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, April 29, 2015

The Pulitzer Prize for Television Criticism

                                       Pulitzer Gold

"During the 18th century, a fashionable pastime among London’s rich and royal was to visit Bethlem Royal Hospital, most commonly known as Bedlam, and watch the antics of the mentally ill.  In the 21st century, it is the rich and famous who are gaped at, their habits and habitats reveled in and reviled through the lens of reality TV.  What started as an aspirational experience, epitomized by the gushing “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” has become a cottage industry of class schadenfreude, the crown jewel being the “Real Housewives” franchise. Just look at the size of their closets and their neuroses, see how their children sass them and their “friends” disrespect them, how their marriages rot in front of our shocked and grateful eyes.”
(Mary McNamara, LA Times, from her review of “Beverly Hills Nannies”)  

That kind of writing, ladies and gentlemen, deserves to win a Pulitzer Prize -- and it finally has. Mary McNamara bagged journalism’s highest honor last week, winning the Pulitzer gold for her years of brilliant television criticism.* 
In my humble opinion, it’s about time. I’ve been reading her work in the LA Times for many years now, from the days of her “Drive Time” column covering the social impact and reverberations of our life-in-cars here in Southern California, to her move into critical analysis of our other great cultural obsession, television. No matter the subject, Mary’s writing has been consistently excellent, a heady blend of deep insight, scalding humor, and dazzling prose -- the kind of writing that invariably leaves me shaking my head wishing I could write like that.
But I can't, and neither can anybody else. To hell with that medal -- Mary McNamara is the real prize here.   
None of us can watch everything on television, nor would any sane person want to. Despite the emergence of a second “Golden Age” during the the last fifteen years (which -- ahem -- I wrote about long before most high profile television critics deigned to state the obvious in print), television remains for the most part a vast wasteland. The old adage still holds -- “90% of everything is shit,” including TV. True, there are many more good shows on nowadays, but those represent the gleaming white tip of the television iceberg -- the other seven-eighths of programming is still fetid garbage lurking in the murky depths below, largely unwatchable by anyone with a functioning brain.
The job of the television critic is to serve as a scout -- to venture into the wilderness ahead in search of metaphorical water, food, and shelter, while keeping a sharp eye out for the deadly mind-numbing quicksand of crappy programing. The critic digests and analyzes the pleasure and pain of new programming, sorting out the wheat from the chaff so that we can make an informed choice about which shows to settle in with after a hard day’s work. Our off-time is precious, and nobody wants to waste it on some stupid formulaic piece-of-crap that looked appealing in the network’s flashy bait-and-switch previews.  
And so the critic watches, ponders, and reports back to us -- and if we’re lucky, that critic is Mary McNamara, which means reading about those shows is more informative and often much more entertaining than the actual programming.  She’s a treasure, and those of us who read the LA Times are lucky to have her.
Congratulations, Mary.  Thanks delivering so many years of great reading with my daily paper. 
Long may you write.

* The ten columns submitted to the Pulizter committee by Mary's editors at the Times can be found here, so do yourself a favor and click on over to read a few.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Crew Call, Season Two

The Anonymous Production Assistant is gearing up to produce a second season of Crew Call, a series of interviews with a wide variety of working professionals in Hollywood, and to fund the effort, TAPA has launched another Kickstarter campaign.

Yeah, I know -- Kickstarter is yesterday's flavor du jour, no longer the bright new bauble on our collective cultural radar screens.  But that doesn't mean it's a bad idea.  Quite the opposite. Season One of Crew Call featured interviews with -- among many others -- an editor, production designer, prop master, animator, Line Producer, Second A.D., stuntwoman, casting director, transportation coordinator, a veteran dolly grip, a very experienced location manager, a smart young camera assistant, and a certain juicer. There's also a fascinating interview with Steve Cardellini -- and if you don't know who he is, or what a Cardellini Clamp is, then you're probably a film student who has yet to learn anything truly useful about the down-and-dirty business of film and television production.

