Monday, April 21, 2014

My Seven Year Itch

“Did y’all know that Penny cheated on us during our last hiatus with a Network pilot?” my Texan friend and fellow Second Teamer CJ announced to the rest of our Stand-Ins on our current cable show.  “And I think she actually LIKED it!” CJ added pointedly as I squirmed uncomfortably; my Scarlet Letters of working on a rare SAG contract burning further shame into my betrayal.
But, but, but I didn’t mean to cheat on my loved ones!

I certainly hadn’t actively pursued any outside interests!
And yet with one simple text, the sultry offer of four days of work which magically coincided with a week off from my regular show, how could I possibly say no?

Motoring toward Laurel Canyon (where naturally I got “gutter-snaked” at Mt. Olympus by a guy who sped up in the right lane to cut off EVERYBODY at the merge point red light), the flood gates had been opened to my sense memories of working on this particular Studio Lot as I tooled over the hill into The Valley.

To be sure, some of my most challenging shows had been filmed there (I still have the emotional scars!); yet like a lover’s cologne entrenched on a bed pillow after an unpleasant break-up, I couldn’t help but bury my nose in the scent of comfortable familiarity.
“Good morning, Maclovia!” I beamed, handing over my ID to the Security Guard at the gate.

“Oh my gosh, it’s so good to see you!” she smiled, entering my info into the computer.  “Penny has the best known name on this lot, but she’s always had Security Badges from all of her shows, so we rarely get to see her!” Maclovia jocularly elbowed a co-worker who was infinitely more interested in gnawing some unwanted dead skin cells off of his index cuticle.
“I know I’m supposed to park here, but since I’m working on the back lot, can I possibly park over in the North Structure?” I asked Maclovia hopefully.

“Anywhere you like, my dear!” she waved me graciously through the gate.
And with one ounce of flattery, I was off like a prom dress.

To be perfectly honest, for the next four days, I did indulge in an absolute betrayal of my current cable show, as I positively wallowed lovingly in the camaraderie of a UPM who has always protected my back.  Additionally, I threw myself willingly into the arms of our Craft Services guy for a salacious hug as he offered not only every possible breakfast choice in the world for any early-to-set arrivals (OMG, sausage gravy with biscuits?):  and I even immediately began building a burgeoning friendship with a fellow Capricorn lady (new to the Stand-In world) who graciously suffered my infinite questions about her fascinating career in Stunts!

Adding to my debacle of debauchery, with the reunited companionship of my dear friend “Eyeball” who started with me in the Biz a lifetime ago (who now works for a major Network and their Safety Dept.), I clung shamelessly to his arm for warmth as actual rain sporadically barreled down “New York Street” whilst we tediously filmed exterior scenes.
(FYI:  I adore Eyeball’s wife Elizabeth, but my shriveled fingers were helplessly curdling into a magnificent marbling of ‘see-through-the-skin’ white and a most worrisome magenta; so I choose to believe The Universe will forgive that particular indiscretion on my behalf in lieu of preventing any potential digital amputation.)

Lastly, I’d also been capriciously drawn to the alluring charisma of the sweetest disposition of another fellow Stand-In –- an extraordinarily impressive six-foot four gentle giant German (Run-Way/Print-Ad Model) who possesses thick black hair, stunning crystal blue eyes, impossibly fantastic cheekbones, a Masters in Literature, fluency in a flabbergasting amount of European languages (I kind of impolitely eavesdropped during a cell phone conversation between him and his Husband – flawless transition from French to Italian); and whom by all accounts, should’ve had the singular impact of nothing less than whipping me into a warped skew of my self-esteem.
Yet rather than focusing on what I deemed to be my personal inadequacies, I instead immediately adopted the German as my friend, and heretofore have hence nicknamed him “kitten”.

(Hey – if you’re gonna cheat on your cable sit-com, go big or go home!)

Yes, the Network pilot was a welcome exotic adventure after seven years of (mostly) cable TV, and an itch well worth scratching.  (Did I mention that our fantastic Craft Services gentleman maintained a fresh buttery popcorn maker, a fully stocked ice cream freezer AND that he baked homemade chocolate chip cookies every single day so the stage always smelled positively seductive?)
And true, I felt ridiculously blessed to be surrounded by so many beloved faces and friends with whom I don’t generally keep in touch (I don’t wish to participate in social media -– at my tender age of 48, I can barely track my own train of thoughts, let alone a string of conversations... Wait, why did I just walk into my hallway?)

And lastly, for those of you unbelievably kind readers who have been so patiently faithful as you cheered me on throughout my difficulties with my unsteady beau “Eddy” (aka the EDD Unemployment Office), I hereby raise a hearty glass of voddy that for at least ONE hiatus week, we didn’t need him!!!

