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, May 29, 2011

Hollywood: Is It Worth It?

What do you think, Howard? 
 (photo courtesy of Aviation Explorer

While hanging lamps high amid the pipes late one afternoon during the last few weeks on the show, one of set dressers walked out into the middle of the set where I was working and gave me a Meaningful Look. I paused from my labors to meet her gaze. Being that she was -- and is -- a very attractive young woman, this wasn’t hard to do. 

 "Hey, Scooter -- what's up?" 
 “Are you okay?” she asked, her head cocked to one side. 
 “Sure. Why?” 
 “I read your last post. It was pretty dark.” 
 She nodded. 
 “I didn’t really see it as dark,” I shrugged. “That’s just how it is.” 

The look on her face made it clear this was not a satisfactory answer. As it turned out, she’d compared notes with another member of the crew who had a similar reaction to the post, and both were wondering if something was wrong. 

 Well of course something’s wrong: I’m getting old. The relentless process of aging -- everything I once took for granted now slipping through my fingers -- is the last great and enduring insult life has to offer. After a certain point, aging ceases being a joke and morphs into an endless series of stinging bitch-slaps, each stiffer than the last, from which there is no comeback, no recovery, and no lasting relief. The sole remaining refuge from this rising black tide is a good stiff drink or three, the temporary palliative effects of which allow me to embrace the ugly truth that the only thing worse than getting old ... is not getting old. Perspective is everything. The rictus grin of the Grim Reaper will materialize soon enough, and I’m in no hurry to grasp his cold, bony hand. 

 Okay, now that’s getting a little dark... 

 But driving home with the post-shoot blues? That’s just another swing on the existential pendulum of life. Same as it ever was. 

 A reader named Emilio left an interesting comment about that post. 

“I'm just finishing up school and plan on moving to L.A. to start a career in the industry, and blogs like this one really keep me going. Where others might see negativity in a post like this one, I am very much looking forward to it. Working on student films the last couple of years, I have felt these post-wrap blues myself plenty of times. It's definitely bitter-sweet to get that rest but have the realization that you're not going back to that same environment. The question I would ask of a professional such as yourself is: is it worth it? Would you rather be doing something else?” 

 Emilio doesn't fuck around – he asks the Big Questions. 

Every life is a long and winding road of decisions, compromises, triumphs and disappointments. Playing the cards you’ve been dealt, you'll win some and lose some, reacting as best you can to each new situation along the way and hoping you made the right choices. Work is just another zero-sum thread in that unfolding tapestry, where the act of choosing one career path precludes other possible choices, leaving those paths unexplored. None of us has the time to do it all in life. We have to pick and choose along the way, and some of those choices – including a select few that mark real turning points – are made on the fly, without much forethought. 

It's human nature to dream and scheme about our potential futures, but life and careers often pivot on chance and happenstance. One day you open the door to find a totally unexpected opportunity ready to shake your hand, and suddenly everything changes. No matter how you might plan and maneuver, success is often just a matter of being at the right place at the right time -- and being prepared. 

 I didn't head for Hollywood chasing dreams of becoming a juicer. I didn’t even know what a “juicer” was –- or a grip, or a set-dresser, or anything else about the reality of working in the biz -- but with a zeal born of desperation, I was determined to find a way to work on movies for a living. I hit town a young man on a mission, and if things didn’t work out, I’d just have to go with Plan B ... except there was no Plan B. In the great tradition of the Westward Expansion in the 1800’s, my own quest was pretty much Hollywood or bust. After several months during which my savings dwindled to nothing -- just before the tide finally turned, I had all of eight dollars left in the bank -- I caught a break in the form of a job working for nothing on a shoestring production making a very low budget feature. I called home to borrow a couple of hundred bucks, then put my head down and got to work. During the course of that job I met two people who would, each in a different way, help me get paying industry work down the road. The production secretary called a few months later with a tip that led to a PA job on another feature, this one with a much bigger budget. On that movie I met a lighting crew that needed an extra pair of hands to help them shoot three straight weeks of all-nighters. Seeing my willingness to hustle, they took me under their collective wing and taught me the basics. Over the next couple of years, both the Gaffer and Key Grip hired me to work occasional low-pay jobs, and eventually I learned enough to earn a spot on their regular crew as juicer. It took two lean and hungry years of hustling hard and jumping on every opportunity, but I was finally on my way. 

