Handling Film Then and Now
In 1994 -1995, I attended Columbia College-Hollywood film school. The address was 925 North La Brea in Hollywood, CA. It’s the main corner of La Brea + Santa Monica Blvd. The area was a bit more run-down looking back then. There wasn’t this huge outlet mall with Target and a bunch of restaurants. Carl’s Jr. was actually still there on the corner as of the past year or so before they built some apartment building. (I wish I could take back half the cheeseburgers I had there.) Mole Richardson used to be across the street from the school. All of our school’s lights were acquired from there. And Mole Richardson is not there anymore. We hung out at the infamous Formosa Cafe which is still around. There’s too much Hollywood history in that place for it to go away. There used to be a little Mexican Taco stand on the corner too. Gone. And years ago Columbia College-Hollywood picked up and moved to the San Fernando Valley, Tarzana to be exact. The school moved into the old Panavision building.
When I went to interview on Thursday, June 26th, at Richard Photo Lab at 979 North La Brea, a few doors down from where Columbia College-Hollywood (CC-H) used to be, I couldn’t help but think back to those early days of working with film, 16MM film. Wearing thin white gloves, cutting on Moviolas, flatbeds, editing scenes of “Gunsmoke.” “Abby, do you want to go with him or stay with me?” I recall preparing some dailies from a short film I was producing, writing and directing called “The Turnaround.” The lead actor, Tony Assini, was meeting me to view the dailies. Not long before Tony arrived, I had done the ONE THING you never do when handling a film reel, especially larger ones. I held the reel up from its sides. So, if the film or work print as it’s known was tight I might have been okay. But this was not the case. The center DROPPED! Oye! The film unraveled EVERYWHERE in this maybe 10 x 15 foot room. It was probably a bigger room, but looked a lot smaller when filled with 16MM film. So, Tony arrived and was gracious enough to help me weed out the giant spaghetti bowl I had created.
“The Turnaround” was filmed in various locations including CC-H, a bar in Calabasas and on Romaine Ave. Romaine sits parallel in between Santa Monica and Willoughby. It is also where my cast and crew staged a ‘mugging scene’ for “The Turnaround“ near the school.
We filmed an additional scene at the end of this block of Romaine where Tony who plays aspiring actor Daniel Frenzy crosses the street without looking at the on-coming car. The black Eclipse you see in the mugging scene above was used for both scenes (my old car). My mother AKA Set Mom was the driver who mouthed the words, “I’m sorry.” So, I drove a black Eclipse and I wore my Alice In Chains cap. This was roughly February 1995. What a time capsule, huh? Oh, and I’m wearing my University of Hartford sweatshirt from the college I graduated from before heading West.
That photo at the very top of this blog was taken outside The Pelican’s Retreat bar in Calabasas. That place also closed. But that picture represents one of the happiest and most zen-filled moments in my life. I was in film school writing, directing and producing short films….on film I might add. And really thought I was making the film that would launch my career. That instant success never happened from this or any other film I’ve written, produced, directed or edited over the last twenty years. You can lose your mind over the ‘what-ifs.’ Although I haven’t made it yet, I am grateful for the people that have helped me along the way. I could not have made “The Turnaround”
without the exceptional crew I had made mainly of students and one friend, Sean Kinney, who plays Skunk in the film. I did have one project manager who was a tight-ass…so I kicked them off my shoot. And I am so honored to this day, over twenty years later how lucky I got with my cast. This was a student film. No one was being paid. I have worked with many great people on so many projects.
In my first ten years of pursuing a career as a screenwriter and director, I wrote many scripts and there was that traffic movie. “Rubbernecking“ was conceived actually on the 10 freeway on the way to pick up props for “The Turnaround.” Sean Kinney knew a guy who had gun and holster props. Sean and I got stuck in horrible traffic and that became “Rubbernecking.” A few years of us writing and re-writing. Some financing woes. Finally raising enough money. We filmed in the summers of 1998 and 1999. After working with various editors over the next few years, it seemed that “Rubbernecking” would itself never get out of traffic. It was never picked up for distribution.
