I’m a little busy with my day job this week, meaning the one that pays the bills (or at least some of them). I’ve got a dozen ideas rolling around in my head, but I just don’t have time yet to jot them down via keyboard and upload them into cyberspace. So in the meantime…
For those of you new to Very VERY busy mom, I started this blog on North Hollywood/Toluca Lake’s Patch.com, the hyper-local newsite owned by AOL. This was my very first post and appeared on May 4, 2011. I thought I might reprint it here, since I’m now currently on the opposite end of The Show Biz Hiatus Dance.
Man is the only earthly being that senses the concept of time, and as long as he’s been aware of it, he’s been slicing that time into “before” and “after” sections. Nine months of an anticipated due date is followed by decades of annual birthdays (which progressively become fodder for mock and ridicule). Our Gregorian calendar divides our years into B.C. and A.D., which more recently can be dissected into “Before Children” and “After Divorce.” And for many of us who are seasonally employed in the entertainment industry, our world is split into two distinct segments: “working” and “on hiatus.”Last week I was working.
For over a quarter of a century, I have been a television sound editor, working primarily from September through May. I get a few breaks around Christmas and in the spring, but most weeks it’s 50 – 60 hours working on a strict deadline. And then faster than you can say “Nielsen ratings,” I’m unemployed.
My busiest week on record is a total of 112 clocked hours, so when I say I was working every waking minute, it’s not much on an exaggeration. You know you’re working too much when you want to dial “9” before making a phone call, or instinctively grab a toilet seat cover when using the little girls’ room. My hardest month was May of 1994, when I was in the midst of May sweeps for my show The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., while simultaneously cutting the pilots for ER and Third Watch.
After working 16-hour days for a couple of weeks, I went to work on Friday at 6:00 am and worked straight through until 1:15 Saturday afternoon. Then I went to a wedding.
I was younger then. Today that would kill me. And believe me, I would be praying for death.
Today’s 50-60 hour week should feel like part-time work. But now that I have three kids and a very busy life outside of work, it’s become a hard task to gracefully master. I’m lucky to have a husband who doesn’t work in the industry. He has a normal 40-hour week (albeit an early one – 6:00 am – 2:00 pm) and picks up a lot of slack. If we have home-cooked meals, he’s the one who prepares them. He’s often the parent who picks up the kids from school, takes them to appointments and helps them with their homework. It’s really hard to feel like a martyr when your husband is the one cleaning up the midnight flu vomit. But even he can’t do it all when my workload is heavy.
When I’m on a show, we eat a lot of Costco ready-made meals. I have to just accept the sticky floors and the thick layer of dog hair that accumulates in every corner of the house. Lack of exercise has made my hips even more Jell-O-like, and I blame sleep deprivation for making me forget the names of my children. My responses to Evites are posted in this order: “YES!”…. then “Maybe”… and finally a day or two before the event, a very apologetic “No.” I have a half-dozen saved phone messages from my 10-year old daughter pleading “Please come home Mommy! PLEASE!” and I have to create auto replies for my emails saying that it’s not that I’m out of the office, it’s just that I’m too busy to look at them.
When describing my work schedule to the 9-to-5ers, I compare it to two different movies, which is appropriate since I work in entertainment. The first is from the 1987 film Broadcast News where Joan Cusack has less than 60 seconds to leap over and under file cabinets, drinking fountains and small children to deliver videotape before the station is forced to cut to black. This hilarious scene shows the urgency and panic of working under an impossible deadline, and it’s similar to the nightmares that wake me up when I really need to be getting my beauty sleep.
The other film is the rowing of the galley slaves scene in the classic film Ben Hur. I think of this scene whenever one of my at-home mom friends suggests that I make it a point of taking time to relax. This would be akin to a shackled Charlton Heston, rowing at top ramming speed, turning to the guy with the whip and asking “Can’t I just pause a moment and take a little ‘me’ time?”
I have it easier than most. Working in post-production (and for this season working completely from home) I have a certain amount of autonomy and flexibility as long as I get my show done.
Those who work in production are not so lucky. They get up at 6:00 am and travel to whatever location they’re shooting that day, and they are literally slaves until after the last scene of the day when the director yells “Cut.” They might finish up at midnight and do it all over again the next day. Granted, the crew has meals brought to them, but so do prisoners in San Quentin, but at least the convicts get a full night’s sleep.
And then there’s hiatus.
I actually get an adrenaline rush just thinking about hiatus.
My to-do list is miles long, and ranges from big projects like cleaning out my garage and painting the house to simple little things like picking my kids up from school on foot, or taking a moment to brush my matted dogs. I’m looking forward to reading a book. Yesterday I went to the YMCA and took my first Pilates class in four months. Unfortunately, today I’m walking like I just road a horse from Bakersfield. I also spent two hours at Target strolling down every single aisle – and I did it with my four-year old. As anyone with a preschooler will immediately attest, this should have been the equivalent of an afternoon in hell. Instead, I had a great time, although a variety of squirt guns and squishy balls magically appeared in my basket.
You used to know who was on hiatus, because you’d all see each other in the unemployment line the following Monday, but now (mercifully) you can file online. Marie et Cie and Aroma Café bustle with new summer regulars who finally have time to socialize or start that screenplay they’ve been talking about forever. The 12-step rooms are packed with those who finally have time to work on their addictions, or who are under the misconceived notion that they’ll get their big break by pitching to a celebrity during an AA meeting.
The workaholics have a big problem. If they don’t have a family or a hobby, the transition from 180 mph to a dead stop is just too extreme. They’ll end up like the stereotypical housewives – eating bon bons and watching Oprah, or in the case of the men, eating ships & salsa and watching ESPN.
Many friends of mine in the industry have a tough time making the work/hiatus transition, especially when they have kids. The ones with a full-time nanny have the easiest time, because they get a long vacation and don’t have to clean up a mess that’s been piling up for nine months. But those with a spouse who stays home with the kids tend to perform a confusing dance of Who’s Job is it Anyway? for the first month or so of hiatus. The hardworking parent finally gets some quality time with his little angels, but completely disrupts the routines established by the long-suffering spouse. The breadwinner thinks he deserves a little downtime but the homemaker resents having him parked on the sofa all day watching Law and Order reruns.
The at-home parent feels like a chump who has to play bad cop with the kids because the good cop/parent is suddenly home, taking back some authority and lets the kids stay up late, have extra dessert, or skip chores. This leaves the other parent dealing with cranky kids the next morning, hyper sugar highs or cleaning tornado-ravaged bedrooms. With this feast or famine style of cohabitation, I’m often amazed that entertainment industry marriages survive at all.
And then there’s the money… or rather lack of it. For those working on a successful show, hiatus is a vacation like one any other deserving American might take, only longer. In the late ‘90’s/early 2000’s I was the dialogue editor on the full seven-season run of “The West Wing,” and I always had an intense summer itinerary with my kids which included touring amusement parks, exploring every park within a ten-mile radius and taking weekly beach excursions.
However my current show, Brothers & Sisters, seems to be in a limbo state. It has not been picked up for the fall season, but its set has not been struck either, so I am anxiously waiting for the fall lineup to see if I get to go to the beach or start scrambling for another job. Maybe I’ll be on the next long-running hit show… or I might land a stinker that gets cancelled before Halloween. If the latter is the case, hiatus = beau coup time and a home foreclosure.
So much for the glamorous life of show biz.
Here’s my happy ending -
This season I’m cutting dialogue on the show “Once Upon A Time” which premieres Sunday, October 23 at 8:00 pm on ABC. We did not lose the house, but our credit card debt now rivals those of many small nations. I am still trying to clean out the garage.