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, July 27, 2014

Another Giant Falls

                                        1928 --2014

We lost another one.  James Garner died last week, and if his name doesn’t mean much to all the 20-somethings out there, it does to the rest of us.  The media has been full of obituaries and tributes to him the last few days, and here are three of the better offerings.  First, this from Mary McNamara, one of the LA Times’ top TV critics, and one hell of a writer.  Robert Lloyd, Mary's fellow television scribe at the Times, weighed in as well -- and Robert is always worth reading. The Hollywood Reporter threw their two cents into the pot as well, with another nice tribute.

For any fan of "Maverick" (I was a bit young at the time to fully appreciate the humor of that show) and "The Rockford Files" (loved it), all three are worth reading.  I never got to meet or work with James Garner -- which is my loss -- but you have to love a guy who would do something like this (from the LA Times obit):

"Garner resisted when a studio executive, nervous about ratings, ordered him to dial back Rockford's humor."

"Humor is what I do best," he told the honcho. "That's what people hire me for… I'm not going to change at the whim of somebody with no experience and no judgment, so either fire me or don't mess with it."

"I might have raised my voice a little," Garner recalled in his 2011 book "The Garner files: A Memoir."  "I may have even broken one or two small pieces of furniture." 

Industry veterans have been all over social media noting what a great guy Garner was to work for and with.  I wish I'd had the chance.  He never got the attention or respect he deserved, but in our Tabloid Nation culture that celebrates trash like Paris Hilton, the moronic cast of The Jersey Shore, and the entire loathsome Kardashian clan, maybe that's not such a bad thing. 

RIP, Jim Rockford…


Forbe's on-line site put up a couple of posts about actors recently, which more-or-less tie together to pose an interesting question.  The first features Forbe’s list of highest-grossing actors in Hollywood these days -- and while that kind of information isn't a concern of mine (and seems more suitable for the tabloids than anything else) the piece serves as a nice lead-in to this, which asks how much longer the big tent-pole blockbusters will need to depend on live human actors.
That sounds like a crazy question, but given the expense of A List actors and the continuing box office success of CGI-driven spectacles like the “Planet of the Apes”  reboot, you have to wonder what the future might hold for our thespian brothers and sisters.  Like all digital technology, CGI keeps getting cheaper, faster, and better, so it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that some day “live action” films may join computer animated movies in using all-digital casts.  
I don’t think actors are in danger of being replaced by an assembly line of terabytes anytime soon.  It’s one thing to digitize an army of apes -- most of us don’t look at or interact with our hairy primate cousins on a daily basis, so it’s relatively easy to sell a painstakingly-crafted digital simulation on screen. Creating digital humans realistic enough that an audience of fellow humans will accept them as “real” in a movie theater is a much taller order.
Still, it’s an interesting notion to ponder on a slow summer day -- and just might signal a distant tolling of the bell for those of us who earn a living doing the heavy lifting currently required to make film and television.  If digital artistry advances enough to generate believable human characters on screen, it will certainly be able to create realistic sets and backgrounds for those cyber-thespians... and that means movies would no longer need to shoot on location or sound stages.  Everything we know today about filmmaking today could become obsolete.  A movie made inside a computer would not require cameras or the human and physical infrastructure we take for granted today.  Camera operators, assistants, gaffers, juicers, grips, set dressers, props, makeup and hair, location managers, and all the rest would go the way of those heavily-muscled brutes who once shoveled coal into the flaming boilers of steam trains.  Good producers would survive the digital apocalypse, along with content providers --  writers, art directors, sound and voice-over specialists (until technology replaces them too), and the requisite legions of digital artisans.
The rest of us would be gone with the digital wind.

On the bright side -- having lost their human subjects -- maybe all the paparazzi and tabloid-sleaze merchants would dry up and blow away. Or go into politics...
I don’t expect to see this happen -- I’ll be rotting in my grave before the digital revolution stages a Mt. Suribachi-style raising of the cyber-flag atop the Hollywood sign to declare total victory -- but I really have to wonder what the film industry will look like in 2044, just thirty years from now.
Much less 2525

PS:  given the subscription-based nature of modern e-media, it's possible some of the links above won't work.  In that case -- and if you want to read the articles -- shoot me an e-mail and I'll send them along...

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