I can’t refuse – a day of work on the studio rigging crew. After three and a half months off (thanks to some minor-but-unpleasant surgery and the annual spring/summer television hiatus), this will be my first paid day since April. I hang up with a smile, knowing that the wheel has finally turned and Hollywood is getting back to work.

It’s a welcome change. Not being one who lives to work, I very much appreciate the time off afforded by this inherently unstable business, but enough is enough. With a checking account coughing on fumes -- and no experience as a Wall Street crook (pardon the redundancy), crack dealer, or Amway salesman -- working is the only way I know to make money.

So I’m up with the alarm at 5:00 the next morning for thirty minutes of stretching, back and stomach exercises, then a shower and quick breakfast before heading up and over Laurel Canyon, a drive I could probably make in my sleep at this point. It's all rote by now. The first real test comes at the parking structure, where the laser scans my aging, faded studio badge – and by some miracle it still works.* The gate rises and I’m in, circling all the way up to a space on the fifth floor to park amidst my fellow below-the-liners. Down six flights of stairs, my rusty old bicycle is still chained up where I left it in the basement after the show wrapped. The tires could use a little air, but other than that it’s good to go.

A brisk two minute pedal carries me over the river to the stage, where eight big tubs and pallets are lined up outside the elephant door, each loaded high with heavy black cable. An electric hoist waits inside, all set up and ready to go. Connecting these dots is easy: today we’ll be sending all that cable up high, which means I’ll probably end up driving the mule.

I leave my work bag in the dimmer room and walk around the stage. The carpenters and painters are already at work on half a dozen sets in various stages of completion. Sawdust and paint fumes linger in the air. I hate that – foul air in a work situation is a personal peeve. Thirty-plus years of sucking down my daily ration of LA smog is bad enough without having to inhale an additional load of particulates and airborne toxins at work, but there are some things you just can’t do anything about. Toiling in less-than-ideal conditions comes with the turf of a rigging crew.

Still, I’ve had to work in much worse air, and as I cruise the stage perimeter checking out the sets, it dawns on me that I’m suddenly feeling pretty good – hardly my normal state of mind this early in the morning. Despite the full day of hard physical labor ahead, it feels like I’ve come home after a long absence.

Once the rest of the crew arrives, the rigging gaffer issues our marching orders. Two of us remain on the floor to send the cable high while the other two head up the long flight of stairs to the catwalks above. With my fellow floor man loading the sling, I end up “driving the mule” – running the hoist with a foot switch and the big inch-and-a-half thick hawser. It’s been a year since I’ve run a hoist, and since rust never sleeps, it takes a good twenty minutes to get back in a comfortable working groove. But it's not exactly rocket science, and although we have to endure the wailing cacophony of power saws and percussive chatter of nail guns, the usual array of bellowing boom boxes is conspicuously absent. This is a very welcome change, allowing us to communicate without screaming, which considerably lowers our collective stress level. Power saws run intermittently, but a boom box never stops -- and a typical set construction crew has three of them on stage, each tuned to a different radio station blaring at maximum volume. Working under those circumstances is too much like the Bad Old Days doing music videos, where the deafening sonic assault made doing even the simplest tasks so much harder.

With no boom boxes today, I count my blessings.

We spend a couple of hours sending cable high before stopping for breakfast. The studio commissary is crowded and awash with familiar, friendly faces. Lots of new and returning shows are gearing up, so it’s homecoming week with everybody happy to be working again.

Back from breakfast, we switch places – the floor crew goes high while the high-boys take their turn driving the mule. It’s a different world up here, removed from the dust, fumes, and confusion of the floor. Here the task is simple: as each hundred-and-twenty pound load of cable comes up, we pull it in from the open void, release the hook, then muscle the cable atop a narrow furniture dolly and roll it down the catwalks to lay out in neat rows. The dolly makes this much easier than it used to be – there was a time when we’d simply shoulder each coil of cable as it came up and carry it to the proper spot on the catwalk – but convenience comes at a price, which means we have to be very careful. If we go too fast and hit a bump, the load will shift. With eighteen inches of open space between the catwalk boards and the knee rail, it would take only a moment’s inattention to lose a sixty pound coil over the side, where it would plunge forty feet to the floor. Any carpenter, painter, or juicer unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time down below would be in a world of hurt -- and the person up high who allowed it to happen would have to live with that.

I haven’t killed anybody yet in this business, and don’t plan to start today – so I take it nice and slow rolling that heavily-laden dolly down the catwalks.

