Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Lessons I learned from The Mindy Project

I won't drone on and on as I did in the past, when I was actually there.  Perhaps with months in between L.A. and I, the things I remember will be the whittled down, important version of what I might have written in the spur of the moment.

The Mindy Project's homebase was twenty minutes from my apartment, the L.A. design studio or something: a monstrous building full of immaculately decorated bedrooms and living rooms trapped in glass viewing rooms.

So here are a few lessons I would like to share with you from the day.
Lesson #1: Listen to the tapes with extreme focus.

Let's say, perhaps you are in line at the costume trailer for the costume staff to review the options of "New York night club" you have been instructed to bring.  The extras wrangler stood at the front of the line.  One poor chap had brought the single outfit the was wearing, an awkwardly large, dark suit, and you watch the costume lady was having none of it:

"Okay. Hate it.  What are your other options?"
         "um...I didn't bring any other options."
"You didn't?  Your tape specifically told you to bring options."
         "Well...I didn't see that, I listened to it three times...."
"Well how come all of these other people have other clothes then?  Did they all just make it up?"
         "I listened to it three times."
          The extras wrangler stepped in, "Okay, why don't you go to the end of the line and we'll deal with you later?"
           The costumer turned to the wrangler, "I don't want to deal with this shit today.  Just dismiss him.  Dismiss."

Lesson #2: Don't Waste Time Being Friends with the Mean Girl
       You don't remember her name, but she was short, skinny with olive skin and dark hair  Her iPhone case was abnormally large, in the shape of a 3-dimensional gummy bear.  Every time someone asked her about the case she would say, "If it's large, it's harder to steal.  I've had my iPhone and other shit stolen twice on set.  Bitches."
       Earlier, we had all seen one other extra who had on near-clown make-up, a 70's style dress and unkempt hair.  Later, someone else was complaining to Mean Girl about the wait in the hair line. "Well.  It's probably because they had to give that one girl a shower."  She cackled. 
        You don't have to spend time with this person.  Extra friendships are ephemeral.  Instead hang out with the really sweet girl who reminds you of your freshman year roommate and is hilarious and just does this to pay the bills.  

Lesson #3: Look Up the Guest Stars
Because when a seven-foot-tall guy on set gives you the head nod, and you don't realize he's a famous basketball player from New York guest starring, you will feel silly later.

Lesson #4: Have Thick Skin
Sometimes on set, the people in charge of coordinating how the scene looks will vocalize that they want "someone very attractive to stand near Mindy."  They will point to a slender Black girl behind you.  "no we already used to her." the other coordinator will reply.  You will make eye contact with them.  They will shake their head and walk away.  You still have to keep dancing and having fun.

Lesson #5: Don't Stare at Mindy
Even when she's so close, like five feet away from you, and you are the extra behind her in the shot (because apparently you're attractive enough to be out of focus), and she looks so annoyed, and all you want to do is reach out and tell her "don't worry! you're almost done filming, and you're living a dream anyway!" must also try to pretend like Mindy is just another person, that you are an extra daily and have extraed for all the big stars.

Lesson #6: Be Observant
After 6 hours on set, you might realize that Peter Hegel, recent Northwestern graduate, is also on the set of Mindy Project, and you could have been chilling with him the entire time.
we were even love interests in a student film my freshman year. How did I not feel his presence?

Lesson #7: Learn from the Extra Coordinator

They are the ones who wear t-shirts, jeans, sneakers, headsets and beards on, and they usually have all of life figured out.  when you ask the set coordinator if filming a 24 minute show a week was less stressful than a 44 minute show, he replies, "I figure there is no reason to ever get stressed.  Whoever is yelling at me is just getting yelled at by someone else.  I don't need to yell at anyone myself.  No.  No reason to stress."  And if you're nice, when they order pizza for all of the extras at 11 p.m. because if they don't feed you every 6 hours they get penalized, and you say to someone "hey, man.  Great set." They might reward you and say "what a nice kid." and give you a pizza to take home.....(and in this case you are Peter J. Hegel, not me.) nice, listen hard, and most of all, if you can do another line of work that pays better than $8 an hour, even it isn't in front of a camera...probably do that.  Because once you've been an extra once, you've kinda been an extra a million times.  

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Day at the Agency

After securing what I thought was a second internship, I had been trying, unsuccessfully, to work in the casting agency for about 8 weeks.  They hadn't needed me.  Finally, on my last Thursday, I got the e-mail, the call to casting arms, and I was really jazzed up about it.

Wearing my bright blue Banana Republic dress and toting my Mom-I-NEED-this-because-it's-a-professional-bag bag, I drove into the real heart of Hollywood: Burbank.

It was housed in a drab building with equally gloomy hallways: a place painted black and white to accommodate the mosaic of people renting space.  I passed the bathroom with number locks and knocked on the door of the office.  "Come in!"  A man's voice shot back.  Framed movie posters ranging from blockbuster successes to flops covered almost all of the wall space of the small, bright waiting room.  Unlike the poster hanging in a dorm room as a public declaration of taste, the posters here gave an awe-inspiring sense of legitimacy to the place I was about to work.  The lead staring us straight through the middle of the poster, his quirky side-kick tipping his hat on the side, the hot girl he wanted but was never going to get, standing with her back toward our lead guy her hair blowing around her shoulders....all of these people owed their iconic poses, these immortalized glossy photos, to the agents in the office I was about to work at.

A skinny brown-haired guy a few years older than myself had been working the phones.  "Are you Laura?"

"Yes! That's me!  Hi." We shook hands.  I sat and waited on one of a dozen chairs, periodically glancing at the other occupants: a dad on his iPhone and his little girl, calmly holding a copy of her headshot.  Her style of dress I can only describe as being very "Disney channel star:" funky leggings, boots, a bright shirt, little vest, feather hair piece. A door from the taping room opened and another similarly dressed girl exited, meaning it was time for the girl in the waiting room to audition, and time for me to learn everything in twenty minutes.

