Sunday, May 29, 2011

lessons learned in la-la land

Last night's drive home from the video shoot was supposed to take two hours. This was on paper. We were working at an industrial location well north of Los Angeles, and despite it being a Saturday, the I-405 South was its usual parking lot at the front end of the drive home.

We'd been shooting training film material for five days and nothing terrible had happened-- always cause for relief and good cheer. The previous day, Friday, my drive back to the Sportsmen's Lodge at Studio City had been blissfully quick along unclogged freeways at just half an hour. One of those inexplicable quirks.

And finally, the week was over. Two days off before the final four. I pulled away from our location at just after five, baselessly optimistic about the Saturday traffic and eager for my break at home with husband and cat.

Two more exits, then one. The sky is cloudy and rain looks imminent. Finally I limp out of my sap and grime-covered car at eight o'clock, hungry and numb. Not what I'd hoped for, but I've had worse at four hours or more.

Yes, I'm grateful for the work after a long dry spell, an attitude of gratitude. I'm paid well and lucky to have the work. This is a tough economic time and we're all doing the best we can. I repeat these mantras as necessary.

* * *

Among the many things I notice when I spend any time in the greater Los Angeles area is the way everyone stares at everyone else, either openly or covertly. You don't have to be wearing mustard on your nose or last year's sunglasses-- you'll be looked at significantly more often than usual as you go about your business. I eventually figured out they're all looking to see if you are Somebody, as in, a famous person.

* * *

Brief backstory: My first work in The Business came back in 1986 (as my longtime friends all know) when I was pulled out of my salon life into the golden opportunity of working on a low-budget feature film, a story for another day. Since then I have enjoyed many fascinating years in freelance work in (primarily) corporate film and video production as a freelance makeup artist-slash-wardrobe stylist-slash-set decorator. As the economy took its ignominious hit, naturally enough my work receded as well. This is far more of a problem for people supporting themselves, of course, and since moving from the Bay Area I've consciously been working less often anyway, preferring to divert my time to making my marriage even better, and working on personal projects.

Even so, I do like my media work. I've always enjoyed it, even when (for various reasons) it's far more gritty than glamorous. My background prior to this was in art, theater, and journalism, and I taught myself this biz by throwing myself into projects with long hours and a paranoid-level of hyper-preparation. It's been a successful run with a lot of great projects in the company of friendly and accepting people. But if you stay in anything long enough, be it Work or Life, you live to see things change.

* * *

Few things in life are as important, overall, as a sense of perspective. Was this a rough week? It was. But the true definition of a rough week lies elsewhere: a woman driving herself to and from chemotherapy alone because her indifferent family members can't "handle it"; a student working two jobs while trying to keep his grades up; the list is endless. I find it interesting to explore various aspects of my recent work week and its many personal nuances, and some of it is going to sound bitchy. But friends and readers needn't wonder: I never forget where this litany falls in the spectrum.

* * *

When I was a youngster growing up in the Bay Area east of San Francisco, I had two recurring, alternating career fantasies: working for Mattel in El Segundo designing Barbie doll clothes and accessories, and working as a designer behind the scenes at Anaheim's Disneyland.

Although neither of those specific careers remained on my adult horizon, a considerable portion of my jobs and hobbies have somehow ended up reflecting those distinctly California interests (not, it should be admitted, through any brillance of planning on my part). This profession has given me so many unique opportunities it's hard to choose examples: I've designed and built costumes both glamorous and quirky, created clown makeup that helped define the look of a feature film, created a convincing urban Chinese residence hotel within a Lafayette, California dining room. Without assistance I've somehow dressed and coiffured rooms full of actors in under thirty minutes. It's been my honor to see convention attendees gather in a buzz of appreciation around my miniature original doll couture, and watched people bidding on my fashion doll creations at charity auctions. My life, in other words, has been rich with childhood fantasies that somehow came to pass. My razzle-dazzle Hollywood interests haven't changed much, and the basic dreams remain, but I have no illusions about the geographical area known as Los Angeles.

One quickly learns what a mixed bag is the City of Angels: the stupifying video-game labyrinth of freeways, the fluctuating ominous belt of orange at the horizon. After half a day in the LA basin I always have a dry cough. A graffiti-covered sound wall outlined in weeds sits just a few yards from a gorgeous, shady street of stately cottage-style homes. Gorgeous hotels, huge television studios, leafless blocks of utilitarian businesses. More soundwalls. Gigantic coils of razor wire across the tops of freeway signs.

Nobody walks in LA, but if you do, the heat radiates from the concrete and your eyes water.

* * *

to be continued

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