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 3, 2019

Just for the Hell of It: Episode 55

                                                       Intolerance, 1916

After a long absence, "D" put up a new post over at Dollygrippery a while back, discussing some of the problems created for first-unit filming crews by poor set design -- and if you haven't read it, you should.*  Although I know nothing about the intricacies of designing sets, I certainly share his frustration at the hurdles erected by too many set designers who go about their business never bothering to consider the needs of those who will eventually have to work on that set, whether it's a feature, episodic television show, or multi-camera sitcom.

To be clear, I'm talking about sets built on sound stages, not massive exterior sets like the one D.W. Griffith's crew built in the photo above.  Such outdoor sets are usually limited in size only by the budget, while sets on a soundstage must be crammed into the confines of the four-foot fire lane around the circumference of that stage. In their efforts to shovel twenty pounds of shit into a five pound bag, set designers often seem to forget that we actually have to light their set and the actors... or maybe they just don't care. I'd really rather not assume the latter, because it makes me want to pick up the nearest two-by-four and beat some sense into the next set designer I see.

Fortunately for them and me, those set designers are all four hundred miles away. Besides, I'm retired -- they can't hurt me anymore.

Designing a set that looks great and will allow a director to shoot everything he needs is no easy task, but that's the job of a set designer -- and why he/she gets the big bucks -- which means any set designer worth his/her salt (I was going to say "worth a shit," but I won't...) should understand and appreciate the issues a first unit crew comes up against when filming in that set.

I've often wished that each member of a film crew could spend a few days working in every other department, above and below the line, where they'd get a taste of what the rest of the crew has to deal with. Then, maybe a set designer wouldn't build his/her set right out to the four-foot line, where the grip/electric crew has to sweat bullets to put the lights in the proper place -- and dolly grips wouldn't have to contend a thick rug on a set... a rug that will never be seen by the camera.

Yeah, I know -- dreaming is free.  

Anybody interested in set design would do well to click on over to Artdepartmental (a truly great name for a blog, BTW) and take a good look. There's a lot to see there, and it's well worth your time.


I started out as a PA, albeit for a blessedly short span of time. After two low-budget movies, I bumped up to grip, then juicer, and never looked back. Still, I had first-hand experience in  the indignities of PA work, and read about many more over at The Anonymous Production Assistant's blog over the years... then I stumbled across this horror story from John August's blog, and my jaw dropped. Read it and weep if you're planning to start your career as a PA. If you've already moved past PA-dom, just be glad this wasn't you.

Who knew writers could be such assholes?


Here's a rather bizarre tale that emerged during the making of James Cameron's Titanic. Working for Cameron is tough enough under normal circumstances, but doing so on PCP?  No thanks. 


Next up, veteran writer/producer Rob Long explains why science fiction movies about aliens will never be the same again.  Apparently real-life UFOs aren't what they used to be... but then, what is?


If you're looking for a long, loose, anything-goes podcast from the lower depths of the film industry food chain, check out Failing Hollywood.  They post very lively interviews, discussions, round-robins -- you name it -- with all kinds of industry pros, and if you've got the time, it can be very entertaining.  


The legendary producer Robert Evans died this week. Here's his obit from the Hollywood Reporter, and a thirteen minute interview he did with Terry Gross that was re-broadcast on NPR, in which he tells some great stories. If you've never seen the documentary based on his book, The Kid Stays in the Picture, you really should -- it's terrific, and a real slice of Hollywood history.  I never met the man, never saw him, and never worked on any of his projects... but I did enjoy this post-wrap embrace with one of his many future ex-girlfriends, Melissa Prophet, the night we finished shooting "Van Nuys Boulevard," a low-budget feature in which she co-starred.

People who know say that Evans saved Paramount back when it really needed saving, and as the producer of The Godfather and Chinatown -- two of the late 20th century's true cinematic epics -- Robert Evans deserves a big gold plaque in the Hollywood Hall of Fame... if there was one. Hollywood owes him that much. I suppose I owe him something too, given that seeing Chinatown had a lot to do with me riding south to tilt at the windmills of Hollywood way back in 1977.

So thanks, Bob.  They really don't make 'em like you anymore.  Rest in Peace.

* "D" works mostly in the world of big features, with occasional sojourns into episodic television, both of which are all-consuming, and leave little time or energy for writing blog posts.  The sole reason I managed to publish so many posts here over the last ten years of my career is because I was working almost exclusively on multi-camera sitcoms by then -- and multi-cam shows don't abuse their crews like the Death March of single-camera shows.