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, June 7, 2015

Day Player Chronicles -- Part One

The Fountain of Youth
                              Ah, to be young again…

At this point, eight days of work as a day-player takes a toll, even with a weekend in the middle. That's not enough to wear down a young, strong twenty-something juicer, but pile forty more years on his back and he’ll feel like he’s already run a marathon long before those eight days are over.

I sure as hell did.

Although the hours on multi-camera shows are nothing like the grueling torture suffered by crews on episodics, those three lighting days each week are all work, all the time -- and during the much longer block-and-shoot and audience shoot days, I was on my feet almost the entire day.  It's not easy to stand and wait on a chilly sound stage, hour after hour, one ear tuned to the radio chatter between the gaffer and dimmer op, the other listening to the A.D. and director -- all the while ready to grab a ladder or jump in a man-lift to replace a burned-out bulb or make whatever lighting adjustments are necessary to keep the sit-com machine moving forward. It's a bit like sitting at a very long red light in traffic, one foot on the brake pedal and the other on throttle, ready to burn rubber the instant that light flashes green.

But we have to do it, because sooner or later something will happen that requires our immediate and full attention…  and on the last block-and-shoot day, that something was a fire up in the green beds -- not a huge, blazing conflagration, but very real flames licking up from a charred 100 amp Bates connecter atop the old, extremely dry wood of the green beds.

This particular show doesn't make use of those green beds, a double-wide row running nearly the length of the stage above the camera aisle. Once upon a time, the sound department would install six Fisher booms up there, where the operators could work the microphones out of everybody else’s way down on the floor.  But under the constant pressure to lower costs, there are now just two Fisher booms on stage, each mounted on a massive perambulator. Together, those two monsters -- with a boom operator, pusher, and utility person -- take up as much floor space as all four cameras combined, and with each camera and sound rig trailing a very long, thick cable, moving the whole menagerie from one set to another becomes a tedious exercise in cable-wrangling logistics.  

The more I work on the new shows, the more I miss the old days...

Because this show wasn't using (and thus didn't have to pay rent on) those green beds, there was no ladder installed for us to get up there, which meant the grips -- working by the dim stage emergency lights after our dimmer operator killed the power -- had to deploy a double-sided twelve step so we could climb onto the greens and deal with the situation.  

Meanwhile, the rest of the crew -- camera operators, assistants, the sound department, props, set dressing, hair and makeup, PAs and actors -- evacuated the stage.

Once up there, it was no big deal. The heat source that sparked the fire cooled when the power was cut, so the Best Boy was able to extinguish the flames with a few slaps of his gloves. There was a lot of very nasty smoke, though, so we opened the elephant door and all four stage doors to air the stage out for a while before the rest of the crew came back to resume work.  We replaced the burned-out cable and "five-pecker billygoat"), then checked every other connection up there.* One was a bit warm, so we installed a new stinger (extension cord) and called for the dimmer op to bring the lights back up.

It was only then that I noticed that I wasn’t the least bit tired anymore.  Before the stage-clearing excitement, I’d been feeling stiff, creaky, and old, but all that -- along with a good thirty years --  vanished the instant someone yelled “fire!” 

To mangle the famous quote of the late, great Rick James, “Adrenaline is one hell of a drug.”

A similar thing happened the following night after the audience show and curtain-call, when -- after eleven hours of mostly watchful-waiting, we had to kick into gear and wrap the lamps from all the swing sets as fast as possible. It was up the ladder, unbolt the lamp, lower the lamp, unbolt the stirrup hanger, carry it down the ladder, then move the ladder and repeat for the next hour or so -- and once again the accumulated fatigue of the week just disappeared. 

In the grip of that adrenal-fueled glow, I felt like that grinning twenty-eight year fool in the photo above, absent the lovely actress, unfortunately.**

Waking up the next day, of course, I was once again a hundred years old. Rather than crawl from bed to face the day, I just lay there doing a slow inventory of all the parts that hurt -- and while in deep contemplation of the ceiling, pondered the power of adrenaline… which is when it occurred to me that there really is a Fountain of Youth, in the very last place I’d expect to look: at work.

I won’t go as far to say “work shall set you free” (there are way too many negative associations with that little phrase) but under the right circumstances, work really does melt the years away. Granted, this is only an adrenaline-spiked illusion -- and like every drug-high, all too temporary -- but shedding those decades truly is a wonderful thing, however brief the respite from reality.  At this point in life, I'll settle for that. Not that I have much choice, mind you. Besides, having worked in an industry of illusion for so long, the line between what's real and what isn't grows ever more tenuous by every year.  And that's not a bad thing. 


  

Still, if reality exists only in the moment -- and that moment happens to involve a truck load of 4/0 -- all bets are off, because this ungodly nightmare is nothing less than the Fountain of Death.

Never again, indeed


* I couldn't find a stand-alone link to image of what we call a "five-pecker billygoat," but if you click here, then scroll down to page 24 of Mole Richardson's power distribution catalog, you'll find a picture of what Mole calls a "100 amp Male Bates to 5 - house plugs" adaptor. 

** Your humble juicer (working as a grip, actually) with the lovely Melissa Prophet the night we wrapped the not-so-epic Van Nuys Boulevard back in the late 1970's.

9 comments:

JD said...

An instance where you used slang, " ....and "five-pecker billygoat" and didn't footnote it.

However explaining this, "....., so we installed a new stinger (extension cord)", truly unnecessary.

Michael Taylor said...

JD --

You're right -- I spaced out on that one. Thanks for catching it...

JD said...

Why not use a lunchbox? Five un-protected lines any of which could access the full 100A? A recipe for disaster. I realize it was a soundstage/studio shoot, but it surprises me that something so odd would be on the equipment cart.

Michael Taylor said...

JD --

I agree -- I'd use a lunch box almost every time over a five-pecker billygoat, but I think this was a budgetary decision, since a billygoat is cheaper than a lunch box. We typically use lunch boxes wherever people are, but these were installed during the rig to power a row of 1 K par bounce-fills where no crew would ever be (except electrics) for a show that -- like so many these days -- trips over dollars to save pennies.

In this case, it was a bad female connector on the 100 amp bates cable feeding the billygoat that melted down, but the fire took the billygoat with it. Still, I don't like using billygoats unless it's meant to power nothing bigger than practical fixtures. Even then, a lunch box is much better choice 90% of the time...

Anonymous said...

Love that picture of you.

Michael Taylor said...

Anonymous --

Well, I was very young at the time, and we all tend to look a bit better in photos taken when we were young. But I'm glad you like it, and thanks for tuning in...

A.J. said...

"Five-pecker billygoat" is the best name I've heard for a piece of equipment in a while.

JD said...

M.T., what did I see just yesterday? Why it was a five-pecker billygoat and no one knew what it was called. But I did thanks to your blog.

Michael Taylor said...

AJ --

Agreed. Best. Name. Ever…

JD --

Glad to be of service...