Saturday, June 15, 2013

My Big Exciting Hollywood Adventure by Kathleen Taylor


 

 
 
 
 
 
 
Kathleen Taylor


Kathleen Taylor's Dakota Dreams


 

Author of the Tory Bauer Mysteries: Funeral Food, Sex and Salmonella, The Hotel South Dakota, Mourning Shift, Cold Front, and Foreign Body; and the knitting books: Knit One, Felt Too, Yarns to Dye For, I Heart Felt, The Big Book of Socks, and Fearless Fair Isle Knitting; and the novel The Nut Hut

 

 

My Big Exciting Hollywood Adventure
by Kathleen Taylor

 

I had done local TV appearances for all six of my Tory Bauer mysteries, so I wasn't nervous when the publisher of my book first knitting book, Knit One Felt Too, arranged for me to appear on the HGTV show, Smart Solutions, in January 2004.

I was to do two main segments of about six minutes apiece, and two one-minute final segments. To prepare, I had to have examples of each item in every step- for one project, I needed to bring an unfelted sweater, a half felted sweater, a totally felted sweater, and a finished felted and decorated sweater. For the soap making segment, I had to have examples of each item, in each step of preparation. For my two one-minute segments, I had to prepare about twelve different mini-projects in the same way. I was also given a list of personal requirements: two sets of clothing for each segment, I had to provide and apply my own makeup, I was cautioned against wearing pure white, pure black, wide stripes, wild prints, anything sparkly, anything with logos of any kind, and long red fingernails (though a manicure was recommended). I was also told that only closed-toe shoes were allowed.

Even with that list, I still wasn't nervous about the taping. I was, however, anxious about flying by myself. I hadn't flown alone since the fall of 1970, when I moved to South Dakota. I worried about making connections and navigating strange airports by myself (this was back before I started flying all around the country on my own). I especially worried about handling the two large suitcases, and about going to California for the first time.

So I made sure to have my knitting with me on the flight. In fact, I used my knitting bag as my carry-on, and checked everything else- makeup, underwear, toothbrushes, comb, show supplies, and the rest of my clothes. I boarded in Sioux Falls, where it was snowing and blowing. The flight was smooth and I knitted almost an entire sock. We landed in Burbank, where it was about 60 degrees, dry, sunny, and absolutely beautiful, with me still very worried about wrangling two suitcases by myself.

Turns out that I didn't have to worry about that. The big-bag with my show stuff was probably the fourth one off the carousel. The bag with my clothes was nowhere to be seen.

I waited at the carousel. I waited and waited and waited. The airport folks assured me that they would find the suitcase within a week, which wasn't exactly encouraging since I was due at the studio by noon on the next day.

I spent the evening watching TV, calling the hotel desk to see if my suitcase had arrived, and knitting. I managed to finish the second sock. I worried about what I was going to wear to bed. I worried about what I was going to wear to the studio. But what I didn't do was worry about the TV gig, after all, I'd done lots of interviews. It would be a piece of cake.

At 8:00 the next morning, I checked in at the hotel desk. Still no bag. I outlined my dilemma at the desk- I was in immediate need of 4, nice but inexpensive outfits, plus makeup, plus a toothbrush. And I had to be at the TV studio by noon. They directed me to the closest Target store (which was no different from my local Target, except for the palm trees in the parking lot).

Back at the hotel, I checked back at the desk, just in case, but no bag yet.  I grabbed the project supplies and my new clothes, and caught a cab to the studio.

The Smart Solutions studio was in a big complex that looked very much like an oversized, shabby, garage. It had an open overhead door and there were many people (mostly young) inside, all concentrating intently on their tasks. There was junk piled floor to ceiling along the walls- boxes, tables, stoves, sinks, dishes, flowers, papers, shelving. The middle area held a half dozen trestle tables, each with someone (or several people) fussing and arranging things. One guy wearing a chef apron was doing stuff with bottles of oil and spices, at another, a lady arranged fabric covered boxes. Yet another lady was packing a bunch of flowers and vases in a big box. Some of the young staffers wore headsets with earphones and little transmitters clipped to their waistbands. They talked constantly into their headsets as they worked. It was a big bustle, lots of movement, everyone purposeful and focused on the task at hand. It looked and sounded like organized chaos.

I tried to stand out of everyone's way. A kid stopped and asked if I knew where I was supposed to be. I said I was doing segments with Scott and Lorelei (my producers). He led me down a short corridor next to the sound stage whose big, closed doors had red lights over them. As we walked by, the lights came on and revolved like police car lights, the *on air* signs all flashed. 

The kid vaguely motioned at a table with some bagels and donuts and said to help myself, and then he left. I hadn't expected so many people to be working on what I thought was a small show. The red *on air* lights went off, and a nicely dressed gal with a headset came from the sound stage and spotted me. She asked if I was being helped. I told her I someone was getting Lorelei, and she told me to come with her, that she'd find my people.

