DIARY OF THE FUNEMPLOYED: Free Movies!

The wise prophet Ferris Bueller once said, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."

Clearly Mr. Bueller isn't a 31-year-old unemployed/freelance writer who has Prius payments to make and student loans to neglect every month*. If I may, I'd like to tell him that life indeed moves pretty fast. However, if you've been stopped for a prolonged period of time, twiddling your thumbs, you can still miss it. Having left my employer back in February, my weekly routines of waking up, attempting to hit the gym, watching The View, getting booked on a few writing gigs, and spending hours in almost every Starbucks this side of La Cienega have made these past eight months fly by at a pace I've never experienced.

Nearly seven years ago I had written a "chapter email" to all of my friends and family back home (remember, this was before I ever acquainted myself with a blog) about my first experience as "an employee for the government." At the still-green age of 24, I had been laid off when the home-makeover show I worked on got cancelled by ABC Family after three short seasons (I had been an assistant in the low-budgeted art department). It was nice, at first. And the timing was perfect. I was "laid off" two days before Halloween, which meant that I could go crazy on the 31st of October and sleep in the next morning...which I did (again, I was 24). Little did I know it was the calm before the Quarter-Life Crisis Storm during which I'd find myself questioning my move to Los Angeles, where I was going with my life, and why I had jumped ship a couple of months before landing the art department gig (I had been a lowly staff PA at a highly esteemed production company that had already started placing one foot in its grave).

Granted, my current bout with unemployment was brought on voluntarily. I had seven years worth of experience to prepare me for this round of joblessness. I knew it was going to be challenging. But I had regained hope and a rekindled desire to continue pursuing what I had come to this city for, and being unemployed in 2011 has opened my eyes to a couple of things.

A slight perk I've taken advantage of is the chance to attend bargain matinees of movies I've wanted to see but was too cheap to cough up the additional dollars for weekend or nighttime admissions. What's even better, especially in L.A., is the chance to go to matinees - for free. Being on the mailing list for test screenings, I've been able to watch a number of flicks before they hit multiplexes (And don't forget my pro-bono work for Campus Circle, which has allowed me to sit in on plenty of films and interview a couple of celebs - I wrote about my press junket experience HERE).

You see, many movie studios try to gauge a film's success by coordinating a handful of screenings that also act as focus groups. They do them all the time here. If a theater is constantly filled with laughter during an upcoming R-rated comedy, then execs can take comfort in knowing that they have a hit on their hands. However, if a theater is filled with laughter for the wrong reasons, then the execs (and the film's director) have some work to do (hello reshoots!). Any weak points or strengths are also made clear when audience members are given forms to fill out and express their opinions on things like characters, story development, and pacing.

After attending several test screenings here in the City of Unemployed Angels, I couldn't help but take a mental inventory of the kinds of individuals who frequent these freebies. I guess it's a thing writers do; we observe the crap out of stuff. There are the similarly jobless schmoes who share my ravenous appetite for free shit. There are the college students who have nothing better to do in between classes. There's that one member of the press who's managed to infiltrate the group (anyone remotely connected to "The Biz" is prohibited from joining - oops). And then there's the riffraff, some of them looking as if they came off the street with no clue as to what they're participating in.

A funny story about that whole No-Showbiz-People-Allowed rule:

Back in July I received an invite to attend a preview screening of the contemporary masterpiece Shark Night 3D. In Chatsworth. Chatsworth. The theater was roughly 45 minutes away from my Westwood apartment, but considering I had nothing else better to do (besides hunt for more work), I made the trek deep into the armpit of The Valley. When I showed up a line had already wrapped around the building, but I was confident I would still get in. Armed with a water bottle and my trusty paperback novel, I walked all the way to the end of the line by the dumpsters. There, a man with a clipboard was checking people in. I had memorized my confirmation code and was ready to give it to him.

"Name?" he asked. I gave it. Strange, I had never been checked in like that before.

He consulted a list on his clipboard. "Sorry, I can't let you into the screening. You work in entertainment."

"I'm sorry?" I feigned confusion.

"You're a member of the industry. This screening is for general audiences only. I'm going to have to ask you to step out of the line."

