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Pine-Box Office Hits 

Wednesday, Jun 5 2002
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Illustration by Dana Collins

SPIDER-MAN BECAME AN INSTANT MEGAHIT FOR SONY Pictures through an irresistible combination of pulp storytelling and visual effects that created the illusion of breathtaking acrobatics -- especially in the Times Square smackdown between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin. Not all of the movie's danger was make-believe, however -- at least off-camera. Last year Tim Holcombe, a welder from Monrovia, was killed on the film's Times Square set in Downey -- and shortly afterward a stunt double for Tobey Maguire broke his leg.

Accidents happen, even in our dream factories: A Planet of the Apes scenic artist falls to his death while painting a backdrop; a stuntman dies during the filming of Exit Wounds; an X-Files grip is fatally electrocuted; a stuntman for the TV show Titus is seriously hurt filming a racetrack scene in Palmdale. There were even injuries before 2001's Academy Awards, when scaffolding at the Shrine Auditorium collapsed on workers. Most of these mishaps are quickly forgotten, but the 1997 death of assistant cameraman Brent Hershman inspired a determined movement to reduce the fatigue factor that has been making show biz a deadly game. After working 19 straight hours on the Pleasantville set in Long Beach, Hershman fell asleep and crashed while driving home on the Century Freeway. Almost immediately, Hershman's Pleasantville colleagues began petitioning Hollywood with a demand to cap shoots at 12 hours. (With allowances for meal breaks, the time from first call to wrap would actually come to 14 hours.)

The Brent's Rule petition quickly picked up more than 10,000 signatures and official support from the Screen Actors Guild's western board of directors, movie stars applauded it. And then the inevitable happened -- nothing. Hollywood's old go-along-to-get-along golden rule reasserted itself: Producers continued to budget for long days and, as Pleasantville's cinematographer, John Lindley, told the Weekly, "the unions turned their backs on us."

While California considers any work performed after eight hours to be overtime, no state law caps the number of hours a person can work, despite studies by Stanford's sleep expert William Dement and others that liken the effects of extreme fatigue to alcohol intoxication. Academy Award­winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler, a union activist who refuses to let the issue drop, regards one concession to Brent's Rule that has been touted by producers as little more than window dressing.

"Some productions will publicly say they'll offer motel rooms to guys who feel tired after 15 hours," he says. "I asked a couple guys how this worked out and one said the director threw the Yellow Pages at him and said, 'Find a motel.' People are afraid of asking for motel rooms anyway, because they might not get hired the next time, particularly if they're older guys."

Brent's Rule recently hit a brick wall when OSHA in Washington, D.C., claimed it had no jurisdiction in the matter and referred the petition to Cal-OSHA, even though moviemaking is a national industry. So far in this script about safety versus greed, a green goblin called Money remains king. About the only concrete changes since Hershman's death have been a USC film-school directive to adopt Brent's Rules for student-film shoots. "There isn't a business in the world, even in a sweatshop, that calls 12-hour days normal," Wexler says. "Budgeting is the invisible god of our culture."

MACKEY THE KNIFE

VIC MACKEY, THE BENT LAPD COP PLAYED BY MICHAEL Chiklis on FX's The Shield, is a one-man rogue state, part Mike Hammer, part J.R. Ewing. If TV history teaches us anything, however, it is that sooner or later Mackey must be transformed into one of the sensitively P.C., child-tyrannized wusses that overpopulate the airwaves today. (Already there are signs of The Shield going in that direction, from the softening of Catherine Dent's truckstop-waitress makeup to Mackey's switching from black muscle shirts to friendlier reds and greens.) Below are possible Fall episodes that would announce the turnaround of Mackey's personality.

"Father's Day." Vic gets a telegram from his dying father, requesting his presence after years of bad blood.

"Child's Play." Vic learns he may be the father of an adorable towheaded son being menaced by NAMBLA members.

"Pipe Dream." Vic learns he may be the father of a mixed-race daughter addicted to crack.

"I See Dead Perps." Vic discovers his autistic son has extrasensory powers.

"American We." Vic discovers he and Captain Aceveda are half-brothers.

"Shortime Companion." Vic reluctantly partners with a gay officer who dies saving Vic's life.

"Butcher Block." Vic's life is changed when someone vandalizes his family's state-of-the-art kitchen.

Reach the writer at smikulan@laweekly.com

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