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)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

I can see by your outfit...

                 ... that you really aren't a cowboy... 

In a recent “clip show” on NPR, Barry Sonnenfeld talked about the director’s chair he uses on set – an apple box equipped with wheels and a saddle mounted on top – and the cowboy hat he wears while directing. In a town as image-obsessed as Hollywood, this is indeed a compelling vision. 

Sadly, Barry was not wearing his cowboy hat in this photo, but a scarf and hat given to him by Emma Thompson.

As a rule, directors really do march to their own distinct drummer, especially directors of television commercials. I once did a three day shoot with a director who showed up on set for Day Two wearing a complete Yankee’s baseball uniform -- complete with pinstriped jersey and pants – and a Yankees cap. Memory tells me he wore a pair of cleats, too, but that may be the product of my wishful re-imagination. Day Three saw him arrive wearing a pair of those ridiculously expensive pre-ripped jeans of the type favored by so many fashionably-oblivious young women in Hollywood, the denim riddled with horizontal shreds as though they’d been attacked by an angry tiger. He saw us eyeing those pants as he walked on set, then stopped in his tracks and returned our collective stare.

“You should see the other girl,” he grinned, cracking the whole crew up.

 You have to admire a guy like that, who knows exactly how absurd the situation is and just goes with it. A couple of years later we did another a series of commercials with a short, rotund director of the Jewish persuasion who liked to wear an oversized duster and a huge cowboy hat on set. In between setups, he would strap on a gun belt to practice quick draw and gun-handling tricks with a western-style single-action revolver under the guidance of a gaunt, aged cowboy who served as his personal trainer in the arcane skills of the Old West. He knew damned well how ridiculous this looked – like a vision from of an early Woody Allen movie – and that the crew was snickering behind his back, but he didn’t care. Let ‘em laugh. With the clout to indulge his passions and the self-confidence to appear the fool, he was just having some fun at work. More power to him, I say.

The saving grace is that both of these men were good guys as well as good directors – which, given their sartorial inclinations, they pretty much had to be. In a business where things can get all-too-serious on set, a director with such a buoyant attitude can help maintain a light atmosphere over the course of a long day.  Working for a director like that is a real pleasure.

As for Barry Sonnenfeld and his wooden "horse," who knows?  If nothing else, this ten minute segment demonstrates that he has a great sense of humor and is perfectly willing to be the butt of a joke – and that goes a long way in my book. This one is definitely worth a listen.

Another good one is a recent “Martini Shot” in which Rob Long speaks some truth about television.  Casting isn't as easy as it looks -- nor is anything else in this business.  Having been there and back, Rob knows.

As for trenchant reading matter, Gavin Polone takes aim at the fetid garbage scow of Reality TV, then tackles the reigning Red Queen She-God of Hollywood Nikki Finke. The question is, can Gavin survive such a blunt challenge to She Who Must Be Obeyed, or will he be vaporized by the thermonuclear backwash of Nikki Finke’s apparently boundless and all-consuming rage?

We shall see.

And those are your tips ‘o the week. Do yourself a favor and check ‘em out...


The Grip Works said...

Its great to have a director with a sense of humour. It makes the day a lot easier.

Michael Taylor said...

Sanjay --

No doubt about it -- and having to work for an uptight screamer makes the day so much harder...