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, December 11, 2016

A Matter of Perspective

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."  

A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens

       When we're filming, I spend a lot of time staring at these...

After ten days of lighting and rehearsals, we finally began to shoot. At lunch (a “walk-away,” since the show was not feeding us), the set lighting crew convened at a table in the studio commissary. As we sat down, the gaffer looked up from his plate.

“Well, the worst is over now,” he said, with a relieved smile.

Having figured out where to place a couple of hundred lamps to make each set and all the actors look their best, the hardest part of his job for this portion of the show is done.  With that over -- the decisions made and enacted -- he can relax, more or less, while keeping an eye on the cameras and awaiting the inevitable changes and roadblocks the art department and director are sure to throw our way.

Each of us views the various aspects of a show from our own individual perspectives. If you happen to be a DP, camera operator, or Dolly Grip working on a major motion picture, the fun is in the filming, because that's when you get to work at your craft.  But if you're a juicer toiling on a kid's television show, the joys (such as they are...) come with the lighting that happens well before the cameras roll. As much as I hate breathing the dust and toxic fumes generated by the construction and painting crews, I enjoy the process, the problem-solving, and physical challenge of getting those lights up, powered, and adjusted. It’s hard work that draws occasional blood and requires lots of sweat, but at the end of the day I look at those sets and know that my efforts made a difference, and that we actually accomplished something. On a low-rent show like this -- in effect, a live-action cartoon written, cast, and shot for an audience of very young children -- that's as good as it's going to get.

It also means that for me, the best part of this show is already over now that filming has begun -- and the worst is yet to come.

Those rig days might beat me up, but they also imbue me with a sense of physical competence, which isn't always the case in my life away from the job -- especially here in LA, where the off-days include a lot of time at this keyboard. Although I usually enjoy the process of writing, sitting here staring into a glowing screen for hours on end is not something humans evolved to do. This lack of physicality is the worst aspect of writing, but I don’t know any way around it.

Once the heavy-lift of lighting the sets is over and filming commences, my workload is considerably lighter, but it's also much less interesting.  I now stand or sit while watching/waiting for something to go wrong -- a light malfunctioning or bulb burning out -- or to help deal with any last-second adjustments to the lighting when the director becomes inspired to depart from the script, rehearsals, and blocking... or when the art department suddenly adds five wall sconces and four table lamps to a set without bothering to inform us, and suddenly we're scrambling to power all those practicals before the cameras roll.

We never know when this will happen -- only that it certainly will, so we have to be ready.

This is where the “tedium” in the title of this blog comes into play. Our filming days typically run twelve hours or more, and that's a long time to pay attention to something written for a very young audience. Having set the alarm for 5:00 A.M. on Day One, I began to fade a couple of hours after lunch, drifting off into the warm embrace of sleep twice while a particularly dull scene was unfolding.

Needless to say -- and for many reasons -- drifting off to sleep on set is not a good thing to do. I felt like an idiot, but nobody else seemed to notice... probably because they were falling asleep too.

Day Two wasn't so bad, mostly because we worked with adult actors all day rather than kids. Although the script is a slapstick-heavy comedy painted with a very broad brush for the target audience, it's the grown-ups who carry the load, which makes the watching/waiting much more bearable.  Having endured a series of kids shows with very young actors over the past few years, I much prefer working with adults even if the scripts are no less juvenile. The older actors bring so much more to the table, and are a lot more fun to watch.

We have three days of filming to go, then several more sets come in -- one of them a monster that will feature both day and night scenes, which means we'll have to hang twice as many lamps before embarking on six more days of filming.

Then comes the wrap.

Our Gaffer now has three more days to relax before gearing up into high-stress mode again -- and it will be stressful, because for Part Two of this job, the producers are determined to cram twenty pounds of shit into the proverbial five pound bag.

Same as it ever was.

As for me, I'll get to do some real work again for a change -- and I'm looking forward to that.

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