 I think it's a lot harder for new arrivals to make any headway in Hollywood these days. Being smart, clever, and ambitious isn’t enough anymore. With so many bright kids emerging from college hell-bent on carving out their own Hollywood careers, a newbie has to mount a serious full-court press just to catch a break and get started – and that’s only the first step on a long, hard road. The real work of building a career comes later. 

 This is the nature of free-lance life. If you're looking for steady employment and a regular paycheck, take a job at the Post Office. You're unlikely to find either in Hollywood. But I digress.... 

To get back to Emilio's question: has working in the belly of the Hollywood beast, riding the roller-coaster of highs and lows over the years and enduring the insecurity and uncertainty endemic to the biz really been worth it? I’m not sure there’s a simple answer. Had those timely breaks not materialized, and helping hands not reached out to give me a boost at so many crucial stages along the way, I'd probably have had to find another path in life. God knows what that would have been, but it’s possible everything would have worked out fine, leaving me fat, prosperous, and happy at the far end of the rainbow. Then again, I might have ended up in some dead-end office job living out a life of quiet desperation, or worse, made enough bad decisions to spin off the rails and tumble down among LA’s legions of urban unwashed living under freeways and huddling in cardboard condos beneath the Sixth Street bridge. It's not that hard to do -- people smarter than I'll ever be have stumbled and fallen through those cracks. For better or worse, living out any of those scenarios would have meant missing the chance to climb from grip-trician to juicer to Best Boy to Gaffer, then slide back down the slippery ladder of success to where I am today, a juicer again. I'll never know what might have happened -- all I know is what did happen, and for me, things worked out in Hollywood.* 

All I can say with reasonable certainty is that I’d never have lasted slaving away in a cube farm – strapping on a suit and tie to toil in the corporate grid pattern was not for me -- so I probably ended up where I belong. Leaving all the pointless “what if” speculation aside... yeah, I think it was worth it. This business flew me all over the country working on features, commercials, music videos, and industrial films, at a time when air travel was still fun and easy. I watched a sunrise bathe the snow-capped Grand Teton Mountains in a golden glow, saw another stunning dawn emerge from the blackest of nights over the Pyramid of the Sun outside Mexico City, and once got to sit in Howard Hugh’s pilot seat aboard the Spruce Goose.** During my time in this crazy business, I’ve seen a lot, done a lot, and met so many truly amazing people over the years -– behind and in front of the cameras -- all while getting paid for it. If some of it felt like blood money, that doesn't matter anymore. The pain (and the money) are long gone, but the memories remain. 

Would I rather be doing something different? It would have been nice to play lead guitar for the Rolling Stones, or patrol center field and bat cleanup for the San Francisco Giants, but those cards were never in my deck. All in all, I'm okay with the way my years in Hollywood unfolded. 

The business is changing fast, the old ways crumbling under the sledgehammer of the digital revolution. Although the current challenges I face are in some ways very different than those confronting me thirty years ago -– I’m on the way down now, no longer heading up -- some things never change. I still have to prove myself every single day on set. The moment I start slacking off under the assumption that being a veteran means I no longer have to carry a full share of the work load, my days in this town will be numbered. With that in mind, I hope to keep answering the bell long enough to leave Hollywood on my own terms, and not get kicked out the back door. 

The free-lance Industry life isn't easy, but life is hard no matter what path you choose. If you follow the siren call of Hollywood, work hard, have fun, and be ready to grasp opportunity with both hands when it appears. Do that and some of your dreams will come true -- maybe not all of them, but enough so that when you finally look back, you'll feel good about it.  

 I can't promise it'll be worth it for you, but it's been worth it for me.     

* More or less. It’s not as if I came, saw, and conquered, but I’ve managed to make a living in this town for thirty-plus years and have some fun in the process. That may not be much, but it counts for something. 

 * Yep, the very same pilot seat in the photo above. Having grown up crazy about airplanes as a kid, this was a big deal to me at the time...

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Picks 'o the Week

Back in LA

I spotted this on the way to the post office this morning while carrying a fistful of overdue bills. The hammer and camera... I have no idea who's behind this image, but I like it.