"Okay. Have you ever worked phones at a casting agency before?"
"Great. Here's what you do.  The call will come through on a line.  Hit the line number.  All you say when you answer the phone is 'casting'.  That's it.  They'll say their name and who they're representing.  Write it down.  If they're talking to fast, ask for them to slow it down.  They might get annoyed.  Explain to them that you're new.  They'll ask to talk to one of the agents.  Never ever say they're available.  Say either 'Can you hold on a minute?' or 'Let me check and see if they're available'.  Put them on hold, go ask the agent if they're available.  If they are, they'll pick up the line themselves.  If they're not, say the agent is in a session.  They might ask to 'leave word'.  Write that down.  If it's a scheduling question, all of it is handled through e-mail.  If for some reason you miss someone's name or you miss their company, put them into imdbPro, and you can find one using the other.  Got it?"

I hadn't spent years in acting training to fail at this pivotal moment.

"Got it!"  I repeated the instructions back to him.  He talked me through a practice call.  Somewhere during my crash course, we heard the auditioning girl's singing voice float through the wall, and she sounded great.  The guy teaching me turned to her father, "She's got an amazing voice!"

The man, wearing an AmericanIdol t-shirt shrugged.  "Ehh...We're working on it."  I contained my shock.   After a few more minutes of chatting, my guide was off on an audition for a movie about street fighters.  "Oh!  Cool!  Do you street fight?"
"No.  Never."
"Oh...Well...good luck, then."

And then it was just Laura and the waiting room.  The agent who I had been in contact with trying to secure a day of work came out to speak with me.  She was truly an awesome woman with an impressively consistent kind and empathetic attitude.  She repeated most of the things I had already heard from my first instructor, but I listened anyway.  She said it would only really be busy in the afternoon when a bunch of other young girls arrived to audition for the project.  "Here's my key to the office, lock up when you leave, lunch is from 1-2 and we don't answer phones then."

And just like that, I was on my own for lunch without having done anything in the morning.  Wandering around Burbank with heels and sunglasses on, you're kind of asking to get stared at, people just giving you a quick suspicious glance: Should I know you?  Obviously, in my case, the answer is:

Nope.  No need to squint.  You have absolutely never seen me before unless you were at the Illinois High School State Speech Awards?  Oh, you weren't?  How surprising.  Did you perhaps see Waa-Mu last year?  Not that either, huh....that's okay, you probably wouldn't have remembered me from that anyway....Well then, no I think it's safe to say you have no reason to be looking at me.

I had an underwhelming chicken plate at an Italian place a few blocks away from the office and then walked back past the same squinting eyes.

The afternoon was packed.  At exactly 2:00, a mother toting four children tried to enter, and at that point the senior agent had returned to her office.  "No! No.  We're actually not going to be back until 2:30.  Lauren, will you please change the clock on the door to 2:30?"

In keeping with the classic movie trope of bright-eyed youngsters trying to catch the attention and memory of someone much older and more important than them in any given industry, I had politely tried to remind the agent of my real name, but it hadn't stuck.  I actively had to stop myself from giggling at the cliche-ness of it all when she referred to me as "Lauren".

The girls entering with their parents existed on a wide spectrum from "green" to "professional".  One little girl was whispering to her obese mother about her nervousness.  "Good heavens!  You don't need to be nervous! Honey, this doesn't matter at all.  Not a dang bit."  This was the same mother that kept offering her daughter up for height comparisons when other mothers entered with their children, tried to sign them in and couldn't remember their height.  "Luna!  Luna.  Go stand up there.  Now we just measured her and she's 4'8" yes, I'd say, your daughters about an inch taller.  No problem!  Of course, you're welcome."

The mother/daughter sitting on my left seemed to view the waiting room as a perfect showcase for their equally perfect lives and relationship.
"What time is it?" the little girl asked...she was actually probably 11 with the confidence of a 24 year old and the lip-gloss of a 15 year old.
      "It's 3:30" replied the mom.
"Oh good. That means three hours before I have to be at Paramount."
     "Perfect. You'll have just enough time to do your homework then."
"Which one of my classes am I going to have to miss next week?"
     "Well, let's can miss ballet, stretch or acro.  I think you better miss stretch?"
"I'm not so sure.  I think Id' rather miss acro."
      "Well then, we better call Miss Jenna and see which one she would rather you miss."
The daughter got up to survey the check-in clipboard, something no one else had done.  "Oh, mom look, Cassidy has already been here.  Oh!  I love her."

And on and on they went.
There was no waiting in the halls, and as the room got crowded, I had to instruct people to either pack in to the waiting room or stay outside the building all together.  I made frequent checks to make sure no one was breaking the rule, and during one of my checks I saw that a mother had stationed her three youngsters in the lobby.  Like ducks in a row they sat, from oldest to youngest, each clutching a device: iPad, iPhone, iPod.  It was hilarious yet terrifying.

I went back into the casting agency and continued the process: 1.) great families 2.) direct them to sign in 3.) explain to them the hall rules 4.) bring one girl into the "on deck" slot 5.) cross her name off the sign-in sheet in highlighter  Repeat as needed.

The names of these girls were outrageous.  Reganne, Luna, Mackenna, Mahleah, Victorianna.  Not that any one of them was so ridiculous by themselves, rather it was the consistency with which ever name seemed to be trying to break from the mold, establish it's own spelling, names gone wild!!!   As someone who grew up in a world where most of my friends were named somewhere between Mary and Katie, I could not help but ponder if the difference were generational or regional.  The stars are always know for picking strange name for their kids, but maybe it was more an L.A. thing than a famous thing.

Sometimes I talked with the girls and their parents, sometimes I didn't. Some of them looked so terrified that I couldn't help but whisper "don't be nervous!" before I closed the door, leaving them in "on deck".  Every time the phone rang, I felt a sense of dread, but I think I managed everything fairly well.

I had a nice chat with two mothers.  One of them thought I was 17!  She was sure I was going to make it because I looked so young. As she left she whispered to her daughter, "That girl was an actress too!"

Another mother and I got to chatting when her gorgeous clearly Caucasian, but still somehow one pinch racially ambiguous daughter went in and spent a long time filming her screen tests.  The mother had just sold her business in Ohio and decided to move out here to help her daughter follow her dreams, doing it the old Emma Stone way.  The mother described her daughter's world of auditioning as very "up and down."  We both agreed that more than anything, we hated the traffic here and we deeply missed our midwestern thunderstorms.  I was sad to see them go, and couldn't help but hoping that her very sweet daughter who talked to me for a few minutes about American Girl dolls (!!!!), got the role.  

