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)

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Hills are Burning

Not really – not yet, anyway – but “The Hills are Burning” is the title of an excellent new blog I discovered over the weekend. Written by a young grip-trician fighting her way up through the ranks of low budget indie productions, “The Hills are Burning” launched late last year as a personal blog detailing her struggles adapting to life here in LA. The issues she dealt with are those so many transplants to Hollywood have experienced – following an inner voice away from home, family, and friends on a path that made sense to none but her. It’s not an easy road to take, and reading those brief early posts reminded me of my own solo journey south to Smogtown so many years ago.

I had my fill of the low budget feature scene back then (well before the term “indie” came into common use), but know very little of the realities faced by the new generation today. When I came to Hollywood, grips, juicers, and the camera department were almost exclusively male institutions. Women worked in the production office and accounting, and on set worked doing hair, makeup, script, craft service, and occasionally in the art department. The vast majority of producers, UPMs, and AD’s were men, and although a few female PA’s were around, most of these entry-level positions went to young men as well.

Film was a man’s world.

Not anymore. There are lots of women in camera these days, and those I’ve worked with are very good indeed. Production departments are often predominantly female, and there are large numbers of women working in every job category other than grip and electric, which for the most part remains a male realm. Around twenty five years ago, small numbers of women finally began to break through this last bastion of resistance, and those that survived the brutally hard work and merciless hazing to become accepted by their male peers are really good – they had to be good and they had to be tough, or else they wouldn’t have made it. I have tremendous respect for the overwhelming majority of female grips and juicers I’ve worked with in the trenches of Hollywood.

As I’ve pointed out before, this has always been a tough business to crack. Pre-1970’s, the union stranglehold was such that getting work without family connections was all but impossible in Hollywood. The development of new lightweight lighting and camera equipment made location filming practical for non-union productions, which created a whole new universe of opportunities in low-budget, non-mainstream Hollywood. Those who had no other choice (ahem...) worked and learned in that non-union world until most of us managed to get that coveted union card. It’s not nearly so hard to earn a union card today, but as the film and television jobs flow out of California, getting enough work to make the expense of a union card worthwhile is a lot tougher. Buffeted by the same economic storm that has roiled the waters of mainstream Hollywood, low budget productions are now leaner and meaner than ever*.

“The Hills are Burning” takes you into this sharp-edged, low-budget indie world. No longer A.J.’s personal site, but a full-fledged Industry blog, THAB paints a vivid picture of indie life here in Hollywood. She’s an excellent writer, and a welcome new voice. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

* According to the LA Times, things are even tougher in the porn industry...


Nathan said...

I remember the first woman who was breaking in during the early 80's in Boston. She had a great business card with a picture of her in a drop-dead gorgeous formal gown -- wearing a tool belt. It said, "Have amprobe, will travel". (She's been a DP for years now.)

Anonymous said...

Hi all!