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)

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Rob Long's New Blog

Remember what I said, just two days ago, about "rarely" putting up a midweek post? It's true -- I rarely put up a midweek post. But "rarely" doesn't mean "never", and here's the exception that proves the rule.

One of the great things about the blog-o-net is the way it connects readers to writers and websites they might otherwise never stumble upon. Back when this blog launched, I tried to spread the word about Rob Long, a veteran writer/producer with nearly two decades of experience he draws on for his weekly radio commentaries on KCRW.

(There's a link to these commentaries on my Industry Blog List labeled "Martini Shot" -- the archives of which can be streamed even by Luddites like me, still tied to the horse-and-buggy of dial-up.)

Having spent so many years working below-the-line, I'm fascinated by his commentaries on life above-the-line: dry, pithy stories of a world that functions as a parallel universe to those of us who do the heavy lifting. We don't get to go through those doors upstairs, but Rob Long does. The man knows what he's talking about, and shares his knowledge in a manner that sheds considerably more light than heat.

But wait, there's more...

Rob started an interesting blog quite a while ago, but it sputtered to a halt when he pretty much stopped posting. At one point, he didn't put anything new up for three or four months, issuing some lame excuse about being too busy "working for the government" -- but whatever the real reason, a blog without fresh posts is like a slice of pizza left in the fridge for several weeks. Nobody's interested.

All that is now in the past. Rob Long is back with a new, infinitely better blog, to which he posts with some frequency. Anyone -- civilian or Industry veteran -- curious as to how the Industry works above-the-line will find these posts interesting.

Check it out:

Disclaimer: I've never met Rob Long, and am not shilling for him. We did work on the same show once -- a good, but ill-fated 12 episodes-and-out sit-com called "Love and Money" -- but since he was one of the executive producers, while I was a lowly juicer working on my second sit-com at the time, our shoulders did not rub. I had no idea who he was until checking his IMDB page a couple of years ago, whereupon I discovered that we had indeed pulled oars on the same ship.

Well, I was the one pulling oars below decks, while Rob sat in the captain's chair, hand on the wheel...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Hiatus Week Two: The Apocalypse Draws Near

EdMac Daddy Almos' Def and his posse...

Unmistakable signs that the Apocalypse draws near: Ed McMahon signed to do two rap videos, while PETA has issued a demand that Ben & Jerry's use human breast milk in ice cream rather than cow's milk. As for Ed becoming a rapper -- hey, he's got some serious financial difficulties. A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. Besides, whatever he comes up with can't be much worse than most of the rap releases currently cluttering up the airwaves. When it comes to PETA's latest outburst of uber-absurdity, though, words fail me. Read it and weep.

This is my second "hiatus week" post, and there will be more -- one per month, more or less. These are wild-card posts, meaning there could be nothing at all (if I'm feeling extremely lazy), or merely a random series of digressions from my usual up-close-and-personal exploration of life below-the-line here in Hollywood. No promises, no guarantees, no nothing. What you see is what you'll get -- it is what it is.

For anyone new to this site -- and thanks to Tim Goodman's blog (TV critic for the San Francisco Chronicle), there have been many new visitors here in the past couple of weeks -- I offer an explanation. The television industry uses the term “hiatus” to describe two similar, but distinctly different breaks in what -- during good times, anyway -- can be an otherwise ceaseless grind of work. The first “hiatus” refers to the annual May to mid-July pause in production when network multi-camera sit-coms, episodic dramas, and single-camera comedies* shut down to prepare for the new season. The second type of “hiatus” is a one-week break most sit-coms take every month during production, or after shooting three straight episodes. This is done to give the actors a chance to recoup, while the writers plunge ahead working on scripts for future episodes. Some of the crew (department heads, mostly) are paid an increasingly modest retainer known as a "carry" during the hiatus week, but lowly juicers and grips receive bupkis for that off week. Getting a "carry" would be nice, but so would a month in Tahiti with Scarlett Johansson and an endless supply of cool gin and tonics -- and pigs will be winging their way in a V formation high over the frozen wastelands of Hell before either of those DreamLand scenarios come about. Besides, my fantasy of getting a "carry" would require that I land a spot on the crew of a sit-com in the first place, and that ain't happening right now.

