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Sunday, February 5, 2012
“We don’t have time to rehearse – just shoot it!”
One very impatient and highly over-caffeinated director...
Once again standing at the corner of Sunset and Bronson waiting for the light to change – this time reporting for a late afternoon lighting day – I snapped the photo above as a long-haired woman rode by on her horse with two more saddled-but-riderless horses trailing in her wake. I have no idea who she was, where she was headed, or what she was doing out there. Strange sights are the norm in Hollywood, but you don’t see a solitary rider and three horses clip-clopping down a car-choked Sunset Boulevard every day.
If nothing else, this brought a welcome touch of levity to what had already turned into Hell Week on the new show. Although Week One was a cool breeze, Week Two brought a heat wave from Beelzebub's Lair in the form of a big nightclub swing set. Given the musical theme of this show, every episode includes a performance number -- in essence, a music video. They're cheap-ass music videos to be sure, but made from the same basic elements as the real thing: a large crowd of extras, lots of “flash and trash” lighting, and the constant hammering of a sonic assault that eventually brings everyone involved to loathe the song being filmed.
These are all the things I came to hate back in the day doing music videos for Sting, The Police, Jefferson Starship, The Pointer Sisters, Neil Diamond, Michael Jackson, Prince, Randy Newman, Michael Bolton, Huey Louis, and countless other lesser-known acts eager to exploit the marketing opportunities then offered by MTV. Yes, there was money to be made doing music videos back then, but it was always long-hour blood money, with the figurative blood dripping out my ears by the time wrap was finally called.
For many reasons (exceedingly slow equipment deliveries, a constantly morphing script, and the toxic trickle-down that inevitably gums up the machinery whenever there’s serious confusion above-the-line), it took us forever to get that big nightclub set ready for the cameras.* We were running behind and up against the clock from start to finish, barely getting the lamps -- three trusses jammed with Par Cans, a dozen dichroic Double-Fays, and two tall vertical rows of blindingly bright LED Color Blasters -- properly rigged and circuited before the actors and extras took the stage.
But we got it done, and it actually looked pretty good -- "better than they deserved," as the saying goes. Everybody seemed happy as the crew walked away from that twelve hour block-and-shoot day... except the juicers and grips. We had another two hours of work wrapping the swing set and part of one of the huge main sets which was due to be replaced by completely different -- and even bigger -- set for the final episode. The result was a very long Thursday that eventually strayed into the Disney No-Go Zone of double-time, followed by an equally long Friday night. It was close to midnight by the time we walked away after the audience shoot and another long wrap, leaving the stage ready for the construction crew to assemble the new sets (one exterior, the other an interior) over the weekend.
And that’s how we ended up doing two consecutive 14 hour-plus days on a multi-camera show, an ordeal more reminiscent of the Bad Old Days doing low-budget features than anything I’d yet experienced in more than a decade of working on sit-coms.
So much for “bring a book – you’ll need it.”
Still, a grind like this really makes me appreciate working with a good crew of juicers, led by a Gaffer and DP who know how turn water into wine in delivering lighting miracles at a bargain rate. Pushed hard like that, I forget my dead legs, sore back and tired arms, ignoring the heavy accumulation of fatigue to catch a third wind that will carry me until the work is done. It was only after we’d completed the wrap that I realized just how exhausted I really was – and then I stumbled home to a stiff drink and went face down on the bed.
As usual, though, I was much too buzzed from the residual adrenaline high, and couldn't get to sleep for a couple of hours. After two long days of being jerked around by yet another loud, preening director without a clue – a man who was doubtless sound asleep by that time – this was perhaps the cruelest twist of all.
But such is life in Hollywood, where horses (and the occasional horse’s ass) still walk the streets and sound-stages...
* This studio doesn’t have much equipment or anything resembling a real lamp dock, so most of the lighting gear has to be ordered from a rental house out in the San Fernando Valley – and that generally means a next-day delivery. This is hopelessly lame in a business where change is constant, and the ability to react to those changes in a timely manner is crucial.