I may have only gotten to spend a few hours at the agency.  But honestly, it was some of the most rewarding and informative hours of my time in L.A.  In one afternoon, the anxiety caused by the unknown, the void of darkness I associated with the "casting director", it all disappeared.  All of the problems that keep me up at night seemed to be lessend as I could now organize my fears and therefore create a game plan.  "All you have to do is get to the casting director.  Then act.  Then boom!  That's it.  Just get to the casting director."  Over-simplification always helps me sleep.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Is Traffic in LA really THAT bad?

Before I left, I had one hundred identical conversations about it.

"So what are you doing this summer?"
      "I have an internship in L.A!"
"Oh cool...lots of traffic."
    "Eh, I'm sure I'll be fine."

Regardless of if that person had been to L.A. or not, he or she knew the condemning rumor, and  presented it to me with the same air of authority found in every city-summarizing statement.

New York: It's cool....sooo big.
Chicago: The weather there kinda sucks...huh?
Evanston: Oh...I hear that town hates you.

I think like everyone else who comes to this city...which by my everyone (In ten weeks, I have yet to meet ANYONE originally from L.A.), I was originally optimistic.  Surely if it was as horrendous as predicted, no one would live there at all, right?

Authors often liken a road to a ribbon. To borrow the motif, driving in L.A. is like driving on a fraying ribbon, caught savagely in the teeth of a sewing machine from the industrial revolution.  I expected the first week to fly by in a rush of novelty, but it dragged on, caught on the pavement for 2-3 hours a day.

The main fact is that traffic is relentless.  I drove 44 miles from my Aunt's in Newport Beach to Westwood, and the trip took me two hours, bumper to bumper with no reprieve, and that's the highway:  Six lanes across, few fortunate people going twice as fast in the diamond-spotted "CARPOOL LANE," while the rest of us solitary suckers switch lanes at a moment's notice, trying to jump into a lane showing ANY signs of movement.  There is literally nothing that makes me sadder than being at a complete stop for over a minute on a freeway where the posted speed-limit is 65 mph.  I reach this depth of sadness daily.


On regular streets, I assume it's much like regular city driving, the right lanes clogged as people try to turn where pedestrians meander, the left lanes backed up for streets waiting for one car to find a moment's pause to turn.  
One time, while Katie and I were "driving" somewhere, she commented on how surprised she was that motorcyclists were legally able to drive between the lanes here, a streak of black in between the lines of cars.  You can almost hear them laughing at you as they blitz by.....I responded that I didn't think it WAS legal, but who the hell could blame them?  It's just about the only way to escape the system.  

The traffic has really taught me about myself.   I have one gesture that I use countlessly in response to something obnoxious, throwing up my right arm in the air, then banging it back down on the wheel.  I have decided, that if by some strange circuitous path I wind up being the President of LA's Department of Transportation (who knows?), my first order of business will be commissioning a series of signs at the end of the right side merging lane where people always try to get ahead of the rest of us who have already merged reading: "You're a piece of shit -LADOT."

I think the key to not just surviving, but to thriving in L.A. traffic is have things to do...goals for the day.  Often times, I write raps, practice my Spanish or work on possible audition songs.  Sometimes I give myself a "contemplation drive" where I have the radio off, the AC on, and I just think for the whole hour it takes me to drive home from work.  I've checked out a book on tape to indulge in, but I haven't been able to get it from the library, because the hours are, ridiculously, from 11-4.  

So I guess to answer the question, is LA traffic really as bad as people think it is?  The answer is yes.  Is it survivable? yes....but I should also mention that Katie and I are planning on going to New York next summer.....


Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Hipster Sheep: My Day as an Extra

The Preparation

Being an extra is one of the single most ridiculous/eye-opening experiences a person can have, and if you ever have a chance, I strongly suggest doing it.

I was presented with the chance, a week or so ago to be an extra on 90210.  I had already been an extra on The Playboy Club, the terrible show that filmed in Chicago and was cancelled after three episodes, but I said "yes" anyway, because girl needs money and it can never hurt to spend a day on set.  

When you're an extra, you get your information by listening to "tapes," glorified recorded messages.  One tape has the instructions on how to get there, the other tape describes what you wear and how to dress, the third tape has the emergency information for the shoot.   According to my tape, I was supposed to be in Malibu (35 miles away from me) at 7:30 a.m ("don't be late.  They're very intense about start times on this show. You must have your voucher in your hand at 7:30") and I was to be camera ready, ("Hair beautiful, make-up perfect.  Ready to be on camera at 7:30").

So in the morning I prepared for my official  role as: Hip Party Guest, Group 2.  

The tapes demanded we bring multiple outfits for the costumers to choose from, so I packed my backpack and a small paper bag full of clothes.

Some thing that never occurred to me before I was an extra, is that on top of being paid less than minimum wage for the first 8 hours, you almost always have to provide your own clothes.  The company I'm registered with suggests always having a nice ballgown, cocktail dress, winter jacket, and Halloween costumes ready to go when a show calls for that dress.  The exception was The Playboy Club, because it was a period piece.

The Morning

I got there early, and stood around awkwardly with the rest of the extras near the breakfast food trucks; they sat in a clearing a few yards from all of the trailers hilariously named: StarWagons (so clunky!  Stars, in a wagon?  yeah right....that's like the clothing store DressBarn...whose terrible idea was that?) All of the girl extras were called to the costume trailer.  The backdoors of the trailer opened to reveal layers of clothing racks crammed into every space, a fold out ironing board, and shelves for jewelry and accessories.  The trailer was also equipped with carriage space near the wheels: roll out shelves holding crates of shoes, all labeled for gender and size.  

 I had gone dressed in what I consider to be my "hipster best" borrowed black boots, my blue and white striped high-waisted shorts and a black loose tank top.  The costumer didn't like any of it, and I changed into my heeled red boots and my sweetheart-neck, floral romper.   Something I have learned: DON'T BRING CLOTHES THAT YOU DON'T WANT TO WEAR FOR A WHOLE DAY.  WHY DID I DO THIS? I HAVE NO IDEA!!!   Like peasants farming near the castle, extras change in blue, Velcro-ed tents in the shadow of the trailers.  There were two, one for each gender.  

