How To Hollywood Chapter 03
3) You Don’t Take the Ride, the Ride Takes You
A writer (Dickens) once claimed the experience of living a life is akin to playing a violin concert on a stage in front of an audience, only you’re learning the instrument as you go (gotta remember where I got this) I don’t know if anyone truly knows what motivates people to do the things that they do. I drew pictures, made music and movies and wrote stories because I felt like doing those things—it felt “good,” and that was all I required—I wasn’t thinking about employment. At some point in adulthood I became determined to take complete control of my life, and it was years later that I realized how much of an illusion “control” is. I finally came to realize I was better off when I trusted the tide.
I believe everyone has a passion and I urge those who haven’t found theirs yet to get on with the search. Having a goal, which I liken to having hope, might be the only thing that can get a person through a day sometimes. Sometimes that hope is instinctual, effortless. Other times it has to be worked at a little.
I also believe it’s important to get as much education as one can get, and that college is an important bridge between being a kid and becoming an adult. Whether focusing on specific technical skills or a broad, advanced education, college-level classes teach discipline and encourage personal evolution; they are often essential to get on in life. I hoped I’d get into a college called “CalArts” after high school.
“CalArts” or the California Institute of the Arts, is an art school in Valencia, California, established in 1961 and originally called Chouinard. It was created as a training ground for Disney animators, teaching prospective students the tools and traditions of the classic style of animation that had been developed under Walt Disney’s guidance from the 1920s on. Animation is not something you can learn from a book or a training video. It’s a type of craft that is typically transferred from a mentor to an eager student. One needs a keen, scientific sense of observation to become an animator but one also must possess the eye (and patience) of a fine artist. CalArts was considered something of an elite place to be admitted to, a Valhalla on a hill in Valencia, California that existed for the sole purpose of furthering all the arts; the costs were prohibitive and gaining entrance a limited proposition but, it seemed, your chances of becoming a Disney animator were high if you made it into the school.
I did not get into CalArts (much to the relief of my parents who would be tasked with coming up with the funds for tuition and living expenses) and this early “failure” taught me a thing or two. Firstly, I hadn’t taken the SAT (the standard aptitude test administered in institutions in the United States that is a prerequisite for admission to college in most schools) because I didn’t believe I’d need it, as I was going to art college after high school.
Here’s a bit of advice: take the SAT, even if you don’t think you’ll need it.
When I didn’t get into CalArts I chose an art school in Portland (PNCA) and when, after my first term, I realized that wasn’t working out so well either I decided to join my friends at the University of Oregon...and to get into the U of O I needed to take the SAT. I was out of practice by the time I took the test and I’m not sure I would have made it the next year when the school raised its academic standards.
I learned another important lesson when I found out I was not going to be admitted to CalArts and my dreams of being a Disney animator were, at least temporarily, dashed to pieces. The deadline for enrollment at CalArts had passed while I was celebrating my final months of high school life, and then again a year later when I decided to apply in earnest. I wrote to the school when I got the letter that I wasn’t accepted and found out the main reason I didn’t get in was because I’d waited too long after the opening of portfolio submissions to apply; the quota for the year was filled by the time I submitted (at the last possible minute, I might add). This taught me one definitive lesson, at least: carpe diem. While one waits and dreams and plans one might be missing out on the opportunities that could change one’s life if one were to take action, even action that doesn’t seem to lead directly to success.
My dad initially balked at the idea of my going to college at all but my mom laid it out plainly, to both me and my father: “Scott will go to college, he will graduate, and I’m going back to work to pay for it so he doesn’t rack up a lot of bills early on in life.” I get the chills even now thinking of my mom’s conviction. My sister went to beauty college and got married right out of high school, and my brother went to Linfield, where my mom worked in an office answering phones.
I didn’t take to art school well...it was pricey and didn’t, in my humble estimation, seem to lead to the kind of success I had in mind (namely, Hollywood). I banked everything on getting into CalArts and when that didn’t pan out I became stuck in a void of inactivity and indecision.
You must make a plan, and you must see your plans through, no matter where those plans take you. You have to do these things even if you ultimately fail, because it helps you to grow and evolve. It can be confusing and even frightening, but everyone has to go through it. Some of us go through such times with a great deal of nurturing on the part of the elders and advisors in our live and some of us don’t have that luxury, but all of us have to try.