As for Ms. Johansson and the gin and tonics on that beach in tropical paradise: well, dreaming is free, as Debbie Harry used to sing...

The rise of cable -– which shoots some shows during spring/summer -- has allowed more employment opportunities during the annual hiatus. For a while there, those who crewed television shows were lucky to get any work at all between May and June. Many crew people simply filed for unemployment and sat by the pool until the phone began ringing in early July. Now, there's work to be had, providing you know someone in a position to hire and are willing to work for those odious sub-scale cable rates.

The vast majority of my fellow below-the-line workbots hate the annual hiatus. I'm not sure how many actually want to work twelve months a year, but with the price of hanging on to middle class life in America rising every year, most have no choice. Some have kids attending expensive colleges, others are married to spouses with expensive tastes, while many face daunting mortgage payments every month. Some – those poor, doomed bastards – are saddled with all three. I understand the bind they’re in, and why they fear that long stretch of unemployment that so often comes with the spring/summer hiatus.

As Bill Clinton would say, I feel their pain.

As for me, I like the annual hiatus. Having been lucky enough to avoid the financial quicksand that complicates life for so many Industry work-bots, I look forward to those ten golden weeks off every year. In a way, it feels like being back in school again, working through the fall, winter, and early spring, then getting a summer vacation off. It’s an unpaid vacation, of course, but somewhere along the line it dawned on me that no matter how long or hard I work, I’ll never have enough money. The more I made, the more I spent -- and the more I owed. About the time those "He who dies with the most toys, wins" bumper stickers became popular, I decided I'd rather cut down on my overhead and enjoy more time off than remain tied to the whipping post of work twelve solid months a year.

We’ve all run into those obsessive types who live to work, as well as the occasional quasi-slacker who works just barely enough to survive. Most of us, I imagine, land somewhere in between. I don't know exactly where I stand on that spectrum, but for last few years, I've considered the brief periods of unemployment endemic to Industry life as "the gift of time." On that note, there’s one thing I firmly do believe: if life means having to work all the time, then there’s not much point to living. Pushing the big rock up the steep hill every day, fifty-two weeks a year, is not what I call being alive.

I like that other "hiatus" too, the three weeks on, one week off schedule that makes working on sit-coms so appealing. Those who endure the Death-March of Zombies that is episodic television will consider this laughable, but as far as this juicer is concerned, working straight three weeks is quite enough, thankyouverymuch. I'll gladly take that fourth week off, sans pay, to resume human form and remember what it means to be alive rather going through the motions as a flesh-colored bipedal working machine.

Maybe I’m just a lazy bastard at heart, but after all these years in the trenches, I think I’ve earned the right to do whatever works -- and for me, that monthly hiatus works just fine.

As veteran readers of this blog have doubtless deduced by now, this post is little more than a reminder that “Blood, Sweat, and Tedium” has now adopted a sit-com schedule. Any new readers should understand this really isn't a normal blog peppered with posts that might pop up at any time -- my goal is to post something every Sunday for three straight weeks, followed by a week off: a hiatus week. Very rarely (time, work, and inspiration permitting). I'll put something up during the week, but don't hold your breath. Three weeks on, one week off -- that's the deal around here.

That doesn't mean I came with empty pockets, though. Thanks to the ever-vigilant Script Goddess (who keeps a sharp eye out for new Industry blogs), I’ve been enjoying “The Anonymous Production Assistant” for the last few weeks – a very smart, take-no-shit blog with a keen eye and a good way with words. "Anonymous" details the life of a production assistant, an entry-level Industry job generally considered to occupy the lowest rung on the Hollywood ladder of success. "Anonymous" posts several times a week, so there's always something new and entertaining to read. A permanent link resides on my Industry Blogroll over on the right, or you can click here.

Take a stroll through his archives. I think you’ll find it interesting.

