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, October 11, 2015

Just For the Hell of It: Episode 27

                                           Courtesy of Movie Set Memes

The presence of our industry on social media -- particularly below-the-line -- has exploded in recent years. When I launched BS&T back in 2007, there were only a handful of industry blogs around, and few people over age 18 had even heard of Facebook. 

Times have changed. As feature film and television production expands across the country, the number of people working in the industry has grown rapidly, and so has our on-line presence.

I recently signed on with a FB group called "Movie Set Memes," which is fueled by the many indignities, absurdities, and idiocies suffered by those of us who work below-the-line.  Along the way, it reveals the creativity with which low-budget crews approach their job and solve problems on set.

Although I'm not sure I'd want to be the camera operator in the photo above (I can only assume they didn't have a 12 step ladder on the truck), I have to admire the ingenuity of that crew. Hey, we've all done what had to be done to get a shot at one time or another -- but I just hope nobody got hurt doing that one.

Sometimes the subject matter on MSM strays to producing:

                 image by Kate D'Hotman

Or this one…

                image by Kate D'Hotman

… which reminds me of an old post describing my own silliest job ever, which you might not have stumbled across if you weren't aware of BS&T back in 2010. 

It really was one uniquely crazy gig.

As with any forum supported by mass contributions, there's lots of repetitive chaff at Movie Set Memes, and it remains to be seen if the site can be kept clear of the usual internet flotsam and jetsam, but for now, the occasional nuggets make it worth a look.  


(Update: since this post went up a few years ago, the link I'd included no longer leads to the article I'd intended - which is a shame - so click on over there if you like, but don't expect anything good...   8/21/2019)

Speaking of social media, one of my on-set and FB friends* recently posted a link to a post titled How to Survive On Set: Tips to be the Best Worker Ever, which schools newbies on the reality of being on a film set, and how to do a good enough job to get called back for future gigs. Here's a paragraph describing the importance of giving your very best effort to every job, no matter how lame the production.

"Sometimes, film shoots are awful. Directors lose control; producers are scoundrels; people have bad ideas and worse communication skills. But it is a rookie mistake to think that this means it is not worth your best efforts. The production world is like a deck of cards, where everyone is reshuffled into different crews, over and over, a dozen times a year. Soon, that worthless director’s assistant may be in a position to tell her new boss not to hire you; five movies from now, that jerk of an electrician will stand in your way when you most need a favor. Don’t burn bridges."

It's a good post, packed with excellent advice to benefit any newbie on set -- or someone who's been struggling for a couple of years without making much progress.  Advancing in Hollywood is seldom easy, but sometimes there's a reason why you haven't managed to move beyond crummy, low-pay gigs -- and that reason just might be found in the mirror.  

"Know thyself," the wise men said.

That said, the post overstates a few things... like this overly-earnest passage under the heading "Throw away your Trash:

"A film set is a sacred place where creative people engage with one another and make art. Every bag of chips and empty coffee cup left behind is an act of disrespect to the art-making at hand. It is also a blemish on the film itself, as an errant water bottle, discovered too late, renders a great shot useless."

"A sacred place?  Art making??"  Dude, a film set is a workplace -- a factory floor where we grind out the cinematic sausage one messy, bloody chunk at a time -- not "a sacred place where creative people...make art."  Yes, there are many creative people on set, but the vast majority are working at their craft doing a job, not making "art." Of course you should always respect the workplace, your fellow crew, your craft, and the way you make a living, but only rarely do the efforts of a film crew blend with the quality of writing, directorial brilliance, and exceptional acting performances required to create art.

If and when that happy confluence of talent and sweat does occur, great.  Just don't hold your breath waiting for it, because let's face it -- not a lot of "art" comes out of Hollywood these days. Mind-boggling spectacle, yes.  Heart-stopping drama, yes.  Comedy that can make an audience pee their pants, sometimes... but art?  Not so much.  And that's okay, since  we're we're in show business, not art-business.  Our job is to create entertainment designed to take people's minds off the humdrum reality and often miserable ordeals of modern life.  Hollywood manufactures the cinematic opium our culture depends upon as a buffer from that reality, and in so doing, we help keep the fires of conspicuous consumption burning hot and bright.  For better or worse (mostly worse, methinks, in the long run), our economy depends on that fire.

I'm not particularly proud of this, but it is what it is -- and we all play our part.

That a production designer who goes by a name like "Brandon Tonner-Connolly" would conflate work and art should come as no surprise. No offense to Brandon, but -- regrettably for him -- such hyphenated three-word names just reek of pretentious pomposity. Still, he's got some serious credits, and is pretty much spot-on with everything else in his post -- and he's absolutely right that you should clean up your own (and your department's) trash.  

Respect the workplace and do the best job you can, even if you're working on some crappy show that will never get within a hundred miles of being considered "art."

The post also includes a link to a list of who does what on set, useful for any brand-newbies still dazed and confused by the apparent chaos of a stage or location set. 

That's all for this week.  Stay safe out there, kiddos…

* Thanks, Desi!


Anonymous said...

ART...always in the eye of the beholder.. I have laid hundreds of feet of that ugly 4/0 cable and more times then i can count, weather up in the catwalks or in the dimmer room or some god forsaken location, when the cable was in and the job complete, i looked back with pride and thought.. WOW WHAT A WORK OF ART. k

Michael Taylor said...

Anonymous K;

I hear you -- and have had similar moments -- but I still think there's a difference between "craft" and "art." You can't make the latter without the former, though, and at it's highest levels, craft does magically morph into art.

Lisa Tony said...

Your article is awesome! The memes really made me LOL. Will share this to my colleagues. :) For those out there, you can also checkout this link where you can find awesome music for your films. Cheers!