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, February 9, 2014

Hiatus Weeks

                            Your money or your life?

Among the many benefits of working in the multi-camera world (laugh-track sit-coms) are the hiatus weeks, which typically arrive after shooting three episodes over the course of three weeks.  These schedules can vary from show to show, or even during the seasonal run of a given production. My current show followed the three-on/one-off schedule all the way up to the Christmas break, but we’re grinding out the last eleven episodes on a four-on/one-off basis.

And if I’m not exactly thrilled by that, nobody above-the-line -- where such decisions are born -- gives a damn what I think.  Still, these things don’t just drop out of a clear blue sky, and the powers-that-be doubtless have reasons for accelerating the remainder of our season.

Like everything in life, hiatus weeks come at a cost -- one less work-week per month means one fewer paycheck as well -- but nobody toils in Multi-Camland to get rich.  I do it because the money is just enough, and I no longer have any desire to endure the brutal beat-downs consistently meted out by episodic television, where it’s not unusual to work a 75 to 80 hour week. 

Or more...

Due to the crush of cranking out 22 to 26 episodes per season, most broadcast network dramas don’t enjoy the luxury of hiatus weeks.  That’s a shame, because the crews of those shows could use a regular hiatus week -- their only real respite comes at the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.  Weekends are a cruel joke, routinely truncated by the harsh reality of “Fraterdays,” which allow just enough time to remember who you are before plunging headfirst back into the churning cauldron of Monday morning, and another week of pain.*

That’s why the money is so good in episodics: all that overtime (and the inevitable meal penalties) can add up to weekly paychecks well over $2500 for grips and juicers -- before taxes -- while sound and camera department crews do even better.**  But it's a Devil’s Bargain at best, where the tradeoff is money for your life -- because there’s no time for any real off-set life when working the meat grinder of episodics. 

Given the physical demands, it’s no surprise that the crews of episodics tend to be young, and although I didn’t mind those crazy hours when I was their age, there isn’t enough money in Hollywood to get me back in that rat-race now.  Then again, no episodic gaffer or best boy in his/her right mind would want a geezer like me on their crew anyway, which makes planting my flag in Multi-Camland a win-win for all concerned. 
Still, a single camera comedy called “Bad Teacher” -- a mid-season replacement that recently wrapped at my home studio -- held to a three-on/one-off schedule this season, giving their crew a hiatus week once a month.  Mid-season shows typically crank out half the episodes of a full-season show, which allows more leeway time-wise, but maybe this represents a ray hope that the Death March approach of episodic television might eventually give way to a more humane production schedule.***  

I love the hiatus weeks, when I get to sleep in to my heart's content, then arise in a leisurely manner to do whatever I want all day long rather than follow somebody else's orders on set.  Of course, multi-cam shows didn't institute hiatus weeks for people like me in the below-the-line crew, but so the writers can catch their breath from the grind of banging out a fresh new script every five days.  Without the writers, there is no show -- but I'm happy to enjoy a break from the physical stress and fatigue that comes with working in set lighting.

And with this entire past week off, you might assume that would be plenty of time for me to finish Part Three in my ongoing meditation on the grip arts.  That’s what I thought too, but we were both wrong.  The flip side of a hiatus week is that suddenly there’s time to take care of all those nagging tasks that had been on hold for a full month, precluded by the realities of working a five-day week.  Long-delayed medical appointments, car maintenance, haircuts, and a million other mundane-but-essential tasks of modern life suddenly awoke like hungry bears from a long hibernation -- and they all started roaring at once.  
Long story short: I ran out of time, so the series on gripping (essentially a trip down memory lane) will continue some other Sunday in the not-too-distant future. Maybe that's just as well, since those posts seem to be putting all of you out there to sleep.

So it goes...

* Long work days conspire with the actor's 12 hour turnaround rules to push each successive morning’s crew call later than the last.  Monday's call might be 7:00 a.m., but by the time you reach Friday, the call time might be anywhere from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. -- which means wrap won’t be called until sometime deep into Saturday morning. Thus the bitter term “Fraterday.”

** Broadcast network episodics, that is. Cable shows are a much leaner and meaner beast.

*** Yeah, I know -- fat chance.

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