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, August 21, 2011

Season Two

People come, people go, but nothing ever changes.

(Bastardized from – and with apologies to -- Grand Hotel)

Heading into the heat of late summer, good news came over the telephone: my little cable show was picked up for a second season. The re-up order of fifteen episodes is better than the ten to twelve most cable networks typically offer, and there's an option for nine additional episodes if we manage to bark, roll over, and dance on our hind legs with sufficient enthusiasm to please our masters. Should all go exceedingly well, this would pan out to a twenty-four episode season, and if that’s not quite the thirty we got last year, hey, who’s counting?

Well, me for one, but beggars can’t be choosers in today’s Hollywood, so I’ll take what I can get and be happy about it -- or at least a lot less unhappy than if the show had been cancelled, leaving me standing on the dock watching the entire fleet of new season shows sail over the horizon.

Still, ours is not a perfect world. Several of my favorite crew members from Season One (in different departments) won’t be coming back – some for reasons of their own and others who were victims of highly questionable decisions by the Powers That Be. When someone works hard, pays attention, is always there when needed, and does a terrific job that often extends well beyond the normal call of duty, they’ve fully earned their spot on the crew and in the “family” we form on stage. It never occurred to me that most of the departed wouldn't be back for another good year, and I remain stunned at the stated reasons for kicking them out the back door. What’s right is right, and this is wrong by any measure.

Trouble is, this business has never even approached being a pure meritocracy, and that's not going to change anytime soon. The Industry has been disappointing and pissing me off in that regard with some regularity for more than three decades now. I’m grateful to be returning for Season Two, but hate to see good people get screwed out of their jobs for no valid reason -- and there’s not a goddamned thing I can do about it.

Hollywood, same as it ever was.

So I’ll do what I always do -- what every Hollywood work-bot learns early on: make the best of the situation and keep going. The day I can’t manage that, for whatever reason, will be the day I’m finished in this town. Those left behind were good at their jobs, so I wasn’t surprised when they picked up new (and hopefully better) gigs on other shows. Still, that won't ease the sting of being bitch-slapped and kicked out the back door – which they certainly didn’t deserve -- nor will it restore the warm sense of “family” our show enjoyed last season. For the moment, that’s gone... but as the weeks pass, the new crew members will be assimilated and a new stage family formed. For one reason or another, a few people move on or are tossed overboard every season, and if nobody likes it, the survivors keep on rowing through the choppy seas just the same.

Television is different from the world of features, commercials, or game/reality shows, where the crew lineups typically shift from job to job depending on the production company, director, and DP. When I was working features as a juicer and Best Boy, it was typical to see a completely different cast of set dressers, props, sound, or production departments from one film to the next. But where a feature is usually shot in two to six months, a hit television show can remain in production for a decade or more with much of the core crew working the entire run. When a show like that comes to an end, everybody feels it on a gut level. I was a regular day-player over the final two seasons of “Will and Grace,” working with people who had been together for the better part of a decade. At the final wrap party -- and it was a good one -- there were a lot of tears in that crowd.

But in Hollywood (and increasingly the world beyond), the only constant is change -- willing or not -- so back to the stage I'll go to help rig and light a brand new set and do my best to make Season Two a winner.* As usual, there are no guarantees. We could be done and the show cancelled by Christmas, with the entire crew joining the ever-growing ranks of unemployed in America. The only sure thing is that we’ll be going at it hammer-and-tongs for the first few weeks before the dust begins to settle.

Anything beyond that is just wishing on a dream.

When we report on stage for our first day of work, I’ll salute the missing, wish them well on their new shows, then put my shoulder to the wheel and start pushing the big rock up the steep hill one more time. Win, lose, or draw, the show goes on.

So long Scooter, Bruce, and Justin. Good luck, Red. Take care, Dev, Brian, and Tracy. Know that you will be missed, and that -- inshallah -- we'll all meet again down the road.

* The old set was all but destroyed in the first season’s final episode.


Penny said...

Hi Mike,

Thanks for the good wishes! (And loved your excellent adaptation of pleasing our masters!) Loved the photo too, as you (naturally) captured the perfect lighting. :)

As you say, the show must go on, so I wish you the best with your new "family" and hope to hear more about your Season Two adventures!

Still treading water,

Lakshmi said...

Seriously, haven't you ever thought of writing a book?


Lakshmi said...

Oops, that didn't quite sound like I meant it to! Hmmm, you really should think about writing a book. You have some great stories, a cool style and much to share.


Michael Taylor said...

Penny --

So far, so good. I'll keep you posted. Hope your show is going well.

Lakshmi --

I wrote a book (fiction) a few years ago, and in the process learned just how much effort and commitment is required to shepherd such a writing project all the way from initial idea to final draft -- and it's a huge task. The publishing industry then greeted my baby with a yawn, which is why the book still gathers dust in my closet.

Yes, I have thought -- and continue to think -- about using this blog as the basis for a book, but have yet to conjure up a workable structure. Without that essential foundation, there is no book. Then there's the matter of time. Writing the blog takes a lot more time than it should, and since I still need to work to earn a living, my off time is limited. Trying to write a book AND the blog while working is a no-win situation, so one of the three would have to go. If I turn my energies to writing a book, I'd have to hit the "pause" button on the blog for an indefinite hiatus -- and at the moment, I'm not ready to do that. But the time may well come, and if and when it does, you'll find out right here.

Thanks for the kind words, and for tuning in...

Lakshmi said...

There is a definite flow to your writing. Even though it isn't my voice, it feels like mine, and that's the beauty of it. Ever so often, I lose my voice (for whatever reason - lack of attention, forced effort, fatigue) and then I wonder if my best writing is behind me. Thankfully, it comes back after a bit when I am rested, more relaxed, happy.

Meanwhile, reading your posts, even if as an exercise, reinforces the importance of flow and naturalness in my own head. Ok, I am unable to articulate it properly but I hope you get what I mean.


Penny said...

Hi Mike,

Interesting update: Dev called me today. Apparently his actor was FURIOUS that his stand-in had been fired, called the Powers That Be to his dressing room, and demanded that they re-hire Dev. He even called Dev himself.

Upping my star rating on mister J,

Anonymous said...

I don't think you really need a grand structure to turn your blog into a captivating, informative book. A mix of your vignettes and longer tales would speak for themselves. Check out the books comprised of collections of Jon Grissim's columns for the Pt. Reyes Light, Jon Carroll's columns for the SF Chronicle, Bill McClellan's columns for the Post-Dispatch, etc. etc. It's the same basic form, and a low cost printing job for a small publishing company. Select some of your best work and let it rip.