Making A Feature – Part 1

I want to make a movie.

Some people recommend making short films, a really nice short film to show at festivals and gain attention. Some people recommend making a web series, something to post on YouTube to get attention and maybe pick up some buzz. Some people even recommend making a TV Pilot first, something that could be put online and maybe get an executive’s attention. But I ask you, if you’re home on a Friday night and you want to be entertained what are you most likely to watch, a webisode, a short film, or a movie? Unless the webisode features Kevin Spacey, I think you’re most likely to watch a movie. I think that’s why I want to make a genuine over forty minute (technically over forty minutes qualifies as a feature film according the Academy) beginning middle and end feature motion picture, if only because those are the things that I like watching the most. I see tons of people making good quality short films and web series, but I never hear people talk about watching short films or web series (unless its House of Cards).

Carrie, my wife, came up with a cool story and we’re going for it. We’re making a movie. So far we have:

  • A story
  • 45 pages of a screenplay (a couple weeks ago it was 89 pages, but it got crazy town). Eraserhead only was 41 pages.
  • 1 Canon T3i DSLR camera with a M42 adapter for vintage prime lenses which currently include 28mm, 55mm, 135mm, and 250mm, found on ebay and ShopGoodwill.com — they take beautiful pictures.
  • 1 camera stabilizer I bought on ebay.
  • 1 double suction cup camera mount to stick on a my car.
  • 1 Zoom H4N. I used this to record part of my comedy album.
  • 2 Condenser microphones for voiceover recording.
  • 1 Audio-Technica AT835b Shotgun mic
  • Too much XLR cable.
  • 2 tripods with vital pieces missing.
  • One actor – me.
  • One antique car, namely a 1988 VW Fox.
  • A movie poster, thanks to sammigirl on Fiverr.
  • A musical theme, thanks to carlocastellano on Fiverr.
  • 1 book on how to make lighting for video on a low budget.
  • Around 5 old paperbacks on how to make movies/basics of photography.

 

Lesson: Key Fees are Bullshit

It was sometime around 2003 in New York City. I had the chance to move into a studio apartment on Central Park West. It was small, sweltering (located right above the boiler), dirty, and dark. But it was Central Park West! Right across the street was Central Park. Down the street a mile or two was Times Square and across the river to the east was Astoria, Queens where I lived, tired of having roommates. And they were probably tired of me.

The opportunity for the apartment came through a friend who’s neighbor was moving to another apartment in the building. Moving forward, I’ll refer to this gentleman as “Neighbor.” Neighbor was a nice guy and told me he’d do everything he could to help me takeover his place.

“My word goes very far in the building.”

I would receive a preferential rent: $800 a month! (The legal rent was around $1100, which is about what I was paying 7 years later when I moved out of that hole). There was one more thing, Neighbor told me the building manager would require a “key fee” of $500.

In cash.

Hey, I wasn’t paying a broker fee, which sometimes ran people back a stiff grand, and I was paying less than a thousand to live in Manhattan, home of Gray’s Papaya. I thought a little shady cash deal wasn’t out of the question.

I went to sign the lease, paid the deposit and first month’s rent. I think I remember my preferrential rent being written in pencil on the lease. Neighbor waited outside the business manager’s office. When I came out, Neighbor asked me if everything went well. I told him it did.

“Did you pay the key fee?”

“He didn’t ask for it.”

“What?”

“Give it to me, I’ll handle it.”

Then I gave the neighbor the cash.

WHY DID I GIVE THAT GUY FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS IN CASH?!!

He then went into the office and came back out.

“It’s cool.”

Now, your speculation on what happened behind those closed doors is as good as mine. Did the neighbor take a cut of the cash? Or maybe he just wished the manager a happy birthday and kept all the cash to spend on Propecia?

The lease was already signed, if the building manager wanted cash from me, he could have just asked.

Lesson learned: Don’t give people money just because they ask for it. I was so nervous about signing my first lease, getting a Manhattan apartment, and handling money that I didn’t stand up for myself.

I could really use that cash now. Maybe that old neighbor is on Facebook.

The transition moving into the apartment was hardly smooth. Neighbor took a couple weeks moving out. He even let some European tourists crash there, on my lease, while I suffered in Queens. I wish I held my ground but I was afraid of making enemies.

