The curse of the Born-Again Hybrid
One of our two Bebee Night Lights preparing for action
It's Sunday morning, and my feet still hurt -- a lot -- thanks to the beating they took last week. It was the hardest week of the year for me, bad enough that even my pair of $230 Ecco boots (which usually are great at protecting those feet from the rigors of working on set) couldn't do the job.
Mind you -- wthout those boots, I'd still be crawling around on all fours this morning, but there's no way around it: last week was a real bitch.
A typical multi-camera sit-com works on a five day schedule: three days of lighting swing sets and tweaking the existing lighting of the permanent sets to accommodate the needs of each episode, followed by a block-and-shoot day to orchestrate the four camera choreography and do any pre-shoots, then the shoot night when the show is performed and filmed in front of a live studio audience.
That's pretty much the way it's been done since Dezi Arnez laid down the template on the "I Love Lucy" show back in the good old/bad old days.
The past few years have seen the unwelcome rise of a mutant bastard multi-cam called the "Hybrid," a vile creation that trades one lighting day for an additional shoot day, and eliminates the audience shoot altogether. That means the crew works two long lighting days and three long, grind-it-out shoot days every week, which -- to me, at least -- takes all the fun out of working a multi-cam show. Yes, you work more hours and make more money, but it's blood money, hardly worth the additional work load.
The newsletter published every couple of months by my union often profiles a show currently in production, and a couple of years back, the featured show was a Hybrid -- and the crew interviews were revealing.* The gaffer (who was either brainwashed, out of his fucking mind, or leery that the shows producers might read the piece) lay the B.S. down with a shovel, prattling on about what a "wonderful opportunity" this show was and blah, blah, blah. None of it rang true. Then the focus turned to one of his juicers, a veteran unafraid to speak his mind. I can't quote his words chapter and verse, but the gist was that filming so many setups over three days was a serious grind -- and he closed by warning his fellow juicers to avoid taking a Hybrid show if they had any other options.
Now in the twilight of my own Hollywooden career, I have no interest in working a Hybrid, which is why I joined my current show with some trepidation. Working a schedule of three lighting and two shoot days each week, it wasn't a true Hybrid, but too close for comfort, and I knew I was going miss the humor and pulsing energy of those audience shoot nights.
As it turned out, we ended up leaving the stage for way too many day and night exteriors, which added to the strain as we slogged through this season.
For reasons best known to the God of Hollywood, most television shows seem driven by a desire to finish big -- to wind up each season with a bang -- which means the hardest episodes usually come at the end. Heading down the home stretch, my show finally turned all the way bad, metastasizing into a true Hybrid for the last five episodes, with just two lighting days and three full shoot days.
And what a grind it's been.*
Following that well-worn path to the Big Finish, our penultimate show was an absurdly huge episode that beat us into the ground for five long days, three on stage and two more filming at night on a local football field amid cold, blustery conditions. In the process, we employed two Bebee Night Lights, two 60 foot condors rigged with big Arrimax 18Ks, two balloon lights, and a truck full of 12K pars and smaller HMI units -- along with six cameras on two steadicams, three dollies, a 24 foot Techno-Jib, and 1200 paid extras screaming in the grandstands…
Such a level of production befits an episodic drama, but a multi-camera sit-com? Multi-cam shows came about because they're cheaper to make than single camera comedies. As such, they're creatures of the climate-controlled sound stage, and rarely venture outside where the weather suddenly becomes a major factor. When a multi-cam show does go offstage, it's usually to a nearby studio parking lot dressed to look like something else. Occasionally a pilot will leave the studio to shoot a scene that's impossible or prohibitively expensive to film on stage, which -- given the need for that pilot to stick out from the rest of the pilot-season herd -- makes a certain sense, but for a multi-camera sit-com to indulge in such a lavish production strikes me as a ludicrous waste of money.
But hey, I'm just an itinerant juicer who shows up at call time to do the job at hand. I have to leave the strategic thinking and Big Picture planning to those higher up the food chain -- who are paid accordingly -- so I suffered, along with the rest of the crew, through the toughest week we've had in a long while. We got rain out there on that football field, along with a burst of hail and the heavy, gusting winds of a cold storm that blew in out of the north just in time to catch us out in the open, far from the weather-proof confines of our sound stage. A football field is a big expanse, and with no motorized vehicles allowed, we had to move everything by hand and foot -- which is why over the course of those two nights, I walked sixteen miles on those expensive Ecco boots.***
We'd been dreading this week for the past month, but although it was a very hard five days, it could easily have been worse. All of us -- producers and crew -- were lucky this storm didn't morph into the first rainy assault of the El Nino deluge the weather geeks have been predicting for the past few months. If it had, those two long nights would have been truly miserable. I'm grateful for that much, at least.
More to the point, I'm really glad we have just one more episode -- five days -- to go on this born-again Hybrid. I'm sick and tired of getting my ass kicked each and every week, which means the end of this show can't come soon enough -- for me and my feet...
* Yeah, I know -- this schedule is nothing compared to the killer grind of an average episodic, but those are crewed mostly by young people. I understand how a thirty year old juicer or grip might dismiss my bleating about a Hybrid show schedule, and that's okay -- in your shoes, I'd probably do the same. All I can say is this: work another thirty-five years, then tell me how much you like it...
** Not a particularly funny one, mind you, but that's the writing staff's problem, not mine.
** According to the pedometer app on my phone, anyway -- but since my feet feel like an angry psycho has been whacking them with a two-by-four, I have no reason to doubt it...