I followed her and she found Lorelei, who was about the same age as my sons. Lorelei grabbed a stained green, trestle table on wheels, and said that we were doing the felting segment first. She suggested a rehearsal.

Uh oh. Rehearsal? What rehearsal? Wasn't I just going to talk with Matty, the host, about felting, and show the projects off, and maybe mention my book once or twice? Why no, I was going to have to talk and move and put things in a prop washer, and then take them out in the right order, and respond intelligently to questions, and remember not to turn my back to the camera and remember not to put my hands up to my chest and remember not to talk too fast, and remember to stand just apart from Matty and not crowd her, and remember to talk about felting in a general way without referring to my book specifically, and to make it light and funny and comfortable. And to smile, dammit.

And to remember that above all, during the opening walk through where Matty greeted each guest individually, to look busy, turn to Matty after she approached and said my name, smile and say, "Hi Matty", and then go back to what I was pretending to do.

While Lorelei and I were sorting through what we would and wouldn't use of the felting stuff, Scott (my segment's other producer) showed up. He wanted us to do a run through of the segment. Lorelei turned to me and said brightly, "Kathleen, what are we doing here today?"  I froze- I couldn't remember what we were doing, why I was there, what was going on, or anything else.

We started again and I got through it, but I was hesitant, blushing, rambling, and certainly not smiling dammit. We did it again and it got a bit easier but I could feel myself sinking fast.

A senior producer came over and said that Upstairs wanted to move shooting up.

Scott found a stage hand and asked him to bring the green table with the felting projects over to the garage. We headed into the sound stage

The sound stage was a long rectangular room with a high ceiling entirely covered in tuck and roll padding. It was divided in half lengthwise. To my left was a dark area, with cables and wires and 8 or 10 people working in the shadows. There were chairs and monitors, and electronic equipment. People sat at stations and typed on keyboards. It wasn't just dark because of low lighting- the wall padding was painted dark to minimize reflected light. It also deflected sound. People were talking in normal voices, but their voices didn't carry and they all seemed to be whispering.

Halfway between the light and the dark areas, were 3 or 4 big cameras. One had a long boom-arm with a small camera positioned at the end. It moved and rotated, swooping up and down gracefully. On a nearby monitor, I saw that the boom camera was taking shots of oil bubbling in a pan on a stove top. There were captions on the bottom of the screen, which I assumed the people at the keyboards were providing. Stage hands and women with clipboards stood about in little clutches.

The other half of the long room held the Smart Solutions set, which had three separate but connected areas. At the far end was the *garage*. It had cement walls, shelves with artfully arranged paint cans, tools, gardening gloves, and a flat of fake wilting marigolds.

A dividing wall separated the garage from the next set, which looked like a living room with brick walls, a cast iron staircase, bookshelves, a curtain over a fake window, and a chair or two. A woman I'd seen before was standing behind a wheeled table, arranging finished and partially assembled fabric boxes. She talked seriously with a young woman wearing a flowered skirt and army boots who was holding a script

On the other side of the living room was the kitchen set. There was a guy wearing an apron, tending the pots of bubbling oil. The kitchen had a tile counter top, a fake fridge, a microwave, and a sink with dishes artfully stacked in a drainer.

The sets were lit with many huge lights hanging from the ceiling,

Lorelei and I went to the garage and began to set up. She and Scott discussed which pieces we wanted to show, how to display them, what order to lay them out, what order to present them, what to talk about, what to say, how to manage props and actions, how to deal with the wet sweaters, what I should emphasize, what I should not say. It was more information than I could process. I was starting to think that I would fail miserably in front of this large, efficient crew. Scott had me do a run-through of the action while a stage hand wheeled a prop washing machine into place next to our table. I muffed nearly everything- forgetting which item to pick up first, losing track of what I was supposed to say, and in general, made a mess of it. I apologized. Lorelei cuffed me on the shoulder gently and lied that I was doing fine.

A lady came over and clipped a transmitter unit to the back waistband of my pants and had me fish a microphone up through my shirt which she clipped to the placket. She cautioned me to tell her if I had to go to the bathroom so she could take the unit off so that I wouldn't drop the very expensive piece of equipment into the toilet. Luckily, fear had frozen my bladder. She said if I needed anything to let her know.

The prop guy then took out a string with rolls of colored tape threaded on it, and started cutting strips to cover all of the brand names and logos on the washer and other props.

We did another run-through of the action, getting a little smoother. The director of the show came over. She decided that we had too much on the table and should reduce and rearrange the clutter. She also decided that we needed to change the order of the action. Then the Head Producer came over and asked for a run-through. He didn't smile or react, which made me even more nervous. He suggested more adjustments. After he left, Lorelei said it was always like that- the underlings get things organized and the Higher Ups change them.

