Massages Help Film Crews Work Out the Kinks

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Out on location at a high desert trailer park, costume supervisor Patti Cohoon Friedman groaned between takes. The shoot for "An American Girl," a dark comedy about a dysfunctional family, had kept Friedman on the dusty and rusty set 14 hours a day for weeks. "Oh, the stress," she said.

That was a cue for Anne Wilde, a traveling masseuse who kneads away the kinks and knots of Hollywood's well-knowns and unknowns. With her small but strong hands, Wilde smoothed tensions in Friedman's shoulders and back during a 15-minute "chair massage" at the bottom of a remote canyon in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Friedman shut her eyes, listened to rustling tree branches and tried to forget her surroundings: a collision of dirt roads, splintered benches and dented garbage cans. "It definitely took me away from this trailer park," Friedman said afterward, swatting at the flies. "The crew works their butts off. We deserve a massage."

Massage has long ranked as a must-have among pampered actors, directors and producers, many of whom receive daily or weekly "touch therapy." But the relaxation technique is becoming as commonplace as cold coffee and stale doughnuts on TV, film, music video and commercial sets. Today, you don't have to be on the A-list to get stroked. Hairdressers, costume designers, medics, makeup, sound, lighting, prop and set workers are all getting in on the rub.

"Having a massage therapist on the set has become essential," said Mark Travis, an author, director and partner of Travis-Johntz Productions, an independent company that produced "The Baritones," a 28-minute film spoofing HBO's "The Sopranos." "It's like having good food on the set. It's amazing how their attitude changes just knowing they can get a massage."

No one keeps track of the number of employer-provided massage therapists in Hollywood or other industries, but trade groups say the perk is growing in popularity. "Slaughterhouses for chickens give employees massages, so it's not a surprise that Hollywood techies are now getting them too," said Steve Olson, a massage therapist in Fargo, N.D., and president of the Chicago-based American Massage Therapy Assn. "It's not just California. The Monkees were here for a county fair recently, and the band hired a massage therapist for the crew."

Locally, demand has risen during the last six months with directors, producers and production coordinators hiring massage therapists to soothe sprained egos and strained muscles after a tough season of Hollywood labor negotiations. Cast and crew members had been forced to work overtime to rush scripts into production for fear of dual writers' and actors' strikes.

"The crew can be as stressed out as the actors," said Kate Frankel, a massage therapist and owner of Aura Spa, a full-service spa that travels to hotels, celebrity homes and production sets. "The massage has become very important."

Hundreds of massage therapists practice in Southern California, and dozens serve celebrities and other VIPs. But only a few are listed in Hollywood's entertainment directories as catering exclusively to production sets.

Wilde is one. A certified, licensed and insured masseuse, she started Quiet On The Set in 1999, when, after working as a massage therapist at high-end hotels in Beverly Hills and Bel-Air, she noticed an increasing interest in on-set massages.

Her business has taken off. The San Fernando Valley resident is hiring about 20 massage therapists and plans to expand eventually to New York. Wilde has massaged workers on sets mostly for commercials, music videos and independent films, but recently received calls for ABC's "The Drew Carey Show" and NBC's "The Weakest Link."

Wilde stocks her mobile office, a ruby red Nissan Sentra, with a plush, portable vinyl massage chair and table, soft blankets and towels, a CD player with a half-dozen classical CDs and an assortment of hand sanitizers, an unscented massage lotion with Vitamin E and scented lavender, eucalyptus and sandalwood oils.

She says she can deliver serenity to any set, whether it's in a cold airplane hangar, on a windy mountain, outside an abandoned shipyard, or in the middle of the night with special-effects explosives detonating in the background.

The cast and crew of "An American Girl," a low-budget movie produced by HSI-Tomorrow Film Corp., needed serenity. As on many independent films, the crew works longer hours for less pay and, aside from the soda and stale sandwich cookies, limited perks.

"There can be a lot of anxiety," said Adam Rosenfelt, a producer who paid Wilde $200 for her two hours on the set. "It's our way to say thanks for the hard work."

Wilde walked past a trio of cigarette-smoking bottle blonds and a clothesline draped in a rainbow of red, yellow, blue and purple underpants. She set up her massage chair and table under the shade of a pine tree, sanitized her hands and popped a "Mozart for Massage" into a portable CD player.

With her honey-colored hair pulled back in a black ball cap, Wilde toiled for 15 minutes each on the costume supervisor, a stand-in actor, a set designer and other crew members, including Lindsay Hudson, the set's medic.

On a recent day, Hudson tended an actor who fell into a mud hole, a kid who fell off a bike, two people exhausted by the heat and "the usual requests for aspirin for headaches, hangovers and menstrual cramps."

Her own stress tangled up her neck and shoulder muscles, Hudson said, so she opted for a table massage. Behind the privacy of a maroon beach towel, Hudson took off her "L.A. County Sheriff's Bed & Breakfast" T-shirt, got on the table, closed her eyes and heaved a sigh. "I hope this never ends," the petite, blue-eyed blond mumbled.

Wilde alternated between smoothing and drumming strokes, targeting Hudson's tensest points. "I could feel that she had a lot of stress," Wilde said.

But not as knotted up as most producers and directors. "They're way up there in stress," Wilde said. "They're always going 24/7."

Wearing a baggy shirt, shorts and a headband, director Jordan Brady described himself as laid back. But he acknowledged feeling pressure while juggling three projects: filming "An American Girl," wrapping up "The Third Wheel" (starring Ben Affleck, Luke Wilson and Denise Richards) and preparing for the September release of "Wakin' Up in Reno" (starring Charlize Theron, Billy Bob Thornton and Patrick Swayze).

The built-up tension caused a stiff neck. Wilde went after it with thumb compressions during a "power" chair massage.

"I'm as happy as can be," Brady said afterward, rubbing his neck. "I've gone from grumpy to peachy in five minutes."

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