Thursday, April 22, 2010

Brushes with "Greatness"

The severe lack of celebrities in Portland is both quite refreshing and, at the same time, slightly saddening. I mean, on the one hand, WHO CARES you just saw a celebrity. But sometimes, I miss the sideways, nearly closed mouth mumbles of a friend sitting next to you whispering, "Holy SHIT. Don't look right away, but Bill Murray just ordered a whiskey at the bar and belched."

I trekked across this great nation from Nashville with my buddy, Todd, in a Uhaul jammed to the rafters with a bunch of stuff neither of us likely owns any longer. After a single week in LA with only one car (tantamount to having access to 1 train in NYC, or being beardless in Portland), we began to get a tad stir crazy (drinking crap beer and playing Nintendo 24/7 can get old pretty fast, as impossible as it sounds), so we decided to seek out celebrities around town, spending as little cash as possible whilst on the hunt.

I will tell you this right now: You don't seek out celebrities. THEY seek out YOU.

Look as hard as you'd like: You'll never recognize them. Those ridiculous photos you see of A-list celebs, donning their Elton John shades and towering douchebag trucker hats?

That shit WORKS. I couldn't pick Harrison Ford out of a lineup of people I've smoked weed with.

(Actually, I wouldn't ever smoke with Harry. Word is he's a Bogart.)

Somehow, Todd has a superhero power that allows him to spot ANY celebrity with 100 yards of him. I can't recall the number of times that - seconds after walking past someone - Todd would turn to me and whisper, "Did you see Robert Downey Jr/Heather Graham/Prince/Tom Hanks just then?" And I'd look around, seeing only every day faces, exclaiming, "Where?!" like a kid being told the real Batman just pulled up...and you just missed him.

My point is, out of every level of celebrity in the greater LA area, the first one I spotted was infamous house guest, Kato Kaelin.

"Wait, your Honor...which guy is O.J.? Is he the dead one?"

This high-profile sighting took place on the sidewalk that our garage door emptied onto. It was a fortuitous sighting for us both, as Kato was kneeling on the sidewalk, out of my range of vision, tying his shoelace as I was backing out. It wasn't even a close call (although, MAN, that would have sealed my fate as a hero, had I rolled over that hairdo), but I slammed on the brakes when I saw his feathered mop emerge. He gave me a, "Whoa, sorry, bro" gesture and wandered along in his merry, blond, excessively-styled way.

Within weeks of arrival, I landed a job at a bar/restaurant/coffeeshop a block over, which catered to high-end clientele. There, my celeb-cherry was popped, and I was repeatedly gangbanged thereafter. I'll never forget the morning I poured Christopher Guest a coffee and he actually said "thank you" (I hear he's very shy), or the successive mornings Gabriel Burns would show up for espressos, dressed in fine, linen suits, or when Tyra Banks introduced herself to me ("My name is Tyra." NO SHIT!!!) as I handed her a smoothie. But by far, the one that stands out:

I was working the bar, buried with drink orders, so of course, the computer system went down. I was in the middle of mixing a cocktail for Rosanna Arquette and was about to ring her up when the screens went black. I remember telling her it might be a few minutes until they rebooted, to which she replied, "No prob. What's your name?"


"Hey, Russ."

"Hi. How are you?"

"Good. (sips drinks) Good stuff!"


(computer reboots)

(end scene)

I had, at that very moment, my first brush with actual celebrity. It was a bizarre feeling: Like the prettiest girl in senior class had told me my fly was undone - it was utterly awkward, but at least SHE PAID ATTENTION TO ME!

By the end of over a decade working for TV Hollywood, I grew sort of eye-callouses when it came to celebrities. They are truly just people, who are surrounded by a team of manipulators and spin doctors (ironically, save for Chris Barron, ex-lead singer of the Spin Doctors, who called me at my MTV office once to thank me for doing a piece on him).

And a lot of them are far shorter than you're picturing.

Monday, April 19, 2010

At least they're honest

Living in the current (read: screwed) economic situation, as you can well imagine (and have probably noticed), the job market blows harder than a springtime tornado. I feel lucky to have a solid job, working with cool people, that doesn't involve:

1. Waste removal


2. The Gap

but this doesn't mean I don't check out the local Craigslist every now and again for potential full time, tv/film employ. I mean, Annie nailed a job on a kickass PBS series - maybe I could do the same?