In the end, I must say that I was truly thankful to return home to my happy cable family as we are warmly embracing the hearth of our final six episodes together. 

Granted, there exists an aura of betrayal on our set as well, as whilst the Cast will be filming their conclusive weeks together, the majority of our Crew are already sort of “pre-hired” for the launch of a new series –- another cable show (we completed the pilot in December) which is apparently set to take place on our current stage approximately three weeks after we wrap. 
(I know, I know; ... a new cologne on our pillow so soon?)  But therein lays the rub of the fickleness of the Mistress known as “Hollywood”.

“SECOND TEAM!” one of our ADs shouted as I loyally barreled down the stairs onto the set, selecting a seat in an “airplane” for what was apparently nothing more than a random Special Effects test run.

(Obviously this is NOT the actual photo from our low-budget cable show, as we could only afford one fan which sat directly on the stage - but yes, it was THAT BIG!!!)

And mildly oblivious to the greatly unexpected powerful “wind” generated by a massive monster machine, which (I kid you not) amped from Zero to Gale Force in an alarming heartbeat, I do believe that the last words I heard before my script fluttered violently off my lap were “Hey Penny, you might want to put on the protective eye gog...” 

Mercilessly whipped and thrashed in the face by my own ponytail, I’ve been told by my Second Team amused onlookers who watched with laughter, that not only did I strive to secure the eye goggles, I also attempted to block the gale force winds by flailing my limbs uselessly – a ridiculous reaction further enhanced by the vis-à-vis visage of my calm and cool co-worker Dev, who apparently gracefully rode out the wind ala “King of the World” aboard the prow of the Titanic.

I bet Marilyn Monroe at least got a “heads up, Norma” before they blasted the bejeezus out of her backside.  But WHEE!!!  (That was stupidly freaking FUN!)

As a lover is wont to recall reflective moments of a tryst, I find myself typing tonight with the singular thought of a rare conversation I shared with a Camera Operator on the pilot whom I’ve known for decades. 
With a lengthy gap of time prior to the next run-thru for the Network and Producers, we lounged in the variations of sunshine and shade stippling about the Los Angeles sky as we shifted here and there in someone’s unclaimed golf cart.

“So, Penny...” he mused (more to himself than me).  “Life in Hollywood...  Is it everything you thought it would be?” he questioned sadly, the unmistakable cologne of “Recently Divorced” wafting gloomily in the air.
And without even so much as taking a breath, I blurted the following truthfully:

“WAY better than I EVER expected!!!”
Wishing you all a wonderful week of whatever blows your dress up!

~Norma P

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Subjugation Confrontation

“Looks like we have an Ass Magnet” I sighed to my 1997 Toyota ”Cecilia” as the brazen belligerent SUV driver behind me bullied his way up our tailpipe (as well as the ramps of the parking structure) in his hyper-caffeinated fury at 8:55am.
Despite the fact that Cecilia and I prefer to park on Level 3 (where she’s in the shade, yet has a clear and proper view of the Studio); despite the fact that we professionally arrived 35 minutes prior to the official call time, and despite the fact that the Ass Magnet was clearly running late to work, I allowed, nay, permitted myself to be forcibly coerced to the rooftop.  (Sometimes we all have to pick our battles -- who needs to instigate a fight with a fanatic LA driver fresh off the freeway who may or may not have a loaded Glock in the glovebox?)

In "hindsight-of-course", I could’ve simply pulled over and waved the Ass Magnet ahead of me up the structure; but as Cecilia has a bit of a passive/aggressive attitude (I can’t imagine where she gets that), she continued to motor along at her own safe and steady pace; a bird-like fluttering randomly emitting from her engine at every other turn.  (I’ve always suspected Cecilia secretly has a Facebook page, but now she’s on Twitter too?)

I couldn’t possibly complain.  The scenic panorama of Los Angeles after a bout of rain was positively stunning from the rooftop.  I still had oodles of time before I needed to appear on set, and with the angry Ass Magnet Escalade lurching diagonally across the delineated areas to haughtily take up TWO spaces (lest his pricey Cadillac door be accidentally dinged?), I lounged lovingly against Cecilia in a moment of quiet reflection.

(Please do enjoy the beauty of the city, the majesty of the mountains, the spectacular sky - and (what made me laugh the most) the careful choreography of every other car!) 

