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December 5, 2004 - December 11, 2004 Archives

December 5, 2004

AN ACTOR'S LIFE FOR ME

Rained all day. That's winter in Southern California. Doesn't last very long, but when it hits, cold and miserable are the words that come to mind. It was too miserable to go running, so I got up, did some work, then went back to sleep for a while. By 10:45, I was up again, reading the newspapers after braving a drenching to retrieve them from the driveway, whereupon I peeled open the Times Calendar section and read a succession of letters (subscription required) praising a report from last week on an underemployed actor.

The report was about Michael O'Neill, who complained that he might have to leave the business despite having some decent credits, because, well, acting doesn't pay enough. The thing was one huge sour grape about how the stars command such huge salaries yet the journeymen actors- the character guys, the ones in the middle or bottom of the cast list, the secondary players, the "also starring" guys- don't get a taste. And right atop the letters list was one from SAG First VP and second, less entertaining "M*A*S*H" sidekick Mike Farrell, who naturally thinks the plight of the seventeenth banana is a major problem:

    The piece beautifully described the problems faced by professional actors today in a manner that I only hope can begin a process that will involve serious thinking on the parts of many people. The short-sightedness of those whose only interest appears to be in improving their bottom line is squeezing the "little guy" and bleeding the lifeblood of art and creativity from an industry about which we as a nation used to be able to feel great pride. And the greed and selfishness of those at the top of the food chain is now being replicated by members of our own guild who upon attaining the realization of their dreams seem to have forgotten where they came from as they ignore the plight of those whose talent and support helped them get there.

O'Neill explained his plight this way:

    "It's not that there's no work. There's never been any work. But the work you get now does not recognize the value of your experience; it certainly does not compensate you for your experience. All the rules have changed."

    ...

    "I have been very, very fortunate in my career," he says, recounting the innumerable stars he has worked with, the great directors, the camaraderie he has found among all variety of casts.

    But he is also old enough now in his early 50s to appreciate the value of simple truth. "And the truth is I cannot support my family on scale plus 10," he says. "I am too old and too good to be making scale plus 10."

And before long, he gets to his real point:

    "I just keep thinking if some of these big stars would just say something," he says. "Like, 'How about I only get $24 million and you take the other $1 million and make sure the rest of the cast is getting their quotes.' "

Uh, wait.

What these guys want is for the "top of the food chain" to take a pay cut so that the Michael O'Neills of the world can make more money.

Why?

Why should this guy make more money? Why should the real stars take less? Out of the goodness of their hearts? To support socialism in Hollywood? Why?

What's missing from "The Conversation," as the original piece was called, is this: who told Michael O'Neill or Mike Farrell or anyone else in Hollywood that anyone OWES them a living? Is Michael O'Neill so indispensable that he deserves more money because if he doesn't get more, he'll... what? Quit?

There are a million Michael O'Neills competing for a handful of roles. If Michael O'Neill himself doesn't want to take a role because the pay's insulting, a thousand guys equally talented and able will line up to take the job. That's to say this: there's nothing irreplacable about Michael O'Neill, so he can't expect to be paid Jim Carrey wages.

And he shouldn't be paid that under any circumstances, because of this: the entertainment industry makes money based on people making the decision to spend their money or tune their dials to particular programming. There are two determinants of whether someone spends their time and/or money on a movie or TV show- the stars and the story. Not the character actors. The STARS. Nobody but his immediate family pays to see a movie because Michael O'Neill's in it. Millions pay their ten bucks to see Jim Carrey, Julia Roberts, superstars. Should those stars take less to help the rest of the cast out? Or should they get as much as possible, considering that it's their names, their faces, their talents that are bringing that money in?

The people who truly have an argument here, and I don't say this just as a mamber of that clan, are the writers. The writers tend not to get paid commensurate with the success of the movies they write; sometimes, they aren't even welcome on the set. Without the writers, there's no movie- just the actors standing around, confused.

Without Michael O'Neill, there's still a movie and it still does exactly the same business, just with someone else in the role.

Here's the thing- even though O'Neill and the SAG guys complain that due to reality TV and heartless studios, they're left with a business that isn't as it was when they started, that's not true at all. It's the same business, with the same long odds against success. You get into it because you believe the dream, you start to get some traction because you're still young and still the type the casting directors want, you take jobs from older actors you laugh at as washed up jokes, then you get older yourself and the younger ones laugh at you. You make excuses, just like the actors who came before you- it's reality TV, it's the death of the sitcom, it's the death of drama, it's the industry's obsession with youth. It's the same as it was before, only the tables have turned and you're the same old guy you were laughing at 20 years ago.

And it's not like other businesses are any different. Hell, radio IS different than when I got into the business. I was a Program Director, and now, with consolidation, the number of jobs have shrunk. And even though I was one of the top-ranked in that category- L.A. experience, a strong track record- I decided it was time to change course, and I did. And if the one I'm on falters, I'll change again. Nature of the business. Nature of life. Whining and looking for sympathy among the "little people" won't change that.

