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, June 12, 2016

Day Player, Again...

                                         Have Toolbelt, Will Travel…*

After a month of post-pilot drifting, the phone finally rang -- or rather, the screen lit up with an incoming text, which goes to show that old dogs really can learn new tricks when they have to… and I had to, because after refusing to join the cellular stampede for last twenty years, my no-longer-shiny smart phone has become the essential tool for finding work.  

Yeah, I know: welcome to the 21st Century, dude -- and what the hell took you so long?

That's what happens when a core crew Show Boy morphs back into a hire-me-please Day Player -- the cell phone goes from digital bauble to economic lifeline in a hurry, with my first lesson in this Brave New Digital World being the importance of responding to a work text ASAP. This little nugget of wisdom came the hard way, of course, since I was busy at the time and didn't get around to checking the text for two full hours. That was much too late, of course, which is how a sweet eight day job for full union scale turned into a one day hi-goodbye gig. 

Ouch. Ah well, live and learn. That's one mistake I won't make again.

Still, one day of work is better than nothing, so I reported for duty back at my home lot. After twenty minutes of filling out the requisite start paperwork (scrawling my name, address, e-mail, phone, and social security number at least half a dozen times on different forms), and another ten minutes waiting for a production droid to check each and every form, then verify my SS card and driver's license, I was finally cleared to do some actual work.  

Since the show occupied two sound stages, I figured assumed that my fellow late-call juicer and I would be working indoors... but as so often happens, the God of Assumptions -- truly the Trickster -- had the last laugh. Our first task was to rig the "New York Street" backlot for the production company wrap party, which was due to commence once the audience show concluded much later that night. Hanging and powering a dozen strings of party lights above the ersatz urban boulevard wasn't particularly difficult, but I drew the short straw of working the sunny side of that street. Dressed for the expected indoor work in levis and a black T shirt, it wasn't long before I began to overheat while scrambling around on those sun-blasted balconies with no cooling breeze. By the time we'd finished, I was dripping with sweat -- at which point we went back on stage for the real work of the day.   

While the other juicer worked on cleaning up the cable troughs (this small stage had no catwalks or real "up-high"), I climbed in a man-lift and proceeded to methodically pull down every lamp, stirrup hanger, offset arm, riser, cable safety, and stinger on the set. This is the kind of wrap I like -- melding with the machinery of the man-lift, working steadily at my own pace with nobody on the floor to get in my way. Once I'd settled into a good rhythm, the hours just seemed to melt away as the nice, neat rows of lighting equipment on the stage floor grew ever longer. 

As simple-minded as it might sound, there's a very real satisfaction in this kind of work, and at seeing how much we'd both accomplished by the end of our day, nine hours after call.  There were only the two of us, but we kicked ass wrapping that stage.

After washing up, I signed my time card and was about to leave when the Best Boy invited me to hit the food trucks at the wrap party. Ordinarily, I'd demur in favor of getting home, but I was starving -- and besides, the free-food television gravy train will leave me behind for good soon enough. 

What the hell: I'd helped rig their damned party, so why not partake?

That I did, in the form of a nice fat cheeseburger, a big bowl of crisp, hot onion rings, and a large sugar-laced Coke -- a heart attack on a plate so late at night, but that kind of thing doesn't worry me anymore. Having witnessed the senescence-and-Depends ravages of extreme old age up close and personal as my Dad spiraled into the grave a couple of years ago, the notion of living to a ripe old age doesn't hold much appealThe "Golden Years," my ass -- I'm wondering if Blondie might have had the right idea when they sang Die Young, Stay Pretty a long time ago... but neither option is open to me now.

This wasn't my show, and although I knew some of the crew from other shows over the years, I was dog-tired and not feeling particularly social. The party was for them -- a reward after slogging through a long season -- not for me, so I took a seat on a hard wooden bench in the shadows, watching as the young writers and production drones (dressed to the nines in the modern, casual mode) waited by the food trucks with their young, pretty dates, the men making awkward conversation as the women nodded politely and tapped on their smart phones. Each had their own private agenda in this delicate mating dance, their unspoken desires utterly transparent, and oh-so-human.**

A truly good wrap party can harness and channel an explosion of pent-up, raucous energy, and in the process, provide a cathartic cleansing of sorts -- a kick-out-the-jams sense of closure to the end of a movie or season of a television show -- but this felt more like a dutiful exercise in mutual exhaustion, hopeful posturing, and lugubrious, unfulfilled yearning. The cool night air reeked with the scent of hot grease and ill-defined dreams, doomed from the start, going up in smoke.

Or maybe that was just me, staring into the cracked mirror of a career rapidly fading to black...

