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, May 25, 2014

The Gift of Time

   Nice logo, huh?  I now await the "cease and desist" order from the corporate legal team...

Being on hiatus (read: unemployed), I am currently enjoying what I call “the gift of time.”  Don’t think I’m not busy, though -- very busy, actually -- but after three years of bouncing from show to show and back again (a period during which I rarely had more than one or two weeks off at a stretch), a little time away from sound stages, cable, and lights is just fine with me.

Up to a point, anyway.  Another month with no paychecks coming in will have me back on the phone hunting, pecking, and wheedling for work.  Such is the life of the free-lance Hollywood Work-Bot.

Meanwhile, I’ve got some good stuff for your eyes and ears.  

First off, if you haven’t yet tuned in to The Anonymous Production Assistant’s new podcast Crew Call, you're missing out. TAPA’s first two half-hour interviews with Camera Assistant Evan Luzi and Location Manager Nathan Gendzier are now up (both are terrific), and TAPA has more on the way.  I've been watching camera assistants work on set for more than 35 years, but still learned a lot from Evan's description of what is required to be a good camera assistant these days.  As is true in every craft, you have to know what you're doing, pay attention to detail, and work your ass off.  But don't take my word for it -- listen to what Evan has to say and you just might learn something too.

Given that the work of a Location Manager remains something of a mystery to the shooting crew -- his/her work is pretty much done by the time we show up with lights and cameras -- Nathan's interview is particularly revealing, explaining exactly what a Location Manager does, how he-or-she gets it done, and detailing all the legwork that goes into finding and nailing down suitable locations.  Having talked with Location Scouts and Managers over the years, I knew some of this, but Nathan's interview was a real eye-opener.

I suppose it's only natural for each of us in the film and television industry to assume that our jobs are the hardest.  After all, we know exactly how much pain and suffering goes into getting through each working day, and are rarely in a position to see or understand just how demanding all the other jobs on set (and off) really are.  I've taken that stance more than once  -- usually after the back-breaking task of wrapping several thousand pounds of  4/0 cable, then throwing it in the belly of a truck -- but the fact remains that everybody in this industry gets their asses kicked one way or another.  It's a hard business up and down the line, and TAPA's Crew Call does a good job of shedding light on the dark corners of our world.

You can catch up on these and future podcasts at the Crew Call archives -- a link to which is now enshrined over on the right side of this page under "Essential Listening."

Next up, two excellent posts from “The Big Waah,” a terrific blog from a female sound-person (and occasional film-maker) back east.*  The quality of writing and thoughtful content in this blog make it one of my favorites.  The first post discusses the gulf between young and old in the industry (and life), and how we can all learn something from each other... and yes, I understand that probably sounds like the kind of hippy-dippy, Kumbaya bullshit that makes you want to puke -- but it’s not. 

Read it and you’ll see what I mean.

The second is about the death of film, the beauty of that dying technology, how things used to be before the Digital Revolution changed our lives forever, and why -- for the most part -- these changes are for the good.  But never forget that there were benefits to the Old Ways, and the lessons therein are worth learning.
Back to podcasting (very short, three-minute podcasting), here’s another “Martini Shot” gem from veteran writer/producer/director Rob Long, who -- with tongue firmly planted in cheek -- explains the reality of what a producer actually does.  It’s a good one.

If you’ve got a little more time -- like 45 minutes -- here’s a fascinating interview with Louis C.K. that was recently broadcast on Public Radio’s “Fresh Air.”  There are some laughs, but it’s mostly a serio-comic discussion of what he does and how he does it in his inimitable show “Louis C.K.” And as a bonus, you’ll learn the secret of his mysterious last name... 
It’s a great listen.

For more great listening, you can’t do better than “The Moth Radio Hour.”  Granted, the stories told there rarely have anything to do with the film and television industry, but that doesn't mean they're not worth your time.  After all, the raison d'etra of film and television is to tell compelling stories, which is exactly what "The Moth Radio Hour" does.**  There’s a reason I put a link to “The Moth” under "Essential Listening" a long time ago. The stories told on any given episode can be riveting, deeply moving, inspirational, or funny -- and on a good night, all of the above.

This episode features stories told before a live audience by three literary lions of the 20th Century: George Plimpton, Lewis Lapham, and Christopher Hitchens.  If you have the time, you really should listen to the whole show... but since not everyone has a spare hour these days, I’ve done the cherry-picking for you.  

George Plimpton was an American original, a man from the upper crust of East Coast society who helped start “The Paris Review,” among other things, then managed to carve out a niche in literary history by putting himself in the middle of the most unlikely situations.  I’ll have more to say about George Plimpton in a future post, but for the moment, picture this: a gangly young East Coast literary patrician stepping into the ring to go three rounds with the great Archie Moore -- “The Mongoose” himself -- then light-heavyweight boxing champion of the world.

Hard to believe?  Absolutely, but it happened, and a great book came out of it.  One of several, as it happens, and I’ll bet many of you have never even heard of George Plimpton, much less read any of his books. That’s your loss, kids, but summer's coming, so you'll have time to fill this gaping hole in your literary resume. 
In this short podcast, Plimpton’s rendition of “Dinner at Elaines” is a classic tale of a good deed that ends up going above and beyond -- waaay beyond -- the reasonable expectations of all involved.  It’s a delight, and won’t eat up more than ten or twelve minutes.  

As the editor and leadoff columnist of Harper’s Magazine for thirty years, Lewis Lapham knows his way around the literary block.  In this priceless story from a very different age, he relates a sexy and extremely funny adventure he experienced as a 22 year old cub reporter working his first newspaper job in the San Francisco Bay Area.  If you don’t listen to anything else on “The Moth,” listen to this one.  It will consume fifteen or twenty minutes of your precious time, but is well worth it.

Trust me.
The story Christopher Hitchens tells is rather exotic and entertaining -- he's quite the raconteur --  but you really need to click the link at the very bottom of the episode's web page (use the "episode" link five paragraphs back) to hear the unexpurgated telling of his story.  The radio version had to be cleaned up a bit to prevent the blue-nosed zealots of the FCC from having a seizure.  

That's it for this week -- but at nearly three hours worth of excellent podcasts and another fifteen minutes of quality reading, it should be enough to keep you occupied and out of trouble.  

For a while, anyway...

* I don't know for sure, but suspect that she used to write the terrific -- and long inactive -- blog called BTL...

** Truth be told, the purpose of most television is to provide a platform from which to sell advertising in the form of commercials, but you get my drift...

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