The TV Gig
My text message ding, dinged. Message from Sara:
"This is like purgatory."
I texted back,
"I don't think we survived the shuttle ride from the parking structure. I think this is purgatory."
I heard her laugh from the other side of the partition between my trailer and hers. Really it was the same trailer, so we could’ve easily spoken to each other, but after such a long wait, the whole band had finally receded into themselves, all verbal energy exhausted. We were waiting to get called to set, for an on-screen gig we’d been on for 3 days. The first two days we’d had more action, but this final day was becoming surreal. The separation between our trailers was just a wobbly, brown painted, folding door, which separated a single space into two. I walked out of my trailer door and sat on the top of the metal stairs. Sarah was already on her respective stairs to my right. She said something about how she keeps checking Facebook and Instagram and there's nothing left to check on, no new email in the past 5 minutes, yet she keeps going back, like a crazy person.
There are some very coveted gigs, and if you land one, you expect it to go a certain way. Side-lining is a good gig. It’s when musicians get called to a set, to basically pretend they’re playing music on the show. Generally, real musicians get called to do these because it looks more authentic. Why not use the actual musicians who played on the recording? Because often the show needs musicians to have a very particular look on screen, one which fits the vibe of the show/scene. Sometimes the recorded musicians will have the look, sometimes not. I was lucky this time, since I was the recorded singer, and got to be the one on screen as well. I think my hair is “in” right now.
So that’s what we were called for, and we'd been waiting at the base camp with all the wardrobe trailers since 9am. Sara and I had already made the obligatory “look how much fun we’re having on the set!” Instagram video, and the extended arm Facebook selfie, and we were now face to face with actual, static, second-by-dragging-second, reality. Social media had become ineffective. It felt like the 1990s. Now I remember why melancholy was so popular in that decade. Still, this was the 3rd day of the gig, and I was hoping for something cool to happen. Looked at my phone, 3 o’ clock. No lunch, no word, just sitting in a parking lot in Hollywood, in a heat wave, in full hair and make up. It was the most fabulous tedium I've ever experienced.
My swanky digs
2 weeks earlier, when I got the call for the gig, I was totally surprised. It was not just a session, but an on-screen gig for a TV pilot. They wanted a singer who could both sing the part, and appear on screen.
"I'm your huckleberry!" I yelled into the phone.
Actually I didn't do that. But I did take the gig.
I grew up around the TV industry. My mom is a screenwriter, and I went with her to deliver scripts to studios all the time. I also went to an art school with the kids of actors and directors, yet still, jaded as I can be about “the industry”, Hollywood often surprises me.
I thought I knew what to expect from the 3 days I was called to the set. I imagined yummy snack tables, milling around in cool clothes while waiting to shoot, shooting the shit with extras and crew, hanging out with my fellow band members, and maybe getting to know a few shiny actors (hey, I'm not above being impressed). Basically, all that was accurate, but my mental timeline was far too compact. A day on the set of a shoot is like a projection on a screen made of a special stretchable fabric. The fabric keeps stretching, and stretching, and stretching, until the elements of the picture pull further and further away from each other. Eventually there is so much space between the activities in your day that they seem to never end, and never quite begin. "Set time" is a dramatization of cosmic expansion. This is what I've come to. Spend enough time in a trailer where half of your couch has removable cushions and converts to a toilet, and you start to contemplate thermodynamics and degradation. I decided the name of the shade of crappy brown paint on my trailer walls was called "entropy."
Sara shifted in her leopard print blouse and black leather pants. I didn't envy her in that get-up, in our Saharan version of March. I was lucky enough to get dressed up in a light-weight, lavender, Zac Posen frock. Knee-length, very low v-neck, very very low. One could say the architecturally risqué tailoring made mountains out of molehills. The garment was tight around the thighs, yet had some room around the low stomach area, kind of a vintage silhouette, forgiving in its way - which was good since I was experiencing some expansion in that area.
Me, in Zac Posen, Pre-GI epic drama.
"I think I had too much coffee."
I made the squinty-eye, wrinkle-nose face at Sara, indicating a combination of distress and humor. It was more distress.
"Are you feeling jittery?"
"No, it's just not sitting right. I don't drink a lot of coffee, usually."
We wandered over to the trailer of the woman who was playing the restaurant hostess on the TV show. She had a much bigger trailer with a rug in brighter colors. We talked about... honestly I don't remember. I had gone through both my protein bars, and the coffee was getting restless in my stomach. I chewed some gum and tried to participate in the conversation, but I could feel my personal velocity slowing down and getting heavy. I had a little wave of dizziness. I decided to walk back to my trailer and took off my shoes. I felt the hot parking lot asphalt under my feet. Felt good. Went back up to my trailer and laid down on the half couch half toilet. My stomach felt round and toxic, and my eyes drifted over the entropy colored walls.
Things had been good
So our job, for the past two days, had been to get made up, suited up, get on stage, and look like a really cool band. The past two days, we’d mimed our moves while listening to playback of the session I’d sung a few days prior. It was a riot to watch the band try and physically match the recorded instrumental rhythms and solos. Sara had an Oscar worthy “guitar face,” and Ryan, the bass player, was 100% grooving. Sam was solid on air-drums, and Ed, on piano, turned on this aloof intensity, and really varied it up from take to take. Together, we created a really slammin’ work of fiction.
