Friday, March 21, 2008

The Network that Used to Show Music Videos Meets the Family that Used to be Righteous

It’s been almost a week since I was fired off this show. Now I think I can begin to talk about it.
It’s a pilot reality show called “Bustin’ a Move.” It is about teenage sex and these teenagers’ families. The show is not really called that, but we’ll call it that to protect the guilty. All proper names have been changed, and certainly not all are guilty.

So local sound guy “David” refers me to them. He’ll be on it, and they need more ENG (Electronic News Gathering) sound people, meaning sound people that go all over town with a camera person shooting verite style. David tells me we’ll get X amount of money for a 10 hour day, which sounds like a pretty good day rate.

The production coordinator with “Bustin,’” “Melanie” tells me on the phone, the next day, that all the local crew, including David, have agreed to work for X for a 12 hour day. I think about that and say I want to talk to David. I call him and leave a message. I’m on a different job that day working on a audio for a focus group consisting of middle school teachers. I’m kind of busy, and I want to get the matter of “Bustin’” settled. I don’t hear from David before Melanie calls me back. She says I could have a higher rate if I want it, but that if I do, I’ll have to keep it confidential because everyone else has agreed to work for X for 12 hours instead of 10.

So I think about this while I’m on the phone and working on another job, and I say “Okay, I’ll do it.” Because X is still kind of decent for 12 hours, though it is less than X for 10 hours plus two-hours overtime. But I’ve done it before. Others have to. So I agree to that.

That night, David leaves me a message. “I don’t know,” he says, “X for 12 sounds low. I’d negotiate that. Just tell them what your 10-hour rate would be plus overtime for 2 more hours.”

The next day I can’t get David or Melanie on the phone, and then the day after that is the day I start work.

I get on set and there’s “Nate,” another sound guy. So it’s myself, David, and Nate doing sound. Nate is a tall, large, overbearing guy from New York who was glad when his wife got a high paying job down here because the city will, in his words, “knock the snot out of you.” I had worked with him only one other day, nearly two years ago. That day had been doing a reality show for the same network at a local computer game company that makes this game. Nate had his own fairly good equipment while I was using gear from the company in Raleigh that had hired both of us. The gear I had was kind of lame gear. So Nate said that, if I didn’t mind, he would take the lead as #1 sound guy, and I would be #2. “Not that big a deal to me,” he said. “I don’t play politics. It’s just, get the audio and go home, you know?” I agreed to that because the pay was the same, and I did indeed have second class audio gear. So Nate connected to the cameraman they had brought from LA, and I connected to the local cameraman. Then we went out for shooting in the corridors and conference rooms of the company.

We soon discovered that the LA cameraman was actually pretty green and had been brought as #2 camera, while our local guy was #1 camera. Since I was connected to the local guy I ended up being #1 sound guy that day anyway. This meant Nate had a lot of time in the holding room where the producer was always on the phone producing. The times I was in there, the producer asked us other crewmembers to be quiet. Well, apparently, during a time when I was out shooting and Nate was in there, Nate started talking on his cell phone to arrange his daughter’s 4th birthday party. He was talking loudly next to the producer. The producer did not say anything to him, but he asked the local company that had hired us not to send Nate back on any more days. So that was the last I saw of him. Nate never knew why he got no more days on that show.

So when I see Nate on “Bustin,’” we talk about that job we had done together. “Did you get any more days out of that?” Nate said. I said I got a few. Nate said. “Must have been because of my gear. They didn’t want to pay for my gear. That’s why they didn’t hire me back.” I shrugged and said I guessed so.

Then I said, “Let me ask you a personal question. Did you agree to work 12 hours for a 10 hour rate?”

Nate leaned down close to me. “You’ve worked with me before. What do you think?”

So I go to Melanie who is hanging around near the entrance to the sound stage where they will do some of the shooting. I say to her in a low voice, “You said all the local crew agreed to work a 12 hour day for a 10 hour rate, but apparently that’s not the case.”

She said, “Huh?”

I repeat. She gets flustered. “Can we talk about this later?” Suddenly she’s busy and has to go away.

We three audio guys coordinate the frequencies of the 8 wireless systems we will be using. Nate and I will be working in the same locations. We will be micing up to 4 people, and he and I each will be receiving the same four frequencies. We will each be sending two tracks, via two more wireless systems apeice, to our respective cameras. Cameramen will have to be listening to make sure audio was coming to them properly.

The wireless receivers can scan frequencies in their ranges, and we find several big blocks of occupied bands. These look like television stations. It is hard to work around them, but we manage to do this.

We have a large production meeting with everyone present. They say we’ll be going to a family’s house and we will have to be very careful. “We’ll be shuttling people to the bathroom at McDonald’s” they say. Now do you, reader, think that, if you need to go to the bathroom in a situation like this, that there will be someone waiting to take you to McDonald’s and bring you back in time to get your work done? Yeah. Like everyone agreed to work a 12 hour day for a 10 hour rate.

In that meeting, one of the big-shot producers asks us audio guys to hide the microphones. Don’t leave them exposed at the top of shirts. Okay. Will do.

