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, July 2, 2017


                                                          Just do it...

My last post discussed the difficulties many -- if not most -- free-lance film industry workbots struggle with when it comes to taking time off. I've said it before and will say it again: ours is a fear-based business from start to finish. There's no such thing as "job security" in Hollywood or anywhere else the cameras roll -- the only job you have is the one you're on right now, and once it wraps, you're unemployed. Given the stark economic realities all free-lancers face, it's no wonder so many are reluctant to take a vacation... but as difficult as it can be, the time comes when you absolutely need to schedule some recreation.

Websters New World Dictionary defines recreation as "refreshment in body or mind, as after work, by some form of play, amusement, or relaxation."  

That's all true enough, but the meaning goes a bit deeper when you break the word down.  Re-creation demands a serious reboot of your physical and mental condition to regain a proper state of balance -- to re-create yourself -- and I don't think that's something you can accomplish with a stay-cation at home. For the full re-boot, you have to get in a plane and fly somewhere you've never been, or hit the road for some far-off destination, then fully immerse yourself in the experience. 

As the late, great Jim Morrison once said: "There's only two ways to get unraveled -- one is to sleep and the other's to travel." 

Catching up on sleep is great, but after a year or two of dealing the constant beat-downs of the free-lance life, you need more than a little shut-eye to regain your mental, physical, and emotional equilibrium.

This is a First World Problem, of course. Those poor bastards in Syria, the Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan, and so many other troubled regions of the globe don't have the luxury of fretting about when to schedule a vacation -- they're too busy just trying to stay alive for one more day -- but although it's important to be aware of that, and maintain some sense of perspective, you can't strap on a hairshirt 365 days a year simply because other people in this world are suffering. 

First and foremost, you have to take care of yourself. If you don't, who will?

I didn't really understand the power of a real vacation until I was seven hard years into my Hollywood adventure. An old friend had just gone through a divorce and needed a change of scene, so he suggested that we meet down in Cozumel to do some scuba diving. I wasn't working right then, so I caught a plane down to the Caribbean, where we spent a couple of weeks diving the warm, crystal-clear waters of the Palancar Reef, met a couple of cute young ladies on vacation from  New York, and had a great time. I didn't see a television, listen to a radio, or think about Hollywood once over the first ten days. Then one night as the four of us were walking back to the hotel after dinner, I noticed a silvery glow from outside a small Mexican Coast Guard station by the water. A group of sailors were clustered around a small black and white portable TV, and as I looked closer, it dawned on me that they were watching a live broadcast of the  Tommy Hearns vs. Roberto Duran fight, which (being a big boxing fan at the time) I'd planned to see before this trip came up.

Having thoroughly geared-down to the slow rhythms of a Caribbean Island, I'd forgotten all about that fight, but here it was right in front of me in the dark, humid night. That small television screen grabbed my brain, then pulled and squeezed it in what felt a lot like a zoom-in/track-out camera shot* -- and at that moment I felt like Christopher Reeve's character in this scene from the movie Somewhere in Time, helplessly dragged away from a relaxed, idyllic state of mind back to a tense, up-tight, big city mode. 

This was the closest thing to an out-of-body experience I've ever had, and although it was over in a matter of seconds, I wasn't the same guy afterwards. Although we still had a couple of days left in Cozumel, the comfortable, care-free relaxation that had enveloped me without any conscious awareness on my part was suddenly gone

That's when it hit me how important a real vacation can be, and how much I'd needed one.
More than thirty years later, I can't recall a damned thing about any of the jobs I worked before or after flying down to Cozumel, but I sure as hell remember that vacation. 

There's a lesson here -- but as a finalist in the pot-calling-the-kettle-black, do-as-I-say-not-as-I-did contest, I have to confess something that leaves me feeling like an idiot, and more than a little depressed: that trip to Cozumel was the first and last real vacation I ever took during my four decades in Hollywood. A few years later, I wrote the biggest check of my life as a downpayment on a shack back on the Home Planet, and the ensuing burden of mortgage payments put the kibosh on any future vacations. Much of my time off from Hollywood was spent here, doing yard work and maintenance to keep the place from falling apart. Sure, I spent some of that time staring at the trees and floating in the waters of the bay down below, but never again did I get on a plane and fly somewhere just for the adventure.

Maybe that's why I have such vivid memories of Cozumel...

I'm not proud of this -- quite the opposite -- but it is what it is. Still, I wish I hadn't kept my nose strapped quite so tightly to the Hollywood grindstone all those years, and admit this as an example to you of what not to do.

Although work and life share a considerable overlap in the Venn diagram of life, they're not the same -- and in a business that demands so much of you on set, it's important to remember that. It's not easy to let go of the fear that you'll "never work in this town again," but sometimes you need to have a little faith in yourself and beleive that if work has come in the past, it will continue to come in the future. Missing a job or two -- no matter how much money you'd have made or what contacts for future work might have resulted -- won't send your career spiraling down the drain.** 

This is all very easy for me to say now that I'm beyond the reach of Hollywood, with a monthly Social Security check to bolster my decidedly anemic union pension -- but that doesn't mean it isn't true. Looking back, I should have taken a few more vacations and seen the world when I was younger. Even for those who manage to beat the odds of the actuarial tables, our time here is surprisingly short, so don't let the fear of missing a job or two keep you from getting out and enjoying life while you can.

You're only young once, kiddos -- don't blow it...

* I'm not sure who invented it, but Hitchcock famously used this visual technique in Vertigo.

** Then again, it might -- it did to me in an incident discussed in the last post -- but that worked out pretty well in the end. It took a few years of hard work to make a comeback, but by then I was in a much stronger professional position until this seismic shift took so many of us down. But surprise, surprise -- even that ended up working out. If I'd stayed in commercials, I'd have logged many fewer union hours, might well have lost my coverage with the industry health plan, and would now be receiving a truly pathetic union pension. What felt like disaster at the time turned out to be a blessing in disguise...


BaySailor said...

Self-employed - which results in similar issues.

Four things helped me.

1) Local hobby that was physically active that I could do before or after work.

2) A set of ideas for longer weekends or short trips ready to go - if Friday looks like it was free - boom - on the road for that weekend (I also had weekend work sometimes).

3) Flexible planned vacations. Southwest flights, camping, refundable hotels and cars - you can re-use the $ with no penalty. Put some darts on the board, and then feel OK canceling out the ones you can't make.

4) Say yes to the wife - work can be all consuming - when wife says let's go do x - make an effort to make it happen. That's why I'm working this morning, so I can be free this afternoon :)

Not perfect, but helps.

That said, not thinking about work on the vacation is the next challenge. Long two week trips just make me worried now - so I keep them a bit shorter these days.

Michael Taylor said...

BaySailor --

Good ideas, one and all. I think one of the problems with truly "getting away from it all" these days is the smart phone, which brings the outside world to us almost wherever we are, whether we want it or not. If I'd had such a phone with me on that long-ago vacation in Cozumel, I wonder if I'd have been able to escape so thoroughly? Probably not -- but that was long before cell phones.

Thanks for the suggestions -- and for tuning in...