But hey, ignorance is not only forgivable (so long as unaccompanied by the fatal sin of arrogance), it's curable -- and curing ignorance is what Crew Call is all about.

I pledged my fifty bucks (and it's been two months since I've seen a paycheck, kiddos), because I think what TAPA is doing here is worthwhile. Most kids coming out of film schools or otherwise drawn like moths to Hollywood's bright and alluring flame have no idea what they're getting into.They think they do -- after all, four years of college ought to teach you something -- but most of that very expensive education will prove utterly useless in the real world of film and television production. In discussing the craft with TAPA, these professionals provide an up-close and personal window on what it takes to work in one of the myriad fields required to make any film production.

That's a good thing, because while they're in the warm, nurturing womb of school, film students tend to assume they'll somehow end up as successful writers, producers, directors or cinematographers -- and for most of them, that's not gonna happen. As even a cursory glance at a call sheet will reveal, there are very few slots for those high-end jobs, and only the most talented, driven, determined -- and lucky -- will make it.

The rest will have to find something else to do, and if they decide to stick with the film industry (rather than go to MBA school to become Wall Street Scum), listening to those Crew Call podcasts might help clue them in to them in to all the other options -- Plans B, C, and X.

And let's face it -- we've all been in dire need of a Plan B at one time or another.

There are only ten days left for TAPA to meet the Kickstarter goal, and the last I checked, it wasn't even close, so if you can help out at all, please click on over and give what you can.  Five bucks here and five bucks there just might make a difference.

And thanks...

Sunday, April 26, 2015


                                The road not taken...

While wandering the wilds of cyberspace the other day, I came across this item, which sent my mind spinning back into the past. That's been happening a lot lately, which means either I'm getting too goddamned old, or it's time to go back to work.  

I don't much like the sound of the former, so I'll just wrap myself in the warm blanket of denial in choosing the latter… 

Well before I fell off the turnip truck and rolled into Hollywood, Noel Marshall and Tippi Hedren embarked on what would be a long and grueling production of an independent feature called Roar.  As the title indicates, the drama had a lot to do with big cats -- very big cats.  On their desert compound north of Los Angeles, Noel and Tippi had assembled an army of more than 130 lions, tigers, panthers and jaguars to use in this very expensive home movie.

Since every one of those big cats was real -- no CGI back in those days -- this was an exceedingly dangerous project. By the time it was over, seventy people on the cast and crew had been injured, including Tippi’s daughter (the young Melanie Griffith) and cinematographer Jan de Bont, who was nearly scalped by a lion that inflicted a wound  requiring two hundred stitches to close.

Between the ever-diligent legions of PETA and modern set safety protocols, I don’t think it would be possible to shoot a film like Roar in California these days. For better or worse, those were simpler times.

Noel and Tippi persevered through all the trouble, halting production when necessary, then gearing up again.  A violent storm ripped through the compound one night, releasing many of the big cats into the surrounding desert community north of LA. Several were shot by police in the chaos that followed. The storm also wrecked the crew housing facilities, dealing a one-two punch to the production. Given the start-stop nature of the job, crew members came and went, which is how half of non-union Hollywood ended up working on the movie at one time or another.

Meanwhile, I'd come to town and -- after a couple of months staring at the smog and wondering what the hell I'd gotten myself into -- I began working and gaining experience. By the time the Roar production got around to calling me, I'd left the PA ranks for good and was working sporadically as a grip-trician. I’d heard rumors about the movie, of course, and was intrigued by the idea of working around all those big cats, but the deal was lousy: $250 for working a six-day week.* That would have been tolerable if they'd provided me a place to stay out there while working, but with no crew housing left, my choice was to stay in a hotel on my own nickle -- which would eat up half my paycheck -- or make the 120 mile commute every day. Driving would be marginally cheaper (my car was a wheezing Oldsmobile V-8  that got 15 freeway m.p.g. on a good day), but adding two and a half hours of drive time to each twelve hour (or more) work day seemed like a deal-breaker.

