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Valley of the Turkeys; Propping up production

LETTER FROM L.A.: Valley of the Turkeys; Propping up production

copyright 2002, Jim Chevallier


            I’m writing this at the end of Thanksgiving weekend. Thanksgiving in the San Fernando Valley is pretty morose for those without a dinner planned. A few cafes are open in the morning and early afternoon, and then the very unlovely streets of Burbank and North Hollywood mostly close down. Though Pasadena, it turns out, is pretty lively. Lots of places open on Colorado Avenue and several restaurants downright full.

            One tradition we have out here is uncharacteristically compassionate for this town: a comedy club on Sunset serves a steady flow of free meals – and comedy – to actors with nowhere else to go. Not that they check for SAG cards. The line outside is a great place to bond with a colorful assortment of our less advantaged local citizenry…

            The one time I went to check this out, a hip coffeehouse down the block tried to horn in on this tradition. Whether from civic spirit or desire for TV coverage, I don’t know.  Whatever the intent, they had a terrible time getting people to go the short distance to their place. Even the street people insisted on sticking with what they knew.

            Hollywood, where everybody sticks to known quantities.

            WORKWATCH: A woman who rents props says not only has she been renting them regularly lately, but some are renting them on Fridays – meaning they’ll be shooting through the weekend. On the other hand, an entertainment lawyer says her director clients are still being sent out of the country to shoot. And yet another set designer is seeking alternate sources of income.

            And so, locally, it’s the same story as nationally: signs of a recovery, but shaky. Ever so shaky.

            How much does this matter to you, the New York actor? Possibly not at all, especially if your focus is theatre. If it’s film, a bit more. I don’t think it’s arrogant of us transplanted Angelenos to suggest that, as goes Hollywood, so goes the American film business. So along with the national news items on Los Angeles trends, you probably want to keep an eye cocked for such small (if contradictory) signs.

            Now, if you’re one of those optimistic souls who’s planning on ‘coming out for pilot season’, then you REALLY want to pay attention.

            I’m presuming there’s no use in telling you it’s a really bad idea right? First of all, if you were going to look for an agent, the time to do that was just this last month or so. Once pilot season is upon us, few agents have time to be interviewing new clients. And those who do probably couldn’t help you much either.

            It’s also very unlikely that you’ll get in many doors at such a high-pressure time if you haven’t been in town for a while. Not impossible of course – maybe you’re that particular type that’s in short supply this year. But note I said ‘type’. Just being good-looking or talented or – well, whatever makes you think you’re a bit above the crowd -, most likely won’t be enough. This town’s category-driven at the best of times. What’s that mean? That means that if someone wants mineral water, the fact that you’re offering the best champagne really won’t help you.  With a few exceptions, you have to first be what they’re looking for – quirky, heavy, Latino, whatever -, then be the best of that type (because, this being Hollywood, there’s always lots of others in the same category).

            Also, given that everybody up and down the line – actors, casting directors, directors, producers – is dependent on someone else’s approval, no one wants to make a mistake. During pilot season, casting directors – like homeless people lined up for turkeys - look for known quantities; i.e., actors whose work they already know.

            All this is true at the best of times. But last pilot season, lots of people who were known quantities – and used to working – didn’t get out at all. And it’s not at all sure things will be better this year.

            Not sure at all.

            So, if you haven’t bought that ticket yet…

            Well, let’s see how many props are being rented come January.