I have been a writer, producer and director from the moment I picked up an 8mm camera. Before that actually. I wrote and performed comedy sketches with my brother, recording them on a reel-to-reel tape recorder my dad earned by buying Trojans for his pharmacy in Queens. And I have continued to write, produce and direct on the side my whole life. Some years, I would strike it rich by appearing in something or selling some writing, but then if necessary, I would always fall back on my “waiter’s job” or whatever job kept food on the table. To be safe and keep me hirable, those jobs were all anyone could learn about me online, but that has changed as of this writing…
My parents wanted my safety “waiter job” to be a doctor. I was pre-Med at Tufts University, but bought my biology text books backstage when performing standup at the Comedy Connection in Boston, much like Tom Hanks in the movie “Punchline.” By senior year, I was performing regularly, so I decided to move to LA to work the Improv, Comedy Store and write screenplays.
My first truly safe “waiter’s job” was selling computers at “Programs Unlimited” in Studio City. I had bought a Kaypro 2X, billed as the “Writer’s Computer” and I loved writing scripts with it. So I learned everything I could and returned to the store for what turned out to be a career. Hollywood writers would buy computers from me, get frustrated and ask me to help them. Assisting took up too much of my time, so I asked to be paid. Over the years, without technical schooling or obtaining professional certifications, I became a Senior Technical Analyst for DreamWorks and Paramount Pictures, with non-disclosures so I could specialize in supporting the top executives in both companies as my clients. I’ve been in the NY homes of Steven Spielberg and David Geffen, and was asked to personally assist with high profile presentations for Jeffrey Katzenberg and Paramount CFO Frederick Huntsberry, who requested me to run his private presentation with Martin Scorsese at the Directors Guild.
As tantalizing as my “waiter’s job” was, I never exploited it for my own advantage, making sure I always had the fallback job my parents trained me to keep. Shmucky, huh? But it was hard to walk away from the money and amazing backdoor access to Hollywood.
Like when I worked at Universal Studios and writer John Hill’s term deal ended, he gave me the keys to his golf cart, told me to keep it hidden and use it for as long as I could. With it, I would drive around the backlot and have lunch at the “Court of Miracles” where they shot the villagers chasing all the Universal monsters. One Halloween, I made sure to be in the Psycho house at midnight just so I could write about it someday… (Like now.)
Or like when Peter Jackson wanted to meet Stanley Tucci to talk about “Lovely Bones,” but Peter was in New Zealand and Stanley was in NY. My job was to test the video conferencing between DreamWorks and Peter’s living room, so I was privileged to meet both men. That Christmas, Peter Jackson’s assistant sent me a nice gift basket. At the NY Premiere of “Lovely Bones,” I bumped into Stanley Tucci again while he was surrounded by celebrities including Susan Sarandon and Patricia Clarkson. After Stanley recognized me, I got a big laugh when I asked him, “So Stanley, how did the audition with Peter go?”
Or like when I was working for Pop.com, Ron Howard, Steven Spielberg and Brian Grazer’s internet company, and they met with Microsoft’s Paul Allen for another round of funding. Behind closed doors, the presentation failed and I was summoned. The CEO was ashen as I was shoved into the room by the CFO. I remember all the famous faces watching me as I dived under the table to look for the problem. That’s when — to show a different film — they turned off all the lights. I was forced to solve the problem by Braille in the dark. The next day the head of HR called me in her office. The company was indebted and wanted to repay me for saving the day. Unfortunately at the time, I was a consultant, and to give me a bonus or even a dinner would have crossed some line between consultant and employee, somehow empowering me if I chose to force the company to give me benefits or something. I received a handshake instead. Ironically, I think I received more value from the retelling of that story than I ever could have from an actual bonus.
But here is a story that puts into perspective just how close — and yet how far — I was from the real action. When Steven Spielberg finally won his first Oscars and he arrived at work the next morning, there was a big loud cheer at Amblin, his lot within the Universal City lot. And I was RIGHT THERE, WITH HIM and his staff, crying with happiness, until I realized in order to participate in this amazing event, I was actually hanging off a rain gutter on the side of a bungalow just BEYOND the Amblin fence, because I was working for different producer at Universal then.
So the time has come to lay to rest my computer geek alter ego, except that I have him on retainer for www.catalystghoststories.com, and to troubleshoot my film production computers and software.
Ironically, I never actually had a waiter’s job, and truthfully, I think I would have liked it and been good at it. The closest I came was when I worked in a Venice Beach restaurant called 72 Market Street, owned by Dudley Moore, Liza Minnelli and director Tony Bill. They were so busy the first year, they hired me as a bathroom attendant to keep order in a hallway which contained two single co-ed bathrooms. Seizing the opportunity, I dressed like the Maitre d’, but called myself the Maitre p’. I developed a shtick where I would send people back to their tables after taking bathroom reservations, then I would fetch them, bowing and intoning, “Madam… your seat is waiting.” It got so people were calling the restaurant and asking if the Maitre p’ would be in so they could show their friends. I “sat” some of the biggest stars in Hollywood. Streisand was one. Gregory Peck was another, only by then, I was playing Trivial Pursuit with my guests, the prize being a chance to go to the bathroom. I would make up questions while looking at the cards. When I saw Mr. Peck, I asked, “Who played Captain Ahab in the 1956 movie, Moby Dick?” To which he raised his hand and said softly, “I did.” When Farrah Fawcett, Ryan O’Neal and their child were having dinner and there was a line at the bathroom, Ryan couldn’t wait and asked me to take him behind the restaurant. I did, and as we both relieved ourselves on the side of a building, I turned to him and said, “You know, Ryan… I really admire your work.”
At the end of the year, when the restaurant manager asked me how much I was making in tips for tax purposes, I’d hidden the twenty dollar bills left in my jar, I answered incredulously, “Tips?! Hell, I’m just a bathroom attendant.” Although, some nights I played piano there and will never forget the thrill of entertaining Walter Matthau, Jack Lemon and their wives, who asked me which Gilbert and Sullivan song I was playing, and I was able to say that it was actually a parody of that duo’s work I composed and thanked them for noticing.
But all that is behind me now that I have declared to the world my original goal. Hopefully my stories will remain interesting. I love shows about filmmaking, like “Project Greenlight” and “The Chair.” The blog posts I will leave at this website will be my version of that. If you are curious about what it takes to get a feature film off the ground, I invite you to please keep checking back. I look forward to sharing these stories with anyone interested.
(Speaking of sharing, please SHARE THIS SITE, AND LIKE IT, AND TWEET ABOUT IT. All that web activity will make it easier for me when I seek funding and more on that soon!)