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, May 17, 2015

Day Playing, Again...

                                 It keeps me hanging on…

Sometimes you just get lucky. After two months out of town -- a precious few days back on the Home Planet wrapped around a long stretch of hard domestic time at the ancestral family abode -- I took a few days to plow through the mail and bills that accumulated in my absence, revive the nearly-dead house plants, restore the apartment to some semblance of order, re-stock the fridge, then get my head back in the Hollywood game.  Two months without a paycheck left me in need of work, and soon.

The first call was to the head of set lighting at my home lot, but all that yielded was an answering machine. No surprise there -- the family situation that called me away happened just as the regular television season was winding down and the balls-to-the-wall frenzy of pilot season was gearing up.  But that's all over now, as Hollywood hibernates in the doldrums that follow pilot season and the network upfronts as surely as day surrenders to night. For the eight to ten weeks between now and the kick-off of the new Fall television season in mid-July, work will be scarce at all the studios around town.*

This is where the intangibles of Hollywood luck came into play. My second call was to a Best Boy who had offered me a slot on his crew while I was away (which the family issue precluded me from accepting), and as it happened, I'd called at the exact right moment. He needed a juicer to replace one of his regulars who was leaving the show for a week to take a more lucrative gig on a commercial.

So once again I found myself walking onto an unfamiliar set of a show that had already shot more than half of their scheduled episodes.  Although I'd never worked with the DP or Gaffer before, my two fellow juicers turned out to be familiar faces -- one from a crew I joined for a week of night-rigging on Mars Attacks, and the other who toiled shoulder to shoulder with me lighting effects-shots for the computer-controlled cameras at the Digital Domain studio on The Fifth Element.

I hadn't seen either of them in the twenty years since, so we had some of catching up to do.

The re-entry to work after an extended period off doesn't always go smoothly. Rust sets in fast, and it usually takes me a couple of hours to get back in the grove on set -- but not this time.  For whatever reason, I hit the ground running and didn't look back. Still, coming on to a show in mid-season is always a bit awkward. The routines of hanging, powering, and adjusting lamps are essentially the same, but the personal dynamics of every crew are different, and since this DP and Gaffer were new to me, I had to adapt to their mode of working.  But there's a fine line between leaning forward to do a good job  and being the too-eager, run-for-everything-first "super-juicer" who just pisses everybody off.

I couldn't always toe that line in my younger days, when I tended to push too hard in an effort to prove myself worthy, which could alienate my new co-workers. Not a good thing, that. But having been around the block a few times by now, there were no such problems on this show. The hardest thing for me was locating the three equipment carts on a daily basis. Being on wheels (and on a stage jam-packed with eight sets), those carts were constantly being moved from one set to another. Whichever cart I happened to need at any given time never seemed to be where I'd last seen it. But what mattered -- and proved surprisingly satisfying -- was having the rest of the crew relax and accept me as one of their own after a couple of days as I matched their working rhythm on set. Work is always work, but this one turned out to be a fun gig.

The promised five days came and went: a lighting day, a block-and-shoot day, a live-audience shoot night, then two more lighting days the following week… at which point the juicer I'd replaced decided to stay home for the remainder of the week, so I got another lighting day, another block-and-shoot, and another audience show night. Eight days of work at a buck-under-scale won't make up for missing the full run of pilot season, but those two paychecks will beat the hell out of what I'd have recieved from the California Unemployment Department.

I filed for unemployment the day after this gig ended, of course.  Performing the ritual Rain Dance is essential to appease the Gods of Hollywood and -- hopefully -- allow my phone to ring again, because as a man without a show, I'm now back to what I've been so many times before: a Day Player.

* Network shows, anyway. A few cable shows will doubtless get underway -- since cable marches to it's own calendar drummer -- but with more than half the town unemployed, there will be ten Work-Bots vying for every job on those crews...


Niall said...

Isn't everyone a day player deep down inside?

Michael Taylor said...

Niall --

Good point -- so perhaps this is just a return to my roots: back to the life of a cinematic hunter-gatherer...