x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

It takes a real winner to ruin a perfectly good story

Young people are taking over Hollywood. There's absolutely nothing to be gained by offering them career advice

When young people ask for career advice - which is something that happens often in Hollywood - the wisest course of action is to avoid giving any.

Helping young folks as they move up the Hollywood ladder is not in anyone's interest. Young people - especially ambitious young people - are slowly taking over the place anyway. Why give them any useful encouragement?

The other day, though, I couldn't wiggle out of it. A young friend had spent the past few months persistently contacting me - he called; he emailed; he Facebooked - asking for an hour or so of my time so he could in his words, "pick my brain", which is about as fun as it sounds.

I avoided it until I could avoid it no longer, at which point I found myself face to face with him, over a cup of coffee - which I made him buy - as he poured out his career-related questions. He wanted to know about how to break into the Hollywood scriptwriting business (write scripts, I said), how to produce an independent film (have rich parents, I said), what an agent does all day (no idea, I said), and he wrapped it all up with this impossible-to-answer question: "Do you think I would be a good network executive?"

There are many ways to answer that question, but there aren't many ways to answer it nicely, so instead of answering it, I told him this story.

Here's how it begins: there used to be a restaurant on the large backlot of Paramount Studios called Nickodell's. It was one of those old-time, old-school Hollywood restaurants - all banquettes in fake leather, woodwork pockmarked by cigarette burns, dim lighting and the smell of cooking grease.

Nickodell's was on the studio lot, but it was a public restaurant, too. The public could come in from the Melrose Avenue door, but if you were already on the lot, you could come in the back way via the studio entrance.

Back then, no one thought that was a security problem. These days, getting into a movie studio lot requires complicated driving passes and a photo identification, but in that more innocent time, all you had to do was walk in the front door of Nickodell's and saunter out the back.

There was even a lot phone hanging on the wall - and one of those really old ones, too, with a rotary dial in black Bakelite.

The food was pretty terrible, but they served what functioning alcoholics call a "healthy pour", and so during the time I was at the studio - before they tore it down to build a car park - we'd all head over to Nickodell's for a drink and a burger before we would shoot a show in front of an audience.

It felt very showbiz, which is why we liked it. At a certain point before 6.30pm, the lot phone would ring, a waitress would answer it, and she'd turn to us and say in a gravelly voice: "Fellas, they're ready to roll." Then we would all head out the back door into the bright Hollywood sunshine and produce television.

Each time we went, though, there was always someone else at the bar: he was a very well-known, actually legendary local television news anchorman who happened, back then, to be doing the six o'clock news broadcast for the local station that was also on the Paramount lot just a few sound stages away.

He'd be at the bar in his suit and tie (and, probably, already in make-up) quietly sipping his drink, smoking and watching the TV above the bar - which was tuned, of course, to his station. And at some point just before 6pm, one of us would look up at the bar and he'd be gone. We never actually managed to see him leave, but he would always manage to sneak out somehow.

And then we'd look up at the TV and he'd be there, suddenly, delivering the evening news broadcast.

There would still be ice in his glass, still a small dimple on the stool where he had been sitting moments ago, still smoke curling up in wisps from his cigarette.

"That's the story," I said to my young friend. "What do you think of it?"

He could have said so many things. He could have said "that's cool", or "that's sad" or "Hollywood is filled with atmospheric locations like that". He could even have expressed an admiration for the newscaster's dissolute professionalism.

Instead, after a moment of thought, he said: "That's not believable. I don't think the smoke would do that. It would take that guy at least five minutes to get to the studio, and cigarette smoke wouldn't still be curling in the air."

To which I replied: "Anyone who knows how to take the fun out of something as well as you do is going to make a very, very good network executive."

"Thanks," he said, not getting it. That is another reason I'm utterly certain that I'll be working for him one day.

 

Rob Long is a writer and producer based in Hollywood

On Twitter: @rcbl