After clicking my bookmarked Craigslist page, and scrolling down to the tv/film category, I click. I read. And I am thoroughly amused. The latest (bolded in the appropriate places so you can truly enjoy my frustration):

Looking for software geek / creative video producer using Adobe element 8, Camtasia etc. software.
(we have software; but applicant must have completed videos, powerpoint, show.
(Unless you want to learn and work on strictly a profit share basis)

Should have gift for script writing, voice over, transitions, animation, ect. (sic) (maybe even 3D)
Must have ability to upload content, direct and produce digitally so to speak. Basically we need video software geek!

Pay by project, very low pay until we complete some projects, but profit share if video's(sic) go well.
No bad stuff so don't worry about that. No nude, immoral, or unethical videos.
Mainly Business to Business films. Highest integrity and character references required.

Also looking for starving actors and actresses.

Whoever dose (sic) this well should make allot (sic) of money as soon as we go live!

Now, aside from the obvious grammatical and spelling errors, what this means to me as a professional producer is:

1. They want you to be able to write, direct, produce, animate ("maybe even 3D") these videos (what the hell are THEY doing?)



I am constantly amazed by the number of "job" ads posted that match this nearly to a T:

"YOU: Must be able to write, perform, direct, produce, edit, provide contacts, animate, juggle, spit a minimum of 20 yards, and make Republicans have feelings.

WE: We'll just sit and watch you do these things."

It's tight out there, man. If you're employed, thank your lucky stars. If you aren't...I have a project I might need your help on writing, producing, directing, animating...

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

If you haven't ever lived in Los Angeles, I'll sum it up for you in a single, quick-capsule review:

That place is fucking WEIRD.

Weird, as in, you've-only-ever-acted-as-an-extra-in-a-Scorcese-movie, yet you insist on calling him "Marty" when you tell me about the three days you spent on set on "The Departed"; weird in that after having hopped off a Greyhound only 15 years ago, you're still waiting to "be noticed"; weird meaning, "I am SO throwing a temper tantrum over this nonfat latte while on my cellphone in a crowded Starbucks", and finally, weird as in...well, the following happened to me. And I'm some dude from a Chicago suburb whose greatest glory growing up was being part of a triple play in junior league baseball.

I'd been working with my buddy Michael for several years at this point as a writer/producer (my constant insisting that I "wasn't a producer" cracked one of my fellow producers the hell up constantly). Michael is a brilliant director, and a visionary producer, whose career stretches back into the late 80s, when - as he has regaled to me - he once saw a producer shove an editor's face into a pile of cocaine, all the while screaming, "KEEP WORKING!!!"

The good old days, apparently.

As luck would have it, we actually began obtaining jobs, mostly from Country Music Television (need to know ANYTHING AT ALL ABOUT ELVIS? CAUSE I KNOW IT), and before we knew it, we'd expanded from 2 people, to 3, to 4. And we needed someone to just keep the little balls in orbit.

So Michael hired an old friend's step-daughter as Production Assistant.

Her name: Willa.

I remember meeting Willa and being stunned by her maturity. At age 19, she had her shit WAY together more than I did, even by 30: She was naturally beautiful, cunningly acerbic, and prompt, which didn't go unnoticed, as we all were at least 15 minutes late coming in each morning.

Willa filed, Willa returned calls, poor girl even stowed boxes loaded with tapes in a crawlspace for us.

Then, one day, I asked how Michael had found her.

It seems his friend - Rick - had married Willa's mother years back. Willa was looking for a summer job before she headed off to college. And Willa's last name was Mamet.

Yes. As in David Mamet . Easily one of the late 20th-centuries' most revered play/screen writers.

"Willa," I asked, in a not-so-unquivering voice upon discovering this nuclear bomb, "is your mother Lindsay Crouse by chance?"

"Yes! Do you know her?"

She said this as though she'd asked me, "Is YOUR mother Ruth McGarry?!?!? WOW. I love her work!"