After that, I waited in line with the other girls to get my hair and make-up checked.  I do like this part of being an extra.  It's nice to get paid to have someone make you look good.  A man came out to check on the line of girls and see whose hair was truly "camera ready".  Seeing as all I had done to my hair was brush it, and my hair often resembles an unruly lions mane....I didn't make the cut. 

 The hair lady looked at it all, "gorgeous.  so thick.  Ash blonde.  What a great color.  Natural right" 
"Oh!  Well don't ever dye it.  You can't make this kinda color."
Well, that compliment alone made the whole day worth it!  Just kidding...but close.  All she did was straighten improvement that surely lasted about 2 hours, and then she sent me to the make-up side of the trailer, to a woman engrossed in a conversation with another.  I stood, waiting for her to check me....
        "Yeah, yeah.  Gorgeous.  You're good."

Then we were loaded into big 17 passenger vans, and driven away from our cars parked in the gravel lot, up to the top of a huge hill, whereupon sat a $25 million dollar mansion and vineyard, the place of filming.  The extras were dumped a little bit from the top, and were sat underneath more more tents and plastic tables and folding chairs.  Three fans were turned on, all of them with mist.  A lot of girls screamed.  "Oh my God!" cried one blonde. "Um...could we like, turn OFF the mist.  Jesus."  It's highly amusing to see an extra...literally the bottom rung, the dirt, the nothing, demanding things.  Also, I made sure not to associate with her at all.   

 A man named Louisiana, bearded, with sunglasses, a baggy shirt and jeans, addressed us.  "Welcome, everybody, to MY show.  If you have a problem on MY show, you tell me.  If someone's harassing you, and they're below me on the totem pole, I'll sort it out.  If someone's harassing you, and they're above me on the totem pole, you tell your agents cause I can't do shit."   (there is face looks more like this)  


"Here's how it's gonna work.  You wear sunblock.  You stay hydrated.  You stay quiet.  There's a woman up there, it's her job to yell at you.  I can't control what she does up there, just follow her instructions.  If you are fired on my show, I am the last person that you are going to see. If you have a problem, if you have a question, if you have an anything.  You come to me.  Alright, we got it?  It's gonna be a good day, folks. Just hang tight, I'll tell you when you're moving up."

When we do "move up" we have to walk the steep incline to the house, which was absolutely beautiful.  Three car garage, everything made of wood, stone and brown siding, a patio hugging the 280 degrees of the house to overlook the vineyards, all lined with glass fence, an outdoor living room and bar, an infinitely pool, a helicopter pad, and room enough for 100 people to throw a fake celebratory dinner.  Pretty damn impressive.  While the stars all hung out in the master bedroom upstairs (with their own patio, we could see them coming out from time to time) the extras were given plastic chairs and tents to stay under on the smallest slice of patio.  I didn't make it under the tent, so I wound up moving my chair 10 times to catch a shrinking shadow.

Then we met the yeller: the woman: Cathy.  "Okay!  Ladies and gentlemen!  Yesterday! We had a damn big problem on set.  People having glasses, forgetting glasses, putting down their glasses.  When we put you on set, you go get a drink.  When you get off set, you go over to those numbered tables over there.  You put your drinks down on a number.  We call you back on set.  Don't take other people's glasses, because then it starts this waterfall effect and suddenly, no one has the right glasses?  Get it! Good."

The Work

The first scene we were all giving a toast, but we instructed not to repeat any words of the actual toast, so I mouthed "Mischief managed."  I stood next to a small twittering blonde, an 18-year-old on her first day: "Oh my God!  I had no idea that the people on set were actually like...not talking."  She had a strong aversion to looking me or anybody in the eyes.  The guy in our trio was a ripped brunette who interpreted his instructions to "mime talking" as a chance to pantomime wild gestures to still communicate effectively.  Waving his hands around, pointing vigorously at different places we could walk, making a huge point of tapping me and the other girl on the shoulder and gesturing that we all clink our glasses together in a toast.  My reaction to him looked a little something like this:


Much like your family, you don't get to pick who you stand by on set, so you might as well be amused by them.

Afterward, we returned to extras holding, where I buddied up with a gay Black man, and instead of reading our respective books, we wound up discussing the life of extras.  I, as usual, wound up on my little doubt-filled rant about acting.  "But like...doesn't it freak you out that everyone thinks they're the one.  Literally, all of the people in this extras holding, think they're it, they're going to make it."

His response: "No.   Because I'm more than that.  I'm not just 'it,' I have something unique to offer to the world.  Something really different."

I almost debated with him; I almost took his sentences and throttled it: CAN'T YOU SEE IT'S THE SAME THING!?  YOU'RE JUST CHANGING THE WORDS! THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THINKING YOU'RE 'IT' AND THINKING YOU'RE 'SPECIAL' EQUATES TO NOTHING IN ACTUAL SUCCESS! And then, in what I like to think was a burst of trying to be a respectful, kind adult, I thought: You know what?  Whatever helps him sleep at night.  Maybe he is more special than everyone else here. and wound up responding with.  "Oh yeah, sure.."

Later in the day, a man came out.  "Hey everyone.  Just wanted to let you know that someone left their glass on the floor, and that if had been knocked over it could have been a lot of damages. So please, don't do it again.  I know it was just one of you, and really guys, you've been doing a great job so far.  So just keep it up and please try to be a little more careful."

Thirty seconds later, Cathy came storming onto our patio like a bat out of hell:  Well!  It just takes one bad apple to ruin a whole bunch, doesn't it?  Someone, and I don't know who it was, but if you know who it was, come tell me, left your glass on the floor and it was knocked over.  That's thousands of dollars, people!  Come on!  Be professional! I feel like I'm working with a bunch of 10-year-olds!  Jesus Christ!

First of all, there seems to have been some confusion in what actually happened, second of all, if there's anything I despise, it is being unnecessarily yelled at.  It reminds me of the years in K-8 where teachers would just lose it, on a day to day basis, yelling at everyone for this, that an the other, and as a're just not really sure why you're getting yelled at, because you're pretty sure you put your name on the paper, so you kinda zone out and work on your math homework so you don't have to take it home later.  So what I would want to say to Cathy is, "Well, if you don't want us to act like 10 year olds, dont treat us like 10 year olds." And that was the clever retort I created after a week of thinking about it.  HaHA!

