Wednesday, April 30, 2008

An Evening with George Plimpton

Unfortunately, Temp X had some bad allergies and wasn't up to blogging today, so we're re-running a speech that George Plimpton gave at Reed College in 1975 talking about his experience as a Hollywood temp. Temp X will be back soon.

Many years ago, I believe it was 1953 or 1954, I was doing a story for the Paris Review on Alan Ginsburg. We met in a coffee shop in Soho. Alan, as one of the first Vegans I'd ever met, was having a some sort of tofu-based snack alongside his triple espresso -- leaving him terribly wired. I, of course, drew his ire by indulging in a cappuccino with extra foam, a dash of cinnamon and a delightful chocolate chip cookie.

Well, after discussing last night's Brooklyn Dodgers game where they'd lost a heartbreaker in 12 innings to the Giants at the Polo Grounds, he mentioned he'd just been out in Los Angeles pitching an idea to an executive at RKO. As he explains it, during their conversation, an assistant came into his office with breakfast -- Eggs Florentine and a pot of Earl Gray tea. Well, the executive takes one bite and like a mother heron feeding her young, he regurgitates the eggs and places it in the hand of this poor assistant.

"Take this back and make it the way I like it, or your fired," he demanded.

Well, as you can imagine, Alan was horrified. But in a stroke of sheer genius, Alan says to me in a way that only Alan could, "George, " he said, "get your self to Hollywood and write about what it's like on the inside. It's like Bellevue with Palm trees." As one to never back down from a challenge or opportunity, I caught the next flight I could to Los Angeles and worked as a temporary employee.

Now I've boxed with Archie Moore. I've been trampled under a heap of humanity playing with the Detroit Lions. I've even "played" the triangle for Leonard Bernstein -- quite well I might add (he might disagree). But I can assure you, nothing is harder and more illogical than spending a day working for a Hollywood executive.

It's not that 2+2=5 out there. It should only be so easy. You could then just encourage them to subtract one and perhaps find the correct answer. No, in Hollywood you can't have 2 + 2 because the people you meet are always on some sort of narcotic, and they're questioning why you would add these two together in the first place. Someone either owns the rights to 2, or you're getting sued by 3 because you had a deal with them, and 4, well, 4 is trying to blackmail you because you broke up with her when she got too fat. Nothing is simple out there. The only thing the executive knows that he needs to find someone to yell at and his health plan only covers therapy 3 days a week. Which means that you, the assistant, draws his ire the other 2 days. Leaving you feeling a little like a Zero.

I bet you didn't know that this was going to turn into a math class.

(Polite chortle from the crowd)

Well, to make a long story short, I worked a half day, and was so high on fumes from the mimeograph machine that I passed out and knocked my head on the desk. So all I had to show for my day was a bulbous knot on my forehead and a slightly aggravated migraine. Which I suppose is exactly what every other assistant feels as well.

Now let's open the floor for questions...

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Tempies!

Good Evening and welcome to the First Annual "Hollywood Organization but not Union of Really Low-paid Yutzes" (HOURLY) Awards. Better known as "The Tempies." That's right. Every corner of the Entertainment industry gets a moment to stroke its own ego. Some groups get 3 hours of prime time. Others are relegated to basic cable. And still others get convention chicken and a 10 minute of stand-up from someone doing bad Jack Nicholson impersonations. And then there's us. "The Tempies." We get...well...a blog.

Temps have a long and storied history in Hollywood. You've seen us in classic films like...errr...uhhh.....does "The Secret of My Success" count? Anyway. The Tempies celebrate not only the great work of the Hollywood temp, but also (and more importantly) the greatest stories we've been witness to over the past year. Without any further adieu, let's name some winners of the highly coveted "Golden Timesheet."

Best Example of Cost Consciousness -- And the winner is [Name Withheld]. In an example of frugality that would make Andrew Carnegie blush, this person had his assistants drive him to the airport (in lieu of paying cab fare), recycled stamps from script submissions (which this person wouldn't review) and, best of all, foregoing the use of a vacuum cleaner and instead having assistants pick paper shreds off the carpet by hand.

