Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Walkaway Walkaway...I Will Follow?

On the road for a few days, showing the kids a good time in the form of some hotels with the biggest waterslides this side of the Rockies (kids and waterslides…a sure thing).

But hotel living has got me remembering…

Buddy Ackerman (Swimming With Sharks): "Because there are no story-book romances, no fairy-tale endings. So before you run out and change the world, ask yourself, "What do you really want?"
The most relaxed I think I’ve ever been was when a TV series I was working on got renewed for another season before we even wrapped shooting the first season. Offers were made and accepted to come back and work another season…sweet. And to top it all off, this series was actually shooting in the city where I lived. Triple bonus! It meant all the pressure was off of when and where you’d be working next. It also meant the luxury of relaxing for six weeks, including squeezing in a quick golf holiday with some friends. Sweet. Sweet. Sweet.

But that’s only happened to me once in fifteen years...the 'show in the city where I was living' part.

In the U.S. you can live in Los Angeles and assume the majority of shows and movies will shoot there. But in Canada, even though the majority of work happens in Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal…a lot of stuff shoots elsewhere. And if you want to keep writing/producing TV series in Canada, you’re going to have to ‘travel for work’.

Look at some of the players who stop by Uninflected…Mark Farrell lives in the Maritimes, but travels to Saskatchewan to work on ‘Corner Gas’. David Moses also lives in Maritimes, and travels to Vancouver to work on ‘Robson Arms’. Jim Henshaw has been pretty fortunate to stay put in Toronto over the years, but he had to travel to Australia to run ‘Beastmaster’. Alex Epstein, along with Denis McGrath, went to South Africa for 'Charlie Jade', and now McGrath is jetting from Toronto to work on something in Vancouver.

And then there’s some of the people I know…Tracey Forbes from LA to Toronto and Winnipeg for ‘Regenesis’ and ‘Falcon Beach’; Rick Drew from Vancouver to Toronto to work on Psi Factor; Peter Mohan from Toronto to Vancouver to work on ‘Blood Ties’; Jordan Wheeler from Winnipeg to Regina for; Sara Snow from Vancouver also for Renegade; Rob Cooper and Damien Kindler left Toronto to work on ‘Stargate: SG1’ in Vancouver; Hart Hanson went from Vancouver to Calgary for ‘North of 60’, and Toronto from Vancouver for his first season of ‘Traders’…there are countless more examples but that’s enough for now (Blueglow I know has traveled for work, but I’ll let him tell you himself).

As Stephen Bishop sang so well..."...on and on, on and on, on and on."

After I moved to Toronto, my first sizable chunk of work was up in Montreal. I also had to travel to back to Saskatchewan and to Vancouver for work on other gigs. And I’m not talking a few days of travel…I’m talking weeks, sometimes even months.

Then I moved to Los Angeles…and I spent the majority of my time there being sent back up to work on shows in Canada. Didn’t make a lot of sense after a while…especially when trying to live in L.A. but getting paid in Canadian dollars. The rate of exchange will kill you (less now than then, but still…). Plus it always felt temporary - like it was just another ‘travel for work’ scenario.

And more recently, while back on the prairies, I still had to travel to Edmonton for the better part of a year to run a show.

Working freelance TV series in Canada, more often than not, becomes about having to travel for the work. I often liken it to being in a band or a professional sports athelete...or even a standup comic.

But at what price?

It can be incredibly tough on a relationship, or on your family and your kids. Hell, even on you. Those first few days of hotel or apartment living with some per diem in your hands can seem pretty sweet, but after a week or so it becomes a pretty lonely existence. The show is your life. Your ‘real’ life is somewhere else, back where you left it. And because it never ‘for good’...there’s always a temporary feel to everything, and you tend to live tentatively...with rules like:

1) don’t become too attached to people/co-workers because you’re ‘outta here’ in a few weeks/months
2) don’t become too fond of the scenery or the restaurants or the shopping because eventually, you’ll be leaving it behind.
3) don't enjoy yourself too much because it's not going to last.
4) And don’t ever apologize…it shows weakness
(sorry for that last one, it's another from Swimming With Sharks...doh! I apologized...)

Not so glamorous, is it. Unfortunately, if you’re working TV in Canada, it’s a reality.

This all reminded me of a time about five years ago. I was living down in LA but directing a show up in Toronto. It was December…Xmas was just around the corner…I was prepping an episode and a director I’d known casually for quite some time was shooting the current one. We hadn’t seen each other in a while, and so we hooked up for quick lunch.

