Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Hollywood in my Hood

            Saturday, August 25,2012…the stars fell out of the sky and landed on 12th and 3rd.

I look forward to Saturdays.  I sleep until noon.   Nothing much inspires me to change my much-needed morning of sloth and slumber. This Saturday was no exception.
I had to pee, so I got up, stretched, and took a look outside.   Alan Cumming was walking past my bedroom window wearing skin-tight gold lame pants, a pink sequined tank-top, a floor-length, split- sided Kimono in orange, yellow, and red.  He had on gold pointy-toed shoes and a wide red plastic bracelet.  His gray hair was teased up high and held back by a pink headband with a pin of some sort to adorn the front.  A man with a Madonna–type microphone around his neck was keeping step alongside, holding an umbrella to protect him from the sun.
I closed the curtain and vowed never to take more than one Xanax before bedtime ever again. 
The phone rang.   It was Ginny.
“This is Hollywood.  We’re ready for your close-up!”
It was real.  I looked out the window again and noticed the RVs parked along the road.  A Penske van was carefully turning the corner on our little street as a bright red golf cart careened around it.  The golf cart had Elizabeth emblazoned in pink across the side.  The men in it also wore microphones. They had cellphones plastered to their ears. The guy driving looked like a prospector from the gold rush.  He had a long, gray beard and wore bright red suspenders to hold up his baggy, well-worn jeans.
I realized Ginny was still on the phone. “I WAS going to sleep some more, but this probably takes precedence. I’ll brush my teeth and be over in a minute.” The application of spackle and fill, which is what I fondly call my make-up, takes at least a half hour.  But that’s beside the point.
Lester, my cat, stretched and looked at me with eyes half closed. You go on ahead. I’ll stay here and hold your spot..  He yawned and went back to sleep.  Damn him.
I’m used to my wonderfully odd and eclectic neighborhood with the unusual Todd and Kiaralinda houses. We’re like a cool Knot’s Landing without the drama.  Oh, we have drama I guess, but it usually involves musicians and artists doing crazy or wonderful things, like trapeze artists hanging from trees…that kind of drama. There are several whimsically painted houses on our little non-deed restricted, non-gated street.  Five of them are K. and T. houses and one is Heather’s house. I live in a K. and T.model. We’re square-peg individuals who don’t fit in round holes. The neighborhood mirrors the inhabitants. The house where the Indie film was being shot is one of their homes. They named it Casa Loco.  Whimzey is their main house, across the street.  Holly and Ginny were the official hosts for the crew because they were out of town…but only a hundred cell-phone calls away. 
What does one wear to mingle with movie-stars?  I chose my best pair of cut-off jeans, the ones with the hole in the crotch, and my Gotham Comedy Club t-shirt.  I tied a pouch around my waist to carry a camera and a pen.  I remembered a picture my daughter sent me, back when she lived in New York, of her sitting on Alan Cumming’s lap. He was dressed as Santa in a skin-tight velvet jumpsuit.  It was at Cynthia Rowley’s Christmas party.  Kristin bribed her way in with Magnolia bakery cupcakes.   Apparently, even skinny, gorgeous celebrities can’t resist eating a good cupcake before they throw them up.  I put it in my pouch.
 I wondered if I had time to make cupcakes.  Naaaaa.
I walked across the street into the middle of controlled chaos.  Cute guys were sailing by on skateboards, and people were schlepping all kinds of stuff from trucks to the house. Two big RVs were parked in front of Casa Loco. It’s a colorful Mexico-inspired feast for the eyes. Bright ceramic ashtrays adorn the outside, as well as colorful mosaic tiles. There’s a giant crescent-moon under construction on the lawn, and copper Bundt pans line beamed ceilings inside.  It didn’t surprise me that this home had been added to a folder of possible movie locations by a scout in the area.
“That’s Annie Potts over there by the Y-2k Bug.” (  Volkswagen art-car created for the millennium.)
Ginny had walked up to me as I stood there staring like an idiot.  I looked to where she was pointing, but there was only a short woman wearing baggy beige cargo shorts, a plaid shirt with the sleeves hacked off, white socks, and plastic sandals. 
“That’s her in the plaid shirt … with the short hair.”
“She has a spider tattoo around her neck and a tattoo on her arm that says LIZ?” I asked.
“Yep.   She plays a lesbian married to a gay cross-dresser.  They’re  the aunt and uncle of the main character. He’s a boy that leaves home and pitches a tent in their yard. They live in Pennsylvania.” She explained as a huge lizard ran across the street in front of us.  “It’s kind of a coming-of-age type of a movie.”
“Of course.”   I said, as if it made perfect sense. 
We stood and watched as people rushed around, and I noticed our friend Heather lifting and hauling equipment.  A moment later she was digging a patch of ground with the crew. This was to be the spot where the tent used to be.  Heather owns the little house next to Casa. She refurbished it herself, so she’s not adverse to working up a sweat and getting dirty.  What really pisses me off is that she still looks GOOD, even when she’s a mess.   I’d been standing in one place for less than ten minutes and had sweated all my makeup off already. I could smell myself. My wrinkles, age spots, and giant pores were completely visible from ten feet away.  Heather doesn’t wear make-up.  She doesn’t HAVE to.
“You a comedian?”  
I turned to look at a guy with a microphone around his neck.  He was a little taller than me.  We had matching guts.   He wore a green t-shirt over his shorts.  He had white hair and blue eyes.
“I seen your shirt.  Do you live in New York?”                                                                      
“No.  But I used to visit frequently. My sister and I went to this comedy club when we were there.” I  pulled the shirt away from my chest and looked down at it as if he needed to see it again, unencumbered by the physical stuff.  “My name is Debbie. Welcome to the hood.”  I shook his hand.  We both had sweaty hands.
“P.J., I’m from New York. I usta work at the stock exchange until I quit drinkin. That’s when it occurred to me I was workin my butt off five days and hangin only two.  So I quit my job and became a bookie so’s I could hang for five days and only work two.”  It was a good intro. I was pretty sure he’d used it before. Stick with what works.
I liked P.J. right away. It seemed that everyone else around us did too.  We had a nice chat in between his conversations with various people via his microphone.  He was one of the many producers I would meet during the day. I guess there’s a producer for everything.  Who knew?
“See that guy over there?  That’s Grant Gardner.  That guy’s hysterical, I’m tellin’ ya.  He is something else. He’s the art director on the film.  He’s worked on all kinds of shit, funny as hell guy… HEY GRANT!  Come over here!”
A tall guy ambled down the sidewalk toward us wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat, aviator sunglasses, a sleeveless green t-shirt that said Spanish Trails Girl Scout Council Troop Leader, khaki pants cut-off just below the knees, red suspenders, a tool belt, and cowboy boots. I made a mental note to try a similar ensemble someday. P.J. was right.  The guy was funny.
P.J. did his producer thing and in-between wrangling people he’d come back to tell us interesting tid-bits of information. He explained that a “Grip” is a person who handles the equipment, and a “Gaffer” is an electrician.   He introduced us to everyone.  Toby, the production organizer, shared his blood orange and lemon ice-cold Pellegrinos with us.
 Holly and I talked to Carrie Sheldon, the head sound technician, responsible for all the sound, and probably the communications on the set. She was curly-haired and already had sunburnt cheeks. She told us that it was unheard of for a woman to be a sound tech, much less a head sound tech back in the day.  She explained that the woman who opened the door for that opportunity was Peggy Names.  Names finally broke through the “boys club” and scored the head sound technician job for The Graduate. Lord only knows what she went through to land that job. It was the first time a woman worked in that capacity on a major motion picture. It ain’t  no easy job.  If the sound isn’t perfect, the movie won’t be good. 