It’s morning, foggy and cold, but the wood stove is full of ashes. Hasn’t been emptied for a week. I fill the bucket with light, fluffy gray ash, then build and light a fire. Once the orange flames have caught, I carry the bucket -– now growing warm from embers buried within -- outside to the hose. As the water penetrates to those glowing embers deep in the ash, small geysers of hissing steam shoot the fine gray powder up and out over everything in a three foot radius.

I’ve learned the hard way to stand back from this bucket of tiny volcanoes, lest I too end up coated in a thin layer of damp ash.

I grab a stick and stir the milky gray soup for a couple of minutes – you really can’t be too careful when it comes to fire -- then carry the now-brimming bucket down a wooded path far away from the house. Where the trees end, a thick blue mist of Forget-Me-Nots hovers over a lush green meadow. Brilliant magenta spears of Foxglove rise up from the dense sea of green, and in the midst of it all stands a doe, not thirty feet away, grazing in the early morning silence. Her head jerks up and freezes, fixing me with an unnervingly steady gaze. Those big ears and liquid black eyes stare with an intensity borne of the need to survive in a world without mercy, where instantaneous reactions can mark the border between life and death.

There are mountain lions in these hills, and this doe knows it.

She also knows I’m not a lion, but isn't sure if I pose any kind of threat, so she stares at me – and I at her -- for what feels like an eternity. A breeze filters through the trees, shaking loose a rain of foggy dew from the branches above. I flinch as one very wet, cold drop hits my neck and slides down my back. The doe doesn’t move a muscle, a perfect statue chiseled out of flesh and bone, utterly focused on me, this sudden stranger who does not belong.

She wins the stare-down. Unable to meet that quietly intense gaze, I laugh softly, then swing the bucket to send the slurry of ash and water out over the forest floor. That’s enough for the doe -- with a single effortless leap she’s gone, a tawny shadow melting into the thick curtain of trees.

I carry the bucket back to the house, no longer aware of the damp morning chill. The fire is going strong now. I pull a chair close and watch the flames consume dry wood, slowly turning it into ash. Outside the fog is beginning to lift, revealing a patch of blue high above.

Somewhere out there, the doe has stopped running.


No longer shackled by the horse-and-buggy of dial-up Internet, I've been catching up on some of those things that help make living in Southern California more tolerable. This week’s The Business on KCRW features a terrific interview with Jimmy Kimmel, describing his recent appearance and apparently much-anticipated performance at the upfronts in New York. I don’t watch much late night TV and am not particularly fond of talk shows, but have heard good things about Kimmel. Having never seen it, I can't say whether his nightly show is worth watching or not, but the interview is definitely worth tuning in.

Robert Lloyd -- one of the LA Time’s most thoughtful TV critics – wrote a really nice commentary on the crazy process of the upfronts, and how that once-quiet event has moved into the spotlight in recent years. It’s a short article that won’t slow you down, but might make you think. Besides, Lloyd is always worth reading.

Another good read comes from the fertile keyboard of Mary McNamara, the LA Time's other good television critic, in a wry multi-dimensional analysis of the End of Oprah. For me, Mary is another "must-read" TV critic, regardless of the subject matter.

And of course, any compendium of entertaining/informative television critics has to include The Hollywood Reporter's own Tim Goodman, who offers his own perspective on the quasi-departure of television's resident She-God. As usual, Goodman tells it like it is.

Last up is another of KCRW’s offerings, a lively interview with Paul Feig, courtesy of Elvis Mitchell on The Treatment. Feig has some interesting things to say about being in “movie jail,” the process of writing comedies, and the importance of utilizing a solid narrative built on a firm foundation. In other words, do it right, with no quick-and-dirty cheap shots just to get a laugh. I haven’t seen any of Feig’s movies, but his latest (“Bridesmaids”) is being pushed as something of a chick-flick comedy with balls.

If the movie is as good as the interview, it just might be worth watching.

Those are my picks of the week. Check 'em out...

Saturday, May 21, 2011


Never mind...

Well, it's one minute after six p.m. here on the West Coast of the United States with no sign of the Rapture. No crushing earthquakes, no monster tsunamis, no tornadoes of fire -- just a pleasant spring day coming to a close. Looks like the Big Show has been kicked down the road a ways.

As Gomer Pyle used to say, "Surprise, surprise, surprise..."

Anybody out there sorely disappointed that our world has not yet come to a disastrous end -- and that you didn't leave all your clothes, cars, IPhones, and plasma screen TVs behind to join the Chosen Ones in their ascent to Heaven while the rest of us heathens and infidels suffer a thousand years of flaming torture -- might take some solace in this.

