By Micaela Bensko
A letter to our entertainment industry:
I probably shouldn't be writing this. I have always prided my tight lips after a steamy episode of pillow talk. Too many things happen during my husband's day that could easily end up in The Enquirer. But this isn't about gossip. It's about heads that rarely get to fall on a pillow.
Ten months ago, my husband Don was tapped as Production Supervisor of the most touted new show on television, "Nashville" on ABC, by Callie Khouri, Oscar-winning writer of "Thelma and Louise." This show was hot. But not in Cleveland. It was in Nashville. The last time I hit Music City was as a young and struggling songwriter who couldn't catch a break.
Now we sat atop my favorite skyline, complete with the Batman Building. (It's not really Batman's, it just looks like Batman.)
With our family based in Los Angeles, the experience of being bi-coastal sounded romantic. And it was for a while. Until I witnessed how hard the crew worked. The 14-20 hour days with an unrelenting schedule due to issues beyond their control. (I have since been corrected by my husband that he rarely worked twenty-hour days. Nineteen, yes.) Don is no stranger to production hours or studio dynamics, his resume includes Co-Producer of Big Love Don was the Production Supervisor of "Nashville". Every square-inch of every set, location, stage, is because of a dedicated team led in part by him and Line Producer Loucas George.
Until last week that is.
You know you've made it in Hollywood, when a studio replaces your team, and doesn't even bother to call.
We have always been fortunate. In a business where many rarely find work, the work has always found my husband. Because Don is good. He is real. He will never tell you what you want to hear when fifty million dollars is at stake. He will tell you what you need to hear. And that's why he is unique. He does not schmooze anyone. Networking is not his thing.
His thing is family. He lives for stolen moments, when he kisses his children on the top of their heads and holds me in his arms. Because these moments are his fuel. For working days when lunch comes at midnight.
Season One of "Nashville" was a blessing in many ways. One of my dear friends, Judith Hoag, was cast as Connie Britton's sister Tandy, so it was a special event in my life on a personal level.
The show itself, however, faced challenges. Nashville was a town unrigged for the immediacy of needs by a television series. Lionsgate had never done a network series. It had a star who worried, and a creator who cared so much it broke his heart, a community that was filled with pride, a small cafe with bluebirds that became famous overnight, and in the midst of it all, a life on the crew was almost lost; It happened during a string of endless and exhausting shoot days. This is not new to production, but a string of delayed scripts and tripping storylines kept everyone on edge. Then one of our crew lost his footing while rigging for a huge arena shoot at The Bridgestone Arena. He fell twenty feet and could have died. So he could make a living.
I met Don when he was an accountant on a small, untested pilot called "Arrested Development." He had a vision for his future, to work his way up the ladder. Don doesn't say much that doesn't happen. Like the night we sat at Puckett's in Franklin and he shared his concern for this show we loved, that could lose its way if it wasn't careful, if certain people would only care more. Livelihoods were compromised by the shuffling of decisions back in Los Angeles. Decisions made by men and women in suits behind desks who didn't know the right questions to ask.
Don has already been offered other shows, some closer to home, so I can fold into his arms more often. I am writing because something needs to change in an industry we have loved as a family. Television is a fascinating medium when studios and production teams are on the same page. But what about when they aren't, which is now so often the norm? It becomes a cliche. Bringing good stories to life was and is a dream for so many young people who reach for the stars, only to realize the Heavens were moved to another location. And the humanity in the process has been lost.
Why aren't shooting hours regulated, so men don't fall from the sky? Why is it that so may suits who are home by dinnertime to see their children, seem incapable of caring about people as much as their numbers? We need to look at this, because in the end, we are all just trying to experience something real. Even if it's only make believe.
The studios will argue they must shoot long hours because of their budget, the deadlines, the people that call them at midnight. The reality is, nothing is important when the humanity in the process is lost. When the writers' hands are tied. And when the very people who broke their backs to create something special were never even told they were being replaced. Like my husband and Loucas George. Not a phone call or a thank you for all they had done.I am so tired of seeing the emotional toll the industry takes on so many in production and on the crew who work so hard all for a paycheck and a wrap party they are too exhausted to attend.
I do not begrudge the studio for its decision to make changes, I am just saddened in how they did it and even more-so by the fact that this is the norm. Everyone moves on, but it's how we are let go that makes the experience that was, worthwhile.
This letter is for the men and women of "Nashville" who now may not know where their next job will be and for the ones we left behind. You are appreciated more than you will ever know. You made this show possible through excruciating days that turned into nights that turned into days. When lunch was at midnight. And you still smiled. You made it happen. And you made something good. So good, it is getting a second chance for the world to see what you made possible.
Most of all, thank you to Callie Khouri. Upon hearing of the news, and how things were handled, she called Don. She made Don smile because she told him he mattered. She shared in the loss and that he will be missed. And she reminded me, a production wife, that there are good people in this industry who truly do wish that they could make it different.
This is a love letter to "Nashville" and the city we have grown to love with all of our heart. Tootsies, The Loveless, The Bluebird Cafe. We will miss you for now, but will return to love you more than we ever could before - all the way to the top of the Batman Building.
Why I Wrote The Letter:
Today someone asked me why I am not doing interviews. I guess it's because I didn't write it to do interviews, or to be the story. I just wanted people to be kind again. To remember what we learned from our grandparents when we sat at their dinner table when we were five. When your brother asked politely for the peas and then said thank you, even though he beat you with his Spider Man earlier in the day.
The letter came from many people's stories, across many industries. Not just ours. It is a truth owned by all. Who are too scared to speak. Like I was. Before life was complicated. And all I wanted to do was make it simple again.
After a year of spine surgeries, writing is my therapy. There are four wheelchairs in our garage. I am forty-three. Our oldest daughter's room has boxes. She is nineteen. My blog has stretch marks. Because I cared so much about what was right that some people tried to make it wrong. But our family is strong, and we will get through this.
I always knew I was loud, I just never knew I had a voice. The voice is priceless. And so is what I asked for. Humanity.
The love of my life was making a living so I could walk. The love of my life held his head to the sky so I could see that there was hope. The one year in our life when my body was shattered, and he looked at each piece as a gift. So when push came to shove I had nothing left but a truth that could not stand still.
We will get through this aftermath because everything blows over. But I hope with all of my heart, the seed planted is nurtured by those who know it has been said. I hope it has brought to the table a feast for thoughts to consume, and a reminder to those who seem to have forgotten, that we are all human beings.
I may not have the answers now, of what to do about what I said. Or a cape to make it disappear. But I can for the first time stand tall even though my body is weak. Just when I thought I was broken, my heart planted a seed.