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, September 4, 2016

Just for the Hell of It -- Episode 37


                                                   The what???

First, an update on the recent re-run of the Tools I Carry post. Many of the juicers I've worked with lately swear by this device from from Stage Junk, which has a ratcheting-socket for tightening/loosening pipe clamps and stirrup hangers, and (as this short video clip demonstrates) the ability to deal with just about any size bolt, knuckle, or wing-nut you're likely to encounter on a sound stage. It comes with the added bonus of a built-in continuity tester that works with Bates or Edison plugs, along with a pin splitter. 

The only downside is the ridiculous name Stage Junk saddled this thing with -- the "Ultimate Ratcheting Focusing Tool." 

No, I am not kidding.*  

With all due respect to the undeniably clever people at Stage Junk -- ten syllables is at least six too many for any piece of lighting gear. We're juicers, for crissakes, not linguists. 

At a hundred bucks, the URFT isn't cheap (priced at ten dollars per syllable, apparently), but the juicers I've talked to seem to think it's worth the price. If not for my impending exit stage left, I'd probably invest in one -- but I'll just have to get by with my trusty five-dollar adjustable crescent wrench for another few weeks.  

Based on recommendations from juicers I trust, I hereby award four stars to the "Ultimate Ratcheting Focusing Tool" -- and a fifth star will come if and when Stage Junk comes up with a better, shorter, snappier name for the damned thing, at which point maybe they won't have to spend so much time and money hawking them at Industry trade shows...


Given our recent discussion of writers here, this podcast interview with Steven Chin -- one of the writers of War Dogs -- is timely, relating how he saved his floundering career by optioning the story of two neophytes-turned-arms-dealers, then traveling to Iraq and driving though Fallujah on his way into the infamous Triangle of Death.  

That he survived such a foolhardy adventure is noteworthy, but they say you have to take risks to succeed, and he sure as hell did. It was all in the service of the script, of course, since Chin was seeking the kind of real-world details that can only be gleaned by getting out from behind the keyboard and seeing something with your own eyes.

It worked, too -- now he's a real screenwriter -- and if you listen to the interview, I think you'll agree that he earned every penny of his recent success.

Four Stars.


This podcast talks with the creators of the long running Cops -- a reality show that ostensibly strives to provide an accurate view of what police officers go through doing their difficult, dangerous, frustrating job each and every day. Given my antipathy to the realty genre -- as far as I'm concerned, the vast majority of reality shows occupy a niche only slightly above porn on the spectrum of screened entertainment -- you might think this an odd choice to highlight, but it's a lively, fascinating interview.  

I've only seen brief glimpses of Cops, and have no idea if it's worth watching, but the story of how it came about and became such a successful show is certainly worth ten minutes of your life. As usual, there's a lesson for newbies in this one: if you have an idea you truly believe in, don't give up. The creators of Cops shopped their idea for the show to every major network and were were shown the door by all until the then-nascent Fox gave them a chance. 

That worked out rather well for all concerned.

Both of these interviews come from the same source -- a locally produced half-hour public radio show called The Frame. I was rather dubious about this show at first, but it finally won me over, which is why there's now a link to it over on the right side of this page under "Essential Listening."

Three Stars.


Several years ago, I did a week on a show called Criminal Minds -- my last foray into the brutal, soul-crushing, war-without-bullets world of episodic television. One of the stars was Paget Brewster, a favorite of mine since we worked together on Love and Money, a fun sitcom that only ran for thirteen episodes. Paget is a wonderfully gracious actress who always has a smile for the crew.  

The same can't be said of one of her co-stars, Thomas Gibson, who scowled his way through every scene we filmed during that long week. Beyond that, he didn't behave badly when I was on set, and although the regular crew members were reluctant to talk about him, it was obvious they considered him something of an asshole.

It happens. Not every actor brings sunshine and smiles to the set, and like all of us mortals, Gibson is doubtless haunted by his own personal demons. None of this effects how the crew does their job, of course, but the presence of a moody, rain-in-the-face actor can leach much of the fun from a long day's work -- and while enduring the grind of an episodic, there's precious little fun to begin with.

Still, I was surprised to hear that he'd been fired -- first from his gig directing an episode of Criminal Minds, then from the show altogether -- after getting into a serious altercation with one of the writers on set. The fallout from this will be settled by lawyers, of course, but he's no longer part of the show. The good news is that they're bringing the lovely Paget Brewster back, after she left the show (or was dumped -- it was never really clear to me which…) a few years ago. Given the big money an actor earns on a big network episodic, this is great for her, and now neither she nor the crew will have to put up with Thomas Gibson anymore.

Sometimes things really do work out for the best in this town…

Three Stars.


This interview with actor John Krasinski (who hit it big with his role in The Office) is a good one, offering an object lesson in how every wannabe actor really does have to keep the faith and hang in there if he/she hopes to make it.

His story illustrates the awful dilemma faced by young would-be thespians in this town. How are you supposed to know when to keep beating your head against the wall -- because it just might crumble and fall any minute now -- and when to face reality, swallow your dreams, and settle for the Living Death of some terminally dull civilian job?  

That's the rub, of course. From those seeking to make it in this town, the Gods of Hollywood demand total fealty, absolute commitment, and a willingness to sacrifice everything on the altar of success -- and all with no assurance of any payoff whatsoever.  

That's one reason I have such respect for actors, most of whom have walked through fire just to get to the point where they can walk on set as a paid professional.  And then, of course, they have to deliver the goods. 

Not easy, that.

There's a lot more than advice to budding thespians in this interview, which is very entertaining, with at least one cringe-inducing story about what not to say to the creator of the show for which you're about to audition. 

Oops, indeed.

Five Stars 


The handful of long-time readers still out there might recall this tale of fear, loathing, and abject failure in front of the cameras -- or not. 

Either way, a reader recently sent in a link to a vastly superior Utube clip of Randy Newman's It's Money that Matters video, for which I was shanghaied from my duties as gaffer to make a brief on-camera appearance.**  The original link in that old post was taken down way back when, and the only other I could find at the time was just awful -- but now you can see the video in crisp, living color and good sound, should you so desire.  

No stars at all, just a glimpse of my distant past in the good old/bad old days...

That's it for this week.

* The name used in some of these cyber-ads is even more cumbersome.

** When I say "brief," I mean extremely brief -- like half a second...

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