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, May 27, 2015

Just for the Hell of It -- Episode Twenty Two

              You never know what you'll find behind the set walls…

Quote of the Week: 

"I'd like to kiss the girl without having to choke her first."

(Ray Liotta, responding to the question "Is there anything left on your showbiz bucket list?" for a recent piece in the LA Times.)

This podcast interview from KCRW's The Business features former agent, producer, and sometimes director Gavin Polone with veteran writer/producer Rob Long in discussing the lucrative practice of agents and their agencies collecting “packaging fees” -- which can be substantial -- from the studios for doing absolutely nothing.  According to Polone, such fees come right off the top of a show’s budget, hoovering up money that could otherwise go towards making a better show.  
According to Polone -- who has never been shy about airing issues that usually remain behind closed doors above-the-line -- not only do these unearned and totally unjustified fees stiff the writers, actors, and producers who do the creative work necessary to put any show up on the screen, but they can have a negative effect on the quality of the show. Apparently the studios and showrunners are leery of alienating the agencies by challenging this practice for fear that the agent's top talent will be steered elsewhere in the future. Polone tells how he once tried to block his agent from getting an unearned package fee, but the studio -- unwilling to ruffle agency feathers -- refused to back him up. They just paid the money instead and if this sounds like something more likely to happen in any one of the many corrupt Third World kleptocracies around the globe, such is the grubby reality of modern Hollywood.  

What that says about the industry and this town is hardly flattering.
Lest this seem irrelevant to those of us who work far below-the-line, remember the ancient trueism:  “When elephants fight, the grass is trampled” -- and in the film and television industry, we’re the grass. The money quietly extorted by agents could allow a show runner to hire better guest stars, get better music to accompany the episode, or maybe let a department head hire extra hands to make the work week go smoother.  Hell, it might even go towards a better craft service spread for all the hard workers on set.  Of course, the show runner involved might just blow that money on cocaine, high-rent hookers, or a new Porsche, but even then, at least he or she actually did something to earn it -- unlike the agent. In essence, agents who engage in this slimy practice are little more than parasitic gangsters extracting "protection money" so the studios won't worry about something "bad" happening.  
Welcome to Hollywoodistan...


On the brighter side, here's a very impressive trailer for a film directed by a production assistant I worked with a while back.  I haven't seen the whole film, but if it's as good as this trailer, then that young man just might have worked his last day as a PA. 

I certainly hope so, because he's smart, talented, and ambitious in all the right ways -- and more importantly, he's earned it.


Next up, a beautifully written tale of being plucked from cinematic obscurity to appear as a featured extra in Woody Allen's "Stardust Memories," from William Zinsser, legendary writer and writing teacher who recently passed away. Truth be told, I'd never heard of the man before his death, but reading the many appreciations of him and some of his writing convinced me to buy one of his books -- and this story might show you why.


Have you ever wondered who the hell Bruce Logan is?  Probably not, but to answer your unasked question, the veteran cinematographer himself is starting up a blog to discuss, among other things, the many movies he's worked on over the last 40 years.  Only the introductory post is up thus far -- titled, appropriately enough, Who the Hell is Bruce Logan? -- but more is promised soon.  The only time I met Bruce, he turned out to be a very nice guy, and now he's going to share his acquired wisdom and experience.  That's a good thing, and his new blog bears watching.


Last --  and this being graduation season -- here are some excerpts from Robert De Niro's recent blunt-but-true commencement address to the graduating class of New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, along with a link to the entire speech. Although his advice could apply to any graduates, it was aimed at those who have chosen to enter the arts as a profession.  I'm not sure anybody but De Niro could stand up in front of a graduating class of dewey-eyed wannabe artists, look them in the eyes, and tell them the hard truth: that because of their fateful decision, "you're fucked."

That they are... but those with sufficient drive and talent will find a way to make it. They always do. As for the rest -- hey, it's a cruel world, kiddos, with only so many chairs at the table of the arts.  But there are lots of other tables in Hollywood and the world at large. You just have open your eyes -- and your mind -- and look for one that works for you.

Because in the long run, that's all that really matters.

So good luck, film school grads.  You're gonna need it.

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