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)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Cell Phone Movies

It's been a while since any mid-week posts have appeared here. That's mostly because I've been tied to that other kind of post -- the whipping post -- pretty much since the New Year began, and have been hard-pressed to put up the Sunday posts, much less anything else. That's a good thing, for the most part. Work is money and money is life these days, even when you're being ground into the dust by the jackbooted thugs of Disney... but don't get me started on that again...

Not so long ago, I wondered when – not if – some enterprising young filmmaker would find a way to shoot an entire feature with a cell phone camera. As is becoming the norm in this rapidly evolving digital age, fact outruns fiction/speculation every time, and it turns out there’s already been one feature - a movie called “Olive” – shot on a cell phone (albeit with the help of sophisticated lenses), and ready for release.

It probably wasn’t the first cell phone feature – just the first one one I happened to hear about – but it certainly won’t be the last.

While watching the Utube clip on the making of “Olive,” I was reminded of a cartoon that once graced the flim lab back in school, depicting a young man who finds a pencil on the sidewalk, then picks it up and gushes “Now I can write the great American novel!” One of our film professors pinned that cartoon to the wall as a reminder to his enthusiastic young students that a camera – like a pencil – is just a tool. There’s a lot more to telling a good story than the technology involved, whether your chosen means of creative expression is a pencil, a Panaflex, or a cell phone.

Unlike the cameras I see on set every day -- monster lenses and wires running all over the place -- a cell phone camera is neither visually impressive nor intimidating. It's just a goddamned cell phone, for chrissakes -- and everybody's got one.* That alone removes some of the mystery and bullshit from the process, and should allow newbies to relax and concentrate on the story they're trying to tell. I doubt if Michael Bay will shoot his next Transformers movie on an Iphone, but for an appropriate project, a cell phone camera can save a lot of money that might be better spent on sets, props, lights, wardrobe, sound, hair and makeup... and maybe even a nicer spread at the craft service table to keep the crew happy.

Or at least less unhappy than they’d otherwise be...

I have no idea if “Olive” is any good as a movie, but it should help open the door a bit wider for creative minds to put their stories on the screen – and that’s a good thing.

In that vein, I recently I stumbled across The International Movie Trailer Festival, a website dedicated to movie trailers from around the world. Their latest venture is a contest for two minute trailers shot with a cell phone camera. Early bird entries were accepted as of March 1st, but the contest officially kicks off on April Fool’s Day – which, I’m told, is a coincidence, not a joke. You can find entry information here, along with a snappy trailer for the contest shot on – you guessed it, a cell phone camera.

Whether you want to enter or not, this is a fun website with lots of great trailers to see.

Check it out...

* Well, almost everyone...

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Another Monday

Mind if I play through?

“They call it stormy Monday, but Tuesday’s just as bad...”

Stormy Monday, by T-Bone Walker*

Week Two brought an end to the pre-dawn calls, partly thanks to our ever-morphing schedule, but mostly due to the return of Daylight Savings Time. Although my alarm clock went off only thirty minutes later than last week, half an hour more sleep makes a big difference. Traffic was heavier and more frantic, but hadn't yet congealed into the peristaltic gridlock of morning rush hour, and the bright sky overhead opened up the surroundings as I cruised east on Third St. towards downtown LA. That was mostly a good thing, but a disturbing vision greeted me as I waited for a red light at the southern cusp of the Wilshire Country Club: there on the putting green of the Seventh Hole stood two figures clad head-to-toe in white Haz-Mat suits, complete with gas-mask respirators. One carried the flag away from the hole while the other wrangled something off a golf cart. For a moment it looked like a bizarre scene from some black comedy set in the (hopefully) distant future -- two well-protected duffers playing a round of golf in the urban dystopia of post-apocalyptic Los Angeles.

They were just carpet-bombing the turf with toxic pesticides and fertilizers, of course, keeping the emerald-green grass as smooth as a billiard table for the wealthy members of the Wilshire Country Club, but the image was indeed a harbinger of the week to come – a symbolic warning that no matter how bad things are, they can always get worse.

