SIDE FX. Some guidelines to a career in TV production.

So you are going into, or are already in, the business of making TV.  Basically, in drug terms, you just swallowed the whole bottle.  This then, is the neatly folded, small-print ribbon of paper that dropped out when you opened your TV medication.  This is what you didn’t read, you just let it twirl to the ground and lie there.  You probably looked at it and walked off, but a little voice was saying, “I wonder what’s on that?”

Maybe there was something important? Maybe there were some contra-indications?  Side effects?

I am going to try and couch this so that we can include the positive outcomes too.  I mean, you did choose TV for your career didn’t you?  There was a reason.  Actually it’s more likely that it chose you, through a random act of chance, a relative in the business or an easy credit at Varsity – it just sounded good and now you’re in the thick of it.  Or at least skirting the edges.  Whatever the reason is, you are now here and you have a taste for it.

The good news is that it does work, this TV drug.  It really can.  So let me lead with that.  You need the fix, you might have even had that euphoric high once or twice.  The bad news is that like all substances it comes at quite a cost.  Other than surgical interns I don’t know of any profession that will swallow your time like TV will.  You will emerge from a production, 3, 6 or 8 months later and literally go – what the fuck is left of my life?  Because TV is a whole new world of addiction.  In Afrikaans the word for addiction is verslaaf, which translates basically to enslaved.  It’s such a lovely term for TV.  Slaves.  You will emerge and your life will have simply died like a plant no-one watered.  You will not have paid any of your bills.  You will have missed medical check-ups and had your subscriptions lapse or bounce.  Friends and family will all have been discarded, ignored or abused for the all-consuming demands of your habit.  It eats your life up in minutes, hours, days and weeks at a time.  Nothing in TV has low stakes.  Everything is NEEDED NOW.  Every misstep or mistake is treated like a case of infanticide.  Babies died by your bad decisions.

But let’s get specific.

 Nausea of celebrity

Many people don’t experience this, but for those of us who do this is one of the most debilitating.  What charismatic churches do for their preachers.  What Africa does for its politicians.  This is how TV raises up its celebrities.  They are divine.

The key is the hysteria around them.

Until you have seen the panic when producers or chaperones can’t find a white sweat towel, or the particular brand of honey coated cashews – or god forbid – somebody served a pasta with gluten.  Until you have experienced the spitting vengeance of the managers, the insolent hatred towards the “little people” who have no function but to serve.  Until you have waited for 5 hours for the deity to wake up and get ready, but will not grant more than 3 minutes (timed by management) for the interview they are late for.  Until you have had them call you the wrong name, for 3 days, and then say what a great impression you made on them.  Until you see “the change” – the turn from radiant being of charm and happiness – into a vicious, lip-curled monster that nothing can pacify.

You will not believe.

Let me assure of the following.  They do not wait.  They do not listen.  They do not care for anything or anyone but themselves.  The entire system is designed so they can float through life.  Experience no traffic, no smell in the toilet, no couch that is not filled with the down of baby dodo feathers.  You cannot begin to believe what this truly means until the ghastly, vile horror of their alter-ego is let loose.

Here’s the rub.  Having seen this dark side, you ironically become part of the sycophantic legion of minions that succumb to their every whim.  You are part of the bevy that feed their every request, no matter what the waste in time or money.  Just to prevent beauty’s transformation into beast.  And literally nothing can prepare you for the kind of nausea that follows.  You are made sick by your complicity.

How can you complain?  You are part of the problem.  It is a nausea generated as much by self-hate as by the bilious behaviour of the demi-gods themselves.  And once they have you, you respond like Pavlov’s poor starved dogs. They smiled at you on set.   You experience a sliver of peace.  They take a selfie with you.  The sun rises.  They got your name almost right, and you jokingly corrected them as they walked off not listening to you anyhow.  But it’s ok, they were happy so you can afford to be happy.

But you will be sick.  And personally, it’s a sick that I have never recovered from.

Pro-filial Amnesia

This is an insidious side-effect that creeps in because most production houses form a dysfunctional family that replace your actual children and parents.

TV production is basically like Stockholm syndrome – you have been kidnapped by people who likely mean to kill you.  Once they let you live or feed you at 2am, your warped sense of self decides that they are actually good people, who like you, and in fact deserve your support and adulation.  This is the colonisation of the oppressed, and TV production has refined this method of indoctrination above even the skills of Jim Jones and his Kool aid gang.

By the mid part of the production you are probably involved with someone on your team (often more than person simultaneously), if not sexually, then most certainly emotionally.  You will have at least three melt downs that involve both crying and screaming simultaneously – and most probably with the person you are involved with, and they are most likely your boss.

The word inappropriate takes on a new dimension once you swallow the TV pill.  All moral and ethical lifelines are basically retired.  Like your life, you are sure you can recover these at the end of the production.

It is basic fact that this is just another lie to get you through to then end.  You will not.

Quite understandably, a few weeks after the production has wrapped, you will have neither contact nor any real affinity with the people you had fused both body and soul to.  This is what gave the side effect the technical term pro-filial amnesia.  Sufferers find that they often cannot remember a single reason to have any communication with the people who they lived and slept with for months.  In severe cases, you forget their existence entirely.

As side effects go, this one is basically positive.

The dream Panacea

One of the most obvious side effects is that TV produces epic scale dreams.  I don’t just mean the ones it overtly makes on the silver screen.  I mean it is the career that promises everything.  Money – you bet.  Fame – Emmy much?  World changing – have you seen the Academy doccies, the directors, producers and writers who are rated as the most influential people on the planet?  TV promises it all.  It promises it all tomorrow.  It promises it all after the next season.  It’s always just moments away.  What career can give you those kind of returns?  I don’t know of one.  And if we aren’t getting it first-hand, you are certainly covering the Nobel winners, the exotic, beautiful people, the children who changed nations.  You are, by proxy, at the very centre of all that civilisation pays attention to.  You think that won’t affect you?  You think you won’t feel that somehow you had at least played a part?

That’s why you signed up for this.  You downed this drug like a pint on the 46-degrees-in-the-shade set of your Dubai beer commercial.  And if one pill of the dream panacea can kill the pain, you just know that taking four times the recommended allowance is going to give you a real buzz. Hell, what could go wrong?  I mean, there’s even a medic on set. And man, when the AD calls “wrap” and the sun is rising, and the shot is in the can – you feel amazing.  Your time is coming, you can hear the award music swelling.  You can feel the heft of that cool, plated Oscar.  This is no dream, this is happening to you right now.   If you can just stay awake, and get home, and maybe get the tooth that you broke-off fixed.  Gosh, and maybe an hour of sleep.

Withdrawal

And then at the end of it all some call it the come-down.  After all the high, you are between jobs trying to patch together what’s left of your relationships and finances.  Suddenly things just aren’t as dramatic.  Stuff isn’t needed NOW, by everyone.  TV is always life and death, and you find you need that.  It doesn’t matter if it’s the gear malfunctioning on the money shot, or the contestant OD’ing in the toilet before her helicopter ride.  You are used to operating at peak all the time.  And when life is slow and dreary – nowhere near as good as the blue sky grade you got out of your summer commercial for that cell phone company…. Well.  Dammit.  Let’s do it all again.

You know this time it will be different.

Brett Lotriet Best is the Creative Director for EdenRage Media, check out their Immersive Media work at www.edenrage.tv.  Go on, take a bite!

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