Just don't forget to bring a sense of humor.

If I didn't consider all those wild-eyed, much-too-sincere religious crackpots to be on the far end of complete insanity, I might feel sorry for them in their hour of spiritual letdown. But hey, don't get too depressed that our oh-so-troubled planet kept right on spinning through space despite all the Doomsday prophesies -- there's always next year.

Keep trying, and one of these days you're bound to be right -- after all, even a blind squirrel stumbles across an acorn every now and then.


Enough of this foolishness. Vacation's over. With any luck this space will be back with something more pertinent to Industry life in Hollywood next week.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Dispatch from the Home Planet

Take me to your leader...

Still back on the Home Planet, far from the gravitational flux of Hollywood and the LA Basin. The natives here on this remote outpost have taken to worshiping a strange new god -- I tried to get a closer look at this modern-day Golden Calf, but recoiled when a strident cry from deep within the fiendish device began shouting "Danger Will Robinson!"

It was all I could do to snap this quick picture, then run for my life as an angry mob of locals came after me with pitchforks and torches.

Who knows what all this means? We are indeed living in the strangest of times -- and friends, the Cosmic Shit has only just begun to hit the Almighty Fan...

Hobbled by my anemic dial-up Internet connection (here on the Home Planet we still communicate with empty soup cans connected by string) I will not resume serious posting -- whatever that means -- until I make my flaming re-entry to Southern California. I can only hope my ship's heat shields hold up...

Meanwhile, you could do a lot worse things with your idle time than to click on over to my own favorite blog and read this. It has nothing to do with Hollywood or the film industry, but everything to do with real life -- and is one beautiful piece of writing: short, bittersweet, and to the point.*

You'd better read it fast, though -- if the True Believers out there are right, time is running out...

* To fully grasp the meaning of this piece it will help to know a little something about Khe Sahn. Click here for a brief-but-succinct Wiki-explanation.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Case of Mistaken Identity

"Let me make one thing perfectly clear..."

(Photo courtesy of Flavorwire)

I promised never to do it again – refer to myself in the third person in this space – but sometimes you just have to break the rules...

While perusing the user statistics for this blog, I noticed a recent series of hits from a site called “, the online community for film making." Following the comment thread back to a question about building a pipe grid for lighting on stage led me to the source of those hits, a link from a DVX member named “Slondon” embellished with the following comment:

“This blog is a wonderful read and she has links to a bazillion photos she's taken, many inside studios and sound stages.”

Although I appreciate such kind words, particularly when coupled with a link to BS&T, it’s abundantly clear that they were not aimed at me. Yes, the URL is mine, but although I’ve been accused of many things over the long roller coaster ride of my Hollywooden career, being a “she” is not among them. I'm not particularly proud of being a guy -- having been born that way, I had no say in the matter -- but it is what it is and I am what I am.

And that, my fellow Americans, is a he.

Slondon seems to have confused my blog with that of the wonderful Peggy Archer over at “Totally Unauthorized” – a terrific writer/juicer who is most definitely a she, and does indeed “link to a bazillion photos she’s taken, many inside studios and sound stages.”

Alas, I do not. Any DVXUser readers who followed Slondon's link here and remain puzzled by what they found should click on over to Peggy's blog, where the writing and stories are indeed as good as the photos.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming...

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Summer Re-Run Number 1

Technically speaking, it isn't quite summer yet, and in this era when Reality Television dominates the summer months, I'm not sure there's any such thing as "summer re-runs" anymore. But the concept was burned into my brain a long time ago, and if old dogs have trouble learning new tricks, they don't forget the old ones.

At any rate, it just didn't seem right to leave this space blank on a Sunday, even though I'm back on the Home Planet, many parsecs from Hollywood -- thus, the Summer Re-Run. I may do this again and I may not. It's all in flux right now.

This one from August 2009 is a true story about a young man and a goat on a summer afternoon -- uh no, not that kind of story -- and a seemingly great idea that didn't quite work out as planned.

Let's just say a very valuable lesson was learned...

Nobody much liked it at the time (except for a solitary anonymous commenter and AJ over at "The Hills Are Burning" -- for which she earned my undying gratitude), but I figure there must be some new readers since then, so here you go, for better or worse...


