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)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Just for the Hell of It: Episode 14

                                              Oh, Mrs. Robinson...

                           The Quote of the Week

“There is no getting around food, the fun necessity, the allowable indulgence, the forgivable sin, and more than ever a national pastime.  What is travel but going really far out to eat?”

Robert Lloyd, TV critic for the LA Times, in his review of a new food show.  The show he reviewed didn't interest me at all, but I do love his way with words. 


Mike Nichols was certainly one of the more interesting directors of his era.  Google the name and you’ll turn up a long list of appreciations and obituaries detailing the story of his professional rise from radio satirist to A List Hollywood director. If you aren't familiar with his career, that's worth doing.  As a kid, I used to listen to his short, dry and very funny radio pieces with Elaine May for several years, then lost track of them both.*  After a successful stint in theater, he turned up as a film director in Hollywood.  If he’d done nothing else, The Graduate would be enough to carve his name into the filmic history books -- and whatever you may think of the movie, it captured the hearts, minds, and confusion of that generation like none other.** 

But Mike Nichols did a lot more than The Graduate.  With the World War Two film Catch 22, Nichols did something I’d thought impossible: he made a movie that was -- in its own way -- every bit as good as the book it was based on. The movie wasn’t the same as the book, but stood right alongside it.  

That’s a rare accomplishment.  The only other time I’ve seen it happen was with  Slaughterhouse Five, George Roy Hill's adaptation of the novel by Kurt Vonnegut.

The public radio program “Fresh Air” ran an old interview with Nichols shortly after his death.  Not only could the man toss off a word like “concatenation” without batting an eye (yeah, I had to look it up too), but he offered a clear guide to the process of shooting a film.  Responding to a question as to how he came up with the iconic shot of Dustin Hoffman’s character framed within the crooked leg of Anne Bancroft, he said this:

“You just look for the shot that most clearly expresses what’s happening.”

There you have it, film students and future wannabe directors/cameramen the world over -- how to choose your shot in a dozen words.  Not that following Mike Nichol's advice is easy, mind you, but it's a good thing to keep in mind whenever you -- or your cameraman -- get all hot and bothered while devising with some very complicated, expensive and ego-driven cinematic tour de force.  

Do you really need all that, or can you move the story along with a simpler, smarter, cheaper shot?


Our dimmer op called me up to the booth last week to show me this on his laptop, a very funny, dead-on rip of the advertising industry by Jerry Seinfeld, who took the stage to accept his Clio Award, then gave the assembled ad execs a dose of the cold, hard truth.  In the process, he refers to a near-riot that happened at the Clio ceremonies back in the early 90's. I was still working as a gaffer doing television commercials at the time, and heard rumors of the Clio debacle -- but with no internet available, there was no way to confirm or deny the story.  

It's a great bit, and only four minutes long, so do yourself a favor and check it out.


Here's another terrific post from The Big Waah discussing actors, entitlement, and just how fucked up this industry can sometimes be. I don't know for sure, but I believe The Big Waah is written by the same female sound-person (and occasional documentary filmmaker) who used to write BTL, an excellent below-the-line blog that hasn't been updated since 2010.  Either way, The Big Waah is a really well-written blog that digs deep into many of the issues affecting our business. If you like good, thoughtful writing by someone with a lot of experience in the biz, take a look.


Last up, some sad news. According to The Hollywood Reporter, veteran stuntman Kim Robert Koscki died of a heart attack last month.  He was only 51, leaving a wife, two daughters, and an impressive resume of stunts performed on all kinds of productions over the years. The name rang a bell... and when I checked my old "Stunts" post from 2008, there he was, having left a very gracious comment.

I never did get to meet him, and I'm sorry for that -- it's my loss -- but because he'd read the blog and reached out to me, I felt as if I did know him in a way.  Maybe that's why the news of his death hit home to me. Kim Robert Koscki died much too young, and the irony is that after cheating death so many times on set, it finally caught up with him while he was taking a bike ride near his home.  

I can't help thinking about his family now, and the looming, suddenly pointless ritual of Christmas they'd probably rather forget.  But ignoring the massive commercial machine that is "Christmas" isn't really possible anymore unless you go way off the grid.  I just hope they manage to get through this holiday season and on to the New Year without too much pain.  Easier said than done, that.  

Sometimes life really is a bitch.  

Too many good people are dying these days. Kim Robert Koscki was one.

Rest in Peace, Kim.  

* If you follow that link, you'll learn that Elaine May went on to a successful career as a screenwriter, then tried her hand at directing with mixed results.  As she -- and the rest of Hollywood -- learned with Ishtar, not every good writer makes a good director.  A long time ago I heard an astonishing story about Elaine May and that movie… maybe I'll tell it to you sometime.

** Having seen it only once back in 1967, I have no idea how it holds up after all these years.   Rotten Tomatoes had this to say, but as a product of its time, I suspect a modern audience might find The Graduate a bit creaky nearly half a century after its release.

1 comment:

D said...

A great post, especially the part about Kim. We in this industry often forget just how small our family is, and even though we don't all know each other personally, we still mourn when one of us leaves. Thanks for this post. I've been away for a while trying to get things done, but hopefully will be around more.