Sara(guitar) allows Ryan(bass) to smell her guitar, then I air my armpit at Ed (keys). Sam (drums) is a nice normal person.
These first two days were fun, but also hot, long, and weird. After the first couple of takes, they’d turn off the playback, so we’d mime playing and singing in silence. It was a silent concert, for a silent audience of extras, pretending to dig us. Everyone was dressed to the nines, enjoying food they couldn’t eat, and music they couldn’t hear. First it was a lark, but after about five hours, we all began to wilt and sweat through our powder.
I was in form fitting dresses the whole time, so my mission was to only eat food which didn’t cause bloating. Low carb, in other words. Perfect food? Eggs! And what did they have, but a whole tray of hard boiled eggs, and deviled eggs. I went to town on them. In retrospect, I should’ve taken a broader perspective and thought about eggs sitting outdoors in the heat. For hours. The ramifications of this. But I didn’t. And I’m not saying they’re responsible for my eventual gastrointestinal peril, I’m just saying there were deviled eggs outdoors, for many hours, I ate many of them, and the devil is in the details.
The Honeybucket Blues
4pm. Finally called to the set.
Between 3pm and 4pm, I had made ample use of the bathroom trailer.
You don’t appreciate how much your body can hold, until you see it leave you. And Good Lord. Why is a porta-potty company called “Honeybucket?” COULD they have come up with a more disgusting mental image? Why ruin both honey and buckets? I digress.
Walking to the set shuttle, every step was a seismic event, beckoning a coffee tsunami inside me. I sat down in the van next to Ryan.
“Are you ok?”
“No. Had too much coffee.”
“You need to take something?”
I don’t remember how I answered.
When we got to the set, a restaurant on Melrose ave., I was hoping to get in and out, to head off a mounting bodily catastrophe. Of course they’d changed the shooting order, and we were sent back to wait in the tent in the alley – and I was getting weak, and increasingly unsteady. I thought I knew about “set life” because I’d grown up around it, even done some TV as a child. I had this vision of casual glamour and efficiency. My expectations were not glitzy, but maybe a little cushier. From my folding chair, set up between a tent and a forklift, listening to the insane ramblings of my GI gurgles, the word “cushy” did not apply.
After my fifth trip to the porta-pod of shame, the band started to give me the ick/sympathy looks. The “oh you poor thing don’t touch me I don’t want to get what you have oh poor baby ew get away oh I’ve totally been there oh God I’m so glad I’m not there I’m here for you stay away from me” faces. No blame, I would’ve done the same thing. Every time I went back and forth to the porta-potty, there was this dude sitting on the corner of a wall. I wonder what he was thinking, seeing this woman, in a designer dress, all made-up, wobbling into the porto and out again, every ten minutes. Around then, the set medic was called to check me out, and it was decided the shuttle would take me back to base camp where I could lie down.
So I was back in my trailer, on my half couch half toilet, wrapped in a sweater provided by the wardrobe department. I lay there for an hour until my stomach told me I had to sit up. I turned toward the mirror. My incredible smokey-eye make-up had gotten messy, and brought out my bloodshot whites. My hair was asymmetrically flat on the side I’d been laying on, and poofed on the other side. I’d unzipped half the back of my dress, and a halter strap was hanging off a shoulder. My skin was pale, my posture cavernous. I was a hot mess. I felt incredibly editorial. Definitely couture.
I couldn’t get comfortable. I knew my gut was making some immediate plans. I couldn’t blame the coffee, but I couldn’t really blame the eggs either, I’d had them the day before. Didn’t matter now, this party was already bumpin.’ I pulled over the plastic trash can and scooted near. This was not how I imagined my super cool TV gig. Then I turned and puked. In lavender Zac Posen.
One Last Scene
I sent a text to our liaison to the set, Bianca.
“Ok, just barfed. That was either the end or the beginning.”
“Oh no…on my way back. Do you need anything?”
“Might be fine now haha. More Gatorade?”
Bianca was awesome. She told me we had one more scene to shoot, and I could totally sit it out, and they would make it work – but no way. I wasn’t about to look this good vomiting for nothing.
When I got back to the set, everyone had their car wreck eyeballs on. The eyeballs that roll over you like a horrible attraction. They all knew what had happened. Make-up fixed me, and I walked up onto the stage. Luckily the scene was really short, and went well, so after all that, I went home.
I got a ride from my friends Melissa and James. One drove my Volvo with my withered self in it, and the other followed in their car. They did this because they are awesome. I dribbled out of the car and up stairs into bed. I put a bucket down at the foot of it, just in case.
I couldn’t believe I was through the gig. A three-day marathon of waiting. Still, I did it. Not the way I thought it was going to go, but on the other hand, here I was: laying in bed, weary, drained, still in full hair and make up, stomach concave from food and water loss. All in all, how much more Hollywood could I be?