At 19, when I was not accepted to CalArts, I felt my first real sense of failure. I went for something...I believed in it with all my heart and soul...and it didn’t come to pass. I wondered, then...did I just not have enough “faith?” Or had I not worked hard enough? At such times, one always hopes there is someone to talk to. I had friends, and they offered some consolation, and a brother and sister who were helpful, and my parents themselves were endlessly supportive. Who, however, was looking out just for me and my goals? I think everyone has to face a moment like this in life, maybe several such times—some get it when they’re too young to handle it, some get it much later in life, but it will come if one is patient and thinking actively about it. Everyone has to stand alone at some point and face the world, for good or ill; if you’re prepared to do so, you’re probably better off.
I had about eight months to fill between applying for the University of Oregon and school in the fall and my parents, wearying of my choices (which were potentially affecting them financially), decided to take the reins. I was put to work. In truth, I needed to change if I was going to “make it” in life—I was terribly sheltered and perhaps a bit spoiled. However, I was ill-equipped for the kind of heavy labor I was thrust into as I had barely worked in my life—my mom always wanted us to enjoy our summer vacations. Suddenly I found myself sweating it out on an assembly line installing electric wiring in mobile homes (and getting accidentally zapped with a small jolt of electricity periodically when I couldn’t keep up) and when that didn’t work out I ended up working a grueling 10-hour night shift at a lumber mill on the planer chain four days a week.
My grandmother was livid when she found out what I was doing and told my mom, “How dare you endanger your son’s artist hands!” Good ol’ grandma. I didn’t work these jobs for long but I’ll never forget the time I spent there. Mom said to me, some time after the worst was over, “At the very least, I hope this experience has taught you why it’s important for you to go to college and get a job that is in line with what you want to do, and what you can do.” I learned that there’s no shame in working; the people I worked with at the trailer factory and lumber mill needed their jobs desperately and were happy to have the work. How could I not see the value of the experience? My mom was right. I’d never again take the privileges I’d been given in life for granted, and I’d work, hard, for everything I got from then on. I don’t know that working night shift at a lumber mill for a couple of months made a “man” out of me, as some suggested it might, but it made me want to get to a place where I could make my own decisions about my life.
I had a great time in college and made some great friends. I majored in Telecommunication and Film, the closest thing the University of Oregon had to a film program in 1985-89. It was enough for me, and I learned another important lesson: Your time is what you make it. Perhaps the University of Oregon film department wasn’t the top-rated film school in the world—maybe not even in the state--but I had access to equipment, professionals to mentor me and fellow students to work with. I knew I only needed a chance (and some time) to be able to prove what I believed could do. I didn’t do so well in my general education classes but I excelled in the film courses. There was a “motion graphics” class and the school had enough materials and technology there that I was able to create a small animated film made out of flip cards. Small? It was five minutes long and had a complete musical soundtrack with sound effects, and I created every one of the hundreds of (color!) frames single-handedly. I worked on my film day and night for two full terms of my senior year and stayed up till all hours editing my own films and other “found footage” together in the school’s editing suite, just because I had so much fun with it. I tried shooting my own feature film, I wrote scripts and created animation clips, made music with a synthesizer I acquired...all while fulfilling the courses of my major and keeping up an active social life...no wonder I didn’t do so well in some of my classes.
Among the many things I’ve learned, one of the most constant truths has been this: Dream big—you can always scale things down eventually if you need to.
One day while wandering through the halls of the building that housed the film department I saw a sign on a bulletin board with a picture of Mickey Mouse on it. It was a notice that stated Disneyland was seeking employees to work summer shifts at the theme park in Anaheim. My heart skipped a beat.
I had always loved Disneyland. Like many before and after me I had turned the whole Disney “experience” into something like a type of faith, believing that within the confines of anything that bore the name “Disney” was something magical, or at the very least high in quality. Disney films were usually a cut above the competition and the experience of the park, which I’d been to on summer vacations a few times, was unmatched in quality and emotional connection with guests. The idea of being a part of that world seemed too good to be true to me and at 21 I believed somehow it would be my entrée into the world of “Hollywood,” the movies. I thought spending the summers in Los Angeles upped my chances, or at the least raised them higher than they would be if I spent another summer working in Oregon, waiting for another school year to begin. Once upon a time, it was essential that a person who was serious about working with film or television (and now, games) migrate to a big city where such things are produced. I don’t know that that is entirely the case these days, and I suspect that eventually teleconferencing from home will be the norm, but when I was starting out there was no other option: if you wanted to make it “the movies” you had to be in Los Angeles.
