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, November 18, 2007

Forever and Throughout the Universe

(photo courtesy of NASA)

"The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

Dick the Butcher, from Henry VI, Part II, by William Shakespeare

Back in those sweet, sunny days before the WGA strike, I spent three days working on what was, by the standards of most below-the-line workbots, a dream job. Those familiar with this blog aren't accustomed to hearing such talk from me. I generally tend to lean on the horn whining about how bloody hard the work is -- and as a rule, it is very hard indeed. But every now and then a little gift from Heaven drops into some lucky guy’s lap, and this one landed in mine as the proverbial exception that proves the rule.

Even a dream job has a downside, though, and the bad news here was that the work would take place on a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, thus obliterating my weekend. I’m not sure why weekends still seem sacrosanct to me – if thirty years of living and working in Los Angeles has taught me anything, it’s that weekdays are the best time to have off, leaving weekends better suited for the drudgery of work. (Assuming you don’t have a spouse and/or kids – and in that case, working weekends will only bring you grief.) With all the other twenty million inhabitants of Southern California taking the weekend off, trying to do anything out in the world on a Saturday or Sunday means fighting through a veritable tsunami of traffic on the streets and highways, and vast milling herds of people everywhere else. The beaches, malls, Laundromats, movie theaters, Home Depot, grocery stores – even Trader Joe’s – are jam-packed with fellow citizen/consumers desperately striving to cram themselves into the same narrow space. Trying to make headway through all that is like swimming upstream with the rest of the spawning salmon – an exhausting, draining ordeal that invariably leaves me gasping for breath, with a sour outlook on modern life and humanity in general.

Sometimes, the neutron bomb doesn’t seem like such a bad idea after all.

Still, working weekends just feels wrong. The upside of this particular job, however, would make up for that: the workload promised to be light. Very light. Lighter than air, actually, and after several long weeks wrestling heavy cable on the rigging crew -- “picking it up and laying it down” – a truly cush job was just what the doctor ordered. As the acting studio Best Boy, I was to baby-sit a grip crew rigging a sound stage for a reality show in the early stages of construction. My sole assigned task was to arrive at the stage on time each morning, make the long, sixty-step climb up a steep wooden stairway to the catwalks high above the stage floor, clamber over an obstacle course of electrical lines, power distribution boxes, ropes, and steel cables, then pull the massive bull switch energizing Circuit 2. Having thus delivered power to the chain motors used by the grip crew to fly the lighting platforms, huge metal trusses, digital projectors, and massive LCD screens that would eventually hover over the set, my work for the day would be half done. When the grips finally called it a day -- ten, eleven, or twelve hours later -- I would retrace my steps to the catwalks and slam that big switch off, cutting the power.

That was it -- the sum total of my responsibilities. How to spend the hours between those two mirror-image tasks was up to me. In the studio world, this qualifies as a dream job. Very sweet indeed.

The miracle was that it actually turned out to be just that easy. On Day One, I brought books, magazines, and an Ipod to help pass the time. After meeting the crew, I went up high and hit the bull switch, then ran an extension cord to plug in the big five gallon coffee urn – hey, keeping the coffee hot for my hard-working grip brothers was the least I could do -- then I found a chair in a corner of the stage and settled in to read while everybody else began working.

It felt weird, though. I’m used to working as a part of the crew, not being paid to sit in a corner reading a book while others do the heavy lifting. That’s the trouble with developing a serious Work Ethic -- it dies hard. But there was no place for me on this crew – I’m was a juicer and they were grips, now and forever separated by tradition and union rules. With no lighting to do or power to be run, I just had to suck it up and do... nothing.

Six hours later, the grips broke for lunch. I wandered across the street for a leisurely mid-day meal at an Italian restaurant (Pasta ala Vongole, Caesar salad, and a glass of chilled Pinot Grigio) – then returned to the library, er, stage. When the crew finally called it quits early that evening, I headed up high, slammed the big bull switch off, and headed for home never having broken a sweat. Tough day, that.

Days Two and Three were more of the same, although I opted for a much cheaper lunch at a nearby Subway. By Sunday afternoon, extreme boredom had set in. As a juicer, I generally enjoy watching grips work -– it’s a bit like observing the progress on a construction site, except grips work a lot faster -- but a little goes a long way. At this point, I’d finished one book, plunged deep into another, and had plowed through most of the magazines. My eyes were getting fuzzy, so I decided to stretch my legs and go for a walk. On the way back, I spotted a sign taped to the door of an adjacent sound stage, where another reality show was in the process of being taped. The sheer quantity of verbiage on that sign drew my eye -- and the content held it. Note the second sentence:


This area is being used for the taping of a television program. By your entrance into this area and your presence, you give unqualified consent to the producers to record, use, broadcast, and publicize your voice, actions, likeness, and appearance in any manner in connection with the program and all exploitation of the program including, without limitation, the marketing and promotion of the program, forever and throughout the universe, in any and all media whether now known or hereafter devised. Further, you agree to release Do You Trust Me Productions, Inc. and its successors, licensees and assigns from any liability resulting from such use. If you do not wish to be taped as part of the program, please exit the area until all taping has been completed.

Forever and throughout the universe? In any and all media whether now known or hereafter devised?

Wow. I’ll bet it took an entire room full of pinhead lawyers to come up with that. Those guys really do know how to cover their collective corporate asses – which, I suppose, is their job. After re-reading that sign, I could only conclude that were I to wander on stage in front of the cameras -- and if in a hundred years, the “successors, licensees and assigns of Do You Trust Me Productions, Inc.” decide to pipe interplanetary re-runs of their fabulous show directly into receptor microchips surgically embedded in the brains of the slave work force toiling deep in the frozen methane mines of Uranus – then any of my still-surviving relatives will be shit-out of luck when it comes to squeezing a few extra bucks from the production company for exploiting their long-dead ancestor’s “voice, actions, likeness, and appearance.”

Lawyers. Increasingly, they’re running – and ruining – this business. But what else can we expect from an outfit that calls itself Do You Trust Me Productions?

I'm thinking maybe Dick the Butcher had the right idea after all...

1 comment:

Iñaki Lauzirika said...

hahah I read those signs in my visit to LA during this summer....really funny indeed.