Do me a favor, if someone insists on a key fee in exchange for a crummy dark Manhattan studio, fight it.

 

 

Tales from the Los Angeles Subway: Emergency Response

Today I got to the Hollywood/Vine stop just in time to see some guy collapse and start bleeding. I didn’t actually see him collapse. One second he was on the bench, looking pretty out of it. I turned around. THUMP!  And he was on the ground bleeding, not a lot but if you just hit your head no amount of blood can be good. Another woman also was there. We decided he needed help.

We couldn’t find a call box on the platform, but found one upstairs. The dispatcher asked me what end of the platform the guy was on and what he looked like. I couldn’t remember what he was wearing besides jeans and that he was a caucasian (why didn’t I just say ‘white’?), maybe around 6 feet tall and in his early twenties. I had no idea how to properly describe where on the platform he was. She said she would find him.

When we got back downstairs the guy had propped himself up against the bench but his head was still hanging in a stupor. As another train came, the woman who had helped asked me if I would stay with him, she didn’t think two people were needed. I said I would.

I’m glad I did.

As I sat there I noticed there were two call boxes on the platform. There are red signs marking them, but even then they’re a little hard to spot. They’re located on the side of the fire hose emergency things. There’s a button and a speaker box. Around two trains in either direction went by before I decided to give another call.

I think I spoke to the same dispatcher and was able to better describe the location. I’d say in less then ten minutes there was a Metro employee checking out the poor guy immediately followed by four medics. They asked me for details then I got on my train.

I was kind of disturbed by two things. One, the response time for the first call: Did they think a report of a man unconscious and bleeding wasn’t worth somebody at least making a sweep of the station? And two, the overall lack of concern from others: a small handful of people did show some concern ranging from staring for a bit to asking what was the matter. A couple tourist looking kids laughed at the guy. To be honest, if someone else didn’t also notice him the same time I did I might have not done anything. And my first impulse is not to call for help because maybe it’d be more of a favor to not get the police involved. But he hit his head and was bleeding.

A man with a big bag of collected bottles seemed the most concerned, asking me if the guy had  a seizure. I didn’t see one. He then tried to jostle him awake by shaking his shoulder. The unconscious guy remained unconscious. I told the bottle guy I had called someone. “He’ll be fine,” he said as he went about his day. A couple of other people seemed genuinely ready to do something. One other woman asked me if I was going to stay with him until help came. “I’ve waited this long,” I said. She told me I was being very nice then got on her train.

Help came around thirty minutes after I made my initial call (around ten minutes after the second call). So, if something similar happens to you on a L.A. Metro platform, I’d say call every ten minutes before someone comes. And if you see someone passed out, they may have hit their head. It doesn’t hurt to call for help, there are call boxes on every platform (follow the red signs with white lettering). And I didn’t see any police arrive, if you’re worried about that.

I remember a few months ago I was getting out of a subway station downtown and a guy collapsed. I just went about my day. I thought he was just drunk and could handle the fall. Around thirty minutes later when I was at the station again,  a couple ambulances had arrived. I guess he couldn’t handle the fall and I could have called for help.

Tales from the Los Angeles Subway

Person: Does this train go to MacArthur Park?
Me: No.
Person: Does this train go to MacArthur Park?
Me: No.
Person: OK.
Person boards train.
Person: Does this train go to MacArthur Park?
Me: No.
Person: Aw, man!

Car-Free Hiking in Los Angeles: Griffith Park

I had so much fun checking out Temescal Gateway Park and Will Rogers State Park that I wanted to check out some more car-free hiking trips in Los Angeles. I was having trouble finding ideas so I turned to my old stand-by, Yahoo Answers, where I got lots of good ideas (Yahoo Answers User Maliboo offers some great leads).

I really wanted to see if there was some bus or train I could take that would drop me off near the San Gabriels.

Yahoo Answers User T F shared this interesting story:

I have to concur with a couple of these responses. The San Gabriels don’t offer any public transportation. Funny story though. I’ve been hiking for many, many years and have been lost exactly once…in the San Gabriels. When I finally made it out of the canyon at around 7,500 feet (and at night) and started walking what turned out to be a six mile walk back to my car…a freaking CAB drove by, stopped and asked if I wanted a ride. BLEW MY MIND. There should have been 1 car every 15 minutes up there at that time. Some good hiking karma.