I worked at Disneyland two summers. I often tell my students, if you happen to be introverted (or in my case, painfully shy) and want to be forced to come out of your shell, spend a summer as a Jungle Cruise guide at Disneyland, riding around in a boat full of international tourists telling rubbish jokes and scaring everyone with gunshots (aimed at the sky, never the animals, most of which are representative of endangered species!).
While I enjoyed my time working at the Disneyland park, I also realized quickly that even if you’re working at “The Happiest Place On Earth,” as Disneyland is sometimes called, it’s still work. I also knew it was fun for a summer job but not something I would want to do as a career.
Disneyland had a career counseling office and one day on my lunch break I made an appointment to talk to one of their specialists, who asked me, “So what would you like to do for a living?”
I smiled and said, with a burst of enthusiasm only my 22-year old self could muster, “I want to become an animator!”
Looking back it occurs to me that the answer the counselor was expecting was probably, “I want to be a Jungle Cruise operator, forever!”
The counselor looked at me, smiled with her mouth (but not her eyes) and said, “There are no jobs in animation, you know. Have you thought about continuing on here at the park at all?”
My heart sunk. A lot of people—including my parents, friends and some teachers—had already said to me, “You need to give up on your animation dreams and get a ‘real’ job.”
I took what the counselor said to heart. I enjoyed the rest of my second summer at Disneyland and went back to Oregon for my final year at the U of O and gave up, at last, on my animation dreams. It just didn’t seem possible, and I knew I needed to start thinking more practically.
Here’s a tip: Don’t give up, not ever—not on things that you really believe in. Don’t stop yourself because you’re afraid “the world” will stop you. The world has nothing against you, but you can certainly put roadblocks in front of yourself without meaning to do so. If you’re lucky enough to have a passion for something positive, like a dream to do something exciting with your life, you’ve got to face the possibility that you might stumble along the way at any time. When you reach your goal, whatever it is, you’ll know you earned it; if you don’t attain what you sought, you’ll know you gave it everything you had (and you might just learn something along the way).
As I got closer to my graduation date I focused on putting together a reel of things I had edited together and started looking around Salem and Portland for film, television and commercial studio opportunities. I began to panic, wondering if I would ever get an actual job, and considered going to bartending classes until my mom, aghast, told me she hadn’t put me through four years of college so I could be a bartender.
Almost on cue, mom and dad told me a friend of theirs had a son who had a friend who worked in editing in Hollywood, and he was willing to speak to me. He might even be able to get me a job somehow, if I could get down to Los Angeles.
One thing that seems abundantly clear in retrospect is that you must mingle with people to be successful, because no one does it alone. I believe, in a very general sense, that connecting with people is one of the most important things we can do with our time on the planet, and for whatever reason, several people have been instrumental in helping to move my career forward, whether they knew it or not. I’m not even sure they were being altruistic; perhaps they were simply doing what the felt was “the right thing.” Maybe they even had selfish motives.
I spoke on the phone to the person my parents’ friends hooked me up with and the guy assured me he could get me a job in a matter of weeks if I came to Los Angeles. Another friend from college told me her dad had an apartment right off the beach in Playa del Rey where she was staying for the summer, her dad was seldom home and he wouldn’t mind if I visited with them for a while. And that’s how, in the fall of 1989, I ended up moving to Los Angeles.
My parents offered me the use of the family car and $2000 to get me started for a “trial period” of about a month or so. I was actually pretty sure the whole thing was going to backfire, that it would be scary, exhausting and might not even get me anywhere near where I wanted to be. I worried, what if I came back with my tail between my legs? Then what would I do? Go back to the lumber mill?
I’m glad I was young when I made the move and didn’t know what I was facing, I might not have done it. There was no internet then, no cell phones, and I had little experience with life. It was a big step. I remember my mom poking her head into my bedroom the night before I was set to leave. She smiled at me and said, “You can do it!” and I remember thinking, “Do what?” What was my measure of success, exactly? How would I know when I’d “made it?” And what would life be like, living on my own without any “security blankets” (like school, my parents, my circle of supportive friends) in the wide, wild city of LA? I knew my parents would support me even if I failed, but I was determined to make things work by my own means.