Monday was another rig day. Rather than work on stage, our task du jour was to put in a location rig on the ground floor of the studio’s office building complex. That meant a reunion with my old friends 4/0, 2/0, and the 76 pounds-per-braided-roll horror of five-wire banded cable, which together would power a pair of LTM 18K’s, a 12K HMI Par, four 4K Pars and four 1200 pars. A fat tungsten package would arrive later to be rigged in two interior locations, but that was for another day. Given that this studio supplies no equipment whatsoever – instead trucking in all necessary gear from a rental house in the Valley - we would thus enjoy none of the usual benefits of working at a studio while suffering all the disadvantages of working on location.

Such a deal. Leave it to the wizards at Disney to create this kind of magic... but after last week’s march through the Valley of Cable-Rate Death, it's no surprise.

First up was the heavy stuff: a pair of a five piece 4/0 runs from the two gennies on opposite sides of the building. Just as most mothers eventually forget the pain of childbirth (or so I’m told...), the sheer, dead, vertebrae-crushing weight of a hundred foot roll of 4/0 had slipped my mind since I’d last wrangled the stuff, which made for a jarring re-introduction to the reality of location rigging. Fortunately, the Best Boy had fortified our crew with several strong young studs fresh off the rigging farm, every one of them less than half my age and raring to go. I did my best to keep up, but it was those kids who did the truly heavy lifting.

I suffered through another They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? flashback for a moment, and had to remind myself that it's all in the great scheme of things -- I’ve hauled my share of back-breaking cable over the decades, and now it’s their turn. Still, it's humbling to face the fact that I can no longer do what used to be routine.

There's no doubt about it -- getting old is a bitch.

Once the cable and distro were in place, we assembled the entire lighting package – mounting every lamp on its stand, then hooking up the ballasts and running out the head feeders. When that was done, we split up to deal with the mountain of detail required to get all three sets ready for an early morning call the following day, when we would become the first-unit shooting crew while the core crew of this show rigged sets for us. Apparently the two crews will alternate rig-and-shoot days until this pig is all dressed up in a mini-skirt, pumps, and lipstick, then sent out on the street to make Pimp-Daddy Disney some money.

I got the job of powering twelve Par 64 cans on two lighting trees, along with eighteen LED Blasters for a fashion show runway scene, circuiting everything back through the dimmer to give the gaffer and DP total control. The par cans weren’t so bad - requiring nothing more than stingers, mason line, cube taps, and patience – but powering the LED Blaster units was a real pain in the ass. Well, knees and back, actually. Mounted low along the runway, the Blasters were just eighteen inches off the floor, each with its own much-too-long control cable to be run underneath the runway back to the proper jack in one of two electronic control units. Before hooking them up, each cable had to be taped and numbered at both ends to facilitate trouble-shooting in case something went wrong.

Thoroughness counts when putting in any kind of rig. If a problem were to crop up with the Blasters (or any of the other lamps), all that labeling would allow the trouble to be diagnosed and rectified much faster – and in a business where time is money (especially when cursed with an excitable, trigger-happy little garden-gnome of a director who just wants to shoot-shoot-shoot when not yelling ”What the fuck are we waiting for?”), avoiding or minimizing down-time is crucial. The idea is to do the rig right and thus ensure there will be no problems when filming, which is why I sat there with white gaffer’s tape and a Sharpie, labeling every one of those eighteen long, skinny cables – a tedious but essential step before tackling the infinitely more painful task of running each cable from its Blaster head back to the controller, a hands-and-knees job the whole way.

The labeling was easy, but running those cables was no fun at all. Hands-and-knees work gets old in a hurry, and finishing this job took a while. By the time it was done, I felt a hundred and fifty years old -- stiff, sore, and hurting everywhere. Our work day over at long last, I washed up and limped back to my car staring at a decidedly unwelcome reality: as location rigs go, this one was minimal, but it still kicked my ass all the way around the block and back again. Not even getting paid full union scale could bring back the physicality and endurance I need to work a location like this, and full scale will remain a fantasy so long as I’m slaving for Disney.

