I'm going to give you the full "saga" of my experience working at a major film studio (in my case Sony), so bear with me... I hold this time of my life and career very close to my heart and soul. It truly was a dream come true. Here's what it was like, from beginning, middle, to end and beyond. The Beginning
On the far right you'll see our (wife and I) former apartment, which we moved to in 2002.
We're originally from Wisconsin and had moved to California in 1999 so that I could pursue my dream of working in Hollywood, namely as a screenwriter. We lived in Riverside, CA from '99-'02. My wife was in graduate school there and I took the long commute to L.A. for various bottom of the totem pole film industry jobs.
We picked this apartment on a whim. We needed something quick. She had finished graduate school and the deal was that we'd move to the L.A. area soon after to tackle my own career aspirations full on.
Now, on the far left of the above picture, you'll see Sony Studios at the end of the street. Little did we know that our apartment, when we first came to check it out, was right across the street from a major Hollywood movie studio. Needless to say, this was our place.
The studio is the former MGM Studios lot, which was the mecca of Hollywood back in the day. The Wizard of Oz
was shot in those stages.
Motor Avenue, our street, is just to the left.
So every day I'd go jogging around the studio lot, which was roughly a mile one time around. As I'd pass each gate, I'd stare into the lot, seeing floods of employees and crew members come and go. They all had Sony IDs. I wanted in.
As a nobody with no experience, that proved to be a difficult task until one day, I said "f*** it", walked up to a Sony security guard and asked, "How do I get a job here?"
Two weeks later, I was a Sony security guard. The Middle
They put me across the street in the Sony Pictures Plaza building, which was basically an executive building off lot.
After about a week of watching executives come and go, I decided to write a letter to my lieutenants, advocating how I might be better suited in a position on the main lot. I touted my vast knowledge of the film industry and the power players within. I annoyed them enough to the point where I found myself working at the North Thalberg gate, which happens to be the VIP gate. Top executives like Amy Pascal (you all know her name now I'm sure) and pretty much all top talent (actors, directors, producers, etc.) came through these gates on a daily basis. And I was the one to welcome them.
The security shack to the right was my home for awhile.
Every day Amy Pascal would drive up and I'd let her in with a smile. It got to the point where we'd greet each other. We even got Christmas presents from her and various other VIPs that we'd see on a daily basis. Icons like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Stan Lee would appear. I could go on and on about my stories working this gate. Thankfully, I was vary rarely starstruck and was able to greet them, and even hold conversations with them, with a pretty cool but respectful demeanor.
I worked some other details as well.
I can remember working outside of a stage near a transportation gate, which was open. I hear a sports car car revving up loudly across the street (there was a luxury car custom build place). The next thing I know, I hear a voice in my ear say, "Well, that's a little obnoxious."
I replied, "Yeah. What the hell are they doing?"
I look to my right and see Harrison Ford, a.k.a Han Solo, a.k.a. Indiana Jones. He's standing close enough for me to smell the coffee on his breath.
He was there shooting the terrible Hollywood Homicide
(then called Two Cops). We exchanged some more words and off he went. I just had a conversation with Indiana Jones.
I later worked my way into an office position, first at the parking office where I'd take calls and enter drive-on passes into the system and then...
I became a Studio Liaison, working directly with incoming film and television productions.
My office was to the right of Main Street near the green trees.
This position was amazing. I had my own golf cart. I could wander the studio lot on my own free will. Full access.
I would always go for runs on my golf cart to the restaurant for breakfast, taking the long way around the whole lot of course, especially when big productions were shooting. I'd peek in at one of the big stages and see stunt wire rig tests being done for Spider-Man 2
. I remember later driving my cart past the stages where War of the Worlds
was being shot (all studios rent each other's stages depending on certain needs). As I'm peeking into the stage, I then look over and see my favorite director, Steven Spielberg, drive past. We smile and nod to each other. Despite not getting starstruck most of the time
, I almost piss my pants.Studio Life
I miss studio life. I do (We moved back to Wisconsin in 2006... more on that later). There's an energy to it. There really is. Sure, most people are just doing their jobs. A majority of them work in offices. Or they work in transportation, or are electricians, carpenters, etc.
But this was the former MGM lot. History was made here. And now it's one of the most successful studios as Sony. They were shooting shows like King of Queens
, Wheel of Fortune
, etc. They were shooting Spider-Man
movies, Adam Sandler movies, The Davinci Code
, and any number of others.
I can't describe the feeling of walking down main street, walking through the alleys between the stages, walking into the major executive buildings, watching free screenings of movies from all studios (all studios share their current movies with each other for employee screenings) in small but awesome screening rooms where major stars watch their dailies and rough cuts, etc. (My wife and I loved attending these screenings. We loved walking the studio lot at night. Beautiful.)
