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, October 13, 2013

What's a PA to do?

                                   Marvin takes a stand...    

Given sufficient time and money, there are a million things to do here in LA... but what if you don't have much of either?  Let's say you happen to be a production assistant working long hours, five-days a week, on a Disney sit-com -- a low-paying job that offers a toe in the door of Hollywood in exchange for your tender young soul, while leaving you nothing but the weekends and barely enough money to get by.

What then?

Many young people in this situation might hunker down for those precious two days off to recuperate and prepare for the next work-week -- do the laundry, wash the week's accumulation of dirty dishes piled in the sink, hit the grocery store to re-stock the fridge, surf the internet, play a few video games, and indulge in a little low-intensity socializing.  Then suddenly it's Monday Morning all over again, with another long week ahead doing what other people tell you to do. Such is the lot of the average Production Assistant, lowest of the low, occupying the very bottom rung on the shit-stained ladder of Hollywood suck-cess.

Or it would seem.  Then again, I'm not sure there's any such thing as the "average Production Assistant."  Most of the PA's I've met over the years (many hundreds) turned out to be interesting, highly-motivated young people eager to learn and begin climbing that ladder.  Some went on to do just that, and in the process, became very successful. As for the rest, who knows?  Hollywood probably ate some of them alive, while others doubtless had second thoughts and returned to civilian life before it was too late.  I can only hope that most were able to find a niche in the industry they could live with, made the best of it, and are happy with their choices.

All of the PA's on the show I just left are very impressive young people -- smart, articulate, and motivated.  One in particular  (let's call him "Marvin," since that's his name) is a very energetic young man in a hurry.  Straight out of Detroit -- America's favorite dystopian ruinopolis -- Marvin is not taking his LA experience for granted, nor is he the least bit daunted by the sprawling immensity of this place. Rather than retreat into exhausted seclusion at the end of each work week, he's on a year-long quest to experience a new adventure every weekend.  Thus far he's learned -- among other things -- how to make a fire without using modern technology, how to make sushi, how to weld, how to make a wooden bow,  how to be utterly miserable while enduring the sweat-house ordeal of Bikram Yoga, how to ride a surfboard, how to sail a boat, and even managed to fly through the air with the greatest of ease while being schooled in the rudiments of the aerial trapeze.

With boundless energy and imagination, Marvin has done more on weekends this past year -- all on his own thin dime, mind you -- than most people do over the course of a decade in LA.  I've never seen anything like it from a PA or anybody else.

It won't surprise you that his adventures (chronicled on video) are the raw material for a feature-length documentary he's making -- a year in the life, more or less -- or that he posts each week's fish-out-of-water escapade on his own Tumblr blog.

Do yourself a favor and check it out.

This young man came to LA to do things, not just show up for work every day and hope for the best.  He managed to land a PA gig on a TV show (not easy to do) and is well on the way to making his first movie.  Whether he'll "make it" in conventional Hollywood terms remains to be seen -- this town loves big talk about bold new ideas, but when it comes to shelling out the money required to put fresh talent and new ideas on screen, Tinsel Town can be remarkably timid.  Still, the sclerotic nature of Hollywood will not stop Marvin from continuing to make things happen and doing it his way -- and besides, the old modes of doing things are gradually being shoved out the back door by the tectonic forces of the digital revolution.  New ideas and approaches are already beginning to fill that void, which creates opportunity for imaginative young people like Marvin. From what I've seen, whatever he does will be worth watching.  One way or another, I think he'll find a way to "make it" on his own terms.

He's earned a spot on my Industry Blog Roll with a link to "Marvin's Weekly Activity."  Now that I don't get to hear these stories straight from Marvin on set anymore, I'll have check in with the rest of you to see what he comes up with next.

One thing I'm pretty sure of:  it'll be a fun ride.


12pt said...

You described a PA's average weekend pretty damn accurately.

After working 12 hours a day 5 days a week my weekends are precious to me. Unfortunately, I usually don't even leave my house during those two days of recuperation. I start catching up on laundry, cleaning, reading, writing, playing a few video games... or anything else I wish I had time for during the week... and then... suddenly it's Sunday night.

Figuring out how to work in production and have a life is a skill all in it's own.

Michael Taylor said...

12 pt --

I hear you. Given that I work in the multi-camera world, my 5 day weeks are no longer those odious 60 to 80 hour marathons -- less than 50 hours, most of the time -- but my weekends are much like yours. First, shore up the sagging infrastructure, followed by a little R&R... and then, yeah, it's Monday all over again.

BTW -- glad to see you posting again. Welcome back.