I think the one regret I have about Columbia College was not mastering a specific skill like camera or editing early on. That way I could get continued work while pursuing my true passions of writing and directing. I did take up some Avid courses early on, but didn’t have connections or leads to work. It wasn’t until 2005 when I started learning Final Cut Pro that I took editing seriously. It was going to be my day job. Well, it was more of my day job to pursue editing work. I got some decent gigs in 2008, but realized my technical know-how was limited. I found it was difficult to learn After Effects. Companies big and small were requiring more and more of editors so I stuck to being a picture editor. I’m a storyteller! Give me a film that has issues in story and I’ll reassemble the pieces into an even better story.
Jobs have been very hard to come by. I’ve worked in real estate companies. I worked at a non-profit charity for the blind. In 2010, I landed in Las Vegas to stay with family and seek out opportunities there. I had some great article writing opportunities, but they weren’t consistent enough. I couldn’t find much editing work there either. I did leave Vegas with some interesting projects; Social Media Film Festival and a short film called “You Are What You Eat.” In 2013, I moved back to LA. I had to be where the real action remains. So, I’ve been working part time jobs because I can’t find a full time job. So, when I went into this job interview on Thursday, June 26th, I was seeking a full time opportunity.
They were offering a full time position that was only going to or through November. Bill, the guy interviewing me said, “You’re over qualified.” I told him that I know and that I can’t get hired anywhere because of that. He wanted to know what line of work I was pursuing and I told him editing, but that I was ‘under-qualified’ to get editing work. So, I’m a rock in a hard place. He hired me and I started the next day, Friday June 27th. Now, the job is prepping film after it dries from developing. Film. That’s right. I said film. Photographers are still shooting film. A lot of the film coming in now is weddings. So, when the film comes out on a tray I make sure the film is dry. I cut off the edges with a scissor to clean it up. I match up the numbers on the film with the numbers on the orders. Sometimes the exposure of the film is pushed or pulled so we add the amount on stickers and place them on the film. I really like this job. I love being able to handle film when I thought I’d never handle film ever again. Even though it’s twenty years later and I still haven’t made it as a screenwriter or film director, I am surviving. This job was a blessing at a time when finding work seemed bleak. I had been working at Barnes & Noble since February 2014. It was supposed to be a full time position at a certain pay rate. In two weeks B & N told me that they’re putting the position I applied for on-hold. With that, my $11.50 pay was going down to $8. As if that wasn’t bad enough, my hours quickly went from the 30’s and 20’s to 9 HOURS A WEEK!!!!! What? I looked at it as a paid internship. So, on Thursday night, I decided to go shopping at a bigger B & N store to purchase some books for my niece and nephew and two screenwriting books and some dark chocolate for Uncle Ross. I used my ’employee discount’ one last time and headed to my B & N store in Marina Del Rey to tell the MOD or Manager On Duty:
Don’t you love quitting a job you can’t stand? The job itself wasn’t bad, but I could not catch a break at this store. Of course it would be nice to make $15, $20, $30 an hour as I have before. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get that money on my next job. But for now, the Summer and this Fall, I will be happily getting paid $10 an hour to handle 135, 120, 220 color and black and white negative film. I work with these two older Thai guys who train me. They talk Thai to each other. And when I speak with them I often find myself guessing what they’re saying back to me. They’re great guys and the whole company seems like one big happy family and that’s how Bill described the team. Bill actually set up a BBQ grill behind our building today and cooked Kiełbasa sausages for the whole company in pre-July 4th celebration. And I made it through my first week. Who knows where this position will lead me? Right now I’m enjoying the work and the journey. I can’t think of a better $10 an hour full time than this one. In 1995, I was looking ahead to where the next 20 years would take me. Physically, I may be on the same street. Mentally and emotionally I am where I need to be. And I still hold on to those same dreams I had 20 years ago. Where will I be 20 years from this point? Hopefully, I will be filling my soul with what I hadn’t filled it with the 20 years before. Happy July 4th!