Despite all that, I might have taken the job if they'd asked me to be a grip or juicer -- working with a new crew and gaining experience could have been worth it -- but instead they wanted me to run the generator, which meant I wouldn’t even be on set. Instead, I’d be stuck next to the genny breathing diesel fumes all day long.

Then there was the minor detail that I knew nothing at all about running a generator at the time.**

Still, I struggled with the decision. The deal sucked, but hell, it was a job on a movie... so I called a key grip for advice -- a very experienced guy I'd worked with and for whom I had a world of respect.  His reply was blunt, without a trace of ambiguity or hesitation.  
“Only an asshole would take that job.” 
I turned it down and moved on. My phone rang with other jobs, and slowly I gained experience, eventually moving up the ladder from juicing to Best Boy, and finally Gaffer.  As luck would have it, my Best Boy by then turned out to have been one of the many who’d crewed on Roar, and he had some great stories about that job. Still, he was from Texas, and some of his stories seemed a bit too good to be true, so I listened with a proverbial grain of salt. Sensing my skepticism, he brought a videotape to the set one day.  We were working long hours, and I told him I didn’t know when I’d have time to sit down and see the movie.
“Don't bother,” he said, with a knowing smile. “Just watch the first half hour.”  
So I popped the cassette into the VCR when I got home, then poured myself a stiff drink and settled in. The opening sequences in Africa were interesting, but nothing unusual, then the action moved to the main set, a big, rambling two-story house where the family lived.
My jaw dropped. I’d never seen so many big cats on screen before -- there were dozens of lions in front of the house, lying on the porch, inside the front door, all over the first floor, crowding the stairs and on up to the second floor. The actors waded right through that sea of lions as though they were just overgrown house cats. 
My eyes took all this in, but my brain could hardly grasp it. Everything my Best Boy had said was true, and then some -- if anything, he’d understated how many lions were on that set.  
Needless to say, his credibility rose considerably after that.  
There's lots of information on the web about Roar, including an eye-opening piece on that shows just how casual the entire Marshall/Hedrin family was about living with those huge cats, and a terrific post on Black Hole Reviews with photos from the set, including a gruesome shot of Jan de Bont's head after it was stitched up.
The New York Times weighed in with a brief review, and clips of Roar can be found on Utube -- the real action starts about seven minutes into the Part One, but you'll have to go on to Part Two to appreciate just how many of those big cats were on that set.
At this point -- thirty-five years later -- I still have mixed feelings about passing up my chance to work on Roar. I didn't know enough back then to understand that I could have worked my way off genny duty and onto the set as a juicer or grip -- especially once the production realized I had no idea how to run and service a generator. No doubt I'd have been scared as hell in such close proximity to so many big cats, but that was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and part of me will always wish I'd experienced it.
So it goes. Choices are inevitable in life, and none of us can do it all. Still, Roar is not dead and gone, but will soon be back in theaters. Although I can't really recommend it as a cinematic drama, it really is one hell of a spectacle, especially when you know the behind-the-scenes backstory.
Which you will, once you follow all the links in this post…

* Roughly $700 in today's funny money.

** A few years later I’d Best Boy a non-union feature in the snows of Vermont, where my men-and-equipment duties included running the genny and doing periodic maintenance -- changing the oil, filter, and fuel filters to keep the beast humming through those cold days and nights -- but all that lay in the future.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Warren Oates

        The late, great Warren Oates: July 5, 1928 -- April 3, 1982

(Note: Being that I haven't worked since my show died and went to Hollywood Heaven, I don't have much to say about life on set at the moment -- so pardon me while I digress.)

Every journey begins with the first step, so they say, and the genesis of my own Hollywood adventure traces directly back to a single class I took on a lark during the final quarter of my first year at a real college. After dutifully fulfilling the requirements of my local home-town J.C., I transferred to the university as a junior, and managed to get through the first two quarters without being kicked out. But as spring quarter rolled around, only two of the classes being offered applied to the major I'd chosen at the time, leaving a blank spot on my curriculum.  