Best way to look like you have more business contacts than you really do -- And the winner is [Name withheld]. This Hollywood executive had a major Blackberry meltdown, which erased all their contacts. Lucky for this person, Temp X was called in to re-create the database from an old file. Among the 4000 names, Temp X came across the contact info for a celebrity who had recently died. In a joking manner, Temp X asked whether to include this information too, as it had limited relevance. "Include everything," he was told. And so he did.

Best place to kill time -- And the winner is UNIVERSAL STUDIOS. Temps here can take their lunch hour and wander around the most elaborate back lot in town. Temps can do a self-guided walking tour and see Jaws, the town square from "Back to the Future" and the parting of the Red Sea without anyone saying "Where are you from?" or "Mommy, I gotta go potty!" But don't have too much fun, you have to go back to work. [Honorable Mention: CAA's online video library].

Best Place to get a ticket for Jaywalking -- Burbank (the corner of Olive & Maple). Be careful Warner Bros temps, or a $132 ticket awaits.

Best Free Food -- Envelope please...And the winner is CAA. Yes, it's ironic that in a building that has all the charm of a mausoleum that CAA routinely offers an excellent selection of meeting leftovers for breakfast (bagels & cream cheese, muffins), a variety of juices, fresh fruit and a bottomless cup of coffee (it's some serious gourmet shit!). Lunch leftovers are few and far between, but considering breakfast remnants don't make their way into the kitchen until 11ish, you're probably not that hungry. Plus they sometimes have cereal. [Honorable mention: Cartoon Network for "Donut Friday"]

Best parking garage for a lunchtime nap in the car -- Cartoon Network garage, second level. Find a nice spot in the corner and let the carbon monoxide take you to dream land.

Well, it's time for the intermission. Go get yourself a drink, and in just a few days I'll come up with more categories including the winner of the prestigious "Temp of the Year."

Saturday, April 26, 2008

"No" means...err...What does it mean?

Temp X is sorry to report he did not get the job for which he recently interviewed. A disappointment, sure. The end of the world, certainly not. For if Temp X gets a job, what will become of this Blog? And his loyal following? On the plus side, it gives Temp X material to discuss another Hollywood phenomenon -- job seeking and the word "No."

When Temp X was in college, rejection letters from potential employers were called "Bullets." These Bullets served multiple purposes:
  • They let you know you didn't get the job for which you interviewed.
  • It was a matter of professional courtesy.
  • The campus bar had special "Bullet" nights where you could exchange these letters for free beer. (Note: Those nights were typically followed by days in which Temp X skipped class.)
The rules are different in Hollywood. You find you didn't get the job by...not finding out. There is no "No." You'll never get a letter. Nor an email. Not a phone call, a smoke signal or a message via carrier pigeon with news of a decision. Sure, it can be frustrating. It's like the person you interviewed with doesn't even remember meeting you....WAIT!...OH MY GOD!...I FIGURED IT OUT!

Who here has seen the movie Memento? (wait for show of hands) You know, the one with Guy Pearce where he can't make any new memories and he has to get tattoos and take pictures to keep track of everything. That must be it. These people Temp X is interviewing with all have this same condition. They were all in a horrible accident Temp X feels bad about this posting. It's not their fault they can't remember. It's just how they are.

It all makes sense now. You've wondered why people remake American Gladiators, Knight Rider or Short Circuit (yes, THAT Short Circuit). They're only remakes if you remember they existed in the first place. And since they all have this condition...

Now what was I here to talk about?
"It must be hard living your life off a couple of scraps of paper. You mix your laundry list with your grocery list you'll end up eating your underwear for breakfast."

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Thursday Night Poetry

Nothing gets Temp X more in the mood for poetry than a hour commute to go 7 miles. Ok, the leftover Japanese food and beer helps that. And in keeping with this theme, Temp X has written some haikus to celebrate the beauty that is working in Hollywood.