Carrie originally lived in  Eugene, Oregon and told us that our neighborhood made her homesick because, “there’s  crazy houses there too.”  Now she lives in LA with her dog Nibbles, whose ears I scratched while she talked.  It took her years to accumulate her equipment.  It was pretty impressive stuff.
Holly and I settled in the shade on the sidewalk.  P.J. came to check on us from time to time.  Interns from the local college stood at each end of the street instructing cars to go a different way.  They were told to tell people that they were making a Mayonnaise commercial.
Alan came out of his trailer in the outfit that had paraded past my window earlier.  He was carrying his own umbrella this time.   Then Annie came out of her trailer.
 “Quiet on the set!   Final touches!    Pictures up!”
And they really do yell ACTION and slap an arm down on a little thing that has the movie’s name on it!
We watched as Annie pretended to garden on the other side of the Y-2k Bug, a Volkswagen Kiaralinda and Todd had totally encrusted with CDs, computer parts, and mosaic pieces for the Millennium.   The set designer had planted marigolds in the front of it under the hood.  Alan, on a pair of crutches, greeted a tall Asian kid who had run up to him. The boy wore a graduation gown. They had dialogue.  Annie popped up from the other side of the bug, walked over to Alan and the boy … more dialogue.
We watched them shoot this at least  ten times.  Make-up was fixed. Sound was adjusted. Light meters were held above everyone.    Planes flew overhead. (We live in a flight pattern.) The guy next door had his TV turned up loud. The ice-cream truck trundled past playing She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain. 
Gavin Kelly is the director.  The tentative title of the movie is Chu (pronounced shoe) and Blossom. It was written by two young men, Charles Chu and Ryan O’Nan, who are also stars in the film. Google these guys.  I suspect they’ll be the next Affleck and Damon. This is an independent film [read, shot on low budget, lots of chips, cheese puffs, and bottled water] that’s slated to be released at the next Sundance Film Festival, then hopefully go on to theaters.   Gavin’s parents joined us in the shade.  I understand parental pride so I was able to get some good information about their son.  Apparently, Gavin was the director of photography for an Oscar winning film called The West Bank that played at the Sundance film festival in 2005. He just recently finished shooting a film called LUV with Danny Glover, that his father added, “Is a little dark.”
 It began to sprinkle.  It was already late in the afternoon and I wasn’t the least bit bored.
 My man P.J. came back. 
“You gotta show that picture of your daughter to Al.  He’ll love it.  I’ll make sure you meet him sometime today.”  He winked at me.  An intern came up to him to ask a question.  Someone yelled from across the street. He waved them off. 
“How did you become a producer?  I mean, do you have to go somewhere and learn stuff?” I asked.