After living with my wonderful friend and her dad for a few weeks I eventually moved into a small, seedy one-bedroom in a neighborhood not far from the Los Angeles International Airport. It was wonderful to have my own place, officially. I just had to figure out a way to keep it. I’ve since met so many people who came to Los Angeles with no idea how to stay; these people would often buy a fancy new car and rent a stylish apartment for an indecent sum of money and act surprised when, in a couple of months, they had to downsize or return to where they came from. Not a lot of people know that much of the “luxury” one sees around town in Los Angeles is rented, and that many people driving around in fancy cars are trying to “bluff” their way into the Hollywood scene on the theory that if they look the part, they’ll get the part. I’m rather glad no one ever tried to convince me that this was the way to “make it” in show business.
By October of 1989 things weren’t going as quickly as I hoped but I was determined to make things work. I had a list of editing studios in Hollywood and I called each place regularly to see if they were hiring. I got a lot of “maybes.” One thing that is important to know about Hollywood is one very seldom gets a “yes” or “no.” “Maybe” is a way of saving face...perhaps someone does want to meet someone for lunch or give you a job or sign you up to their studio, but perhaps they don’t—someone more qualified or more beautiful or more powerful might but just around the next corner, after all, it’s a big city of course. The only way to be sure and not lose someone while also not committing to them is to tell them “maybe,” and it’s the most over-used word in Los Angeles. It can apply to anything from a friendly lunch meet-up to a date to the most important events of your life. I also know that when someone truly wants something, nothing stops them getting it.
I was aware I wasn’t high on anyone’s list of employee hopefuls. I had a friend helping me but, as I expected, he had his own life and could only do so much for me. And it just takes “time.”
“Time” is a funny thing...when you’re waiting for a job to appear it seems an eternity and when you’re enjoying the job you eventually get it can all go by in a flash.
I remember walking around Hollywood in the hot sun wearing a business jacket and tie mom had insisted I’d need for job interviews. Nowadays most companies have candidates apply online and there are pros and cons to this: on the plus side, you can do it all from home, on the minus side, you never engage with any “real” human beings. Persistence, however, is the one constant that can weather any other changes.
I got rejected in person lot and it was dispiriting, and I also got to meet a lot of interesting people, including some famous film directors. It was strange how quickly things moved, while at the same time things seemed to move slowly. I racked up dozens of “maybes,” and some people I dealt with were cold, rude or even nasty. I don’t believe people in Hollywood are intentionally cruel; the world of show business moves quickly and there are hundreds, maybe thousands of people showing up every day wanting a piece of it. Some are qualified, many are not. If you’re able to find a piece of the pie to call your own, sometimes you have to defend it. It is hardly a business for the faint of heart.
I began to lose hope, but I never even considered throwing in the towel. I think that part was important. I knew plan B, going back home to my parents’ house in Oregon, was an option but I didn’t consider it for some reason, and maybe that made a difference. I wrote my first novel while waiting for work and found out it’s really tough to get published. I created a comic strip and found out it’s really tough to make it as a comic strip artist. I tried selling some of my art and realized I didn’t have the stamina to be a freelance artist. I tried making music and found it difficult to do so without proper resources to make music with, which would cost money. I got pretty good at navigating the local 99 cent store and stretching the money in my dwindling savings account as far as it could go. Without even an answering machine to field calls I was forced to sit around my stuffy apartment a lot waiting for the phone to ring, even if it was just a friend from back home calling to say hi.
Out of desperation I applied for, and got, a job at a big department store in the Beverly Center, a huge, chic shopping mall in the West Hollywood area that still exists today. It wasn’t much money and it was a sales job, something I had no experience with, but it was something. I mention this because I think it’s important to always remember there’s never any shame in working for a living, doing what you have to do to make ends meet. I knew that on the one hand I had not come to LA to work in a department store and was in no way, shape or form utilizing the degree I’d worked for four years to attain, but taking a sales job would allow me to stay in LA longer, and I believed instinctively it was just a matter of time until I’d get my “break.” I bought myself time with a minimum wage job in comfortable surroundings.
