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, August 30, 2015

The Hammer of Lazarus

Another Week of Mondays...
 Ten hours sleep over two long work days, staring at a Sunday of toil...
                                (photo by Steve Morales)

Mondays are never fun, especially a Monday coming off a hiatus week. After nine straight days of freedom (five off-days bookended by two full weekends), my brain has managed to re-inflate after being steamrolled flatter than a stale tortilla by three straight weeks of hard labor. Once again I can appreciate good music, resume reading books, and chip away at the ever-growing logjam on my DVR. Outside I hear the birds sing, and watch big puffy thunderheads build up over the rugged San Gabriel mountains east of LA. I see the sun rise a little bit lower in the sky every morning as summer moves towards fall, the light shifting on that big white Hollywood sign high in the parched hills over the city that’s been my home-away-from-home these past four decades.  

By the end of nine days off, I've resumed human form and -- like Lazarus -- come back to life.

Then it’s Monday again, back at work, where I feel the weariness in my bones -- a dark, enervating fatigue that sinks deep into the marrow. Age and time have everything to do with this, as the sheer weight of all these years working on stage and location sets makes it feel as though I'm walking the surface of Jupiter.*  

In our Gold Room, I was greeted by the unwelcome news that after the usual five days of toil required to light, shoot, and wrap another episode, we’d get Saturday off, then report to location ten miles from the stage at 8 a.m. Sunday for a full 12 hour day filming pick-up scenes owed to a past episode. And that meant Saturday wouldn’t be a “day off” at all, but rather a day swallowed by the mundane-but-essential chores that allow an Industry Work-Bot to keep going. I’d sleep in, then stagger from bed to pay the week's accumulation of bills, hit the post office, laundromat, supermarket, and Trader Joes... and by the time that was all done, Saturday would be over, and the alarm clock set to go off at 5:00 a.m. Sunday morning. 

This depressed the hell out of me -- more than it should have, really. It was only then that I realized just what a slog this job has been, and how thin the line is between being ready to go and feeling too goddamned tired all the time. The show is hard enough as it is -- after three days of lighting, we work long and hard over the Thursday and Friday shoot -- and now the company was taking one of our precious weekend days away. 

On a job like this, the crew needs a full two day weekend to recover. Not only would we lose that recovery time, but we'd be right back on stage the very next day -- Monday -- still feeling the effects of the previous week and that long, hot Sunday.

Thus my attitudinal flame-out. We were in for another week of Mondays.

I’ve been here before, of course -- enduring a week so chaotically fucked-up that every day feels like Monday -- and will doubtless be there again before calling a wrap on this Hollywooden career.  Multi-camera shows aren't supposed to routinely mete out such floggings each and every week. 

Seriously, who needs this shit?

Me, I guess, because I'm still here -- and as hard as the show is, I like to finish what I start. More to the point, I like this lighting crew, and there's a reasonable chance this show might be my last as a member of the core crew. The New Year may well bring nothing but an occasional day-playing gig.

More to the point, the shortage of multi-camera shows currently in production for the new Fall TV season means I’m lucky to be working at all. Most Industry Work-Bots in town are toiling much longer hours on single-camera shows that supplanted all those sit-coms. Once again, it seems a glut of crappy multi-cam shows has choked the Golden Goose. After years of assuming the viewing audience would swallow just about any crap the networks and cable outfits barfed up on the small screen, an entirely predictable audience backlash has come.

Last time this happened was when the ogre of “Reality TV” reared it’s cheap, ugly, exploitational head and drove multi-camera comedies into the hills, where the survivors scraped out a subsistence living by candle-light while dreaming of better times to come. the good times did return, but after a few reasonably fat years, multi-camera shows are once again sliding down the dark side of the "boom and bust" wave, and although they'll doubtless come back into industry fashion again, that future boom will not include me. By the time the multi-camera buffalo return, I'll be long gone from Hollywood.

Such is life.

Although the work-on-Sunday clusterfuck will mean a slightly fatter paycheck (an additional work day plus the sixth consecutive day the following Friday to be paid at a higher rate), much of the increase will be absorbed by the higher rates of tax withholding trigged by any increase in gross weekly pay. By the time we see our checks, the increase won't amount to much more than couple of hundred dollars -- which is better than a sharp stick in the eye, but I'm not sure the minimal monetary gain is worth the considerable pain inflicted by working eleven out of twelve days.  

So why do it? Our Best Boy was upfront in asking if anybody wanted to bail on Sunday and be replaced -- no hard feelings, no harm, no foul.  All I had to do was raise my hand to reclaim my precious weekend...but to quote an old song from my long-gone youth, "I didn't, and I wonder why."

For several reasons, I suppose, starting with my own sense of professional pride. I don't want to be the old guy on the crew who can't hack it when the going gets tough. Indeed, I need to prove to them and to myself that I can hack it -- that despite the gray hair and lines on my face, I still carry my weight every day on set.

There are other factors to consider. My opportunity to work with crews like this will disappear soon enough, and the bond forged in working and suffering together as a crew is unlike anything I’ve experienced elsewhere in life. Maybe my need to hang in there is just another iteration of the old cliche about “hitting yourself in the head with a hammer because it feels so good to stop,” or because deep down inside, I think it's better to work a little too hard for a little too long -- and thus be good and ready to bail when the time comes -- than to back off the throttle and coast across the finish line.

Whether working Sunday was the right call or not, the day came and went, and of course we sweated and suffered all day long. Before we knew it, here was Monday again, back on stage to begin this week's work -- which promised to be yet another week of Mondays.  

Only this time, there'll be six of them...

* Yes, I realize Jupiter is a gas giant with no real surface as we know it, but I'm exercising a little poetic license here to speak in figurative terms about the perceived increase of gravity...


k4kafka said...

Love the photo...Oh, the humanity....

Anonymous said...

hahaha.. ok mike.. just so you know.. IT DOESNT MATTER HOW YOU CROSS THE FINISH LINE!! You can coast across it or go full throttle.. The only thing that matters is that you CROSS it.. and the reason you took on that extra day... because you are a professional day player and thats what you are conditioned to do. hahaha.. take the work while you can get it.. ur friend k

Michael Taylor said...

Kafka --

Yeah, that was one hard day. Nice to hear from you -- hope all is well.

Anonymous K --

Well, since you've already crossed that line, you would know. I may well end up crawling across that finish line with a day-playing whimper rather than closing my career out at the end of another full season. I'd prefer the latter for a sense of closure, if nothing else, but we'll see what happens...