Daily Archives: November 13, 2009

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November 13, 2009 by in category Eye on Hollywood by Bobbie Cimo tagged as ,

Today, most of the original stages at CBS-TV City are either being used for game shows or soap operas. But back in the day, along with soap operas and game shows, they were also used for sitcoms and weekly variety shows. Television City was so busy, it was practically going 24/7. In order to be able to get ready for the next day’s tapings , we would have to schedule a “turn around crew” consisting of stagehands, to come in during the middle of the night, to strike one set and set up a new one.

Almost every job dealing with production is attached to a union, whether it be a make-up artist, hairdresser, lighting director, stagehand, cameraman, or truck driver–all the way up to the director, actor, and even to the actor’s stand-in. Without any of these people, production would come to a virtual standstill or at the very least, making it difficult to complete. And when there’s no production, there’s no revenue for anyone.

Negotiations of contracts usually start months in advance between union leaders and Management–both wanting to get the best and fairest deal for their side. But no matter how hard each team tries, sometimes a mutual agreement can’t be reached. When this happens, a strike is called and all union personnel are ordered to walk off their jobs immediately, which leaves only management as their replacements, until a settlement can be reached.

When I say “management”, that means all employees who aren’t part of a union. And just like the union members have to abide by their leaders who ask them to leave their jobs, management is expected to fill in for them. It’s called working strike duty. Training doesn’t usually start until we learn that negotiations are going poorly. And then we start cramming, like college students for a test. We’re taught either by professional strike training teams or management, who use to be union people themselves.

Have you ever heard someone say, anybody can write a book? Oh, yeah, just let them try it.

The first union job I trained for was as a boom operator. For all of you who aren’t familiar with the term, a boom operator is the person who follows the actors around the studio with a microphone on a pole high above the talent’s head. Today, outside of the soap operas, booms aren’t used very often. They’ve been replaced with microphones hidden in the actors’ clothes. Being a boom operator sounds easy, right? Wrong!

After hoisting yourself up on a three foot high platform, the first thing you’re taught is how to put the microphone together on a long rod, that is swung over the actor’s head. Putting the thing together isn’t all that easy, and neither is operating the boom itself. You can swing it in different directions and use a reel to move it in and out, sort of like an upside down fishing rod. Not only is it heavy, but it’s hard on your arms, shoulders and neck. Your main goal is to have the mic just the right place above the actor’s head to pick up his voice, but out of camera shot. This would be simple if the actors just stood in one spot. Unfortunately they don’t. One moment they can be sitting, the next they’re standing or walking around the set. My greatest fear was I was going to hit someone in the head. More than a few times, my greatest fear almost came true…especially when I would relax for a moment and the boom would come crashing forward.

Besides worrying about your mic not showing on camera–picking up a balanced sound and concentrating on not conking anyone on the head, you have to be careful not to cast any shadows that can be seen in the shot. While I’m doing my balancing act in the air, below me is someone pushing and pulling me around on my Ivory Tower, making sure I get to where I need to be. Can anyone say, Dramanine, please?

They once relieved me from my boom duties and gave me a shot at being a camera person. When they did, I thought I’d found my niche. But I was wrong.

During taping of a show, they used what was called the multi-camera technique (something that started as far back as the “I Love Lucy” days). This is when they have multi cameras on the floor and the director calls the shots from the booth into a little earpiece inside the cameraman‘s ear. “And close up from camera three”. We did have rehearsals, but besides practicing your moves, and learning how to operate the side handles for those zooming in and wide shots, you had to know how to run backwards and from side to side–all while pushing your camera around, and avoid colliding with someone else’s. This is all done while looking through a lens. The pressure was enormous and I was glad to give up my post. Actually, I don’t think they ever asked me to come back to it.

Usually, professional stand-ins were hired for us to practice our skills on, but then there were those few times when they would ask us to pick up a script and read the lines for our co-workers to practice on. I, personally couldn’t act my way out of paper bag, so I found the whole thing rather embarrassing. The good thing was no “Soap” actress ever felt threatened about losing her job because of newly discovered talent.

A few years later, once again, I was called in for training. This time, I was placed in the audio booth to do sound effects. I liked this job a lot better, and my timing for ringing the doorbell, slamming a door and tooting a car’s horn were ingenious. Unfortunately, there was more to the job than just doing live sound effects. They also wanted me to perform the sweetening, which is adding sounds after the show had been taped. The audio board had hundreds of gadgets on it…rotary knobs, faders, power mixers and switches. So it wasn’t just a matter of pushing levers or turning knobs. Once the sound effects were used the first time around, you had to learn to cue it up by looping it on the machine so it could be repeated again for the next time. Everything was in the timing. This is not a job for a technically challenged person as myself. But I did get good reviews. But personally I wasn’t comfortable in doing it and was thrilled when there was no strike called for that year, either.

Years later, when another threat of a strike came up, I was assigned as a video tape operator. This called for late night training. I think of all the jobs this was the easiest, but by far the most boring.

The tape went from camera into film can and then transferred onto a video tape machine, where it could be shown over the network and into the viewers’ homes. Threading a video machine is like threading a sewing machine. The most important part of the process is remembering which thingamajig the tape is suppose to go around. But once that’s completed, the rest is simple. You just have to babysit the tape machine to make sure everything runs smoothly–and make sure you don’t nod off while doing it. We were also given lessons on how to edit the tape, by cutting and splicing it together.

Because I’m a night person, I was excited to find out that my training would be starting at 11PM. But the novelty soon wore off after a few days. Working all day and then returning again at night was not my thing. I realized my best night work was at home working on my book and in pajamas.

As luck would have it, (as much for me, as for “Production”) I never had to work strike duty for real. And I never lost any of my union friends over it. They knew, like them, I was following orders.

And the next time you look at somebody’s job and think you can do it just as good as they can, I would say to you, “Not so fast, my “Cape Crusader” friend, it’s probably harder than you think it is….POW!, WHAM! & BLAM!

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