The Golden Carrot

It seemed like a good idea at the time...

(photo courtesy of Woodhow Farms)

In a recent post, the Film Industry Blogger’s “Hollywood Development Executive” opened up with a basic fact of life in the biz:

“Our whole industry is based on a Bugs Bunny Cartoon. That silly wabbit was constantly being led around by a carrot on a stick placed strategically just out of grasp, though it seemed so close. This is the very essence of Hollywood and why thousands of people – from the homecoming queens to the techie geeks – swarm towards Los Angeles every year.”

HDE is right – many of those lured to LA by the prospect of an Industry career arrive with big dreams that great things will come their way down the road. Most play it coy at first: reluctant to hex their ambitious career goals by angering the Gods of Hollywood (sometimes pride really does goeth before a fall), they avoid trumpeting such big plans to the world, but the vast majority of wannabe writers, directors, producers, and actors have already envisioned their names in lights. Some below-the-liners harbor their own lofty ambitions, which a very few actually do manage to achieve, lifting themselves out of the oily Swamp of Toil in which the rest of us shall labor until retirement finally drags us back onto dry land.

If we live that long, at least -- an image of all those saber-toothed-tigers and mammoths sinking to their doom in the La Brea Tar Pits suddenly comes to mind, but this is not a comforting thought...

There’s nothing wrong with ambition. Dreaming big is often the first essential step towards achieving truly big things, and those with the fire burning inside are destined* to walk that path, win, lose, or draw. But there’s nothing inherently wrong with thinking small, either, although people in this town tend to give a double-take of disapproval to anyone who openly admits a lack of personal ambition. Our culture pays lip service to the “whatever makes you happy” philosophy of life, but most people who take that road-less-traveled don't come to Hollywood. Those who do choose to walk these smoggy streets without Big Plans in their back pockets are often viewed with a puzzled suspicion.

If you don’t want to BE somebody and DO big things, then why the hell are you here?

That's a good question, but it's useful to remember that nothing comes free in life. Big ambitions come with a very high price, and that assumes you've got what it takes to succeed. But if for whatever reason you aren't able to fulfill those career dreams, does that make you a failure? Can you live with achieving – in the immortal words of then-President Jimmy Carter – such an “incomplete success”? And even if you do hit that highest of notes, what then? Where do you go once you've finally caught and eaten that indigestible golden carrot? How do you fill the suddenly yawning void within?

Strange mystical/crackpot religions?

The wild-eyed, dead-end hedonism of all the sex, drugs, and booze money/fame can buy?

Yet another trophy wife or boy-toy, depending on your personal predilections?

Serial adoption of foreign babies?


All of the above, I suppose, if the behavior of so many past and current Hollywood A listers is any guide. Not that a mere juicer would know anything about such outlandish success, mind you, but I can tell you from personal experience that although the carrot-on-a-stick works well as metaphor, it doesn't always translate to the real world.

Like any kid, I watched a lot of cartoons during a mis-spent youth. Sure, they were in black and white (color TV was unobtainium for all but the rich back in the Pleistocene), but the message came through loud and clear – and to my ten year old eyes, that carrot-on-a-stick thing seemed an irresistibly brilliant idea. When I discovered a rusty old wheelchair down in the basement one fine summer day, a light bulb clicked on over my head. Being that my family lived out in the sticks with a barn full of animals, I had the ingredients to bring this cinematic fantasy to life, with one slight deviation from the cartoon blueprint: rather than use a carrot as the lure, I tied a fat handful of green alfalfa to a string at the end of a long pole. The propulsion system for my experiment was to be one of our wonderfully docile milk goats, and although goats will eat pretty much anything from work gloves to poison oak, this particular animal had a serious jones for sweet alfalfa.

My mind’s eye saw something right out of “Tom Sawyer,” with me seated in the wheelchair being drawn along a country road at a brisk pace by the goat as she followed the tantalizing scent of that eternally unattainable alfalfa. My plan -- as far as I'd thought it out -- called for me to make the goat aware of the aromatic green hay, at which point I would climb into the wheelchair and we’d be off. When I finally got bored trotting around the roads of our rural neighborhood, I’d let the goat eat the alfalfa as a reward for her service. In this gauzy Norman Rockwell vision, I saw a win/win scenario in which both the goat and I would get what we wanted.

What could possibly go wrong?