I didn’t have to wait long. Two days, in fact. I had just finished training on Friday and was looking forward to the weekend off before I’d have to get up at the crack of dawn on Monday to start I job I wasn’t happy to be going to when my contact called me, at the department store, and said, “Hey, buddy, I’ve got some bad news for you. You got a job in an editing house!” Not only that, it was at one of the companies I was really hoping would hire me, a small studio that I’d had a strong interview with. I was going to be a driver to start out with, basically a courier, but I knew I could do that much and would probably rise quickly. The job definitely paid more than working in the department store, if not a lot more. I was happy to turn in my notice even as I was careful not to seem to smug. I appreciated being hired and going through training and said as much; someone taught me at some point never to burn any bridges and I swear by that credo. Because I left on friendly terms the department store even promised to pay me the eighty or so dollars I had earned in two days of training.
I can’t say I enjoyed being a driver for an editing house in Hollywood but I certainly learned a lot. My job was to pick up and deliver things to sound studios, negative cutters and dozens of film production companies as needed for the editing of high-profile commercials that the editors in my studio were cutting together.
I eventually settled into a fairly consistent life of driving from my apartment near LAX to Hollywood, which took about an hour, spending the day driving around listening to music or hanging out in the studio waiting for my next “run,” heading home in rush-hour traffic down back roads and watching TV alone in my apartment all night with my first major purchase, a VCR.
Around Thanksgiving one of my co-workers announced that her dad was a projectionist at Disney studios and asked if I’d like to go visit with her and have lunch. I tried to contain myself so as not to appear to be too much of a “geek.” I loved that the Disney campus felt very “old school” with its trim lawns, art deco buildings and sign posts that read “Dopey Drive.” There was a theater with an old-fashioned marquee and a sidewalk in front with Julie Andrews’ footprints embedded in it. The “old” animation building was apparently based on the layout of a hospital so it had long, dark corridors and the rooms were old, cramped and tiny, but charming nonetheless. We went upstairs and poked our heads as far as we could into the reception area for then-CEO Michael Eisner. His office area was dark and sterile. It was a maze of glass and chrome. I didn’t know if I was impressed or scared to be there. Probably both.
I enjoyed meeting my co-worker’s dad, who was down to earth and regaled me with stories of the “olden days.” I didn’t know then that there was no animation being done on the Disney lot. All the animators had been moved to warehouses in Glendale where they were busily grinding away on “Beauty and the Beast.” We left the studio to return to work and I felt a mixture of a drug-like “high” at being so close to something I wanted so badly, and depression that I had to return to a job I wasn’t enjoying all that much. I felt a mixture of satisfaction that I’d managed to make my way “in” to the business of Hollywood, and frustration that I was so far from my actual goals.
The next chapter of my journey contained the turning point upon which my entire career likely was hinged. Even as I write it out again I find it hard to believe how it unfolded...almost like a movie.
By the time of the new year, 1990, I felt like I’d finally “arrived.” One day in January one of the editors I made deliveries for pulled me aside. She was nice and I liked her, and heard she might be looking for a new assistant. Assisting was an entry-level position for an editing job. The editor asked me one night before I was ending my shift, “Would you like to be an editor yourself some day?”
I had to think about it. There were so many things I wanted to do—editing was just one of them. I responded, “I don’t know, actually.”
Not long after that another editor pulled me into his office to talk privately. He wasn’t one of my favorite people for a variety of reasons but I didn’t hold anything against him, I just didn’t seek out his company. He was a friend of the guy who had helped me get the job and always seemed to be watching over me, but not necessarily in the friendliest way.
“Scott,” the guy said to me, “so you don’t want to be an editor, huh?”
“Umm...?” I said.
“Well, that’s what I heard,” the guy said. “Listen,” he continued, “you’re a great driver. You’re probably the best driver we’ve ever had. In fact, you’re so good at it, I guess I’m going to keep you doing that instead of move you up into the assistant position that is coming up.”
“But—” I tried to say.
“See, the way it looks from my view is you aren’t that interested...every time you have a break I see you drawing...you could be practicing editing, but instead you draw or talk to the ladies in the kitchen, who love you by the way.” He rolled his eyes in disgust. “So, I really want people who want to be editors. You’ve shown you’re a great driver and those are hard to come by. Maybe if you want to be an editor some day you can show me how bad you want it. But for now, we’re hiring someone from outside.”
I left work that night feeling truly stung...I had given being a driver my all and prided myself on the good job I’d done...was I being punished for that? More importantly, why had I been so vague when I had answered the editor’s question about what I wanted? What did I want? I had no idea I was being tested at the time, but I felt I’d failed the test nonetheless. And now I was stuck in a menial job for little pay in a company where I no longer felt comfortable.