Hi this is your Pimp.
Do you know FileMaker?
No. Can you fake it?

A reason for hope.
That script about Cavemen sucked.
But they got a show.

It's Perm, CAA.
You'll need to have a thick skin.
Twelve-hour days are fine?

A fun gig for you,
Six weeks in business affairs.
Wait. You don't want it?

Hi, it's (name withheld)
Paramount lot in an hour?
You're helping them move.

I'm thirsty, are you?
Great. Grande Chai Tea Latte.
If you fly, I'll buy.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Breakfast Club -- Part 2

There are times a temp goes to work and there's nothing to do except wait for the phone to ring. Normally these days are o.k. because they allow Temp X an opportunity to write. But on days when the brain and the script aren't cooperating, well, work is a lot like high school detention.

With that in mind, Temp X started to think about the different types of Hollywood temps. And as if by the hand of John Hughes himself, it turns out they fall into 5 distinct categories. [Temp X also assigned them a rating (1-10) on how well they do in the temp world. Consider these ratings before applying to temp.]

Welcome to The Breakfast Club:

The Princess -- These temps feel the work they're doing is beneath them even though they applied for the job in the first place. These people are easy to spot because they say things like, "I double majored in film and rhetoric at NYU." Princesses don't make it long as temps because they refuse/forget/ignore work or do such a mediocre job, they're never asked back. TEMP RATING: 3

The Athlete -- These people are usually actors. They are good looking, affable and are experts at manipulating the system. "Need time off to go in for a reading? No problem." "Hey, here's a little bonus for doing such a great job getting my lunch." "You should talk to my friend Jerry Bruckheimer. He'd love you for his new pilot." How do they get by? Everyone wants to be their friend. The Athlete can even play pranks on co-workers, although maybe not taping Larry Lester's butt together. TEMP RATING: 4

The Basketcase -- You can never tell what's going on in the mind of this type of the Basketcase. Is this person a homicidal maniac? Or is just a drop out from the CAA agent training program? And why the dark circles under their eyes? They somehow seem to get their work done despite taking a cigarette break every 45 minutes. They are auteurs and don't you forget it. TEMP RATING: 6.5

The Nerd -- This is the person who knows everything about every movie ever made and won't hesitate to tell you. Wanna know the Director of Photography on MEMENTO? The Nerd knows. These people are very efficient, and they do everything by the book. The only problem is they are annoying as shit. TEMP RATING: 7.5

The Criminal -- Temps live a meager existence (dictated, of course, by their meager pay). This type of temp will look for a way to cheat the system and make the gig worth their while. Sometimes they'll steal something big (pad their time sheet, steal a DVD collection) or something small (long distance phone calls, office supplies). But you can be sure they'll rip off something or someone. So they fit in perfect in Hollywood. TEMP RATING: 10

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Hollywood Dictionary -- Volume 1

Friday was Day 2 -- and mercifully the end -- in the Catacombs. It was more of the same. So instead of boring you with the same tedium, I've decided to use today as an educational opportunity instead. Now to some of you this may already be familiar, but many of you are not Hollywood Insiders the way someone TEMP X is (that was a joke. You see, a Temp is hardly an insider...nevermind...)

Hollywood has its own language, its own schedule and its own way of doing things. Of course it's predictable, overly dramatic and needless. Come to think of it, it's a lot like most sequels. But let's begin.

Hollywood Hours
-- The Hollywood work day is 9:30 a.m. - 7 p.m. Why does the day start so late? Rumor has it it's left over from the Cocaine-fueled 1970s when studio execs were partying and doing blow all night, green lighting projects like CORVETTE SUMMER and IT'S ALIVE. So it just pushed the entire schedule back. Then it just stuck.

Rolling Calls -- A favorite of Temp X. When first interviewing to become a Temp, he was asked if he knew how to "Roll Calls." "What's that?" Temp X replied. "Well, when the exec wants to make a series of calls in rapid succession, it's 'Rolling Calls.'" "So you mean do I know how to dial the phone?" "Ummmmm....."