“Sure ya do.  But I also started messin around with different things.  You should check out indieflix.com and watch a movie called The Immaculate Misconception. That’s one I wrote.” ( I Googled it.  P.J.’s last name is Leonard.  He was being modest.  He’s done a lot of shit.)
The rain came.  The actors and crew had their lunch served on the Gazebo in Kiaralinda’s back yard by Craft’s catering. The Gazebo is behind Whimzey, the main house across the street from the location. Apparently Annie and Alan were blown away when they first arrived and had a tour of the place.  Alan finished lunch and got up to go back to his trailer.
I had cold feet.  I always get that way around celebrities.  But only celebrities I like.  I’m afraid to talk to them.  I act goofy.   So it was all I could do to walk up to Alan Cumming and ask him to look at my picture. He looked a little irritated at first.  God, he’s got gorgeous skin, and the most wonderful Scottish brogue…
I showed him the picture of Kristin  sitting on his lap. 
“Where was this?  How long ago?”
“This was a few years ago.  You were Santa at a Cynthia Rowley party.  Kristin was afraid she’d crush you.  I saw you in Cabaret on Broadway with Natasha Richardson.  I loved it.”  I think my eye started to twitch.
He concentrated on the picture.
“What is she doing now?”
“Your daughter.”
Oh.  she has a boutique in San Francisco.   She’s also a road manager for punk bands.  She travels all over the world.”
“Well, she’s quite a diverse young woman, isn’t she?  Please give her my best.” 
 My life was complete.
Bobby Blish walked up with his many expensive cameras around his neck. He was the official photographer for the film…I think. He actually lives in the area but is a reporter for the New York Post.  He also does voice overs.  That made sense to me because he has a great voice. 
“Take a picture of us.”   P.J. said as he put his arm around me.   So Bobby took a picture.  I’ll probably never see it.  It’s probably for the best.