From then on, as each day passed I began to feel a creeping sense of resentment. I’ve since learned this isn’t always a bad thing, but it felt terrible at the time. I was outgrowing my simple job...but what to do about it?
Right on cue, an assistant editor who was funny and cynical approached me. I had always liked him and he seemed to like me and particularly enjoyed my drawings. He said to me one day, “You know, you love drawing so much—why don’t you become an animator?”
I was flabbergasted to say the least. Yes...why didn’t I? Then again, if everything was possible, why didn’t I move to the moon while I was at it?
The assistant said to me, “You know, my sister-in-law works at an animation studio across town, near Universal Studios. She sits at a desk listening to music on her headphones, drawing Mickey Mouse all day and she makes a lot of money. You could do it too if you wanted. I could put in a word for you if you want to submit a portfolio. You’re going to have to get out of this company—they’re never going to promote you, trust me.”
I was excited but afraid...after losing out on CalArts I no longer trusted “the universe,” or fate, or whatever. What if I didn’t have what it took, and lost out on my second big opportunity? Would I even survive it?
Fortunately for me, this assistant editor more or less took me by the hand and said, “You Will Do This.” He kept at me to put my portfolio together and kept asking me if I had submitted it yet.
It was exciting...I was on one of my runs north on the 101 freeway near Universal Studios and used that as an opportunity to drop my hastily-tossed-together portfolio off at the location of the animation studio. I ran out of the studio as fast as I could after completing this task—I was excited, but terrified too. It was just too good an opportunity, at the perfect time...I had to get in, there was simply no other option. I had actually applied for a job in the ink and paint department...I wasn’t all that sure what that meant, but when the friendly receptionist asked me what I was applying for I simply said, “Whatever the studio is hiring for!” and that was what was available.
The assistant editor at the editing studio questioned me every day about how things were going. I have no idea why he was so eager to help me, there seemed to be nothing in it for him. I was terrified. If I found out I didn’t get the job, I believed I’d die. But I also knew I had to know.
One day I went on my lunch break, found a private phone in the office, took a deep breath and called the animation studio to see if they had checked out my portfolio yet. I asked for the ink and paint department. A woman with no inflection in her voice whatsoever said, “Hello.”
“Hi,” I said, practically quaking. I announced my name and said I’d turned in my portfolio recently. “I was just calling to follow up, see how it went.”
“Oh yeah, I remember you,” the woman said. “Yeah...sorry, but you just really don’t have it.”
“Excuse me?” I said.
The woman’s tone didn’t change a jot. “Yeah, you’re just really a long, long way off, we need people with experience, sorry.”
“Oh,” I said, my face getting red. “Well, umm...I wonder...are there any tips you could offer? Anything you could suggest to help me improve my chances of getting hired someday...?”
The woman was quiet for a moment. “Uhh...no. You’re just really a long, long way off, you really don’t have it.”
“Oh,” I said, my throat choking up from anxiety. “I just was hoping maybe you could—”
“Look,” the woman said, “I have work to do, I’ve got to go.”
“Ok, thank you,” I said and the phone went dead in my hand.
It’s worth mentioning that while I felt devastated, I did not, in fact, die. I’ve seen a lot and done a lot, I’ve been terrified of experiences I faced (including leading a boatload of tourists through my first run of the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland) and have not yet expired in the face of my anxieties. Quite the opposite in fact; I always feel better later.
The receptionist in my office at the editing house had become a nurturing friend to me and was really rooting for me to get the animation job. She with was empathetic to my disappointment when she found out I hadn’t gotten the job and took me upstairs to a vacant part of the studio where she gave me a big hug. I wanted to cry but I didn’t. I knew I shouldn’t have gotten myself so worked up...I’d known, on some level, there was a chance it wasn’t going to work out. I spent a long, lonely weekend watching TV.
On Monday I ran into the assistant editor who had encouraged me to try for the animation job. He was surprised but not overly concerned that I hadn’t gotten the gig. He asked me if I’d picked up my portfolio yet.
“Are you kidding?” I asked. “I never want to see that hateful thing again.”
“Oh come on,” the guy said. “Don’t go that way. Hold your head up, go in there, get your portfolio and try again.”