It was a tough end to a tough day, and a rocky beginning to what promised to be another hard week. That's the way it's been in this new year thus far -- every week hard and harder. But as I inched homeward through the molasses of evening rush-hour traffic, another realization settled in: maybe I can’t keep up with the young studs slinging cable on location anymore, but there are other ways to remain valuable and hang on to my spot with the crew. So long as I can still do all the other work that must be done – and there's a ton of it - I should be able to earn my keep. It’s a matter of going with the flow, bending to the inevitable, and making it work for me as much as possible.

That’s important, because I intend – and need - to keep working for a while.

So another Monday has come and gone. Now it’s on to Tuesday...

* There are dozens of great versions of this blues classic, but you'd be hard pressed to find a better cover than this one by the late, great Albert King...

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Week of Mondays

"Five o'clock in the morning, already up and gone..."

From Working in a Coal Mine, by Lee Dorsey

Yeah, a very convenient throat level...

It's a Monday, all right. Up well before dawn, stumbling into my rigging clothes – fly zipped? Check, boots tied? Check, sweatshirt right-side-out? Check -- then out the door, into the car, and on through the primordial dark towards the gleaming glass towers of downtown LA. The streets are quiet at this ungodly hour, empty but for a scattering of RTD buses, garbage trucks, and hapless fellow O-dark-thirty commuters as we glide from one red light to the next. Reporting for work at a new (to me) studio is always a dicey affair. Unable to fall back on my old routine of winding up and over Laurel Canyon -– a drive I could probably do with my eyes closed by now -– I actually have to pay attention where I’m going on this Monday morning, trusting that the Best Boy’s sketchy directions and a night-before consultation with my ancient, dog-eared Thomas Brothers Map book will indeed get me to the right place on time. *

It all works out, despite one extra trip around the block. As it happens, my destination is on the east side of the street, not the west -- which isn’t nearly so obvious as you’d think given that this studio is actually a huge office building complex originally built to house the headquarters of a major oil company. Although it looks nothing like any film studio I've ever seen, many of those office floors have already done duty as ready-made location sets for dozens of movies and television shows.** More important to me, the facility includes six honest-to-god sound stages tucked out of sight around the corner, one of which will be my home for the next two weeks.

The guard locates my name on the crew list, hands me a day pass, then allows me passage to the subterranean sanctum of the parking structure. I find another guard in the lobby above who directs me to a nearly new and very modern sound stage, complete with wooden perms and catwalks up high.*** That’s the good news. The bad news is that there are three big sets still under construction on this stage, which means we’ll be working amid sawdust, paint fumes, and the sonic assault of power tools -- chop saws, table saws, and sanders -- all week long.

In other words, the usual chaos and confusion.

This is starting to feel a lot like a pilot, but it’s not. For reasons best known to the giant brains above-the-line, a decision was made to cobble together the final three episodes of this sit-com's season into a movie for the show's tweenage audience. Getting this done in a compressed time schedule will require the core crew and our crew -- The B Team -- to work with, for, and around each other over the next two weeks. There’s no way the resulting digital Frankenstein’s monster will ever make it to the big screen, which means it's destined for The Toob as a TV movie on one of Disney's channels. Trouble is, they don’t seem to have much of a script at this point – and although in a perfect world this would remain their problem above-the-line, such difficulties have a way of becoming our problems below decks.

“Shit rolls downhill,” as the saying goes, and it doesn’t take long to see that an avalanche of shit is indeed rolling our way.

Still, there are lights to be hung and powered, and that's why we're here. So we get to it, climbing into the man-lifts and working amid an atmospheric witch’s brew of carcinogenic compounds generated by all the sanding, spraying, and painting that invariably accompanies the building and finishing of sets. It could be worse, of course. Our working conditions are nowhere nearly so bad as those endured by untold thousands of Third World peasants who earn a meager living smashing discarded (er, “recycled”) First World televisions and computer components into burnable size, then torching the detritus to extract a few grams of useful or precious metals -– all the while inhaling horrendously toxic dioxin and PCB fumes generated by the combustion process -– but it still sucks. There’s no way around it, either. Lighting is a call-and-response process that can’t be done while wearing a respirator-style mask of the type used by the painters and carpenters, so we do what we have to and will doubtless pay the price further on down the road.

