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, December 30, 2018

Just for the Hell of It -- Episode Fifty

I've long since forgotten who posted this photo or where it was taken - otherwise I'd give him credit here - but I  like the look of this location rig...

Attentive readers will note that this is going up a week early, as my habit has been to post on the first Sunday of each month - which is not until next week - and that it went up three hours earlier than the usual 12:01 p.m. time slot. The reasons for this are unimportant, and may or may not be repeated.  Hey, the only constant in this life is change...

                                 Quote of the Month

This, from the opening of San Francisco Chronicle film critic Mick LaSalle's review of the Tilda Swinton/Dakota Johnson film Suspiria:

"If life were infinite and leisure eternal and if the only challenge were how to fill the endless hours with something, anything, that might divert us even slightly, "Suspiria" would still be something to miss. Centuries and even millennia might go by, and it would still make sense to say no to this movie, because there's just never a good time to see anything this worthless."

Ouch, babe. I don't know if Mick is right or wrong about Suspiria, and since the genre of supernatural horror films no longer interests me, I'll never find out -- but jeeze, that opening almost makes me want to see it just to find out if a movie can really be that bad.


I've said it before and I'll say it again -- nothing comes easy for anybody in the film and television industry -- but actors have the hardest job on set, if only because it's so difficult for budding actors to get started and make a living in the biz. Consider the early career of Rami Malek, who achieved fame with the lead role in Mr. Robot, then was cast to play Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody. In this interview, Malek describes how he went about getting his first significant role (and an agent), a story that you really have to hear to believe. He goes on to discuss the effort that went into fleshing out and fully inhabiting those roles, which goes way beyond punching the time clock each day on set.  It's a fascinating interview, well worth your time.


When I rolled into LA forty-plus years ago, the sheer volume of production (along with the lack of industry activity elsewhere) and relatively cheap housing made it the place to get started in the film and television industry... but times have changed. A sobering piece in the Hollywood Reporter explores the current situation in LA, where ever-escalating costs of living are driving an increasing number of young industry professionals to live in their vehicles rather than bunk up with a dozen roommates or pay a king's ransom to rent a halfway decent apartment.  I knew an old grip back in the day who lived in a motor home parked on the lot of a small stage in Hollywood, a rarity at the time that may -- the way things are going -- become routine at some point.  Someone else will have to testify to the cost of living in the other tax-subsidy states that host a thriving film/television industry these days, but LA no longer seems to be a user-friendly incubator for young people attempting to kick-start their industry careers. The first few years can be very lean for beginners, who -- given the escalating economic realities -- might be better off aiming towards one of the other film industry towns... or be prepared for a nomadic life on the streets of LA until they begin earning serious money.


Every fan of Orson Welles has been intrigued by the release of his final film, The Other Side of the Wind. We've been hearing about it for decades, and here it is at last, the project brought to completion in no small part by producer Frank Marshall, who worked on the first-unit crew as 25 year old production assistant during principle photography in Arizona back in the early 1970's.  Now at age 72, he's closed the circle as producer overseeing the final edit and release. That's quite an accomplishment -- and you can hear all about it in this interview.

There's some brilliant work in Other Side of the Wind (I could watch John Huston chew up the scenery on screen all day long), and there's a scene filmed in a car at night in the rain that's something special -- not the least because it was filmed in bits and pieces with different actors over the course of several years -- but all things considered, I enjoyed the "making of"documentary They'll Love Me When I'm Dead a lot more.  If the life, work, and story of Orson Welles interests you at all, this is one you really don't want to miss.  Last I looked, both of these films were available for streaming on Netflix.  I'd recommend watching the feature before the documentary, but that's up to you.


Here's a good interview with Matthew Heineman, who made the riveting documentary Cartel Land before taking the reins of his first dramatic feature film, A Private War.  That's a quantum leap for a director to make, and although I haven't yet seen the movie, everything I've read and heard indicates that Heineman stuck the landing.

Next, another good conversation with the ever-entertaining Joel and Ethan Coen, discussing... well, a lot of things anybody who like their movies will find interesting.  Check it out.

In this piece, David Simon sits down for a print interview talking about what he does and how he does it. If there ever is a Television Hall of Fame, Simon has already earned his first-ballot plaque on the wall for the brilliant series The Wire, which (along with The Sopranos) helped change the face of television dramas and usher in the current tsunami of Peak Television. He went on to craft four seasons of Treme, and two seasons thus far of The Deuce.  With these shows, Simon has cemented his status as the resident genius of dramatic, meaningful television -- everything he touches turns to artistic gold -- which makes this one worth a read.

This is a fascinating interview with Peter Jackson describing how his post production team was able to restore, synchronize, colorize, and add sound to silent, hand-cranked film from World War 1 that had been locked in the vaults of British film archives for nearly a hundred years. After five years of painstaking work -- which included using forensic lip readers to decipher what was being said in those ancient films -- the result is They Shall Not Grow Old, from all I've read and heard, an astonishing film. It's easy to regard history as dry, dusty, and having no relevance to modern times when viewed through the prism of jerky, black and white silent films, but the effect is very different when that same history lives and breathes like a modern movie. Your mileage my vary, but this is one I'm definitely going to see.


On a personal note, one of the truly good guys of Hollywood passed away recently. Tony Askins was everything you could want in a Director of Photography --  knowledgeable, supremely competent, and easy going. I worked a twelve-episodes-and-out sitcom with Tony at Paramount called Love and Money, then came on for the last two seasons of the original Will and Grace as their extra-juicer for lighting days and shoot nights. Never once in all that time did Tony raise his voice.  He always got the job done -- and did it very well -- without ruffling any feathers. Tony Askins was smooth as silk, a gentleman in every way, and although I hated to see him leave the industry back in 2005, he'd earned his retirement, and enjoyed another dozen years before the lights finally faded to black. It was a privilege to work with him.

You were the best, Tony. Thanks -- for everything.


That's it for January -- a short post, I know (which may be a relief to the few die-hards out there who still tune in), but I'm cobbling it together a few days before Christmas, which (with all due respect to Johnny Mathis) comes in second only to the weeks leading up to April 15 as the Most UnWonderful Time of the Year.  I recently resumed breaking rocks in the hot sun (figuratively speaking) on a project I've long blathered about -- a book based on this blog -- and there's only so much time I can sit at this keyboard.

That said, I wish all fourteen of you a very happy New Year, and hope 2019 will be an improvement over the rather dismal annus horribilis of 2018 now slinking out the back door.

In that spirit, I raise a glass of cheap champagne in a toast to better times ahead...


Austin said...

As one of hopefully more than 14 readers, thanks for another year of posts, still look forward to tuning in every month. Happy New Year!

Michael Taylor said...

Austin --

Thanks for tuning in - and for hanging in - with the blog all these years. A happy and prosperous New Year to you!

k4kafka said...

Here’s to a productive year ahead,my friend...Count me as #15+

Michael Taylor said...

Kafka --

Copy that -- 15 -- and may the New Year treat you well...

Amy said...

Have a great year Mike! listening to the Rami Malek interview now.

Michael Taylor said...

All the best in 2019 to you as well, Amy -- and enjoy that interview. It's a good one.

Chris Kittinger said...

Haven't checked out your blog in a few years, was looking through my old browser bookmarks and just had to stop by. Great stuff as always.

Michael Taylor said...

Chris --

Well then, welcome back -- nice to hear from you. I hope all's good. Use that e-mail link on the home page and let me know what you've been up to the last few years...