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, December 1, 2013

That Was the Week that Was*

"Without winter, you can't appreciate the spring."
Garrison Keillor 

                                Double trouble

We were fucked -- one look at the shooting schedule made that abundantly clear.  After three intense days lighting, re-lighting, and endlessly tweaking three swing sets, we now had two days to shoot sixteen scenes that would comprise the 22 minute episode... which would be a normal work week except that fifteen of those scenes -- all but one -- featured a very young baby and/or a yappy little dog.  And by “featured,” I mean the baby and dog weren’t mere props for the other actors to work around, but formed the comedic fulcrum upon which the entire show was leveraged.  If one or the other caused serious problems or couldn't deliver, this episode could go down like the Hindenburg. 

One of the grips stared at the schedule, then shook his head.  

“Babies and dogs,” he sighed.  “What could possibly go wrong?”
In addition to filming in six different sets on stage, we also had two scenes to shoot on location, a day exterior and a night scene in a car.  This was the holy trinity of horrors for a multi-camera show: babies, animals, and having to leave the safe harbor of our climate-controlled sound stage for day and  night scenes outdoors.  The weather forecast brought more bad news -- with rain due the evening of our exterior shoot, we faced the dismal prospect of filming the night scene in wet conditions, after which we'd be wrapping a load of damp lights and cable.  
Having done my share of work in the rain over the past three-and-a-half decades, I can tell you with a certainty born of soggy, miserable experience: it sucks.
The additional equipment required to light those three swing sets -- each with a day and night look for different scenes -- maxed out our available dimmer power and ran the week’s lighting budget deep into the red, which brought the Production Supervisor down hard on the Best Boy in her ceaseless quest to cut any unnecessary expenses.  But there’s only so much fat you can carve before hitting blood and bone, because sooner or later we always end up needing another piece of gear to get a particular shot.  Our job is to be ready for anything -- that's just the nature of the beast -- so the Best Boy had to do a delicate tap-dance in appeasing the Production Supervisor while making sure to keep our lighting ass well covered.

And that's just one more reason I have no interest in revisiting my past life as a Best Boy.  Been there, done that, and don't want to do it again.
Another strike against this episode was a director known for his plodding style, which could most charitably be described as “deliberate.”  How he got the nod to direct what was clearly our most challenging episode of the season mystified me, but the list of things I don't understand about this business gets longer every day.  Then there was some kind of odd disturbance in The Force that had me (and a few others on the crew) hitting on only seven cylinders during the entire first lighting day, when it seemed I ended up having to go back and do every task twice, if not three times.  All told, by the time our  block-and-shoot day rolled around, the entire week appeared doomed to be spent slogging through the swamps of multi-camera Hell.
That’s pretty much how it turned out.  Between the baby, the dog, the director, our O.C.D.P. and the night exterior in the the rain -- which arrived right on schedule two hours before wrap -- we got peeled.   That’s just the way it goes in this business, where an occasional rough week comes with the turf.  But that's not such a bad thing, really.  A hard week slaps you in the face and forces you to go all out, which helps reboot your perspective and thus make the subsequent easier weeks all the sweeter.  
Besides, it takes a grain of sand lodged in the guts of an oyster to create a pearl, and I think this episode will turn out to be one of our better efforts once post-production is finished.  That little dog may have caused us endless retakes, but he delivered in the end, and the baby looked appropriately cute on camera.  With a nice tight script (this one by the writer’s assistant, who got -- and nailed -- his second shot at the brass ring) and the usual solid performances by our regular cast, this should be a very funny show.  
In the final analysis, that’s what really matters.  From Olympic divers to ballet dancers to  film crews, endless hard work and suffering go into achieving the goal of making something very difficult appear smooth, effortless, and beautiful.  That's our job, and meeting the challenge of getting it done over the course of a very tough week felt pretty good.
Once it was over, anyway...

* With apologies to the real thing, a great if short-lived show that blazed a path which ultimately led to Jon Stewart's The Daily Show, among other modern comedic takes on the news of the day.  


Anonymous said...

Glad everything worked out, hope this week is easier!

Michael Taylor said...

Yeah, this week is back to normal. Thanks for tuning in...