#5 Hey Guys, Let’s Make a Movie! (What you don’t know can’t kill you, but it can hurt you really, really bad.)

First off, I have to apologize.  The title of this post is misleading.  Or dishonest.  What I’m trying to say is what follows isn’t really about ‘Let’s Make a Movie!”  

That was my intention, and then this happened…

CHAPTER SEVEN

My Johnny Rockets career came to an end in December 2003.  Rachael and I worked at the store at Hollywood & Highland.  By that point, I was burnt out.  Serving burgers and fries to teenagers and tourists is pretty awful when you’re an adult.   Plus, I wasn’t gaining any traction with my writing.  These were dark days.  The novelty of Hollywood was gone.  It was just me, my bad screenplays and a job where a good portion of the clientele didn’t tip.

I was angry.  I was depressed.  I drank too much.  I even got into it with some guy while we were barhopping on Sunset.   It was nonsense.  Maybe about Yankees-Red Sox.  It wasn’t long after Aaron Boone’s home.  I’m a Yankees fan.  But not the loud kind.  I like to think of myself as a Joe DiMaggio/Willie Randolph/Mariano Rivera type fan.  Classy, ya know?  (Whatever that means.)

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1985 was the year I really got into baseball cards.

So, I told this guy to take the first shot.  Why?  I don’t know.  I was wasted.  Plus, I remember Richie Cunningham doing that in Happy Days.

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If I remember the fight correctly, Richie let the guy take the first punch, then proceeded to beat him to death.  Fonzie disposed of the body.

So I stuck out my chin and this dude hit me square in the face.

I saw stars.  Real stars.  It was a December night.

It’s strange to say, but it felt really good.  All this blood gushing out of my nose.  It was a momentary relief from all my other pain.  “Maybe it was the pain of being a failure for the first time in my life.” he said to his chair.

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I was like this, but without the ripped bod.

That relief lasted for about a second.  Then it was back to the reality of being some drunken loser on Sunset Boulevard with a busted beak and a very scared, pissed off girlfriend.

Yeah, that was pretty bad.

Back to the end of Johnny Rockets…

So, we were going to NJ for Christmas, but the management at the store wasn’t going to grant vacation requests for the holidays.  I figured that the worst thing that could happen was we’d have to find new jobs.  I also thought they were bluffing, so we hopped on a plane.

They weren’t bluffing, and we were unemployed.  Rachael took it especially hard.  As we walked back to our car after hearing the official news, she nearly stepped into oncoming traffic.  (She’d actually already been hit by a car once in L.A., so maybe this was just her version of getting punched in the face.)  

But overall, it was a good thing.  We both found much better jobs.

I was hired at Hamburger Hamlet on Sunset.  It was an old school place, nothing fancy, kinda like a nice diner.   But “The Hamlet” drew a great crowd of young and old Hollywood.  The staff was a little older and more down to earth, and it was the first time I actually felt like I had friends in this town.

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Our hostess at Hamburger Hamlet, Frances, was once married to Miles Davis. That’s her on his album cover.

Rachael got a job at a restaurant called Gulfstream.  It’s owned by the same people who own Houston’s.   She was making substantially more money than I was at Hamburger Hamlet.  This was OK for a while, but it wasn’t long before The Hamlet’s luster faded.  Plus, I kinda quit in the middle of a shift, while I was waiting on Gary Coleman.   (His burger was taking a very long time and… it’s a story for another time.)   However, I did a “Larry David/George Costanza” and returned to work the next day and kept my job, but it was time to go.

I won’t go into my feelings about Gulfstream and the company that owns it.  One thing I will say is that they hire good people to work for them as servers, bartenders and hosts.

Having said that, I’m sure Rachael was the only reason they hired me at Gulfstream.   On my own, I wouldn’t have gotten the job.  She was one of their top servers.  Friendly, knowledgable, always smiling.   Smiling is big with that company.   Yet there I was, wearing a starched white shirt, blue jeans and an ugly black and white-striped apron.

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Me and Hilario.  I’ve worked with at least a half million people at restaurants, and I still remember some of their names.

Here’s my advice for anyone who is thinking about coming to Hollywood to write or act and is considering a job in the restaurant business:

DON’T DO IT!!!

And if you do it, DON’T DO IT FOR TOO LONG!!!

My feeling is that whatever it takes to be a good server is going to have a negative impact on your creative life.  You have to desensitize to survive.  A good server has to put on a facade to deal with all the bullshit.  That mask is like botox for the soul.

It’s not the same as acting.  It’s actually the opposite of acting.  Good acting is revealing.  If actors did good acting at restaurants, there’d be a lot more screaming and crying and violence.  A lot of food would be dropped on people’s heads and water thrown into people’s faces.

IT WOULD BE AWESOME.

Every server I’ve ever known should come with this warning:

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What servers do is they cope.   They nod.  They smile.  They internalize everything.

THEY SERVE.

And that’s just one bad thing.