So, the San Gabriel Mountains seems a little daunting for a solo day trip. Another easy and accessible option to me was Griffith Park, practically my backyard and thus boring. but T F had this to say:

But don’t sell Griffith Park short. I’ve hiked there for years if I can’t get to the mountains on a weekend and there are some awesome hidden trails. I’ve hiked for a long time without seeing anyone. My guess is the bus goes to the observatory so you’ll need to do some fire road hiking to get away from the crowds by the trailhead but when you get in to the park there can be some awesome solitude.

I was sold. Getting to Griffith Park was easy for me and I imagine would be for many others. I entered on Fern Dell Road, which is off of Los Feliz Blvd. Parking is available if you travel by car. But if you’re travelling by train or bus, the Metro Red Line (one of L.A.’s subways) stops at Hollywood Blvd. and Western which is within walking distance, and there are lots of bus stops close by. The DASH bus even goes up to Griffith Obervatory on the weekends.

While it took a while of hiking on the fire roads, I did eventually get away from the crowds. In Griffith Park, I found out if you’re out of direct sight of the observatory and/or the Hollywood sign you can find some decent solitude.

I’ve discovered a huge number of paths which deviate off of the fire roads, many of which can get quite steep. On one trip, my girlfriend and I saw a path in the distance we wanted to try. We followed a path in the direction we wanted to head and quickly noticed that instead of seeing recent footprints of fellow hikers we were dodging deer droppings. We stumbled onto an animal trail! Deers are much more adept at scaling inclines than I was in my 5 year old running shoes.

Note: Hiking in my beat-up running shoes in Griffith Park has proven a bad idea. A lot of the small paths have steep inclines and the dusty dry dirt can get quite slick, especially with the soles on my worn out sneakers. But I’ve only fallen down a couple times.

I’ve been to Griffith Park several times and have enjoyed finding new paths everytime. You could even just stick to the fire roads and get a good workout as well as enjoying a lot of wilderness.

Wildlife I spotted in Griffith Park: Coyotes, deer, crows, hawks, horses (there’s Sunset Ranch in Griffith Park where you can take a horse ride), lizards, and snakes. Be careful where you step!

What you should bring:

  • SUNSCREEN! There’s a lot of trees in Griffith park but not a lot of shade. I wear a long sleeve athletic shirt along with a hat and bandana around my neck.
  • WATER! Under the sun it can get hot and sweaty. Because it’s easy to get lost (see below) bring plenty of fluids. If you run out of water, it’s time to head home.
  • CELL PHONE! It’s easy to get lost in Griffith Park, it’s happened to me twice. Luckily for me the L.A. skyline was always in view but because of the unmarked paths and winding fire roads, I lost track on how to get out of the park.
  • FOOD! Bring food expecting to be hiking a few hours more than you expect in case you get lost.

I found that the best way to avoid getting lost in the park is to stick to the fire roads and if you do go down a path to circle back to the fire road you found the path.

Photos to follow.

Alex P. Keaton for a Day

I feel a little nervous about what I’m going to admit, but this little ounce of shame has given me a little perspective and empathy for a people I spent most of my life looking down upon. Yesterday, I voted in the California primary as a registered Republican.

Walking into my Hollywood polling place I felt like I had been harmfully exposed as some sort of enemy of the state each time the poll workers loudly announced to each other a Republican had arrived to vote, and the Republican needed a Republican ballot, as well as a Republican voting booth. After I was finished making my selections I had trouble inserting my ballot into the counting machine. When I finally got it, one poll worker told me that the sound the machine was making was my ballot being shredded. Maybe he makes that joke for everyone, but paranoia and shame both swirled around my head, feelings I assumed would be absent from voting. That being said, the poll workers were very courteous and helpful… all 15 of them… being paid by taxpayer dollars… to manage a near empty polling place.. and they probably had a paid day of training too… (oh boy, maybe labels do influence opinions).

Why did I register as a Republican? I wanted to vote for one of the primary candidates because I liked what he had bring to the discussion about our wars and the country’s drug policy. OK, I’ll stop beating around the bush, I registered as a Republican so I could vote for Ron Paul.

Already I feel like apologizing, but let me just say A) what am I really worried about? No one reads this blog and B) I have no love for either party. But now I kind of think of it this way, this November when I vote for some unknown oddball pro-peace, pro-environment, anti-consumerism third party kook the Republicans will be whining about my costing them 1 vote as opposed to the Democrats.