The idea is to store the hundred and fifty-odd rolls of cable far enough away from the waterfall to avoid hindering the show boys when they start running it out to power their sets, but close enough to keep it relatively handy.** Even with the help of that dolly, we still end up manhandling every coil of cable at some point in the process – and once again I remember the hard truth that the only way to stay in shape for wrangling cable is to wrangle cable. All the hauling, splitting, and stacking of firewood back I did back on the Home Planet last month was hard physical labor, but it didn’t do much to keep me in cable shape. By the end of this eight hour day, we've transported five or six tons of cable forty feet up and laid it all out in neat, accessible rows. The job is done, leaving me dog-tired, aching, and sore all over. Everything hurts -- my neck, shoulders, back, arms, and legs -- but I’m working again, earning a paycheck.

And that feels good.


* Something I never take for granted after a stretch of time off...

** The “waterfall” is a massive flow of cable running from the dimmer room up the interior stage wall to the catwalks. Power is modulated through the dimmers via the waterfall to the sets, allowing the DP and gaffer to have control over each lamp on stage.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

WTF





















Better call Saul...



One thing I missed while back on the Home Planet was a new addition to KCRW’s lineup of show-biz related programming – an hour long garage podcast called WTF created by stand-up comic Mark Maron to interview a wide variety of industry talent. Not all the interviews are Maron's fellow out-of-work stand-up comedians, either -– the first couple of shows on KCRW featured interviews with Conan O’Brien and Judd Apatow. This past Sunday’s show had two half-hour interviews with actor/writer Bob Odenkirk and stand-up comic Maria Bamford.

Uh, who? Truth be told, I’d never heard of either of these people, but with a big load of dirty dishes to wash, I turned on KCRW at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday morning anyway and got to work. Through all the suds and rinsing, something about Odenkirk’s voice began to sound familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it – until he mentioned appearing on “Breaking Bad,” my own favorite television offering the past few years. Sure enough, Bob Odenkirk has played the wonderfully oleaginous character of lawyer Saul Goodman on that show over the past couple of seasons. Odenkirk describes how he landed that role, and talks about the rest of his heretofore hidden (to me, at least) career.

It's a good one.

As for Maria Bamford, well, she seemed like a nice young woman; kind of funny, kind of vulnerable, and kind of crazy, too. Listening to her portion of the show (recorded in a car) brought to mind Nelson Algren's famous advice: "Never play cards with a man called Doc. Never eat at a place called Mom's. Never sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own." Maria Bamford is a cute and lively, but this interview makes me wonder if whoever gets involved with her tightly-wound bundle of neuroses had better keep his-or-her eyes wide open.

I'm just sayin...

There’s a catch, of course. Unlike most KCRW podcasts, listeners cannot freely access the entire spectrum of WTF archives. Listening to some of the bigger names (ie: the Apatow interview) requires signing up for WTF’s “premium” service at their website, which then allows all manner of digital streaming straight from the source. It’s not free, but at $2 a month, $5 for six months, or $9 a year for anywhere/anytime archive access, it’s certainly affordable. Not all the big names fall under the “premium” umbrella, either – there appears to be free access to the Conan O’Brien interview – and the no-cost option is to simply tune in to KCRW FM or stream the program live via the internet on Sunday mornings.

WTF has been around for a while now, so maybe I’m just the last person to hear about it. I don’t know if every podcast is worth listening to, but the two I’ve heard thus far were certainly worth my time. Hey, I got a lot of dishes washed while listening to Conan and Saul Goodman tell their stories.

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KCRW's The Business had a great interview this week. Rather than bore you with my own recap, here's the setup from their podcast site:

"Well before The Help was a bestseller and a major motion picture, Kathryn Stockett -- who'd racked up 60 rejection letters from literary agents and as yet was unable to get a publisher -- gave Tate Taylor the movie rights to her unpublished manuscript. The two talk about how she did this despite everyone in her life having told her not to, how the contract they wrote was far from formal and yet how committed they both became to making this movie happen that way. In fact, they were so committed and stubborn that once Hollywood got interested Dreamworks studio had no choice but to make the film with Taylor as the writer/director."

This is an exceedingly rare exception to the usual process of getting a book made into a Hollywood movie -- especially a best-seller -- and from the interview, it's clear that Kathryn Stockett and Tate Taylor (no relation, I assure you) pretty much broke every rule in the unwritten book to get the deal done. I have no idea whether theirs is a good movie or not, but you have to admire these two for demonstrating that there really are no rules when it comes to succeeding in this town.

That's a very useful lesson for all you film students and recent grads to absorb.

And remember folks, in times of trouble...


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Art vs. Commerce

The Eternal Struggle






“Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television. Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers... choose rotting away at the end of it all... choose your future.”