Turns out we’d been following each other’s career with one eye. He knew I was in LA and some of the stuff I’d done recently. I knew he was directing episodic….all the time. First he tells me that he now owns condos in Calgary, Vancouver, and Los Angeles. Then he relates all the shows he was heading off to work on in the new year. And me, knowing I had nothing lined up, started to feel some gig envy creep over me. I must have expressed something to that effect, gushing to him about how nice it must be to have all this work and the three homes and boy o boy he sure was doing well. Anyway, at some point I look up and BED (Busy Episodic Director) is just staring at me with a pair of tired, empty eyes.

BED: “What are you talking about, Dixon? I’d take your situation anytime.”

ME: (surprised) “Really, why?”

BED: (struggles for words) ”I mean yeah, I keep working, but that’s really all I got. You, on the other hand, have a life. You have four kids. A family. One home. Me, I just got a bunch of TV credits.”

I didn’t know how to respond. But I’m sure I said something encouraging and we shook hands and went our separate ways. Why was he feeling that way? I dunno…maybe because it was Christmas…or maybe because he was now 4o years old and starting to take stock in his life and what he’d accomplished thus far.

At any rate, what he said hit me really hard. And it stuck with me. And I made a concerted effort from that point on to start appreciating what I already had…and to try to travel less for the work.

Whether it’s the job or the family or the relationships, when you travel for work, something or someone always suffers. Having that knowledge now doesn’t make it any easier to balance or manage, but at some point you'll find yourself wanting to choose your kids and family instead of taking another mediocre sci-fi series gig. Especially if it means traveling...yet again.

Buddy Ackerman: "This is the only way that you can hope to survive. Because life... is not a movie. Everyone lies. Good guys lose. And love... does not conquer all."
Life happens when you’re busy making plans…or traveling for the TV work in Canada. This started out to be a post on gig envy, and turned into a post about being careful what you wish for.

Back to the waterslides....wheeee!

SONG&ARTIST? - "Now one of these days that highway song
will lose its appeal to me.
I'm gonna settle on down like a natural born man,
I'm gonna live my life naturally, free and easy.
Until that day the thunder's gonna roll
and I notice there's a sign of rain,
so I grab my bags and I pack my clothes
and I'm back on the road again."


Callaghan said...

Damn, Dixon. This post made me a little nervous.

Caroline said...

This post, in a nutshell, is why I like and respect you so much as a person, Will. You have your darned head screwed on right. Work is work, and it sustains that which is really important to you and your life.

Have fun waterslidin'! And take embarrassing pictures you can later enlarge poster-size to humiliate them all at their future weddings.

Scribe LA said...

Cheers for 2007!
And thanks for bringing up Swimming with Sharks. Classic.

Scribe LA said...

The Boss, right? "Thunder Road"?

DMc said...

James Taylor.

Dix, you're why I'm up now.


Diane Kristine said...

I really wanted it to be the theme from the Littlest Hobo, but couldn't make it fit.

I know what you're saying, but there's gotta be a glass half full side of this, doesn't there? Do I have to feel sorry for Jim Henshaw for having to go to Australia for work? I get to go to Chilliwack sometimes. South Africa sounds pretty cool. The work/life balance is hard for a lot of people - it seems there's always a trade off to do well at both sides of that equation - but it's do-able, isn't it?

I'm sure I couldn't handle the uncertainty of the TV business, but I think you've just crushed my illusions about the romance of it, too.

Heart Of Darkness said...

Most of the shows I actually like watching, and that take place in the US, are actually shot in Canada... cheaper? Or just more beautiful...?

Anyway... happy belated NY07! :)

greg said...


I know what you mean. I can't seem to be able to work where I live either. China, SF, Indiana, Virginia. My life hits planes and hotels.

But you got it right.

In the end - none of that is as important as what is at home. Cause if the gigs went away - you can always do something else. But if the family is gone - what's the point?

As much as I love the work - If I had to choose - I'd drop it. Every day I thank God for an understanding wife - and I pray that one day - we can all actually live and work in the same place...

wcdixon said...

Forgot to mention Discovery Channel Greg - jetting back and forth from Indiana to China.

Just telling it like it is Callaghan and Caroline, though I sometimes wonder if I heard all about how it really is (or can be) when I was starting out whether I'd have still pursued working in this industry.

Hey Hartsy and Scribe, long time no see.

I made you want to listen to JT's 'Walking Man' cd or watch 'Swimming With Sharks' again, DMc? That why you're up?

That's why they've called me DCD (Dark Cloud Dix), Diane...just keeping it real. That said, it wasn't my intention to 'crush' the illusion and romance of it all. And work/life is a difficult balance for everyone, agreed...but, sometimes you do wake up and say "this isn't exactly what I signed up for!" Though I hear Chilliwak rocks!

What are you and Denis complaining about anyway...John 'Effing' Doyle plugged you and your blogs in the Globe and Mail...very niiiice.

Bill Cunningham said...

Speaking as someone currently living in LA, I like getting out of town for awhile...

