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, September 9, 2012

Time will Tell

You’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do...

I knew it would happen.  On a quiet Monday afternoon of my first hiatus week here in LA over the past two months, the phone rang with a job offer: two days on the lighting crew of a sit-com.  This triggered a mixed response within -- although it’s always nice (and reassuring) to get a work call, this has been a very busy year thus far, albeit at the pauper’s wages of cable-rate.  And at this point, I’ve had just about all the cable-rate I can take.

The call was to work on a good show, with a crew I know pretty well, all great people.  Two of the head writers are old friends from my college days back in the Pleistocene, and it’s always great to see them again.  More to the point, however busy one is, it’s always a good idea to keep in circulation and let other crews see your face, thus maintaining your status of “still breathing and ready/willing/able to work.”   A free-lancer can’t afford to get too comfortable at any stage of his or her career.  All shows are finite, which means sooner or later everyone in Hollywood will be looking for work again. 

And of course, two work days would bring home a paycheck during a week that would otherwise render zero income.*

These were all good reasons to say “yes”... but after the briefest moment’s hesitation, my answer was “no thanks.”  For one thing, I’d left all my work tools locked in the Gold Room of my current show, and while retrieving them in time to make the next day’s call was doable, it would be a pain in the ass.  And although I could always kick the doctor and dentist appointments already scheduled for this off-week down the road, then arrange to have the car serviced another time, and take care of all of the other real-life tasks that had stacked up over the last two months, I really didn’t want to do that.  Time off has been scarce in 2012, and although that’s definitely a good thing, I didn’t get into this business to strap my nose to the grindstone 50 weeks a year.  Sometimes you need a break from the close quarters, personalities, and relentless physicality of lighting a television show. 

Besides, this two-day gig was on yet another cable show.  I probably wouldn’t have taken the job even if it paid full union scale, but the odious cable-rate made it a lot easier to say no.

Still, turning down work goes against the grain of everything that’s been hammered in to me over the past thirty-five years, and I have to wonder that Best Boy will ever call my number again.  He knows I could have rearranged my life that week to accommodate him and the needs of his show – which as Best Boy, is his primary concern – and that I made a conscious decision not say no.   Most Best Boys understand and will give you a mulligan, but I've known a few who would hold such a refusal against a juicer, and not call him/her again. The question is, will this one decide that I breached the unwritten rules of below-the-line Hollywood and delete my name from his digital Rolodex, or let it slide and call me the next time he needs a guy for a couple of days?

Time will tell.

With all its inherent uncertainty, this business can run your life if you let it.  Sometimes you just have to listen to that little voice inside and suffer the consequences.  “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do,” as the saying goes, and with my own show revving up for another three episode stint immediately following the hiatus week, this juicer needed the time off. 

What happens, happens.  I’ll just have to live with it. 

* Many who work on multi-camera shows (which typically operate on a three weeks on, one week off rotation) file an unemployment claim for the hiatus week, so if they’re unable to land any work during those five days, some money will still come in.  I’ve done this myself in the past, in addition to filing claims during much longer periods of unemployment between jobs.  Not this year.  For one thing, I've been fortunate not to have endured any long periods of unemployment thus far -- and call me crazy, but with the state going broke and borrowing something like $40 million a week from the Feds to pay all those unemployment claims, I can’t justify dipping my beak into the till.  I certainly won't judge anybody who does -- our individual circumstances are all different, and we all do what we've gotta do -- but I don't consider myself to be “unemployed” during the hiatus week:  I just happen to have a steady job that includes a one week unpaid break every month.    

And that suits me fine...


A.J. said...

I can relate. Often times, I'm too tired to take another call, but I'll do it anyway because I'm terrified they'll knock me off their call list.

Michael Taylor said...

AJ --

It's always a crapshoot, and we never know where we really stand... until that Best Boy calls again. Only then do you know you're still good -- but in that case, you'd better take that call...