At liberty to take any class I wanted, I chose one called "The Screenplay," which  sounded like fun.  More than fun -- and I had a blast -- that class marked the turning point in my young life, setting me on the path to Hollywood.

We saw dozens movies I'd never even heard of (everything from Pierrot le Fou  to The Lady from Shanghai), then read and discussed a number of screenplays.*  As a final project, we each had to write the first twenty pages of our own original screenplay. 

During the course of that quarter, Esquire Magazine (which was a big deal back then) came out with a sensational issue that instantly became required reading for the class. On the cover was the starlet of a yet-to-be-released movie called Two Lane Blacktop, written by Rudy Wurlitzer and directed by Monte Hellman, staring two very popular musicians of the time -- James Taylor and Dennis Wilson -- and a young model-turned-actress named Laurie Bird. Hailing the film as "movie of the year," Esquire printed the entirety of Rudy Wurlitzer's screenplay in this issue.

                                  Esquire Magazine, April 1971

For a mainstream-media magazine to print the screenplay of a low-budget movie yet to hit theaters was unheard of -- I'm not sure it's happened before or since -- and better yet, the screenplay was a terrific read. I loved it, and couldn't wait to see the film.

But the trouble with great expectations is that they seldom survive the difficult transition to reality, which can lead to a huge letdown. That's what happened with Two Lane Blacktop. The movie was gritty and bleak, all right -- that much I liked -- but James Taylor was hands-down the worst actor I'd ever seen in a Hollywood movie, and although Dennis Wilson wasn't nearly so bad, that's mostly because the script didn't allow him to say much.** Laurie Bird -- who had a rough life, and would come to a sad end eight years later -- didn't exactly burn up the screen either, but seemed to have been cast for her waifish, petulant-tomboy looks more than anything else.  I never quite understood her appeal, but the youth oriented counter-culture back then was infatuated by an emaciated, sexless vision of femininity best exemplified by Twiggyone of the top models of the time. 

Put it this way: as an actress, Laurie Bird was a great model.

Esquire's enthusiasm cooled considerably once the film was released. "The screenplay was wonderful," the magazine said, "but the film was vapid."

I wish I could argue with their assessment, but I can't.

Still, there was an actor in Two Lane Blacktop I'd never seen before, a young man named Warren Oates, who stole every scene in which he appeared. Whether he was really that good or simply seemed so in comparison to the two cigar-store Indians with whom he shared the screen is unclear -- I'd have to take another look at the film to make that judgement -- but Warren Oates turned out to be the best thing about the movie. He single-handedly saved it from being an unwatchable mess.

Oates enjoyed a solid if unspectacular career in television before jumping to features, where he lit up the screen in some seriously strange but interesting movies over the next decade -- several directed by the legendary Sam Peckinpah, including the indisputable classic The Wild Bunch

Yeah, I know -- it's a western, the very notion of which doubtless bores the pants off a generation weaned on movies laden with routine interstellar space travel, exploding planets, and hideous alien monsters from distant worlds. Hell, there aren't even any cars falling out of airplanes, computer graphics, thunderous soundtracks, Hip-Hop stars or Scientologist actors in it.  

                                                  The Wild Bunch

Bit it does have Ben Johnson, Warren Oates, William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Edmond O'Brian, and the great Robert Ryan, among others, all of whom deliver indelible performances in a film so tightly constructed that there's not an ounce of fat anywhere. Sam Peckinpah was at the peak of his creative powers when he directed The Wild Bunch, and if you haven't seen it, you owe it to yourself to do so. It's a  great film.***

And part of what makes it great is Warren Oates.

Oates made some bizarre movies, perhaps the most extreme being Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, in which he spends a good portion of the movie driving through Mexico mumbling to himself with a severed head in a gunny sack sitting next to him on the front seat of the car. But in whatever roles he took, Warren Oates owned the screen -- when he was up there, you could not look away. He was a compelling actor. As film writer David Thomson said: "It's hard to think of Oates playing an unqualified optimist. There's something in his face, the way he looks at things, that suggests a readiness for failure or darkness." 

