Sunday, May 2, 2010

Film School Follies: Part 22 – Martini Shot (or: The Last One)

By ScottDS
It’s been a long road getting from there to here. It’s been a long time but my time is finally near. (I should stop before Diane Warren demands royalties.) Our films were "in the can" as they say and we were, to put it mildly, wiped out. Our class produced three short films; dealt with countless instructors and lab assistants, all with different work ethics and personalities; and handled the unexpected passing of a classmate. When I take a gander at my old photos, we definitely look just a little bit older at the end than we did at the beginning.

"Almost there. Stay on target!"

We had one last class after 35mm but it’s safe to say no one cared: Entertainment Business & Law, which was taught by a nice woman named Monique. I only remember two things from this class: working with Mike, Steve, and a few others on a project which required us to form our own production company, except the teacher subtracted points because we forgot to sign our names on the tax form. And the second thing taught me a very valuable lesson: never play hooky again! One day we had a guest speaker and he asked, "What’s the name of the actor who starred in only five films, all Oscar winners or nominees?" The answer is the late John Cazale but no one knew this. I did… but I couldn’t exactly give the answer from the comfortable bed in my apartment.

Then there was graduation, which was held at the Orlando Expo Center on October 1st, 2004. At one point, the powers that be decided to cut Multimedia Audio from the film curriculum, which meant the film class after ours would be skipping a month and graduate at the same time as us. During the ceremony, the second film class decided they wanted to pose for a group photo on stage and we were told, "It’ll just be a few minutes!" That’s when we all got up and left! "Assholes till the end," one classmate said years later. The faculty also gave out individual achievement awards for different courses: I won for set design, even though Chris deserved the award more than I ever did. I suppose it’s simply a good example of the Peter Principle at work. They also gave awards for perfect attendance, which Mike won. I did not, since I had played hooky one day and had gone home for my grandfather’s 85th birthday earlier in the year.

The Real World

Jason, our 16mm instructor, said, "the first five years are always the hardest." It really depends on who’s doing the counting. After graduation, I went back home, knowing I’d be out of the house within a year. I got a job at a bookstore, which paid only slightly more than minimum wage. During this time, I got a call from Bunim-Murray Productions, the company behind many of your favorite reality shows (he said facetiously). They were looking for local production assistants in Miami. The Simple Life: Interns (with Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie) was coming to town and: a.) they needed a PA, and b.) did I know anyone else who might be interested?

In short, my boss gave me 11 days off to work on the show and I roped Mike into it. Since he lived in Miami and I didn’t (which begs the question, why’d they call me?), I ended up crashing at his place. Work on The Simple Life was absolutely exhausting. It paid between $125 and $150 a day but we both agreed it wasn’t worth it. Believe me, we were happy to be working but our immediate supervisor was a flighty, inexperienced production coordinator (Heather) who made our lives miserable. Other than that, everyone else on the crew was great. They treated us well and came to our defense when Heather was blaming us for this and that. The art directors were fun to hang out with and then there was (sigh) Tracie. Nothing happened and I’m still kicking myself for not making a move. But I digress.

Needless to say, I should’ve been fired. Having really never been to downtown Miami before and armed with nothing but my cell phone (sans GPS), I got lost several times. I was sent to pick up dinner for Paris and Nicole and I finally made it back two hours later (the place was ten minutes away). At one point, I had to take the dinner order for the entire crew, except: a.) everyone on the crew was staying in this hotel (a meeting room doubled as the production office; the hotel itself was demolished just months later) and were milling around everywhere, b.) Tracie was helping me but Heather recalled her for some mindless task, and c.) Heather had chosen some hole in the wall restaurant which was ill-equipped to make dinner for 80 people and have it ready in 30 minutes.

