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  • George Young

Try Not to Annoy the Kangaroo - 35 Years of Dealing with Creative People in the Film Industry

Updated: Jul 10, 2019


PROLOGUE



Assume that working in the film production industry can be considered a real career. Upon reflection, some of the past 34 years feels more surreal than real. But, in the interest of writing about those 34 years, let me state that everything you will read in the chapters to follow actually occurred … more or less. Mostly more.


Let me pay homage to the five years prior to my first job as a production assistant in 1984. Why? Because they’re very important to the formation of the armor-plated skin I grew; the fabulous can-do attitude I cultivated; and the brilliant wit which will be on full display.


I graduated from Ursinus College in 1979 with a B.A. in English Literature. A B.A. in English Literature in 1979 will garner you as many job offers as a B.A. in English Literature did in 1969, or 1989, or 1959, or 1999, etc.


Zero. Unless, of course, you want to continue onto graduate school, which entails sending more money to an academic institution to pay the various squash-playing, but non-teaching full-time tenured professors to play squash and not teach. Oh, and chase coeds, if that term makes sense to anyone reading this.


****


Some time in 1979 after my graduation money ran out, I moved to New York City from the Philadelphia area to pursue a career as a chorus boy in Broadway musicals. Because that made as much sense as anything.


The next five years were frittered away dancing in music videos, begging for summer stock jobs, toiling for a very unemployed dance company, and giving away my time and energy working in a handful of shows that opened so far off Broadway they might as well have been staged in my hometown of Stratford, New Jersey. At least this would have accommodated my parents’ desire to see me perform, but may have further depressed them over the money they had sent to the aforementioned squash-playing, non-teaching professors.


Before anyone gets carried away with what appears to be a more than modest amount of success, let me tell you a reworked musician joke:


Three men arrive at the proverbial Pearly Gates. St. Peter is on duty and calls them forward one at a time. The first gentleman stands before the Guardian of Heaven.


St. Peter: “Tell me sir. What was the most money you ever made while on Earth?

Man #1: “I made five million dollars in my best year.”

St. Peter: “Goodness. God’s benevolence and riches upon you. What service did you perform to earn so much money?”

Man #1: “I was an attorney.”

St. Peter pulls a lever and the attorney drops down to Hell. He motions for the next man, who reluctantly steps forward.

St. Peter: “Tell me sir. What was the most money you ever made while on Earth?

Man #2 (Stammering): “I made $750,000 dollars in my best year.”

St. Peter: “Goodness. God’s benevolence and riches upon you. What service did you perform to earn so much money?”

Man #2: “I was a heart surgeon.”

St. Peter: “Thank you for saving and extending so many lives. You may pass through the Gates of Heaven.”

Man #2 wipes his brow and passes into Heaven. St. Peter signals for the final candidate to come forward.

St. Peter: “Tell me sir. What was the most money you ever made while on Earth?

Man #1: “I made $17,868.43 in my best year.”

St. Peter: “Is that right? Was that for a chorus role, or did you dance in a corps de ballet?”


As my lovely wife of more-years-than-I-want-to-count would say, “My husband was a quadruple threat, actor/singer/dancer/waiter.”


****


None of the above has yet led to any understanding of how I ended up working in an industry, film production that eludes logical description. How did I find myself, in August of 1984, standing on the boardwalk in Atlantic City with a clipboard in my left hand, and directing heat-stroked tourists out of the way of a cameraman running after a Michael Jackson look-alike, with my right hand?


Women.


The first, a choreographer named Suzy Miller, who hired me to dance in five or six music videos between 1982 and 1983, snuck me into KYW-TV in Philadelphia to intern as her production assistant for Evening Magazine in the Fall of 1984.


The second, and most important woman in my life, my wife, Lee, proclaimed sometime prior to my internship that if we were going to have anything more than a relationship based on late night sex, I would have to forego the dream existence of actor/singer/dancer/waiter.


Yes, every guy reading this is now flipping a coin.


And I did flip a coin as well, but in the interest of full disclosure, it didn’t matter if it came up, ahem, head or tail, I was moving to the other side of the camera in a professional sense. I transitioned from the glamour filled existence of public humiliation at the hands of sadistic choreographers, fascist audition running dance captains, and middle-aged theater directors trying to score with anyone in the chorus, male or female, to the glamour filled existence of cleaning up the trash left by everyone else on the sound stage, and to three square meals a day consisting of lox and bagels in the morning with cold coffee; maybe half a serving of wilted salad and unpurposefully cold pasta and coffee two hours after everyone else had eaten lunch; and a slice of pizza with a side of M&Ms for dinner accompanied by the usual dressing down by the line producer of how the PAs turned out to be a lazy bunch of gits.


To tie this up with a neat little bow, which, ironically, one particularly OCD- suffering line producer insisted be put on all the take out containers cadged by the crew and agency at the end of her jobs, I finally left the world of dance in the Summer of 1984. I exited a world populated by insecure narcissists unsure of not only their next meal, but also their talent. I exchanged it for a world of insecure narcissists whose next meal consisted of haute cuisine on shoot days, but found themselves incapable of manufacturing more than a PB&J on their down days. They were also unsure of their talent.


The forthcoming blog series (and book) is an homage to every creative person who ever woke up in a cocaine or alcohol induced hangover, or both, at 3am and found themselves watching reruns of The Andy Griffith Show. This latest batch of blurry images from Mayberry generated, without fail, the right brained folks’ next brilliant idea which they were only too happy to task me with on the following day, after I’d scoured the town for mild Tabasco, Meyer lemon juice, Kosher Sea Salt, and Light Golden Rum for their imagined hangover cure.


Whiny God King Director: “George.” They would slur, while imbibing their miracle concoction. “Find out who is representing Ronnie Howard.”

Me: “Sure. Anything I should tell them?”


After another slug.


Whiny God King Director: “Just find out who the rep is, you lazy git. Did I ask you to do anything else?”

Me: “Not yet?”

Whiny God King Director: “What was that?”

Me: “You bet!”


****


Therefore I raise a metaphorical glass of Chateau D'yquem in honor of all creative types. The same ones who purloined expensive libations such as Chateau D'yquem by the use of  phony petty cash receipts. The most overpaid people in production were always the ones too cheap to buy anything out of their own money.


Here’s to every 26 year old copy writer whose idea of a clever sentence started with the word, “Yo.” To every art director who wanted to scout churches for a 1-800 Flowers ad, but didn’t want to see anything “too religious.” To every DP that would order every lens known to man, and then use one zoom for six days. To every writer of every script I ever produced, I have but one question, “Did you find any of the 67 HARD copies I gave you?” To all the production designers on the planet who have actually came in under budget, thanks Bob! To all the wardrobe and make-up people who managed not to have sex with the director, thanks Bob!

And to every Whiny God King Director who enriched my life with requests such as “Before you set up again for the car crash and explosions, could you find out why my girlfriend’s gluten free tapioca pudding is so runny?” And “On our way to set, the driver passed by a New Orleans style funeral procession, could you find out what they might be doing for the next couple of hours?”


Me: “I could hazard a guess, if that would help?”


Whiny God King Director: “What? Where’s craft service setting up breakfast? I love their blintzes.”


NEXT WEEK: THE FIRST OF MANY LAUGH RIOTS. My internship at KYW complete, I returned to NYC and the first of many glamorous production jobs.


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© 2018 by George W Young