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, January 25, 2015

Just for the Hell of It -- Episode Sixteen

                              Which way to craft service?

Note:  This is a first -- a “Just for the Hell of It” post on Sunday rather than the usual Wednesday slot.  Hey, it’s a brand new year, so why not shake things up a little?  Besides, there are no rules here at Blood, Sweat and Tedium --  just the way things were and they way they are now.  

The truth, of course, is somewhat less glib:  I don’t have a post of the sort that typically appears on Sunday ready to publish right now. Several posts are in various stages of completion, but none are in shape to hit the blog -- not yet.  The demands, burdens, and overall crush of work and real life (as opposed to “reel life”) have weighed me down since early December, and I just haven’t been able to get out from under or catch a breath.  Sometimes it feels as if I’m wearing one of those old-fashioned underwater diving suits up here on dry land, forcing me to lumber around -- as the saying goes -- “at the speed of scale.” *

I think/hope/pray this is temporary, and that I’ll manage to catch up at some point in the not-too-distant future, but it hasn’t happened yet. Until then, I’ll post what I can, when I can. Meanwhile, anybody looking for more will  -- if you haven’t already -- find direct links to the twenty-odd “greatest hits” (for lack of a better term) right here.  
But if you’ve already plowed through all of those, you’ll just have to be patient. I'll be back at some point, but for now here's another JFTHOI post -- this one more or less on the general theme of writers and writing.

                                      Al Martinez

Al Martinez died a couple of weeks ago.  His name might not ring a bell for those of you thirty or younger, or who arrived in LA during the past ten years, but for those of us who go back a bit further here in Southern California -- and who appreciate good writing -- it means a lot.  Al was a wonderful writer whose warm, graceful, wry humor told very human stories in three of LA’s newspapers over the decades, before the digital revolution and the internet eviscerated the newspaper business, at which point he continued to teach writing and post columns on his own personal blog.  During his newspaper years, he found the time -- and had the talent -- to write books and scripts for a variety of television shows as well, which makes him something of a Renaissance Man in this era of specialization in all things.  Whether you know his work or never heard of the man, it’s worth taking a couple of minutes to read his obit. in the LA Times -- and this one from the Daily News, another paper he wrote for. 

Through his writing's heart-on-sleeve humanity, Al Martinez touched a lot of people in this world and made their lives a little bit brighter.  His was a life worth remembering.

The LA Times was once a great incubator of writing talent.  People like Peter KingJohn Balzar, and Shawn Hubler, all of whom who came to the Times, made their mark, then moved on.  Al Martinez was among them, writing wonderful pieces for various incarnations of the Times... then as budgets shrank and new management from Chicago took charge, the ranks of truly good writers thinned.  Although there are still some terrific writers there -- Mary McNamara and Robert Lloyd stand out, and there are others -- the glory days of the LA Times have passed.  The bell was tolling loudly by the time they dismissed Al Martinez for the second time, having failed years before when an avalanche of mail from irate readers (including me) forced the penurious new management to give him his column back. But when the ocean pounds on rock, the water always wins in the end, and they finally put him out to pasture.  After a stint at the Daily News, he launched his blog as a forum for his columns.

I e-mailed him a link to Blood, Sweat and Tedium about that time, and as was his habit with those who wrote to him, he took the trouble to write back.  “Sign me up or whatever you have to do so I can keep reading more of these,” he replied. That made me feel pretty good. If Al Martinez liked my stuff, maybe I was onto something after all. Despite my skeptical view of writing classes in general (we can learn to write, but I’m not sure any of us can be taught to write), I always meant to take one of the classes offered at his home up in Topanga Canyon.  If nothing else, I wanted to meet the man and shake his hand... and who knows -- maybe he'd have found a way to get through my thick head after all, and help improve my own writing… but I never did, and now it’s too late.  

That's my loss, not his.

They don’t make 'em like Al Martinez anymore, and his sudden absence leaves a void that can't be filled.  

RIP, Al, and thanks...


In an interesting piece for the Hollywood Reporter, head TV critic Tim Goodman writes about a relatively new problem writers and producers of new television shows face in the modern media environment -- getting their shows noticed.  There are so many new and interesting shows coming out that it’s all too easy to get lost in the stampede... and without viewers, those shows are doomed to fail. This is a relatively new problem for a medium that until the past fifteen years or so was commonly referred to as a "wasteland," and for good reason.

Times have changed. There are still mountains of crap on TV, of course, but there's also more good quality programming than ever before.  Who knows how long this will last?


We shot our 100th episode of my little cable show last week, and during the post-shoot party on stage later than night, I found the writer’s assistant and peppered him with questions as to how the process of writing scripts actually works in the group dynamic of the Writer’s Room.  It's not that I have any desire to write for television or movies -- I don't, at all -- but having sat at the keyboard of manual, then electric typewriters, and finally a succession of computers over the past twenty five years, I just can't wrap my head around the notion of writing as a group process. 

Our show has a relatively small staff of two show runners overseeing five writers, which makes for seven writers in all.  After going into a detailed explanation of how it all works, the writer’s assistant (who has written three scripts of his own that turned into episodes of this show) advised me to check out a series of podcasts featuring conversations between Vince Gilliagan and one of his editors on Breaking Bad, who began recording half hour podcasts discussing every show starting with Season Two.  The result is fifty-five podcasts in all -- and for a fan of Breaking Bad or anyone interested in how the Writing Room worked on that show, this is a gold mine. Gilliagan goes into detail describing the mechanics of his Writers Room, all the while admitting that every show has a different way of handling things.  I listened to the first one, which was fascinating, and will be going back on a regular basis to hear the rest.  Although I’m not a “binge-watcher” of television (hey, it was Mae West who advised “Anything worth doing is worth doing slowly”), I just might turn into a binge-listener of these podcasts.

There’s a lot of great stuff at Breaking Bad Insider, so check it out...

* That phrase packed a lot more humor back when full union scale was the lowest rate of pay most of us ever had to accept.  In this increasingly lean and mean digital/cable Brave New-Media World, being paid full scale has come to feel like a deliciously sinful luxury...

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