So you might have to leave acting to support your family. Welcome to the real world, where we all have to do whatever we have to do to support our families. Sucks, I know, but might as well get used to it.



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KINDER, GENTLER POST

Aah, maybe that last post (below) was too harsh. Must be the weather. You know, he had guest shots on some good shows- "24," "Roswell," "The X-Files," "Carnevale." And he's been in a ton of movies, although I've liked only one ("Traffic"). Guy's plugged away for years, and he wants to keep working- you see the clock ticking and the work drying up, you'd panic, too.

But it's the Curse of Getting Older- you get to a certain age, 40 being one magic number and 50 another, and it dawns on you that you're not likely to become a big star, not likely to be acclaimed as the Greatest of Your Generation, and the mortgage and the kids' medical bills and Blue Cross and the car loan need to be paid, and you can't explain to all of them that, see, I was supposed to be a massive internationally acclaimed success by now. They want their money, and "I just missed out on 'Man in Waiting Room #3' in the new Vin Diesel" won't do.

All true, and a shame, except that, again, nobody told you to shoot for the moon. You did it, because you had a dream, and you had to, because had you not, you'd have spent a miserable lifetime wondering what might have been. But now you know. You can second-guess yourself, or you can blame someone else. Or you can go try something else. Or all three.

But then again, as I wrote before and as a Wise Man once said to me when I slipped into the same sort of self-pity during a bout of underemployment about a decade ago, there is no shame in doing whatever you have to do to support your family. And so you do. Can I feel sorry for Michael O'Neill or any other can't-get-arrested-in-Hollywood actor? Not really. Can I empathize? Yeah. But things are tough all over, dude. Go do what you have to do, and stop whining about it.


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December 6, 2004

THE VAN WINKLE DIET

A study says that lost sleep can lead to you gaining weight. It's not that you can't eat while you're sleeping, it's more about levels of some chemical in your brain or something.

    "Our results demonstrate an important relationship between sleep and metabolic hormones," the researchers wrote in the Public Library of Science Medicine journal.

    "In Western societies, where chronic sleep restriction is common and food is widely available, changes in appetite regulatory hormones with sleep curtailment may contribute to obesity."

Whatever it is, I am not going to buck biology. It's been a long day. I'm going to go, er, lose some weight now. G'night.


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December 7, 2004

GOT GELT?

Look, it's Chanukah!

That's the menorah to the left- an "art" menorah, of course, because we're typical can't-do-anything-traditional yuppie scum- and the dreidel to the right, behind the chocolate Chanukah gelt. The dreidel is also artsy and nontraditional- it spins on its little axis rather than freely, meaning it's no fun. Actually, regular dreidels aren't much fun, either, as proven by the lyrics to that popular Chanukah carol:

    Oh, dreidel, dreidel, dreidel,
    I made it out of clay
    And when it's dry and ready
    I'll curse my family for making me craft my toys by hand instead of just going to Toys R Us to buy far better made items that might actually prove enjoyable, like maybe an XBox or a World Poker Tour set, rather than this stupid game

Oh, how we loved singing that as children.

Anyway, it's the first night of the Festival of Lights, and it's been rousing so far: tender brisket made using our pal Gwen's recipe (secret ingredient: whole cranberries), latkes, string bean casserole with the crunchy onion things, a homemade chocolate chunk brownie for dessert. What does this holiday mean? Good eatin', apparently. And that's why I like it.

Happy Chanukah, y'all!


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December 8, 2004

BAD MOOD RISING

It must be the holidays.

1. Not once, not twice, not three times, but FIVE TIMES today, a driver waited until the last second to veer in front of me in a lane for no apparent reason. They didn't need to turn, they didn't have anyone in front of them, they could have continued driving slowly in the other lane. But they decided they'd rather be where I was. Explanation? None possible. All five drivers had blank expressions on their faces when I finally was able to pass them- no cell phone, no passenger, barely sentient.

2. Torrance Y. Fat guy. Black Speedo. Apparently, he hasn't mastered the art of looking in the mirror before heading into public view.

3. Another driver was signaling for a right...

...aah, forget it. I don't want to turn into Andy Rooney. Let's put it this way- everything's either aggravating or depressing right now. My plan for New Year's? Staying in bed until it's over. We're not celebrating the New Year, we'll be escaping 2004. We hope.


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LITTLE SHOPPING OF HORRORS

The King of Atlanta Jews, Sir Larry Wachs, notes that the parking lot at his mall of choice is empty these days, not a good sign for retailers but great for those of us who want to shop without being accosted by thousands of crazed gift buyers. His observations are mirrored here, because I've noticed the same thing- the malls are busy but not really all THAT busy, the Costco was eerily quiet today, I can even find parking at the normally mobbed Best Buy, and the Borders/Sportmart lot, the last time I was there, was wide open. No lines inside, either. And when we recently went to Wal-Mart and PetSmart at the Long Beach Town Center shopping center on a Friday night, we were shocked- no traffic, no parking problems, no lines, in and out with ease. (That area is usually mobbed with shoppers, diners, and moviegoers on weekends- I almost didn't want to go over there because of the usual crowds)

In the immortal words of the Betson's Furniture TV ads on Philly UHF TV, "Hey! Where'd everybody go?"

