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, January 8, 2012

The Finale

Our last week on the show was tough. Saddled with the depressing news that there would be no “back nine” pickup, it was hard to feel any real cheer or holiday spirit as Christmas approached. Still, we played out the string in a professional manner, pushing hard right up through the final live audience show-night on December 22. Truth is, we didn't have much choice. Although it would have been nice to enjoy a leisurely conclusion to the season – a “bottle show” using only the permanent sets, and thus requiring no laborious, time-consuming lighting/wrapping of swing sets – that was not to be.

The original schedule called for the final episode to be shot the night of Dec. 23, but it finally dawned on somebody above-the-line that this would force half the show’s writers, producers, and the entire cast onto Christmas Eve flights to the Northwest, Southeast, and East coast, arguably the worst day of the year to battle airport crowds. Accordingly, the shoot night was moved up a day.

Having no desire to make the long drive back to the Home Planet on an Interstate crowded with similarly harried, fatigued last-minute holiday travelers, this schedule change worked for me – but there is no free lunch in Hollywood, and the price this time was doing a full weeks work in only four days, thus putting the entire crew into a full-court press to cram that last show in the can. And far from a sweet little “bottle show,” the season-ending episode turned out to include five swing sets, one of which would be built inside another swing set (something like Russian nesting dolls) after the first set had been shot out during the block-and-shoot day. In turn, that meant the grips, juicers, and set dressing crew would have to come in an hour early to get the new set camera-ready on the morning of the audience shoot.

There would be no rest for the wicked or anybody else this last week.

Following the immutable dictates of Murphy's Law, everything went wrong, starting with that fifth swing set. The plan, as explained to grip and electric, was to build the new set just inside the perimeter of the old one, allowing us to light it using lamps that were already hung and powered. Although we'd certainly have to readjust the aim of each lamp, that wouldn't require a major effort. But -- and there’s always a big “but” in these stories -- the construction dept. didn’t get the memo, and since they have no clue or apparent interest in what all the other departments have to do to make each show work, they built the new set a good four feet off center... which meant all those pipes and lamps were now in the wrong place and had to be moved, pronto.

Thanks for one last nasty surprise, production designer and construction crew – and fuck you very much.

What was supposed to be a quick-and-dirty hour’s worth of lighting turned into a full-on, sweat-soaked, balls-to-the-wall sprint as the grips moved the pipes and we re-hung the lamps to light the new set – and this with the clock ticking down towards shoot night, always the longest day of our work week. Meanwhile, camera, sound, and production enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at the craft service table.

Do I sound bitter? Moi??

It was a crazy day right from the start, with no time for sharing Christmas plans or saying goodbyes to the rest of the crew – that would have to wait for the party after the show. During the audience shoot, lamps that had been working just fine for the past five months suddenly began to act up, burning out globes or flickering intermittently. Season Two was not going down without a kicking and screaming struggle right to the bitter end.... but we put out each fire as it flared up, and waded through the rubble to get the finale done more or less on time.

A minor miracle, that.

The audience didn’t seem to notice. Maybe they thought all our flailing around on ladders between takes was just part of the act. Thank God for the warm-up guy, who managed to keep them laughing all night long no matter what was happening on set.

After the curtain call, the audience was ushered out and we had the Christmas/Wrap Party, complete with a two-drink limit, ceremonial showing of the gag reel, and all those lugubrious, bittersweet goodbyes. Numbed with accumulated fatigue, the whole thing passed in a blur before I knew it, the stage emptying as the crew filtered out into the night. And then it was my turn, stumbling back to the parking structure lugging my work bag, a few presents from fellow crew members, and another seasons worth of brightly-lit memories. Driving through the studio gates leaving yet another show in my rear-view mirror, it was time to face real life again and the holidays – and with no show to come back to, time to turn the page.

Other than what will certainly be an endlessly grueling, hideously depressing presidential campaign, a potential economic melt-down in Europe that could scuttle our own tenuous recovery here at home, and the ever-present threat of another war in the Middle East -– weighty issues far beyond the scope of this little patch of Internet real estate -- I have no clue what 2012 will bring. Enough work to pay the rent, keep my health plan coverage, and put food on the table, I hope. With any luck, a few bright moments will emerge to sparkle amid the inevitable tsunami of trouble. Good, bad, and/or ugly, it will be a voyage of discovery for all of us in Hollywood and beyond.

Good luck out there. I think we’re gonna need it.


Niall said...

Thank you this post. It feels very personal and I feel honored that you allow us to read it. Your writing is always a pleasure to read. May the New year bring New prosperity.

Don Tomich said...

Oh Mike, my bones ache in empathy while reading this post. I don't know which bruises and scars from this Business hurt more, the ones on the brain or the ones on the body. Each are still tender to prod after years gone by and the idea of new ones overlapping the old is just damn ridiculous. I laugh at myself and the job and it's various characters until I weep because none of the libretto has changed. Still the same Game after all these years....a Juicer's Pergatory.

Still, we can't complain. We got into the circus without paying (at least not for a ticket). Thanks for your efforts this year and for putting into words what few can explain of our terribly Lovely World at Work.

Penny said...

My empathy to you Mike!

My apathy to, well, fill in the blank. ;-)

I'm certain you'll land on your feet again soon, probably at the top of a ladder!

Wishing you a better show this year,

Penny :)

Michael Taylor said...

Niall --

Thanks for the kind words and good wishes. May 2012 be kind to us all...

Don --

Nice to hear from you. Yes, we take a beating in this biz, body and soul: the price for these circus tickets is paid in blood. But you're dead right -- each of us followed a conscious choice to walk into the tent and make our bed in the film industry, so here we must sleep. What the hell, there are worse places to lay your head -- especially for you, my friend, out there in paradise enjoying the best of both worlds.

Thanks for reading, and for tuning in...

Penny --

Thanks. I hope we ALL land on better shows as the year unfolds.