(From the deliriously wonderful opening scene of Trainspotting)


I recently came across an interesting post that got me thinking about the eternal struggle between art and commerce in Hollywood. To my mind, much of what we do below-the-line falls under the heading of commerce -- trading our time, sweat, and hard-earned knowledge for money -- but even in such a do-it-quick-and-dirty business as the film industry, a certain level of craft is required to do every job right. Like the countless individual brush strokes that make up a beautiful painting, all that heavy-lifting and shared expertise can help raise the occasional blessed project to a level approaching art. For a Hollywood movie to enter such lofty territory remains the rarest of exceptions, but the level of craftsmanship routinely displayed on set often blurs the line between mere competence and that higher calling.

While rigging a sit-com a few years ago – day-playing up in a man-lift helping the show crew hang, power, and adjust the two hundred and fifty-plus lamps it takes to light an average multi-camera show – I watched as one of the set painters turned an ordinary piece of sanded plywood into what looked like a thick slab of yellow marble. It took him about twenty minutes, and when he was done, the results were absolutely perfect. I doubt Michelangelo could have done it any quicker or better – and the grizzled old painter (an ex-con with a cigarette dangling from his lips the entire time) performed this minor miracle using a couple of paint rollers.

It was amazing.

As luck would have it, that “marble” counter top – a small part of the kitchen set nobody in the viewing audience would ever notice or fully appreciate – was probably the best thing about the entire show. No matter how skilled, one person is never enough. A solid lineup of talent, artistry, and support from the powers-that-be in the executive suites are needed to make a truly good show.

The epiphanies keep coming as the years pile on here in Hollywood, occasional moments of clarity allowing me to see the Industry for what it has always been: a business. It’s not a normal business, though, since producing screened entertainment isn’t the same thing as manufacturing widgets. Unfortunately for the mega-corporations that now control our film studios and broadcast networks, television and movies aren’t toilet paper, weed-killers, erection enhancers, or frozen dinners -- which means they can’t be manufactured and sold quite the same way. Any halfway competent corporate drone can use his MBA to oversee the marketing of a new product, but a more sophisticated approach is required to craft and sell a dream. That delicate task requires a measure of art, but the cruel irony is that most of those who come to Hollywood hoping to make a living by creating art are doomed to disappointment.

Every now and then a fresh name will blaze out of nowhere to light up the Hollywood firmament – a young writer or director blessed with the talent, super-charged ambition, an eagerness to work hard, and the ethereal combination of timing and luck it takes to succeed. If he or she can follow up that initial success with a string of box office hits, they can earn the chance to break out of the commercial straitjacket and go for the artistic gold.

But these Chosen Ones truly are the exceptions that prove the rule.

As lapdogs of their corporate overlords, most studio and network executives hate having to depend upon artists to get the job done. A true artist answers to a Higher Power, and typically fails to show proper respect for their employer’s groveling obeisance to the bottom line. Rather than kneeling down before the top-down, my-way-or-the-highway management typical of the modern corporate power structure, an artist follows the dictates of personal vision – and when pissed off, is likely to forget who’s the real boss, and offer some tart and very explicit advice as to exactly where the corporate drones can shove their intrusively lame committee-and-focus-group spawned "ideas." Although artists and management may come from the same genetic well of carbon-based bipeds, that’s where the similarities end. Like oil and water, they do not mix well in the real world, but when the right combination of talent comes together under proper circumstances, amazing things can happen: films such as “Chinatown” and “Blade Runner.”*

Unfortunately, this kind of magic rarely happens in the current era of comic book blockbusters, movies based on old TV shows, and paint-by-the-numbers Rom-Coms starring the hottest young male and female flavors of the month. This trend towards recycling and regurgitating – or is it “re-imagining?” -- pop culture reveals a profound lack of initiative and vision on the part of studio executives. It's no surprise, given the extreme aversion the corporate hive-mind holds for taking any serious risks -- but art rarely emerges from that fear-based, cover-your-ass studio mentality.

A few organizations beyond Hollywood actually do “get it.” Just look at the Ipod and Iphone – there are many mp3 players and cell phones on the market, but Apple’s products consistently capture the public imagination with elegant designs that blend artistry and engineering. In the best products – be they tangible goods or screened entertainment -- the line between art and commerce vanishes.

This is increasingly the exception in our own film industry. The only good news here is that the corporate steamroller often sows the seeds of its own demise. People eventually get sick of being spoon-fed the same pre-packaged assembly-line pabulum and turn to something raw, fresh, and different – in the case of Hollywood, the occasional small, quirky film made far from the mainstream: a “Spellbound,” Little Miss Sunshine,” or “Juno” that takes the viewing public (and the corporations) by surprise. Stealing their lunch money is the only thing that really gets the attention of those ponderous corporate Goliaths, at which point they are forced to confront the terrifying notion of bringing some of those honest-to-God artists back into the building.

