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 14, 2017

The Big Sigh

                               "To every thing there is a season, turn, turn, turn..."
                                                         The Byrds

I knew this would happen at some point, but didn't expect it quite so soon -- and such is life, where you're never really sure what might be around the next corner. I opened up my laptop the other morning to find an e-mail from one of my favorite people in LA, a Best Boy I did a lot of work with over the past ten years. It was just a quick note to say hello, and that he was on a job with another BB I know very well -- two great guys I always enjoyed working with.

For the very first time since I left LA, I felt a sudden implosion in my chest, then sighed the Big Sigh. Had it been possible at that moment to teleport myself back to LA just for the day to work with these two guys, I'd have done it in a heartbeat... but that part of my life is over. The sooner I embrace this reality -- and stop gazing back at the road already traveled to focus on the path ahead -- the better.

I'm officially retired now, no longer a juicer, so the time has come.

This space achieved a landmark of sorts recently, as the 500,000th visitor alighted here from wilds of cyberspace. The number itself is meaningless, of course -- that and five bucks will buy me a small cup of Starbucks finest -- especially when it was probably just a handful of actual humans and God knows how many CyberBots responsible for all those hits over the past ten years. Still, back when this blog took its first halting steps, any notion that it might endure long enough to accumulate half a million hits (regardless of the source) was inconceivable. With nothing beyond three posts written for a very different purpose, it morphed into something far beyond anything I'd envisioned. Slowly, bit by bit, three or four hits a week became twenty to thirty, and then -- on a good week -- considerably more.

It turned out there was a hunger on the part of film students, industry newbies, and all sorts of people for the no-bullshit truth about working below-the-line. Not a massive hunger, mind you -- only the most popular posts here attracted more than a couple of thousand hits, which is barely a sneeze on the internet -- but it was enough to signal that a scattering of people across the country and beyond wanted to hear the unvarnished reality of toiling in the trenches of the film and television biz.

None of this was planned, of course, but I kept stumbling along until it finally occurred to me that putting up a post every Sunday might be a worthy goal. If I didn't always meet this self-imposed deadline, it wasn't for lack of trying. 

I wish I could claim it was an original idea, but I had no clue what a "blog" was until reading this introduction to "Peggy Archer's" Totally Unauthorized in the LA Times. I had no inkling that I'd follow my fellow IATSE Local 728 juicer into the blogosphere, but two years later -- thanks to a series of unlikely events -- that's what happened. I soon realized there were other other industry blogs out there, and that I was only the latest to join an informal and disparate group of film industry professionals sharing their experiences with a growing legion of readers. In short order, more industry blogs appeared -- The Hills are Burning, The Anonymous Production Assistant, and The Black and Blue, among others -- and now there are dozens of industry blogs out there, offering advice, commiseration, and all kinds of detailed technical advice.

For a lot of reasons, meeting the weekly deadline of 12:01 p.m. every Sunday has become something of a chore lately, which tells me it's time to back off the throttle and shift into a lower gear. This became glaringly apparent a couple of months ago when I had an idea for a post, then sat down to write about the importance of leaning into whatever challenges the job throws at you on set -- to "just say yes" rather than find some excuse to say no. But after a few minutes at the keyboard, this began to ring all too familiar -- and sure enough, a quick search of the blog turned up a post from 2012 beating the very same drum, with the exact same title.


Hey, it happens. Spring turns to Summer, Summer turns to Fall, and Fall turns to Winter -- "to everything there is a season" -- but this was a flashing red neon sign that it's time for change here at Blood, Sweat, and Tedium. 

You might be surprised how much work has gone into these posts, but it never seemed to be enough. I spent countless Sunday mornings (including this one) sweating through yet another draft as the clock ticked towards high noon, trying to hammer a post into shape and get it just right.

I never did, of course -- there was always room for improvement -- but sometimes you just have to give it your best shot and move on. Indeed, that's why I imposed the Sunday 12:01 deadline on myself in the first place: to avoid an endless journey on the Möbius Highway chasing the shimmering mirage of unattainable perfection.

                         This was me around 11:55 every Sunday morning...