However, I think this shame I feel just because I have given myself a certain (if incorrect) political label is a sad state of affairs. In a democracy, problems should be solved by an open discussion of ideas instead of arguments that start off with a “What the Hell is wrong with you?”  What do we assume of each other when we’ve boiled down a whole country of ideas into two political teams?

Note 1: Mentioning Alex P. Keaton reminds me of this 2008 article by one of the creators of Family Ties, What Would Alex Keaton Do? which ends with this gem:

For what it’s worth Michael J. Fox and I have differing opinions about just where Alex Keaton is today. I believe he does pro bono legal work for the Children’s Defense Fund.

Mike thinks he’s just now getting out of prison.

Note 2: I voted to raise CA cigarrette taxes just to balance everything out.

Car-Free Hiking in Los Angeles: Temescal Gateway Park & Will Rogers State Park

A couple weeks ago, I wanted to go for a hike, but I didn’t feel like driving (this is one part not wanting to pollute the air, one part not wanting to burn out my clutch in weekend traffic, an one part I’m afraid of parallel parking).

The bus can take you pretty much anywhere in this city. Now it may not run frequently, but it’s extensive. I tried looking on the internet for hiking areas accessible by public transportation. A search for “car free hiking” gave me lots of ideas for New York and Seattle, but not so much for Los Angeles. I really wanted to hit the San Gabriel Mountains as I heard that they’re beautiful, but I found the most info on Will Rogers State Park, accessible by the Metro Bus via the 2 or 302 which shoots down Sunset from Downtown L.A. all the way to the Pacific Coast Highway (close to the Pacific Palisades and Malibu). Will Rogers State Park had a few good reviews on Yelp, so I hopped on the 2 at Sunset and Western.

The trip was a little under 90 minutes. A car ride probably would have cut it in half, but I found it more relaxing staring at my fellow bus riding kooks. The bus was moderately full. No one was standing but pretty much all the seats were taken. I caught the 2 around 9:50am and got the park around 11:30am.

Well I got to a park at 11:30am. Most L.A. buses have an electronic annoucement of what stop is next. The announcement machine was broken on my bus. Instead of doing the practical thing and asking the bus driver where the Will Rogers State park is, I thought I’d just eyeball it. Well, I eyeballed the stop right as the bus flew by Will Rogers State Park Road. So I got off the bus with a gaggle of UCLA students toting water bottles and a platoon of elderly women with sunhats and backpacks. Welcome to Temescal Gateway Park.

I’m glad I missed by stop because Temescal Gateway Park was the place to be. First of all, you don’t have to hike a mile to the park from the bus stop, as you do from the Will Rogers State Park, i.e. the bathrooms are more accessible after the 90 minute bus ride. Plus Temescal Gateway Park was happening. There was some maypole ceremony and tons of other folks wandering around.

Temescal Gateway Park has a parking lot if you travel by car. I forget how much parking costs, but I vaguely remember it being something like $7.00. There’s also the before mentioned restrooms, as well as picnic tables, a store which advertises maps for sale (but was closed on a Saturday at noon), as well as a few hiking trails to choose from. There was a trail map close to the entrance which at one time offered free copies to hikers, who hiked away with all the free maps.

A trail to a waterfall seemed to be the most popular, but I wanted something a little less crowded so I picked the trail from Temescal Rivas Canyon to Will Rogers State Park, which is around 2 miles if I remember correctly. The trail was a little rocky but my old pair of running shoes seemed to work fine (better than on some of the dusty trails in Griffith Park).

Although I always had some sort of sense that traffic and buildings were within sight or sound, I enjoyed the hike and took in some great views. I found the trail well marked, except towards Will Rogers State Park, where I wandered on to a residential street. Fortunately the street conencted to Sunset Blvd., close to the Will Rogers State Park Bus Stop. I then hiked up the windy road (watch out for cars!) and finally made it to Will Rogers State Park.

I was able to use the restroom at the park and even take in a polo game. I still had a couple hours left, so I started off on a trail towards Inspiration Point. I didn’t find inspiration as when I almost reached it, I realized I had lost my sunglasses. So I retraced my steps and a nice couple of polo fans had found them for me. I then headed up the Inspiration Point trail again, but turned back as I had run out of water and decided it was best to head home.