Oddly, after this ordeal, I still worked as a PA in Los Angeles in between temp gigs at MGM. I only worked on a few little things: a music video here, a short film there. My last PA job (possibly ever) was "art department PA" on an independent horror film. "Cool," I thought. "I’ll get to dump buckets of blood on buxom, blonde babes!" Uh, no. You ever get that nagging feeling in your head, like you should act, but you don’t? I suppose this is the "fight or flight" reflex. I should’ve done something when, on the first day, I was introduced to the art director who didn’t acknowledge me and almost beheaded me with a plank of wood. I should’ve said, "I can’t work with this schmuck! Goodbye!" But I stayed on for another five days, before calling the production designer (a nice lady named Javiera who hired me) and telling her I had another job lined up (which was only half-true), thus causing a conflict. Don’t get me wrong – this wasn’t desert warfare or anything, but why take the abuse?

I ended up moving back to Florida, this time living in Orlando with Mike. About five days after signing the lease, I realized I’d made a big mistake and that, even though my "film career" was more or less at a standstill, I enjoyed it in LA. I was temping at MGM with other film school grads (including a classmate named James, who had moved out there with Mike #2, Ryan #2, and Paul). We spent much of our time at work surfing the net and photocopying funny pictures of former employees. But when work had to be done, we rose to the occasion. Meanwhile, I had a ditsy lady friend whose company I enjoyed and I was having a blast seeing vintage movies in the old repertory theaters (vintage = 80s). "But Scott, you did nothing but complain!" "Yeah, but sometimes you don’t know how much you miss something till it’s gone!"

Up until last summer, I had every intention of moving back to LA. Then the economy bottomed out. And I realized what I really wanted to do was improv comedy, which I had started in Orlando as an excuse to get out of the apartment and away from the misery for two hours a week. I am now in Jersey City, just across the river from Manhattan. In fact, Midtown is visible from my bedroom window – it looks quite beautiful at night. By the time this is published, I will have already taken three improv classes at the UCB Theatre.

Not to get too serious but the realization that filmmaking might not be what I wanted after all was hard to deal with. I believe this is dubbed the "quarterlife crisis." Believe me, I’m not one to brand just anything a "crisis" or a "syndrome." But I read the symptoms (for lack of a better word) and I fit almost all of them. "If not film, then what? I have no other interests or passions and I was always known as the ‘film guy.’ What will people think? What will I do now?" But then I found improv (some find God, others drugs) and the road ahead is a bright one. On the other hand, one could argue that I only want to do improv (read: perform on stage like an idiot and one day get paid for it) as a way of putting off maturity. To those people, I say, "You gotta point, you sly bastard."

I’m sure I will cross paths with Hollywood one day. But in the meantime, I have to continue honing my improv craft. I also have my own issues with the film business, including but not limited to: tabloid culture, the fear inherent to the system, the lack of mystery or glamour, the constant remakes, the divisive politicking, ad nauseum. I shudder when I think of all the great spec scripts that will never be turned into movies because they are not based on existing properties. As my friend Mike recently said, "I love movies but I hate what the movie business is doing to them."

Several classmates aren’t involved in the entertainment industry at all and some have gone back to school. Many of the instructors are still at Full Sail, including Rob, Spoon, and Jason (who I recently saw at the Orlando MegaCon). Full Sail now has Bachelor’s and Master’s programs as well as a backlot to simulate various locales. "We all should’ve attended Full Sail two years later!" I’ve said on more than one occasion. I can name only two alumni: Gary Rizzo and Darren Lynn Bousman. Mr. Rizzo works at Skywalker Sound and was nominated for two Academy Awards for his sound work on The Incredibles and The Dark Knight. Mr. Bousman directed three Saw films and Repo! The Genetic Opera. I don’t know what he’s up to today.

Looking back, I think I was only partially successful in informing people of the different facets of filmmaking. Given my limited experience (and the amount of elapsed time), I knew I couldn’t go into everything but all I wanted was for people to come away from this with a little appreciation for what goes into a movie. I realize all that has to happen is for Sean Penn (et al) to say something and it’s "Boycott!" But there are tens of thousands of hardworking men and women – talented artists and craftsmen – just like you and me, who toil away day and night. Most movies and TV shows vanish into the ether but every now and then, someone gets to watch their work live on in posterity. Just ask the guy who designed the phaser!