I remained cool and collected on the outside, but on the inside, I panicked like a sleeper agent who had just been exposed right before completing his mission for the Taliban. I continued to act offended by his false accusation (call it reverse psychology), and Mr. Clipboard then explained that my name popped up as a Person of Interest. Apparently this particular marketing firm gathered together a bunch of names to look out for. I was basically blacklisted. There was a warrant out for my removal from screenings. I imagined posters being hung up in offices with the word "WANTED" splashed across my face. I pictured gruff, middle-aged men shouting at their subordinates, "Do not let this guy in! He's a writer! He influences other people's opinions!" I envisioned APBs being broadcast across the city: "Suspect was last seen exiting a screening of Immortals downtown. Proceed with caution. Blogger is considered a high risk."

Still, I was determined to get into the screening at hand and see some bikini-babe-on-shark action. I calmly waited for Mr. Clipboard to bring over his senior colleague to re-explain the rules. I assured them that I was unemployed, having worked as a bookkeeper for an electrician (which was kind of true; I had a one-month stint back in the summer of '06). They responded by saying they couldn't do anything; my name was linked to several entertainment-related entities (Damn you, Google). I admitted working for a production company eight years ago, but that did nothing. I bitched about the time I wasted driving out here from Westwood. They apologized. I continued to stand there. The standoff was reaching its boiling point. Finally Senor Clipboard, in an attempt to compromise, gave me a slip of paper that granted me free admission to any movie of my liking. And I had to use it that night. The only two movies with reasonable showtimes were Captain America and Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Which would be the worst of two evils? Thus my dilemma of the day (I chose the robots).



Ironically enough, one month later found me sitting across from the Shark Night cast in an interview I wrote for Campus Circle. I had to ask questions about what it was like working with animatronics, what it was like to scuba train, and how hard it was to run around in a swimsuit the entire time (sadly, there was no time to discuss the qualifications of the Republican candidates). And I still haven't seen the movie.

My summer run-in with the Test Screening Police hasn't deterred me from accepting more invites to free movies. Last week I attended a preview of Tower Heist, and -- marketing execs, relax -- I rather enjoyed it. That's all I'll say. And the week before that I caught an afternoon sneak peek of Immortals downtown. Like all screenings, in order to guarantee a seat, I had to arrive an hour early and wait in line for a confirmed ticket. Hence a book or magazine would be wise to bring. While standing in line on Olympic Boulevard by the multiplex entrance I couldn't help glancing up from my Kindle every now and then to match the voices with the faces of people whose conversations I had eavesdropped on.

Woman: "I love these things. Last week I saw this movie with Matt Damon. It was good. God, I loved him in Gigli too."
Young Man: "My girl told me about these, and I'm like, I ain't got nothing else better to do."

I tell ya, nothing but the creme de la creme down here in Theater 10 at Regal Cinemas.

If I can't manage my way into any more of these test screenings, I'll always have my press screenings...and the free movies I can rent from the public library. Speaking of which, I finally discovered the West Hollywood branch which recently reopened their doors after undergoing a tremendous renovation (above). Free wi-fi. State-of-the-art equipment. Study rooms. Comfy leather chairs. It is quite the sight to see for any bibliophile.

Off to go RSVP my ass for that new Kate Winslet-Jodie Foster flick,

H.P.M.

*According to current Obamanomics, if this new student loan plan officially kicks in next year, then so. Be. It.


DIARY OF THE FUNEMPLOYED: The Great Sephora Caper

I am Jennifer Aniston.

Well, I can relate to the character she played in Friends With Money. In the 2006 dramedy, acutely written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, Jen's character, Olivia, is a down-and-out broke girl living in West L.A., surrounded by loved ones who have enough disposable income to fund a small private school for several years. I included the film in a list I compiled three years ago called "10 Great L.A. Movies" (you can catch it here). I also considered it one of the ten best movies I had seen that year.

Olivia hoards small sample jars of designer facial creams and soaps she acquires from various department stores throughout the city because, obviously, she can't afford the full-sized, full-priced bottles. In one particular scene we see her line up dozens of mini-bottles in her bathroom cabinet while she partakes in her nighttime facial ritual. Sometimes she'll even enlist her well-off friends to grab a sample for her; twice the moisturizer for the price of one trip to the mall.

