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, September 6, 2020

Just for the Hell of It: Episode 60

                        Where were these when I needed them?

While working my first feature as a juicer -- after doing two low-budget movies as a grip -- one of my tasks was to bring drinks to the Gaffer on set: and by "drinks," I don't mean water or soda.  At over six feet tall and close to 300 pounds, the Gaffer was an immense Falstaffean character who had a prodigious appetite for beer, and the ability to continue working unfazed by the effects of alcohol.* 

He was also one of the smartest, funniest, and most well-read people I've ever met, and thus a living, breathing reminder not to judge a book by its cover.

Every day as we neared the 10 hour point, with no end in sight, he'd tell me to bring him a "Coke-a-Lobe." I'd head for the truck, dig an ice-cold Michelobe from the cooler, then carefully pour the beer into an empty, well-rinsed Coke can.  Thus camouflaged well enough to make the captain of a Q ship proud, the gaffer could sip beer on set without raising any eyebrows. 

A small funnel would have made my task easier and kept the floor of the truck free of spilled beer, but something like this would have simplified everything. 

Ah well, those were simpler times -- and a lot more fun.  


Speaking of fun (and how much not-fun working on set will be in the Age of Covid), I've been hearing from a few people who've gone back to work on set in Hollywood and beyond. Those reports are all over the map -- some safety protocols are doable, if onerous, but don't have much of a back-up plan if  crew people start getting sick. Unless a production has a few crew members paid to sit "on the bench" -- who have been tested, isolated, and are ready to step in if somebody of first unit comes down with Covid -- any show that suffers infection will probably have to shut down for a while. Other protocols sound like a joke right from the start, with untrained PAs serving as "Covid Safety Monitors" to enforce poorly thought-out rules and sloppy procedures that undercut the whole concept of set safety  in the first place.  The latter are doubtless the work of producers just trying to cover their legal asses when things go wrong, which will happen.  Plans built on a foundation of hope alone aren't going to work.  Everything will have to go right if the film industry is to fully succeed in going back to work, with crews and actors following all the rules and continuing to test negative. Human nature being what it is, positive tests  -- and worse -- will happen sooner or later, so the question remains: what then?

We'll find out.  

At least one major production is already underway in England  (another chapter in the apparently endless series of Jurassic Park sequels), from which the industry will doubtless learn much about the realities of working in the midst of this pandemic.  More are gearing up in Hollywood, Atlanta, and beyond. Where there's a will -- and money to be made -- there's a way, so production will resume on a larger scale, but it won't be easy, nor will it be much fun. 


Anybody who's occupied a bar stool here at BS&T for more than a few years knows how I feel about stunts.  I admire their work, and have total respect for stunt people, but after witnessing a stunt man fall to his death early in my career, watching stunts has been a hold-my-breath proposition ever since.  Still, the inventiveness and creativity of stunt coordinators never fails to blow me away.  After re-watching William Friedkin's To Live and Die in LA recently, I checked out the special features, where Buddy Joe Hooker (the stunt coordinator) discussed how they filmed the epic car chase in that movie, which took nearly a month of work to put a few minutes up on screen. It's worth your time to watch the entire twenty minute interview on the DVD, but meanwhile, here's a teaser from UTube.

And if you like that, you might like this, which shows how big stunts were done before the current era of CGI magic, but to me that makes it all the more impressive.


This is a fascinating piece, complete with jaw-dropping clips that demonstrate some astonishing advances in the digital realm that have revolutionized the visual arena of the gaming world, and are now moving into the realm of film and television. Much of the jargon and technology discussed here is over my head, but it's clear that another dimension in the digital revolution is well underway.  The author posits that this was all in the digital pipeline, but the new realities of the Covid crisis accelerated their use in mainstream Hollywood, and will have ramifications that could shake the foundations of the industry as we've known it. Ready or not, a new and very different world is on the way, so those of you young enough to have another twenty or thirty years of industry work ahead might want to take a look at what's coming.  Revolutions generate a lot of collateral damage, and whatever your chosen craft, you'll need to keep your eyes open to avoid ending up roadkill rotting alongside the digital highway.

Another eye-opener is this smart, fascinating analysis of how creativity and originality have worked together throughout human history -- Everything is a Remix is definitely worth your time. 

This excellent piece from NPR discusses how Hollywood and the film industry changed in the wake of the atomic bombs used to end WW II.  You can listen for eight minutes, or read the text -- your choice.

In this typically thoughtful commentary, LA Times television critic Robert Lloyd discusses the good and bad about TV in the age of Covid, suggesting that Hollywood might want to hang on to some of the former rather than plunge headlong back into pre-pandemic modes of production -- if and when a vaccine allows. He adds a cautionary note on the dangers of any such prognostication:  

"Of course, these days it doesn't profit a futurist, or any moderately sensitive soul, to look more than a week ahead; I wouldn't dare to actually predict what television in 2021 will look like. We may be all too busy fighting in the streets to watch it anyway."**


Although the heat (and a truly god-awful fire season) will continue to haunt us here on the West Coast for another two or three months, the arrival of September signals that the summer is coming to an end. With the Covid Autumn looming, and what promises to be a grim winter of modern discontent, it seems fitting to close this post with one of the greatest scenes Steven Spielberg ever put on film. Why, you might ask?  Hey, I just love this scene, that's all -- and that's enough.

* A year or two later, while working on a Chuckwagon dog food commercial, we took a one hour walkaway lunch, heading to a liquor store for a six pack of Heineken, then a nearby Astro Burger.  In the time it took me to eat my burger and drink half a beer, he knocked back the other five bottles without any apparent effect.

** This piece may be entombed behind a paywall, so if the Times won't allow you to read it, shoot me an e-mail at the link under the gloves and I'll send it to you.