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 6, 2018

Just for the Hell of It: Episode 47

I wore this hat when working on set the last few years while belly-crawling towards the finish line of my Hollywood adventure, and still do now that I'm retired. Hey, it's a good hat, and a fitting memento of my last fifteen years in the industry. The only person to take notice thus far was Matteo Troncone, who served as writer, producer, director, cameraman, editor, and on-screen talent for his wonderful documentary Arrangiarsi!. A few minutes into our conversation, I saw his eyes shift focus to the CBS Studio Center logo for a moment, then he smiled.

"You're in the business, yes?" he asked.

Well, yeah -- I was, anyway.

On a recent hunting-and-gathering expedition to the nearest Trader Joe's, I unloaded my basket at the check stand, whereupon the checker -- a robust middle-aged redhead with a big smile -- took one look at my hat and asked: "Hollywood or Studio City?"

My jaw dropped.

Turns out she worked as a production accountant in Hollywood for several years until her husband landed an offer he couldn't refuse in the SF Bay Area, where they moved and are now living happily ever after. While the rest of the customers in line tapped their feet impatiently, we compared notes as to the horrors of working for Disney and cheap-ass cable networks -- and for the first time in well over a year, I was on the same wavelength with somebody who understood because she'd been there.

And I have to tell you, that felt good...


So I drive into town the other day to pick up the mail at the post office and buy some groceries, and what do I see but a film crew set up and workng in front of the only book store in this tiny little town.  They had all the basics -- lights, cameras, equipment trucks, a couple of dollies, and a decent sized crew, complete with two Highway Patrol cars blocking off the street out front and a small army of earnest young PAs. I introduced myself to one of the juicers, a lanky, pleasant young man who told me it was a Netflix show called The OA.  I suspect he was about to give me the "It's a mayonaise commercial" brushoff, but he perked up when I mentioned I'm a recent retiree from 728. Turns out we knew a few of the same Bay Area crew people from my days working up here back in the late 90's -- some of whom are still working. Yes, it is indeed a small world.

I watched for a while with the rest of the curious civilians as those juicers and grips stood by their gear in the late afternoon sun, waiting for an order to crackle over their walkies... but that was enough. I was glad to be able to climb back in my car and drive on home rather than be one of them grinding out the long day. Been there, done that, and I neither need nor desire to do it again.


Another blast from the past arrived in the form of this meditation on what was once an essential tool for everyone working in movies, television, commercials, or industrial films in LA: the Thomas Brothers Guide -- a map book that could get you all the way out to East Bumfuck and back. In the good old/bad old days, any freelance Hollywood Work-Bot without a well-worn Thomas Brothers in his/her car wasn't worth hiring... but then came the internet, GPS, smart phones, WAZE, and all the other digital hula-hoops modern society has embraced like manna from heaven. That's not all bad, mind you -- I'm not going to start waving my cane and shouting "Get off my lawn!" just yet -- but I can't shake the feeling that we're losing something with such utter dependence on satellites, wireless everything, and the increasingly interconnected digital technology that's just one malicious-or-accidental electromagnetic pulse or solar shitstorm away from vanishing into the ether.

Then what?

Although I don't have WAZE, I've used my phone to guide me through unfamiliar landscapes more than once, but I still feel more comfortable with a good old Thomas Guide. The one time I used WAZE  in LA was while driving from a rental yard in the far hinterlands of the San Fernando Valley over to Pasadena for a crew lunch at the Pie 'n Burger, where the burgers are great and the pies are better.*

So there I was at the wheel as one of my younger, vastly more tech-savvy crew mates rode shotgun, eyes glued to his trusty smart phone. The tinny voice of WAZE guided us unerringly through a dense labyrinth of unlikely alleys and side-streets in a neighborhood that may as well have been Novosibirsk for all I knew -- and lo, suddenly we were on the 134 heading east.

I'll admit, I was impressed.  But a few miles later, the little WAZE voice became frantic.

"Turn right! Turn right!! Turn right!!!"

Visibly distressed, my young compadre squirmed in the seat, staring at his phone.

"Mike -- we have to turn right.  It says to turn right. We're gonna miss the ---"

"Relax," I said, cutting him off with a wave of my hand, keeping a steady course.

His shoulders slumped as the offramp WAZE insisted we take veered off to the right, then vanished. Apparently the old fool at the wheel was even dumber and more out of it than he thought. Why the hell hadn't he decided to go in one of the other cars...

Ten minutes later, I pulled up to the Pie 'n Burger and parked. WAZE might not know the way, but I did -- after all, I'd been there the week before to pick up a pie. Hey, I may be old, but I can still find the North Star without a smart phone, which might come in handy some day as I roll my walker across the ruined landscape of the post-digital apocalypse.

Or not...


Next up, a lively and highly entertaining interview with Danny Trejo, who -- last I heard -- had opened a vegan burrito stand somewhere in Hollywood, among other things. With a cratered face that is the stuff of nightmares, Trejo has become something of a legend in Hollywood, and for good reason -- which you'll understand when you listen to his story.

It's a good one, kiddos, so check it out.


Back when I was still flapping my newbie wings trying to get a career off the ground, Michael Cimino was hard at work shoveling dirt on his Oscar-winning resume with Heaven's Gate -- at the time, one of the biggest flops in Hollywood history. As usual, there's more to the story than a high-flying ego that traced the arc of Icarus, leaving only buzzards to circle over the charred husk of a once glittering career. Shit happens, and it happened to him -- but if this piece of revisionist history is to be believed, maybe Cimino got a bad rap on that one.

I don't know. I saw the original, cut-to-the-bone theatrical release, and although it certainly didn't slay me, it wasn't all that bad. Haven't seen the restored version, so I can't say if it's a masterpiece. Maybe one of you will see it and tell me what's what.


For another fascinating interview, listen to newbie director Jordan Peele (now an Oscar-winning screenwriter) discuss how he embraced fear to make the surprise hit of 2017, Get Out.  I've always liked Peele since the days of Key and Peele, and this interview only increased my respect for the man. Intelligence, creativity, and doggedness -- along with a great sense of humor -- are one hell of a package.


Last but not least, here's another of Rob Long's Martini Shot commentaries on modern digital technology, actors, and exactly what sort of faces we'll end up seeing on the big and small screen of the future -- which is almost here. At three minutes and counting, this one is well worth your time.

And now a brief addendum for those of you who might have, once upon a time, signed up for automatic e-mail delivery of these posts directly into your e-inbox. I did too, just to make sure it was working every week, which it did... until it didn't -- after which some of you probably assumed the blog had retired along with me. Not so. Granted, I'm posting just once a month now rather than every Sunday, but I plan to keep at it until the well runs dry or the book (yes, I'm back to working on the blog-book again) is done.

It seems that Google (which runs Blogger, the host site for this and many other blogs) had changed their software that controlled the automatic post delivery, but they didn't bother to tell anybody -- or at least they didn't tell me. Suddenly I'm reminded of the secret Doomsday Machine in Dr. Strangelove...

At any rate, I signed up again just to see if Google's new software works -- which it doesn't, so fuck it.  I guess you'll just have to click on over here on the first Sunday of every month after 12:01 p.m. Pacific Standard Time.

Same as it ever was.

* If you live in LA and haven't yet made the pilgrimage to the Pie 'n Burger, do so.  You won't be sorry.