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Life

Going South for the Big Pitch

I traveled down the well-worn path to Hollywood to pitch a ‘concept’. Notes from a very foreign land.

By David Berner 20 Dec 2004 | TheTyee.ca
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“We didn’t come out to die of lung cancer.”

Huh?

The photo on the billboard high above Olympic Blvd. offers two handsome young men in warm embrace. It takes several read-throughs to absorb. We didn’t come out, we didn’t…ah! The tag line is “1-800-BUTT-OUT.” Write your own bad jokes, pal. This is L.A.

On the flight out of YVR, the nylon briefcase is X-rayed, then frisked, and the credit-card-sized multi-tool kit (forgotten in a sleeve, never used) is confiscated. The belt is undone (BIG, BIG buckle) and the shoes are removed. The punk with the skateboard cellphones all the way through ramp up, and when advised by the flight attendant in the ever so nicest way, that his very most important call must now end, he argues with her, closing with, “Oh, yeah? Well, the cigarette with the slash through it should be a cell, eh?”

Later, back where the washrooms and the hot coffee so cleverly co-mingle, the flight attendant, whose name is Caroline, agrees that it is astonishing that an Airbus 319 cruises at 37,000 feet. Does everybody take everything for granted these days? She is definitely old school – Irish father, Italian mother, and she detests the ubiquitous lack of quality and gentility in “the current generation,” no specific skateboarders in 19D mentioned.

‘Talk, talk, talk’

All the drivers of town cars in Beverly Hills are Romanian. Go explain. They’ve arrived in dribs and spits, Papa, then Uncle, then me. They love the weather and they love the opportunity to diss all the Spanish-speaking workers, which includes, of course, everyone in the hotel – front desk, laundry, breakfast room, bar. “Ten thousand a night they come here! Sleep 10 to a room, and then they all buy one rickety, old gas-guzzler. Terrible!”

“People here are phony, Mister. Talk, talk, talk, always about nothing. It’s all business. Of course, at the hotel they smile at you. You think they are very nice, sure. Then the moment you are gone, miserable!”

And if they don’t talk (and they do, they really do!), then they gawk. Los Angeles is definitely Gawksville. Everybody is casing everybody else all the time. Hey, you might be somebody. Maybe you were somebody; maybe you’ll be somebody. Hollywood understands the compression of Time. There is only the Now. Ask Billy Crystal. Four years out of the Oscars and people think he’s died. Hail Chris Rock!

At Nate ‘N Al’s Deli, they gawk. At ABC/Disney, they gawk. You’re not in jeans and carrying a take-out coffee, they really gawk. You just came from the 10th floor, they’re ready to drive you home, carry your notes, recommend restaurants, show you the Santa Monica Pier.

With the suits

At ABC/Disney, the Man with the Corner Office has two secretaries and a ping pong table. There are many paddles on the first of many sofas. The Man is charming, soft-spoken and a killer. He didn’t get the corner office by accident. He loves Vancouver. “Great place to shoot. Wonderful crews. What’s that studio out by Costco? Acting pool is a little soft, but that’ll come.” He is intrigued by our presentation and concludes our 45 minutes at the top of PowerLand with, “Look, I’ll run this around some folks here in the office, but if this isn’t an ABC project, I’ll show it to my friend, Nick, at A & E.” His friend, Nick, is the President of A & E.

Two Rodeo Drive is the current Centre of the Universe. It’s a little curve of a High Street running off Wilshire and bleeding into Rodeo proper. Across the street is the grand old Regent Beverly Wilshire, run now by our very own Canadian Isadore Sharp’s Four Seasons. Go Canucks! All the Ferragamos and Versaces are perched here. Here everybody is casually aggressive, laid-back psychopathic. They sit on the garden benches, talk loudly into their cells, and broadcast their exciting lives to the passing throng.

“How long is the flight from Miami to Barbados? No! Well, we have a discount at the Ambassador if you want it. No problem. Just speak to Bob.”

Fremantle Media is a worldwide conglomerate sitting comfortably –very comfortably! – on the fourth floor of a quiet building on Colorado Avenue. They own many “properties,” but foremost among them are “The Price is Right,” and “American Idol.” They bought “Price” from the originators and have been distributing it in 147 countries for years. “American Idol” is their flagship show and the profits therein are downright terrifying. Opposite Eileen in Reception (“Sure, my asthma is awful, but Arizona? Come on, man!) stands the glass trophy case filled with “American Idol” products: American Idol mugs, American Idol pencils, American Idol T-shirts, American Idol sports bags, American Idol toothpaste, condoms, bubble gum.

“Good program, David, but I’m going to pass. It’s great, but not for us. Here’s what we’re looking for – the next American Idol! We’re talking hard concept, high concept. Smack ‘em in the face! And look, you speak to Darnell at Fox, he’ll want to know does Robin Williams take off his clothes? Can we push Reese Witherspoon off the cliff, worry later about catching her? See where I’m going? For example, last week I had a guy in here pitching me with "Deflowering the Virgin!” But, hey, you have my number, David. You call me anytime with the next American Idol!”

“O.K., Mike, how about “Frontier Rabbi?”

“Hahaha. Oh man, you’re funnier than your project! I love the way you think!”

Everyone’s in show biz

The hotel is right on the cusp of the Orthodox Jewish neighbourhood. Who knew? Two ladies in the kosher supermarket on Pico, “Sure, I’ve got acid reflux!” One is tempted to blurt out, “Well, you don’t always have to eat the pickles they put in front of you as soon as you sit down.” One bites one’s tongue.

At the Museum of Tolerance, swarms of ten-year olds stare at the horrible pictures. Their comments in the visitors’ book, after witnessing the most graphic of holocaust histories range from “Fantastic! What an unforgettable experience!” to “What about other people? Native Indians and Asians? Too limited. Boring!”

The African-American clerk at Taschen books (Dali, Botticelli, Madonna!) is really an animator, a cartoonist. Tomorrow he has an interview with Disney. His real name is Sylvester. “But you can call me Nick.” Fifty years ago, someone made a Sylvester the Cat cartoon that was based on “Of Mice and Men,” Steinbeck’s heart- breaking story of Lenny and George, two itinerant workers during the Depression. In the cartoon, a giant, lovable and stupid cat follows Sylvester around like a lost sheep. He keeps calling Sylvester “George.” No matter how many times he is corrected by the distinctive sputtering, lisping Sylvester, the big dumb thing keeps saying, “But I can’t say Sylvester, George.” Children in theatres around the world turned to their parents and friends and hollered, “But he just said Sylvester!”

‘Everything is fine’

Nobody works harder than Los Angelenos. Venice and Zuma Beach be damned, most folks work round the clock. The kid at the Taiwanese cosmetics, teas and spa (full body massage, 3 hours, $800US) starts at 10:30, ends at 10:30, goes home, cooks, cleans, meditates for 2 hours, goes to sleep at 2:30am, gets up at 9 and repeats 7 days a week. The lovely lady who owns the Greek café ruminates, “Oh, sure everything fine. But, you know, you have to ask yourself why, why, why? Never stop. Inside, outside, take-out, every day. And for what? More money? Who has time to spend?”

On Air Canada’s return flight (pre-Celine!), a man is gabbing on his cell phone as we board. He doesn’t care what we say; his chat about nothing takes precedence over our safety. Evidently, we worry too much.

The next day, back safe at home in sleepy, drizzly, wonderful Vancouver, The New York Times blares “Shooting of Teen Shows There Are Two Different Cities Called Los Angeles.”

Amen.

David Berner is an actor and hosts a talk show on CKNW.  [Tyee]

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