Photos forthcoming.

New to Los Angeles: Getting Around

You need a car.

The bus is only for people without legs, eyes, control of their bowels, and two-thirds of their sanity.

The above sentiments are pretty much what was drilled into my head about traversing the great city of Los Angeles.  Moving from New York City, I was used to public transportation and walking.  I had lived on Staten Island for a year and had a car, but driving still seemed alien and terrifying: I had a stick shift, people beeped at me, I got cut off, cars sped by me angrily.  I thought L.A. was going to be much worse and with less public transportation.

I’ve only been in L.A. for around two and a half months, but as my beautiful and talented girlfriend Carrie told me, Angelinos have a love of hyperbole.  And why wouldn’t they? The film industry relies on hyperbole more than fossil fuels. Dirty Secret: Getting around Los Angeles isn’t that hard, even without a car. It’s all pretend! But if we don’t all play otherwise there’s nothing to really complain about here because the weather is so nice. And if we don’t complain we don’t know what to base superficial acquaintances and meaningless chit chat on. And if we don’t foster superficial acquaintances and meaningless chit chat, honesty will just be lying there, waiting to take a dip in the pool. Then show business, finance, and the establishment itself will start to crumble in a puddle of mixed metaphors. Read between the lines. Connect the dots. It’s a conspiracy.

Public transportation is extensive in L.A. and if you can walk more than a mile, you may even be able to stroll to some places.

DRIVING

The traffic ain’t even that bad (well it’s bad but it doesn’t seem as bad as NYC traffic which might have numbed me). And L.A. drivers in comparison to East Coast drivers?  THEY USE TURN SIGNALS HERE! And they don’t beep if your stick shift stalls at a stop sign.  They do beep if you don’t make a right turn on a red light. But when they pass you, it’s a low-key-I-don’t-feel-threatened-pass.  So if your frame of reference is New York City, the roads here aren’t bad.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a pain in the neck during rush hour but its not the dog and pony show people gave me every time I mentioned I was moving to L.A.

Driving a stick shift in Los Angeles: My ’88 VW Fox is a stick shift.  People told me I’d be crazy.  It’s not that bad.  I don’t do it that often but in slow traffic, it’s a little bit of a chore, I just try to roll in neutral or put it in a low gear and go a little slower. Usually in thick traffic, whenever I get antsy to put it in third gear the traffic slows again anyway.  Coming off an exit, its fun to put it neutral and save some gas.  The one bad thing about my old timey car is that it doesn’t have AC, so we just roll the window down.  The trick for me is to keep my foot off the clutch as much as possible because in stop and go.  It’s easy to “stand on the clutch” which isn’t that great for the car.

Carrie and I have driven around in a Prius and I have noticed that cars seem to be a lot nicer to my old VW than the Prius for what that’s worth.  Although it might have something to do with the Prius’s poor visibility.

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION

But that being said, traffic stinks. Anywhere. And I was happy to discover the L.A. Metro Bus and Subway. I live in the Los Feliz/Hollywood area which means I’m close to the bus and the subway. Unlike New York City if you’re going to take public transportation, instead of taking the subway your entire trip, you’ll probably end up taking a combination of subways and buses across this hulking behemoth of a city.

The best system I’ve used for planning my public transportation adventures has been Google.com/maps.  It also gives driving directions, which from I usually have to take the driving time and multiply it by two.

The Damn Bus

Yes, everyone here slams the bus. It’s slow. It’s full of the poor. Poor people smell bad. OK, let’s calm down. Yes, there are poor people on the bus. But what’s your wealth based on? The system? Inheritance? Debt? And yes, occasionally some people smell. But that network development exec your dreaming of meeting with smells just as bad with his buckets of aftershave and scented moisturizers. I’d rather smell the occasional whiff of the humanity’s struggles than pock marks of spiritual decay(tm).

See, hyperbole is everywhere in this town.

The bus isn’t so bad. And it’s pretty extensive. I’ve ridden the buses in New York City. Those buses are slow. The buses in L.A. stop a lot but the stops seem to me a little slower than the rhythm of traffic. If you’re going to be stopping at red lights, you might as well be sitting in an air conditioned bus, reading, listening to your ipads, or watching humanity’s adventure. The most interesting things I’ve seen in L.A. have happened on the bus (example 1, example 2–check out 4:20pm).

