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Sunday, November 13, 2016
Just for the Hell of It -- Episode 40
This photo presents an object lesson for sit-com writers to be a little more careful about the ideas they fight for in the Writer's Room. The window (one of the few in the WR on the show I did last year) was right above the head writer's desk -- the equivalent, I suppose, of the corner office in a corporate cube farm. The script he and the staff writers came up with for this episode called for the young heroine of our show to discover that pitching a baseball isn't quite the same as throwing a football -- a lesson learned the hard way when she surrenders a monster home run.
Remember, the target audience for this show was young children, so the writers had to keep it simple. Trouble is, their idea worked a bit too well when the stunt woman at the plate hit the ball a lot farther than anybody in the Writer's Room or production staff thought possible... and after sailing in a majestic arc through the blue skies above Los Angeles, that ball blew right through the window like a little white comet flung from the Oort cloud in the far reaches of our solar system, spraying shattered glass all over the head writer's desk.
It's a safe bet he'll think twice before writing another script involving a batted ball.
Or maybe he'll just move his desk...
Remember Crew Call, a series of half-hour podcast interviews with a wide variety of below-the-line crew members produced by The Anonymous Production Assistant a couple of years ago? It was -- and remains -- a great resource for film students and young wannabes curious to learn what really goes into doing the many different crew jobs on and off set. If you want to know what it takes to be a Location Manager or Dolly Grip, or hear from the veteran grip who invented the ubiquitous Cardellini Clamp -- a beautifully elegant piece of equipment employed on sets all over the world -- the first season of Crew Call has all that and more.*
Although TAPA made a stab at a second season of Crew Call via crowdsource funding, it didn't work out, but good ideas don't just disappear, and now a site called Shortwave Radio has picked up the ball for Crew Call: Season Two.
As you'll see, one of the leadoff interviews is with director Matt Price, who -- after years of working as a PA, writing, and making short films -- directed his first feature last year. Matt was very clever in finding ways to make the most of a very limited budget, so if you're dreaming and scheming of ways to make your own feature someday, check it out. You just might learn something from his experience.
* Including the reality of being a juicer...
A random post on Facebook led me to this excellent interview with veteran camera operator Patricia Hill at a blog called The Roadless Traveler. In a casual and disarmingly straightforward manner, Patricia tells how she moved from a nascent career as an actress into the camera department forty years ago -- which was pretty much an all-male bastion at the time -- then worked her way up all the while butting her head against the Glass Ceiling of blatantly sexist attitudes that have held women down for such a long time. But that didn't stop Patricia, who tells some eye-opening stories about the realities she had to deal with throughout the early stages of her career. In time, she was able work with film world legends Sven Nykvist and director Ingmar Bergman (among other industry notables) before settling into the world of multi-camera sitcoms, where she operated camera for several hit shows, including Cheers and Frazier. That really was a golden era when sitcoms were rolling in money and life for the crews was very sweet indeed.
I got a brief taste of that on my first multi-cam show -- a glimpse of Rome prior to the barbarians storming the gates -- but it wasn't long before the decline set in as cable television became a force, budgets were slashed, and the metastasizing multitude of "sidebar deals" so thoroughly Balkanized "union scale" that the term doesn't mean much anymore.
Now, the gates long since breached and barbarians everywhere, chaos rules the realm...
I recently stumbled across a terrific public radio program called Bullseye, which -- in this show -- hosts an interview with director Paul Schrader and actor Willem Dafoe talking about their recent film, Dog Eat Dog. But that movie is just the start of a fascinating, wide-ranging discussion that covers a lot of ground in just thirty minutes. Definitely worth your time… and if you're interested, you can stick with it for the second half of the show, a thirty minute conversation with David Crosby. As a founding member of Crosby, Stills, and Nash back in the day, David Crosby was a big deal in the when I was still young and plugged in. I enjoyed the interview, but as always, your mileage may vary.
I try to keep politics out of this space, leaving the spotlight where it belongs in an industry blog -- focused on issues relating to film and television. Still -- and wherever you stand on the red/blue spectrum -- we experienced a collective seismic jolt in last week's election, and at this point it remains unclear as to what the ramifications may be or if we're in for more aftershocks. Given that Trump revved up his national brand over the past few years as the star of a "reality" show on television, I could justify using this space to bloviate on his campaign and subsequent election, but people a lot smarter than I'll ever be have so thoroughly plowed this toxic field that there's nothing I can add.
Besides, I'm a juicer, not a political pundit or cultural analyst, so I'll stick to what I know.
I will, however, reprint the following meditation by Liesl Piccolo, a writer I occasionally see on Facebook, which speaks to where we find ourselves in the wake of this election. She makes some good points, and if I can't fully embrace everything she says here (I really don't feel like bowing and offering gratitude right now, nor am I in favor of racists letting their freak flag fly...), she might be on to something in a Big Picture sense.
Or maybe it's just another load of ethereal, touchy-feely, high-minded blather.
I really don't know, but am putting this out as food for thought, that's all, for you to read or not -- your choice. I'm definitely not interested in starting a political discussion here, because we've all suffered a toxic overload of that already.
So here it is, for better or worse.
"It is looking bad. I know everyone is freaking out, and I know how backwards and fucked everything looks right now, but no matter the outcome, I see this all as an important step, an opportunity even, and I want to bow and offer gratitude for all of it. This entire election I've been saying that Donald Trump is the spiritual teacher we need right now. It is gnarly and uncomfortable but everything about him that we reject, we need to look for inside ourselves. The bigotry, the ego, the fear: we are guilty of it too. Donald Trump has given a voice to a part of America that has been with us since inception, but operating largely underground for the past decades: rampant xenophobia, sexism, racism, classism all being pushed forward in our country's laws and policies under the guise of politics. Now it is out in the open again and, honestly, thank god for that; now we have something to actually work with. Go be a racist, let your freak flag fly, if that's what you believe. And for the rest of us, we deserve this. We have grown this. If we are willing to see our own complicity in this, for allowing it to exist right under our noses, all this time, we have work to do. And, I believe, we can own it and rise above it, if we are willing to look this teacher and everything he has gifted us in the face, and make decisions about who we want to be moving forward. Feel your feelings, grieve the losses you need to grieve, and then gather your energy and get ready to stand up for your fellows. I'm not afraid. Do not be afraid."
That's all for this week. Hang in there, kiddos...