Such is life in the down-and-dirty underbelly of most manufacturing industries, including Hollywood. There’s no doubt all the crap I’ve inhaled over my decades in this industry -– diesel fumes from countless trucks and generators on location, a wide variety of smoke-products pumped into sound stages to provide visual “atmosphere” for the camera, and the asbestos insulation that was still used in lamp heads and power feeder tails when I got my start -– will have some impact on my own life span. The only question is how much will I lose to the Gods of Hollywood: a month, a year, five years, ten?

Time will tell. As a rule, retirees in my union ascend to the Great Beyond a few years after hanging up their gloves, but the bulk of those stats come from the generation before mine, many of whom were heavy smokers and hard drinkers who worked with that old asbestos-tainted equipment every day for decades... so I'm hoping to be an exception to the early-exit rule. Still, we all walk our own dark and winding path towards the grave, and there’s no predicting such things. Besides, whatever's coming is too late to avoid now.

I will say this: being paid 20% below union scale won’t make any difference at all when my time comes to shuffle off this mortal coil, but I find it particularly galling -– insulting, actually -- to have to swallow all this toxic crap while working for the cut-rate, cheap-ass, bottom-line obsessed cretins of Disney. At this point, I don't know anybody working below-the-line who doesn't hold a deep-seated, withering contempt for the Disney Corporation and all that company has come to stand for. And if the quality of shows I worked on over the years won’t be an issue in the long run, it might be nice to think that all the pain and suffering endured while making those shows -- past, present, and future – at least came in the service of something halfway decent. Many of the movies and television shows I’ve worked on over the years managed to clear that low bar, but I'm not so sure about the crap being cranked out by Disney these days. In terms of production value -- sets, props, lighting, camera, make-up, wardrobe, and sound – they're are fine, but the actual content is astonishingly lame.

So it’s a dirty job, and somebody’s got to do it. In the absence of anything else on my radar screens, I'll take it. One way or another, the landlord must be paid.

On such gigs, who you’re working with is by far the most important factor. With a good crew, you can endure almost anything, and I'm lucky to be working with a very good crew on this one. If only I could say that about the writers and way-above-the-line producers responsible for this mess. As the week unfolds, it becomes increasingly clear that they really don’t have their shit together – and as a result, each succeeding day feels like another Monday. Given the constant changes coming down from on high, there’s no sense of completion from one day to the next, only a feeling that this whole thing is sinking ever deeper into quicksand. Late Friday afternoon, just as we were hanging the last of twenty-some lamps on the fourth freshly-constructed swing set, the line producer/UPM slimed onto the stage, looked around at the new set, and started whining. The angry little man then summoned the art director and dressed him down in front of everybody. “It’s all wrong,” he shouted, going into great and meaningless detail explaining exactly why. The upshot of all this last-minute sturm und drang was the prospect of re-lighting the whole damned thing, and thus working a 12 hour Friday after a long week of 6:00 a.m. calls and very physical days.

What the hell was this clown doing here now, with 95% of the work complete and the long week nearly at an end? We all knew what was happening with that set two days ago, so where was this fool -- the line producer -- when the decisions were being made?

One of the grips, a veteran of working with this UPM, shook his head wearily. “He does this all the time,” he muttered, not bothering to hide the disgust in his voice.

None of us wanted to work late, and in the end -– irony of ironies -- it was the hard-wired cheapness of Disney that saved us from an even uglier Friday. Unwilling to pay the crew two additional hours of overtime, the angry little man cut us off at ten hours.

Thank fucking God.

So we kick the can down the road into next week, and who knows what will happen then? Right now I don't really care. I'm just grateful that this Week of Mondays has finally come to an end, and won't waste a single second worrying about next week until it arrives.

