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 8, 2016

Pilot Season, Part Seven

                                                     Don't ask…

Chimps, kids, cats, and a donkey -- this pilot had them all. As discussed last week, working with chimps (or monkeys) is rarely a pleasant experience, but the kids and donkey were great. Seriously. Like most of the very young actors I've worked with on shows over the past few years, our young cast was polite, well-mannered, respectful, and very hard working. If their thespian skills remain in the formative stages, hey, they're performing a script written in the broadest of comedic brush strokes, designed to appeal to young children. 

All in all, they did a terrific job.

As will be no surprise to industry veterans, the cats were considerably more problematic. We've all had occasion to work with cats, during which the reality underlying the expression "like herding cats" was starkly evident. Still, the feline factor is rarely a problem so long as whoever draws up the shooting schedule takes it into account. For a commercial I did many years ago, the production company wisely scheduled two full days to get a single shot involving twenty-one cats.  For once, the Gods of Hollywood were with us, and we got that shot by the end of the first day, but I've done other jobs involving just one or two cats that went off the rails and piled up some serious overtime.*

In the words of the late, great Chief Dan George, "Sometimes the magic works, and sometimes it doesn't."

The magic worked pretty well this time, as the wranglers coaxed all four cats to perform on camera in a very un-catlike manner, and although it took a while, we finished more or less on schedule. The cats didn't really slow us down.

For my money, though, the donkey was the star performer of this pilot. He remained calm and astonishingly patient while enduring all manner of ludicrous, noisy on-camera indignities in front of a green screen. This donkey was a real trooper, and all in the name of art, comedy, and commerce… or more likely, alfalfa. 

We'll never know. Playing his cards close to the vest, the donkey returned to his trailer without discussing motivations.

The rest of the three day shoot went fine, including the audience show. The big dance number came off without a hitch, with all the goddamned Moving Lights doing exactly what they were told.** A lot of preparation and man-hours went into putting this show together, and it paid off over these three days. Personally, I was heartened to see the Techno-Jib flying a camera out above the audience for a few shots, which meant my long hours of suffering to re-rig the front pipe were not -- as is so often the case -- wasted effort. 

You might assume I'll be irked if those sweeping audience shots from the magical Techno-Jib don't make it to the final cut of the pilot, but that won't bother me at all. I'd only be pissed had the director not taken advantage of all the extra head-room we worked so hard to provide in order for him to get those shots in the first place. Giving the director whatever he thinks he needs is our job, whether or not he actually needs it.  

Other than keeping an eye out for B.O. lamps -- which tend to go at the worst possible time -- there wasn't much for us on the set lighting crew to do during the audience show. We only had to run for a lamp once, when the director decided to place an actor in a dark hole on set, but that was an easy fix. 

For all practical purposes, our work was done -- all that remained now was to stay awake and reasonably vigilant until the director and his bevy of writer-producers had what they wanted. When that blessed moment finally arrived, it was time to go home and rest up over the weekend before the next (and very physical) phase of the pilot: wrap.

Next -- Part Eight:  Wrap

*  A single relatively simple scene involving a cat or two can be hard enough, so imagine doing an entire feature film built around a cat.

**  I'm not sure which I hate more -- working with monkeys or Moving Lights...

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