In Praise of Margin: VDO, Jobsharing & LOCI Season 5

Music ‘Life’s What You Make It’ by Talk Talk

Now I know that diehard VDO fans are probably having a hard time getting used to the idea that Detectives Goren and Eames are not going to be the leads in every LOCI episode from now on. LOCI is to me unprecedented in the ground it is breaking for both acting and for the world in general and I think excellent things can come from it.
Are you wondering what substances I’m on right now? Not a thing. I’m 100% sober.
I want to mention a series of non-fiction books written by Dr. Richard Swenson that begin with a marvelous work called “The Overload Syndrome: Learning To Live Within Your Limits” and includes “Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves To Overloaded Lives”. If I had known VDO personally, I would have begged him to read these books well before he collapsed twice on the LOCI set. They are books that ‘Vincent’ from DASH and many of the ‘fangurls’ I know and even I could have benefitted from if only I had learned of it sooner.
Dr. Swenson makes a point of criticizing our American culture because we make heroes out of people who are on overload. In fact it’s the most overloaded people who make all of the rest of us have to take on more. More at work, more family obligations, more debt, more time commitments. We leave ourselves no breathing room, no free time, no savings, no space, no ‘margin’ for error.
And the first truism of life? Stuff happens.
From what I have read of how VDO works, he doesn’t just prepare for a part, he overprepares. It seems to be common for the best method actors out there to go to extremes — DeNiro working 12 hour days as a cabbie for a whole month to prepare for ‘Taxi Driver’, Pacino depriving himself of sleep for ‘Insomnia’, VDO working 14 hour days five or six days a week shooting a top 20 TV series and then staying up to edit his first directorial effort, the short film ‘Five Minutes, Mister Welles’, not to mention his performance for ‘Welles’ for which he gained a substantial amount of weight yet again to play one of his acting heros, Orson Welles at middle age.
Is it any wonder VDO collapsed twice? Heck, I’m impressed he could keep going at that insane pace for as long as he did.
So what about VDO and Dick Wolf’s solution, to expand the cast and split the scripts over two teams of actors?
Can you say brilliant?
US TV series are notorious for chewing up and spitting out the casts and crews that work on them. Every episode has to be shot in seven days — on day eight, if you’re still working on the same episode, you’re jeopardizing the season’s schedule (and probably going to go over budget). In movies, you can comfortably shoot over three months, filming a page of script or two a day (a page usually equates to around one minute of screen time). In TV, you better get 8 pages a day shot or you’ll fall behind. Get ready to do this for 22 weeks a season, 44 weeks a year if you’re lucky enough for your show to keep getting renewed, with 5-6 days out of each week taken up by production. This is why TV cast members are lucky if they have the time to do one movie a year.
Comparing US TV production to TV production in the UK, the pace is a little more relaxed. A typical series in the UK is 6-12 episodes a season. They have twice as much time to get everything done, twice as much room for errors and mishaps, twice as much time to work on scripts and pre-production to prevent errors. Granted actors in the UK find it hard to make a living only doing a TV series, but they can fit in more movies or plays (and in my opinion, ‘the play’s the thing’ that makes a lot of UK actors generally more seasoned actors than US actors, that and the variety of projects a UK actor has to tackle to make a living solely from acting — ever heard the saying ‘a change is as good as a rest’?). Multiple seasons of a TV series that gets renewed means only 24 weeks of the year are committed to that TV series – conceivably a UK actor could be a regular on 2 or 3 UK TV series and still not be as time pressed as an American actor.
So if you take a lead role in a US TV series and split it between two US actors what do you get? Less stressed out actors for one thing. Also you give scarce coveted work to two actors rather than overburdening one actor, creating more jobs. Chris Noth and Annabella Sciorra get regular paychecks they didn’t get before while VDO and Kathryn Erbe get some much needed time to see their families and friends, to try out other projects, to relax and catch up on their sleep.
In essence, this casting change at LOCI is nothing short of a highly visible jobsharing arrangement.
What are the disadvantages? Well VDO and Kathryn Erbe are probably taking home less money each year. But I know that LOCI pays its leads reasonably well and that with thoughtful financial management, neither Erbe nor VDO will suffer a lowering of their standards of living. Having been in a high stress professional job, I can tell you that working 60 to 80 hours a week for twice the salary of working 40 hours a week is not a great deal — there is a point at which trading more money for more of one’s time, more pieces of one’s unique nonrenewable life becomes a disadvantage. And did I mention that less income means lower taxes, while less time committed to work frequently results in lower expenses (such as lower commuting costs and fewer lunches out, etc)?
There is also much hue and cry among VDO’s  ‘fangurls’, who whine incessantly about Chris Noth’s performances (which I think are acceptable right now but I expect them to get even better as Noth and LOCI’s writers help Detective Logan integrate himself into the Major Case Squad and given time will be excellent in their own right). What the ‘fangurls’ fail to realize that the alternative would have resulted in the premature end of LOCI and possibly serious damage to VDO’s health and psyche from utter burnout. Plus under the old arrangement, VDO’s contract was up at the end of the 2005-2006 season, so if things hadn’t changed, he could have justifiably walked (if for no other reason than to save himself from burnout), leaving LOCI bereft of VDO. Better some VDO in LOCI than no more VDO in LOCI ever, if you ask me.
So what’s the broader implication for society? What if corporate America were to let more people jobshare? Wouldn’t that mean that more of us would be working resulting in lower unemployment rates and fewer people heavily dependent on government social programs? And wouldn’t that give those who are currently doing the jobs of 2 or more people the time to get to know and show our affection and appreciation for our families, our friends, and others in our communities? Granted it could come at some financial cost, but why overwork to the point where you incur the need for pricey health care? We all could eat a little less, buy ourselves a few less toys and scale back if we realized that we were getting back our lives, our health, our sanity, our true selves. This freedom is something Mastercard can’t buy.
Something to think about, isn’t it?
I am pulling hard for LOCI’s experiment to work and am eagerly anticipating the US release of DVDs for seasons 2, 4, and 5. (Hint to NBC-Universal: The sooner you release Season 2, the sooner I’ll catch up  :) May this new arrangement keep the show going for at least a few more seasons.

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One thought on “In Praise of Margin: VDO, Jobsharing & LOCI Season 5

  1. Pingback: Al Pacino

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