Tuesday, October 11, 2005
Rainy and cold
Packed and ready. I have day work on the show today, dinner with a friend, then off to the friend with whom I’m staying. I won’t know my call time or the location until later today; and, on top of that, if the weather is as bad tomorrow as predicted, the day may be cancelled and rescheduled.
I won’t know until probably 4 PM today what’s going on. That’s the way it is in this business.
Blogging will be sporadic from now until the end of the month. When I can, I’ll write.
What people who don’t do this for a living don’t understand is that it’s not like a regular job, where you work a few hours and then can do other things. Once a show is set, and you’re on an eight-show-a-week schedule, you can sort of have a life around it. Show times change around the holidays, but, for the most part, because producers don’t want to pay a dime extra, even if they’re making money hand over fist, you keep a pretty regular schedule. You work nights, weekends, and holidays, but you can have a life during the day and on your dark day.
Film and television are different. No matter how big the budget, they are still tightly budgeted and tightly scheduled and every department is busting their asses trying to get the job done within the set parameters. And you have to get it done – even if it means working overtime. If you’ve only got a location for two days, you have to get the work done in that period of time, or it costs tens of thousands of dollars. If a location is cancelled due to weather, that’s a huge budget problem, even if indoor work is substituted for the day.
Regular series has somewhat of a regular schedule, although the hours are still long.
But when you’re shooting a film or a pilot that’s not yet picked up – the hours are what they are. You have no room for any sort of life outside of working on the set, catching a few hours’ worth of sleep, and going back to work some more. That’s the way it is. People can do it because it’s for a finite amount of time. But, if you’re a working parent, your kids aren’t going to see you; if one of them gets sick, it’s not like you can take off. The other parent has to take off from the 9-5 world (most working parents make sure both parents aren’t working at the same time – they alternate projects), or someone else has to care for the kid. The work needs to get done, and your life is on hold. Completely. The only excuse not to be there is death, and it better be your own.
Civilians look at the gossip shows and all they see is red carpet, obscenely expensive gift bags and the yammering of the actors – who have plenty of time between takes, most of the time, to have a life. Plus, they can afford child care.
That’s not a slam on actors. When they come on set, they are required to sustain complete focus and continuity of performance to do take after take after take of something that may appear as mere seconds on film – or land on the cutting room floor in the editing process.
And, since films aren’t shot in chronological order, but in the best budgetary and location scheduling the production manager can coordinate, the actor has to maintain the throughline – often without more than a quick camera rehearsal.
Most films/tv pieces don’t have the luxury of a rehearsal process. While a play might rehearse for several weeks before moving into the theatre and adding the tech, film/TV usually has a read-through, blocking rehearsals, camera rehearsals and shoot. They might get a few hints from take to take from the director, but they don’t have the chance to craft a chronological performance.
Some films do take the time for rehearsal. I was fortunate – when my work’s been filmed, because we’re independent, we rehearsed for three weeks as though it was a play. Some of the rehearsals were shot on video. So, when we went on set – it was camera blocking and go. I feel it saved us a lot of both time and money.
But often, actors are scheduled for a day or two because they’re moving from project to project and CAN”T set aside a few weeks to rehearse – especially if they’ve only got a few scenes.
In order to actually bring you the film that surrounds the actors, it takes a small army of people, who have chosen to give up their lives for a set period of time in order to create the world for the actors and the audience to inhabit. They’re working on very little sleep, in extreme temperatures, making a lot of decisions on their feet, and handling the literally millions of details that comprise a scene.
It’s an act of creation and requires complete commitment and total concentration. For that period of time, the only thing that exists in their worlds is the work.
Next time you watch TV or look at a movie – remember that every single object on a set was chosen to be there because of a creative process. Unlike our own lives, where we accumulate sometimes randomly and then are surprised by our possessions, every single detail – every knickknack, every picture, every pen – is chosen by a set designer or an art director or a prop person or even the actor or director and has meaning to the piece.
And then the objects have to be tracked by continuity so that they match shot to shot. Sometimes those shots are taken weeks apart.
If you are unwilling or incapable of making that kind of commitment to the work, you won’t have a life in these arts.
That is why so many people who dream of a life in this business don’t end up here. They’re not willing to make the sacrifice.
How many of you can sustain unbroken focus for 18 hours in a day? No forays off to surf the net, no breaking concentration “just for a second” because something caught your eye or your thought of something that needs to be done? Your “just for a second” could result in a continuity error that could necessitate another take, which costs money; a reshoot, which costs even more money and heads will roll – including yours; or, if no one catches it until it’s screened, could cost the non-release of the piece. Some pieces are released containing errors – and the audience catches them.
We work with smoke and mirrors. We make it look easy. But it’s not.
One of the reasons I’m transitioning out of this business is that I want more of a life. Not a “normal” life – I’ve never wanted that. But a writing life, where I can make up every day as it comes. If I want to write for twelve or fourteen hours, I can. If I want to write for two and then go walk on the beach or go to a museum, I can.
I’m grateful for the career I have. I intend to enjoy every second of it that’s still left.
But my eye is on the horizon and I’m paddling towards The Island of Working Writers.
It’s hard to let go of Never Too Late. I played with titles last night – I can’t find something that hits just right. So, I have to stop trying to force the title and let it come. The right title will come when it’s ready to reveal itself. In the meantime – patience.
Something I have in short supply.
I wrote 23 pages yesterday – 5750 words. This brings me to 50,500 words, past the halfway point.
No matter how exhausted I am, I have to find ways to steal time so I don’t lose the rhythm. I’m not sure how or where yet – I can’t bring the work on set – but I’m hoping that, on the days away from set, I’m secure enough in this work, my connection to it is strong enough, that I can drop back in and take up residence again.
Until next time – which, if the shoot is cancelled, may well be tomorrow – enjoy! And think of the work that goes on behind what you see next time you turn on the television.
The Thirteen Traveling Journals Project
The Scruffy Dog Review
Never Too Late – 50,500 words