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, January 15, 2017


                                               What to do, what to do...

Some things never change. Entering the final two weeks of my working career, I put out a few calls to Best Boys and Rigging Gaffers at my home lot, just hoping to get a few days -- and paychecks -- before sailing off into the Horse Latitudes of fixed-income retirement. A full week passed without a peep, then a call came in for two days on a sit-com, a Friday and the following Monday. Just what the doctor ordered. As I was heading out the door to work on Friday afternoon call-time, the phone rang again with another job... for Monday and Tuesday. 

Why am I not surprised?

It’s axiomatic in this industry that the only sure way to generate work is to schedule a vacation, go out of town, buy tickets to a concert, or accept a dinner invitation from friends.  Then -- and only then -- can you be certain that your phone will ring with a gig that conflicts with your plans. It seems equally true that booking a job has a mysterious way of begetting yet more work calls for those very same days.

The Gods of Hollywood are nothing if not cruel.

I followed the time-tested drill and checked with the Best Boy when I got to work to confirm the Monday booking, and when he did, I contacted Best Boy Number Two with a “thanks, but I’m booked” call. Sure, I could have bailed on Monday to take the other gig and thus maximize the take in these last few days of my working life, but old habits die hard. I’ve always lived by a code that gives priority to the first call in all but the most extreme circumstances.  

“Such as?” you might ask.  

Let’s say I agree to a two-day gig, then the phone rings with a ten day job that conflicts with the first. I’d explain the situation to the second Best Boy -- who would allow me a little time to see what I could work out before he calls somebody else -- then I’d call the first BB to ask if he/she will release me from my obligation. We’re all freelance hunter-gatherers in this business, scrambling for work all year around, and I don’t know too many Best Boys who would stand in the way of a juicer’s opportunity to make a lot more money... but if that first BB did insist I honor my original commitment, I’d face a tough choice. 

Many factors would figure into the decision. If both jobs are a week away, the first BB shouldn’t have any difficulty filling my slot, especially if the town isn’t very busy at the time. But if the job starts in the next day or two, and if the town happens to be super-busy, he might not be able to get somebody good on short notice -- and he’ll remember that I left him in the lurch. If I’d been getting a lot of work from that BB, I could be cutting my own throat by blowing off his two day job in favor of the ten day gig, because he might never call me again. If he's really pissed, he could even bad-mouth me to other BBs and crews, which would put a dent in my reputation and impact future employment prospects.  

But if I stick with his two day gig, he damned well better keep calling me for jobs, or else -- having sacrificed eight days of work for nothing -- I’ll understand that our working relationship is strictly a one-way deal.  

Either way, I'd have to ponder the long range ramifications of my choice. Given the roller-coaster nature of this business, we all want to make as much money as possible, but it can be  dangerous to focus on dollar signs above all else. Getting greedy doesn't always pay off. In the situation I outlined, a lot would depend on what kind of relationship I had with both Best Boys. Still, circumstances will occasionally align to force you into a difficult decision... and sometimes you're going to make the wrong choice. 

Hey, shit happens. We all miscalculate from time to time -- the important thing is to learn from that mistake and move on.

None of the above applies to me at this point, of course, since my "long range future" in this business is all of five days. I went in early on Friday, and made the rounds of the lamp dock and several stages to shake hands and say goodbye to a few good people. I'll go back for another day tomorrow, and it looks like I might get the following Friday as well -- a sweet little cherry on top. I've got my hands full boxing up and cleaning out the apartment, so three work days is enough. The paychecks will be welcome, but what I really wanted to do was see the people I've worked with at this studio over the past thirteen years. 

Life doesn't always allow us the chance to say a few graceful goodbyes, so I'm grateful for the opportunity -- and I aim to make it count.

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