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, 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.


1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thanks for the high praise, dude. It's good to hear someone besides my mom tell me I'm smart and entertaining. :)