The Lunch

The stars of the show were driven down the hill to get food then driven back up before we even were ent to walk down.  There's  lots of food on film sets, and I enjoyed my salad and my pasta and my grapes, there's always nice grapes.  And like the rest of the day, I wound up sitting with a bunch of random people who all spent most of their time talking about strip clubs.  When the conversation lulled, I asked:  "So?  Anyone watching the Olympics?"  Who knew that that was a terrible conversation starter?  How could anything bad possibly come from the Olympics?

Jonny Depp looking British guy with dark wavy hair and completely opaque sunglasses: "What's interesting about America, is that they only talk about their own athletes.  If you watch the Olympics in another country, they talk about everyone."

Ruddy-skinned guy with bulging eyes and muscles to match: "No. That's not true."
          Well, where have you watched them before?
             Did you watch them in German?
             Well then....see, it's very different.  In other countries the talk about everyone.
Well, why would Americans want to hear about anyone but Americans?
               See, you're just being like the stereotype.  Being what everyone thinks Americans are.  Self-absorbed, think they're the best.
 Well!  We are the world champions of not one, but two wars.

Natural blonde girl with slight accent on my left: "yeah...I don't really want to talk about that because I'm Russian."

!!!!!Well.  Awkward pauses plagued our plastic table.  I had certainly gotten us into this mess, so I had to get us out.

"So...has anyone seen The Dark Knight Rises?"  Thankfully, everyone took the thing.

The Work Again
Then, we returned to set, and got set to work again.  I was chosen to be one of the dancers in front of the musical guest of the week.  Although it would have been a great opportunity to show off my Liz Lemon impression, I decided to TRY to look cool, but I have a feeling that I will have failed miserably.   The direcrtor came out to fight with Cathy.

"We want to move one." He said, pointing to the three of us.  I knew they meant me, because they had already been whispering back and forth and pointing at me.

"Which one?" Cathy demands.  "That one?" she points at a different girl.

"No," the director counters, "THAT one!"

"Me." I say.  I am there, after all.

"SHH!!" Cathy cuts back.

Well, damn it!  At that point I was pissed.  And that was the moment that I felt reduced to a hipster sheep.  Forced to let yappy little dogs keep me on my path, make me feel like I wasn't anything but another sheep waiting to be sheered for my coat, instead of retaining my own, individual sheepiness.  This metaphor kinda works...but I'll admit it kinda doesn't.  I'll let you fill in the blanks!

The day passes, my Black friend further convinces me of his ultimate uniqueness.  Cathy yells at us to be quiet, and the extras are the ones making the least amount of noise.  One of the main girls on the show wearing a long white dress spends a good ten minutes flopped, butt in the air over a chair.  I beatbox for two of the guest stars, one of whom starts rapping.  Some guy asks if I'll try to be a couple with him to get on CSI New York.  Can I send in a picture of myself to his manager?  Although our heels are never filmed, we're all wearing them, and the heels have to be taped so we can cross.

One of the last conversations my guy friend had was with a knowledgeable Asian girl, dark hair wrapped in a ponytail.  Sensing her understanding of the film world to be greater than his own, he closed in.  All of him, leaning forward, converse shoes painted like the U.S. flag, jeans, a nice top and a headband wrapped around his head, he asked her how he could get an agent, and if she could explain to him what SAG really was.  

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The One with All the Adventures: I stole this title from Brooke

It seems almost ridiculous to suggest that there were events in my life prior to the Olympics....but there were one or two things that happened before the Opening Ceremonies, and so I’ll mention the ones worth mentioning.  

Adventure #1:
When going to see The Dark Knight Rises (for the first time .....) Katie and I were approached by a man who was handing out passes to a free screening of The Watch at the Fox Lot.  Well, Katie and I enjoy both free things and the chance to be on studio property, so we decided to go.
We got there early, as suggested, because they couldn’t guarantee seats.  We parked, and followed a crowd of people toward the screening theater, and eventually got at the end of a very long line.  Handing out pens and surveys was a woman wearing a terrible excuse for business casual: a cotton t-shirt stretched too tightly over her gut, a light gold suit with brown pinstripes, the pants nearly covering her black clogs.  She had dye-damaged red-tipped hair and a bag that swung as she stomped around up and down the line.  “Move to the side people, keep along the side.  Carts got to get through.  Cars got to get through.  Move aside.”  

I could not stop thinking about this woman...her attire led me to think of one of the rudest things I've ever thought, which I will now share with you: "It doesn't count if it looks that bad."  Ouch.  But seriously!  If you're wearing business wear to make a statement about how seriously you take yourself and your has to LOOK GOOD FOR THAT TO WORK! 
Anyway....nice cars and golf carts did take to traveling up and down the street (streets are names in Studios, because they’re just like mini-cities), 

A map of Fox Studios

and Katie swears that she saw Harrison Ford in a low black car driving past.  I missed it.  But what I didn’t miss were the parking spots next to us labeled:

                      MODERN FAMILY
                   RESERVED PARKING

Manny!  Manny! He’s only the most hilarious part of Modern Family.  There was someone parked there too!  Katie and I had a good laugh about how it was probably Manny’s Nanny parked there.

As we waited in line, dozens of reporters dressed very casually walked ahead of us.  When we got inside the lobby, I watched them check-in at a table, be handed a huge packet of information about the show.  “Remember the embargo.  Thursday night for online, Friday at 5 for printed press.”  Well it seems like rules like that might be one of the main reasons its so damn difficult for people to stay in print.  By having to wait another 12 hours, the review is hardly relevant, even if it’s “hot off the press”.  The lobby also held half a dozen Oscars for sound design, along with two single-stall bathrooms and a few coolers for water.  I took advantage of all of these.  
When Katie and I first set out on this Fox adventure, I was excited at the prospect of seeing a new movie.....after waiting in line for an hour, I decided just how ridiculous it was that we were serving as free market research...something I’m sure worth more than what a movie theater ticket would cost.
Anyway, the movie was terrible.  I was hopeful in the first 40 minutes, but the writer/creators were trying SO DAMN HARD, it was painful.  It was phallicphilic.  I don’t think there were 30 seconds of dialogue that passed that didn’t include swearing, or some R-rated allusion, or at times a few minutes of extensive R-rated, repulsive metaphor.  It was people working hard to match the new R-rated comedy genre, trying to earn the success of Superbad, Hangover, Knocked-UP, Bridesmaids, Ted....and abysmally failing.  After two hours in there, Katie and I bolted from the theater, wandered around the lot for a bit, peered into open soundstages, pretended to be big-wig executives...there was no security guiding us back to our parking odd (and useful!), and eventually made it back to our cars.