Television has fared better, thanks to the cable networks (the TV equivalent of indie films) which have been running rings around the hopelessly sclerotic and befuddled networks for the past ten years. I’ve got my own problems with these cable outfits, but can’t deny the quality, dynamism, and breathtaking originality of shows like “The Sopranos,” “The Wire,” “Battlestar Galactica,” “The Shield,” “Dexter,” and the current champs “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad.”** These shows were not conceived and written by committee and filtered through focus-groups, nor given the green light by some bloodless corporate mandarin in his penthouse office. Without people who really cared and were willing to follow their gut instincts all the way, such shows would never have come to life -- and to me, such people are artists.

In this eternal struggle, commerce wins most of the time -- it's hard to beat the crushing power of money, and those hell-bent on making as much as possible in the shortest span of time. Still, most decent movies and television shows contain some level of artistry: a gorgeous dolly move or steady-cam shot, an atmospheric set beautifully designed, painted, dressed, propped, and lit, or wardrobe-hair-and-makeup so perfect for the actors and tone of the show that you can't imagine them being any other way. If you look for it, the proof is right there on screen.

Flowers grow from shit the world over. Despite the increasingly crass nature and dumbassification of our own modern culture, the miracle of art -- and its cousin, artistry -- lives on.

Even in Hollywood.


* To be fair, both of these classics were made before Hollywood was swallowed whole by the current crop of mega-corporations.

** There’s no denying that cable raised the bar to new heights for quality dramas on television, but I have a few issues with the cable world.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

LA Again





















Redwood trees are beautiful, but the land of the palm trees pays the rent...


Just back from a month on the Home Planet, sifting through the mountain of bills and junk mail left at my front door, I found the latest bill from Time Warner Cable. Printed across the envelope was a large-font demand to "Watch for your new and improved bill next month" -- and that for a "sneak preview," I could visit their web site.

A "new and improved bill?" Holy Plague of Pederastic Priests, Batman -- now my life is complete! Jeepers, I can hardly wait to click on over to the Time Warner website for my "sneak preview."

Uh... on second thought, I can wait. Tell you what, Time Warner -- my idea of a "new and improved bill" would have you cut my existing monthly tab in half for a better channel lineup. Do that and I'll gladly watch for my new bill. Hell, I might even check out the "sneak preview." But unless the "new and improved bill" features lower prices and/or a wider spectrum of content -- if it's just a different piece of paper with the same bad news -- then I'll just have to restrain my giddy shrieks of ecstatic joy.

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When not paying bills and waiting for the phone to ring with actual paying work, I’ve been wallowing in the joys of more-or-less decent broadband. The Home Planet is a land of many virtues, but wireless is slower than pouring cold molasses up there in the woods, so I've been catching up on all the KCRW podcasts I missed while gone.* Rob Long posted several more pithy insider stores of life above-the-line at Martini Shot, while The Business offered this highly entertaining interview with Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant, better known as the creators and co-stars of “Reno 911.”**

In KCRW’s own words:

“Sketch comedians and screenwriters Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant are known for creating and acting in shows like Reno 911 and The State, but they've made most of their money writing big studio comedies. Their film credits include the Night at the Museum movies and, as they say "bona fide turdfests" like Balls of Fury. In their new book, Writing Movies for Fun and Profit, they use their trademark humor to share some of the very practical secrets to their success.”

Not being a screenwriter – and lacking any interest in becoming one – I have no idea if their advice is sound, but what they reveal in the interview is not only funny, but makes a lot of sense. Whatever your interest in the Industry, this interview is well worth your time. And if/when you follow that link, be sure to watch the two short video clips on the page.***

It's all good stuff -- but if none of that floats your summertime boat, check out these from Cracked.com: five gun myths, six deadly injuries movie stars survive but you would not, and seven myths about the police that routinely show up on screen.

All in all, the perfect antidote to another slow summer afternoon waiting for the phone to ring...


* Links to KCRW's Industry podcasts are over on the right side of this page, under "Essential Listening."

** According to someone I know who worked on “Reno 911” for a full season, that show was a totally disorganized pain in the ass to work on – but although I wasn’t a regular watcher, every episode I saw was really funny.

*** Just ignore the first five minutes of the show -- the "Hollywood Banter" -- which is rather dated reporting on the then-breaking Newscorp scandal in England.