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, February 4, 2015

Happy Friday?

When it rains, it pours

(Since I put up a mid-week post Sunday before last, it's only fair to put up a Sunday post in the mid-week slot, and thus balance the scales of my little universe here at BS&T…)

Friday dawned cloudy-bright, with scattered showers predicted, but as I geared up to go to work, blue sky began to peek through the low gray clouds.  Gambling that blue would prevail over gray, I threw a leg over my motorcycle for the ride up and over Laurel Canyon to the studio.  

“Happy Friday!” said the security guard as I pulled into the parking structure.  

I nodded and smiled.  Friday marks a welcome end to the work week, but each day on a multi-camera show presents a very different set of challenges, including Friday. Having put in a grueling Big Wednesday, then going late on Thursday’s show-night in front of a live audience -- during which the previous four days of work by grip and electric, props, set dressing, camera, sound, the production staff, writers, director, stand-ins and actors all comes together to create the episode -- Friday brings a return to reality, which is always a let-down. The previous episode's swing sets, so beautifully dressed and lit the night before, have  been disassembled and removed by the time we arrive, with the new sets up but far from finished. Construction grips, carpenters, painters, and the floor crew (busily installing carpets and/or flooring to simulate the hardwood or tile each swing-set requires) have already been at work for hours as we gather on stage to contemplate the task ahead.

The pulsing energy and screaming crowd of the previous night’s shoot is a distant memory now, replaced by the gritty reality of below-the-line Hollywood. Here we stand at the bottom of the steep hill, staring at the great rock of Sisyphus that must once again be pushed all the way back up to the top -- a task that never seems to get any easier.  

But the longest journey really does begin with the first step.  One lamp goes up, then another, and another, as bit by bit we make it happen. It helps when the construction crew cranks up their big boom box to blast reggae music through the stage --  the camel-walk rhythm of that Caribbean beat creates a good soundtrack to the day’s work, and before long we’re in the groove, making good progress. In a few hours, the lighting for the swing sets has been roughed in.  Not finished, of course (not by a long shot), but the broad brushstrokes have been established.  We’ll add more lights on Monday and Tuesday, by the end of which the serious tweaking -- the careful cutting and shaping of every light on each set -- will take place.

By now I was feeling pretty good about this Friday, which is when one of our executive producers suddenly appeared on stage, flanked by the two show runners. 

“We have an announcement,” the producer said, her sharp voice cutting through the din of paint sprayers, compressors, nail guns and reggae.  

She looked cheerful, as did the show runners -- which to my mind could mean only one thing: as unlikely as it seemed, the network must have decided to fund another season of the show. We’d been hearing rumors all week that word might descend from on high sometime Friday, and judging by the looks on these three faces before us, the word was going to be good.  And why not?  Our show is no big hit, but it developed a loyal following over the years, and has been the top-rated show for our cheap-ass network (and this dickhead) in the coveted 18-to-34 demographic all season, so maybe the suits upstairs realized we might be worth keeping around a little longer. 

The executive producer waited until the boom box was turned off, the work shut down, the stage silent, and the crew gathered around. 

“We just wanted to let you know that the network decided to end our show at 104 episodes,” she said, then went on thanking us for all our hard work... but I wasn’t listening anymore.  Rather than living to see another season, our show was dead -- really and truly dead this time -- and I felt like I'd been kicked in the stomach.  All our “hard work” over the past five years didn’t seem to matter much now that we had only two more episodes and one final week of stage-wrap before hitting the bricks of unemployment.  

Turns out the network (and Mr. Dickhead) don't need us after all.

For the first time in a long while, I have no idea what's coming next.  Pilot season looms, but our DP -- the leader/rain-maker of our grip/electric/camera tribe -- recently started another show that has been beating him into the ground, leaving him in no shape (or mood) to commit to any pilots right now. If he doesn’t land a pilot or another show in the next few months, the individual members of his crew will be looking hard to make new tribal connections elsewhere, me included.  But with so many good younger people out there ready and eager to work these days, there's not much demand for an aging juicer. There could be a whole lot of nothing in the foreseeable future -- just an unemployment check every two weeks while waiting for the phone to ring.

Yeah, I know --  this is what the smug, know-it-all, irony-infused hipsters among us call a “First World Problem” -- but given that I live in the First World, it feels real enough to me.* I was hoping this show would go another season: twenty or so more episodes starting sometime early next summer to carry me within hailing distance of retirement, at which point I could play out the string between day-playing and unemployment while preparing to leave the industry -- and Hollywood -- behind.  

But there is no God here in Hollywood, and She hates us -- so that comfortable vision is not to be. Instead, there’s a reasonable chance Hollywood will toss me out with yesterday's trash before I can engineer a graceful exit stage left.    

And so go the best laid plans of mice and men...

These thoughts swirled through my head as I climbed into the man-lift and got back to work.  A profound sense of depression settled in thinking about all we’ve been through together -- the crew, the actors, the writers, and everyone else on this show over the course of five up-and-down seasons. With the sudden finality of the end coming much sooner I’d hoped, all those people will soon scatter to the four winds of Hollywood, each hunting for his-or-her next show.

But you take the good with the bad in this business and in life, because there really isn’t any choice. Something will come up.  It always has in the past, and there’s no reason to think the string has run out just yet -- and even if the dice come up snake-eyes, I'll figure something out. 

If nothing else, maybe I'll finally have time to finish the blog -book. Hey, I'm not dead yet.

Still, there's no taking the sting out of this day. Half an hour later, I glanced out the open elephant door and saw the rain coming down hard in a drenching downpour. Given my decision to ride the motorcycle to work, this did not make me happy -- but it somehow seemed totally appropriate:  a wet, cold, miserable ride home at the end of an unexpectedly dark day.

Happy Friday?

Not for this crew.

*  More or less. Truth be told, LA feels more like a Second World city with every passing year...


Anonymous said...

So sorry.

Michael Taylor said...

Anonymous --


Anonymous said...

Great post. although i.m now retired, your exceptional talent for writing described brilliantly the emotion the crew feels at that exact moment. And yet we go back for more, show after show because its what we do. But you are an awesome 728er and no doubt someone will grab onto you. good luck.. k

Michael Taylor said...

Anonymous -

Thanks so much for the kind words. I'm glad some of these posts have managed to reflect the reality we both know so well. Riding the Hollywood roller coaster is not an easy life, but it has its rewards.

And you're right -- we just keep going back for more…

Thanks for tuning in.