There’s also RAPID TRANSIT! buses which make express stops.  These are real handy.

The main agency that runs the buses and the subway is L.A. Metro, and the fare is $1.50,  but there are also local bus lines like the Santa Monica Big Blue Bus.  And I think there’s some crazy bus in Burbank (yay, we can all take the bus to yoga on the way to Target!), as well as the kooky Hollywood DASH bus (yes, it looks sketchy but its FIFTY CENTS! RIDE IT!).  It’s important to note that unlike New York, you can not get free transfers from subway to bus and bus to bus.  You have to pay a fare for each ride.  However you can buy daily passes via your TAP card ($5 a day, $20 a week, and $80 a month*).

Yes, the bus is probably not as fast as your ’98 Nissan Sentra but you’re going to be stopped at stop lights anyway and its cheaper than parking.

*The Tap Card

The TAP card is L.A.’s equivalent of NYC’s Metrocard but it’s not the same.  First it works by tapping instead of sliding.  Creepy, right? But what’s most annoying about your TAP card is weekly and monthly passes start on particular days.  In New York, you buy a weekly pass: it’s good from a week when you first use it.  Hey, fo’geddaboutit. You buy a thirty day pass, you can use it right then and there.  BOOM. That’s too much for the TAP card.  Weekly passes start on Sundays. Monthly passes start on the beginning of the month.  They don’t even start retroactively if you buy them after the pass period. So don’t repeat my mistake of moving to LA on a Tuesday, buying a weekly TAP card then having to buy another one to use until the week starts.  You believe that crap?

UPDATE: How the times have changed!  All TAP card passes activate on the first “tap.”  No more waiting for the beginning of a week or month.  Someone must have read my blog.  Or perhaps I have figured a way to alter the very fabric of reality. OR PERHAPS THE TWO ARE CONNECTED?

The Subway

The L.A. Subway exists! I have photos!


The Los Angeles Subway is not the New York City subway, but it ain’t bad.  It runs pretty frequently, the stops seems around on average a mile apart, and they have info screens telling you when the next couple trains are scheduled to arrive.  The stations are huge, as if they’re ruins from a race of subterranean giants. I like the subway.  I wish it traveled further but unless I’m going down town or to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, I have to take a combination of bus and train.

If you’re used to New York City subways, you’re used to trains with big signs on front of them that have bright colors and big numbers or letters letting you know what train you’re boarding. Not in Los Angeles.  Yes, the trains are named after colors, but they do not have big dots on the front of them.  The Purple and Red Lines share the same track and the only difference (besides the different destinations) are little dot matrix signs on the side.  If its your first time, take note, they’re hard to find.

And if your travels take you up into the Valley, you might need to ride the Orange Line. But guess what? It’s not even a subway train!  It’s like this long bus that runs on its own road parallel to traffic.  It even has train like stations, as if someone started digging all the paths for train tracks and gave up.  ”Let’s just make it a road and use some old buses glued together, OK guys? Schmanks.”

One cool thing about the Metro subway is if you’re going to LAX you can just take the subway to Union Station then grab a $7 Flyaway Shuttle to save yourself a huge hassle.

Check out this subway mural about scrappy Mexican rebels holding off the U.S. Army.

I see this in every subway station.  Ladies and Gentlemen, the happiest man in Los Angeles:

WALKING

Well, walking is hard in Los Angeles because the everything is spread out. But if do decide to hoof it,  the only other people on the sidewalk will be pets and cyclists.  A lot of L.A. cyclists seem to claim ownership of the sidewalk, because the streets are too scary for da widdle babies.  I actually don’t blame them, a lot of the roads look too narrow for the SUV’s that rumble through.  I don’t know if there’s some pro-cyclist law or if pedestrians are just uncommon but the arrogance of sidewalk cyclists is palpable. They get angry if you don’t offer to get out of their way, even though they’re on wheels and the sidewalks were built for you. They use they’re little bells. Ring-Ring, I don’t feel like taking my feet off the pedals, I’m late to a development meeting at Starbucks, Ring-Ring.

Cars, however seem pretty receptive to pedestrians.  At cross walks cars always stop, which is change from New York City when cabs would slip by in front of me.