Anyone out there working hard at writing screenplays -- desperately trying to crack the thick bulletproof glass separating You Out Here from Them In There -- really should read this post. The story therein is enough to make you curl up and vanish in a puff of smoke, like a spider on a hot griddle. What happened to this poor guy really shouldn't happen to anybody. Reading his tale of woe made me ever so thankful I’m not playing the screenplay game, rolling the dice in a feverish pursuit of The Big Score -- a goal that will remain a shimmering quicksilver mirage for all but a fortunate few. To those already on that path, I wish you the best of luck.

You're gonna need it.

*It's time to shake a rock from my shoe -- a pet peeve, of sorts -- that's been irritating me for a long time: the definition of "sit-com". Although the term "situation comedy" would seem to cover a wide spectrum of televised entertainment, people who work in television -- particularly those of us who do the heavy lifting -- do not consider single-camera comedies to be “sit-coms.” A sit-com shoots with four cameras in front of a live studio audience, while single-camera comedies are filmed in the same manner as episodics and feature films: one shot at a time, in front of the nobody other than the crew. A true sit-com ("Two and a Half Men" or "Big Bang Theory") has the laugh track you love to hate, unlike the infinitely less irritating soundtrack of single camera comedies like "Samantha Who?" and "The Office". By any tangible measure, sit-coms and single camera comedies are entirely different beasts, a fact that continues to elude many who ought to know better.

And now they do.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

It's the People

For most below-the-line workers who suckle at the great swollen teats of Hollywood for daily sustenance, there comes a time to take stock, review the past, and peer into the gray mists of the existential void that is the future. I find this happening with some regularity these days. To a certain extent, this is due to the increasing weight of years upon my shoulders -- I’m a lot closer to the end of my Hollywooden career than the beginning – but there's more going on than simple aging. When the hopeful, earnest enthusiasm of youth begins to sour, taking shelter in the bitter refuge of jaded cynicism seems only natural. But even that hard protective shell eventually burns off into the ozone we all breathe here in LA, leaving a solitary, all-encompassing question floating on the surface of consciousness: what does it all mean? Not life in general – that’s much too big a subject for a simple blog post (although like you, I’ve got my own half-baked ideas on the subject) – but life in Hollywood.

What’s that all about, Alfie?

It’s not really about the work, anymore – not for me, at least. For a long time it was: year after year of getting the work, doing the work, talking about work, and worrying about work. It takes a while to learn what matters and what doesn’t, how to do the job The Right Way, and be a pro. For the most part, that’s all in the past now. If I get to work on a good show that makes people laugh, it's just icing on the cake. Such is not always the case -- and when the show's a steaming pile, I still have to do the work and get through the day. Although this will sound like the hoariest of cliches, I really do learn something new on every job, but at this point, work has come to represent the honest exchange of time, sweat, and experience for money and benefits. Nothing more. Usually it’s a reasonably fair trade, but not always -- and yes, I’m talking to you, Disney and HBO.

Despite the constant exhortations of the cheery/dreary little newsletter sent out by my union every couple of months, I’m not particularly interested in staying atop the cutting edge of technological progress in the entertainment lighting field. Lights are lights, and they’re only as good as the person using them. Much of the fancy new lighting equipment coming out these days is nothing more than a high-tech gilding of the lilly by someone hoping to cash in on yet another re-invention of the wheel. If this sounds like the sour grousing of an aging dinosaur, maybe it is – but I’ve seen too many young DP’s and gaffers fall madly in love with some new and expensive lighting gadget they just happen to have purchased at great expense in order to rent back to the production company. I understand the economic imperative at work here, but would feel a lot better about the whole thing if these young geniuses would first master the old technology (read: cheap, simple, and reliable) before leaping onto the Brave New World bandwagon hurtling past the twenty-seven ways we already know of skinning that proverbial cat.

At a certain point, I realized I didn’t want to work with young cameramen anymore – never trust a DP under 40 became my motto – “kids” who, although usually well-intentioned, had a bad habit of saying “Why don’t we try...” Believe me, this is the very last thing a film crew wants to hear. What usually follows is some hair-brained scheme requiring an enormous effort that often proves a huge waste of time. And when the Bright New Idea doesn’t work quite so well after all, we usually end up doing what we should have done in the first place – what has always worked since the beginning of time in Hollywood: putting the proper lamp in the right place.