So, the young woman pouring me coffee and filing my scripts was THE OFFSPRING OF ONE OF THE MOST LEGENDARY WRITERS OF MODERN TIMES. Didn't feel weird at all. Nope. Completely natural. Kind of like waking up one day after a long night shift at the factory beside Heidi Klum, who is stroking your chest and muttering the phrase, "Mind blowing, babe."

Willa worked a few months as our P.A., and was - predictably - wonderful. We shared a lot of laughs and weathered a ton of stress together, the handful of us.

Then, the day came when Willa would be leaving, to begin her freshman year back east. The 6 of us walked to a local eatery to celebrate at lunch, crossing an unbearably busy intersection at Olympic Blvd and Sawtelle in West LA. While we were in the midst of our crossing, a car skidded to a stop, narrowly missing mowing us all down like an incomplete set of bowling pins. We addled on to the restaurant, hearts pounding. One coworker summed up that moment to me that really sent it home: How the world views Hollywood and showbusiness, and the hefty importance beset upon it:

"You what would have sucked if that car had killed us all? The headline would have read, 'David Mamet's Daughter and Five Others, Killed in Accident'. We would have been remembered as 'five others'."

LA, man. What a weird place.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


I'll write a lengthier description of my interview with Ultra-champ Hal Koerner, but suffice it to say: He and his fiancee Carly are two of the sweetest, most down to Earth people I've had the joy of meeting. And both give a great interview.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

County Cork Public House/Public Drunkeness

The pub I work at caters to a laid-back, family crowd. It is a place to relax, share a beer or three with friends, converse, catch up, nibble on a basket of fish and other words, HEAVEN, and the purest definition of a true Irish pub.

Last night, things shifted.

Business wasn't too terribly insane (thank the LAWD - the last 2 months, every shift has been K R A Z Y), so I wasn't running around like a maniac for once, when the pub owner - in having dinner with her family - approached me, speaking in sotto vocé:

"Don't pour the guy at the end of the bar another beer. I think he's wasted."

I peer across the bar and see a 30-something hipster watching the basketball game, looking not at all drunk. I thank her and go back to my bid-nezz ( I promise to never again type that word) when I hear my co worker say to said customer, "I need an I.D. or credit card to give you darts."

We have 2 traditional, cork dartboards, and a handful of very nice darts we loan out. All ya gotta do is give us something you will miss if you "accidentally" walk off with them. Yeah, as "accidental" as reaching over to brush a woman's hair out of her eyes and dragging a pinkie on her boob. I've heard.

I dash off to pour some beers and return to the end of the bar to see that the patron has EVERY CARD FROM HIS WALLET LINED UP ON THE BAR. He waddles over to the dartboards. I deliver said beers. I return to see him hucking the darts with every ounce of energy he has left in his buzzed carcass at the boards, missing every time.

Okay, rummy, it's time to go, think I.

The owner is now on her feet (all 5'2" of her) with fire in her eyes.

"Want me to...?" I start.

Her nostrils flair. "Oh no. I've got this," she growls, with a look I pray to never be on the receiving end of. Seriously. I actually felt like *I* was in trouble for a second.

I continue pouring and delivering beers and see her talking with Boozy O'Whiskey in a low, stern voice. Then I hear the front door slam. The owner's husband looks at me and says, "He tried to go through the door."

More beers poured, more dropping off ensues. Then, I see the pub owner marching with wicked intent to the front door, with a look that can only be summed up with the word "FUCKINGPISSEDOFF" (a word I just invented, FYI. Don't look it up on Wikipedia).

As it turns out, Slurry Zambuca marched out front, declaring he was being 86'ed for "beeeinggg ruley", and decided to pet a dog that was tethered to a bike rack. And, as it also turns out, was BITTEN IN THE FACE BY THE DOG.

I mean, how drunk do you have to be to GET BITTEN IN THE FACE BY A DOG? Unreal.

The evening ended with the most drunken patch of people I've yet dealt with playing darts and not catching on to the fact that the lights were all up and the music had stopped and I was yelling, "We're closed! Have a good night!" Know what cures that?

A little band called Tesla at full-volume.