Resies (pronounced "rez-ees") -- Short for Meal Reservations. Because those extra two syllables are such a bitch to pronounce. VEY-SHUNS. VEY-SHUNS. Eh, never mind. "Hi. Is this the Farm? I need resies for 2 at 1."

Left Word, Leave Word -- When the person you called isn't there or isn't available to speak, you Leave Word. In the real world we call this Leaving a Message, asking them to call you back, etc. Only in Hollywood would it take two words (Left Word) to leave just one WORD.

-- Most often heard in the sentence, "Whose DESK did/do you work on?" This simply means "Who is your boss?" But as most assistants are tethered to their desk (literally or via Blackberry) and hardly ever leave the office, this is a more apt term. There's a whole caste system with this too. That's for another day when I have nothing to write about. Holy Crap, I'm already two topics behind.

Flying Solo -- When hired to be a Hollywood Executive's assistant, a new employee will incur numerous days of training on proper procedure for pampering...errr...working for their boss. This includes things like: How many water bottles do they want on their desk each morning, which calls they never want to take and knowing to schedule meetings around the executive's weekly massage. Once you've spent a week observing this, the trainer leaves and you are left "Flying Solo." Sadly, your desk never actually flies.

Thick Skin -- Most often seen on a job listing "Must have thick skin." Translation: "Boss may have one or more of the following conditions: anger management issues, Napoleon complex, drives a Japanese car (while all co-workers drive German), acute paranoia, needs another Chai Tea Latte immediately, can't figure out how to make the f***ing email work."

Well, that's it for today. Got a job for Monday and Tuesday lined up. Only 22 hours to figure out what "Office Casual" means.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

TEMPING in the Catacombs of Accounts Receivable

As I mentioned before, temping in Hollywood can be fun. You get to read scripts, do coverage (what you think of a script), provide notes (how to fix a script). Real entertainment industry stuff. But then there's Temping's evil twin. The hourly world has a Yin for every Yang. We call this "TEMP" work. I got a call late yesterday for a two-day assignment. This job was TEMP work.

As I ride the elevator this morning, two women begin a conversation.

"Long night last night?"

"Yeah. I was here until 9. Lucky that we got a temp coming in today to deal with this crap."

The elevator stops, and we all get out together. I look around for the receptionist or someone who can tell me where to go. One of the women notices that I have that lost look.

"Are you the Temp?"

"Yep. The one who gets to deal with the crap." (Actually I didn't say anything after "Yep," but it would have been fun if I did.)

My Pimp said among other things, my job was to, "Assist with Purging and Consolidation of Files." Translation "Filing a bunch of stuff and throwing out the rest." You see, the office I was working at was moving, so my job was to dump stuff that hadn't been looked at since the last time they moved offices.

Remember that scene at the end of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" when the Feds have the Ark stored in a warehouse with a zillion other things. It was a lot like cleaning out that room. I wish I could say this was hyperbole, but as I was cleaning I found a copy of Lotus 1-2-3 on a 5 1/4" floppy disk. These size disks haven't even been manufactured since 1988! I was throwing away 20-year old junk! Anyway, over the course of the day, I filled 7 of those industrial size recycling bins, disposed of hundreds of binders, and then there was filing. Lucky for me I passed the alphabetizing skills section as part of my temp "qualifications exam."

For as mundane as today was, there were two postives -- no paper cuts and the cafeteria special was barbecue beef sandwich. Sometimes you gotta take what you can get.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

4 loads of laundry and an oil change

After two days of heavy writing and a job interview, I woke up this morning fatigued, hoping for a temp gig. I had even showered by 8 a.m. so if my Temp Pimp called, I was ready to go. But like the ugly girl on Prom Night, I was all dressed up with no where to go. 9 o'clock. Nothing. 10 o'clock. Nothing. We in the temp world call these days UTO (unintended time off). It has all the joy of paid vacation, but without the pay. The irony is if I get enough of these in a row, I actually get money -- courtesy of the California Employment Development Department (yep, temps get unemployment too).