I've enjoyed this ten-year ride, but it's time to reclaim Sunday mornings for myself -- so that's a wrap on the Sunday Post.*

I plan to resume work on the book based on this blog very soon -- a task I began several years ago, but had to shelve when it turned out I really couldn't make a living, write a new post every week, and put a book together at the same time. I'll keep you posted on the progress of that project, if and when there's something to report.

I hope this blog managed to shed some light on the reality of working in an industry that everybody -- except those who toil in the belly of the Hollywood beast -- seems to consider "glamorous." Many thanks to all of you who took the time to comment or send e-mails over the years, sharing your own stories, thoughts, questions, and suggestions. Absent your feedback, this blog would have run off the rails a long time ago.

I'm not abandoning this space just yet. Whenever I get sick of working on the book (trust me, that'll happen...) and have something to say, I'll post it here -- just not every Sunday.  

In the words Arnold the Terminator, "I'll be back."

Meanwhile, the Great Wheel keeps on turning, right in tune with the seasons -- but time is as fleeting as it is precious, and the seasons pass all too soon, so get out there and have a great summer..

* For anyone new to this space -- or who simply doesn't have the time/patience to wade through a pile of dusty cyber-archives -- here's a link to the more-or-less greatest hits. That list hasn't been updated for quite a while, but will take you to some of the better offerings over the years...  

Sunday, May 7, 2017


            Apropos of nothing in particular, a storyboard sketch from "The Wild Bunch"

Yeah, I know -- this has to be just about the worst post-title ever... but the one I've been hacking away at this past week just isn't ready to publish, and until it is, I won't. As the late, great Orson Welles used to intone while doing those sad, drunken Paul Mason commercials in the twilight of his career, "We will sell no wine before its time."

Which means I've got nothing but filler this week... except for this entirely dazzling two minute spot purportedly put together by a Visual Effects Artist for the express purpose of selling his twenty year old car. As one of my fellow juicers on set used to say (and still does, actually), this one is "epic!"*

It's definitely worth a look, so check it out.

As foThe Wild Bunch -- if for some unfathomable reason you haven't seen this movie, you owe it to yourself to rectify that situation. Yes, it's a western, and although I realize the current generation views westerns as quaint, dusty cinematic relics irrelevant to these modern times (which means they must not have seen the films of Budd Boetticher or  Anthony Mann, either), this one is worth your time. And no, not for all of Sam Pekinpah's infamous slow-motion violence, but for the tight, elegant, compelling construction of The Wild Bunch -- it's all muscle, without an ounce of fat. Any of you would-be/wannabe/someday directors out there can learn a lot from this movie -- so don't turn up your noses while waiting for the next bloated comic book CGI spectacular to hit the screen. Sit down and watch The Wild Bunch, a movie that exemplifies the best of old-school, pre-digital film making. Just remember to open your mind and check your preconceived notions at the door.**

Meanwhile, I'll be back when I have something ready -- and not before...

PS: a little add-on here, five hours later.  If you click on over to Dollygrippery, you'll find a link to a fascinating and informative clip with two special effects artists talking about the work they did on several of the Alien franchise sequels. I must confess that I've only seen the original Alien -- none of the follow-ups -- but that didn't matter. The discussion will doubtless thrill the Alien fanboy crowd on levels I'll never understand, but there's so much more than that. Watch and listen, and you'll learn a lot about the realities of the modern film industry.

* You know who you are... 

** Years ago, I BB'd a commercial on location in Monterrey, California, where we used the local state college film department's stage, green screen, and lights to do a couple of shots. Three film students were assigned to help us -- one to run the dimmer and two to do... whatever.  The dimmer op was great, but other two were useless. One wore a beret and kept muttering about "putting my reel together to take to LA," while the other apparently considered us to be money-grubbing, sold-out Hollywood barbarians untutored in the fine art of film. Doing my best to bridge the gap while ignoring her vague hostility and utterly unearned arrogance, I noticed a poster for The Wild Bunch in a hallway, and asked if she'd seen it. 
"We watched some clips," she sniffed.  
"That's really not enough," I explained, "you have to see the whole movie to appreciate it."  
She stared at me as if I was a baboon who'd suddenly gained the power of speech, yet was babbling nonsense -- at which point I just gave up...