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)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Riding the Thermals

It was nice while it lasted back on the home planet, where lush green meadows were sprinkled with wild purple irises standing tall above a blue mist of Forget-Me-Nots. The air came off the water and through the trees cool and crisp, laced with the intoxicating scent of pine and bay. A brief taste of a better world... but all too soon it was time to crawl back through the wormhole across the vast Central Valley, then up and over the Grapevine into the aptly-named LA Basin and the Doomed City of the Future.

As usual, it was hot, smoggy, crowded, and dirty. Hell-Lay indeed.

Anyone who’s been tuning in to this blog for a while knows I tend to use surfing metaphors to describe the life of a Hollywood free lancer: waiting for a wave (being unemployed), catching a wave (getting a job), and – one of these days, inshallah – catching a wave big enough to carry me all the way into the warm sunny beach of retirement. Translation: a hit multi-camera sit-com running eight or nine years.

That may never happen, but hope dies last in this bleak urban desert, where I keep my fingers crossed each and every day.

I’m not actually a surfer, mind you. Yeah, I did my share of body surfing down along the Mexican coast back in the day, and had a wobbly blast on borrowed long boards in Santa Cruz a couple of times, but never had time to fully plumb the surfing experience. I regret that, and really wish I’d found a way to make the time -- but looking back over the years, there are several things I’d like to have done differently. If you live long enough, you too may end up dragging an elephant train of regrets. This does no good, of course, but there it is just the same. But at least I got a taste of surfing -- managing to catch and briefly harness the immense power of even a relatively small ocean wave is a uniquely heady sensation, and something you don’t ever forget.

Thus the metaphors.

Staring out at those rolling green hills back home, I watched big black turkey vultures rise into the air every morning, carving graceful circles through the powder blue sky all day long into the evening dusk. They were searching for carrion -- food in the form of dead skunks, raccoons, and the stiff, bloated carcasses of deer lying by the side of the road. Deer often cross the path of cars up there, and in these unhappy collisions, the deer tend to lose. But their loss is the vulture’s gain, as day by bloody day, nature ruthlessly recycles each and every living thing. Like it or not, life and death are joined at the hip, each walking in the shadow of the other as the great wheel keeps rolling along.

Those big birds (with wingspans up to seven feet) are fascinating to watch, gliding effortlessly through the air with hardly a flap of a wing. They know how to catch the warm currents of rising air – thermals – and use them as invisible elevators into the sky. When a thermal peters out, or the bird decides the altitude is right, it banks to one side and sails off wherever it desires, following the scent of ripe food on the ground hundreds of feet below. By riding the thermals, they’re in effect surfing the wind.

So here’s another metaphor to describe the freelance Hollywood life – riding the thermals of gainful employment until each one plays out, then gliding on in search of another.

But even the best metaphors only go so far, and I can live without eating those dead animals by the side of the road -- unless, of course, consuming rotting carrion is the metaphorical equivalent of working cable-rate jobs...


This space has been discussing power lately, so in a slightly different vein than last Sunday’s post, here’s a recent Rob Long commentary on the power of “no”.

In an altogether different direction, he then discusses the eternal – if unspoken – question of Hollywood: “Can I please have some money?"

The answer, needless to say, is usually no.


nahiyan said...

“Can I please have some money?" <--exactly where I am right at the moment. Looking for money for to produce a short film.

Riding the thermals feels like quite an apt metaphor for any kind of free lance work and the vulture is as good a bird to represent those in the "business", or so I'm told.

By the way where you on the Lost bandwagon? I forget, because I was and enjoyed the last ep for what it was.

Michael Taylor said...

Nahiyan --

I tapped into "Lost" late during season one, and was instantly hooked. Excellent acting, terrific production values and intriguing stories kept me watching -- along with the occasional lingering shot of Kate in her undewear, of course... Some seasons were better than others, but ups and downs chart the course of every long running show.

After plumbing the murky depths of commentary on The Bastard Machine regarding that final episode, there seem to be two basic camps -- those who felt it was as good as could reasonably be expected, and those who remain bitterly disappointed that every last question raised over the last six years wasn't fully answered. Although I can understand their frustrations, I thought the ending was pretty good -- it satisfied. To tie up every loose thread would have taken another season.

The merciless barrage of commercials ABC subjected us to was pretty bad, but such is the nature of broadcast television.

For me, the much-discussed "mythology" wasn't so important. The characters were what held my interest -- the people -- and how they reacted to the increasingly bizarre events confronting them. If the stories didn't all add up in the end, that's okay -- it was a great ride.

IMHO, the purpose of television is to inform, divert, entertain, and -- when we're lucky - enthrall. Any show that can do two or three of these on a consistent basis deserves some respect, and there, "Lost" delivered.

It was a good one.