That's classic British understatement, because however much a viewer might like the characters Oates inhabited -- and his specialty was playing the troubled-but-charming rogue -- there was seldom any doubt things would go badly for him by the end of the movie.

The best way to appreciate Warren Oates is to see his films, but if you're wavering on that, check out this website -- then click on over to Across the Border, a documentary about Oates narrated (and partially produced, I believe) by Ned Beatty.  It's less than an hour, but will give you a good sense of  who and what Warren Oates really was -- a uniquely gifted actor.

After that, rent The Wild Bunch. Anybody who claims to have studied film, but hasn't yet watched that movie, has an incomplete education at best. Not only will you get to see a terrific movie (and in the process learn something about constructing tight, suspenseful scenes without space ships or computer graphics), you'll experience the incandescent glory of Warren Oates on the big screen. 

He died much too young -- and his death came as a shock.  Warren Oates was only 53, and if that seemed a bit old to me then (being that I was a callow 31 the day he died), the subsequent thirty-three years changed my perspective. Hell, he was just getting started, but the heart attack that killed him cheated all of us in the movie-loving world out of another two decades worth of memorable roles. Such is life, I suppose, where the good die young and the rest of us shuffle off this mortal coil in our own sweet time. 

Warren Oates was an American original, and something very special.  Do yourself a favor and check out some of his moves.  You won't be wasting your time.

(Not everybody shares my opinion of Two Lane Blacktop, and truth be told, I really should watch it again before passing judgement -- and maybe I will.  Meanwhile, for an interesting spectrum of different views on that film, check out  these websites.)

Selvedge Yard
Rotten Tomatoes
Looking for Two Lane Blacktop
New Yorker Movie of the Week
Two Lane Blacktop

*  I'll have more to say about Lady from Shanghai next time.

** To be fair, James Taylor was not an actor -- he was a very good, gentle, sensitive folk/pop musician -- so it was entirely unreasonable to think he could deliver an acceptable performance as a tough-talking, hard-ass drag racer.  Bad casting will kill you every time.

*** Don't believe me? Then read this, then make sure you see the studio version.  For all the crap Sid Sheinberg took from the creative community (and Sam Peckinpah) for overruling the director and making a few small-but-crucial cuts, his version of "The Wild Bunch" works better than the Pekinpah Director's Cut.  Hey, everybody needs an editor… 

Sunday, April 5, 2015


                              Prometheus unchained…
                (photo by Ellsworth Chou -- lightning scissors by Don Tomich)

Civilians, film students, Hollywood newbies, and any juicers who entered the business during the last fifteen years can be forgiven for wondering what the hell is going on in this photo -- a man clad in shorts and a T shirt (standard uniform for electric and grip here in LA) wearing a welding helmet while operating some crude-but-infernally bright device hidden behind that reflector board. This juicer looks like he's channeling the power of the sun in the dark of night. 

Prometheus indeed -- on steroids -- because what you're looking at here is the creation of simulated lightning on set, old-school style.

Along with earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, and tsunamis, lightning is one of Mother Nature's most spectacular and dangerous phenomena. Watching a lightning strike from afar is impressive, but experiencing one up close is something you’ll never forget.  During a round-the-country motorcycle trip in my pre-Hollywood years (it was the summer of 1970, a year after “Easy Rider” came out, and I couldn’t resist), I took shelter from a sudden downpour under an overpass in New Orleans moments before a blast of lightning struck very nearby. I use the word “blast” on purpose, because at that moment I really thought a bomb had gone off -- the blinding flash and end-of-the-world-thunder-clap were simultaneous, meaning it probably hit within a hundred feet of where I stood. 

This was nothing at all like the lightning I’d seen from a distance back home in California, and it was utterly terrifying. I'd had no clue that an electrical bomb of such incredible force was about to go off. 

