(An Urban Man classic post. First appeared on KCRW.com)
Like most people, the Urban Man often says, “if only life were more like media.” If only the women were reliably beautiful or wise, the men muscled or avuncular. If only we offered one another heartfelt looks at the tail ends of dramatic days, and never had to tie our shoes after moments of true love.
Today, as I sit working on a laptop at a favorite hotel bar here in L.A., I look up from time to time to watch yet another production crew shooting out by the pool.
They’re staging some kind of fake wedding, but even though they’re just five feet away through the plate glass windows, I can’t hear a word of dialog. Instead, I appreciate the exquisite swagger of the handheld cameraman and the frenzied calm of the director in his Hawaiian shirt.
I won’t tell you what they’re shooting, as I would be then forced to supply gossip or candid asides, but it’s a popular a sitcom: They’ve put up an arch of flowers for the pretend nuptuals, and grips are standing in the pool to choreograph some cheerful and chaotic moment. Overhead, a hardy crew manipulates enormous reflector screens — and I do the math on what it must cost to have 40-odd people here to create four or
five short minutes of nonsense.
As usual I envy not the money, the beauty or the fame—but the attention to detail. I mean, if I could get a crew of 40 to go back and work on certain moments in my own life, nonsense or otherwise, I certainly would. These shows cost upwards of a million an episode. Surely, there are moments from my own past it would have been worth a million dollars to perfect…
Take that long night at a snooty little vegetarian restaurant in Westwood, when I said those stupid things to my wife. Or that awful lunch with Danny, when I actually forced him to pick up the check. That visit from my mother. That advice to my son. That last conversation with Don.
If I could, I would have perched men in trees to hold sunscreens.
I would have hired set dressers to provide a trellis with plastic trumpet vines. The other people in my life might never have noticed, and who knows, I might have gotten those moments just right. I mean, the scene might still have been filled with nonsense, but at least it would have been perfect nonsense.
At last, the shoot begins. The sound boom and camera crowd in to record the arrival of a snappy young woman. Probably it’s funny how she’s so underdressed for the wedding. She enters with a giggling leap, and she’s immediately accosted by a middle-aged woman with a brittle smile. Beside her stands the ideal balding fool in a tuxedo. Everyone speaks what must be very clever words, and within a few seconds, the brittle smile fades, the balding man frowns.
Charming chaos ensues.
But at this point, the director stops the scene and makes them do it all over again: Giggling leap. Fading smile. Charming chaos. I watch 3 takes, 12 takes: Leap, giggle, smile. Leap, giggle, smile. Eventually I turn back to my laptop. Hours pass, and the director still seems unsatisfied. Next time I look up, it’s still leap, giggle, smile. Everyone maintains their professional cheer, but the crew does seem to realize they will never get these lousy four minutes of screen time entirely right. I mean – even with a script and a few hundred grand a day, even with all that handsome talent
and scurrying grips, these folks can’t seem to achieve nonsense that’s entirely perfect.
When I pack up to leave, they’re still at it. And it occurs to me that really, the Urban Man saved a lot of money over the years.
Copyright © 2011. Marc Porter Zasada. All rights reserved.