Unimpressed by the dazzling genius of my cartoon-inspired plan, the goat waited patiently as I tied the rope around her neck, then to the wheelchair. Ready for launch, I grabbed the long pole and swung the alfalfa bait out in front of her nose, certain that my triumph would soon be complete.

But as with so many of life’s more meaningful experiences, the fun stopped at the exact moment all my anticipatory preparation ended -- which is to say, the instant reality took charge. Much to my surprise, the goat’s ears flew up in sudden alarm, then she bolted down the road dragging the wheelchair behind, leaving me standing there holding a suddenly useless pole. I watched for what felt like a very long time as the tragic flaw in my plan became immediately apparent: rather than observe a delicious meal floating gently towards her waiting mouth, the goat perceived an unknown object hurtling through the sky directly at her head. Interpreting this as a potentially lethal threat, her golf-ball sized brain triggered an instant flight response -- and that goat was gone.

So was the wheelchair, now bouncing on its side across the rough pavement with a tremendous racket, the sudden drag jerking the rope tight around the goat's neck. Feeling something clawing at her throat and hearing all that noise behind her, the goat ran faster, desperately trying to escape whatever was chasing her – but the faster she ran, the louder the noise grew, and the more violent the squeezing of her throat.

It was then that I first encountered an entirely new concept: the positive feedback loop. Such feedback loops result when a cycle of events are set in motion such that each acts to reinforce and increase the magnitude of the others. Compound interest is beneficial form of positive feedback loop that can, over many years, generate great wealth for those smart enough to start saving early and often. But in the physical world, positive feedback loops often have extremely negative consequences -- absent some outside force of control, many real-world feedback loops end in disaster. Nuclear fission** is created through a positive feedback loop of unleashed neutrons in a rapidly accelerating crescendo culminating in the near-instantaneous release of energy we know as an atomic explosion: the mushroom cloud of death.

I ran after the terrified goat, who by now must have thought the hounds of Hell were hot on her heels. Thirty yards down the road, she veered off the road into the brush trying to escape her pursuer. She didn’t get far – the wheelchair caught in that dense brush like a boat anchor, and by the time I got there, she was down on her side, eyes wide, tongue out, bleating frantically in stark terror.

I felt awful. My brilliant plan – spawned by those cartoons – had nearly broken this poor goat’s neck, and came close to scaring her to death. I managed to calm her down, then freed her from wheelchair bondage and led her back to the barn for all the nice green alfalfa she could eat. The goat didn’t seem to suffer any discernible aftereffects from her not-so-excellent adventure, and being of a particularly social breed, didn’t hold a grudge against me.

In that, she was more forgiving than I’d have been, but all things considered, goats have better manners than most people anyway. She taught me a valuable lesson that day: that the world of cartoons is not to be mistaken for reality. A few years later, I started building home-made rockets down in the basement, and if I hadn’t already learned the difference between cinematic and physical reality, it's entirely possible that I'd have ended up strapping on a pair of rocket-powered roller skates like those from the Acme Corporation.

I’m sure that would have ended well... but I avoided the fate of Wile E. Coyote because I’d already learned my lesson the hard way: even though life may indeed resemble a cartoon at times, it isn’t.

Not even in Hollywood.

*Or doomed, depending how you look at it.

** The fission reaction in a nuclear power plant is controlled by cadmium rods that absorb those rampaging neutrons. To speed the reaction up and increase power, the rods are pulled out. To slow it down, they’re pushed back in.

On a darker note, some of the world’s more gloomy environmental scientists consider global warming to be an ongoing example of a positive feedback loop. As the warming oceans continue to melt the polar ice caps, huge areas of white ice (which reflects the sun’s rays) morph into dark water, which absorbs the sun’s energy. Less ice = more water = increased warming -- and eventually, no more ice caps. Those ice caps are the world’s cooling system, and once gone, the pace of warming will accelerate. Organic material long trapped in the frozen permafrost will decay as things warm up, releasing even more methane and carbon dioxide, two potent greenhouse gasses. Adding fuel to the fire, we humans will burn ever more fossil fuels in generating electricity to keep us cool in our warming world, thus releasing yet more of the heat-retaining gasses that started the problem in the first place.

It's not hard to see where this is headed -- and it's not a good place to be. If those scientists are right, we’re well and truly fucked. Even the mighty Iphone won’t have an app cool enough to save our sorry asses...