Adventure #2:
Michael Ferguson arrives.  I surprised him by getting the day off on Friday, so he didn’t have to sleep in my car as I worked, the poor thing was up at like 4 a.m. to fly out here.  So we spent most of the day napping and walking round Westwood.  Other adventures:
2a. Driving to Santa Monica Beach, finding the cheapest parking, and perhaps most exciting, I DIDN’T USE PAM THE GPS! 

            2a1. while at beach, Michael and I both applied sunblock to one another’s backs....and both our backs burned.  Clearly, our relationship is built on strong communication and Hammurabic principles.  

            2a2. We decided to get some Mexican food.  As we were sitting down, the woman asked us if we wanted chips and guac.  I said “sure!” because it seemed like a complimentary, bread basket thing.  Upon opening the menu, I saw it was NINE DOLLARS!  I then told the immediately annoyed waitress that we changed our minds on the chips.  Informed consumers = annoying customers.  Unfortunate.  
2b.  Driving to Malibu Creek State Park. This was my first time at any State Park because the Winters don’t really do the outdoors.  I’ve never been camping or hiking or anything, and this was my first taste.  My friend Molly said there was “cliff-diving,” so we thought we’d go.  It turned out to be a medium sized rock, not a cliff, into a tranquil pond-like place.  There were tons of people there, a man just sitting on a rock by himself, lots of clothes hung up in a tree, sitting in a folding chair, and watching. A group of high schoolers whose clear leader was the short boy who made fun of Molly all the time.  “oooh Molly!  What are you doing down there? Too afraid to climb up?”  There were some Black kids speaking in German, a group of tough looking Asian guys all eyeing a higher cliff....  It felt very literal American, all coming together at this watering hole, because water is a source of life...even though if you drank that still, green water, filled with slippery moss-colored rocks, you’d probably at least get some bad disease.  
I climbed up rocks for the first time!  We followed trails!  I saw an animal!  All the time feeling very safe and prepared with my Eagle Scout boyfriend.    

Nature!  But actually, this is Malibu Creek State Park.

It wasn't quite this green when we were there. Oh for those droughtless times!
2c.  I thought I’d show Michael Venice Beach, an area about as different from Santa Monica as it gets.
Santa Monica is a pristine. Designed in a perfect grid, the cars are only allowed to move horizontally away from the beach, the intersecting streets packed with shopping, dining, and street performers are pedestrians only.  The street performers are the greatest part.  I’ve seen, three kids singing original music with tambourines clearly connoted by parents,  a Black woman with her face painted to resemble a skeleton wrapped in yards of fabric playing castanets to her own music, country singers, folk singers, a couple dressed up like Peter Pan and Tinkerbell, and none of it would be complete without some people in bright yellow shirts and matching signs saying JESUS IS THE LORD, OUR GOD.
Venice Beach is mainly a line of shops on one side all competing to have the most offensive t-shirts, and the other side a line of homeless people selling their wares.  All of the people here are great: the “doctors” dressed up in bright green scrubs yelling “Get a Medical Card in just 30 minutes!”  A man in a huge poncho with a turban playing a string that was attached to his walking stick that apparently an instrument with a single string.  An Asian guy on his bike wrapped in a pink parka.  Girls selling sheaves of corn twisted into hearts.  A guy who had made signs out of cardboard and maker, and called his business “The Bum Who Makes Signs.”

This man was also there.  He is a great example of Venice.

The beachfront homes are considerably more run-down. I think it takes a special soul to live on Venice Beach.  A lot of the large glass windows were covered in bird poop.  There were a few places to eat, but  neither Michael nor I had a mustache, or could drink, so there didn’t really seem to be much of a point.  Instead we used Yelp to find....
2d. THE BEST ITALIAN RESTAURANT EVER.  I’ll have to ask Michael what the name of it was.  It was great.  I almost had a complete parking meltdown, however.  Parking is very stressful to me in Los Angeles.  Sometimes I don’t‘ want to go places, because I know that when I get there, I will have to find a place to park.  I think it might be emotionally symbolic of feeing like there is “no place for you there” and that the city and the world out here is just a “do it yourself because no one’s going to help you” attitude, just as no one will give up their parking spot for you....or something like that.
Anyway!  We finally, we parked in the lot of the restaurant, after waiting for the slowest family ever to trickle one by one from the restaurant into their Yukon with its lights on for literally 10 minutes.  Very stressful.  But I had Pillows stuffed with spinach and ricotta and basil...and it was awesome.    
Adventure #3: 
Saw the Dark Knight again. Where last time there was shock, this time there were tears.  Lots of tears.  Liked it more the second time, as well.  The best part about the Superman trailer is that it used Lord of the Rings music.    
Adventure #4: 
The Olympics...follow my Twitter.  My cover photo is the Fab5.  I’ve lost count of the cry count...does crying when the event actually happens and during the slow-mo replay of the event count as 2 cries?  I have no idea.  Just to clarify, I don’t just cry when the U.S. wins...pretty much when any country wins, I cry for that person’s incredible individual achievement.  Michael Winters is a rockstar because he made me an account on NBCOlympics so I can stream things live!  And I do.  Oh, I do.  

I love them!!! ahhh!!!!

Adventure #5: 
My roommates threw a party.  I met some guys who taught me how to salsa dance.  
Adventure #6:
Got In ‘n Out for the first time.  First time I actually ordered things on my hamburger besides catsup and mustard....I had forgotten that tomatoes and lettuce and onions came on hamburgers.  I now understand what the fuss is all about.  It was great.  

