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, 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...


Jerry w said...

Michael, as always I'm in awe of your writing style. I've followed a different yet parallel life in this insanity (well, o.k., there was that one time experience dragging banded cable in the mud on a long rainy night filling in at the last moment for a gaffer friend who was missing a crew guy), truly digging the shared experiences. I'm sad for the newbies who think lighting a set is hanging a few China globes and a random string of frosted bulbs for a DP whose total experience is shooting with a DSLR with the ASA cranked up.
Be well, live long and perspire.....

Joe Cottonwood said...

Excellent post, Michael. You gave her something; she gave you something. Those little moments change our days.

C.B. said...

Sexy and fun. LIked it.

Lakshmi said...

Cute! There was that beautiful mother and her son at the St. Moritz the other day... and a lovely young actress today. Sunny posts, I like.

Michael Taylor said...

Jerry --

Every veteran of this biz, no matter the department, has suffered in the trenches. Still, I'm glad to hear you enjoyed at least one fun night on a set lighting crew. Perspective is everything. And thanks for the kind words...

Joe --

You're right -- that little moment turned an otherwise ordinary day into something special and memorable. Glad you liked it.

C.B. --

Thanks, and thanks for tuning in.

Lakshmi --

I like the sunny posts too, but life and work in Hollywood is not always a sunny affair. But that's not all bad -- sometimes it takes a little darkness to really appreciate the sun.