I am not able to fully grasp the perspective of being behind-the-scenes. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as “working or happening privately without being known or seen by the public”. Behind-the-camera I relate to, and in-front-of-the-camera I get, as I have spent nearly 35 years working in radio, TV, and motion picture production. So to me this phrase, behind-the-scenes, has always been something that you get a sneak peek of when watching Entertainment Tonight. Which, by-the-way, is a show that was born at the same time as my career back in the mid-eighties.
I have always had a deep passion for creating aural and visual mediums. Producing something that reaches out and grabs someone’s attention has always inspired me to come up with original ways to affect people in a positive manner. And I’m sorry, but I’ve been doing it behind-the-scenes for so long that I’ve lost sight of what that looks and feels like to a run-of-the-mill observer.
Nowadays it’s a job to me. I get up before the crack-of-dawn, have my coffee, wash my face, and stumble off to work. I unload heavy equipment, push it around obstacles and through the mud, analyze rehearsals, assemble my sound tools, install wired microphones on people’s bodies, work with lighting, grip, prop, wardrobe, and camera departments, and hoist a long heavy pole over other’s heads for overly extended times. It’s an awkward maneuver that has to be precise. I don’t always get the time and consideration I need to do it effectively, but that’s another thing. As I’ve said in other writings, it’s a very tense and pressure filled business, as it is heavily dictated by the restraints of time and money. Don’t get me wrong, there’s lots of it expended in our business, but there is even far more elements that have to be created than fit the constraints.
After a jam packed and stressful day I get to do it in reverse, I pack up my gear, move the heavy stuff back into a trailer, and make the long drive home. I then take an hour to imbibe and recover, take a shower, make coffee, hopefully talk to my girlfriend from 1,408 miles away, and get my head to the pillow for a short 5 to 6 hour sleep. If I’m lucky I’ve been gone about 14 hours in a day….usually it is more. It’s a difficult career that eats away as many as 17 hours of each day, and 65 to 75 hours of my week. This kind of schedule typically means Saturdays are recovery days, and Sundays are get-personal-things-done-day. My weekends always seem to be under a time clock that’s ticking away toward the next impending work day.
So frankly, I miss out on the behind-the-scenes pleasure that the average person gets from those sneak peak clips on TV. From my perspective, they seem so….Hollywood. They are an illusion of what really goes on. You know…a glamorous delusion. They appear to give you a glimpse into a perfect world of fame, fortune, and ultimate happiness. I can assure you that the individuals in those illusions have just as many struggles, challenges, short-comings, and self-doubts as you do. Yes, they might get to do things that you only dream of, but the vast majority do not, as they are affected by the lack of paid gigs that they receive. Perhaps, but not necessarily, they make a lot more money, again, only a small percentage do. And just maybe they are treated in a manner more special than the average Joe. But don’t be fooled, underneath their skin where they think, feel, and perceive, is a heart pumping human with the same concerns, challenges, and self-criticisms as you have. We’re all in this together fans, and they are no exception. They just happen to be in front of some hot lights, and their images projected on a television screen for all to observe. It is all an illusion that was created by thousands of worker bees who bust their rears to make it become an entertaining reality.
I’m trying to relate to your perspective, you know, the witnessing of those private and human moments in famous people’s lives. They just seem so much more special than our own. In general, we humans tend to love knowing about how other’s live their lives…especially those amidst the allure of Hollywood. I guess it makes us feel normal, or special in the sense that we are somehow connected to that renowned persona. We admire beautiful people. The talent that they exude is so intoxicatingly addictive. And the words and subjects they filet like delicate fish touch upon the same issues that we want, yet never, seem to expound upon in our relationships. We’re too scared, or the other person refuses to participate, or the thought of discussing such bone scratching topics is so…taboo. No, we typically don’t go into the deep subjects and overly sensitive conflicts that the characters on the silver screen address. Fact is, we admire, respect, and are down right obsessed by what we feel during a motion picture viewing. And, we are so taken by the stars’ honesty that we love-love-love them! Hell, by the time we’ve witnessed them portray a compelling person on the screen more than multiple times, we believe that they are actually that person. That’s what actors strive to achieve….honesty.
The best way for me to relate to your perspective is not from having had worked with some many award winning actors, but actually observing John Wayne. I grew up watching most all of his movies. From the beginning of the sixties, to well into the late 80’s, I perceived him as a rough-and-tumble no-holds-barred badass, who ruled the wild west. Honestly, when I’d see him on TV wearing a tuxedo at the Oscar Awards, I’d think he was so way out of sorts. “A cowboy wearing a fancy dinner jacket?!”, “He must feel so embarrassed”, I would say to myself.