Yeah. This is it.  

Adventure #7: 
Went to Sandellas.  A great flatbread place near the Chines Theater where Meg, Silbs, Michael and I went when we were in LA this spring.  It was awesome.  
Overall, it was really great having Michael Ferguson here.  When someone visits me, the person acts as a benchmark by which I can judge how much I’ve assimilated to the area.  And based on how much I was able to show him around the area, I think I’m getting along here pretty well :-)
The End
Coming up, in next time I get around to blogging’s blog:
I go to the Council of 100 Women’s Networking Event, and learn, amongst under things, that adults are awkward at networking too. 
I’m an extra on who got to dance right in front of the camera....I’m sure it will turn out incredibly foolish.  

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Midwesterner vs. the Beach

I think we all like to think we’re beach types.  Beach types are fun, they know how to relax, how to party, they’re athletic, they’re good swimmers, they have achieved some level of life guard certification.  In short if we’re beach types...we're practically as cool as Baywatch.  
 I'm trying to join the party, act like I love getting sand in my hair and eyes and swimsuit, act like I love lounging around even though I'm roasting....but a person can only keep up the charade for so long.  I’ve been to the beach twice while being out here in lovely California, and both times the event has been underwhelming.
The first time, Katie and I, for some odd reason, decided to go on a Sunday, and leave at noon, aka: THE TIME WHERE EVERYONE GOES.  We spent twenty minutes driving to the beach and another thirty trying to park.  We were meeting up with some of Katie’s intern friends who were “somewhere near a blue tent waiting for us” after another 20 minutes of slogging down the beach, poking around the dozens of blue tents, I was feeling rather cross.  
We set up our blankets and I discovered I had forgotten a book.  Blast!  What’s the point of going to the beach if you don’t have anything to read?!?!  So I lied down, got really warm, got really sandy, waded into the water, felt really cold....repeat process.
Then Katie and I realized we had forgotten to pack any food.  Blast!  What’s the point of going to the beach if you don’t bring a picnic?!?!?!  The expert beachgoers were so smart...they had their coolers and their fruit and their huge pag of Cheetos.  We, inexperienced beachers hiked up to the pier and after waiting through a crowded, serpentine line, we paid $7 a piece for a hotdog.  

The pier hides its overpriced-ness in its beauty.  

We walked past an anti-war demonstration with coffins in the sand to represent the amount of troops who had died that week backed by rows and rows of representative Crosses, Stars of Davids, and Crescents for the troops who had died overall....I'm not really sure how I felt about it.  (Writer fail)

The Santa Monica beach was packed with people.  Not oddly, the majority of the people are Latino.  Oddly, a large majority of the people swimming are all wearing regular day clothes.  Just like when you see people running in just kinda wanna go up to them and ask:  
1.) Is that comfortable?
2.) Are you planning on wearing that the rest of the day?
3.) Don’t you just feel gross?
However, the counterargument is that these people own neither bathing suits nor work out clothes, so I should really be applauding them for unyielding effort rather than thinking them strange.  You be the judge!   
The second beach Katie and I tried along with our new friend Molly, was a beach in Newport.  It was a part of a fun day trip to see my family in Newport Beach.  Molly, who lives with a 65-year-old-hoarder named Shirley, and Katie who lives in the co-op described in an earlier post, and I, who had killed a silverfish in my bed the other night, were all a little wary of our living situations, and were really desperate to be in someone’s home for a while.  Well, my Aunt’s was perfect.  We slept in my cousin’s Monty’s bedroom, Molly and Katie in the twin beds, I on a leaking mattress, and woke up to my Aunt having made breakfast!  Due to the lack of cooking in my family, the only time I ever wake up to a “made” breakfast is when I am at sleepovers.  So the french toast and bacon was really a wonderful start to the day.  My cousin Danny drove us to this tiny island, I think it was called Balboa.  And I was glad I wasn’t driving because I was so bewitched by the small-town store feel and all of the charming houses, nestled next to one another that I probably would have hit something...and I already backed into a parked car of a guy who works at my office this that would have been less than ideal.

My face whilst talking to the insurance company earlier in the week:  

Danny escorted the three of us to the beach and then went to join some friends seeing the Dark Knight Rises (something Molly, Katie and I had already done.)  Molly, Katie and I spread out under the overcast sky assuming that it would clear didn’t.  But it was still very warm, and Molly still got very burned, so still a beach success.
The water was unpredictable.  The three of us were nearly asleep on our towels when we heard the whole crowd around us scream.  We opened our eyes to find that the water had washed nearly 20 feet further up the shore than it had been when we arrive and our stuff was in serious danger of getting soaked.  We moved some more feet up the shore to avoid such a problem.  I had brought a book this time, but didn’t feel like pulling it out and getting sandy, so I occupied my time by finding fingernail shaped sea shells and arranging them to look like hands.  
------Possible business idea....sell fake nails designed to look like sea them to people who buy natural chocolate cookies with herbal vanilla bean cream in supermarket instead of Oreos.--------Consider it Copywritten, ya’ll.  
Anyway!!!  My favorite part of beaches are the kids.  They’re hilarious.  The really young toddlers scream in surprise every time the water washes toward them, as though they thought the previous wave was sure to be the last.  The kids at the first beach who were chasing each other around being gorillas.  The ones trying to build sandcastles using a tiny plastic shovel.  The little kids who haven’t decided if walking really is the most efficient way to travel, so they mix it up with sporadic jumps and leaps and dance steps.    The kid who was so proud of his turtle towel that he paraded it around to us.  The ones who stare at you with huge eyes out of their strollers and you just wish you knew what this all looked like to them.
The best part about kids on the beach is that none of them are mine! I can grin at them and think they’re adorable, and unlike the daycamp I worked at the last two years, I don’t have to do anything about them! 
After the beach - we only lasted an hour and a half - we took Danny’s suggestion and went to a place called GreatMex which, true to it’s name...had Great Mexican food.  (Yes, I eat that, disbelieving family and friends).  Then we wandered around looking at the beautiful summer beachfront homes.  
That was a treat for a girl who bought herself a text-book sized “HomeBook” when Borders was going out of business and let myself read it to reward homework efficiency..... 

