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, January 5, 2020

The Universal Cure

                                                               It's magic...

It happened on nearly every film gig I worked throughout my career, be it a feature, television show, commercial, industrial, or music video. We'd be in the midst of the long days grind, slogging though shot after shot, when someone would crack the perfect joke at just the right moment, and the whole crew would break up in a belly laugh. 

Moments like that -- such as captured in this photo on the set of Stanley Kubrick's 1964 classic Dr. Strangelove -- are pure magic. In an instant, all the stress, tension, and tedium that has built up over the course of the day suddenly vanishes into the ether. With everybody from the director on down to the Set PA sharing a good laugh, the entire crew relaxes, making everyone feel better -- and then they all get back to work with a smile. They say laughter is the best medicine, but more than that, it's the ultimate cure for the malaise that sooner or later infects every set.

Now nearly three years out to pasture (and yes, I have a hard time believing that too...), these shared moments of levity are among the things I really do miss from my Hollywood years. With retirement being a relatively solitary endeavor, I don't get much of that anymore. Instead of walking onto a set five days a week to work with anywhere from twenty to sixty people, I have to push myself out of the nest to meet, mingle, and share any kind of laughter... and although that's always nice, it's just not the same.  

So much of life pivots around the eternal cycle of tension and release. Whether it's sports, drama, comedy, sex, or work, the jaw-clenching tension as you push towards whatever the goal might be is what eventually leads to the sweet explosion of release. To paraphrase Rick James, "Endorphins are a hell of a drug."  Now that I no longer have to get up with the alarm clock before dawn, then work all day and/or deep into the night, the stresses I experience are my own, not shared with a group, and thus take more of a conscious effort to shake off.

There's much to bitch about in the film and television business: the long, hurry-up-and-wait hours punctuated by last-second changes that turn an orderly set into a rugby-scrum of frantic, elbow-flapping confusion, or having to work for cheap-ass, money-grubbing motherf*****s like Disney, or dealing with the massive, don't-you-know-who-I-think-I-am egos that can afflict those who float in the rarified air above-the-line... but moments like the one pictured above go a long way towards easing the pain.  

Look at that picture again. Despite his undeniable comedic genius, Peter Sellers was infamous for being anything but warm and fuzzy, yet here he is with a big grin on his face, sharing a laugh with all the supporting actors and crew.*  For Sellers, and other similarly tortured souls, working on set might be the only place they felt truly comfortable -- a sanctuary of sorts. 

The only person not laughing in this photo appears to be the focus-puller, who seems worried he might have buzzed a mark on the previous take. Given the demanding perfectionism of Kubrik, maybe that man had good reason to worry.

So, here we are in the first new year of a brand new decade. I don't know if turning a calendar page will make much difference, but I'll raise a glass to the hope that it does, and that all of you can find whatever it is you're looking for in the year to come. Meanwhile, enjoy those precious moments of shared laughter on set: they just might be what make working in this business worthwhile. 

Well, that and the paychecks...

Happy New Year!

* I believe that's Kubrick on the left, with his back to the lens.