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, December 14, 2014

This is the End...

… of the year post.

                            Who says this town doesn't look good in snow?

I’ve done my share of bitching about the show ever since we came back for our fourth and (probably) final season late last summer.  Not without good reason, mind you.  Back in Season One, we made the first thirty episodes working for a 22% pay cut from full union scale, then got a raise for the next fifty episodes to a dollar/hour under scale, and now -- after delivering 80 episodes over three-and-a-half seasons (don’t ask...), we finally made it all the way up the mountain to full union scale.  

It’s about time.  Until this season, I’d put in less than a dozen days at full scale over the past three years, out of somewhere around five hundred days worked.

But good news always seems to come with a caveat in Hollywood, and this time the kicker was a compressed schedule (essentially mandated by this corporate asshole), which shortened our schedule by a full five weeks while requiring that we make the same twenty-two episodes.  And wouldn't you know -- over the course of the season, this works out to a 22% pay cut.

Same as it ever was. Welcome to life on the Mobius Highway, where no matter how hard and fast you run, you always end up right back where you started -- older, wiser, and deeper in debt.

Still, this being the holiday season, I'll resist tapping into that same deep, dark well of bile one last time. It's not healthy to obsess on the negative, and this being the final post of 2014, I want to wind up the year on a positive note.

This season brought about several welcome developments, although one is bitter-sweet.  Our 1st A.D. since Season One is no longer with us, which bummed everybody out. He was a great A.D. and a terrific guy, and his presence on set has been missed.  But there’s a good reason for his absence: after getting an occasional shot at directing shows over the past several years, he finally made the jump to directing full-time.  It’s been going very well for him -- like a caterpillar who morphed into a butterfly, he’s flying high now and having a great time. As luck would have it, he’s directing our final three episodes of the year heading into the Christmas break, and fortunately, he’s just as good a director as he was an A.D.  It’s great to have him back. Now we can forget about the money-grubbing cheapassery of our network-mandated schedule (along with all those bend-over-and-spread-'em shows we’ve been doing...), and just have a good time making these three episodes.

With the 1st A.D. slot open, our 2nd A.D. finally got the opportunity to move up -- a step he was more than ready to take, but couldn't until his boss moved on.  As our new 1st A.D., he's done an excellent job of steering us through the rough waters of a very challenging season, aided by a lovely and extremely competent young woman who completed her DGA training on our show during Season One, and has now returned as our 2nd A.D. for this final season. It's our good luck to have her back. 

The Set PA for the past several seasons has been working towards becoming an AD for a long time now, but that’s not an easy door to open. The DGA trainee program is rough, sending young trainees on show after show for fifty days at a stretch until they’ve accumulated 400 working days. Then -- and only then -- are they allowed to write a big check to the DGA and join the guild.  During the training period, they're at the beck and call of the DGA, with no idea when or where they'll be sent next.  When times are slow, they might not get another assignment for months on end, but they just have to sit tight and wait for the call to come. A trainee can take non-industry work to make a living in the meantime, but must be ready to drop everything (including whatever job they've taken to pay the rent) on very short notice to head for their next DGA assignment.  It can take years to accumulate those 400 days and earn a guild card, at which point they’re at the bottom of the list taking whatever miserable, long-hours gig they can find.

Personally, I don’t understand why anybody would actually want to be an assistant director -- no way could I do that job -- but I’m glad they do, because a good AD is worth his/her weight in gold.  We really couldn’t make movies or television without them.

Among his many other duties, our Set PA has helped a series of DGA trainees who came to our show, put in their time, then went on their way, all the while wondering if he too should apply for the grueling program.  Being in his mid-thirties, he’d need to do it soon, but it’s a hard program to get into -- and if accepted, he’d have to quit the show he’s been working on all this time to spend the next three or four years living on a very short DGA leash.  

Still, a PA job doesn’t pay a living wage for a married man with rent, groceries, and health care to pay for.  So what to do?

Whatever his plan really was, he finally got a break this season. A few weeks in, the production company filled out the paperwork necessary to bump him up to Second-Second A.D. status -- and he got his DGA card a few weeks ago.*  This was huge for him, and couldn’t have happened to a better guy.  Having watched the way he's worked the set these past two seasons, I have no doubt he’ll make a great A.D. 

This game of musical chairs worked out very well for the entire on-set production department. Personally, I find it reassuring that good things still do happen to good people every now and then -- something that's easy to lose sight of in a world that's fucked-up in so many ways. It's been very gratifying to see them all succeed like this, so I lift a cup of Christmas cheer in a toast to Robbie, Dean, Linde, and Sharkey.  Long may you ride.

Besides, when the AD's are happy, the rest of us on the crew have a much better chance of being happy too... 

On this rare cheerful note -- in tune with the season -- I'm signing off for 2014.  I wish you all, near and far, a great holiday season.  As always, thanks for tuning in.

See you in the New Year.

* God only knows how the DGA came up with such a ridiculously awkward title as "Second-Second A.D."  To my ears, "Third A.D." sounds better and makes a lot more sense but the DGA didn't ask me.


D said...

Great work as always, Mike. I'm going to share this with my friends, many of whom are DGA. They'll appreciate your attention and kind comments.

Anonymous said...

Aschole! lol

Michael Taylor said...

D --

It's always good to hear from you -- and I'm hoping you'll find a way (and the time…) to start posting again. Your voice has been missed.

Anonymous --

Say what??