Another bad thing is you might make enough money to feel comfortable.  That’s actually worse than botox for the soul.  Sure, you’re not living out your dreams.  But you’re also not living out of your car.  You actually drive a nice car.  You eat at fancy restaurants.  You go to bars that good-looking people go to.  Your life is actually pretty great!

But you’re not lean and hungry Cassius.

Yes, you wanted to drive a nice car, eat at fancy restaurants and go to bars that good-looking people go to, but you wanted to do it because you were an actor or a writer or a director.

Fortunately for me, I’ve worked at restaurants for so long that it all comes back around.  Your soul dies.  Then resurrects.  It’s another cycle of Hollywood life.  

So if you’re going to give yourself 18 years or more to make it, then go right ahead and work at a restaurant!

NOTE:  If you’re gorgeous and charming and sincerely don’t give a shit about making diners happy but just need to pay for acting class and vegetables, go right ahead and work at a restaurant!  You’ll be a lousy server and get fired after two months, but the good news is you’ll be a TV star very soon!   Would you like to read one of my scripts?

You know, there was a time when I made enough to feel comfortable.  It was before I became a parent.  And before I had thousands of dollars in credit card debt because of some damn movie I made.

So let’s get back to that damn movie…

CHAPTER EIGHT

Skipping ahead to 2012 (The year we kinda shot The Shower)…

I’m no longer employed by Gulfstream.  Neither is Rachael.  She left on her own.  I didn’t.  Though I did quit once, then I went home, looked at my options (including going to Auto Mechanic School) and asked for my job back the next day.

Somehow, I worked there for six years.   I made some great friends.  And I made The Shower with a bunch of those friends.

These are the people from Gulfstream who worked on The Shower: Rachael Drummond (actor-producer), Andy Hoff (actor-producer), Stephanie Tobey (actor-producer), Drew Benda (actor-producer), Adam Karell (actor), Paul Natonek (actor), John Brody (actor), John Rode (music editor-composer), Rikki Jarrett (line producer), John Allen Phillips (still photographer).  We also found our DP, Harry Frith, through the filmmaker Dan Jenski, who worked at Gulfstream.

So, it’s March of 2012, and I’ve just finished my latest attempt at a big, Hollywood spec sale.  It’s not good.  But I do have some good scripts on the shelf.  I’ve had a couple close calls in the past few years with scripts that almost sold.  I’ve gotten meetings with producers and studio executives.  I’ve been paid to write a screenplay for a couple actors.  I’ve got an indie script I’d like to direct, but I need a star and at least a couple hundred thousand dollars.

Rachael and I are married, we have a son, Andrew, and another baby due in August.

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My brother Luke’s wedding back in NJ.  After a decade, people stop asking how things are going in California.  They just buy me a drink, nod, and let me cry on their shoulder.

My original plan was to write, produce, direct and edit a film festival quality short film during the summer of 2012.  It seemed like a good summer project and would move me toward my goal of directing a feature.

Somehow, that short film never happened.

The Shower happened instead.

So, I’m a Kevin Smith fan.  And an Edward Burns fan.  And a Duplass Brothers fan.

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Because of Kevin Smith, I got Rick Schmidt’s book, “Feature Filmmaking at Used Car Prices.”   I also bought the follow-up “Extreme DV at Used Car Prices.”

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I’d been writing feature screenplays for more than a decade.  I felt comfortable writing them.  I’d never written a short film before.

I knew I could do a short that could lead to a feature, but I figured, “Why not just make the feature?”

Yes, Alex, why?  FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, WHY!?

Well, I thought it could be done for used car prices.  And I thought I could make something good enough that it would get into film festivals and sell.

I’d been kicking around the idea of writing a relationship romantic comedy.  Something about three different couples.  Written specifically for me, Rachael and our friends.  It was going to be very real.  I would play someone just like me.  Rachael would play someone like her.  Our friends John & Samantha would do the same, as would our friends Andy & Stephanie.  We would shoot it at our apartments.  (One wild card in this scenario was me acting.  I’m not an actor.  But damn, I wish I was!)  It would be like Husbands & Wives with waiters.

I couldn’t figure out what the story was, and the concept was more experimental than I was ready for.  I also had a hard time getting excited about the story.  I felt like it needed something else.  Like it was only part of an idea.

I decided to take a more traditional approach.

I’d take some of the ideas that I wanted to explore, and put them into a horror movie.

NEXT TIME:  Hey Guys, Let’s Make a Movie!  (What you don’t know can’t kill you, but it can hurt you really, really bad.)  FOR REAL THIS TIME!  I PROMISE!  I PROMISE TO TRY!  OK, there’s a 50/50 chance it will sorta be about something having to do with making The Shower.  

Author: Alex

A married waiter/filmmaker with two kids.

3 thoughts on “#5 Hey Guys, Let’s Make a Movie! (What you don’t know can’t kill you, but it can hurt you really, really bad.)”

  1. Loving these Alex!! You’re a great writer–I’m captivated with your blog!! Except, you forgot to add in that part about not talking about Gulfstream EXCEPT for servers, hosts, bartenders, and this one amazing manager named Monica. It’s okay I know you meant to put it in there–maybe a future shout out?? 😉

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