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, November 27, 2016

Just for the Hell of It -- Episode 41

                                                       Uh, no thanks...

Back in the waning days of my career as a gaffer in the late 90's, I did a commercial for State Farm Insurance on location near Sacramento, California. The spot stared a professor of entomology from the University of California at Davis who had synthesized honeybee pheromones and figured out how to use them to manipulate the behavior of bees to a remarkable degree -- which this commercial allowed him to demonstrate.

That old spot is probably out there on Utube in one form or another, but I couldn't find it. The photo above, however, is very much like the "money shot" at the end of the commercial, with the professor playing the State Farm theme song ("Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there") on his saxophone -- having dosed his face, neck and chest with pheromones that attracted a huge mass of bees. He looked a bit like an older version of a very modern hipster sporting the most extreme urban-Amish beard imaginable -- a living, pulsing beard of bees.

It was a truly surreal image.

Given that we spent three days filming in disturbingly close proximity to a very active bee hive, I learned a few things -- like what a "bee line" actually is. A bee hive is a lot like an airport, with heavy traffic of incoming and outgoing bees following distinct, well-delineated flight paths to and from the hive. Once you identify those bee-lines, it's relatively easy to stay out of their path and thus minimize your chances of being stung.  But whatever you do, do not breathe hard when you're in close to a hive. Thanks to eons of ursine predation, bees have evolved a sensitivity to carbon dioxide exhaled by bears that were chewing their way into hives in search of honey -- so when bees sense CO2, they attack en masse.

As my mom used to say, "No good can come of that."  

But if you stay out of the bee lines, move slowly, and don't breathe too much, you should be okay.  

Truth be told, I was worried going into this job. Having read perhaps a bit too much about "killer bees," the idea of aiming big hot lights at an active hive for three long days seemed like a sure way to get stung repeatedly... but we followed the advice of that old entomologist and nobody on the crew got stung. It certainly wasn't a fun job, but at wrap, the professor gave us each of us a jar of honey from his hives. 

It was the best honey I've ever tasted, before or since.


Now for some good podcasts while you lie on the couch in a post-Thanksgiving reptilian torpor. First up, a terrific interview with Francis Ford Coppola telling about his battles with Paramount Studio before and during production of "The Godfather." We live and work in a very different era nowadays, but these stories of the inside struggle to get a film classic made are very much worth hearing.

Next, Elvis Mitchell talks about directing and other things with Ben Younger, whose new boxing film Bleed for This is now in release. This is Younger's third movie, which went into production after his decade-plus haitus from features, which means he's still very much in touch with the reality of being a new director. In this interview, he discusses what it was like to freeze up -- absolutely locked solid -- on his very first day on set as director of a feature film. Imagine that... sixty professional crew people and actors standing there watching and waiting for you to say something to get the filming underway, but being seized by the sudden paralytic grip of an anxiety attack that leaves you unable to speak.

Yikes. That's the stuff of nightmares.  I break out in a cold sweat just thinking about it...

Once you've digested those offerings, here's the usual pithy commentary from veteran writer/producer Rob Long's Martini Shot, very much in the spirit of the digital season.

That's it for this week -- hope you all had a great Thanksgiving...

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