On Monday.

* Why don’t I just consult my Iphone, Android, or other GPS-equipped Smart Phone, you ask? Because I’m just an old analog dog barking at the howling digital wind...

** Including one of my favorites (and darling of the critic's) "Mad Men."

*** Unfortunately, "new" and "modern" does not equate to perfection, as the photo above (taken up high in the catwalks) demonstrates...

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Good Day in Hollywood

Back on the Lot

"When I meet a girl like that, I don't know what to say.
But to greet a girl like that, brightens up my day..."

How Do You Feel?, by Jefferson Airplane

We’d just wrapped the first five hundred feet of cable when I spotted her – a slim young waif with dark hair down to her shoulders, a big leather jacket draped over a short black dress. Holding a little white paper map in one hand, she was walking over the bridge towards the big sound stages across the great concrete ditch of the LA River, now just a trickle in this dry-on-dry Southern California winter.

She was an actress, of course, and from the looks of it, lost. I see them all the time on the studio lot; stunningly beautiful young women on their way to auditions, striving to catch a break in a town where breaks are hard to come by. A big film studio is a confusing labyrinth for any newbie, particularly a nervous young actress trying to get from the fifth floor of a multi-level parking structure to the proper casting office on time. The maps handed out at the front gate help, but on casting days, the studio security guards are busy rounding up the strays and whisking them where they need to go.

Those security guys just love days like this.

The odds against a young unknown actress making it in this town are steep – so many flame out, or worse, crash and burn – but still they keep coming, these lithe, lovely young women, like brightly-colored moths lured to the heat of the Hollywood flame. They flock to the studio when a casting call goes out – dozens of young hopefuls converging on one little room to strut their stuff before a panel of attentive but impassive strangers. For the actress who wins the role, this will be a very good day, but for the rest it’s just one more in an endless series of stinging defeats.

I can only imagine how it feels to deal with constant rejection as a regular part of your job. You psyche yourself up to do your absolute best, but your best turns out not to be good enough -- not today, anyway. They want someone else, not you.

 That's got to hurt.*

Watching her, it seemed this young woman knew where she was going after all. She walked with a sense of purpose, with no hesitation or looking around in directionally-addled confusion. Not that it was any of my business, of course. I had another seven hundred and fifty feet of 2/0 to wrap – not the heaviest cable a juicer routinely wrangles, but heavy enough under the surprisingly hot winter sun. Still, that sun was a welcome change from the morning before, when we’d laid out this very same cable during the only thirty minutes of the entire month when it actually rained.

Winter one day, summer the next. LA weather – go figure.

I pulled the gloves on and put my aging back to the task at hand. Most young (and some not-so-young) juicers favor a head-on approach to wrapping cable -- facing the length of the run, they pull and coil it with both hands. That works fine for them, but it's always been my habit -- as I was taught a long time ago -– to stand parallel to the run, legs spread wide, back straight and bent over at the waist, pulling and twisting the cable with one hand while laying it down in a tight clockwise coil with the other. When dealing with lots of cable, I’ll usually alternate methods to spread the pain around... but this is only 2/0, and thus considerably lighter than the man-killing 4/0, back-breaking bane of juicers the world over.**

Wrapping cable is never fun, but there’s a satisfaction that comes from getting into a good working rhythm and doing the job right. The long cable slaps the ground with every pull, adding a percussive cadence to the process -- pull/slap-coil, pull/slap-coil, the cable gradually growing lighter and lighter until suddenly it weighs nothing and the end is in my left hand. Bending at the knees, I pull the dense roll to a vertical position, holding it between my legs like a car tire while tying snug square knots in both sets of rope ties. Then it's on to the next piece of cable. With two of us working at a steady pace, it goes surprisingly fast.

Once all the cable was wrapped, we stacked the coils in a big plastic tub destined for the lamp dock, then collected all the distro boxes and "gack" -- Bates extensions, splitters, lunch boxes, and stingers -- followed by ten yellow and black cable crossings.

