Tales of a Hollywood Intern — Part 2
My internship finished at the end of the summer of 1994, and I went back to UCSB for my senior year. They had offered to hire me on, but I declined, predicting the show probably wouldn’t be picked up. I was right.
Back at school, I went through the grind of my senior year but always looked forward to one class. “Anatomy of the Industry” went into great detail about the business end of Hollywood. It was so interesting and captivating, the 200 seat room was packed every Friday night at 7PM.
The class was taught by a top Hollywood executive named David Weitzner. He was president of World Wide Marketing for MCA/Universal, and the man was a living legend. This was the guy who marketed Star Wars and E.T. back in the day.
He’d come up from Hollywood every Friday night to teach this class, just because he loved doing it. And he’d bring along special guest “friends” each week. Major players like Tom Pollack, Sid Ganis, Marcy Carsey, and Robert Zemeckis.
Here’s the thing you need to know about LA: Real legitimate contacts can come from the unlikeliest of places. You never really know who you’re going to meet, but you have to be ready for it when it happens.
Expect nothing, but be prepared for anything.
One night, the guys brought this dude Scotty over from their dorm. Good looking kid from Calabasas who was also studying film. You could tell he was smart. Scary smart. We ended up talking for hours, and by the end of the night, I’ve made a new friend.
Scott and I hung out a lot that year. He helped me out with film projects. On weekends I’d cruise back home to Thousand Oaks, and I’d meet him at his dad’s place in Calabasas, and we’d party down in Hollywood.
Visiting these places “on the other side of the hill” started to become a regular occurrence for me. I’d find myself outside of my element, and spending more and more time with Scott and his friends in Calabasas, Encino, and Beverly Hills.
But no matter what situation I’d find myself in, no matter how far out of my own world I’d end up, I learned to anchor myself to reality. No matter what was going on, I would just say to myself:
“OK, now this is happening.”
This has become my mantra to this day. This is how I deal with whatever life throws at me. It’s just a turn of events. Now this is happening.
This was the handshake that would seal multimillion-dollar deals. Not only would I feel safe doing business with this man, I’d trust him with my life.
One day Scott asked if he could sit in on some of my film classes. I invite him to come to the industry class.
“You’ve gotta come,” I tell him. “This guy David Weitzner is amazing.”
“David Weitzner. He’s the president of worldwide marketing for -”
“MCA/Universal!” Scotty finishes my sentence.
“Oh, you’ve heard of him?”
“Mike, I’m really good friends with his son Jason!”
“Yeah, we’ve been friends since we were kids. Mike, I’ve gotta introduce you!”
Now that would be something.
A few weeks later, I get the call. Scotty has an opportunity for me.
Jason was a film student at Chapman in the OC. He has a video project due soon, and he hasn’t started it. Scott offers Jason a solution — help from “this film genius from UCSB”, and arranges for me to come over and help the next day.
Scotty and I show up at the Weitzner house, also in Calabasas. Jason answers the door and lets us in. He looks like a younger version of his dad.
“Hey, thanks for coming over,” he says to me, “I could really use some help on this project.”
“No prob. Let’s get down to it!”
And so we spent the afternoon coming up with a concept and shooting right at the house. At one point, I started moving furniture and lights around. That was around the time Jason’s parents came home.
“Oh, you guys are shooting a movie. This is wonderful!” David exclaimed, impressed with our resourcefulness.
I introduced myself. “Hi David, I’m Mike. I’m taking your class in Santa Barbara.”
David’s eyes lit up. “Oh, fantastic!” We shook hands.
I learned everything I needed to know about shaking hands in that moment. It was a firm grip that communicated all the right things — sincerity and strength. He looked me square in the eye as he clamped down on my hand and continued shaking for a full ten seconds as he addressed me.
“Well I’m very pleased that you have come over to help out my son with his video project. Thank you.”
At that point he released his grip, and I understood what he just communicated. This was the handshake that would seal multimillion-dollar deals. Not only would I feel safe doing business with this man, I’d trust him with my life.
We went back to shooting and finished up a couple hours later. I never did see the finished product, since one of David’s friends in the trailers department did the editing as a favor, but I heard it was well-received and Jason got an “A”.
A few weeks later I got a call from Scotty.
“Jason has another project. He specifically asked for you.”
It was time to make my move.
I called Jason, took a deep breath, and with balls of steel I never realized I had, I went for it.
“Yeah, I could do another project,” I told Jason, “But I’ll need a favor in return. You see, I’m graduating soon, and I need to find a job. I’d really like a meeting with your father.”
Jason waited a dramatic moment before responding “Well, I can’t guarantee you anything, but I could probably set up a meeting with him.”
“Fair enough,” I said, satisfied. “What’s the project?”
“We’ll be shooting at the Universal Amphitheatre next week.”
“Cool. We shooting a band?”
“No, my dad got the place for me for the afternoon.”
