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, February 14, 2016

Just for the Hell of It -- Episode 31

In case you were wondering just how powerful electricity can be…

(Photo courtesy of Shane Buttle)

I decided to post this starkly gruesome photo as a reminder of just how incredibly dangerous electricity really is. A big hawk is one of natures truly majestic creations, but apparently this bird landed on a high-tension tower, then stretched out its wings just a little too far. Contact with live wires was made, releasing a blast of high voltage that pretty much vaporized the poor creature, leaving nothing but its talons and a few splashes of blood.


I discussed the dangers of high voltage electricity here a few years ago (a post with some links you'll want to see), and those lessons still hold. Best not to fuck with it unless you really know what you're doing.


I don't have to tell you who George Miller is (and if I do, then I really have to wonder why you're reading this blog), but you might not know much about his career as a filmmaker. I certainly didn't, which is why I found two recent interviews with the man so fascinating. The first comes from the NPR program Fresh Air, in which Miller tells how he got started making films while still practicing medicine, then eventually had to give up his job as a doctor to devote himself to filmmaking at a time when such a career seemed impossible in Australia.

Sometimes you've just gotta believe.

His stories of how the first "Mad Max" film came about -- and why the post-apocalyptic theme in that series started in the first place -- is yet another example of the importance poverty plays in fostering creativity. Had Miller been saddled with a huge budget for his first feature (and equally big expectations), who knows if the second (and best) of the now four-part series film would ever have been made, much less become a modern classic.*

The second interview with Miller comes via an excellent show called Studio 360, and if you want more, you can chase down the links on that site to a longer, unedited version.

Yet a third interview with Miller (getting ten Oscar nominations can really raise a guy's profile) can be found at KCRW's The Business, where the ever-voluable Kim Masters (who just can't seem to keep her mouth shut) draws some fresh material out of Miller.  All three of these interviews  cover some common ground, but each offers enough new stuff to make them worth your time.  

Another good interview from Fresh Air last week -- a re-run discussion with Peter Gould (writer/produce), Jonathan Banks, and Bob Odinkirk from AMCs "Breaking Bad" and "Better Call Saul" -- revealed the creative gold often generated by a happy accident when a smart writing/producing staff runs into what seems like a serious roadblock.  Any fan of "Breaking Bad" can testify to the quiet energy and gravitas Jonathan Banks (as "Mike") brought to that show from Season Two all the way to the end… but as it turns out, he was only brought in when Bob Odinkirk ("Saul Goodman") was already booked and unavailable to get out to New Mexico to shoot a crucial scene.  Vince Gilligan decided to introduce a new character in place of Saul, and the show took a new, more serious direction.  Looking back, it's impossible to imagine "Breaking Bad" without the character of Mike -- which just goes to show the value of limitations.  

In Hollywood, not getting exactly what you want can sometimes be the best thing that ever happened to you.

One final link, this one from The Hollywood Reporterin which George Lucas accurately describes the evil overlords of Disney as "white slavers." From my experiences with the ruthlessly cheap-ass empire of Mousewitz, Big George was right on…but apparently he (or more likely, his agent) found this rare moment of public candor to be a bit much, and he soon backtracked and apologized.

Ah well, George is only human, I guess.  He's sure as hell no Han Solo.


Inquiring minds want to know…

A recent comment from "Anonymous" went like this:

"Would love to hear your opinion about internships in the industry.  Especially those on set."

I haven't had much experience with interns on set. There was a Writer's Room intern on my last show, who hung around for a week or two, then disappeared. There may have been interns in the office, but I never saw them. No intern grips, juicers, sound, props, set dec, wardrobe, hair/makeup, or camera. As far as I know, union rules prohibit interns from working in any of the crafts on set. That doesn't mean such internships don't exist somewhere in non-union Hollywood, but I haven't worked a non-union gig since the WGA strike in 2008. Every now and then a department head will bring in a son or daughter -- or that of a friend -- who's interested in the biz, but they just observe for a day or two.

I don't see a place for interns -- who are supposed to be students, technically -- on set unless they're merely observing. The set is a factory floor, and the only people actively working there should be professionals. Any students on set (for whatever reason) can look, but not touch. The only time I've seen students work on set was during an episode of Melissa & Joey, when a class of film students from Chapman College observed rehearsals for a few days, then appeared in the show as extras for a party scene we filmed in a pre-shoot -- with special permission from SAG, of course.

In a sense, every PA is an intern of sorts, albeit paid. PA'ing on set is a good way to see and learn what  the various departments actually do, while the office PA experience offers an immersion in the off-set production world. Valuable as the experience is, nobody should be a PA any longer than they absolutely have to -- the sooner a PA can move into one of the departments (whether to a crew job on set or in the Writer's Room as the assistant), the better. My last two shows each had a Wardrobe PA, both of whom worked their asses off toiling on the bottom run of that department. I asked one about the union situation, and she was hopeful that her department head would help her get a union card down the road a bit, but I have no idea how that worked out.

It's a tough row to hoe.

