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, February 15, 2015

The Long Goodbye

                                        It was a good run for us all…

Just as every long journey begins with the first step, each of those journeys must end with the last.  The little cable sit-com I’ve been working on for the past five years made that final step last week, bringing the longest run of my seventeen years in multi-camera sit-coms to an end.  We still have to wrap the stage one last time, of course, methodically disassembling what was a living, breathing entity just a few days ago -- a show that required the combined efforts of more than 120 people to produce every week.  
But this time the sets won’t be carefully packed up and put into storage to await the call for next season, because time has run out for Melissa & Joey.  
Shooting this final episode didn’t come easy, for a number of reasons.  There was the usual cluster-fuck of confusion in pre-shooting several “fantasy” sequences written to play as bad dreams for the narrative of the show, along with a “poor man’s process” car-crash that required an hour-and-a-half pre-call for grip and electric on the audience shoot day to get the set properly rigged, lit, and ready for the actors.
But that was just business as usual for any work week -- what made this one tough was the unavoidable fact that it was The Last Episode Ever for this show, marking the end of the best job I’ve had since shifting from the realm of single-camera shows (features, commercials, music videos and episodics) to the unique world of multi-camera sit-coms.  That sense of the looming end hung over the entire cast and crew as the week counted-down towards shoot night. There were long faces everywhere, and more people than usual taking pictures while the sets still stood, preserving the memories.
There was no slackening of effort, though. This being one professional crew from top to bottom, we pushed hard every day to make the final episode as good as it could possibly be -- because that’s what we’re paid to do. That sense of professionalism is ingrained to the point where I’m not sure we could slack off and do a half-assed job even if we wanted to. It just wouldn’t sit right.
The actors were more relaxed during the rehearsals, though, cutting loose with some very funny ad-libs and sarcastic asides. This was fun for them and us... but when the cameras rolled, they were all business.
We got the pre-shoots done, then moved on to our final live show.  As usual, I was out amid the four cameras during the filming with a hand-held obie light -- in this case, a five-cell tungsten Maglight softened with Tough Opal Frost and a single net, then fitted with a narrow twelve inch snoot to keep the beam precisely aimed exactly where a little bit of light was needed.*  This show was the first for which I’ve had to be so directly involved during the actual filming on shoot nights, and although it was always a challenge to stay out of the way of four moving cameras while keeping that narrow beam properly focused, it was a very satisfying job to do right.
And so we marched on through the run-down, alternating the pre-shoots that were played back to the audience on monitors with the live scenes until we finally came to the tag.  A few takes later, that too was in the can, and the show was over.  The actors emerged for the traditional curtain-call, at which point our two leads took turns with the microphone, explaining to the audience what this show has meant to us all. They made sure to thank everyone -- the showrunners, director, producers, writers, grips, juicers, sound, hair-and-makeup, wardrobe, stand-ins, PAs, and all the pre-and-post-production staff -- then invited the entire crew out in front of the lights to join in one last bow for the audience.  
A first for me, that.
Then it was all a massive rugby-scrum of hugs and tears as it sunk in that this really was The End -- that this particular collection of actors, writers, technicians, and production people would never again work together. The women wept openly, while the men held their emotional ground for the most part.  I managed to keep my emotions in check until it was almost over, but finally lost it while sharing a hug with our dapper little female camera assistant -- who happens to be gorgeous, a black-belt in karate, and very married.  
I’ve had many shows cancelled over the years, and although each one hurts, this one is different. The younger people on the crew (and they're all younger than me...) have another five, ten, or twenty years to go in the biz. For the youngest -- the 20-somethings -- their Hollywood journey is just beginning.

Mine is almost over. 
I’m not particularly worried about work -- something will come along, unless it doesn't -- but with only a year and a half (534 days, according to the count-down clock I received for Xmas) to go before I exit Hollywood stage-left, I’ll never have another chance to be part of a show like this one. Hell, I might not even manage to land another show at all, but could wind up running out the clock as a day-player -- which means that in many ways, the end of Melissa & Joey has been a rehearsal for my own final exit from the film and television industry.  
And if the long goodbye of this past week is any measure, that’s not going to be easy.
So it goes.  And now onward, into the wrap...

* The hand-held obie was usually aimed directly into our lead actress’s eyes, which -- given her short stature -- were often shadowed by taller actors, and to counteract the dark eye make-up she favored.  For more on the history of the obie light, check out this bio of Lucien Ballard (who developed the obie), and this one describing the evolution of lighting technology from the dawn of the film age.  To read some very specific comments from veteran DPs on the usefulness of obie lights, check out this link.


Phillip Jackson said...

Cheers mate. I'm curious to see how this blog evolves whenever you make your final wrap.

A.J. said...

I find that it's always hard to end a show. No matter what the rate was; or if the hours sucked; or if you have something better lined up or not, there's always something about it that will make you sad to say good-bye.

Michael Taylor said...

Phil --

Me too. I really don't know what I'll do with the blog when I finally put Hollywood in my rear-view mirror for good. I won't be a juicer anymore, and am not sure the world needs another old fart pontificating on the internet.

There might not be much time for (or point in) blogging by then, given that there are a couple of long-delayed writing projects that will require my attention. I want to finish the blog-book and get it out in an e-book version and possibly print, then it will be time to do another draft (Number Six) of a novel I wrote a while back and look into publishing that… then resume work on the sequel. I was 50 pages into that one when the blog started, and I haven't touched it since.

But who knows? If I still have something relevant to say about the biz, I may keep the blog going. Time will tell.

Thanks for tuning in...

Michael Taylor said...

AJ --

True, that. This one stings more than most for me, since it was the longest show I've ever worked, and possibly the last core-crew gig I'll ever have.

I hope not -- I'd love to land one more decent show before running the white flag up the mast and dropping my tool belt for the last time, but the jury is out on that.

We'll see what happens...

Anonymous said...

Mike, I am quite sure you will have war stories from this industry for years to come. Out of the blue something will give you a nudge from your past work, that will bring you a smile and you'll shake your head in amazement, that you actually played a small part in every scene on every set for every show... from behind the camera...k

Unknown said...

Mike, You brought me right back to stage 14 reading this. It was an experience, one that can never be duplicated. Your on stage persona is tough and rugged. I never thought such sensitive memories and feelings would be heard from you. Please don't take it the wrong way, and I think you know me well enough not to. Melissa and Joey was the one constant for me at a time of extreme joy and a period of total sadness. I got married, had a baby, bought a house, put my mom in memory care, filed for divorce. The alliance of some rather amazing and talented people is a dream working condition you can only, well dream of. We definately
had some fun on MJ however it wasn't without usual show drama. I still keep in touch with many from the show. It's not that difficult when you are still in the middle of it all. I recently did as pilot with Kendall and still keep up with the Harts. Torbett is now 5 and every bit a reflection of me. Anyway Mike I enjoy you posts, blogs etc..Enjoy your life, you've earned it. Ron