Perhaps it was Yoda who had the best answer for the question “Why don’t we try...” when he replied “Is no try. Is only do.” When you want to “do”, you go with what works. There’s always room for new ideas, of course, but if they don’t save time, money, or sweat – while doing just as good or better a job than the old ways -- then maybe they’re not so brilliant after all.

In the end, however many ways you learn to skin that hapless-if-proverbial cat, the work is just that – work. Once you get over the initial rush at being paid to perform an inherently abstract problem-solving task, the joy tends to fade. After you’ve flown to enough far-flung locations, slept in enough seedy hotels, and seen enough stunt cars hurtle into open space, crash, and/or blow up, the whole process isn't all that interesting anymore. So what – other than the paychecks -- makes this kind of work worth doing after all these years?

Good question.

My dad spent his entire adult life doing social work, first for a variety of government agencies during the depression, then a full career working for the Red Cross, followed by a long post-retirement stint with FEMA, many years before George Bush and Hurricane Katrina turned that agency into a cruel joke. During his FEMA years, he’d go out for three to four weeks at a time -– a man in his late 60’s to mid-70’s working longer hours than I’m accustomed to -- in the ground-zero conditions of post-hurricane, tornado, and flood disaster zones. After spending fifty years helping people in need, he learned a little about what matters in life, and tried to pass this on to his only son. Time and again he’d tell me “People are the most interesting thing in the world.”

I thought he was crazy, of course. Hell, I was young enough to know pretty much all there was to know back then. As far as I was concerned, it was music, motorcycles, women, alcohol (along with certain other, ahem, “attitude-enhancers”) -- and later, movies -- that made life interesting. If that sounds like the blowhard manifesto of a remarkably dense and oblivious young man, well, nobody ever accused me of being a deep thinker. Not then, not now.

In the end, though, life seems to teach us all the lessons we need to learn. It was only after many years toiling in the movie biz that I began to notice how interesting many of my co-workers really were – particularly those who came from other parts of the country (and the world) to live and work here in shadow of the Hollywood sign. These people didn’t grow up in the Industry, but left hearth and home to seek out and forge a new life in an alien world. They’re not your average John and Jane Cudchewer from Normalville, USA. There’s nothing wrong with Mr. and Mrs. Cudchewer, mind you – salt-of-the-earth, backbone-of-the-country Americans who pay their taxes, vote on election day, and fly the flag every 4th of July. But if the Cudchewers are fine people and good citizens, they’re not necessarily the most fascinating people to talk to. Those who made their way to Hollywood, who couldn’t fall in step with the comfortable patterns of life back home -- who for one reason or another, simply had to get out -- tend to be interesting people simply because of the drama they endured to get where they are.

They’re the ones that got away.

When you get down to it, I suppose all people are interesting -- accountants, farmers, pretzel makers, factory workers, sand hogs, cops, plumbers, sheet rockers, pizza cooks -- everybody. Truth be told, my pre-Hollywood, three-year stint in the food industry introduced me to some extremely memorable and colorful characters – but that was during the wild oats portion of life, when my definition of “interesting” was a bit more simplistic. After thirty-plus years in Hollywood, what I mostly know is the film/television business, an Industry made up of a lot of people who – in essence -- ran away to join the circus, and thus have interesting stories to tell. Beyond the basic life-sustaining equation of work-for-money, getting to know those people and listening to their stories is what makes going to work worthwhile.

Turns out my dad was right all along. It’s the people.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

One Year Later...

There seems to be a tradition – if one can use such a dusty term in reference to an entity so bright and shiny as the blog-o-net – to note when a blog has been hanging its laundry out in public for a full year. I’m a believer in observing traditions, tenuous though they may be – and assuming no blood sacrifice is involved. So consider it noted: “Blood, Sweat, and Tedium: Confessions of a Hollywood Juicer” is officially one year old.

