The parking pass worked, much to my surprise. What was once a shiny new badge with a clear photo and crisp graphics has faded to an all-but-indistinguishable smear, the plastic cracked all the way across the top, now held together by a paper clip and white gaffer's tape. That badge and I have a lot in common -- we're both old, beat up, worn-out, and patched together -- but after full year away from my home lot, it opened the gate of the parking structure and allowed me into the studio.
It still works, and so do I.
Here we go again, one more steep ascent up the long and rocky hill of pilot season -- the last such climb of my career. After two months of more-or-less gainful unemployment (getting a lot done, but with no income whatsoever), it's time to strap on the tools of ignorance* and get back to work.
Freshly returned to LA from the Home Planet, I performed the essential ritual of the EDD rain-dance, and lo, the rains did come. Not exactly a deluge, mind you -- not yet, anyway -- but a few days working on a pilot directed by the most successful and sought-after producer/director in the multi-cam world. After so many years of wandering through the low-budget wilderness of Disney and their cheap-ass corporate brethren, I'm not sure how I managed to land amid such high-class company, but I'll take the gig for as long as they'll have me.
Which won't be long, unfortunately -- three days is all I've been promised -- but more could materialize if I'm lucky. Still, like a dry-land farmer grateful for a brief downpour, I'll grin my way all the way through this one, because there will be plenty of low-budget stupidity coming my way soon enough.
Like death and taxes, that much is certain in Hollywood these days.
Conflicting emotions well up as I walk through my home lot, where I've worked on so many different shows over the past dozen years. The studio hasn't changed that much in a year, but the familiar faces I encounter have more lines and gray hair than the last time we met -- as do I. There are lots of new faces in the mix, bringing a sense of being a familiar stranger in more ways than one. It's been two full months since I've done this kind of work, and sixty days is long enough for my work muscles and muscle memory to fade, leaving a residue of physical and mental rust that must be scraped off before I can get up to speed. And as always after a long layoff, I have something to prove -- not just to this crew, but to myself: that I can still do the job, and do it well. No matter how many years in Hollywood are under my belt, that's not something I ever take for granted.
Back on the soundstage, more familiar faces -- the Key Grip, who I last saw on Will and Grace eight years ago, another grip I haven't seen since we both worked on The Fifth Element nearly twenty years ago, the head makeup artist I've known since we slaved together in the dank and dismal world of low budget features thirty-five years ago, and a couple of sound crew minions who worked on my very first sit-com back in 1998. We're all older, fatter, and uglier now... except for that makeup girl, who is just as gorgeous now as she was way back then.
It takes a full day to scrape off most of the rust, and by the end of the Day Two, all systems are "go." The instincts and reflexes are still there, and if I still have to think about the task at hand for a beat or two longer than normal, that's okay. It'll come, all in good time. I'm just happy to be working with a DP who knows what he wants and how to get it without endless indecisive dithering, reinventing the wheel, and blithely grinding the crew into the dirt.
A welcome change, that. All in all, I couldn't have asked for a more pleasant re-entry to Hollywood.
However brief this ride may be, I'm back -- and that feels good.
* A baseball term, naturally, since we're in the thick of Spring Training right now. But given all the tools I have to carry on stage -- a C-wrench, channel locks, dykes, continuity tester, razor knife, voltage tester, pin-splitter, gloves, white gaffer tape, a handful of small hitch-pins, fender washers, and paper clips -- the term fits a sit-com juicer just as well...