Saturday, February 14, 2009

How to park your secretary

Many thanks to fellow writer Rob Long for his way-too-kind piece on this blog in his radio commentary, MARTINI SHOTS on NPR’s KCRW in Santa Monica. I’m still blushing. In addition to producing CHEERS when he was like nine, Rob has become one of the top sitcom writers in town (along with his partner, Dan Staley) and has also carved out a nice niche for himself as a pundit and author. His book on television, CONVERSATIONS WITH MY AGENT, is must reading.

In his feature on me he brought up an anecdote I had completely forgotten but was true and worth sharing here. So if I may paraphrase his story paraphrasing me:

Back in 1993 my partner and I had created a summer show for CBS called BIG WAVE DAVE’S. Rob and Dan were our producers. I think Rob was eleven then. We did the show for Paramount (and I can tell this story since no one involved is remotely still associated with the studio. In fact, this was probably four full regimes ago.)

Our line producer informed me that the studio refused to pay our secretary’s parking. The budget for each episode was over a million dollars. Weekly parking was $13. Above-the-line people (writers, directors, producers, actors) got to park on the lot for free. Below-the-line peons had to park in a structure across the street.

And don’t let the Hollywood address fool you. This was not a great neighborhood. I used to call the lot “Fort Paramount”. While working at WINGS on rewrite night we often watched drug deals go down across the street at the parking structure. An ice cream truck would arrive every night about 11 and we would say, “Cracky, the clown is here. Looks like he’s got some great shit tonight for the kiddies!”

So I was pissed. No one works harder and more hours than the writers’ secretary. It’s bad enough they had to park in a war zone. The least the studio could do was pay for their parking. (Note: we also made sure one of us walked them out to their cars, another little safety service the studio felt no obligation to perform).

I called the studio bean counter and raised hell. But it was studio policy. There was nothing he could do. I then asked what would constitute a legitimate production expense? He said research. “You mean like a book?” I said. He said, yes. “Fine,” I continued, “I just bought a book this week. It’s called HOW TO PARK YOUR SECRETARY and it cost thirteen bucks.”

That he approved.

So every week I would call with another essential research book I bought. Titles like THE IN’S AND OUT’S OF BUYING YOUR PA’S PIZZA and Rob’s favorite, A BIRTHDAY CAKE FOR THE WEIRD GUY IN PROPS.

I should mention that none of the other major studios were any different. But that was then. Things have since changed.

Writers now have to park across the street.


VP81955 said...

Has the neighborhood improved any, now that Hollywood itself is rebounding a bit and become more upscale? Of course, that largely applies to the Hollywood Boulevard area, which when I first visited it in June 1989 was rundown. Slightly more than a decade later, it had noticeably improved, and I'm sure that has continued in its Times Square-like revitalization. Whether that's permeated down to Melrose Avenue, I don't know. Sometime soon I hope to find out firsthand, when I get a chance to go out there for a week while doing some film history research at the Margaret Herrick Library.

wv: "porsau" -- remember that episode of "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" where Herc was transformed into the pig from "Babe" (coincidentally, also filmed in New Zealand)? Well, this time, the entire Polish capital has been magically altered.

Anonymous said...

The funny thing is, at a glance , the facades of the parking structures look like apartment buildings. The Lemon Grove lot is one of the nicer looking buildings on Van Ness. Of course when your main competition is a cemetery it's not like you're up against the Taj Mahal.

"Has the neighborhood improved any, now that Hollywood itself is rebounding a bit and become more upscale?"

Unknown said...

I remember that story.

Anonymous said...

you'd make a great politician

Anonymous said...

Way, way back in ye olden days of 1950, Chuck Jones and his writer, Michael Maltese, were already making fun of the seediness of the area around Paramount/RKO and the hangers-on outside the studios' walls in their Warner Bros. cartoons, by having Porky Pig singing a pesudo-western song "The Flower of Gower Gulch" whose lyrics were an inside reference to the, ah, 'quality' of the ladies hanging around on the street outside (kids fare on TV nowadays is only beginning to catch up, with the Disney people turning all their female teen celebs into drunken, pill-popping sluts after a couple of years).

Anonymous said...

Ken, I’m shocked and dismayed. You of all people should know that what you drive and where and how you park in LA has never been a matter of money or budget, but of status. That’s why, whenever I'm out there I still rent the economical KIA Mucosa, but I always insist on a GPS system and vanity plates.

Used to be the same thing for Lew Wasserman, only on a higher plane. He took his reputation as “The Pope of Hollywood” seriously, and friends would often see him being driven around town in his glass-enclosed Popemobile -- a Toyota Basilica.

If the studio paid for your secretary’s parking, that would leave them nothing to stroke the next person up the food chain with – like paying for their parking. Perish the thought, they might even have to give up a drive-on, and you can imagine how that would screw up the status queue (sic)!

One of my favorite movie scenes is in The Muse, where screenwriter Albert Brooks learns that, having lost his “edge,” he’s also lost his deal – then suffers the ignominy of personally discovering he lost his studio lot privileges too. Great opportunity to lampoon both the appearance and language of status. But would that the scene had ended thusly (sorry if it offends, but heck, we’re going for the punchline):

.....................THE MUSE.....................
Stephen pulls up to the studio gate. A security guard is at the booth.
Stephen: Hello
Guard: Yes sir?
Stephen: I’m here to see Mr. Spielberg.
Guard: What is your name?
Stephen: Stephen Phillips
Guard enters name into computer.
Guard: You don’t have a drive-on. (Points) You’ll have to make a U-turn here, park across the street and walk.
Stephen: Yeh, it’s like nine miles from here.
Guard: It is a little far.
Stephen: I don’t have a drive-on?
Guard: No sir, you have a walk-on.
Stephen: Uh-huh. Is that the worst a person can get? Or is there like a…crawl-on?
Guard: I beg your pardon.
Stephen: Look, I just signed Sharon Stone as my Muse, and for the past three hours I’ve been driving around with a hard-on. Can I at least get in to see Ron Jeremy?

When, with the help of Ms. Stone, Stephen regains his edge, he insists on an emblem only allowed the writers of the highest status -- not only an on-studio lot space adjacent to the front door of his bungalow, but one that must have, at some time in the past, been occupied by at least one or more Mankiewiczes.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ken:

Classic story. Thanks.

I'll have to tell recount to you and your readers about the time I (as a PA) smashed the showrunner's golfcart into the recording trailer outside the stage.


Anonymous said...

From 1981 to 1984 I lived across the street from Paramount, two buildings west of Gower. Lovely neighborhood. A few months after I moved in I came home to find a HUGE pool of blood on the sidewalk at the corner, from the stabbing there earlier in the evening.

An exciting place to live.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to report that accountants at Paramount park on the lot,as God intended.

Anonymous said...

Ken, for the record, it's "WRITERS' ASSISTANT" now -- and as a former W.A.-turned-working-writer, I can tell you, the title matters!

Anonymous said...

Oh, I can top that. TV show with a major studio, ton of buzz, good ratings.

Went $100K over budget. Cut all the assistants to 50 hours a week. Meaning, that was all you could put on your timesheet. But of course, everyone kept working 60 hour weeks, so in effect, they all worked for free on Fridays.


LBT said...

Rob Long's "Converstaions..." is a terrific book. Funny, perceptive and accurate! I recommend it to my screenwriting classes so these newbies know what to expect when they get here. They don't believe me so better they hear it from one of their own.