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Stupid vs. Gloriously Stupid

Then there's just being lazy, in my own gloriously stupid way...

Hundreds of movies come out every year, very few of which I ever see. I can’t even remember the last time I saw a movie in a theater,* but when a feature does catch my eye, I add it to my Netflix queue for eventual viewing at home. Sometimes a particularly compelling trailer (on TV or the Internet) will pique my interest, but for the most part I depend on film reviews to guide my quest for cinematic quality – and a well written film review is a treat in and of itself.

Having seen the trailer for “Fast Five” a number of times on television, I can safely say it’s unlikely to end up in my DVD player. I’ve nothing against high-octane car chases, bloody gunfights, or lots of sexy, scantily-clad young women gyrating on screen, but there’s a time in life to fully appreciate such spectacle – and that time is between one’s 18th and 34th birthdays, the demographic most prized by every studio’s marketing and distribution department.

That said, reading Mick LaSalle’s review of “Fast Five” almost makes me want to see the movie. LaSalle is a terrific writer and one very smart guy, but he’s not a film snob. He doesn’t allow his personal cinematic predilections get in the way of a review, giving a fair shake to every film on its own terms, be it an art film or action movie. If a movie sucks, he'll tell you exactly why it missed the mark, rather than simply trash it as unworthy of your attention.

I don't agree with Mick every time -- some films he loves left me cold, while others he panned I enjoyed -- but his reviews are always a great read. Here's a passage from his review of "Fast Five," drawing the distinction between “Stupid” and “Gloriously Stupid”:

“Lin has also found the tone that eluded him in "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift" and "Fast & Furious." He has finally made the transition from stupid to gloriously stupid, which is all-important in action movies. "Stupid" is when a movie offers something ridiculous but takes it seriously - and expects you to take it seriously. "Gloriously Stupid" is when a movie offers you something ridiculous and knows it's ridiculous - but then promises to go way beyond ridiculous and surprise you with how insane and grandly ridiculous a movie can be while keeping a straight face. "Fast Five" does exactly that.”

If you like this kind of writing -- and are curious about the rest of Mick’s review -- click here.

Turning to the small screen, Hollywood Reporter Television Critic Tim Goodman is just back from vacation (or as he calls it a "work stoppage") loaded for bear with another of his wondefully snarky “Everything We Know We Learned From Television” columns. These were a regular feature during his glory days writing for the SF Chronicle, and he’s brought the tradition down I-5 to the Big City on a very occasional basis for the Reporter. Whether the current “Everything” columns will prove the equal of those from his Chron days remains to be seen, but I can say one thing with certainty – back then, he was never moved to compare watching a television program (the Royal Wedding, in this case) with having shards of bamboo jammed through his penis...

Ouch. Tim Goodman holds strong opinions about television, and has never been afraid to speak his mind -- which is one reason he's always worth reading.

Check it out.


Out of work for the moment -- and out of town for a while – I won’t be posting much over the next three or four weeks. With Hollywood a distant speck in my rear view mirror, real life is now imposing its own set of demands, and I'm currently feeling neither the energy nor the motivation required to stare into this screen and conjure something out of the ether. Call it a hiatus, a time-out, or just a period of uncertainty – maybe I’ll post, maybe I won’t. If I knew, I’d tell you, but I really don’t know. All I can say is that it's time to sit in front of the fire for a while and gaze into the flames.

To wallow in warm mud of cliché, I’m just gonna go with the flow and play it as it lays...

* For many reasons, none of which are worth discussing...

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Ashes, Ashes, All Fall Down

"Parting is such sweet sorrow..."

(From Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, Scene 2)

It's over...

A lot can happen in a year. The price of gas can rise from two dollars-and-change to well over four dollars per gallon. A deep-water oil rig can blow out and kill a dozen people while devastating the environment, economy, and lives of an entire coastal region. A monster earthquake on the ocean's floor can hurl a thirty foot wall of water against a densely-populated island nation to obliterate entire cities, kill tens of thousands of people, and trigger the worst nuclear accident the world has seen in the past 25 years. In a moment of enraged despair, a solitary citizen of a repressive Arab country can immolate himself on a public street, thus sparking a human earthquake across the Middle East that rapidly topples two powerful, long-standing dictators and seriously threaten the reign of several others. In the course of an average year, a hundred and forty million people will be born into this world, while nearly sixty million die.*

All that in just fifty-two short weeks.