I gained a massive respect for Mother Nature’s electricity that day.

Lightning has played a big role in movies since the early days of Hollywood, from the putative life-giving properties of sparks from the sky in Jame’s Whale’s “Frankenstein” to malevolent aliens riding lightning bolts beneath the earth in the most recent cinematic incarnation of “War of the Worlds.”

For many years, there was only one way to create state-of-the-art lightning effects on set -- using a crude device called "lightning scissors," comprised of two six-foot long two-by-fours joined in the middle by a single metal bolt like a pair of giant wooden scissors.  At the business end (hidden by the reflector board in the photo) were two tightly-bound bundles of seven positive arc carbons -- one bundle wired to each board so they could be brought together by working the handles at the other end.*  Heavy electrical cables (4/0, if I recall correctly) ran to each bundle of carbons, one positive leg and one negative, feeding back to a D.C. generator.  Given the enormous and sudden demand created by lightning scissors --which essentially created a controlled dead-short in the circuit), we had to rent a second generator strictly for the lightning effect.  If we'd tried to use the same genny that powered the set lighting lamps, the whole set would likely have gone dark. 

When those carbons were brought together, an enormous flaming spark would erupt, allowing an experienced operator (and it had to be done right) to create a convincing illusion of lightning.  The instant that spark flared, the genny would start rocking violently from side to side as it the Devil himself was in there, desperate to get out. The flame was like that of a giant arc welder, and looking at it with unprotected eyes would do serious damage to any viewer -- thus the welding helmet for the operator, and the reflector boards placed to save the retinas of crew and bystanders.

During my Best Boy and Gaffing days, my source for Lightning Scissors was the Paramount Pictures lamp dock.  While ordering a set for a commercial one day, I asked the head man at the dock what would happen if I hooked it up to A.C. instead of D.C. power.  

There was a slight pause.

"Do you own a house?" he asked.


I was about to ask what that had to do with anything when the old phrase "D.C. burns, but A.C. kills" came back to me -- and his point sank home.  "Don't do it," he was warning, because the legal liability if something went wrong would rest squarely on my shoulders.  

And if I owned a house, I might well lose it in the subsequent legal shit-storm.

But once on set, I tried it anyway, taking hold of the scissors myself after making sure all my crew were well out of the way.  I won't deny that I was a bit nervous… but the results were both anti-climactic and disappointing.  Nothing blew up, but the A.C. spark between those carbons didn't provide anything like the effect of D.C. -- it was more like a giant 4th of July sparkler rather than a lightning effect -- so we went back to D.C. to film the scene.

Another company eventually came up with a more sophisticated D.C. rig involving a spring-loaded plunger inside a big plexiglass box, which was more contained, safer, and less likely  to blind hapless innocents on set... but it wasn't nearly as much fun to operate.

I first saw "lightning shutters" in the late-80's -- a frame mounted on the front of a lamp with a row of sturdy metal "venetian-blinds" that could be rapidly flipped open and closed to create a lightning effect.  Most of the shutters I used were hand-operated, which invariably created difficulties when more than one had to be used in a shot.  Given that most juicers march to their very own drummers, getting two or three of us to operate our shutters in unison was always problematic. To solve that, somebody came up with an elaborate system of shutters operated by electric motors, thus allowing multiple units to operate in sync without fallible humans getting in the way.  This seemed like a great idea until we actually tried to use it on set.  

Like all lightning shutters, these worked like a charm at room temperature, but when mounted on a big hot lamp, the metal in those shutters would heat up fast -- especially when in the closed position, where they had to be during the beginning of a shot.  If they remained closed for more than thirty seconds, they'd usually stick and jam in a half-open position. All we could do then was turn the lamp off, open the shutters,  and wait for them to cool before trying again.

An imperfect technology for a highly imperfect world.