You look right, there's Bruce Willis. You look left, there's Sylvester Stallone. Paris Hilton is walking into your office (ugh). Charlize Theron is talking on her cell phone in front of the Thalberg Building.
It's surreal. It really is. It becomes ever-so-normal, however, you can feel the magic and pulse of cinema around you when you work at a movie studio.
It's like working in a normal business office environment, only you see movie stars, TV stars, big time executives/producers/directors, etc. You see movies, shows, and commercials being shot all around you, both in stages and right there on main street.
Meals on the lot were always fun.
I worked out at the Sony Athletic Center where I met Adam Sandler. We were the only two in there and he comes up to me and just starts talking. Next thing I know, we're talking about Wisconsin, the Midwest, and he even starts talking about the late Chris Farley and how much we both miss him. Soon after, I'm playing basketball with him and his Happy Madison Productions crew. I'm playing with his dogs, Meatball and Matza (RIP you two... miss ya), etc. Ken Miyamoto's answer to What is your go-to story?
One of my favorite studio past times, being driving endlessly around the lot in my golf cart, was visiting this piece of my childhood...
Yes. The original. I have many of my own pictures with my newborn son and wife in front of this icon. Life as a Studio Script Reader
I later took on what was then a dream job of being a studio script reader.
I had interned with director Randal Kleiser (Grease
), which garnered me some experience reading scripts and writing coverage. In my liaison job, part of my duties was making ID badges for incoming employees and productions. When a development executive came in, I struck up a good rapport, saw an in, and said, "If you need a script reader, I've got some experience." Luckily enough he did. I sent him some samples and a couple of weeks later I was working in development as a script reader.
Working in development at Sony was amazing. I worked under the late Hollywood executive legend John Calley. I would come and go to the David Lean building with a stack of scripts. These were scripts written by major writers, novice writers, and everything in between. I was assigned to write studio coverage. This was my greatest education in screenwriting.The End
In August 2005, my first son was born. Priorities change. My wife suggested that I work from home and focus on my own screenwriting while watching over Jack. Ken Miyamoto's answer to What is it like to be a stay at home dad?
I still did coverage for Sony and had full access to the lot, but within a year, as a father, I knew it was time to return home to Wisconsin so that we could raise our so close to family.
I had some success as a screenwriter, had a manager to handle business matters, but it was time to leave.
I was doing some consulting work on the studio lot, beyond my script reading, and in July of 2006, I spent my last night on the Sony lot.
I worked until late in the night in my office at Sony. I worked slow because I knew shortly after, I was going to leave the lot and head back to Wisconsin, where my wife and son were already staying in our new house.
That was a rough night. I was leaving the lot for good (or so I thought). I had no qualms about my decision and don't even regret it to this day, but it was hard.
I walked out of my office and turned the lights off for the last time. It was dark out. The lot was empty for the most part, beyond security and some productions still shooting.
I took one last golf cart ride a few times around the lot, taking it all in. Saying my quiet goodbyes to my favorite places. The stages, the commissary, the Athletic club, main street, etc.
I then went to the VIP lot, where I had my own parking spot. I got into my car and turned on the radio. The soundtrack of the moment from my radio as I drove up to the gate was, I shit you not, Green Day's "Good Riddance/Time of Your Life"...https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=...
I waited for the security guard, sitting in the very security shack I used to work at years prior, to open the gate. As this fateful song played, he waved goodbye, I returned the sentiment, and I drove away... sobbing like a child
It didn't end there, thankfully. I did move back to Wisconsin. My wife and I have two amazing boys and we live in the boonies of Wisconsin in a "village" of 2500 people.
However, my Hollywood story was just beginning.
Ironically, I had to move back to Wisconsin, 2000 miles away from Hollywood, to sign my first screenwriting deal. Lionsgate picked up one of my scripts. Years later, I had some studio writing assignments under my belt and in 2011 a miniseries I co-wrote, Blackout
, began shooting. I flew back to L.A. to be on set and also happened to have a meeting at my old stomping ground, Sony.
I had the thrill of pulling up to the VIP gate I worked at years before, but this time as a guest of the studio. When the security guard let me in, I told him I used to work that very shift and sat in that very spot.
I returned just last year with my whole family and showed my boys what studio life was like. It was one of the greatest days of my life, sharing that with them.
I don't miss much about L.A. I don't miss the traffic. I don't miss the high retail prices. But studio life... that's what I miss most.
Me and the boys in front of Ecto-1
The boys in front of Sandler's cart (sadly, he was in Canada)
Enjoying from frozen yogurt on main streetSee question on Quora