True Hollywood story: The life and death of a Tinseltown assistant
I used to work in Hollywood — as a personal assistant.
Sometimes it seems like a dream, my time there. A forgotten dream only triggered by a minor chord or someone else's love letter to Los Angeles. By songs or films that I relate to but that are not my story. Sometimes I drift off in a cloud of romanticized musings of things I did not experience.
It's much easier to recall your time in Hollywood like one would a movie, giving your story a narrative when in reality, while you were experiencing it, there was no voice guiding the way.
I meet a lot of young people in Austin who want to move to or are about to move to LA. My initial reaction is to dispense unrequested warning, to give them a knowing nod that says, "Been there, done that, good luck, child." As I stand there pinching that thought at the bottom of my esophagus, a second feeling floods in —a feeling triggered by the reminder that, at one point, I wanted to move to LA, and I did move to LA. I believe that every person who has an interest or desire to move to Los Angeles (or anywhere for that matter) should do it while they still can. It could end up being a good choice or a bad choice, but either way — it was the right choice at the time.
The truth is, whatever time you spend in LA is completely invaluable. No amount of how-to books or film school can teach you what LA teaches you. Whether or not you "make it" there, you will walk away with a surplus of knowledge. Because of this, I do not regret one second of my years in Los Angeles.
I moved to LA at 20 after being offered a job to work at a celebrity's small production company. (A celebrity that this film lover, since childhood, was a huge fan of.) I remember the moment I was offered the job perfectly: I was interning at the celebrity's company while on a semester in Los Angeles. Towards the end, they asked me if I wanted to work there. I looked at them like they were nuts. "You know I have no experience in Hollywood, right?" You'll learn, they assured me. "You know I'm 20 years old, right?" You'll do fine, they said. But I still had college to finish, a boyfriend, friends and family at home! I knew this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and that the life I knew was about to change forever. I told them I would give them an answer the next day as I mentally prepared myself on how to tell my parents. As I drove down La Cienega Boulevard convincing my mother that leaving college and moving to LA was the best choice for me, The Beatles' "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" came on over the radio. I neither care for The Beatles or remember what song is playing in most pivotal moments in my life, but that moment and those lyrics I will never forget.
I immediately flew home to tie up loose ends. It was an awkward three weeks of the unraveling of my relationship with my boyfriend of four years, explaining to my college what I was doing and trying to spend as much time with my friends and family before I moved to California for good. While my mother and I were shopping for clothing at the mall, the actor I was to work for called me to welcome me aboard. I remember running into a dressing room, locking myself in and not hearing a word of what the actor was saying. The whole time I was thinking, "Why is he talking to me? How did I get here? This is not my beautiful house!" I moved to LA soon after and promptly spent my 21st birthday alone in a city I knew nothing about.
LA was tough. I'll admit it. I didn't know anyone and I was working long hours. I worked for team of very serious players and I did my best to keep up with them. My small town upbringing didn't equip me with the tools for maneuvering on such a playground, so I spent most days in a perpetual state of confusion, frustration and loneliness. I tried with all my might to stuff those emotions away, all the while an angry version of me quickly formed a layer over my previous self. The first time my mother came to visit me, she left in tears. "I don't know who you are anymore," she said to me. Her words bounced off my newly formed hide. I was going to make it in Hollywood — as what, I didn't know — but dammit, I was going to make it.
I went to film festivals throughout the country, film premieres, private parties, ate dinner with celebrities; I got to experience moments I never could have imagined for my small-town self. This kid from the middle of nowhere was in the middle of it all — and ignoring the fact that she was slipping away.
I was reminded of why, since I was a little girl, I wanted to work in film. It had nothing to do with Bluetooth headsets and power meetings and being strapped for time and stressed. It had everything to do with creating, something I hadn't done once in the five years I in Los Angeles.
At 22, I glamorized my therapy sessions with grand notions of owning a glass house in the Hollywood Hills. "A glass house," I told my therapist, "where I can look down upon the city and where I touch no one and no one touches me." Maybe my therapist thought I stole that line from Crash, but the cliche is true. All of it was true. A culture of detachment. My therapist didn't know that at night I drank until I fell asleep. It didn't take much for the wave of calm to carry me away from the denial that I was utterly and completely unhappy.
So I lived this way for five years until one day, while in production in Chicago, I woke up and realized I was done. That the fast paced, time is money mentality was not for me. At the end of each night, I sat staring out of my apartment window drawing the Chicago skyline. In doing so, I was reminded of why, since I was a little girl, I wanted to work in film. It had nothing to do with Bluetooth headsets and power meetings and being strapped for time and stressed. It had everything to do with creating, something I hadn't done once in the five years I lived in Los Angeles.
I told my boss that I was leaving and, after months of getting myself to commit to that idea, I drove away from Los Angeles for good.
And now I work in a completely different film industry, the one that exists in Austin — light years from the cacophony of Los Angeles. Here people are happy. Here I've been able to meet and work with incredible folks. Here I've been able to stretch my wings and no longer be confined in the role of someone's caretaker. I've been able to evolve into the artist and person I wanted to be. Looking back, I don't even think I was a particularly outstanding personal assistant because deep down I knew I didn't want to help others to create, I wanted to create myself!
A friend recently told me that Los Angeles is not the sort of place you move to to find yourself, it's a place to move to after you've already found yourself. He couldn't word it more perfectly. Now that I have found myself, I feel that I would be able to tackle Los Angeles the way I wanted to tackle it when I first moved there as a bushy-tailed kid. But why would I want to?