We crowd into a van and go to an ice cream shop to shoot the first scene. In the first scene there are just two “talent” members, a 15-year-old boy and girl who are having sex with each other. As soon as our van arrives the crew is pulling cameras off the back, getting ready to shoot. Nate suggests I wire the talent and he will pass out the Comtek wireless headsets which will enable the producers to hear the audio. The director, “Peyton,” tells me to follow him and he will take me to the talent to wire them.

The boy, “Jack,” is wearing a long T-shirt untucked. This is an easy mic hiding job. Now for the girl, “Jill.” She is wearing a halter top, very low-cut and also high-cut to show bare midriff. This is a hard micing job. But they’ve told us to hide the mics and I know they want me to move fast, so I start my little routine. I explain to Jill that I’ll need to put a mic right behind the center of her top. I don’t say that this is between her boobs, but this is what I mean. That is a good space to hid a mic. It sounds pretty decent, and it is not sandwiched between layers of clothes that rub together noisily.

She says that’s okay. I ask her to help pull the connector end of the mic wire down into her shirt. I tape the microphone inside the halter top and am glad to see that the top has two layers of thin material so that little bumps from the mic and tape, affixed to the inner layer, do not show on the outer layer. I ask her to now run the mic wire just inside the bottom of her bra. Then I say I’m going to clip the transmitter pack to the back of her bra.

While I’m doing this, several male and female producers are sitting around. This is all happening inside the ice cream shop, near the front window to the sidewalk. One female producer speaks up, “Maybe Jack can help with that,” referring to the transmitter pack clipping task.

So I tell Jack what to do. This takes extra time. He’s cool with it so he clips it there, but it sticks above the back of her top. Okay, now to plan B. I take an ace bandage and safety pins from my waist pouch. I ask Jill to hold her top up a little while I run the bandage around the narrowest part of her waist, and pull it pretty tight. She asks if it will make her look fat, and someone tells her it will be hidden fine behind her top.

Nate comes in as I’m leaning over behind Jill trying to safety pin the bandage. He says, “They sent me in to make sure everything’s okay.” I say, “I guess it’s okay, I’m just doing this here.” He holds the bandage in place while I pin it.

“You cool?” he says. I say I am. “I’m walking away,” he says.

Then I’m done and I walk away and on my way out, Peyton holds out his fist offering the “Wonder Twin Powers” shake. I fist-bump his.

We do the scene and everything goes fine. Mics sound good and stay hidden. No transmitter pack comes falling out of anyone’s clothes. The teenagers have a frank discussion about the sex they are having together. They are definitely getting it on big time.

When it’s over, Nate says to me, “They [the producers] were really worried about you micing her. I think it’s because you were doing it near the window.”

I had not thought of that. But I am always having to mic people in the worst places -- on sidewalks, in hotel lobbies, anywhere. Nobody ever thinks about it in advance. Nobody ever tells the “talent” to wear clothing that is easy to hide a mic in, or that doesn’t make much noise on body mics. Nobody ever makes provision for a “safe place” to mic someone. I tell Nate, “They took me to talent to wire them, and that’s where they were.”

“I know,” he said. “These guys are really edgy. I told them that that was the only way to mic someone like that. I wouldn’t roll over on you. I’m too old school for that.”

We go to the next location, the house where Jack’s family lives. We will be shooting their family dinner. Jack, Mom, Dad, and little brother “John” will need to be miced. Jack still his his mic on from the ice cream shop scene.

Lighting the inside of the house takes some time, so I stand around in the cul-de-sac in front of the house, awaiting instructions, afraid at this point to do anything I was not told to do.

They send John out to me to be miced. I mic him there in the cul-de-sac. Then they send Dad out. I get as far as having him untuck his shirt, and then I realize that here I am doing it again, putting a mic on someone in plain view of the world. Just then Nate walks by and says, “Take that somewhere else, you don’t want that happening again.”

So I suggest to Dad that we go someplace more secluded. He says it doesn’t matter -- one of his neighbors is a doctor. Then he says, “My gay neighbor may want to watch.” But I insist so we go down to a walkway beside his house among some bushes, and I finish micing him there. Now, only Mom remains, and I hear that she’s taking a nap and that when she wakes up, “she’ll be in a better mood,” whatever that means.

I go back to hanging around in the cul-de-sac. Nate comes out and tells me, “Don’t worry about this now, but they told me that I should always be the one to put mics on people from now on. Don’t worry about it. Right now, they need you to run an interview inside.”

I go in and use Nate’s audio equipment where he’s already set it up. We are interviewing John in his room, and there is not room behind the drum set for Nate, which is why they’ve brought me in to do this.

We do that interview. I leave the room carrying Nate’s audio gear out to the living room where it seems it will be safe. On the way I see Nate wiring Mom in the kitchen. I almost go in and see if he needs anything, and then figure I should not do that.