My jaw dropped. I’d been to countless concerts at the amphitheater. Just thinking about the music history that happened on that stage gave me chills.
On the day of the shoot, David met us in the garage below the Universal Headquarters building, and he gave us a push broom and a janitor’s uniform. I loaded Jason and his friend into the back of my crappy Subaru Brat, and trucked them across the backlot, past my old office building, and up to the amphitheater at the top of the hill.
We parked backstage, a part of the amphitheater I’d never seen before. Now I was going to get to see the place from the artist’s perspective.
We made our way through the backstage area, opened a door, walked down a hallway and onto the stage. The wooden floor creaked as I walked across. I thought of the rock legends that performed right where I was standing.
On the cinder brick wall behind us were the stenciled logos of hundreds of bands that had performed there over the years.
We were greeted by two men. One was there for lighting, and the other for sound.
The amphitheater was eerily quiet. It seemed like a ghost town.
Jason got dressed into the jumpsuit. He was to be the actor, and I was to direct him.
We worked the setup, and I used a microphone to communicate with the lighting guy who was up in the booth.
“Could we get a spotlight right here?” I asked.
A brilliant beam of light slashed the space of the amphitheater and illuminated me.
“Hang on, I’ve always wanted to do this…”
I nerded out on every kid’s rock fantasy for a moment.
“HELLLLLLLLLOOOOO LOS ANGELES!!!!”
We planned out the shots. The piece actually would be similar to the moment I just had. Jason was to play a janitor who was sweeping the stage of the amphitheater. He puts down the broom for a moment, walks front and center, and has a fantasy moment where he strikes a rockstar pose with his fist in the air. A beam of light illuminates him, and he prances around the stage, rocking out. Then he snaps back to reality, picks up the broom and continues his job.
A couple hours later we are finished, and we went back to the headquarters building where we meet David in his office. He’s excited about the project we just shot, describing it to one of the other execs as “high concept.”
“OK,” he asked, “Which one of you is the film student?”
Here we go. I stepped forward.
“That would be me.”
David pulled me aside. He’d really like to sit down with me, but he’s got meetings all afternoon. He told me he’ll set something up for us soon.
It stung a little. I was hoping for a different outcome, but I couldn’t be too disappointed. That’s the way life goes.
And life would go on. Time to come up with another game plan.
A couple of weeks later while visiting my parents, I got a phone call at their house.
“David Weitzner’s office. Please hold for David.”
My heart stopped for about a second.
“Hi Michael. David Weitzner. Let’s set up a meeting for next week.”
And just like that, I had an appointment with the president of World Wide Marketing for MCA/Universal.
For the next week, I prepared for my big moment, finding letters of recommendation and getting everything together. I got advice from friends. What do I wear?
“He wears a suit, you wear a suit,” one of my film buddies advised me.
The big day came, and I made my way down to Universal City. When I got off the freeway at Lankershim, my heart was pounding. I drove over to the big black monolith that is the headquarters building.
As I got into the elevator, I recognized a familiar face exit. It’s Tom Pollack, Chairman of Universal, one of the guests in our class earlier that year.
OK, now this is happening.
I got to David’s floor and introduce myself to his secretary, Gayla. A pink stuffed animal pig sat on her desk, — “Babe” was about to be released, and they were on a marketing blitz. David was on the phone, so I waited a few minutes with Gayla. I looked around to soak up the moment. The place was buzzing with energy. I was truly in the lion’s den.
David called me in and greeted me with that same handshake. He had me sit down, then came out from behind his desk and sat in an adjacent seat with a notepad and pen. There’s no pretense. Just a mentor to a student.
He asked me what I wanted to do with my life. And I start talking about my hopes and dreams.
Then he spoke.
“Michael, I love this industry. We’re not looking for people who play by the rules. We want people who do things differently. This industry thrives on creativity. I like how you got in here to meet me. That was creative and resourceful. And it took guts.”
He paused for a moment.
“I’m going to do something for you right now.”
He walked behind his desk and picked up the phone.
“Gayla, get me John Landis’ office, please.”
I contain the gasp and try to hide the smile on my face.
He got on the phone with John Landis’ number two guy, shot the crap for a moment, set up lunch with him, and then worked me into the conversation.
“Listen, there’s this guy you’ve really gotta meet… I’m telling you, he’ll really blow you away… You will? OK, Great. Thank you.”
He hung up the phone and looked at me.
“I’ve just secured your future,” he declared.
He continued. “I’ve just done you a favor. And one day, you might find the roles are reversed. You’ll be at the top of your company, and some kid will walk into your office looking for a job. Don’t ever forget what I did for you.”
The moment changed my life, not because of the phone call, but because of the reason behind it, a lesson I would take to heart. If I have ever gone out of my way to help somebody simply because I could, it was because of David. I looked up to this man and respected him so much, I wanted to be like him.
And I would never forget what he did for me.