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, November 17, 2013

It's Hard, All Right

          "The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men, / Gang aft agley"
          Robert Burns

For a recent episode, our producers hired a celebrity chef to appear in a guest role -- one of many such chefs who have managed to make buckets of money and become media stars over the last couple of decades by turning their culinary skills to a series of lively, intense, and often confrontational cooking shows.  
Allow me to pause for a brief digression:  I used to watch a number of cooking shows back in the day -- everyone from Pierre Franey to Julia Child to The Frugal Gourmet -- but my favorite was a wonderfully cheeky program hosted by a cheerful British chef named Keith Floyd, who was never happier then while demonstrating the fine art of cooking on camera, be it over a crude stove in the open English countryside or the fancy kitchen of a high-end French culinary school.* Floyd's passionate but refreshingly down-to-earth approach -- usually with a glass of wine (or something stronger) in one hand -- thoroughly demystified the process of cooking.  He introduced one memorable show talking straight into the camera while careening through the French countryside at the wheel of an automobile, drinking all the way.  Adding to his not-your-mother’s-cooking-show credentials was a fondness for the music of The Stranglers, whose tunes often graced the soundtrack of the show.** 
In a bonus we took for granted back then, “Cooking with Floyd” was broadcast on PBS, which meant nobody had to pay a fat monthly cable bill to enjoy the shows.  Ah yes, those were the days...

I’m sure many of the modern cooking shows are indeed entertaining, but my interest in such programming faded over the years.  I’ll occasionally stumble across “America’s Test Kitchens” for a few minutes, but that’s about it.  Although I still like to cook (and continue to buy cookbooks I’ll probably never get a chance to use), I'm not familiar with most of the cooking shows on television these days, which is why I’d never even heard of our guest-star celebrity chef or his television empire.***

Almost everybody else on the crew had, though, and to some of them, having this man on set was a Big Deal.  Given that he'd done so many high-pressure television shows, there was no reason to think he'd be intimidated by sets and cameras, so choosing him to portray a pompous, arrogant chef who runs the best and most expensive restaurant in town must have seemed a stroke of genius to our producers.

But many a late-night inspiration collapses like a bad soufflé during the transition from script to screen, and perhaps this particular notion should have been inspected more carefully before the celebrity chef’s agent was called.  Despite pacing the kitchen set alone for a good three hours, script in hand, diligently learning and rehearsing his lines, the poor guy turned into a proverbial deer in the headlights once the real actors joined him and all four cameras rolled into position.  He continually forgot or fumbled his lines, and on those rare moments when he did manage to summon the correct words, couldn't deliver them with any authority at all -- and this from a man accustomed to being King of the Kitchen, barking orders like the battle-hardened commander of an aircraft carrier.  A quick little scene that should have taken no more than twenty minutes to shoot stretched out to a solid hour... and a tortuously painfully hour at that.

I felt bad for the guy, but no doubt he felt a lot worse.  Still, I have to give the man credit for soldiering through all the way to the the bitter, humiliating end.

It wasn't a complete disaster -- we shot enough takes from various angles for the editors to cobble together a usable scene -- but once again I was reminded exactly why actors get paid a lot of money for what they do;  because most normal people (including some who make a great living performing on camera) just can’t do it. Acting is hard, which is one more reason I’ve always been quite happy to remain behind the cameras -- and why I have a lot of respect for those who do such good work out there in the heat and glare of the lights.

I can only hope our producers learned something from this experience.  My guess is they'll think twice the next time somebody suggests hiring a non-professional for a role in the show.  Just because something looks easy -- and the good actors do that -- doesn't mean it really is.

And I'm betting that there's at least one celebrity chef out there who has a new and hard-earned appreciation for what a real actor can do.

* Here’s a four minute sample of Keith Floyd's unique approach  to hosting a cooking show.  Sadly, he passed away in 2009 at age 65.  RIP, Keith, and thanks for the laughs. 

**  If nothing else, The Stranglers remain memorable for Golden Brown, one of the best heroin songs ever.

*** No, not Gordon Ramsay.  For reasons that should be obvious by now, I can’t name him.


amy said...

I Love Keith Floyd! I had an addition to watching Man Vs Food a few months back (this is what happens when you work from home you discover daytime TV).I feel sorry for the chef though maybe he was just having a bad day, I hope the dir helped him through his crisis.

Michael Taylor said...

Amy --

No doubt about it -- Keith Floyd was the best. As for the Celebrity Chef, there wasn't much anybody could do help him. He just had to flounder through the experience. But hey, they say that which does not kill you, makes you stronger -- and if true, then he's a much stronger man today...