Sunday, June 18, 2006

Let's Hear It for the Boy

I now remember what it's like to have to go to a job everyday. Granted, working from 6 p.m.-3 a.m. isn't exactly a 9-5 job, but I've still got to report to someone everyday. That part I don't like very much, and I will eventually have to get back to a less structured way of earning a living, but the work itself is not so bad. In three weeks I have seen exactly how a reality TV show is put together. Here's the basic process. A producer comes up with a show idea. They put an ad online or in newspapers across the country, seeking people who fit the profile of the show (in this case it's people with terminal cancer who want to be granted one last wish, like reconciling with estranged family members). Once casting is complete, the producer and a film crew go out in the field and compile an assload of footage. This particular show is a pilot to be pitched to A&E, and features the stories of two people, Mark and Marilyn. Between Mark and Marilyn the producer shot about 125 hours of digital video footage. Those tapes come back to the production company, where they are catalogued and logged. Each tape is then transferred to VHS for the producer and assistant producer to watch and begin to compile a story. Once the VHS dubs are made, we in the post-production department digitize the footage into a massive network that has something like a million terabytes of storage space. After reviewing the footage on the VHS tapes, the producer "writes" a script, indicating which tape and at what time on that tape the scene takes place. Once that script is complete, my job is to "stringout" the script, which basically means finding all the clips the script calls for and editing them into the sequence. Then a freelance editor is brought in at a rate of $3000 a week, and he and the producer work from the stringout to begin shaping the show. There's a lot of revision and eventually the show is shown to the head of the production company, whereupon more changes are made. Once those are made the show is finally sent to the network, who decides whether or not they want to pick up the show. Our show is going to network next Friday, and we'll know shortly thereafter whether or not it will be picked up and new episodes ordered. I'm rather ambivalent about whether the show gets picked up or not, because I have almost no creative input. I do have to say, however, that the show is done as tastefully as a show like this can possibly be done. And there are some very good human moments in both stories.

My least favorite part of the job is the digitizing, which is tedious and dull, and my favorite part of the job are the stringouts, which make me feel like I'm actually doing a little editing. Also interesting is when I'm sent down into the basement to retrieve music. The library contains about a thousand CDs from companies that make music exclusively for film and TV. There are labels such as Grafitti Tracks and KIller Cuts, and they put out CDs titled Sadness, Drama 1, Drama 2, Hard Drama, Youth Culture, Tuff Cutz and Mad, Bad and Jazzy. It's takes a little interpretation and listening to figure out which music suits your production. There's also a small section in which I found a Glen Frey music sampler, a Kenny Loggins music sampler, and a Billy Squire music sampler. If at all possible, I will try to work "Lonely is the Night" into our show.

The new job has sort of cut into my new L.A. experiences, which I find regrettable, but last weekend my good friend Scott Hohnstein honored me with a visit. He drove the fifteen hours down from Montana, and though our original plans of camping and hanging out for five days were altered by the new job, we still managed to get in some fun activities. Scott arrived Friday night around midnight and I met him at my place around 3:30 a.m. The next day we had breakfast and took a ride through Beverly Hills, then Saturday night we rented out some band practice space and rocked for four hours, which was great. For $15 an hour you can rent a room about the size of my basement back on Patterson Ave., which is great because space is at such a premium here. Sunday we went to the beach (my first beach trip where swimming was involved) and walked the Santa Monica pier. The pier has a sort of carnival-like atmosphere, with a mini amusement park, game arcade, restuarants and food stands and a slew of musicians busking along the boardwalk, right next to all the fisherman. Some of the busking is pretty good, mostly guys with guitars singing, but my favorite was the guy doing the marionette show along to a boombox playing James Brown songs. Sunday night we grilled out and watched basketball. Just like old times.

Last night I took a catering job at the Woodland Hills Country Club for their annual member-guest tournament. Among the luminaries there were Barbara Eden (I Dream of Jeanie), the guy who played Piper's husband on "Charmed," and Robbie Krieger, guitarist for The Doors. Robbie is a wizened little thing but somehow he and his partner managed to score low net in the 4th flight, and he was awarded a handsome trophy for his efforts. The musical highlight of the evening was getting to hear Denise Williams, who is famous for her song, "Let's Hear it for the Boy," perform her song, "Let's Hear it for the Boy." I made about a hundred bucks and got to bed at my usual time, around 5:05 a.m., which is precisely when the birds start chirping.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Week One Under the Belt

Tonight I start week two of the job, and I have to say that week one was not that bad. Night one was not so good, but the rest of the week I sort of fell into it. The first night I was thinking, "Oh my god how am I going to go to a job everyday? I haven't done this for so long!" But actually I find that it's good for me to have someplace to go everyday and to have a routine set up. Too much free time is not necessarily a good thing, but working at night is not something I want to do forever. I actually don't mind the hours but I feel a little vampirish. The night crew is a nice group, six in all, but for the most part people are sequestered into their editing bays and I don't see very much of them, except when we converge in the dub room to play Missile Command on the Atari system set up in their. The building is right on Hollywood Blvd., and it's very cool--an old deco masterpiece built in the 20s with huge hallways and lots of arches and sconces and whatnot. Sitting in the dub room looking out through the metal blinds at the blinking Supply Sergeant sign makes me feel like Sam Spade or Phillip Marlowe. I'm just waiting for a sultry femme fatale to walk in in a black veil and tell me she's got a case for me. It's kind of strange to hear all the hustle and bustle of the street below--girls yelling, cars honking, sirens screaming, live music blasting out of bars, the same guy playing the five-gallon buckets every night--going on while I'm working, but it does make me feel like I'm in the middle of the action. Every couple of hours I'll take a break and go up on the roof deck, which offers a pretty amazing view of Hollywood. Check out the pic. Already I feel like I've learned a lot, thanks in no small part to Ricardo the night supervisor. He's a really nice guy who's a whiz on the Avid and has been teaching me everything I need to know. He's patient and thorough and I feel lucky to have him teaching me. I've been digitizing tapes for several shows - "Show Choirs" which is about high-school drama departments that put on these huge musicals. This particular school is in Morgantown, WV. The show will air on MTV. I also did some work for "Transgeneration Revisited" which follows a group of transgendered teens as they navigate their tricky lives. This one airs on Logo, which is a GLBT network that just started up. I also worked on "Last Requests" which is a sort of a Make-A-Wish foundation reality show. Two terminally ill cancer patients - Marilyn and Mark - were chosen and the show attempts to grant them their last requests, both of which involve establishing a better relationship with estranged children before they die. Everyone else in the office thinks the show is morbid and depressing, but I find some of the things Mark is saying very true, stuff like appreciating your life while you have a chance to just being happier with yourself. Of course it strikes a chord with me. On Friday I did my first string-out, which is a sort of very rough edit that lays out all the video and audio for the editor to begin working with. It was fun. I felt like I was editing.

The important thing for me now is to keep writing every day, because that way I'll feel like I'm moving forward with the real goal and not just stalling in some night editing job. If I can manage that I'll be fine for awhile, and so far so good. I finished an essay last week and am really really close on releasing the Rescue Me script. I sort of have the hope that I'll send this out and some agent will read it and then my life will change and I'll get a TV staff writing job, but I understand that the odds of that happening are not great. When it doesn't I'll probably get all bummed out for awhile, think I'm a terrible writer and that I made a huge mistake even moving out here. So I'll indulge that feeling for a couple of days, but then I'll have to move on to the next thing, and when that doesn't sell I'll move on to the next thing and etc. etc. etc.