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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Weird Science

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I spent the last few weekends laying down a new floor in my house with the help of my brother-in-law.

Most of my Thanksgiving holidays were spent on my hands and knees prepping the floor for the installation. I tend to get lost in thought during mindless chores like this (my latent ADHD rearing its ugly head), and pulling staples out of my floor was no different.

I recalled a time when I spent the day (or two or three) as a production assistant on a television commercial for some Japanese company during my early years in Los Angeles.

I had gotten the call because the production of the commercial had lagged past its pre-production schedule creeping into the Christmas holidays. As an East Coast'er living on the West, I didn't have the money to fly home for Christmas. So when half the production manager's staff flew the coupe for the holidays, I got the last minute call for work.

At the time, a day rate of $125 seemed like good money but I would soon find out that day rates suck if two thirds of the crew are unionized.

I was told to pick up a box truck from a rental company in Hollywood and then drive it out to Agoura Hills to some newly built subdivision where the shooting would take place. Call time was at some ungodly hour like 6am so when I rode my bike to the rental company in the bowels of Hollywood the sun had yet to rise.

When I arrived on set and met my contact I was informed that the shoot shouldn't take more than half a day. The previous week had been spent shooting establishing shots and now all that was done was to wait for the talent to show up and shoot the damn commercial.

Talent was a guy by the name of Charlie Sheen.

They had been waiting on him for a week.

So while the director, lighting grips and a gaggle of Japanese business men waited for talent, I was assigned to help the art department. The art department in this case was two guys - one a surfer dude from San Diego and the other a stout Jewish guy from Long Island. Our job for the day was to strip up the floor of the kitchen in one of the house they shot at earlier in the week. Removing the floor meant a lot of time spent on your hands and knees with a putty knife.

And some chemicals.

These guys did nothing but huff (unintentionally) said chemicals and laugh at themselves as they barked out lines from Weird Science.

I had entered the Sci-Fi Zone.

And it wasn't pretty.

Around 3pm we had finished our job of floor removal and walked down the empty subdivision cul de sac to the house where all the production trucks were. But nothing was going on. Charlie was still MIA.

So the douchebag director was trying to get the grip guys to try different lighting scenarios in case Sheen showed up after dark but all they did was sit and smoked cigarettes and talk to each other as if nobody was around.

"What are those guys doing?" I asked my trusty art dept. cohorts.
"They're union," said Surfer Dude.
"So," I said.
"They are killing time," said Long Island boy.
"Why?" I asked.
"In two hours they will be at time and a half," explained Long Island boy.

And sure enough, when the mental money bell rang in these guys' heads, they snuffed out their smokes, crushed their cans of soda and suddenly began to "hear" the director. I think I got home around 11pm that night.

Since Charlie didn't show, everybody trekked it back out to Agoura Hills the next day. And again I spent the day as clean-up errand boy doing the most useless tasks to kill time until something might happened when they might need me to actually do something.

Charlie showed up at dusk the second day.

In a limo.

Stocked with booze.

His driver said he had been on a bender and that you'd better hurry because you probably got about two hours before he turns to shit.

Charlie dressed up in some super hero robot kind of costume and held some ray gun. Apparently, from what I gathered, he was knocking stains out of clothes with his ray gun. But that would all come later in post production.

It was a wrap before Charlie turned to shit.

I had the pleasure of returning the box truck to the rental company in Hollywood. But first I needed to take the art dept. guys to the studio so we could unload it, then give Long Island boy a ride home to his crib in the Valley before I could finish my day.

It was well after midnight by the time I got to the rental company and despite the many reassurances of my production coordinator, I was fully convinced it would not be open. When I got to the office in the dark of night, there was an employee of unknown origins sleeping on the floor with a machete. I startled him awake banging on the door, gave him the keys and signed off on the rental sheet.

"Charlie fucking Sheen," I thought.

I caught the glint of light off the blade of the machete and mumbled to myself "Charlie don't surf" as I walked away.

[Lenny Kersey ponders a pattern for the floor; December 2008.]