What does a temp do when there is nothing to do? You apply for a couple of jobs (we'll talk about this process another day), you check email and watch old episodes of "Lost in Space" on UTO isn't all it's cracked up to be. But there is one perk of these days, you have your apartment building's laundry room all to yourself. How come? Because everyone else is out working. How I envy them. Who is their Temp Pimp and get me his phone number pronto?! So I did 4 loads of laundry then got my oil changed (no wait at the EZ Lube, another perk of going on a Wednesday at 2 pm.)

Yep. A pretty dull day. No one said temp life in Hollywood was exciting. This proves it.

Tomorrow's topic (unless I come up with a better one): Dating.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Shit! Where are my interview jeans?

Every once in a while I'll interview for a full time job. Based on the fact that my name is still Temp X, you can guess what my success rate is.

"As long as I keep writing..." I remind myself.

When I first moved here, I had an interview to be an office assistant for a semi-successful TV show. Why semi-successful? It does just well enough to avoid cancellation, but if you ask someone walking down the street if they'd ever heard of it, chances are they'd say no. So for my interview I showered, shaved and put on my "Interview Suit." I'd read show scripts, I did my research, knew all the key players. I was primed and ready.

With confidence brimming, I walk into the production office, briefcase in hand and announced my arrival. A few moments later the producer comes in gives me "the look." It's the looks that says "You're not getting the gig. I don't care if you're Ted Turner and Sumner Redstone's lovechild. You're not getting it." As predicted, I didn't get the job. The feedback had nothing to do with anything I said or anything I did. "You were too well dressed for the interview, " I was told. Ahhh, Hollywood.

Today I had an interview with another, more successful show. So I dug up my new "interview suit" - a pair of jeans that are clean but look dirty, a t-shirt with a smiling mouse (not Mickey) and what I refer to as my "Grandpa Sweater." If this outfit doesn't work, maybe I'll just go naked.

Monday, April 14, 2008

No gig -- Gig -- No Gig

The only thing that's certain about being a temp in Hollywood, uncertainty. Well, that and time sheets. And the part where people don't refer to you by name, but simply as "Temp" (because it has fewer syllables than my name) or "My Temp" (as if you're their property) or worse "The Temp" (because no one wants to lay claim to you). But I digress. When you don't have a gig lined up for the next day, your schedule is, well, whatever someone tells you it is.

Today the phone didn't ring by 10 a.m., so that meant no work. That was ok by me. I wanted to spend a couple days writing as I'd wasted the weekend looking at the air conditioner (read: not writing). So after a furious burst of literary...err...well let's just say I was typing, I took a nap, then a shower. Upon my return from the shower, a voicemail and an email from my "Temp Pimp."

"Must be big news!" I thought. Maybe my hard work and loyalty had paid off with a temp-to-perm job?

Not exactly. He had a two-week assignment. I immediately figured out how much I'd gross. $14.30 x 80 hours = Somewhere around $1000 (So my math skills are rusty). The only down side is I have to cram most of my writing zest into the next 24 hours, as the next two weeks belonged to someone else. So I continued my frantic typing pace, breaking only to get my health insurance straight and to brew some coffee. (Combined total 10 minutes!)

I'm in the zone. I've got rent covered for the next month. I can make some more contacts at a production company. And I'm cranking out the next slightly-above-average American screenplay. The world is my oyster, until...

2 hours later, the phone rings again. Caller ID tells me it's my Pimp. This can't be good news.

"Hi, it's (Name)."

"Hey, what's up?"

"They canceled the job order."

"Oh. Crap."

Everything after that was a blur. My creative juices stopped. My self doubt surged.

"Maybe I'll go back to doing marketing," I thought.

This is how things go as a Hollywood temp. Everything can change when you pick up the phone. Remind me not to answer it next time.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Another Day - Another Dollar

Some days the sun/God/Allah/Oprah shines on a temp. But moments like this don't come often so it's fun to rejoice. First a little bit about me.