All these devices -- lightning scissors, plungers, and shutters -- are gone now, joining so many other good-ideas-at-the-time on the ash-heap of Hollywood history, and all because of one man.  In the early 90's, David Pringle started making the rounds with a brand new lamp he called Lightning Strikes. Developed in China, these high-output A.C. bulbs could emit a tremendous blast of light in a much more contained and controllable manner than the crude D.C. methods, and they only needed a 100 amp power supply.  No separate (and expensive) genny was required.  In the early days, David would bring the Lightning Strikes unit to the set personally, then wait until we'd finished -- not because he thought we'd steal the technology, but because those bulbs had a habit of burning out, and he kept a supply of spares in the trunk of his car.  Eventually the bugs were worked out, and the technology applied to a wide spectrum of lamps to meet the needs of large and small budget productions.  

Lightning Strikes works wonderfully well, and has been the state of the art in simulated lightning for many years now, but the last time we needed to create lightning on set, we employed an RGB LED lamp, and it worked fine. I'm not sure LED technology is ready to supplant Lightning Strikes in all applications just yet, but that day is probably coming soon… at which point there will be one more addition to the pile of discarded lightning technology.

And although I've had my fun over the years using Lightning Strikes units, there was nothing quite like operating those old D.C. lightning scissors.**

That was a blast...

 A picture would be worth a thousand words here, but I couldn't find one on the internet.  If any of you can, please send it along so I can amend this post -- and I'll give you credit

** Yeah, the post this link takes you to is called "Grips: Part One" -- but trust me, it contains a story about the wildest time I ever had using Lightning Strikes.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Just for the Hell of It -- Episode Nineteen

Not an April Fool's Joke
         (Photo courtesy of Bobby Ellerby at Eyes of a Generation)

Although I'm a big fan of the highly inventive bubble-gum-and-baling-wire rigs featured at Shitty Rigs, it's always interesting to see how the pros get it done when money, expertise, and equipment are not limiting factors.  This camera rig (from a pilot called Game of Silence) is impressive, with a driver box up top -- where the real driver will control the car -- and at least four cameras rigged to get simultaneous coverage of the actors in the front and back seats. After the passenger side cameras get what the director needs, they'll probably be flipped to the driver's side for the reverse angles.

That's how the magic is made in the dream factories of Hollywood.*

Whether any of this will make for a good show remains to be seen - NBC hasn't exactly distinguished itself by airing good programs the past few years, but neither have the other broadcast networks.

As usual, the really good stuff is still on cable.


Next up, the latest column from Tim Goodman, head TV critic for the Hollywood Reporter, dissecting the shit-storm Trevor Noah (due to replace Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show") recently kicked up.   Comedy, it seems, is an edgy art that does not always translate well to twitter.

As Goodman put it: 

"Twitter, unfortunately, is an imperfect bridge between these worlds. Ply your work there at your own peril. Because the nature of the user experience goes beyond people merely unfollowing you. It allows for them to call you out and highlight jokes as emblematic of your beliefs and as indications of your personality in a way that no one in a comedy club could. For comedians on Twitter, the opportunity to have your jokes "land wrong" is ever present. And the viral nature of the social media platform can distort things very quickly"

Indeed.  Goodman's columns are always worth reading. 

Last, another gem from Gavin Polone, veteran producer, television director and former talent agent -- in other words, a guy who has been around the Hollywood block enough times to know what he's talking about. In his most recent guest column for THR, he discusses the harsh economic realities of "packaging fees."

No, I'd never heard of a "packaging fee" either, but according to Polone, it's "a large upfront payment and an even larger back-end participation that talent agencies receive for doing exactly what they were supposed to do for the regular 10 percent commission they charge their clients."

Yeah, I know -- this stuff is so far above-the-line that it doesn't have much to do with the realities we face on a daily basis below-the-line, but I found it interesting to learn just what greedy scumbags agents and their agencies can really be.  When one of their own spills the beans, it's usually worth listening.

And from what Polone says, agents are almost as bad as the crooks on Wall Street.

That is all...

* I use"Hollywood" as a generic term here, meaning wherever television and movies are made...