It was enough hard, sweaty labor to feel like we'd done some real work, but not so much as to beat us into the ground. I spun the cable cart back towards the stage... and there she was again, the young actress still holding that little map.

“Are you lost?”

“Yes,” she nodded, with a grateful smile. She had the face of an angel.

“Where's your audition?”

She pointed to her destination on the map -- which she'd been holding upside-down, thus directing her  to the wrong side of the studio. To be fair, this lot has expanded over the years in a manner that doubtless made sense at the time, but now seems more reminiscent of a down-the-rabbit-hole, Alice in Wonderland landscape than any logical layout. The intuition and common sense that guide us all through the real world will only lead a neophyte in circles here inside the studio gates. I’ve been working at this lot off and on for nearly a decade now, and it’s only the last few years that I really came to know my way around.

I showed her where we were on the map, then pointed out exactly where she needed to go.

“Thank you so much,” she said, with a smile that melted my heart.

God, she's gorgeous...

“What's the show?”

It was a new one I hadn't heard of, still in pre-production.

“Well, good luck with the audition. I hope you get the part.”

“Thanks.” Still smiling, she turned to follow my directions – but after a few steps she stopped and looked back.

“You helped out someone from New York. That’s good karma.”

"Welcome to LA," I grinned.

With one more golden smile, she was gone, walking towards her future while I stood there rooted in her past.

Good karma? Maybe, and if so, who among us can’t use a little good karma? But at this moment, standing under the big blue California sky, I’m just happy to have been face to face with this beautiful young thing, to help her in some small way, and in return, bask in the radiance of her smile.

Warmer than the sun, that smile.

They say there’s no fool like an old fool, and I suppose they’re right, but with winter in my bones and another empty Valentine’s Day come and gone -- a day haunted by echoes from the past -- I’ll take what I can get. And right now, I’d gladly wrap another thousand feet of cable just to see that smile again.

I hope she gets the part.

* Come to think of it, this sounds a lot like dating back in high school, or what I remember of that painfully awkward ritual.

** For the uninitiated, the terms 2/0 and 4/0 -- pronounced "two ought" and "four ought" -- refer to the thickness of the cable, and thus the carrying capacity of each in terms of amperes. For our purposes in the film/television industry (temporary power), 2/0 is good for up to two hundred amps at 120 volts, while 4/0 can carry twice that load.  But that extra capacity comes at a price, because 4/0 weighs nearly a hundred pounds per roll...

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Wrap: Day Five

Walking the Moebius Highway

Life finds a way at the St. Moritz Hotel

Friday morning at the corner of Sunset and Bronson, waiting for the signal to change. The Great Wheel has turned now, loosening winters grip as it grudgingly gives way to spring. Where darkness ruled this early hour three weeks ago, the sky is now bright. The entire intersection looks and feels different in this new morning light; no less grimy, but not quite so alienating and other-worldly. Across the street, the Spy Shop -- offering an odd blend of high-tech surveillance equipment and paintball guns/accessories for paranoiacs and weekend warriors alike -- isn't yet open for business, but the gas station to my left never closes, nor does the St. Moritz Hotel beyond, a low-rent establishment with a bar downstairs that used to be called “The Ski Room.” It’s been there forever – meaning long before 1977, when I fell off the turnip truck and rolled into Hollywood. According to one of my well-read crew mates on this show, D.W. Griffith once roomed at the St. Moritz during the planning stages of his celluloid classic Intolerance.

A quick Google search neither confirmed nor denied this, but given the hotel’s location in the heart of Hollywood’s studio district at the time, it could well be true. As two out of three reviewers will attest, however, the St. Moritz has fallen long and hard from its days of luring celebrity guests. A co-worker told me a story he’d heard in rehab a few years back. A fellow patient -– call him “Bob” -- wound up at the St. Moritz during the depths of his struggle with drugs and alcohol. As he lay there one hot summer night, half out of his mind, something big dropped past the open window and hit with a loud bang. Peering out to see what happened, he saw a newly-dead body lying amidst the trash in a dumpster below.