A fellow industry blogger weighed in on the subject of the "shushing" we're all subjected to from 1st and 2nd ADs on set:

"Oh god, those relentless 1st and 2nds.  I have worked for them many a time.  As a PA, I would be the one standing in the middle of the grips and juicers shushing you, under the strict watchful eyes of the ADs while you pointedly ignored me.  Then I'd be yelled at over the walkie ON CHANNEL ONE for not doing my job.  It's the worst.  Partly why I don't set PA anymore. Who in their right mind would ever want to be an AD?  I have no idea."

Brother, I feel your pain. Having started out as a PA long ago, I understand the impossible situation you describe… but now I'm on the other side of that equation, being shushed by a PA a third my age -- a kid who means well and is only responding to the constant pressure from the ADs, who for all practical purposes are his/her bosses. And yes, I often ignore the "hold the work" bleats from that hapless PA, which then brings the wrath of the AD crew down upon his/her head.

But here's the deal: I'm not ignoring your pleas out of sheer malice. What the PA's don't always understand is that we often have work that must be done right now -- as when wrapping a swing set due to be swapped out for a new one by the construction crew later that night.  In that situation, we'll usually have pre-call early the next morning, coming in a couple of hours before the rest of the crew to light the new set. The only time we can pull our lights and rigging gear down from that set is in between takes… or else wait until wrap is called, then face another hour or two of work after everybody else has gone home -- and that (among other things) can lead to turnaround problems.

Most of us know how to do this (slowly and carefully) without disrupting the filming going on two sets over: we stop working at the bell, then resume at the sound of two bells. I don't use use a screw-gun in that situation -- instead, I'll use my screwdriver (a painfully laborious process, BTW) to remove the Baby Plates, Grumpys, and Happy Elephants that mount our smaller lamps to the set walls.  

I might be an asshole, but I'm not a complete asshole…

Still, the PA assigned to keep us quiet isn't rarely aware of any of that.** All he/she knows is that the ADs are crawling up his/her ass via walkie-talkies to keep us quiet. But I can't count the times a bell sounds, then the directer (often accompanied by a couple of eager-beaver writers -- walks out in front of the cameras to talk with the actors for minute after minute after minute -- time we could be using to get our work done.  When that happens, we do our job,  all the while ignoring the hapless PA pleading for us to "hold the work." 

One of our PA's figured out a way to make this work without unduly impeding our wrap -- and more or less keep those ADs off his back.  When the on-camera action was really about to begin, he'd say "Hold the work," and we would.  But when the director and a gaggle of writers ignored the bell and ventured out in front of the cameras in a vain attempt to polish their turd of a script, the PA would add "make it safe" before intoning "hold the work" -- which meant "keep working quietly."

This was a perfect solution. We got our work done and he didn't get yelled at -- which tells me that kid will probably go on to achieve his goal of being a show-runner one of these days.

As for who would want to be an AD -- man, it beats the hell out of me.  I can't imagine doing that job, but I'm glad somebody does.  We couldn't function on set without them.  


Finally, a reader will occasionally leave a comment or send an e-mail that just blows my mind -- like this one:

"I read your blog with enthusiasm for the descriptive writing as well as the content… sometimes the words seem to burst open and I feel drenched in a rainbow. That probably sounds silly, but it's just what I feel when I read some of your stories."

Wow. That might be the nicest thing anybody has ever said about this blog.  It made my day.

Thanks, Anonymous K...

* Okay, I haven't seen Fury Road yet -- I will, I will, I swear -- but until then, I'm calling "The Road Warrior" the best of the lot…

** Our 1st and 2nd knew, of course, but just didn't give a damn.


Anonymous said...

and i remember clearly.. it becoming almost a game. those of us that believed we could fly just under the radar of sound and get a stinger or piece of cable wrapped. I was never sure if it was "just for the hell of it" or the challenge of getting away with it after hearing the SHUSSSH.. hold the work. hahaha For sure it was a stress release from the frustration that you clearly pointed out. k

Michael Taylor said...

Anonymous --

A little bit of both, I guess. I do hate that "shuuuush"… I liked our sound dept on this last show -- really nice people -- but the mixer could hear a bat fart from a hundred yards away. Yeah, I know -- that's his job -- and such is life on set, but the Big Shush is one thing I really won't miss when I pull the plug on this circus...

Anonymous said...

Yeah you gotta love the shush. On a low budget polished turd I was working on last year, there was a costume designer who always seemed to stay perched beside the director during takes in the above-the-line EZ up tent. I was grabbing some coffee at crafty (which of course was always within a foot of this same holier-than-thou EZ up. When a cube of ice settled in the ice chest I was next to making a slight sound, she took it upon herself to quickly step out to shush me. I of course ignored her as I wasn't making so much as a mouse fart at this point, which compelled her to then start...snapping...her...fingers at me like I was a delinquent child, while breathily shouting "hey, hey!" Now by this time she was of course making much more noise with this little display than the original slight sound that sent her on the prowl to begin with, and this had absolutely nothing to do with the costume dept...but she was the director's lap dog for some reason and this was low budget shit show at it's finest. God I can't wait to finish the rest of my 30 days!

Michael Taylor said...

Eric --

Great story. We've all found ourselves under the stern glare of the self-appointed set-police at one time or another. I just hope you shot that woman a withering, contemptuous glare… not that it would do any good, mind you -- such people are much too full of themselves to recognize reality -- but they deserve the bitch-slap. Thanks!