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, August 11, 2013


                                           (Photo by Billy Marshall)
                              Down it comes, lamps, Cronie Cones, cable and all...

Coming to the end of a season generates a complex stew of emotions, all of which bubbled back to the surface as my little back-from-the-dead cable show completed the scheduled run of sixteen episodes.  I missed two of those shows due to illness and some family issues, but was right there on the front lines for the remaining fourteen... where I resumed the weekly exercise in futility of the show-night Five Dollar Day drawing -- fourteen opportunities which I lost each and every time, while contributing a grand total of seventy dollars to the happy winners.

But what the hell – it’s all in the spirit of fun and crew bonding.  Well worth the money, that.

The wrap party was scheduled for the Friday evening following our final Thursday night show.  Considering that I had to get up at 5:00 a.m. Friday morning for a full day of wrapping the lamps on stage, I wasn’t sure I’d go.  It’s one thing to hit a wrap party after a week off to recover, but that wasn't possible, and I was thoroughly fried.  The notion of slogging home from the Valley through LA traffic after a long hard day, then showering/changing clothes and heading right back into the Friday evening rush-hour in the midst of the summer’s first serious heat wave held little appeal.

But as I lay semi-comatose on the couch in front of a whirling box fan, it occurred to me that there are only so many seasons left in this Hollywood career of mine, after which the free drinks, food, and bittersweet camaraderie of wrap parties will be gone forever.  There are no easy jobs anymore -- each successive show seems harder than the last -- but it's not the shows that are changing, it's me.  I'm wearing down, losing a little bit more of what I used to be every day.  With the countdown clock ticking ever louder, maybe I should hit that wrap party while I still could.

So I did. 

The Universal City Walk is a very strange place, an utterly artificial environment blending some of the worst aspects of a shopping mall, food court, bars-a-plenty/booze-a-apalooza, and SoCal theme park.  Like Las Vegas, there’s nothing remotely real about the place, but given the increasingly grim nature of “real life,” I can understand why people might seek relief from reality and try to have a little mindless fun in such safe, albeit sterile surroundings.  

Which they were doing – the place was crowded on this hot Friday night.

But once out of the parking lot, the crowd wasn't a factor,  since the production company had bought out one of the City Walk venues for the night.  There was music, food, and booze, followed by the traditional multi-screen showing of the season’s gag reel… and there was bowling, for those inclined to hurl a heavy black ball towards a triangular cluster of innocent wooden pins huddled at the far end of the polished wooden runway.

In bowling, you set 'em up, knock 'em down, then repeat, which makes it an apt metaphor for the endless cycles of creative destruction at the beating heart of the film and television industry.

Between the music thumping out from an industrial-strength sound system and the cacophonous thunder of bowling balls mowing down ten-pins, making conversation without shouting was difficult, but that too seems to be a wrap party tradition.  Still, it was fun to see all these people outside their usual on-set roles, and to meet their spouses/significant others, who usually remain far in the shadows of every show.  A good wrap party helps put a more human face on the group endeavor.

Once upon a time, wrap parties tended to rip me up.  After working with – and suffering alongside -- a group of people for the weeks and months necessary to put a feature film or television show in the can, tight on-set bonds were forged.  We became a unit, the smoothly-meshing gears of a machine put together for the singular purpose of making a show... but with that show suddenly over, we all had to go our separate ways back to real life.  Although there was an undeniable relief that the relentless daily/weekly/monthly grind was finally over, the sense of something special being lost (again...) was hard for me to take.  So I’d belly up to the bar to drown those emotions in alcohol before saying a few dozen sloppy goodbyes and staggering home at the end of the night.

Then came the dawn, the hangover, and the inevitable depression that accompanied my sudden freedom from the tyranny of the call sheet.  Where the daily routine on-set had been sharply focused on the job at hand, my attention now had to turn towards the more nebulous task of landing the next job.  

That's Hollywood, a boom-and-bust world in every sense of the phrase.

Echoes of those days remain, but if wrapping a show still elicits similar emotions, they form a more tepid stew at this point in my career.  The process is routine now, a matter of fact.* We build it up, tear it down, then move on to the next one.  There’s always another show around the corner, bringing new and interesting people to meet. 

It’s all part of the process.

So I had a few appetizers along with my two glasses of wine, hugged the pretty girls and shook hands with the guys, then laughed at the gag reel with everyone else -- and then I said goodnight.  A long week of wrapping the set and stage lay ahead, and with the network assurances that our little show would indeed return for another season down the road a ways, this wrap party felt more like “see you later” than “goodbye.” 

Still, a lot can happen between now and then, so I’ll believe the show really is coming back -- and that I'll be a part of the crew -- the moment I’m sitting in the Gold Room filling out my start paperwork, and not one minute before. 

We'll see. Meanwhile, I choose to remain cautiously optimistic, with one hand behind my back, fingers carefully crossed.  The only thing I know for sure is that if and when it does come back, next season will seem harder for me than the one we just finished -- even if it really isn't.

That clock is ticking.

* Until I do the final show that calls a wrap on my career – at which point I may well morph into a drunken blubbering fool one last time… 


Kim said...

So what are you going to do in the meantime? When does the next season start?

Michael Taylor said...

I'm back on the Disney Slave Ship for a while -- the bottom of the cable-rate barrel -- but this too shall pass...