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, January 13, 2013

The New Year

So much for Christmas...

A flocked-and-plastic-wrapped Christmas tree left by the curb in the harsh rays of the winter sun can mean only one thing -- another holiday season is over and done, as a brand new year stares us in the face. Whether 2013 will be good, bad, or indifferent remains to be seen, but I'm kicking off this year by posting a very thoughtful comment from a reader reacting to this recent post on the challenges of building and sustaining a career as a professional screen actor. 

Given that this blog concentrates on life in the trenches, it's no surprise that I rarely hear a response from those distant reaches above-the-line -- and since it's unlikely many readers bother to troll older posts for comments, I thought I'd share this one with my fellow below-the-liners.

Besides (and for reasons I will not bore you with), this was a very stressful Christmas season on my part.  Real life does not recognize our artificial holidays or pause for the calendar, and handling the situation on the Home Planet absorbed so much of my time, energy, and concentration that there was nothing left for writing a decent blog post. Once a resolution had been reached,  I was more than happy to head south and resume working on something as silly and simple as a television show.  It really is good to be back.

And now a voice from the other side of the cameras and lights...

"As a young(er) actor I had the pleasure of stopping an older character actor in the parking lot of Rock N' Roll Ralphs, after having been here for exactly one week, and asking for some piece of advice. Nonplussed at being interrupted on the way to his car with his bags, he stopped and said two things: "Just remember kid, you keep 90% of the money for a REASON," and... "Your job, for the rest of your life, is to get it RIGHT. Those folks on the other side of the camera have been there well before you arrived, and they will be there long after you leave. They have lives and they deserve to get back to them. So do your job."

And with that, he left me in the parking lot.

I've passed those words along now for many years to my fellow thespians. For, while it's true that in the end the finished product depends a great deal on the final image, the making of that image is the result of so many folks, it's kinda mind-boggling. Whenever I go out of town, I force folks with whom I attend films to stay and watch the credits. Not just to see who I might know, but to really show them how many fine and talented people go into making the damned thing!

My Dad was an electrician (and rabid Union rep; one of my all-time favorite moments was when we became Union Brothers!), back in my hometown in MA. When I got my first gig, he called to ask how it was.

"Great," quoth I, " they put me into makeup, the wardrobe person set out my clothes, the kid got me some breakfast, we did a fast rehearsal, then I sat in my trailer for two hours until they called "Talent to the set", and they drove me..."

"Hold on, hold on; Talent? TALENT?! Is that what you are? Talent?"

"Yes, Dad."

"What about the person who applied your makeup? Any talent there?

"Yes Dad."

"And the person who set the lights? Runs the camera? Any ability there?"

"Yes Dad."

"Then do yourself a favor and remember that, and treat everyone accordingly."

Wise words from someone who never came out here. Words to live by, really. I have always taken the time to walk the set at the end of my gigs to shake hands all around and thank everyone for their hard work. This is not an attempt to glorify myself: I think it's the right thing to do. It shows respect. But what surprised me most about that action is how many of the crew are surprised, taking off gloves, stopping their work to say nice things back, but with shock sometimes. It makes me wonder if my side really appreciates what everyone does. I hope so."

Well put, Dstarz.  I too hope there are more actors who appreciate what the rest of us do on set to make the magic happen.  Thanks for the great stories and for taking the time to remind those of us who do the heavy lifting that our sweat and labor does not always go unnoticed by those who stand and deliver in the heat of the spotlight.

Happy New Year to you all.


Penny said...

I love this post Mike, as I'm also a below-the-liner, but got a hug and a big fat kiss on the face from our show's Oscar winner last week, who took a moment to say "Uck! I'm a horrible person! I didn't even wish you a Happy New Year yesterday, Penny!"

She knows my name?! :D

Michael Taylor said...

Thanks, Penny. And hey, at least the actors know your name -- to most thespians, the rest of us are just a faceless herd.

Jerry w said...

Ah, sweet memories of a first time feature film director who, after being audibly advised by the producer at the end of day one to thank the crew, turned around and said "Thanks" to no one in particular, got into his Mercedes and slowly drove off into the sunset.

Michael Taylor said...

Jerry --

That's more what I'm used to as well -- oblivious directors who think it's all about them...