Some of you may not know this but yours truly actually dabbled a bit in the entertainment industry. This is part one in my Hollywood journey. There are plenty of stories about this little episode in my life and hopefully, you will find them entertaining.
In 1994, I packed everything up (yet again) and moved to La La Land. The proverbial City of Angels, maker or breaker of cinematic dreams or bust, that was where I was headed. I was fortunate enough to be accepted into the MFA Screenwriting program at Loyola Marymount University.
This fine institution is responsible for some well-known industry players such as Glen Morgan and James Wong of the X-Files, film director David Mirkin, screenwriter and director Brian Helgeland and the list goes on and on. Obviously excited, I was chockful of ideas and ready to attack my studies with zeal.
Opting not to live on campus where the “action” was, I settled in the Calabasas region near Malibu Canyon. This was an ideal location for me because I was one step away from being a beach bum and still am when given the opportunity. Luckily for me, I had a couple of weeks free time so they were spent, hiking the hills around my house and boogie boarding at Point Dume in Malibu. Finally, I was back in the Golden State after a brief stint in the late 80s.
Sounds pretty idyllic, doesn’t it? I won’t lie it was and I enjoyed every minute of it. Finally, school started. I was enrolled in some pretty interesting courses where I would be immersed in the craft of screenwriting learning from people that were Writers Guild members. I could see opportunities on the horizon and things were optimistic.
Months went by and I made some friends. There were parties and a particularly memorable incident. This was a drunken night on Manhattan Beach involving 2 bottles of Moet and a fully clothed impromptu midnight swim in the Pacific. Needless to say, this ruined a perfectly good pair of pants and a shirt.
One of our favorite weekend excursions was to the world-famous Comedy Store. The 2-drink minimum sucked but for the opportunity to be where David Letterman, Garry Shandling, Richard Pryor and Steve Martin performed, $30 for 2 drinks isn’t too much to pay, right? Especially on a grad student budget, it’s chump change (insert eye roll). All of my friends were extremely ambitious and that was great. One of them wanted to be a horror film director and had a huge tattoo of Bruce Campbell on her thigh, the other one wanted to work on Star Trek Voyager or Babylon 5 and then my other buddy wanted to be an animator. The diversity worked well and was a place where creativity could run free.
During this time, I made 8mm films for class and let me tell you, you haven’t lived until you have decimated a bathroom with Hershey syrup to depict a bloodbath on black and white film. The cleanup was a bitch. Although the actors said it tasted delightful. Then there was the agonizing editing process which was crazy. Splicing a tiny roll of film with an ancient editor from the 1800s and then messing up and then having to use scotch tape to fix your mistake, good times. Lots of swearing, drinking and almost trashing of the editing machine.
Integrating a soundtrack was daunting because you had to synchronize the music just right with the film. I won’t lie to you, all of this was amazingly frustrating. Of course, me being who I am and not being able to keep my mouth shut, I asked my professors, “Why are we going through this archaic process? There is modern equipment available and shouldn’t we be learning how to use that?” The response was always, “You need to know what the film feels like.”
Really? Trust me. I KNOW what the film feels like. I took photography as an undergrad. I have developed film. Do I really need to drive myself insane because I can’t seem to master the fine art of splicing? Does Spielberg do this? NO.
My first semester flew by and some interesting encounters took place. I met Jacqueline Zambrano, the executive producer of the CBS show, Under Suspicion (1994-1995) when she came to speak to my television production class. As it just so happens, she was an acquaintance of my professor. She was impressed with the questions I was asking her and inquired if I wanted to become a production assistant on the show.
Since this was around the holiday break, she told me to give a call to her office around the first of the year in 1995. Naturally, I was beyond excited. It sounded like a dream come true. Of course, when I rang her up, I was told the show was cancelled! Looks like my Irish luck was not with me. Oh, well. On to the next one, as they say.
As anyone who knows me can attest, I am not the most patient person on the face of the earth. I was becoming increasingly bored with my curriculum and was looking for a way to up the ante. That is when I conceived a brilliant idea. At the time, I wanted to be a writer for David Letterman. I had been a fan of his stand up and watched his morning show. Another plus is that I actually saw his show live several times at NBC.
Since Dave was now at CBS and his Late Show was riding high in the ratings, I decided that I wanted to intern for his production company, Worldwide Pants. I had just completed a successful stint as an intern for Lifetime Television so I thought, why not? Pants was behind The Late Late Show with Tom Snyder. Mr. Snyder had always been one of my favorite hosts from his Tomorrow show days so I thought what could possibly go wrong?
One of the keys to being successful in any endeavor is perseverance. So, I proceeded to research and find out who was in charge of the internship program with Snyder’s show. Eventually, I wore that poor guy down and I got an interview. Thank God, I didn’t have to resort to pulling a Cusack in Say Anything. Although, that was on the list. Needless to say, I was terrified. I put my game face on as I made the trek to Television City.
|Unless there is a restraining order|
I can’t tell you how cool it was to walk past the endless queue of Price is Right maniacs and straight in to the CBS building. Inwardly, I was spazzing out but I retrieved my security badge and sat in the lobby waiting for my “escort.” I looked around at the huge pictures of prominent celebrities and tried really hard not to puke.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I was greeted by the show’s admin, Kathy Chao. I still remember her name after all these years because she was a great gal and I admired her ability to not lose her shit when the exec producers became incredibly demanding. As we made our way to the production offices, we exchanged pleasantries and I tried hard not to sound like a raging idiot.
She deposited me in front of a conference room that looked suspiciously like something that you would have seen on LA Law. A wonderful hostess, she asked me if I would like anything to drink. Now, while I could have used a shot of tequila or even an Evian, I declined because the last thing I needed to do was spill something on my suit. Try explaining why you have a huge wet spot on your pants to a potential employer. Good luck!
This frenetic activity went on for what seemed like an eternity. Then in mid rave mode, I suddenly felt the need to crash. Making my way back to the table, I sat down thinking it might be a second wind type of deal. I watched as my roomie was holding court with a bunch of smitten Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise wannabes. In danger of falling asleep in this strange place, I grabbed my friend and hauled her out of there. Needless to say, she wasn’t pleased but she was more coherent than me.
One of her actor entourage offered to drive us home so we jumped in his car and made our way to Calabasas. The minute I sat in the car, it was lights out. We arrived back home. My friend’s buddy spent the night in the spare room because the plan was for him to drive us back to retrieve my car the next day.
Everything was normal. We went to bed. Well, I passed out again. Then all of a sudden, I abruptly sat up in my bed. The adrenalin was pumping. WTF, I thought? I looked at the clock and it was 4 in the frickin’ AM. Really? I tried to go back to sleep to no avail.
Now, normal people would have tried to tough it out but not me. I threw on my work out clothes and proceeded to go for a bike ride in the wee hours of the morning. As the sun was coming up, I realized maybe I needed to get some proper sleep.
Creeping back in to the still house, I went to my bedroom and crashed. About 4 hours later, I hear this ringing. It was pretty loud and my head felt like someone wailed on me with a baseball bat. I proceed to stumble out to the kitchen area which was like running a gauntlet. Of course, me being the stellar athlete that I am, before I could face plant into the breakfast bar, my cat like reflexes saved me.
Somehow, I managed to pick up the phone. Trying not to sound like Lurch from the Addams Family, I answered very quietly. It was Billy Zabka from Tom Snyder’s show congratulating me on becoming one of the first interns for the program. I politely thanked him and hung up the phone. I was going to start Monday on my first job in the business and it felt amazing.
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