Sunday, October 27, 2013

My Hollywood Story...

If you've been reading this blog since the beginning, you pretty much know why I moved out to California, but specifically to Los Angeles, to begin working in the entertainment industry. My story is not really unique when you think of the hundreds of people who get off buses and planes and the interstate in beat-up cars every day with the same big dreams in their heads and bigger hope in their hearts. The main difference for me, though, was that I didn't move out here to be an actor. And what's even more unique is that in my ten years of scrimping and cutting corners and freelancing, I have never once even worked a day as an extra or a stand-in just to get some extra cash. At times I've thought I should have: it would allow me to be around creative people and be really easy work (as long as you don't mind sitting around and waiting for hours at a time-- and as long as I'd have a book with me it'd be heaven: paid to sit around and read!). But still, for whatever reason (maybe the constant having to call in to see if they could use someone of my "type"), I never did it. I chose to leave production altogether instead of taking smaller, shorter term gigs. Sometimes I stumble across things like Patricia's Hollywood Story or Melinda Cohen's account of working on Parks and Recreation (she played Eagleton's version of Ann Perkins in the "Dopplegangers" episode), and I kick myself for not spending more time on set. 

Patricia Steffy tells a great "only in LA" type story about crazy auditions she has been on, including one that had her "improv-ing a death scene." That fascinates me. As someone who has been on the hiring end of auditions, I can't even imagine calling someone in without context and basically ask them to choose how they will die by improv-ing it on the spot. For Steffy it went like this, as she wrote: "My character was murdered and left on the floor of an apartment before a different guy, who had been stalking the character, burst in and saw the murderer with his hands still on the body. Naturally, I asked some questions about where things were going, and one of the producers said, 'At this point, the audience will be expecting necrophilia, but there’s a twist.'" 

What the what? And yet, still awesome because of the intense and insanely unique situation.

And then there's also Cohen's specific story of witnessing first-hand the trickle-down theory in effect in this industry. The vibe of a show comes from the top. Behind-the-scenes, that's often even past the showrunner to the network suit(s) who may have more of a hand in the show than they might like. But on set, that more often comes from the star, who sets the tone and the precedent for the attitude and environment. If the person is method, it may be a quieter set, while he or she is off getting ready for scenes alone and leaving others to do their own, individual things. If he or she is there to really create a sense of family and community, so one is formed, with moments taken for bonding or live-Tweeting (as we've seen on Arrow and Scandal perhaps most notably) or just general "we know the day is long and we appreciate you" morale.

"Everyone is feeling the post-lunch slump while getting retouched in the makeup trailer when Amy suddenly enters, iPad in hand. Full of purpose she strides to the sound system and moments later the entire makeup trailer is transformed into a dance club, as Salt N Pepa’s ‘Push It,’ turned up to the max, sounds. Makeup artists, hair dressers, series regulars, guest stars, AD’s, costume designers and PA’s, anyone and everyone who enters the trailer is immediately pulled into the magical, frenzied dance-a-thon, led by a flip-flop wearing Amy Pohler who busts out serious moves in the corner while playing DJ and leading us through a fantastic journey of dance music," Cohen wrote as an example of her time in Pawnee.

"Twenty minutes later and everyone is pumped up and ready to return to set... The set of Parks and Rec is like Disneyland except you get paid to be there. In fact, the enthusiasm level of everyone is so high, I keep having to remind myself that this show is in its 6th season. The novelty must surely have worn off by now. But no – unlike other sets I’ve been on, something here keeps everyone aware that, even though the hours are much too long to be away from your families, this is special. And I think that something is Amy Poehler: a woman in a power position who radiates such joy, appreciation and modesty, she has created the ideal creative working environment. She is a true inspiration to someone like myself, a woman who writes her own roles, always aiming to create content with depth. Being on the set of Parks and Recreation showed me that it is possible to be a star and a real person at the same time."

You learn so much from being on set and not just about the actual art and business of production but about people. I implore anyone who ever visits any set-- as an extra, a skilled worker, a fan, or a bystander who happens to catch something filming down the street and walks over to check out what it is for a few minutes-- the most valuable part of the process is the people-watching. From the extras to the leads, the PAs to the grips to the DP and director, you get the most complete picture of a show and of humanity by watching these different people interact-- sometimes harmoniously and sometimes not.

Whether weird or wacky, all of the stories you take away from experiences on set are wonderful in the end because they add a sense of color and richness and yes, anecdotes that make great party fodder!, to your life.

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