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.
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!
The moment arrived and the coordinator stepped into the room. He wasn’t at all what I expected. Let’s just say he looked like Billy Zabka, the evil blond dude in all the 80s movies that everyone loved to hate.
Momentarily thrown off my game, I made sure to put the “sparkle” on. Mindful not to look like a beauty show contestant wannabe and not smile ridiculously for no apparent reason, I proceeded to tell Billy why I would make a spectacular intern. You know, “I can make a Starbucks run in 10 minutes flat with the appropriate footwear,” “I can definitely grab dry cleaning and make it through LA traffic doing handbrake turns and drifting in no time flat” shtick. Of course, I was told that they were interviewing other candidates and that if interested I would receive a call in a few days.
Convinced that I probably sucked, I drove home and promptly got stuck in an infamous traffic jam. Yep. Since I was living in a remote area, my average 45-minute run took a whopping 4 hours! Ah, the perils of living the glamorous life.
By the time, I made it home, I was frazzled. Of course, my roommate at the time found out that this great band was playing at some club and she wanted to go. I wasn’t really in the mood but I figured it might be a good stress reliever. Just a quick note, the roomie was a hopeful starlet. So, while she was putting her face on (which took hours), I was busy getting my pre-club drink on. Since I wasn’t looking to go the casting couch route, I slipped into my fav pair of pleather pants, threw on a black tee shirt and a jacket and I was good to go.
At this time, I also was sporting short platinum blond hair (the result of an unfortunate haircutting accident) and wicked cool eye liner. Fortunately, no pictures of me exist during this phase of my life or so I am told.
By the time, she came out after having done the 45-minute lip treatment, I was buzzed. That’s when she suggested that we take these pills that a friend gave her in acting class. First of all, I wanted to know what they were because I wasn’t about to have a 60s Woodstock experience at a dance club. “Oh, it’s totally safe. It’s just herbs. He got it at the headshop in Canoga Park. Supposedly it will give you the same effect as X.” The capsule looked innocuous and much like a vitamin supplement I took so I thought, “what the hell?” We both downed them with shots of tequila.
We weren’t done though. “Now, we have to take this.” She produced two blue pills. “What is this?” “It’s the booster. It will really cause the herbal X to kick in.” Shrugging, I poured two more shots, we downed the pills and off we went into the night.
Traffic was light because after all, it was 11 pm. We got to the club at 11:45. I took a look at the line. Feeling rather annoyed at the prospect of being in a rave cattle call, I wondered when in the hell, the pills would kick in. Unbeknownst to me, my friend had some kind of pass so we didn’t have to mingle.
Once inside, everything went to 11. Lots of flashing lights, loud music, pretty people, it was ridiculous. We grabbed a table and ordered some drinks for $50. I don’t think the price was that crazy but it seemed like it. You are paying for ATMOSPHERE.
While we were waiting for drinks, the pills started to kick in and all of a sudden EVERYTHING was loud. My heart starting racing and I felt the need to suddenly DO something. I had all this energy! My roomie was looking for her friends so I was very glad when my drink got to the table. I was thinking if I started drinking, alcohol is a depressant so it would calm me down. Nope! It just increased my urge to do mad cardio. All of a sudden, our party of 2 became a party of 10. These people I didn’t know came to the table with my roomie. She introduced me but I couldn’t tell you who any of these people were nor did I care.
I grabbed this hapless guy next to me who wasn’t half bad looking and dragged him to the dance floor. Let’s just say if Flashdance mated with Footloose throw in a little of Breakin’ and that is what proceeded to go down. My partner looked a little stunned and did his best to keep up.
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.
Published by Susan Leighton Woman on the Ledge