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 5, 2016

Just for the Hell of It -- Episode 35

                               Filming the first Star Wars
                       (Photo courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle)

Confession -- I haven't yet seen the latest Star Wars movie, nor the three "prequels" that followed the originals. I've nothing against Star Wars or George Lucas, mind you (although I do harbor a deep and eternal loathing for the Disney Corporation), but there are only so many hours in each day, and I have yet to find the time to catch up on the series.

Someday I will, maybe -- hey, that's what Netflix is for.

I saw the first three way back in the day, of course, the second of which is generally acknowledged to be the best of the lot. One of the more memorable scenes from The Empire Strikes Back is the "Battle of Hoth," set in a snowy wasteland, where the most impressive elements were the "Imperial Walkers" -- huge, dinosaur-like tanks that walked on four massive mechanical legs. That was such a fun scene to watch at the time that I never even bothered to wonder how George Lucas and his crew actually filmed it.  

You'll find some of the answers in this fascinating piece from the San Francisco Chronicle, which tells the story of the young people tasked with making that scene come to life -- and how they were pretty much winging it the whole way.* Call it "new old-school" if you will; a melding of time-tested Hollywood methods with (then) cutting-edge technology to create a very modern other-worldly scene that thrilled audiences all over the globe. 

What I like about this story is represented by the photo at the top of this page, which shows an Industrial Light and Magic crew filming an explosion (on what I presume was the Death Star) for the first Star Wars movie. There they are, shooting outdoors on a gritty urban parking lot, employing the hard, crisp light of our nearest star -- raw sunlight -- to illuminate the scene. Making it up as they went while using whatever they had, they got the job done, and in the process made cinematic history.  

Very cool, that.


Our next offering comes from veteran writer/producer Rob Long's weekly Martini Shot commentaries. In this one, Rob discusses the virtues of spending other people's money in Hollywood and beyond -- and the importance of avoiding investing your own money at all costs. In the process, he deconstructs the financial woes of hip-hop legend/cultural buffoon Kanye West (who was last heard begging Mark Zuckerberg, among others, for money) and the apparent plight of comedian/all-around genius Louis C.K., who self-funding of a ten episode web series left him deep in dept.

Or so goes the conventional wisdom... because it turns out that Louis C.K. is a lot smarter than anybody thought -- and several orders of magnitude smarter than Kanye Kardashian. As you will learn when you listen to this episode of KCRW's The Business, Louis C.K. is always a man with a plan, and now that Horace and Pete has paid for itself (without benefit of any advertising, no less), he's prepared to start banking profits from the show. Like the man himself, his business model is unique, and probably can't be applied by anybody else these days, which positions Louis C.K. as the proverbial exception that proves the rule.**

He's an amazing guy, and this is one terrific interview. Don't miss it.


Ever wonder what the hell a script supervisor does?  There once was a great industry blog written by a script supervisor who went to great pains to explain her craft, but she hasn't updated with any new posts in four years now. That's a shame, because her extremely well written blog provided a peek at what goes on inside the day of a script supervisor, and what it takes to do the job right. 

Personally, I don't understand why anyone would want that job -- a position that requires a sharp eye, nimble brain, endless patience, and an obsessive attention to detail. Worst of all, a script supervisor works alone, under a ton of pressure, without even the support of a Best Boy to get through each long shooting day. 

No thanks -- I couldn't do that, which is why I have so much respect for those who do.

This short podcast (eleven minutes) discusses the life and work of Tracy Scott -- a well known script supervisor who recently passed away -- and the multi-dimensional importance of her job -- with testimony from several A List directors who worked with her. It's a good one.


Here's a fascinating description of what it was like to work with Stanley Kubrick on The Shining by a then-young British juicer. The piece doesn't get lost in the technical weeds of production, but describes the human side of the equation through the eyes a young man just getting his start in the biz.  


There's a wealth of good, relevant advice for newbies and Hollywood wannabes in this piece  from Filmmaker Magazine. Some of that advice may be a bit overheated -- not every film set is a "sacred place where creative people engage with one another and make art" -- but each set is a shared workspace for professionals, and should be respected accordingly by everyone there. If you're new to the biz, or hoping to break in, read it.  


Here's a surprisingly candid and interesting interview/conversation between KCRW's Elvis Mitchell (once a film reviewer for the NY Times, among other things) and Leo DiCaprio. I don't ordinarily read or listen to interviews with big Hollywood stars, because those things are typically puff-pieces carefully modulated by a publicity department to promote a new movie, which means little of real interest or relevance to the craft of filmmaking will be revealed. 

This one is different -- and defintely worth a listen -- but if for whatever reason you just don't have twenty-five minutes to spare and still want to hear a really great interview, go here now. It's a terrific ten minute conversation with Bryan Cranston that packs a ton of interesting stories, opinions, ideas, and approaches to working in Hollywood that are highly relevant for any newbie seeking to break in. Much of what he says goes for every craft, not just acting. He covers  some of the same ground as in previous interviews, but Cranston -- one of our most gifted actors right now -- has a way of making it fresh and highly entertaining. Don't miss it.

That's all for now…

* The Chronicle has a semi-porous pay wall, so that link may or may not work for you. If it doesn't, shoot me an e-mail and I'll send the article to you. Same goes for this earlier article, which details the subsequent special effects career of Phil Tippett, a pivotal figure in filming the early Star Wars dramas.

** If you're curious (and have three dollars plus a good internet connection), you can see the first episode here...

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