THE FUTURE & CONCLUSION

It takes time getting around Los Angeles, no matter what mode of transportation you take.  But its not the pain the ass which I was warned. If you’re going downtown I don’t think you can lose with the subway.  If you’re worried about parking, or want to go out for a drink, the bus can help you out (and spare us your alcohol tinged driving).  In some stations you can even park your car at a “park and ride.”  A car does come in handy for grocery store runs and getting beyond the bus’s reach, but if everyone here threw in a little public transportation in their commutes I think it could rival NYC’s system. Most of the cars I see have solo passengers.  Come on, its lonely. And what does that say about the city that shapes the world’s entertainment if everyone spends large swaths of the day disconnected?  If everyone started getting on some kind of bus or train, they (the overlords) would expand and improve service, we’d all save money, natural resources, and get to hang out with each other a little more. Come on, TAP that.

My First TV Job in Los Angeles: Paid Audience Member

Thursday

1:30pm: I scroll through LACasting.com searching for work. This website offers a number of typically low-budget acting work such as non-union commercials, background (or “extra work”), and independent feature films. I see a posting for a “paid audience members,” fifty bucks in cash to sit and be enthusiastic all day. It doesn’t seem like too far of a stretch from my last job at a New York City hedge fund, only this job sounds like less sitting.

4:45pm: I receive an email from the casting director asking me to confirm a couple details then receive another email telling me to call a voicemail number for instructions.

5:00pm: The secret voicemail message tells me to be in Van Nuys, CA by 8:15am, ready to go. It also tells me to look my best. No t-shirts, no jeans, no “tennis shoes.” I am told that this person doesn’t care what I’ve worn to previous jobs, I’m getting paid to look my best, this means khakis, this means an ironed shirt, this means blazer. I don’t have an iron.

5:05pm: I imagine what sort of person still uses the phrase “tennis shoes.”

5:20pm: I finally figure out where Van Nuys is. It will take an hour and fifteen to get there. Or 22 minutes by car, Google Maps tells me this will turn into 50 minutes in traffic. The voicemail instructions say that only street parking is available, which possibly means parking meters, which means at least $6 in quarters and a parking ticket if the show goes longer than expected. 50 minutes in stop and go traffic, having to find a spot on the street, and stress over parking tickets? I decide to take the train and two buses. An hour and fifteen commute doesn’t bother me after commuting from Staten Island to Manhattan for a year.

10:00pm: I go to bed to wake up at 5:00am to leave by 6:30am.

Friday
5:30am: I get up and hang my clothes in the bathroom so the steam from the shower can take out any wrinkles.

6:45am: I leave my apartment and head out for the Los Angeles Metro. Unlike New York City where you get a free transfer from bus to bus or train to bus, in Los Angeles you have to pay a fare for each transfer, $1.50. Well, you’re supposed to, it is incredibly easy to dodge paying a fair, the system involves either swiping a turnstile with your “tapcard” or holding on to a paper ticket to show the marshals who patrol the transit system. But the turnstiles will open up for you if you don’t tap (to allow people with paper tickets entry). With buses, you have to pay your fair or tap your tapcard when you enter. Since it’s a $1.50 for each leg of my trip, I buy a day pass which is $6.00, otherwise I’d pay $4.50 each way.

7:04am: My train arrives to take me to North Hollywood.

7:07am: I realize I am on the wrong train.

7:14am: I am on the correct train.

7:30am: I arrive in North Hollywood and transfer to the Orange Line. The Orange Line is my favorite public transportation line in Los Angeles so far. It’s a bus that has its own roads, like a makeshift trolley.

7:50am: I think I’m in Encino. I transfer to the final bus.

8:11am: I arrive at the studio. All the other “extras” are waiting outside in the drizzling rain. I don’t think most Angelinos own umbrellas. We stand in line and fill out our soggy paperwork.

8:12am: There are no parking meters on the street! I could have taken the car.

8:15am: People keep talking about how they thought the weather would be different in the valley.

8:30am: We are examined by security and told to leave our cell phones in our cars. My car is two buses and a train away. I tell the security I took the train.

“No trains stop out here!”
“I took the bus, the 236 bus.”
“The 236?”
“I took the Red Line to the Orange Line to the bus on the corner over there.”
“OK, I just wanted to make sure, remove the battery from your phone. please.”

