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)

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Oscar Night

Oscar and his pals weather the storm. *

(Note: This post is going up on Saturday rather than the usual Sunday slot for reasons that will become clear further down the page)

Yes, it's Oscar time again -- that annual ritual wherein Hollywood stares hard at the mirror, casting an oh-so-critical eye on the image therein... then leans all the way forward to plant a big, wet, sloppy kiss right on that cold, hard glass.  I've discussed all this (and my own oblique brush with Oscar) before, and -- having once again seen none of the nominated movies  -- there's nothing new to add.

The weather might not cooperate, though.  Having endured month after month of relentlessly warm, dry picture-postcard weather (the silver lining inside one of the worst droughts in California's history), LA has been suffering the wet lash of the cruel Southern California Winter the past few days.  Rain -- actual water -- is falling from our skies.  Will wonders never cease?

Struck dumb like brain-dead turkeys by this turn of meteorological fortune, we stare up into the soggy gray void, mouths agape.

Whether the Noachian deluge will continue long enough to drown Oscar Sunday remains unclear, but I find it hard to care.  It's been years since I managed to sit all the way through this glittering-but-turgid exercise in narcissistic onanism, and that string is unlikely to be broken tomorrow night. I might be more interested if the Powers That Be would at least mention the late Sarah Jones on the broadcast, but at the moment that seems unlikely.  Oscar is a hidebound sclerotic beast, and such industry creatures are seldom nimble enough to generate a meaningful response to something like this.

The sorrow and outrage stemming from Sarah's tragic death continues to resonate throughout the sector of the industry I know so well -- below-the-line, where the long hours are worked and the heavy lifting is done.  My jaded assumption was that the furor among the ranks would die down quickly, but that hasn't happened -- on Facebook, the "Slates for Sarah" campaign is still going strong.  Walking around the studio during our dinner break before the audience show last Thursday evening, I spotted a big black 80 foot Condor lift being readied for a night shoot.  On the back, in huge letters made from two-inch hot pink tape were the words "Sarah Jones, RIP,  728" -- a tribute to her from the set lighting crew of that show. The blog-o-sphere has been buzzing with so many terrific, heart-felt posts about Sarah and the industry, most from blogs I'd never heard of  -- like one from a site called The Big Waah -- a wonderfully smart and thoughtful meditation on the reality behind the magic of movies, big money, the Oscars, and the death of Sarah Jones.

It's a great post -- you really should read it.

I've heard nothing but the most profound silence on the subject of Sarah Jones from the executive suites far above-the-line, though, and don't expect the Oscars will dare break the spell.  I wish they would. As a good friend of mine (a juicer I met 20 years ago when we worked together on The Fifth Element, who is now a big-time rigging gaffer) put it:

I personally would love to see The Academy, a group of self-congratulatory, fat-faced blood suckers,  acknowledge reality for the minute it would take to note this tragedy and honor Sarah's passing. This clearly happened, as anyone who's worked in the business a week could tell you, because The Company was trying to get by and grab a shot without all the fuss of safety or common sense. It probably would have given them a "free" day of shooting had they'd pulled it small thing in dollars, but at the risk of Life!? So tempting....the tracks just sit there...harmless.... "surely we'll hear the trains if they come." 

These are the cut corners that cut the deepest....ask the decision makers on The Twilight Zone Movie... et al.

The real irony here is that the Producers who throw this aforementioned bash every year are the same philistines that formed the "Safety Passport" program for "crew" like Sarah. The program, a mostly useless requirement for inclusion on "The Roster" from whence all technicians must necessarily be employed, is actually an utterly transparent way for this Producers' coalition to insulate themselves from workplace accident litigation. Where then, the question has been loudly begged, is the Safety Passport program for the people who make the cost and corner cutting decisions that put workers, who often naively misplace their trust in authority, in harms way? The safety classes that make up the program are ALWAYS devoid of the decision makers that could REALLY impact workplace safety. The technicians that attend, by mandate, in nearly all instances have been employing the methods being taught and, in fact, could probably teach the class themselves. It's a load of bullshit hypocrisy that's found its way home, unfortunately at the expense of the innocent.

A mention of Sarah's passing at The Oscars would provide an indication that these people understand the hazardous dynamic they create, and are ready to improve. More likely, it'll be avoided because 70% of the room has been complicit in the same sort of negligence and won't want the buzzkill reminder.

Nicely put, Don. Maybe the Academy will hear you -- and the rest of us who signed that petition for Sarah.  If that actually happens, the Oscars might even be worth watching Sunday night.

* photo by Al Seib, Los Angeles Times


Unknown said...

Unfortunately the rigging gaffer misses the point that the safety classes teach... the crew must speak up! The producers will try to cut corners and it is up to us to stand up and say, no it isn't safe. If we continue to blame someone else we will never be safe on the set. We cannot leave safety up to the fat-faced, money grubbing producers; We have to be responsible for ourselves and we need language that makes it illegal to fire someone who brings up a safety violation on set.

Michael Taylor said...

Rick --

I don't think he "missed the point," but was simply addressing the issue from another angle in expressing his rage at those producers who value the bottom line above all else.

I agree with his contention that those safety classes -- which we've all taken -- are for the most part a legal fig leaf designed to shield the producers from liability for accidents on set. How many hours have we sat in those classrooms "learning" things we already knew? Granted, some of the information was useful, but a good 80% was just bureaucratic boilerplate meant to shift legal responsibility from them to us.

I also agree that the producers should have to take classes of their own to make sure they understand what really is safe and what isn't on set. Instead I get yelled at by a UPM who sees me working from the top step of a ladder (which is perfectly safe if done properly) while Sarah Jones gets killed by a train because some idiot producer made a decision to save a little money.

But you're right about we the crew being responsible for our own safety, because the one clear lesson from the Sarah Jones tragedy is that we sure as hell can't count on the so-called "adults" above the line to look out for us. If we don't watch our own -- and each other's -- backs nobody else will.

Thanks for tuning in...