By our final run-through, I was fighting real terror, afraid that I would freeze, or worse yet, start crying. Scott told me to remember to smile. I tried a wobbly one for him. He asked if I was scared, and I said yes. He grinned and said not to worry, that I was doing fine.

The director announced that they would first tape Matty on her show-opening walk through each set. The director showed us our marks (tapes on the floor) and said to stay put but to look busy. Then she listened to something in her headphone and announced that Matty was coming down.


There was a sort of *silent waiting* among the crew when they heard that Matty Monfort was on her way. It was clear that she was The Star, the reason all of us were there. She entered wearing a robin's egg blue sweater and dark blue skirt. She had shoulder length blonde hair, bangs and a soft flip, and she was about my height.

Matty stopped and talked to the director for a few minutes. She then walked over to the chef and talked to him for a moment (trailed by cameras, and crew checking sound levels and lighting, and framing shots). She spent a few minutes with each guest as the director and producers walked her through. I was the last in line, when she got to me, she shook my hand. She told me to talk directly to her during the segment, not to look at the cameras. We were to forget that anyone else was there and to remember that we were just having a conversation about ...she paused, looked at the table and then up at the crew and waited... someone said "felting"... she said "felting" and gave me a big smile. Out of the corner of my eye, Scott mimed a Big Smile at me and I remembered to smile back at her.

It's good that Matty didn't ask ME what we were doing on the segment because I'm pretty sure that I would not have remembered. I was absolutely terrified.

Matty walked back to the chef. Lorelei said quietly to me, "Stand on your mark but look busy, it doesn't matter what you're doing, just look like you're doing something. When Matty gets to you, she'll say something about you, you look up and say "Hi Matty", and then go back to what you're pretending to do."

I nodded and pretended to fold the sweater that was closest to me. I could hear Matty's voice as she greeted each guest. The director and cameras followed her down the line. As she got to me, my heart was pounding, I looked up at her and remembered to smile. She said, "Hi Kathleen", and I said, "Hi there."

Everything stopped. And it wasn't a good stop, like we were done with that segment. It was a *someone screwed up* sort of stop. And I knew who had screwed up. Matty and the cameras all went back to the beginning of the line.

Lorelei leaned in and said, "Don't look at Matty until she gets to you and says your name. And no matter what she says, you just say, "Hi Matty."

I nodded, but what I really wanted to do was run screaming from the room. They started over, I double checked my mark, made sure I was futzing with the sweater, I forced myself to look down, and when Matty said my name, I looked up with a big smile and said, "Hi Matty," and then bent back down to fumbling.

That take was good enough, thank goodness. I don't think I could have done it again without fainting.

After that, everything went smoothly. Matty and I talked. I smiled, I didn't drop anything, I didn't mess up the action order. I didn't say any bad words. I didn't faint. And I didn't burst into tears.

The drill for the next long segment was the same: rehearsal, changes, rehearsal, changes, smile, changes, Hi Matty. I stayed on my mark and did the things we had to do. And amazingly enough, I found that I was having fun. In between segments, I mentioned that luggage had been lost, and having to buy new clothes. Scott literally paled when he realized that my suitcase with the props could have gone missing as well.

At the end of the day, when all of the other guests had left, we taped my two one-minute final segments. By then, I was feeling pretty good about my ability to remain conscious while the cameras were rolling. When we finally finished, the crew actually applauded, though now that I think on it, they were probably just glad to be done for the day.

When I got back to my hotel room, there was the suitcase with all of my clothes. It had gone on to San Francisco all by itself. I hope it had a good time.

That night, I watched a bit of TV, knitted, and conked out very early. Before checking out in the morning, I put makeup on because I was shooting a local news segment about the Hollywood trip immediately after landing in Sioux Falls.

When we landed, my husband was waiting for me at the bottom of the escalator, and behind him was the local news crew. That interview was a piece of cake.

The shows finally aired in August and September of that year. I watched them with closed eyes and covered ears. I am now filled with admiration for all TV people- the amount of behind the scenes work is staggering. And I have a new respect for all actors, even the bad ones. Most of them can remember a two-word line...

If I ever get the chance, I'll do it again in a flash. Next time though, I'll put a toothbrush and makeup in my carry on.

 

3 comments:

Kaye Barley said...

I loved this story!!!!

Eve Kotyk said...

Terrific story, Kathleen.

Patty said...

I remember you telling some of this story right after you got back from California. Didn't remember the lost clothes but I remembered the line fumbling and the changes made. I think you did great! I never did catch up with all episodes but I did see the felting one.

Personally, I think you did great!