The idea of writing this journal seemed like fun until I remembered that constructing actual sentences might be a challenge. Having written copy for so many years and broken umpteen grammatical rules, I tend to forget what syntax is, let alone know how to spell it. (I can picture my high school English teacher red-penciling this as I write.) Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, I was an English major at Washington University in St. Louis. Summer of junior year, my friend Janet and I went out to California, where we took a TV production class at UCLA. We had a blast. We got to write, act, direct, use cameras and mikes. I even made a short animated film with the help of my teacher, Abe Wollock. The fall of my senior year, with no other film experience under my belt, I threw caution to the wind and applied to UCLA’s Theatre Arts graduate program. This may not sound all that daunting, but it was Francis Ford Coppola’s alma mater. I promised my mom—who lived in New York and thought St. Louis was in a faraway galaxy—that I had no chance of being accepted. I think Abe must have been on the admissions committee, because I got in. (My mom still hasn’t entirely forgiven me.) As for Janet, she went on to become editor in chief of a major magazine in New York City and undoubtedly has impeccable grammar. (She also may have her highlighter out right now). But we’re still great friends.
Film school taught me a great deal. But a master’s degree doesn’t guarantee any career in the business. If your dad isn’t a movie producer and your mom doesn’t run a studio, getting a job in the film industry is no picnic. As it turned out, I did have one connection. My dad played golf with a guy whose son-in-law was an editor at Kaleidoscope films, a well-known trailer house. At that time, I had completed a year of grad school and was a teaching assistant for the same class I had taken two summers before. But when a producer at Kaleidoscope offered me a job, even at half the salary, everyone said I’d be nuts to turn it down. So I never graduated from grad school. Instead, I went to work as a sound effects librarian, cataloging miles of quarter-inch magnetic tape. Sirens, sonar blips, creaking doors, talking rabbits, I’ve heard it all. The night I finished compiling car crashes, my own car got hit. I caught a cold listening to rain storms. It wasn’t exactly a glamorous Hollywood beginning. But at least I had a foot in the door, and the job left time for me to dabble in whatever else I wanted to try—assistant editing, copywriting, and actively dodging instruction on how to answer the switchboard.
One day, thanks to a leisurely lunch that I missed at Lucy’s El Adobe in which margaritas figured prominently, the head writer didn’t show up for a recording session. (Our building had a sound booth where we’d direct the “talent” to read copy that would be used as narration in the trailer.) The mega-margarita-lunch, a real happy meal if you ever had one, was not an uncommon occurrence among our staff in the late ‘70s, but the owner of the company, Andy Kuehn, was furious since the narrator was waiting and Andy had no idea where the scripts were. Fortunately, I did. Up until then, he barely knew I existed, but he learned my name that day and would later become not only my mentor but my friend. He died in January this year, and I miss him terribly. So does everyone in our industry. Golf may have gotten me into the business. Andy’s the reason I stayed.
The sun’s shining and FedEx showed up on time at 10:30 a.m. with a new feature I’ll be writing a trailer for. The movie is either so long or so bad, my client felt compelled to attach a note of apology to it. I also heard from the print vendor, who said her deadline was moved up and she now needs copy by tomorrow, two days ahead of schedule. Fortunately, Cliff *, my client for the TV campaign, liked the spots I delivered today via e-mail. He did have one more request. It turns out the star of his movie, Jude Law, whom I would happily watch eating Cheerios for two hours, will be in L.A. in August. Was there any chance I could write some voice-over for him? Hmmm. I’ll be in L.A. in August, too. …