Unfortunately, occasionally, “quiet moments of reflection” with too much time on my hands seem to have the absolute reverse effect on me:  and before I could even begin to grasp the situation, I felt the nuzzling of hot breath on the back of my neck...
Yes friends, without so much as a side-mouthed “click-click” or a whistle, the Gate to my Stable of High Horses had apparently been flung wide open; and within mere seconds, my recurring stallion named “Righteous Indignation” had pawed at the ground, snorted in my ear and flung my rear end into his saddle for yet another one of our infamous pompous rides.

“OK, so maybe I’m not a bigwig in Hollywood like the GIANT DOUCHE BAG um, that is to say “possibly traffic-challenged” gentleman WHO WAS TOO STUPID TO LEAVE HIS HOUSE EARLY um, who may have been “potentially unaware of road conditions” (despite clearly sparing the time to stop at a Starbucks along the way, FFS), but at least I respect my job and embrace an excellent work ethic!” I shared with my mighty steed, attempting to emotionally rein him in before we clippity-clopped on stage.

With a Guest Director who stemmed more from a technical background rather than what I would categorize as an “Actor’s Director”, I focused my performances during camera-blocking in accordance with what I assumed would essentially be a “master”, a “single” a “two-shot over” etc.  (Not rocket science.) 

And as approximately half of our sit-com would be filmed live, I’d also tuned into rehearsing which specific lines would be delivered in whatever direction for the Switcher, so she too had a fighting chance at presenting some semblance of our televised episode for the audience.
Lastly, with re-blocking notes for my specific Actor in only one single scene (I’m being redundant for a reason) on a Friday afternoon, I finagled my High Horse up the stairs into the house seating to quietly watch the rest of the rehearsals.

Unfortunately (again with too much time on my hands), I found myself once more trying to rein in the bridled derisive snorts and irreverent eye-rolling of Righteous Indignation...
Despite my fondness for our ‘Director du jour’ as a truly delightful human being, the overwhelming indecisiveness toward re-blocking many rewritten scenes was rapidly spinning into a thoroughly intolerable, disorganized chaotic disaster.  (Yes, again, I’m being redundant, but stay with me.)  

My fellow Stand-Ins were being bandied about from one scenario to another like rag dolls as they tried to keep track of notes for the Actors – a futile task to be sure – as during the tedious process of camera-blocking, the only certainties seemed to be the consistency of ambiguity! 

(Don’t EVEN get me started on our Camera Operators whirling around the proscenium like dervishes in a glassy-eyed trance trying to write and erase and rewrite their shots for the fifth or sixth time!)

And quite frankly, the longer I sat in my judgmental saddle, the sorer became my... um, ‘attitude!’

Dismounting my mighty steed to reclaim my humility and eventually give notes to my Actor, I proceeded cautiously on set (as I am wont to do), crept silently towards my Actor (as is expected) and turning my script to the proper page for his entrance, I accidentally bumped into one of our Prop ladies.  “I already told him about carrying the coffee cup, but I also told him that you’d tell him the rest” she smiled as she scuttled away into the darkness.
And gently brushing my Actor’s arm to garner his attention as he giggled about something with a crew member whose back was turned to me, I reiterated the entrance with the cup, prior to continuing on with the rest of the onslaught of notes regarding his re-blocking in the scene.

Most unfortunately however, the “crew member” then turned around to face me.
“He knows about the stupid cup already!” the Star (slash) Co-Executive Producer of the show snidely smirked at me like I was a complete idiot.

>>><<<  (Author's note:  To Whomever is in charge of the Cosmic Clock in The Universe, well done for hitting the pause button as the following thoughts permeated my pea-brain within milliseconds of nanoseconds!)  >>><<<


Now, was it the earlier recollection of the hefty weight of the Ass Magnet bearing down on my beloved (aging gracefully!) Cecilia like a bully in a kindergarten sandbox?

Were my inherent Capricorn idealistic desires of perfection insulted by the indecisiveness of a Director who would garner a massive salary despite a lack of proper preparation? 
Or was the next moment perhaps simply perpetuated by the imaginary nuzzle of High Horse hot breath on the nape of my neck?

Well, blame it on saddle sores if you like, but all I can tell you, kind readers, is at that precisely spectacular second in time, something within me sort of snapped...
“I understand that” I started to politely state to the Star (slash) Co-Executive Producer, “but I have a LITTLE bit more to explain to him”, I pinched my thumb and forefinger together purposefully.  “So, BACK OFF, B***” I postured defiantly; subsequently mortified at the horrible realization that I had just brazenly barked at my boss and called him solely by his last name.

“SCHOOLED!” my Actor belly-laughed while pointing to the Star (who skulked away quietly), as I believe my face turned 50 shades of red.