These houses are absurd.  They all have gorgeously planted patios decorated with couches, grills and tables.  But beyond that, they have almost no common thread.  One house was brown with glass as a full wall joining at a point like the prow of a ship.  One house was a deep jade green surrounded by roses, another was white with bright blue tops like it had been transported from Greece.  Well...I can’t really describe all of them, because we passed dozens, but if you have time Googleimage/earth that stuff...I would. 

The only house I didn’t like was a long brown one with dozens of variously sized bears perched in every window grinning out at us.  A sign said “WARNING! BEAR COLLECTOR!  COLLECTION GONE AWRY!”  The sign was supposed to be a joke, but I took the message seriously.  
Afterward, we took another piece of Danny’s advice and stopped at BJ’s for a Pizookie...which, for NU people, is a sophisticated version of Hot Cookie Bar. 

I thought we should each order our own.... until we saw that the menu listed each one was about 1000 calories.  After seeing that, this happened:

                                                   (ad lib)
                                     OH MY GOD!  WHY? WHY WOULD THEY LIST THAT?                     
                                     DISGUSTING. THAT HAS TO BE LIKE A DETERRING FACTOR?  
                                     WHAT KIND OF MARKETING PLAN IS THIS?
So we ordered a trio instead, mini versions of their classic, red velvet and cookies and cream Pizookies.  A few tables away though, 4 people celebrating their friend’s first Pizookie ever ordered the party size...which is supposed to be feed 18 people and is $24....they polished that thing off.  Shudder.  
We went back to the Millers and to cope with the sad loss of Katie’s new phone, we used the pool and hot tub.  Then we were treated to a delicious meal of grilling and wonderful conversation with the Millers and their family friends, and were very sad we had to leave. 
Katie and I will have to go back, though, mainly because I left clothes there...typical.

So we'll see how frequently I plan to visit the beaches again.  Definitely when Michael gets here.  So let's hope the third time is the charm.

The End.

The making of this blog:
1.) I decided last minute to add sunset picture because I realized, what kind of blog about a beach didn't have a sunset picture at the end?

2.) I considered writing about The Dark Knight Rises, but I figured ya'll would be blogged out.  I might start  second blog reviewing movies and stuff...not that my opinion really matters, and I'm certainly not an expert, but I find myself thinking about them all the time.

3.) I just recently learned how to take screenshots!  How useful are they!  AmIright?
4.)  I really really really really really love pools.  

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Home is Where the Heart is, Actually Though

I've learned a lot in the past week.

My brother and I made a mad dash home to say good-bye to my grandfather in the last few days of his life.  He is the first major death I have experienced in my family.  I'm not going to write much about it here, because that's the type of essay that I would write over a week, and then edit for another eight.  But you can read his obituary here, if you're interested: Ken Patterson.

The one thing I will say, is that I told my family my vision of "heaven" or what's above and waiting for us.  For the past few years, I have genuinely pictured the afterlife to be a series of TedTalks.  There'd be tons of lectures and demonstrations: hear Newton talk about his theories in Cloud Conference Room 3! Amelia Earhart revels what really happened! A painting demonstration with Picasso!  And at 12, Martin Luther King Jr. performs "I Have a Dream" for your viewing pleasure!  My grandfather growing up on an farm in Iowa, I picture him discussing with John Deere what made his tractor so damn good.  

Going home, even for such a reason, was overall comforting.  It was nice to be with my family.  It was amazing how quickly I fell back into the habits of home with the five of us there.  Group Bananagrams before bed, cheese sticks before lunch, and group hugs when the time called for it.  Yes, we do that.  And I visited Northwestern while I was home as well, it's hard to ignore the boyfriend waiting in the town 40 minutes away.

I am a little ashamed to admit how quickly I had forgotten about those achey Illinois summers.  And I've spent 19 years in them: spending 30 hours a week at the wave pool as a kid, spending 35 hours a week on the blacktop in marching band, and then two years of 40 hours of kid-wrangling a week until I got to LA.

(If you've got 10 minutes, you should check out what intense marching band is all about:
and if you don't have 10 minutes, just start at 3:48.  Prospect Marching Knights, Shall We Dance Marching Band was easily one of the two best things I did in high school.  The other was speech.  Anyway!  )

But just four weeks in the lovely Los Angeles and I had forgotten what a difference 20 degrees, and 80% humidity really is.  Back at Northwestern, Michael and I walked to meet up with other friends living in a soon-to-be-condemned frat house, clouds of bugs clung to each lamppost, and we could only hold hands for a few seconds before we decided it just wasn't worth it.

Then after a few short days, I returned back to L.A.  I slept on both flights back here.  I keep starting to write the word "home" and then erasing it and replacing it with "L.A" and "Here" and I'm not sure why, because that's the whole point of this blogpost.  I think that feeling of independence people describe when they get at study abroad, or move anywhere new, or go to college even, is the further self-development of home being self-contained.  I don't have to reject one Mt. Prospect or Evanston or L.A. to embrace the others.

No doubt, it can feel strange, a little sneaky even, gallivanting from one place to the other and sinking right back into the habits established there without thought to the other two places, but I think it's essential to do more than "get by" in any new place we find ourselves.  Every run I go on, every yogurt store Katie drags me to, every new highway that catches me in traffic, L.A. and I infuse one another with something more to hold on to.  I feel like a modern day cartographer, mapping memories onto this state so I can one day return and not have to start from scratch again.

And returning was like starting new.  I've got two new internships, so that brings me up to 3, and I've learned a ton from all of them.  Although I'll have to make a much more comprehensive list at the end of the summer, one thing that I've learned is that you have to shamelessly use the web for self-promotion and interaction.  Therefore, I am (trying not to be shameful! aaahh hard) announcing myself fully caught up. You can now find me on Facebook, twitter, tumblr, LinkedIn pinterest, stumbleupon and a blog.  I guess the next step is a YouTube channel.  Sigh.

You may ask: Laura? Why all of this need for social media?  Because! If I want to be an actress/singer/song-writer/stand-up/novelist/blogger/rapper/sell-out-pop-star/fashion designer/cartoonist/feminist activist/founder of my own school

 ....well, I've got a lot of networking to do.

Love Always,