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 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...


12pt said...

Well written. Almost had me in tears. Sounds like you need the much deserved break.

Phil Jackson said...

Great post as always, you really capture those moments that I think a lot of filmmakers have but have a hard time describing.

A.J. said...

I actually think playing laser tag would make an awesome wrap party. Most of the conversations I have with people outside my own department consist of comments about the show, but now that it's over, having some kind of game or event at the wrap party would kind of break the ice a bit.

Depending on the show, I may groan at the thought of dragging myself to a wrap party, but the thought of production springing for your booze kinda takes some of the sting out.

Michael Taylor said...

12 pt, Phil --

Yeah, it's definitely break-time, and that's just what I'm doing. Glad you resonated with the post -- thanks for tuning in.

AJ --

Everybody on the crew under 50 agreed with you, and they all had a blast playing laser tag -- but for the rest of us, the bar was just fine. We had an interesting crew on this on -- musicians, a couple of race car drivers, a few honest-to-god film-makers (beyond their duties on set), and at least one member of the LA Dolls roller derby club. These people were always fun to talk to because those conversations had nothing to do with the show.

In that regard, this was an unusually interesting group of people. It's not always that way...

A.J. said...

Haha. What I got from your reply was, "A musician, a race car driver and a filmmaker walk into a bar..." :)

Regardless, I always think it's fascinating to learn who your co-workers are outside of work.