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Union Roundup: Hollywood Gets in the Holiday Spirit to Toast What Was a Pretty Good Year… All Things Considered


The thing about the song “It Was a Very Good Year,” if you’re in the habit of listening to it at year’s end and wondering how it is that wall calendars go up and down so much faster than they used to, is that after the first few verses celebrating rambunctious youth, first loves and lusts (from a male perspective, granted — we need a definitive female cover of the tune, to compete with Sinatra and Lou Rawls; gender choice in the lyrics all up to her), the song immediately switches perspectives to life being a “vintage wine, from fine old kegs.”

And this, after the verse about having turned just 35.

Do we hit “vintage years” that quickly? One certainly does cycle through those wall calendars much more swiftly, after a certain point.

And this concluding pretty good year (though aren’t they all “very good” if we’re still here, and healthy, our loved ones — two and four-legged, etc. — are thriving, and we, at least, have been treated with more kindness than not?) has likewise felt to have gone by in something closer to eight months, rather than 12.

But what an “eight months” it was! We entered last January trying to wait out another Covid wave but nonetheless went to some award shows masked up, watched organizing efforts nearly succeed in unlikely places like Amazon warehouses (while prepping to succeed among showbiz’s music supervisors), went to some fall events, got on a plane for the first time in a good long while to head to the Austin Film Festival, watched America’s ongoing schisms and culture wars continue to affect film location choices and the conversation around them, and now, once again, here we are.

Checco Varese
Checco Varese image via Mark London Williams

Waiting out another Covid wave, getting ready for winter award shows, and, well, you get the drift…

Some things about this particular pass through the fall equinox and winter solstice are different, though. Two December events that often help mark “showbiz time” returned to their live form — masks optional. Those would be the Band Pro Open House, held at the venerable gear house’s Burbank digs, and the Women in Media Holiday Toast, now hosted at CBS Television City on a soundstage evidently earmarked and decorated for seasonal events. Why, except for the Hanukkah decorations on one side, one could almost imagine a Yuletide edition of The Red Skelton Show being taped there.

Women in Media
Women in Media panel image via Ashly Covington

Both events were quite full, all attendees well-fed, and everyone seemed genuinely glad to be out on the holiday party circuit.

Not everyone could make it, though. Checco Varese, ASC was supposed to be the cinematography guest of honor this year for Band Pro, but instead, had to send a video from the set where he was working (presumably on upcoming LA-and-Sunset Strip-in-the-’70s series Daisy Jones and the Six).

In the video, Varese talked about being a “storyteller” with his camera, and having the late Denny Clairmont steer him towards Angenieux glass to do it better — with that brand now a part of Band Pro itself.

Amnon Band and Otto Nemez image via Mark London Williams

Band Pro founder Amnon Band took to the stage to thank his whole staff, and then to touchingly present a lifetime achievement award to Otto Nemez, who in turn thanked his staff. The generosity continued as Band called Nemenz “a model to all of us.” Indeed, Otto’s own longevity, the perspicaciousness that has sustained it, and his generally avuncular disposition, can be helpful templates in times alternately unknowable or darkening. Or sometimes both.

That same palpable sense of simply being glad to be there marked the Women in Media holiday brunch — or Toast, as it’s officially known — as well. One of our own tablemates was so happy about the event’s return that she had flown down from San Jose just for the day in order to attend.

Honorees — those “toasted” — included Oscar-winning Songwriter Diane Warren, Cinematographer Michelle Crenshaw, Producer Deborah Pratt, Sound Editor Becky Sullivan, and Costume Designer Debora L. Scott, whose work — translated into many, many digits — is currently on display in the long-gestating Avatar sequel.

You can read — and see! — more about the event here, though one frankly hopeful holiday note was sounded by producer Pratt — an alum of the original Quantum Leap, and a director on the new edition — towards the end of the morning, when she said “I think women are going to lead us into a safer future. And I think men know that.”

Well, somebody certainly has to, if we’re going to have “very good years” to come.

Robert Arnold
Robert Arnold

Meanwhile, we also need to catch up briefly on a recent conversation with up-and-coming DP Robert E. Arnold, currently sharing cinematographic duties on the series Reasonable Doubt (the new one on Hulu, as opposed to the earlier one that shares its name, which is available on Prime Video).

Arnold spoke of a film class in high school where a guest speaker said that film work, believe it or not, could actually be a career!

He wound up at Chicago’s Columbia College, “the pipeline to doing anything film-related” in the Windy City and environs, and then apprenticed in the city’s IA “umbrella union” when a push for diversity came right around the same time he began noticing that “there weren’t a lot of people who looked like me” on the college’s Kodak Board of cinematographers.

A willingness to pick up and travel found him in New Mexico, and from the latter location, he applied for AFI’s cinematography program, where “the interview with [program head] Stephen Lighthill went well.”

Work in Atlanta followed after AFI — after a “couch surfing” period in L.A., of course — as did the kindness of various mentors, and first camera operating gigs, as he finally “figured out how to work a Steadicam.”

Through another mentor, “gracious human being” and fellow operator George Sanchez, Arnold found his way to day playing on La La Land, and his budding Steadicam reel eventually led to work on hit shows such as Grown-ish and Ryan Murphy‘s recent controversial Netflix series Dahmer, where another profound realization about film work hit him: “It struck me there was an opportunity to work with people who weren’t assholes.”

Robert Arnold
Robert Arnold

That is sometimes a tricky needle to thread in, well, La La Land, but Arnold realized then he “only wanted to work with good people doing good work.”

Which seems as good a new year’s resolution as any.

Arnold’s continued operating led to eventual DPing on series such as Astronomy ClubThe Tam and Kevin Show, and most recently, Reasonable Doubt, where he’s sharing duties.

During that time he’s worked with a lot of cameras, on and off Steadicam rigs, but he currently describes himself as “full on” with the Sony VENICE, especially when married with some rehoused Panavision glass to balance that “too clean” look.

But Arnold is particularly enamored of its ability to shoot in low light. He describes one film set where the sun was “setting on the horizon and I’m still shooting. Everyone kept looking at the monitor, and looking outside. ‘You know,’ they told him ‘it’s almost dark outside.’ So Arnold “added a film light to augment” the scene… and kept on shooting.

Is there a better light-in-winter-darkness metaphor to end on than that?

All illuminations of the season to you and yours. See you in the new year…

MLWIncrediHeadMark London Williams is a BTL alum who currently covers Hollywood, its contents and discontents, in his recurring “Across the Pond” dispatch for British Cinematographer magazine, contributes to other showbiz and production-minded sites, and musters out the occasional zombie, pandemic-themed, or demon-tinged book and script, causing an increased blurring in terms of what still feels like “fiction.”

Mark London Williams’ Union Roundup column will appear every Tuesday. You can reach him to give him tips and feedback at [email protected]. He can also be found on Twitter @TricksterInk.

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