Hard though it may be for any of you to believe this site would still be around for a second September, it’s a lot harder for me. Truth be told, I had neither the desire nor intention to start a blog, or even write about the Industry. Back in 2003, a Certain Television Critic in the San Francisco Bay Area wrote a scathing review of a sit-com I happened to be working on. His review offered no quarter and took no prisoners –- he kicked down the door, broke up the furniture, set fire to the wreckage, and walked away leaving nothing but a charred pile of smoldering ruins. I took umbrage (not that he wasn’t right about the show, but because he was – in effect – doing his best to put me back on unemployment), and we began sparring via e-mail. One thing led to another, until a couple of years later, he shocked me with an offer to write a short piece about the film/TV biz for the San Francisco Chronicle – to this day, my one and only paid gig at the keyboard.

I sweated blood over that piece, and wasn’t very happy when the Certain Television Critic’s own editor cut the hell out of it – the guy took a chainsaw to my original submission, leaving more than a third of it in the shredder – but at least the check didn’t bounce. I figured my fifteen seconds in the spotlight were up, and returned to a sporadic e-mail correspondence with the Certain Television Critic. A couple of years later, he asked me to come up with a few short pieces for a personal blog he planned to launch on the general subject of Television. Having long been a fan of his terrific writing, I was hugely flattered, but more than a little nervous about posting on a site that would -- due to this Certain Television Critic’s far-flung and very enthusiastic fan base -- be read by many thousands of people. Adrenaline can be quite the galvanizing force, though, so I knocked off the first three pieces by late Spring, and sent them in. But by then, this Certain Television Critic (at the urging of his agent) had decided to write a book rather than launch that Television blog.


I was surprised at the depth of my disappointment. As it turned out, writing those first three pieces got me pumped up more than I’d expected. Faced with the prospect of letting all that effort go to waste, it occurred to me to start my own blog. With enough material for half a dozen posts, I could string it along for a couple of months or so, and if that was it, well, what the hell? Que sera, sera. When I stumbled upon Blogger, and learned how easy the whole process could be (even for someone with minimal computer skills), there was no turning back. With nothing to lose and even less to gain, “Blood, Sweat, and Tedium” was thus born into the world of cyberspace, as wobbly-legged as any damp, sticky creature fresh from the womb.

Thanks to the generous support of some veteran Industry bloggers* (most of whom I’d been totally unaware), readers began to appear out of the ether. Some hit-and-ran, but others stuck around to see what would happen. I don’t have an accurate reading of how many are returning regulars, but according to my Google Analytics software, “Blood, Sweat, and Tedium” has readers scattered all across the United States and around the world. In the past couple of months, people have checked in from Australia, Belgium (greetings, Genk!), Canada, Denmark (welcome, Borkop!), England, France (bonjour, Le Bourget-du-lac!), Luxembourg, Romania (hello, Resita!) and the United Arab Emirates. Spain and Germany weigh in from time to time, as does New Zealand – and for a few weeks there, someone in Singapore was stopping by. I haven't spotted Singapore on the Google radar for a while, though. Rather than face the obvious conclusion that he or she simply grew bored with my scribblings, I’ll assume this hapless reader must be languishing in jail for chewing gum in public.

I’ll never know. Nor will I ever get to know the vast majority of you who have invested some of your time reading about my Hollywood life. It’s been interesting to share these stores – re-living so many incidents I’d all but forgotten. I very much appreciate you all, especially those who made the effort to leave comments, positive or negative. You’ve helped keep my eye on the ball, my nose to the grindstone, and have reminded me to double-check my spelling, punctuation – and occasionally, my facts. For all that and more, I thank you.

So now this blog enters its second year. Whether it will live to see a third September is an open question. All things -- good, bad, and ugly -- come to an end, and one of these days I’ll run out of stories to tell. Then again, there seems to be no end of things to complain about here in Hollywood, so who knows? All I can promise is that “Blood, Sweat, and Tedium” will remain as it began -- a work in progress attempting to explain just what toiling below-the-line is really like.

Thanks for stopping by.

*A special thanks to D, Peggy, Alan, and Scripty, who was kind enough to lead this old analog dog through the digital labyrinth more than once. You know who you are -- and believe me, you guys rock…

Sunday, September 7, 2008

There Will Be Blood

There’s blood on that floor – my blood...