P.J. contrived a way for me to meet Annie Potts.   She was inside Casa Loco with some of the crew and needed ice for her drink.  Anyone could have gotten her ice.  There were ice in tubs all over the place.  But P.J. brought me in to Casa.
“This is Debbie.  She lives here.  She can get you ice.”
I nodded and ran toward the fridge muttering that’s Annie Potts under my breath like the Rain Man. I don’t know what I was thinking.  Of course there’s no ice in the fridge there because people don’t STAY there.  So I went back over to her.  She wore adorable purple glasses.  She looked at me funny.
“There isn’t any ice here.”  Genius.
“I know. If you could just find two or three cubes to put in my drink, that would be great.”  She said looking terribly vulnerable.   “You can take my drink with you.”   She handed it to me.  God, she was a trusting soul… I mean, I could be a crazy person and spit in her cup for crissake.
I ran out of Casa with her cup.  I don’t think I said anything.  I walked across the street to Whimzey where Holly and Ginny were enjoying the AC for a while.   I opened the freezer.  There was no ice.
“Watcha need?”  Holly asked.                                                                      
“Ice…I need ice for Annie Potts!”
I dashed out the door, around the house, and picked my way over bowling balls with the precious cup in hand.  I headed to my house on the other corner.  She’s going to wonder where the hell I went, I thought, as I ran up my driveway.   I burst past Lester who always waits by the door to sneak out because he’s an asshole, flung open the freezer, and a horrible smell of garlic hit me in the face.  NOOOOOOOOO!  I knew my fridge smelled of garlic, but NOT THE FREEZER!   It was at that moment I had to make a decision.  Go back empty-handed, or hope she had a terrible sense of smell.  I put three cubes in the cup and took the tray with me for the freezer at Casa, just in case she did  have a terrible sense of smell and needed more ice later.
Half out of breath, (I really need to start working out), I handed her the drink.  I didn’t want to stick around long enough to see her reaction, so, after sliding the tray into the freezer, I ran out.  I heard her calling thank you ...
Later, Carrie hooked us up with professional head-gear like I’d seen people wearing all day.  She clipped little power packs to our waist bands.  Now we could HEAR the actors who were filming INSIDE Casa Loco, as well as watch them on the monitors. How cool is that?   Carrie’s whole sound booth, including all of her equipment, had been moved to the lawn just outside the house.  I scratched Nibbles ears and took a seat next to Carrie.  I listened to Alan, Annie, Charles, and Ryan practice a scene from the movie.  They did several takes. It was a very funny scene.  In between, I listened to their conversation.  They talked about who’s in rehab and who’s not, stuff like that. Great stuff. (No, I didn’t get names. And I wouldn’t tell if I DID.)

 P.J. asked if I had an I-Pad because he wanted to show Alan a video. The actors were on break.  I got it for him and stood outside the RV while he handed it the actor. He promised to take a picture of us after Alan watched the video.  Suddenly, a swarm of interns burst in and blatantly asked if they could take his picture.  He agreed, and then excused himself for another shoot.
“Great P.J.  I stand here with my thumb up my ass while you bullshit about some video.”
“But I wanted him to see my friend, Martha Wash.  She’s the one that sang that song, It’s Raining Men. You know that one, right?   She’s got some great new stuff out now.”
“Jeezus, do you know everybody?”  I asked, because he had dropped a few names during the course of the day.  But even though he could bullshit better than anyone I’d ever met, I suspected he really DID know everyone.  That’s the kind of guy he is. But I still didn’t get my picture.
“I’m sorry, I’ll get you your picture before the night’s over.  I promise.”
“Hollywood men are all the same. You make promises, then dump us when you get what you want from us,  like yesterday’s news.” 
He eventually made good on his promise and practically dragged me back to the trailer just as Alan was about to shut the door.  There he was, in all his splendor, wearing a pink chenille robe with large poodle appliques on it, big curlers in his hair, and a green herbal mask on his face.
“HEY AL!!!  She’s been waiting to get a picture. You gotta minute?”  I was mortified.
Alan Cumming had just a minute at eleven o’clock at night.  But it only took him a few seconds to grab my camera, adjust the settings, hold it up and take a picture of the two of us. He checked the picture, readjusted the settings, held it up, and took another one, perfectly framed.  Obviously he’d done that many times. 
I gave P.J. a big hug.
It had been quite a day in the hollyhood.

Footnote:    They filmed all over the bay area, including a scene on a football field  where Ryan had to run naked with big slabs of ribs draped over him as a pack of dogs chased him.  They had to do several takes.  The meat actually started to cook in the heat and separate from the bone so wardrobe had to stitch the bones together.  They were set to wrap production on September fourth. Watch for it in the spring.



Jules Bergen said...

What an awesome account!

Alicia Gregory said...

Wow. Hilarious!