We're planning on shooting GORE-MET in Wisconsin this year, and I'm looking forward to it. I'm also going back to SC for a few weeks to talk to the film commission as they have some great incentives to come and shoot.

Films can and should be made everywhere...but I do like being able to say "I'm going home," too.

It's a balance.

EditThis said...

I've always been fortunate to be in LA and work in LA, though I've been envious at times of friends who have gotten to go on location to the UK, etc. Although, I know from experience that when you're working on location, you barely get to enjoy the location itself since you're (in my case) stuck in an edit bay 15 hours a day.

Good call on the Swimming with Sharks quotes. I love that movie.

Mef said...

great post and thanks for the mention.

I'm with you. I cut back on CG after the first year voluntarily because I couldn't spend 20 weeks away. I end up being away for seven, that's not great either but that's the business we're in

re: your post on Diane...great to mention her and thanks to you too and Denis and Caroline, Jim and Alex and all the others trying to make sense of this all.


Caroline said...

Hey Bill,

Wisconsin's weekend car trip distance from us here in the big smoke ...

Just sayin' ....

Bill Cunningham said...

Caroline -- When I buy my tickets, I'll program a weekend up in the GWN.

Caroline said...

Bill ... yee hah! We might even have to fly Dix and Diane and Mark in for this. Give us lotsa notice. Try to avoid MIPTV week ... looks like I may be going (damn it).

wcdixon said...

Hey now! Use your email to chit chat or set up social engagements, ya hear! This here's a blog, with some serious posts, that demand some serious commenting....yeesh!

I still want to know why 'I' managed to keep 'Goldenboy'(DMc) up so late.

Caroline said...

Hey now right back! The social engagements included you if we can fix it right.

I have a theory about golden boy, but I shall keep it to myself in case I happen to be right.

wcdixon said...

Oh alright...socialize away.

Diane Kristine said...

Hmm, I'm supposed to be going to Wisconsin to visit a friend this year. Maybe the Toronto folk should come down. Isn't the Big Smoke supposed to be London? What the heck is GWN? Am I allowed into Toronto if I'm that ignorant about the city?

Yes, Will, I'm just trying to annoy you by posting irrelevant socializing.

Caroline said...

Diane, shame on you.

"Take off, to the Great White North ... "

No offense to Wisconsin, but I've been there and Toronto's more fun. You can carpool with Bill ... it's only an eight hour drive :-)

DMc said...

gee will. your post. a single man hugging forty about to jet off for a job, knowing the only thing he leaves behind, and the only thing he'll return to, is an empty condo.


why the fuck would that keep anybody up?

wcdixon said...

Now I feel shitty...

I guess I should stick to the Friday Fun stuff and more Moon Bloodgood pics, eh?

blueglow said...

Just read this post. Been travelling. Anyway, I've spent at least half of my career on the road and while it is sometimes a drag for the reasons Mr Dixon brought up I do think the benefits outwiegh the costs. I've seen Singapore, Tahiti, Australia, New Zealand, London, Paris, Vancouver etc all on someone elses dime and if the GOD's (girls of development) are kind maybe a few more in the coming year.

Thing is, when I have worked at home, I checked out of my relationship much more than when I was on the road. When you come home for conjugals when you're on the road you're much more THERE than when you're at home running a series. It can be pretty time consuming and requires all your attention so when you're working at home your mind is always half on the series.

My gal much prefers me away from home when I'm working than being at home boring the hell out of her about the intricacies of the fictional relationships I'm trying to manage or hanging out with my show posse and talking about "the show'.

wcdixon said...

See...there's your glass half full scenario DMc, Callaghan, and Diane.

Caroline said...

Blueglow, you have an amazing woman. I suspect you also have learned the art of righteous gift giving ;-)

Seriously though, to maintain a good relationship when one of you is often away (physically or even just mentally and emotionally due to the work), you need a good foundation and a strong sense of self so that any temptations that come your way don't sucker you in. Learn from these wise men you know, Callaghan, and you won't go wrong.

I really look up to Mark and Will for recognizing the limits that work in their personal lives and governing themselves accordingly. Not everyone does that. It really does say a lot about who you are as people. You too, Blueglow, your balance is just different, and that's A-OK, too. As for you D, every dog has his day, yours just hasn't come up yet. It will, I am sure of it, becaus at heart you're a good guy ... you need a little patience and a little faith. And to paraphrase Jimmy Buffett, sometimes changes in latitude are a very good thing, so embrace it.

Mef said...

well thanks caroline,

it was an easier decision than it may have appeared to be (as I re-read my self-serving comment). I had and have a steady gig in my hometown.

I also agree completely with blueglow in terms of working on stuff in town. It does become consuming and I'm often distracted when I'm at home. when you are working away from home it's much easier to do the work and focus on the work.

I hope this comment won't seem as self-serving if/when i re-read it two days from now.