“Gloves -- can’t work with ‘em, can’t work without ‘em.”
The eternal lament of juicers everywhere...

If that tattered pair of gloves in the photo at the top of this blog could talk, they'd tell a Dickensian tale of unremitting physical abuse, of being burned, scraped, cut, and finally ripped apart at the seams over the course of several months on the job. They'd speak movingly of gloves that came before them, long since discarded, and those that would come after -- still new and smooth, with the sweet, earthy scent of fresh leather. They would weep and share a drink at the tragedy of giving up their lives so that others could live, then throw their empty glasses into the fire.

There but for those gloves, go my hands...

The physical infrastructure of a sound stage – pipe grids, green beds, and the catwalks up high – is not a user-friendly environment. The stage floor can be just as bad, with sets jammed together cheek-to-jowl, leaving only the required 4 feet of open space around the perimeter of the stage as a fire lane – and all too often, even this supposedly sacred safety zone ends up compromised by overzealous set designers. When they manage to resist that temptation, the fire lane typically ends up jammed with equipment, props, or set dressing (and their endless supply of giant cardboard boxes) that should be stored elsewhere. The set itself is a light but surprisingly sturdy construction of one-by-three inch pine glued and staple-gunned to Luann – but by the time it’s been fully dressed, becomes a minefield of potential injuries. Cabinets, wall sconces, and other wall-mounted fixtures are usually attached with needle-sharp drywall screws that protrude through that thin wood to rip the clothing/flesh of hapless juicers who must continually squeeze between the sets to hang and adjust lamps. Many of the stages I’ve worked on lately are the proverbial twenty-pounds-of-shit-in-a-five-pound-bag. With a forest of sharp edges/projections everywhere, there’s endless opportunity to have one’s body cut, scraped, ripped, bruised -- and on a really bad day, broken – in the course of doing your job.

Most accidents are avoidable, assuming one is allowed to work at a reasonable pace, taking time to assess and avoid potentially dangerous situations. With more work to do than time to do it, though, the atmosphere on many shows becomes “do it as fast as possible, let’s get it done and go home.” It’s easy to be caught up in that – which is when the majority of accidents happen. I was rigging on just such a show when one of the carpenters accidentally triggered his pneumatic staple gun, shooting a two inch metal staple deep into his thigh.

That pretty much ruined his day...

The crew on any show has time to learn their way around the stage and sets, but a day-player has no such luxury: he or she has to hit the ground running on a strange set, and come up to speed fast. If you’re working for screamers, or in a particularly tense situation, the odds of getting hurt skyrocket. Being a Man Without a Show, I’ve been day-playing a lot the past few weeks. As soon as I returned from a much-too-short sojourn to the home planet, I worked a day on “The Game” (a sit-com gone bad, having been lured over to the Dark Side of filming single-camera style, like an episodic), then spent a busy day hanging lamps on the new set for “Entertainment Tonight”, scheduled to shift over from their current digs at Paramount and go into full production at CBS Radford sometime in mid-September. I made it through “The Game” unscathed, but by quitting time on “E.T.” (a strenuous 11 hour, up-ladder, down-ladder scramble) I found myself bleeding from a nick on one shin and a small hole on my forearm. I had no idea when or how the bleeding started, but neither ding required more than a good band-aid to staunch the flow. In that respect, it was a typical rig-day.

It’s generally one’s hands that take the worst beating – fingers sliced and punctured by sharp metal or splinters of wood, knuckles scraped and bloodied on one of the hundred of nuts and bolts up on a pipe grid. Wearing gloves can prevent such dings, but sooner or later a task appears that simply can’t be accomplished with fingers encased in leather. When faced with an abundance of such tasks, it becomes too much hassle to keep pulling those gloves off and on, so you just go au natural, and suffer the consequences. I did ten days of rigging to get “The Game” up and running last season, and by the time it was over, both hands had accumulated so many slow-to-heal cuts and scrapes that I couldn’t even play my guitar for a week afterwards. That’s not really typical, though -- “The Game” just happens to be an exceptionally fucked-up show.