Curtain Call

Mike and I still talk, almost every day. He’s put filmmaking by the wayside for now (he has kids to take care of) but I sincerely hope he gets to make a movie one day. During our time in Orlando, we almost came to blows several times but the friendship remained intact. Besides, Mike knows too much so I would’ve had to kill him. (smile)

Steve worked as an editor at Orlando’s Lockheed-Martin facility (thus disproving Michael Moore’s idea that anyone involved with the defense industry must be violent and deranged). Steve also got married and I was lucky to be in attendance at their pirate-themed wedding. I dressed up, too (think Seinfeld’s puffy shirt)!

I lived with Ryan #2, Mike #2, and James out in LA. Ryan #2 is still out there, Mike #2 moved back home, and James is still at MGM, having since been promoted to full-time employee status (we were all temps at the time). He signs residual checks all day and what he really wants to do is work as a reader at an agency: the last line of defense between agents and bad scripts that come in. Paul is also still out there but I haven’t spoken to any of these guys (save for James) in years.

Ryan (from Canadians), Justin, and Chris all live in Orlando. I’ve seen Ryan and Justin many times since graduation but I only saw Chris once last fall when he showed up out of the blue. I told him I still refer to him as a genius; all he could do was thank me. Ryan dabbles in photography (cars, models, etc.) and his work is excellent. He should be making the big bucks one of these days.

The guys who messed with the script for Canadians behind our backs were sent to Vietnam and killed by their own troops.

As for Claudia, I only know she recently bought a new cat. Judging from the photos on Facebook, it’s only a matter of time before it kills somebody. (It’s quite evil-looking.)

The ones I secretly envy are Chris (our 1st A.D. on Canadians) and Derek (sound guy on Canadians and volunteer on everything else). Chris won a regional Emmy Award for a no-smoking PSA he worked on in Wisconsin. I believe he is currently engaged. Derek, who was already married when he was a student, is now a father. He works at some media-related job in Kansas and his wife always manages to post the most Hallmark-looking photos on Facebook. To them, I say, "Damn you and your American dream life with your house and your kid and your picket fence and your job!"

But isn’t that what we all want out of life? A job that allows us to serve a purpose, a place to hang our hat, and someone to share it all with?


AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Thanks for an interesting series. Hopefully, you'll get a chance to use what you learned in the future!

Anonymous said...

Your welcome!

I'm sure I'll cross paths with filmmaking again, especially given my improv interest and the rise of comedy material online (though I've watched only a few videos on Funny or Die and I didn't find them funny).

I know we had one reader whose son was interested in possibly pursuing a filmmaking education. I hope these blogs were at least slightly helpful. :-)

Writer X said...

I loved the "Where Are They Now?" recap, especially after learning so much about everybody. Hope your writing doesn't end, though. Maybe this is just the beginning? There's always more than one way to get what you want. And white picket fences can be overrated.

Thanks, Scott. This has been a fun series!

Anonymous said...

Your welcome, X!

As for writing, I've certainly dabbled with an original story here and there but I can't quite seem to finish what I start. But after my improv classes, sketch comedy writing classes (also offered by UCB) will be next on the agenda.

As for picket fences, that was just an observation. :-) I realize no family is perfect but when my friend Derek's wife posts photos on Facebook of their son riding the family tractor in the local 4th of July parade, it's like, "Come on, that doesn't happen in real life!"

Will we be getting another writing blog anytime soon, X?

BevfromNYC said...

Loved your series Scott. There is more than one way to get where you are going. It's the journey not the destination!

Anonymous said...

It sure is, Bev. It sure is. :-)

Anonymous said...

Scott: You picked a tough field, but have certainly seemed to make the most of it. Best of luck (break a leg?) on your future.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, LawHawk.

And either phrase will do for now. If I remember my Producers correctly: "It's bad luck to say good-luck on opening night!"

Writer X said...


I do plan to return to more frequent blogging, but at the moment my "day job" is taking all my time.

Don't give up on your writing! ;-)

StanH said...

Good luck Scott!

Keep the faith, the pursuit is the best part!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Stan. Right now, I'm taking the improv classes and we'll see where it goes.

(Apologies to Andrew for that blatant display of liberal short-term thinking.) :-D

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, We allow liberal short term thinking, we just don't encourage it.

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