Tales of a Hollywood Intern — Part 3
I didn’t get the job with Landis. They were heading into the final season of a show called “Dream On” and were winding down production. No real point to start up there.
Another call from David got me in touch with another production company, a small guerilla outfit that concentrated on creating Electronic Press Kits — small mini-documentaries or press pieces on upcoming movies or events.
By all accounts, this would be something that was right up my alley. They did a lot of run-and-gun filmmaking, and that was something I was very familiar with.
The production company was nestled in a compound of trailers on the Universal Lot, right behind the Lyon Estates signposts from “Back to the Future”. I arrived for my interview dressed up in a shirt and tie, as you’d expect for an interview.
The company owner walked by and smiled.
“No ties!” he shouted out.
I looked around and soaked in the casual atmosphere. People were in shorts and t-shirts. I was going to enjoy this. It was a different atmosphere from the Suzanne Somers show a year ago — much less formal, but I’d happily adapt.
I was shown around and introduced to the various producers. One name sounded familiar — Stacy Peralta. I wondered if it was THE Stacy Peralta of Powell Peralta Skateboards. A peek inside his office filled with skate gear confirmed my suspicion.
My producer was a woman who dressed like she came out of a cyberpunk movie, wearing black and stainless steel jewelry. She was trying a little too hard to be hip.
She sat me down and explained the project. We were doing a series of music videos to accompany the album “Saturday Morning”, a tribute album to Saturday Morning cartoon themes performed by various alternative artists like the Ramones, Sublime and Liz Phair, whoever was big at the moment. And we started tomorrow.
The pay was a joke. $50 a day and I had at least an hour commute from home. I’d have to live with my parents for a while. I didn’t care. This was a really exciting project, and I considered myself lucky to be on board.
The next day, I made the hour drive down to Universal to meet up with everyone as we got ready to go. We were shooting a music video for the song “Happy Happy Joy Joy”, performed by the band Wax. They were a punk band who completely mesmerized Beavis with their music video of a man on fire running down the street in slow motion.
Our shooting location was the Golf ‘n Stuff in Ventura. I was familiar with the location. My friends and I used to get kicked out when our mini-golf games would turn into hockey matches. From Hollywood, it was an hour and a half drive but would have only been a half-hour from my house, had they told me ahead of time.
As we turned to leave, the producer got my attention.
“Hey, I just thought of something. We want this video to be kind of silly, you know?”
“Uh huh…” I nodded.
“So, I think we could really use a goat out there. Mike, go find us a goat.”
This must be a joke.
“A goat… Umm… OK… Where am I to find you a goat?”
“You’re a smart guy,” she patronized.“I’m sure you’ll be resourceful.”
Wow. First day on the job, and I’m fetching goats.
“I think I saw a petting zoo in Camarillo. Try there.” she offered.
I left Universal, headed north, passed my hometown, over the grade, and ventured into Camarillo where I spotted a fruit stand and petting zoo off the freeway. They had some sheep and one pygmy goat.
Goat located, I thought to myself. Now comes the fun part.
I looked for the owner, still not believing I was actually doing this.
“Hi. I need to borrow your goat.”
There was a strange silence and a very long pause.
“You… want to borrow Rosie?”
I explained our project to him, and promised to bring the goat back in a few hours, as well as a thank you in the credits.
Surprisingly, he let me take her.
As I began to pull the animal toward my car, she wouldn’t budge. I had to drag her a few feet until she charged forward and head-butted me in the shin.
“Oh, she does that when she’s scared. It’s normal” the owner tells me.
I got her across the parking lot and my shins took a beating from all the head butting. Then I hefted her into the bed of my car, which was no easy task. A pygmy goat is surprisingly hard to lift.
My car was a 1982 Subaru Brat which I bought for $600 off my friend Ken when he went into the Air Force. The thing held up for years, but it was an embarrassment to drive, and based on my pay, I wouldn’t be getting another car anytime soon, thus basically killing any chance for a love life.
But for the task at hand, the Brat was perfect. I loaded Rosie into the mini-truck bed and was on my way.
Arrived at the location and brought Rosie onto the set, where she immediately peed everywhere.
All afternoon, I ran around the set to work on various tasks, while getting yelled at by my producer the whole time. Everything I did was either wrong or too slow.
One day in and I hate her already.
The weeks and months that followed didn’t get any better, and I endured my share of demeaning tasks and impossible demands. And driving. I was always driving.
- Drop off this envelope at the accountant on Balboa.
- Drop off this laptop at the repair place on Santa Monica Blvd.
- Drop off this script to the director in Silver Lake. And get the hell back quick, cause we’ll have another envelope for you to drop off to the accountant by then.
Next shoot was a band called “Dig” who were doing the Fat Albert Theme in a junkyard on the wrong end of downtown. I was responsible for buying a bunch of outfits for the group. Think 70s.