I had a career prior to moving here. Without getting in to too much detail, I made real money, had PTO, 401ks, ESOPs, ESPPs, and many other acronyms. I'd been in that mode so long, that the last time the phrase "per hour" entered my employment lexicon was 1991 and I waiting tables. What is it about Bush administrations and hourly wages? Hmmm. The point is that I made a lot sacrifices to pursue this idea that I could write in Hollywood for a living. And now I make a living (barely) and I write. I wish I could say the two are connected, but at this point they aren't, YET.

So back to yesterday. After enduring 70 pages of a very bad idea of a "tent pole" summer block buster (NDAs prevent me from telling you much, but trust me when I say Global Warming moves too slow for a movie) my Boss du Jour asks me to get her an iced tea.

Now when I first moved here, that would usually be followed by a perplexed look. Never in any of my days as a boss did I ask someone to get me a drink, sandwich, a napkin. But I take a deep breath and remembered what a former actor told me before I moved here: "In Hollywood you never know who might be able to help you. So if you're at the market and someone smashes into your cart, steps on your foot and swipes the last piece of tofu from your basket, you smile and say 'I'm sorry, that was my fault' and move on."

So I took her AMEX Gold Card, went to the Starbucks, got the iced tea without incident. And my reward - she offered to read one of my scripts and told me to pad my time sheet by an hour. An extra $22 dollars and an actual Hollywood exec reading my script. As I said, some days the sun shines on a temp.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Potty Break

April 10, 2008

"I think I have irritable bowel syndrome." This is never something you want to hear on a job. But this is life as a temp in Hollywood. Let's start from the beginning.

Today I started a 2-day assignment at a film production company that is responsible for a very successful film franchise. Anyway, the person I'm working for is actually quite nice (this is rare) and gave me real work (this is rarer). But while she was off at a meeting, I'm left minding the fort. In comes a person I don't work for, have never worked for and doesn't work for the company I am working for -- call her Madam Bowelvary. Let's write this like a screen play.


Hi. Where's (name)?

(Name)'s at a meeting. She should be back in a half hour or so.

Hmmm. Hey, mind if I sleep on her couch for 15 minutes?

Temp sits there and thinks to himself for a moment, "I don't know who you are or what your name is...Wait, are you homeless?"

I don't know. I'm just a temp. so...

So can you send an email and ask (Name) if I can sleep on the couch? Just a quick nap. I'm having coffee in 15 minutes with (another Exec/COFFEE DATE) and I'm beat.

Temp notices MADAM BOWELVARY is checking emails on a Blackberry while asking this question. Temp ponders a witty retort like "You have fingers, don't you?" but decides it's not smart to annoy people who can buy your scripts.

Just write "(Name) is here. Can she sleep on her couch?"

Temp types this in and hits SEND.

10 minutes later. No response.

Hey can you send an email to COFFEE DATE and tell him to come down here when he's ready for coffee.

Again, Temp wonders "When did you become my boss? You don't work here. It's as if I went into McDonald's and said 'Give me a Whopper with Cheese....Yes, I know this isn't a Burger King...Now go over to Burger King, get me a Whopper with Cheese, bring it back to McDonalds and give it to me.'" Temp sends the email anyway for the same reason as mentioned above.

I'm gonna use the bathroom.

The exec goes to the john. While in there, the COFFEE DATE walks down and enters the office.

Where's (name)?

I'm in here. I'll be right out.

Toilet flushes. The distinctive sound and smell of Lysol emerges. Bathroom door opens. A waft of disinfected air exits the bathroom with MADAM B.

(to Coffee Date)
I think I have irritable bowel syndrome...

The two execs exit the office. Temp is left there alone again. The fumes from the bathroom are almost overpowering. The toilet runs.

10 minutes later. Temp's boss returns.

I got your email. Was that a joke?

No. It was (name).


-the end-