With the family all miced now, Peyton sets camera positions and tells me to go partway up the stairs where I’ll be out of sight. Nate is somewhere else, but as the dinner is getting underway, they send him up to sit below me on the stairs. So now the family is in the dining room, cameras are on them, and Nate and I are sitting on the darkened stairs unable to see a thing, just listening and hoping our audio is getting out to the cameras okay.

Without being able to see what’s going on, we can’t tell if someone gets up to leave the table. So if someone goes into the kitchen to start rattling tin foil, we don’t know to turn their mic down until all that noise has already gotten mixed on top of the other voices; then we don’t know when to turn the mic back up again when they reenter the dining room. So Nate and I leave all the mics up all the time and keep rolling our eyes at each other.

The family passed food around. Mom says, “Hey, I made this chicken, can’t I have a piece?”

They talk about what they did all day. Jack’s teacher lost an essay he had written so he had to re-write it in half an hour. Dad is worried that the essay is no good, having been written in that short a time. Jack assures him it was okay. Dad talks about the Arizona trip coming up, and the whole family is excited about that. Mom says, “Does anyone want to know what I did today?”

She tells about how they had a talk, at school, about what is appropriate clothing to wear, about not wearing low cut tops, bare midriffs. “We talked about temptation,” she says. “And we had a little fashion show illustrating what not to wear.”

I had heard somewhere that she teaches at a Christian school.

So here we are on this job about teenage sex. We have just shot a scene with Jill wearing a low-cut top with bare midriff that the mother had just taught her own students not to wear. Someone, somewhere, is upset about the way I hid a mic on Jill, but they had no problem putting her on camera dressed like that. And, this teenage sex, the teenagers doing it, and Jack’s family are being exploited for the world to see on this popular TV network.

Sitting in the dark with all our mics turned up, Nate and I have little to do. Nate gets out his iPhone, and I have a flashback to the show two years ago when Nate was not hired again because he was talking on his cell phone.

He starts typing on his iPhone.

I think that something is wrong about this family mealtime, and it’s not just the cameras and microphones. It’s that the classic family roles have been turned upside down.

I mean, in the normal classic view of family, it’s the parents who are permitted to have sex, not the kids. The parents raise the kids, the kids look up to them, and when the time is right, the kids go out and get married and then have their own sex.

Here’s Mom trying to uphold her moral stance criticizing low-cut tops. But we all know who’s getting his hands into those tops.

Here’s Dad, mellow, self-assured. Dad and Mom don’t seem the type to be having much sex any more, but I could be wrong about this. They are harried by the demands of raising a family, being responsible. They are overweight. It is probably safe to say that Dad, like men men, could fantasize about having some hot young thing to get busy with. But we all know who does have it going on with a hot young thing.

It’s like Mom and Dad are wasting their breath. They can try to have traditional family dinner all they want to. But dessert has already been eaten, and that dessert, my friends, is pie.

Nate holds his iPhone up to me. He has written a long message to me on it. It says, “Mom’s mic is not hidden well. They told me to hurry and she said I could not touch her skin. This show is getting really weird early.”

We finish at the house. Nate will stay with one cameraman to do more interviews with the family. I will go with another to shoot Jack having coffee with three teenage girls, none of them Jill.

I see, when Jack gets with those girls, how easy he is to talk to. He listens well. He’s confident. He’s the kind of guy any parent would be proud to raise, and I’m sure he’s very satisfying and emotionally attuned to his partner.

The girls dig him. One asks, “Was there anyone between your first and Jill?” He says, “Let’s just say, I had a busy summer.”

I’m not too worried about Jack. He needs to stay careful, and I think he will. He’s a likeable, natural-acting person. And the girls are likeable too. None of them are virgins either. One talks about how her Dad accused her of having sex one time because he had found tissues next to the bed. No, that was because she had a cold. But her mom was correct when she suspected her of having sex because of stains on the sheets.

Another said that she was looking for something in her house recently. “You can’t be looking for your virginity,” her mom said to her. “You already lost that.”

We finish there, and the crew sits around eating some wraps that had been purchased at the restaurant next door. I wonder if I’ll be on the job any more. I am supposed to have the next day, Saturday, off and then work Sunday and Monday.

I get released at 11pm. It has only been an eleven hour day. I call Svetx and tell her about it and say I should not be surprised if I get a call the next day releasing me from the show. It kind of feels like that is unlikely though.

The next morning, the phone rings. I let it take a message. Then I check it. They are letting me go. It’s Melanie leaving the message. “Something happened with the family. I don’t know exactly what, but the producers thought it would be best, given the sensitive situation here, if you don’t come back and work for us. In any other situation, we’d be happy to hire you back . . .”

The thing about that is, I was wiring Jill when they complained. She is not in the family.

I talk to Nate on the phone. I say I guess I’ll be careful to wire people outside of public view next time. The thing is, there never is a safe place for that. Nate says, “No no, dude, you’re overthinking it. Just let it go. Move on.” I talk to David, and he says it has not put him in any difficult situation, which is good.

Now it’s been a week. They’re gone. I’ll never know exactly what the problem was.

1 comment:

i zimbra said...

Thank you for this, Elrond. There are so many people's emotions to manage in this line of work.