I was in no mood for a pep talk but he was so adamant, eventually I gave in. I went to Studio City to retrieve my portfolio. The receptionist in the lobby seemed genuinely sorry for me. “I’m sorry to hear that but don’t give up,” she said, smiling. “You just keep trying. You’ll see—you’ll make it.”
Once more I was confronted with someone who had absolutely no reason to be supportive, but here she was, encouraging me anyway. To “make it.” Whatever that meant.
The receptionist handed me my portfolio and I made my way out of the lobby, feeling defeated.
Just as I opened the door to go outside I bumped into a woman coming in from the parking lot. I don’t remember if the receptionist mentioned my name to her or if she just said out of the blue, “Oh...are you Scott?”
“Excuse me?” I asked.
“Scott...my brother-in-law said you’d be coming by today.”
She introduced herself and we stood outside the doorway talking while the receptionist sat beaming at us from inside.
“Do you want to work in an animation studio?” The woman asked me.
I could see in the windows of the studio...someone was working at a table with a light under it, flipping papers...drawing Mickey Mouse.
“More than anything else in the world,” I said with confidence.
The woman explained to me that the studio did actually need a driver if I was interested. Since I was already driving for my current company I was a shoe-in for the job. “It doesn’t pay much,” she said, and listed the wage (It was, I think, about $350 a week), but it was more than I was currently getting. My heart started to race. “Let me call someone,” the woman said, “I’ll show you around and see if we can get you an interview.”
I was introduced to a goofy, personable fellow who chatted me up. He made me laugh and I felt at home from the start. I left the studio on a cloud and was friendly to everyone back at the editing studio later, particularly the receptionist who had been there for me when I was down, and the guy who had pretty much made it all happen, the assistant editor.
“You did it,” he said. “I knew you would.”
As it happened, he had been up for a promotion too, and when he didn’t get it he ended up leaving the company. In short, the one guy who really was watching out for me was about to leave, right as I had a chance to leave myself. The timing couldn’t have been better if I’d planned it.
I interviewed for the job at the animation house a couple days later and was given a tour of the studio. It was a small, “funky” sort of building near a strip mall on the main road that goes through Studio City, Ventura Boulevard. Everyone I was introduced to seemed sincere and reasonably friendly. I met a young man I would be working closely with (he had been the former driver for the studio) and we got on as if we’d been friends our whole lives. He gave me a lot of information about the way the studio worked and what to expect.
A day or so later, I had the job and it was time to give my notice to my boss at the editing house. The man who ran the place was a big, gruff, worried-seeming fellow but he seemed happy enough for me and wished me well, as did everyone else.
The last person I talked to was the editor who had told me he wasn’t giving me a promotion. I tried not to be too smug as I explained to him that I was about to start on the path I’d wanted to be on all the time, thank you very much, and “so long and thanks for everything.”
The guy surprised me. He smiled, and it was a genuine smile, and he said, “I knew you’d do it. I knew you had it in you, if you just applied yourself. Congratulations, man. Seriously.”
I was more stunned than when he’d shot me down earlier.
I was wary, but he ended up being a great resource—he helped me figure out that it would be a good idea to move to Studio City and where the best places to live were, and he helped me go through the paper work for the new job—he even helped me with some of the last runs I did for the studio. One time he said to someone who wanted me to pick something up on a busy day, “You don’t have to go on this run, Scott—I’ll take care of it on my lunch hour.”
Was the guy kind to me because I stayed respectful to him even though I wanted to punch him in the nose earlier? Did he respect me more for showing some gumption? Was he just being cool to me because he’d already learned that today’s intern is potentially tomorrow’s CEO? I’d like to think the guy had my best interests in mind all along, even though it seems unlikely given the character I knew of him. I may spend the rest of my life wondering why on earth I received so much good fortune all at once when I needed it most. What were the odds that I’d run into the one person who could help me most just as I was walking out the front door of a studio I was visiting for (I believed) the last time? What would have happened had I not bumped into her exactly when I did? What are the odds that the studio needed a driver just about the time I was potentially available?
At this point in my Hollywood career I’d already come across an amazing series of coincidences, close calls, examples of good fortune and valuable life lessons, and I was just getting started. But one thing I began to understand, something I strongly believe in to this day, is that for whatever reason, however it works, it is clear you don’t take the journey...the journey takes you, so don’t worry about it too much...you’ll get there when the time is right if you’re focused, determined, patient and if you work hard. As a friend used to say to me, “Don’t panic, son, it’ll all come out in the wash.”