That was rock bottom for Bob – he got on the phone to his sponsor and began the long climb back to sobriety.

A very different drama unfolds in front of the St. Moritz on this crisp morning, where a very good-looking blonde and her young son emerge from the lobby. I'm more than a little surprised -- in three weeks, this is the first sign of life I've seen at this hotel. Mother and son stand together for a few moments, then she grabs his backpack and spins in a circle, playing keep-away. With a huge grin, the boy runs around his mother, that backpack just out of reach. Both are laughing hard by the time she finally lets him catch up with it.

This is just about the last thing I expected to see here at such a seedy outpost in East Hollywood: a happy domestic family scene. But I don't understand -- what the hell are an attractive young mother and her son doing here in front of the St. Moritz Hotel at 6:45 Monday morning?

The answer arrives as a yellow school bus rumbles out of the rising sun and pulls over. The young mother hugs her son, then kisses his forehead. He waves goodbye and climbs aboard. With the basso growl of a big diesel, the bus grinds away from the curb and heads on down Sunset.

Apparently this young family has been living here long enough for the LA school system to count the St. Moritz as a regular stop on the school bus route. This could be viewed as depressing -- a struggling family forced to live in the relative squalor of such a seedy neighborhood -- but I see a mother doing her best to provide some structure and thus a semblance of normal life for her son.*

In such an unlikely setting, I feel privileged to have witnessed this simple, magical moment.

The blonde turns and disappears back inside the St. Moritz, leaving me to ponder the circumstances that led her here... but the light turns green before my still-sleeping brain can grapple with the endless possibilities, and I head across Sunset toward the dark dungeon of work.

Wrap is pretty much the same on every show: dirty, dusty, noisy, and sweaty. While the rig is an act of creation -- bringing a highly complex and functional order from utter chaos -- wrap spins the entire process in reverse, destroying all that carefully crafted order in a return to chaos. Where last week stood a beautifully constructed, dressed, and lit set is now a warehouse of component parts: individual set flats stacked vertically and tied together on big rolling carts, tables laden with a flea-market cornucopia of set dressing tchotchkes, tubs full of grip equipment -- meataxes, teasers, and flags -- along with hundreds of lamps and ancillary lighting gear. By now, all our lamps and cable has been lined up in neat rows with quasi-militarily precision, there to be counted before return to the rental house.

Order becomes chaos becomes order again.

It's a juicer's lot to walk this Moebius Highway... but maybe that's everybody's lot in life: the eternal struggle to create some kind of order in a rough-and-tumble world where chaos is always banging on the door, and young mothers will do everything they can to bring their kids up right whatever the circumstances.

I won’t recall much about this week. Wrapping a show is an exercise in mind-numbing tedium and endless repetition, even with the added caution required by dealing with the arbor system. Breakfast and lunch breaks loom large in the daily narrative -- the hipster waffle place down the street (with a cute waitress who is doubtless a budding actress on her way to much bigger things), the friendly deli around the corner that makes such spectacular sandwiches, and the Mexican restaurant/bar run by a saucy tattooed blonde with a great smile -- but it's the image of that young mother and her son that will stick in my mind; the two of them sharing a private moment of giddy intimacy during the utterly mundane act of waiting for a school bus.

It all reminds me of a line from Jurassic Park, when Jeff Goldblum's character declares "Life will find a way." Indeed it will, and that gives me hope. In a world of low-budget everything -- a world that seems to be sliding closer to the abyss with each passing day -- hope is an increasingly precious commodity.

Our work on stage is all but done. We have one more day to send the last of the equipment back, then scour the stage floor and up high for any remaining gear before closing the books on this show. Next up is some badly-needed time off, I hope. Work is a good thing (even cheap-ass Disney work), but all work and no play makes this Jack a very dull boy. It's time to rest and recover before the next shit-storm of work blows in.

That storm is coming. I don't know exactly when or how hard it will hit, but it's on the way...

* As if life at the St. Moritz could ever be considered "normal."