8:40am: We take our seats. The show, which I don’t think I’m allowed to name is a dating game type show. There’s a warm-up comedian who’s in charge of the audience. He keeps us occupied with jokes, games, his ipod, and free candy. It looks like a fun job. He orchestrates us with broad facial expressions, expressive hand gestures, and initiatory laughs. We are instructed to clap with our faces as well as our hands.

9:00am: The host of the show enters. He’s a pretty recognizable dude. Applause and cheers! As he gets ready, his assistant rushes to the stage with an opened can of diet soda. He takes one sip and returns the can to the assistant. She runs off. He is now ready.

9:05am: An assistant with a big solo cup walks around making everyone in the audience spit their gum in it.

9:15am: OK, when the host is speaking we can applaud enthusiastically but we can not make “Woo!” sounds, only after he finishes speaking. Are we cool?

9:30am: I notice that the host is reading lines off a teleprompter and can see the text. But I also notice that the jokes and asides he’s making aren’t in the script. If he’s just making these little bits of commentary up on the spot, he’s pretty funny.

10:00am: A woman in the audience falls asleep. The warm-up comedian employs olympic class miming to try to get her to hold her head up.

10:45am: The first episode has completed taping. A woman comes out and says she saw some of us yawning and putting our heads down. She’s going to let it go this once but if it happens again, she’s going to have to get nasty.

11:00am: We are allowed a bathroom break, but told only if its an emergency. The bathrooms are fancy portable johns in the parking lot. They have electricity and the finest plastic seats.

11:05am: When we return to our seats, the producers are shifting audience members around. Some audience are being questioned, they have been spotted talking on a cell phone and have two choices: surrender the cell phone or leave.

11:30am: I notice that when the contestants say something funny (offensive) or long winded, production stops and a producer rushes out and coaches them on what to say with whispers and broad gestures. If the audience is laughing before a take and the contestant doesn’t look too serious, the director comes on the studio mic to say, “Quiet everyone, now big ‘reality’ moment.”

11:35am: I start to wonder if the audience is fake, what’s real about the rest of the show? Are these contestants just actors trying to make a car payment? I ask the guy next to me about this, he assures me, “It’s just a show! If love happens, love happens. They check to see if they’re married or have a boyfriend or girlfriend.”

12:00pm: The host makes a joke in reference about him considering botox: “I have more lines in my face than I have in this show!”

12:30pm: We are excused for an hour. The warm-up comedian says that they have “Lunchables” for all of us, then admits he’s joking. I find a lot of my fellow castmates are heading across the street to Del Taco, which is like a cross between Taco Bell and Dairy Queen. I see a lot of people getting meals for $7-$8 which seems like a feast compared compared to how much we’re being paid and that we’re just going to be sitting all day. I splurge and get two “fat tacos” and a bottle of water for $5. The cashier goes away for five minutes to find me a bottle of water. The fat tacos are delicious.

1:30pm: We have to go through security again. I meet another dude who has his battery removed from his cell phone. I ask him if he also took the bus. He does not want to talk about it too loudly but eventually tells me that I live in a very hip part of town.

1:40pm: New seats. New episode. New hope.

3:15pm: Taping has finished.

3:30pm: We are paid in cash.

3:50pm: The bus finally arrives.

4:20pm: On the Orange Line, my theory that the most interesting things in Los Angeles happen on the bus is proven again, as I eavesdrop on a conversation about a guy from African talking about his studying for the bar. He’s a lawyer in an African country but wants to work in the U.S. He’s talking about Miranda rights, how they came from Miranda vs. Arizona. He then mentions that Arizona doesn’t like people’s rights. This peaks the interest of another guy on the bus. “Arizona? What about California? There are 33 prisons in California…” Then the conversation is alive, people started talking about police brutality, how the Hispanic and Black communities are in conflict, “If they join together, who knows what we could do?” The “33 prisons” Guy then says he had a friend who fled from police when they asked for his ID and was shot in the back. The bus then detours into Conspiracy-Land, with people accusing police of staging drive-by’s and other shenanigan’s to fuel hatred between and amongst the communities. Then a woman says we have to deal with ourselves before we confront people about outside influence.

5:00pm: I blow my salary at Ralph’s on fruit and potato chips.

5:30pm: Home.

Bro Angeles: Public Transportation

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