Locations can be more hazardous than working on stage. I got hurt on my very first job as a real crew member (read: no longer a production assistant), working as a greener-than-green grip on a micro-budget feature.* Finishing up our 80+ hour Week One (on a flat-rate rate of $265/week) at 2:00 a.m. Saturday, the Key Grip told me to bring the dolly out of the suburban house serving as our location. This was an old Stint dolly (hand built by Bob Stint), with a low metal skirt around the back. As I pushed the dolly slowly out the front door, our gaffer suddenly came around a corner, picked up the front end of the dolly, and pulled it out the door. His intentions were good – to help me get that heavy beast over the door jamb – but it so happened my left foot was on that doorjamb, directly in the path of the metal skirt. Pulled by the mass of nearly 400 pounds on the move, that unyielding steel skirt scraped across my toes like a bulldozer blade, breaking the big toe and ripping the toenail halfway off. It didn’t really hurt – the pain would come later – but having gone through a broken leg from a motorcycle accident a few years before, I knew some damage had been done. Three hours later, I hobbled home from the emergency room on crutches, thoroughly bummed that my first big Hollywood break – getting a feature film – had slipped away.

At some point in the next couple of days, I decided not to let that happen. I bought a pair of steel-toed work boots, and after a week off, limped my way back to the set and worked the rest of the film. Although I missed a full week’s pay, (and the true highlight of that show -- a fistfight between the sound mixer and director on location at Magic Mountain), at least I managed to finish the movie and land my first real credit.

The next time I went down was again on location, at the coliseum in Los Angeles, then preparing for the 1984 Summer Olympics. A huge crew had been thrown together to shoot a spot wherein a giant box of Fuji Film – covered by an enormous Olympic banner – would be unveiled as a helicopter pulled the banner up into the air. The scene on the field was mass confusion, with the gaffer and key grip barking orders while that small army of grips and juicers ran all over the field hauling and setting up equipment. Halfway through the morning, a forklift driver committed one of the cardinal sins of his trade – leaving the forklift unoccupied and the forks a foot-and-a-half off the ground. When the gaffer yelled for somebody to get a lamp, I turned and ran for the truck, smashing my right shin directly into one of those heavy steel forks. I went down in a world of hurt, with a massive bump rising at the point of collision. The bone didn’t break, but hurt like hell, and after trying to solider on for another hour or so, I finally gave up and drove home, considerably wiser.

I’ve been very careful around forklifts ever since.

The last time I got seriously dinged was back at the studio, while stripping a sound stage in preparation for the arrival of the reality show, “Big Brother.” That particular stage is a nasty place to work if you have to go up high, where three catwalks run much too close to a fire safety system made up of water pipes bristling with unshielded sprinkler heads. To avoid banging my head, I had to shuffle along hunched over like Quasimodo. This worked for a while, but after hauling a dozen loads of cable to the drop zone, I failed to duck quite far enough. There was a blow, and I went down to one knee, barely managing to keep from spilling that load of cable over the side. It didn’t seem bad at first, but then came the warm gush of blood from my scalp, where that cookie-cutter sprinkler head had sliced the flesh open like a razor blade. Blood ran down my face, dripping onto the stage floor far below. After a trip to the doctor and several stitches, I went home with my head trussed up like some poor sap in a Monty Python comedy sketch.

“Big Brother” has been ensconced on that stage for three seasons now, but I’m told by Someone Who Knows that a chunk of my scalp – complete with hair – remains stuck to that particular sprinkler head.

Compared to that, my little nicks on “Entertainment Tonight” were nothing more than the normal wear and tear of a work day. Given that down on the killing floor, the production of film and television is a rough-and-tumble manufacturing industry, it’s no surprise that people occasionally get hurt in the course of their duties. Shit happens -- and sometimes it can be really bad. As in so many other manufacturing industries, people occasionally get killed while making movies and TV.

There's nothing worth dying for on a film set. Still, as in any human endeavor, accidents on set are inevitable. That's why I carry a plastic bag with a variety of band-aids in my work bag. Sooner or later, on stage or location -- no matter how careful you are -- there will be blood.

*A film so lame and obscure it can't even be found on the IMDB website...