Saturday, December 2, 2006

Telecom or Hollywood...

I couldn't leave you hanging forever. Here is the story where I choose between being a product manager for a major Telecom company or following my dreams.

It had been nearly two years since graduation and all I had to show for it was a resume holding more than three jobs and an address that wasn't my parents. This was not the way I had imagined my life. Did I really want a career as a secretary for an executive in the telecom industry? There was very little a female English Major could do in the early 1990s - teacher, store manager, secretary or graduate school. I finally decided that if I had to be a secretary I would rather do it in Hollywood than in Washington, D.C. So, I thanked my manager for his very kind offer to try to find something for me in his department and told him that I really wanted to move to L.A. and try my hand at the entertainment industry. He was great about it. He brought me an incredible going away present - a Thomas Bros. Street Map of LA.

For anyone who hasn't lived in L.A., the Thomas Bros. maps were the bible. They were bought out by Rand McNally a few years ago, but Rand McNally has been smart and kept the street maps - even extending them to other cities. The Thomas Bros. guide was the ONLY way you could figure out how to get anywhere in the city. The maps were in a landscape format and bound with a spiral wire. This was before the days of Mapquest, so this set of maps was the only way to make sure you knew how to get to your destination. All in all - it was an amazing gift.

So, about four months later I had managed to save over $5000 and felt that I was ready to hit the road. I decided to take a longer time to get to L.A. than most people do. Rather than the 3 day rush across the states by highway, I opted for a more leisurely path. As I wound my way through seven of our southern states I learned a great deal about our country. I learned that New Orleans feels like home even though I have never lived there, that the Navaho reservation is not a bad place to get a nail in your tire and that truck drivers can actually be very kind and decent people if you let them show you that side. I also learned that a little adventure in your soul goes a very long way in life.

I arrived in Los Angeles about three weeks after I left Virginia. My first few weeks in town were spent papering every office I could find with resumes, temping and sleeping at a friend's apartment. By week four I had a roommate and an apartment. By week five I had a gig as a production assistant for a new show on MTV. For those of you who actually remember shows that were on MTV more than a decade ago, I was a PA on the pilot of "Dead at 21" starting Jack Noseworthy, Lisa Dean Ryan and Whip Hubley. It was a great experience, I learned a lot about what life on the set of a TV show could be like. The cast and crew of TV shows become a family with all the function and dysfunction that implies.

I went from the Pilot of "Dead at 21" to the role of department assistant (secretary) in the Series Development office for MTV Networks in L.A. where I got to help develop several shows including "Real World 3: San Francisco," "Road Rules," and "Singled Out." Now, what a development office does may or may not surprise you. These are the "suits" often discussed in not so nice tones by the creative side of Hollywood, although I don't remember any of us ever wearing a suit. Our job was to find the shows that our audience (12-18 year old, white males) would find interesting enough to tune into every time they were on and then take them to pilot and beyond if they got picked up. This process involved a lot of breakfast and lunch meetings as well as brainstorming sessions, note taking on edited tapes and contract reviews. I think I would have enjoyed this job more if I hadn't been torn between two bosses and all the politics.

The thing is that I did it. I got my do-over. I got to try the entertainment industry, pretty much on speed. Not many people go out there and land a gig that leads to another gig in their first five weeks in town. I got to meet a great number of very interesting people and have some very interesting conversations. (Jack Noseworthy once told me I would be a producer one day...funny thing is I did have that title eventually.) I miss the people I knew back then and wonder what they are up to these days. Then again, I am not the best at keeping in touch with people, so I tend to lose them. If by any chance someone reading this knew me back in my MTV days, feel free to drop a line!

Next Do-Over - From A Different Angle

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