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 29, 2013

The Old Curmudgeon

                                                        Guilty as charged

Hopefully this is the last time I'll feel compelled to address the apparently fractious issue of cell phone use on set, but once more I ride into the breech... 

The Anonymous Production Assistant recently tagged me an "old curmudgeon" for my fossilized views on cell phones, and maybe TAPA is right.  I certainly can’t argue with the “old” part: after thirty-six years of putting my shoulder to the Hollywood wheel, the calendar, my aching back, and the labyrinth of deep lines carved into that increasingly unfamiliar face staring back from the bathroom mirror every morning offer undeniable proof that time is indeed dragging me into the grave.

And yes, I do have curmudgeonly days when the modern world seems to be devolving into a shallow wasteland ever more crowded with inane crap – be it another brain-dead moron blasting the tuneless cacophony of hip-hip from his car stereo at ear-splitting levels, the ceaseless barrage of lowest-common-denominator garbage that is Reality Television, or Miss Klassy-with-a-Capital-K, Miley Cyrus, the tongue-and-twerk-mistress formerly known as Hannah Montana.   

On days like that -- the bad days -- you bet I’m an old curmudgeon… but  not every day is a long slog through the fetid swamp of cultural degradation.  "New" isn't the same as "bad," and as some of TAPA’s readers were quick to point out, smart phones truly have become an essential tool for Production Assistants.  No argument there.  Even grip and electric Best Boys utilize smart phones nowadays to get information on equipment, put in orders, and broadcast mass texts when extra hands are needed for a big job – which is just one of many reasons I’m happy to remain in the ranks of humble juicers rather than take the Best Boy gigs certain gaffers keep trying to shove down my throat.*

Been there, done that, and I don’t need to go there again.

It's a generational thing.  Having grown up in the computer age, twenty-and-thirty-somethings swim like fish through the digital seas while many in my generation -- including me -- flounder on the surface just trying to avoid drowning.  This new Digital Age is your era, not ours.

A cell/smart phone can indeed be a useful tool, but a tool is nothing more than a device to help perform certain tasks, and just as it would be inappropriate for a grip to wander around the set randomly banging on stage walls with a hammer simply to keep himself amused, I don’t like seeing technicians on set answering calls, making calls, surfing the net or playing “Angry Birds” when they're supposed to be working.  Change is a constant in this business, where part of the job is keeping one's eyes and ears open to everything happening so as to be ready to react to whatever comes up.  There’s ample down-time on every shoot – waiting for wardrobe changes, hair-and-makeup repairs, or for another department to complete their work before we can resume ours... and that's when it's acceptable for the digital devices come out for personal calls.**  

Dismiss all this as the spittle-flecked ranting of yet another cranky, get-off-my-lawn gummer if you will, but first be aware that Mr. Louis C.K. -- perhaps the smartest, most insightful, and funniest comedian/social commenter working today -- feels the much the same way.

Even TAPA agrees with me on this much: there’s a time and place for cell phones, and in ordinary  circumstances, working on set is not the time to be making/taking personal calls or surfing the net on your digital device simply to stave off a momentary wave of boredom.  Doing so takes your head out of the game and leaves you one step behind the co-worker who is paying attention to his/her job.  So call me old school, a stubborn old fart, or simply an old curmudgeon, but as this beautifully-written post points out, giving away a step on set is a good way to get left behind in your budding career -- and with so much competition in the ranks these days, a newbie really can't afford to give anything away.

I harbor no illusions that what I write here will affect the on-set behavior of those who consider cell phones to be a technological extension of themselves -- you'll pull out your cell phones and use them whenever you feel like it... and if I was twenty-something nowadays, I'd doubtless do the same.  But being four decades past that tender age, my own view on the encroaching digital revolution includes a more distanced (if occasionally jaundiced) perspective that takes into account what we're losing in the  slavish, because-we-can embrace of all things new and digital. Young people tend to see only the positive things these devices bring... which is totally understandable, since they have no other personal frame of reference.  Born into the Digital Age, it's all they know.

The Analog Era is over, but that doesn't mean everybody gets to act like a giddy fool with the new technology -- not without paying a price. So listen up, noobs, and remember that you're being watched and judged every minute of every long day on set.  Perception is reality in this business, and like it or not, how you handle yourself during these early days of your career can determine whether you begin to ascend through the ranks or remain trapped in the endless purgatory of PA-dom.  You're not in school anymore -- no report cards are handed out here in Hollywood, nor will you  be treated with kid gloves when you blow it -- which means it's all on you.  You'll succeed or fail due to your own attitude, demeanor, and performance on the job. So pay attention, keep your eyes and ears open, and use your head... and yes, your cell phone, when necessary and/or appropriate.

But only then.

* And you know who you are...

** Unless there’s something huge going on in your real life that requires a attention, of course. 


egee said...

I hear you. I get the same feelings in my own occupation as I watch many younger people obsess about what information they blog, facebook, or twitter about. Technology has made some wonderful changes to our society but it is a two-edged sword. My own opinion is that the younger generation is very good at using technology for play but aren't so adept at using it for work.

Michael Taylor said...

Egee --

In my business, the younger people are leading the charge into the digital revolution. Young dimmer operators seem to have an innate understanding of and genuine appreciation for all the practical advantages this new technology brings to the film set. Some of the older dimmer ops have worked hard to keep up, others, not so much.

But sixty seconds into a discussion with any of them makes me dizzy -- and relieved that I'll be exiting the industry just before it leaves me in the digital dust.

Thanks for tuning in...