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 7, 2014

Back to School

Traffic was already starting to build under the gray light of dawn as I crept through quiet city streets towards Laurel Canyon, there to make the oh-so-familiar drive up and over the hill from Hollywood to the aptly-named Studio City.  There, on what has become my home lot over the past decade, our little cable sit-com is gearing up for one last 22 episode season.  By late winter of 2015, we’ll have more than a hundred episodes in the can, at which point the above-the-liners on this show will relax into the warm embrace of syndication.  The details of syndication remain a mystery to me, but it will allow the multitude of producers on our show to enjoy a lucrative revenue stream as those hundred+ episodes run and re-run on cable networks for many years to come. 

For them, the grind of having to write, re-write, and crank out fresh episodes for this show will be over.  Most will go on to new shows at some point, but some might just get off the merry-go-round and relax by the pool, secure in the knowledge that syndication money is rolling into their bank accounts with the soothing regularity of waves crashing onto the beach.

I’ll bet that’s a nice feeling.  

There will be nothing for rest of us, of course -- those who did the heavy lifting required to put those hundred shows on the screen.  At the end of the season we’ll do what we always do: wrap the equipment until the stage is once again empty, then shake hands and go our separate ways, each of us melting back into the Hollywood jungle to hunt for the next job.  

But that'll be then and this is now, and there are many mountains of work to climb before the former becomes the latter.

I’m not bitching about any of this, mind you -- it is what it is and has always been.  If my heart was set on getting a share of that syndication gold, I should have turned my efforts to becoming a producer rather than settling for the life of a juicer.  When you make your bed in Hollywood, you'd better be ready to sleep in it. 

Still, four and a half months is a long time to be unemployed in this town.  I spent much of that dealing with family issues back on the Home Planet before returning to LA and the tender mercies (read: bi-weekly financial infusions) of the California Department of Employment. With the summer shows fully crewed-up and the new Fall season not yet underway, nobody I knew was hiring.  So I made the best of it, writing a few blog posts, getting some work in on the book, and trying not to get too fat and lazy.  I'm not one to go to the gym, but kept up my usual forty-five minute routine of stretching and core-work every morning, using a bicycle to run errands rather than the car during the day, and taking a nice long walk in the evenings.  That all helped, but nothing keeps you in shape for work like work -- and not having touched lamps or cable for a very long time, I knew my re-entry to the world of physical labor on set would be a challenge.

First, though, the challenge of Laurel Canyon.  After such a long stretch of very limited driving, it was a rude awakening to be thrust back into the white-knuckle stampede of over-caffeinated LA assholes in their BMWs, Audis, and Range Rovers, each frantic to get to work before the rest of Los Angeles awakened to clog the roads. But I refused to succumb to their lead-foot morning madness.  With a Beemer inches from my bumper heading up the canyon, I maintained a steady six-mph-over-the-limit pace, keeping my eyes on the road and off the mirror.  

Fuck that jerk and the expensive German horse he rode in on.

He blew past me at Mulholland, of course, where the north-bound Laurel Canyon finally opens up into two lanes, then raced down into the valley towards his Very Busy Day at his Very Important Job.  

My old, faded credential still worked at the studio gates, allowing me into the parking structure, and soon I was pedaling my ancient beater-bike with very little air in the tires across the lot to our stage.  The sets were mostly up -- slightly different this year, but essentially the same -- and the painters were hard at work turning the lightweight construction of luan and one-by-three pine into a convincing simulacrum of a real house.  There were smiles and handshakes all around as the grip and electric crews renewed acquaintances.  Then came the rumble of a high-torque motor and a hiss of hydraulics as the first forklift pulled in through the big elephant doors to deposit a heavy load of lamps. Many more would follow before this day was done.

The long wait finally over, our work now begins. The next weeks will be hard going as we push the big rock up the steep hill one more time, but after the spring/summer layoff, returning to this show -- as familiar and comfortable as a pair of old shoes by now -- harkens back to another end-of-summer ritual: heading back to school when I was a kid.

Truth be told, I never really looked forward to school, but this feels very good indeed.    

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