The truth is, John Wayne was a person who was born in Iowa and raised in Glendale, California…a mere 10 minutes from Hollywood. He delivered medicines for his father, sold newspapers and had an Airedale dog named “Duke” (the source of his own nickname). Hell, his real name was not even John Wayne, it was Marion Robert Morrison! It’s all an illusion my friends. Marion went to USC on a football scholarship from 1925 to 1927. Actor/Director Tom Mix, got him his first job in the film business as a prop man in exchange for USC football tickets. Later he gave him bit roles in movies. It wasn’t until after 70 movies that Marion became immortalized as John Wayne in the 1939 release of ‘Stagecoach’. The sad truth was, for many years Wayne was beset with health problems. In September 1964 he had a cancerous left lung removed; in March 1978 there was heart valve replacement surgery; and in January 1979 his stomach was removed. History has a way of telling the truth, huh?
It was only after this glimpse of his real life in the 80’s, and my new career behind-the-scenes in motion pictures, did I come to realize that these bigger-than-life stars are just like those of us who turn a dream into a career. They took a risk on the imagination that was brewing inside them, and turned it into a job that earns them money. It became a career that required them to work their art and craft on a daily basis at a level that only a small percentage of people can enjoy. Congratulations to them for being recognized for their work. Like you, they earned it.
If you want to admire them for who they are and what they represent, then please take a look at your own life. Have you turned a dream into a reality? Did you get off the couch, study the material, pursue an interview, lock-in the job, work the craft, succeed at achieving excellence, and receive recognition for your accomplishment? That’s what these normal people have done.
The reality is, like most of us, the real off-screen lives these people lead are frayed with bankruptcy, divorce, custody battles, disease, theft, death, and even more damaging…a public embarrassment. Think about it. When you have put yourself out there that much, on the edge of greatness, where every single soul can witness your mistakes and successes, you risk the potential shattering of your most vulnerable asset…your ego. Not just the, “I’m-more-amazing-and-deserving-than-anyone!” ego, but the most profound part of you that judges and observes everything…your super ego, or mind. If your mind is publicly marred then you’re going to suffer…terribly. It’s going to eat you up from the inside out. That’s far more horrible than that which comes from the outside-in. That’s a behind-the-scenes life that nobody wants.
So please, enjoy the inside information you get, bask in the happiness of seeing what-really-goes-on beyond the closed doors, and dream about how wonderful it must be to live and work in that kind of world. But please know, it is not an easy place to be. It’s not as exciting as you might think. There are still consequences and conflicts. People get taken advantage of, money and time can be very scarce. Frustrations can be crippling. High fives might not be as prevalent as you might think. And being deprived of ample sleep is a common occurrence. Things aren’t always what they appear.
In a way it’s unfortunate that I am not always able to just see, hear, and experience mediums the way normal viewers do. As I watch a show on TV, or listen to a program on radio, I always seem to ponder the processes by which they created said show. The term behind-the-scenes for me has just become some sort of buzz word.
So here I am writing about this, and wondering if all I’m trying to do is create another illusion, or to just gain-your-attention. That is not my intention. More than anything I am just expressing myself for the delight of personal happiness. For me the joy of writing is the process of expulsion…getting things out in an original fashion so as to affect someone in a positive way. Creating anything is life-giving, and for me the act of risk taking is rather exhilarating. I guess I was meant to do this stuff…behind-the-scenes.
So if there is anything positive to gain here, I hope that it is in the unique manner in which I shared life as it goes on behind-the-camera. And more than anything, I wish that you tap into your dream, get off of your own couch, study the subject matter, get an interview, work in even the smallest capacity, get really good at it, earn respect, and get acknowledged for it. Oh, and once you done that….teach others to do the same thing!
FYI, my 40 year Central High School Class Reunion is next month, July 16th. It’s a full weekend of events that begin on Friday evening, the 15th. I’m a fortunate enough to be invited by the event coordinator to share stories of my adventures at The Dooley Room in the St. Joseph, MO East Hills Mall. Dooley Lawrence was a friend and classmate of mine, and now has his own art gallery. If you are in the area then please come by to enjoy the slideshow, stories, Q&A, and lively environment. Once you know you can make it, RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org. Space is very limited, so make a decision to come now and spend a couple of hours enjoying the Behind-The-Scenes entertainment.
Robert K. Maxfield