On a vastly smaller scale, a sit-com in Hollywood can gear up to shoot thirty episodes (including the pilot), during which – among other things -- this juicer maintained his unbroken streak of losing every single Dollar Day. Some things never change... and now that we’ve wrapped the show, there's nothing left but dust in the air and a year's worth of memories on a suddenly empty, cavernous sound stage.

If these latter events didn't register even a momentary blip on the radar screen of The Big Picture over the past year, they had a big impact on me. With my little cable-rate sit-com finally over, we who did the heavy lifting all season long can only cross our fingers and await the network’s decision to bring us back for Season Two, or consign our show to the overflowing garbage heap of Hollywood history.

We shot five straight episodes to finish off the season, and the last three were serious ball-busters for almost every department. It was a long slog, and if some of us took more of a beating than others, we all pretty much got our asses kicked. The final week was particularly grueling, and early on, none of the crew I spoke to expressed much interest in attending the wrap party, which would take place immediately after the show at a location several miles away.

I felt the same ambivalence. The last thing I wanted to do was drive even farther away from home after putting the final show in the can, but simply walking away at the season's end didn't seem right. This crew got along pretty well, all things considered, and if certain directors brought out the best in us while others didn't (who, for many reasons, were less successful in generating a supportive, positive atmosphere on set), well, that's nothing new. Through all the ups and downs, this crew's spectrum of very different personalities meshed surprisingly well over the long haul, enabling most of us to have a good time in the process. I really like these people, and didn't want to miss this last chance to let our hair down together.

Still, slogging through Friday night traffic on a very busy street to a Laser Tag emporium (?) after the last five long weeks didn't sound like much of a wrap party to me. But as the week wore on, most of the crew gradually RSVP'ed the invitation. Figuring that it was better to leave my options open, I too signed on. What the hell -- if I changed my mind at the last minute, I could always blow it off and head for home late Friday night.

Besides, as one of the set dressers sighed: "Yeah I'm going. I've got to represent."

She was right. Although thoroughly whipped by the time the final show wrapped, I soldiered on through the traffic towards the party. With no interest (or energy) for Laser Tag, I was drawn to the bar like a moth to the flame. In the relieved-and-relaxed atmosphere, it was easy to converse with the actors, their spouses, and so many other people I rarely interact with on set. After a glass or two of a surprisingly good Malbec, I was feeling no pain. I got the chance to say a few goodbyes, then sat there in the warm night breeze outside with most of my lighting crew.

A wrap party can be many things (and a minefield for the unwary), but the primary purpose is to celebrate the group effort it takes to successfully navigate any production, and provide a sense of closure. It was nice to relax in the company of so many former strangers, now friends, and like all good things it ended too soon. Everybody gathered in one big room for the viewing of the gag reel, a compilation of out-takes from the entire season featuring our actors flubbing lines and add-libbing like mad. After this long haul, whatever energy we still had was expended in the next few minutes of emotional release, sharing the laughter one last time, just as we'd shared it -- along with the pain -- all year long.

Suddenly very, very tired, I joined the exodus once the gag reel faded to black, down the escalators, into my car, and out onto the street heading for home. One more drink and I'd have been a menace to society, but at this point I know my limits, and observe them. Still, I took the back route home, staying off the main drags. No point taking chances...

After yet another too-short weekend, we began the wrap on Monday, given a few days to tear down everything we'd just spent the better part of a year building. By the time we had all the lamps and cable down, leaving the pipe grid naked, only the front door and a solitary header (pictured above) remained of our "permanent" sets -- a suburban house with a wide front porch, large living room, two stairways, a sitting room, dining room, kitchen, and a driveway/garage. Soon that too was gone, pulled apart and loaded up to be hauled into storage. On our last day, the stage barren at last, it was time to say final goodbyes to my fellow juicers and the other remaining crews I liked so much, the grips, set dressing, and props.

With a brand new ten episode sit-com coming in to build and rig over the next couple of weeks -- with another crew -- the eternal cycle begins anew: one show dies and gives way to another being born. Given any luck, we'll be back in mid-July to start another season after that show wraps, but if fate turns her back on us, the hunt for another gig will begin in earnest.

Time will tell. Until then, the void beckons.

So it goes in Hollywood.

* According to Wikipedia, anyway...