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, October 5, 2014

Reflections on a Not-So-Distant Future

                                               Two more years

Fall brings us an abundance of riches: an easing of the merciless summer heat, a cool breeze out of the north, and the low, golden light of Autumn.  It also brings two more of my favorite things -- crisp, sweet apples hanging low on the tree, and the post-season playoffs for major league baseball.  

Things are a little different in Hollywood.  The autumnal light is exquisite, but here Fall brings the real heat of summer, with sticky, humid conditions in September finally giving way to the scorching, bone-dry heat of October -- and as the leaves turn color and begin to drop, the fierce Santa Ana Winds come roaring down out of the mountains to fan the inferno of Southern California's fire season.  That can get ugly.     
Still, meteorological fluctuations do bring a few deliciously cool Fall days between the waves of heat.  When we’re not sweating, baking, or running from the flames, autumn can be a lovely time of year.
The falling leaves signal the advent of another season, this one man-made -- the new television season, a yearly influx of life-giving work that has provided the backbeat for my life during the past couple of decades.  Before that, most of my work came from commercials, music videos, and features, leaving me unaffected by the gravitational tug of the television season. In those days, I often returned to the Home Planet during autumn, there to pick apples from the tree -- my tree -- and tune in to the baseball playoffs via radio or television.  Once the playoffs began, it didn’t matter whether my team was still in the post-season mix or had gone their separate ways to spend the off-season playing golf.  The stories behind the contending teams and the drama of baseball in October is all I needed.*
Life was good.  
Then came the late 90‘s, when the earth tilted on its axis and the television commercials I’d depended on for so long began flow north across the border to Canada.  Life in Hollywood wasn’t so good anymore, and I was forced -- as they say in baseball -- to "make adjustments.”  That’s when I found a new home in television, where the choices were stark: endure the brutal weekly beat-downs while tied to the whipping post of episodic television -- where a good income can be made in exchange for most of your waking hours -- or accept a substantial pay cut for the much shorter hours and more humane working conditions in the multi-camera world.
Fate opened the door to sit-coms, and although it took me a couple of years to fully accept this new reality, things worked out pretty well.  There I no longer had to suffer the ravages of working 16 hour days one after another, and I managed to earn enough to cover the bills.  The less intense work days and relaxed schedule of multi-camera work allowed me considerably more time-off to do things other than haul cable, hang lights, and count the hours ‘til wrap. 
That seemed like a reasonable compromise at the time, and it still does.  Sixteen years later, I’ve got no serious complaints.
But one unavoidable aspect of working in television bothered me right from the start.  As summer turned to fall, the new television season geared up just as baseball headed down the stretch and into the playoffs.  Much of the heavy lifting on multi-camera shows takes place during the late afternoon and evening hours, when playoff games are broadcast, which meant the only games I could catch were those played on weekends.  Occasionally I’d manage to see part of an inning on our Gold Room monitor during the audience shoot night, but that’s all.**
Catching a game here and a game there on Saturday and Sunday wasn’t enough to scratch my playoff itch. I made the best of the situation, but there were times (2010 and 2012) when the home-town team I’ve been following since 1958 finally -- finally -- fought their way through the playoffs to win the World Series... but I was always at work, and missed most of those games.  
I know -- I was lucky to have a job at all, so how can I sit here and whine about missing a few baseball games on radio and TV?  Where the hell are my priorities??  
Life is not made worthwhile by work alone, and although I always showed up every day on set ready to go without complaint, every October fills me with a yearning to relax, kick my boots off,  and tune in to all the playoff baseball I desire.  
That time is not yet here, but it’s coming.  In two years, inshallah, I’ll be done with Hollywood, and can close the book on my life in LA. Rather than be dragged from the refuge of sleep by the blare of an alarm clock five mornings a week, I’ll enjoy the luxury of a more leisurely approach to each day.  Assuming I make it across the finish line -- and there’s certainly no guarantee of that --  I’ll be back to the Home Planet for good by the Fall of 2016.  There in the Fall, I’ll consult the radio and television schedule, then pull a cold beer from the fridge and tune in to the baseball playoffs during those gentle autumnal afternoons. 
And between innings, maybe I’ll go out and pick an apple from that tree.
Two more years

* I realize football is now king in America -- almost a religion, really -- while baseball ranks a distant third behind the gridiron and basketball hoop in popular culture.  But we each march to our own drummers, and my personal percussionist harkens back to an era when baseball really was “America’s pastime.”  I suppose we’re all prisoners of our own time, so hey -- to each his own.

** I was doing just that on Stage 32 at Paramount during the Mets/Yankees World Series when the head of the studio suddenly stepped into our office and sat down to watch.  It was a small office, with room only for the two of us... so there we sat, watching the game and talking baseball for a few minutes. That was the one and only time this man (a hard-core Yankee fan wearing a suit that cost more than I made in a month) deigned to acknowledge my existence during the three seasons I worked at Paramount.  Such is the power of baseball... and film biz egos.


Austin said...

Go Giants

Michael Taylor said...

Austin --


JB Bruno said...

I have a similar love of baseball, and, with the exception of grand events (World Cup, Olympics, Football post-season) it is the only sport I enjoy watching even when my team is not involved (and as a Mets' fan, that is sadly the norm. I usually go with the underdog in these times.

It's an even year. You're looking good.

Michael Taylor said...

JB --

I'm no a fan of the AL, with its odious DH, but really admire this Kansas City Royals team. They play classic NL baseball, with speed, defense, and good pitching, and can hit for power when the need arises. They bitch-slapped the Giants in a three-game sweep during the regular season, and are on a serious roll right now.

If they take the Orioles (which seems all but inevitable at the moment), they'll have the home field advantage (with the DH) for the Series. As unlikely as it seems, this just might be their year -- whether the number is odd or even.

The Mets are going through a rough patch, but all I know is that they play the Giants very tough, every game, every season. They're a tough, gritty club, and as the Great Wheel turns, they'll find their way back into the post-season spotlight. I don't know when, but they'll do it.