The producer gave me a hundred dollars and sent me to Melrose, where I’d be sure to find some stuff “in thrift stores”. Traffic was a nightmare and as I suspected, a hundred bucks wouldn’t get us very far. I found a payphone to tell her this and I got yelled at for taking so long. I was instructed to use my own money to buy whatever we needed, and I’d be reimbursed.
“Oh, and don’t forget a beanie for Mushmouth.”
I was lower than low on the totem pole. Even the other production assistants wouldn’t talk to me.
Such was life at the bottom. And yet I CHOSE this. I wouldn’t listen to the naysayers. I didn’t care about the odds or the statistics. I was going to make it. I was the exception. I was better than everyone else, they just needed to realize it. All through school, I was warned that few people actually make it, and it is a long road and hard work just to earn people’s respect.
And respect I did not get. I was lower than low on the totem pole. Even the other production assistants wouldn’t talk to me. The only thing that ever impressed them was the fake Tag Heuer watch my friend Scott gave me as a gift — these assholes were too dumb to know the difference.
I was slowly waking up to a very disheartening reality.
Our next shoot was at a house just off Sunset, across the freeway from what would eventually be the Getty Center. The house was built in the 70s, and the décor wasn’t updated since then, which made this a perfect location for the cut scenes.
Our host was Drew Barrymore, and the scenes would consist of lame dialogue amongst Drew and her friends while they watched our music videos. Pretty much a live-action Beavis and Butthead, scripted by someone who had no clue what this even about.
We got there early in the morning to get everyone set up and situated. Production room in the master bedroom, makeup in one of the bedrooms. Furniture moved in and out, and no matter where I was, I was in somebody’s way.
Drew Barrymore was probably the only person there who didn’t treat me as less than human.
The owner of this gaudy house was a very awkward Jewish family, and the wife was eager to make conversation with me the moment she looked at me and realized I was Jewish as well.
“Oy! What’s a nice Jewish boy like you doing in a place like this?” she asked, excitedly. “I should introduce you to my daughter. She’s single, you know.”
This was turning into a bad dream I couldn’t wake from.
Drew pulled up and emerged from her SUV, kissing the producers on the cheek as she met them.
She was a cool chick. Real down to Earth. In between scenes, she’d hang out on the back patio with the rest of the crew, bumming cigarettes off people. Drew Barrymore was probably the only person there who didn’t treat me as less than human.
Sometime that morning there was a knock on the door. It was H.R. Pufnstuf, in complete costume. And this guy was huge. Barely fit through the door.
It was like my bad dream was moving from cynical to surreal to psychedelic.
A few more shoots and production wrapped. I never got to go on the shoots with Sublime or the Ramones. But I did get to work with Face to Face, which was pretty cool.
They kept me around a couple months longer to do grunt work. Find new office furniture at IKEA, run errands around in rush hour traffic, and reorganize their storage space. For two months I didn’t step foot in the office, but spent all my time in the blazing hot storage place in Burbank where I went through box upon box of old scripts and cataloged everything. I was getting bitter. If my producer drank coffee, I would have peed in it long ago.
But I refused to quit. As far as I was concerned, I was paying my dues. And I would hang in there till the end.
When I had to decide what it was that I really wanted, I discovered that I wanted a happy life. And for me, stability was happiness.
One day I was driving through Westwood after dropping something off at the producer’s apartment when I heard a loud “clunk!” come from my car, after which it stopped moving altogether. Got out and walked behind the car to find out what happened.
20 feet away, a large part of my axle was laying on the ground.
Recovered what was left of the axle, and then slammed it into 4 Wheel Drive, which got me moving again.
Returned to the office, with axle in hand, covered in grease and declared “I’m going home!”
And it was at that point that they told me that the project was done. I was thanked for my help, and that was that.
For months, I stuck through all their bullshit, and I had nothing to show for it. No contacts, no prospects of future jobs, nothing.
My best hope was to find another production company and start the process all over again.
I looked through the trade magazines for my next gig, and faxed my resume everywhere, with no response. I volunteered on a few student films, which got me nowhere. I was getting frustrated. I dreamed of having a job where I’d get health insurance and benefits. Hell, I’d be happy with knowing that I’d HAVE a job the next day.
And that’s around the time the practical side of me took over. I decided that I could be happy working in a different field as long as I could earn a decent paycheck. I started looking at my options.
A friend took pity on me and got me a job doing tech support at his company. It paid a little more than minimum, but it was close to home, I got health insurance, and they’d pay for my school if I wished to take classes.
It was a start.
Life was taking me in a new direction. I had gotten smacked with a hard dose of reality and it was time to reevaluate my life. When I had to decide what it was that I really wanted, I discovered that I wanted a happy life. And for me, stability was happiness.
I look back at that moment some 25 years ago, and I’m satisfied with the decision I made. I’ve deviated in a completely different direction than I ever planned, and it’s been good to me. My world has expanded.
I grew up. Sort of.
And yes, I do have a happy life.