Hollywood Playground

by Katherine Wang

Los Angeles, a Hollywood dreamscape or a real living, breathing city?  What’s this fascination with the entertainment industry and why does the idea of Hollywood glamour titillate us so?  The myths and realities of getting into the popular L.A. industry.

 In Los Angeles, almost everyone is involved in the movies. Well, that’s what we’d all like to imagine. Los Angeles is a city of many things that expand beyond the boundaries of Hollywood and Sunset. Only in Los Angeles, can you find a myriad of diverse cultures and influences that spawned hundreds of unique, ethnic communities.

In these areas of rich cultural personality, there is mingling of races — planted next to Vietnamese baguette shops are Mexican markets which sells fruits and vegetables. You can go to Sherman Oaks for delicious Filipino food or Westminster to explore the commercial center of Little Saigon. There’s a new experience on every corner, a different taste and flavor to every one of its districts.

Yet, from watching Hollywood movies, there is only one culture in LA. The culture of the stars. Films like “Hollywood Homicide” makes me imagine Los Angeles as one big glamorous set with sexy detectives, bling-bling gangsters and blue-suited corporate villains, who happen to be (who would have guessed) entertainment executives. Somehow, the idea of beautiful people onscreen has permeated my head with this image of a Hollywood playground, where celebrities abound and getting into the business is inevitable.

And the truth is—it is quite possible to work in entertainment in this city.

I first starting out as a writer and applied to intern for the television series “Commander-in-Chief.” The interview process involved a trek from the ABC Studios in Burbank, then to the actual set of the show in Hollywood, somewhere on Melrose. It was a rigorous all-day event, picking my way through the laborious 405 traffic and the rickety soundstages still under construction.

Unfortunately, the interview itself was even more disappointing. I found out my duties mainly involved office work and picking-up lunch for the staff. The only writing I would be participating in would be sitting in on the scriptwriting crew’s meetings. And that was the only perk besides, perhaps meeting the starring actress Geena Davis, who would be playing the first female president.

My story is one of many I’ve heard among the people first starting out in entertainment. Although in this city, there are jobs available for everything from crew, public relations, scriptwriting, modeling, acting and more. The fact is you probably can’t get in without the right connections. That’s probably the one truth coming out of all those Hollywood movies.

My good friend Mary can attest to this; she started like anybody, a new college graduate without a strong idea of what to do for her career. Applying for jobs at first was disheartening, especially because she didn’t have work experience in a particular industry. One of the most irritating facts about entertainment or any other similarly interesting industry, you can’t get in without experience, but how can you get experience without getting in first? It’s a frustrating circling effect.

But luckily for Mary, she finally got her big break when her sister’s best friend, who was long established in the business, recommended her for a job as a script production assistant on an award’s show. A career in working on scripts took off from there. With this amazing opportunity, she was catapulted years ahead. Mary would tell me about the runners starting out at entry-level. Their jobs sounded a great deal like the gig I would have had at “Commander-in-Chief.” Most of their time was spent driving around, running errands for the crew, picking up lunches and carrying heavy boxes of food or equipment.

Mary was one of the lucky ones who didn’t have to start out in production grunt team. But such is the story of those trying to get into the glamorous world of entertainment. Everyone has to pay their dues.  Unfortunately, these people will see the unglamorous side of Hollywood. It’s not a playground in the entertainment industry.

But that’s the sort of thing they don’t show in the movies. The scene they cut to is the part where the big-time executive producers and celebrities finally reap the fruits of their labor. True, when you’re on top, the studios treat you well. There are amazing after-parties at luxurious clubs like Highlands and White Lotus. There are open bars, where you can have as many shots of Petron as you’d like. Or the delight of getting seats behind Usher and Christina Aguilera. Such are the experiences my friend Mary tells me about. It sounds like the stuff of grown-up imaginations; it’s the Hollywood dream.

Thus, this is the fantasy of many living in Los Angeles. And it’s in this amazing city that I get to meet aspiring actors, musicians, deejays, artists, screenplay writers and more. Some of these young people I talked to are only big kids with dreams of making it in Hollywood. They come from the Midwest, the East Coast or from the city right next door.

Recalling a conversation I had with an artist friend of mine, Kathy, she joked about how each of us was somehow going to get involved in the entertainment industry one way or the other. It’s almost like an inevitable fact of growing up in Los Angeles, she said wryly. Illustrators like her are often recruited to do computer graphic work on music, movie or televison industry. Incidentally, because of all the studios in Los Angeles, it is pretty easy to get work in the music or movies and television. It just depends on whether or not you can get through the really bad jobs you have to put up with before you get that big break.

On telephone poles around the city, one can often find ads for movie extras. There are plenty of people trying to make it here. But any of us can join the bandwagon. Even my audit friend told me about visiting the big studios for her job at KPMG. And another friend excitedly reported the numerous files of famous people and studios she’d found in entertainment cases at the law firm she worked at in Beverly Hills.

Thus, in spite of having grown up in this city, I am still surprised by its magnetism. What is this celebrity and Hollywood obsession that draws in so many from other parts of the world? After all, celebrities are just people. Most of us have throughout our life, seen one or two at restaurants, stores or on the street. They look and move about like regular Los Angelenos. Yet in spite of this, celebrities and the business they’re involved in holds such delicious allure that it makes our imaginations run riotous. On the big screen, an actor becomes a god, and a glimpse of Los Angeles, like a popular club or Santa Monica, Rodeo Drive and even the UCLA campus becomes elevated into the realm of Hollywood dreamscape.

In reality, working in entertainment is mundane and grungy work. But the movie magic of it is what makes Los Angeles hold its appeal as the source of grown-up fantasies.

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