“To make matters worse, I was explaining the logistics behind a desired “two-shot” to my Actor to appease our Guest Director, only to be mildly admonished by said Director for my lack of providing a proper “Actor’s Incentive” as to why he should feel “motivated” to accommodate the Cameras” I withered; completely blind-sided by the baffling 180 degree flip-flop from the Technical-to-Thespian Transformation.  “And at that point, all I could do was shake my head in confusion and yelp "I’m so outta here"” I whimpered to my friends.  
“You are my HERO!” one of my fellow Second Teamers cheered victoriously as I relayed the story whilst I simultaneously morphed into a primordial puddle of certainly soon-to-be-fired ooze.  “We all have a job to do, and you stood up for yourself!” she beamed proudly, a high-energy New Yorker transplant to LA who doesn’t take crap from anybody.

“You’re not going to be fired” another gentle friend chimed in on my behalf.  “Heck, the Star will probably even respect you more!” she laughed as she hugged me.

And while my co-workers greatly helped to ease my anxiety, it wasn’t until I enjoyed the opportunity to chat with my friend RJ (an actual HR “Axe Man” for a Fortune 500 Company), that I once again felt comfortable back in the saddle of my High Horse.

“I’ve been thrown under the freakin’ bus all week during Labor Negotiations” RJ sighed wearily.  “You absolutely HAVE to write about telling the boss to BACK OFF!” he rallied.  “I mean, yeah, yeah, yeah, you blog about ‘gratitude’ and ‘being humble’ and whatnot, but just this ONCE Pen, at the very least for ME, you have GOT to stand up for all of us who NEVER have the chance to do that!”
Granted, RJ made an excellent point...

“And by the way” he added, “when I retell this story – and you know I will! – I’m going to have you stomp off the stage into your personal trailer!” he laughed, clearly astride his own twin High Horse.
But dare I be so bold?  After all, who am I to un-pen the oft-sequestered stables of High Horses around the world?  I’m just a lowly peon who seemingly narrowly escaped being canned from a job that I love despite my inability to control absolutely unacceptable inappropriate behavior!

Quite frankly, as much as I wanted to stand-in and stand-up for the voiceless of the working masses, this post could never possibly come to fruition and be published without a larger sign of approval from The Universe... 

“I need a script!” my Actor dashed about frenziedly, as I mutely sat obediently by the door for his entrance and innocuously handed him my clearly marked pages for the scene and his designated dialogue.

“Pthew” the Star (slash) Co-Executive Producer spat his gum into a trash can inches away from me as he too prepared to make his way on set; eying me momentarily as I cocked my head discerningly and politely averted my eyes (as I am generally programmed to do).  “Oh.  Gee.  Sorry about that, Pen” our Star actually winced apologetically.
“No worries” I smiled perfunctorily.


As my fellow Stand-Ins predicted, not only was I NOT fired, but as our Star apparently now seems particularly even more comfortable working with me, I was invited yet again to do a wee bit of Background work (UGH!) as his ‘personal Make-Up Artist’ at the top of one pre-recorded scene. 
And with the Wardrobe Dept. asking only that I be dressed entirely in “fabulous black garments with a splash of color for a neck scarf” (I brought many choices – they selected purple), I stood patiently on my spot prior to filming.

“You’re gonna be the Make-Up person, Penny?” our Star queried as he leaned against a prop set desk.  “Good!” he smiled, jutting out his chin like a contented kitty-cat as the cameras rolled tape whilst I delicately daubed his neck with invisible powder.

Retiring my High Horse back to the barn for a proper feedbag of oats, I continued to be torn regarding this post.
Again, could I really dare to publish such a sordid tale of standing up for myself?

As to the ongoing flutter of Cecilia’s impossible Twitter account, I bent over and clutched my knees anxiously as the people at my local Jiffy Lube flushed my trusty Toyota’s engine, purged her power steering fluids, replaced her air filter, changed her oil and cleaned out the extraneous gunk from her Fuel System.  (Sometimes we ALL need to get rid of our internal gunk!)

And popping open Cecilia’s trunk to deposit a twelve-pack of diet Seven-Up down the road, I think The Universe did thereby officially approve this post with a small Cosmic chuckle, and (dare I say it?) a SIGN...

Frankly, I’d completely forgotten about the stack of paperwork given to us (maybe ten years ago?) which I’d never deign to use. (With my luck, I'd tag the only high profile vehicle in LA whose owner happens to have his own in-home DNA crime lab.) 

But you have to love Cecilia for reminding me to stand up for her too!

Gently wishing you the courage you already possess in your lion's heart; the heart to remember to be kind to others, and the brains to actually think things through before you accidentally tell your boss to "BACK OFF!",
~The (Generally) Cowardly Passive P