I was too tired to wallow in such pointless philosophical musing. All I wanted at that moment was a burger, onion rings, and a sweet, bubbly Coke -- and once they'd been inhaled, I slung my work bag over one shoulder and pedaled my bike silently through the dark night towards the parking structure.

The first job of the last phase in my working life -- once again a Day Player -- was over and done.

More to come.

* For those too young to know -- doubtless the vast majority of you -- this is a reference to a television Western that was very popular when I was a kid.

** One of the few benefits of old age (the only benefit, come to think of it), is that having been there and done that so many times in the past, I am no longer a participant -- which strikes me as a little bit sad and something of a relief at the same time. Go figure...


Anonymous said...

hahaha we spent an entire day pickin up cable... trying to remember..
READS THE CARD OF A MAN... Hahaha always your friend k

Anonymous said...

The writing is just getting better and better however!

Sorry about the union gig. Having been on the other end of that smart phone tap tap - 5 minutes on a response (even let me check if I can clear those dates) seems to be OK with 30 minutes being the time the person tapping away seems to often go onto the next leaving the slow responder (dead battery? out of service? stuck in the john? driving 90 on the freeway) behind.

I'm a bit further along, but those of the younger generation have that thing glued to them at all times. I never understood don't text and drive, but with the younger group don't text and drive, don't text and walk all seem worthy messages - someone even cut me off biking with no helmet steering with one hand and texting with the other. Ahh - to be young! That is however setting the bar WAY too high for those of us who like putting our phones on mute!

Anonymous said...

I did once turn the tables when I had a bit more time on my hands.

I worked to be THE fastest to respond. It worked too, because the anxious person on the other end hated having the uncertainty of waiting while they tried to organize things (and were of course impatient generally with an appropriately short attention span given a modern media upbringing).

Because EVERY time they texted they always got a ping back right away (even a "can't do it", but more often "I'm in") they of course started texting me first always.

The trick I used was to set a special text sound for them, and mark them so even during do not disturb / night mode their text would ping me. On the iphone you can set a specific vibration and sound for a contact. Not sure if this would work in your case where calls might come from anywhere, but in mine I knew exactly who might be texting.

Even in a social situation I could excuse myself to wash my hands, hit the restroom and fire off a quick text without even pulling the phone out.

When I got busier and didn't respond right away (it no longer mattered) they were however very upset. I learned my lesson, I should have let them know I had other work and wouldn't be as responsive (nothing worse then pulling out a phone while on the job) proactively. Unless they heard a "no" they'd started to assume I would show up, so when I didn't send a no right away, they didn't continue down their list (I hadn't said yes either).

So still some lessons to learn along the way (I hand't wanted to burn any bridges)

Michael Taylor said...

Anonymous -- and I'm assuming that both "Anonymous" comments were left by the same reader, but if not, I apologize... Yeah, I'm a "muter" too -- I REALLY don't want my phone going off on set. Thanks for the tips. Although there aren't all that many people who call me for work anymore, it might be worthwhile to assign separate tones to those who do. But as you point out, there's no one-size-fits-all strategy for these things. Fortunately, I won't have to worry about any of this much longer.

Thanks for tuning in...

Anonymous said...

Hello Michael - Great blog. As a young PA, I've always found insight in your musings. Thanks. I do have one question. Why did you stick it out?

Michael Taylor said...

Anonymous -- That's a big question, and one that might be better answered in a future blog post -- but for the moment, let's just say I stuck it out because I liked being in the biz. It was a lot of fun for a while, then it wasn't fun at all, then I started (finally) making halfway decent money, at which point it started being fun again…. then that changed too. It's all about riding the Hollywood roller coaster and finding a way to make the best of it.

And the truth is, this life really isn't for everybody.

One caveat: unlike most PAs these days, I never harbored any serious ambitions to become a screenwriter, producer, or director. Beyond studying film in school, the above-the-line side of the business never really interested me, so I made my career bed below decks, where I sleep to this day. Also, I wasn't a PA very long -- after doing two features as a know-nothing newbie PA, I was able to start working as a grip/electric, albeit at a very low level. If I'd had to remain a PA for several years, I doubt I would have stuck it out.

I'll be dissecting another aspect of the appeal in working below decks in tomorrow's post, so stay tuned.

And thanks for the kind words -- it's always nice to hear from those who find something of value here...

Ed (sloweddi) said...


After a long delay of no internet, I am back in the world again.

Nice post.

Nice writing.

I might point out that the nice thing about growing ancient is... wait, it was on the tip of my tongue, nope lost it ;)

Michael Taylor said...

Sloweddi --

Near as I can tell, the only truly good thing about hitting this age is the 10% senior discount at the local not-so-supermarket on Tuesdays.

Well, that and the obvious alternative…

Welcome back.

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