Not shopping.

I suppose I should be concerned- this CAN'T be good for the economy. But part of me is enjoying the relative calm. I like being able to run into the mall or the department store or the book store, grab what I want, pay immediately, and get out of there. But if what I'm seeing and what Mr. Wachs is seeing holds true everywhere else, those fourth quarter earinings reports are going to be brutal. Maybe y'all should go out and spend a few bucks. Do it for freedom, for truth, justice, and the American way. Do it for my retail stocks. You know you want to.


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December 9, 2004

NO, YOU MAY NOT "HELP" ME

It can't be just me. I've written before (come on, I have a headache and I need to knock off early- YOU look it up) about the intimidation factor with record store clerks. The condescension and the judgemental sneer you get when buying an "unapproved" title are probably the primary reasons I don't bother with record stores anymore. You can go to an online retailer and find a better selection AND preview everything AND get a better price, and there's no snide 30-something boho looking down his or her pierced nose at you.

That's why I was amused by this morning's L.A. Times Calendar cover story. The headline is "The music clerks who can spin your world," and the story is all about the very people who drove me from the stores. And the story even starts out with that very idea:

    Amid jewel boxes and vinyl, they live to open your ears. Obscure. Snobbish. Frighteningly hip. Think "record store clerk," and the stereotypes aren't particularly kind.

So the writer KNOWS what people think. He then, unfortunately, veers into deification of the same people, because instead of condescension, he sees people who really live to spread the joyous gospel of really "good" music, not the commercial corporate crap you're buying but fine, unadulterated crap of which THEY approve.

    But as scary as the words "May I help you?" can seem, it's the clerks who often shape how, and how seriously, we hear music. Sure, a smug one can shut us down. But a good one will excite enthusiasm and curiosity will take us down new musical avenues or help us find the right gift for a friend or relative: His or her deep knowledge of obscure recordings can lead us to sounds we didn't even know existed. All we have to do is find the right person.

The right person? The article quotes several of the "right persons," but they all sound like insufferable know-it-alls, no different from the chain store types, all of which will stare you down and laugh behind your back if you buy something uncool. Frankly, I don't WANT a lesson in what I SHOULD like from some underambitious record store clerk. I can seek and find cool stuff myself, and sometimes I might be in the mood for something uncool, something stupid, maybe something that isn't cool now but someday might be. And I don't want to have to explain it. I don't want to have to care what the clerk thinks.

And I don't need to. I can buy online. (I can also download, but we won't go there now) And the article serves one useful purpose- it provides me with a handy guide to places I'll be sure to avoid.

Next: Book store clerks- annoying acned a-holes.


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MYSTERY CHANNEL

Proof that my town government cannot get anything done: this slide has been on Cox Cable channel 33 for what has to be more than a year.

The money to build a studio at City Hall was in the 2003-2004 budget. This was important because, well, Cox has a cable access studio sitting fairly idle (we don't have public access programming anymore- it used to be on, yep, channel 33) and, you know, it seems they really DIDN'T need to build a studio. So why is this slide up, wasting a channel? And why, when you go to the web site listed on the slide, do you just get a picture of the same slide?

This channel should have been up and running a year ago. I wonder why it isn't. Maybe I'll check around and find out.


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December 10, 2004

TERMINAL "TERMINAL"

Right now, the DVD of the movie "The Terminal" is running in the other room. I'm here at the computer because I needed to check on the anti-virus system scan I was running. I didn't ask Fran to pause the disc. No need. I can predict everything that happens in the movie. We've both been running in and out of the room, leaving the interminable movie running. It's not a bad movie, mind you, just dull and predictable and a little "look at the funny foreigner do funny foreign things" condescending. And it has the bonus of being the kind of movie you don't even have to watch at all to see. Just set it and forget it. You know you will.

Bravo, Messrs. Spielberg and Hanks. Two thumbs sideways.


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December 11, 2004

WHAT WE DID TODAY- A FILLER ENTRY

Plenty of stuff we coulda done this weekend. We chose a movie ("Ocean's Twelve," inoffensive enough of a travelogue) and a few hours of brilliant stand-up comedy with Greg Behrendt and Dave Anthony down at the Irvine Improv, including some reunion time reminiscing about the Weird Old Days at an internet/syndicated radio network we all worked at. A good time was had. Got lots of work to do, but it can wait until tomorrow.

P.S.: Go buy Greg's book.


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About December 2004

This page contains all entries posted to PMSimon.com in December 2004. They are listed from oldest to newest.

November 28, 2004 - December 4, 2004 is the previous archive.

December 12, 2004 - December 18, 2004 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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