Like Olivia, I have managed to develop my own system involving my local Sephoras and any department store that sells Lab Series For Men's Multi-Action Face Wash. One 3.4-ounce tube of the stuff that "cleanses, exfoliates and conditions the skin" goes for $18. And with the way my bank account seems to get depleted of funds on a monthly basis, there is no way in hell I'll shell out one Hamilton, an Abe Lincoln, and three Washingtons to make my face feel minty fresh every night before I go to bed.

Therefore I will drive myself to the nearest mall and walk into Sephora, ready to be faced with the inevitable "Welcome to Sephora. Can I help you find anything?" To which I'll reply, "Why yes. I was wondering if I could try a sample of that facial soap from Lab Series for Men." Sometimes I'll purposely flub up the name in order to look like a clueless male who's too intimidated to enter an overly bright room filled with lipsticks, powders, eye creams, and enough fragrances to elicit a contact high. Other times I'll just make my way over to the Men's section and pick up a box, pretending to study its contents, and wait for a sales associate to walk over and check in to see if I need any assistance. And occasionally I'll even pull out the My-Friend-Swears-By-This-Stuff-And-Tells-Me-I-Need-To-Try-It card ("Does it really work?"). Once I was approached by a petite Asian girl who showered me with extra samples of shaving cream and SPF lotions after asking her if she could "help a brother out with some exfoliating hookups."

I should also point out that one little sample jar of the Multi-Action Face Wash can last up to seven washes. The tiniest of dollops can foam up like crazy, so four jars could last an entire month. That's four Sephoras I could hit up over the span of one weekend. And it's the perfect size for traveling - no need to worry about those darn FAA carry-on regulations!

Please understand: in no way do I consider this a scam of any sort. I'm not shoplifting chotskies from Pier 1 or T-shirts from Target (although the latter has the potential to become a giant, um, target for similar schemes). I am merely being resourceful during my time of financial need, finding ways to thriftily take care of myself and provide the best hygiene no money can buy.

If that's a crime, then lock me up in a cellblock room. At least I won't have to worry about making rent. Or buying groceries.

H.P.M.


20 Things I've Learned About Living in L.A. (Thus Far)

I thought I'd save this for next year's anniversary blog celebrating 10 years of living in the City of Angels, but why wait? I'm sure I'll stumble upon other discoveries before next summer rolls around. Here are twenty little nuggets I thought I'd share in the meantime (are there any I'm missing?).

1. Arclight Cinemas = Best. Popcorn. Ever.

2. Friends in other cities may gather together for movie nights and board game nights. Here, they gather together for award nominee screener nights and my-friend's-guest-starring-on-CSI nights.

3. Attractive, scantily-clad joggers should not be allowed to stretch and stand on the sidewalks of busy intersections; it's a driving hazard. And just not right.

4. When in doubt, take Fountain Avenue (or Olympic).

5. When the invite says 8pm, arrive at 9pm. Or, depending on the host, don't show up at all.

6. Some casting directors are jaded, former actors with a penchant for pot-smoking, obsessing over the shenanigans of Bravo reality-TV stars, and dating those who qualify as "10s."

7. Anyone who's ever tried to adamantly defend living in the Valley most likely considers "a wild night out" to include a cocktail at The Americana before 8pm, followed by sushi and karaoke somewhere along Ventura Boulevard and an Evian nightcap on the couch in front the latest Saturday Night Live.

Courtesy of MyParkingSign.com
8. 2004: "Don't date the 818." 2011: "Nothing's fine about the 909." (Sorry, K.S.)

9. Valet can be avoided 90% of the time.

10. Yellow curbs are a godsend when looking for a parking space after 6pm.

11. The homeless beggar stationed at the 405 Freeway exit ramp on Santa Monica Boulevard earns more than I do in one day. I have no doubt.

12. Larchmont Village is the new Brentwood.

13. Abbot Kinney is the new Melrose.

14. The Sunset Junction street festival is an excuse for anti-WeHo gays to break out the assless chaps and for Silverlake hipsters to celebrate each other's ironic awesomeness.

15. The Grilled Cheese Truck and Umami Burger are conspiring against me in an attempt to sabotage my waistline.

16. The following is not always true: The longer the wait for a table, the better the brunch experience.

17. Downtown is where East Coast transplants attempt to recapture better days and fool themselves into thinking they live in lower Manhattan.

18. Soap actors love making appearances at The Griddle Cafe on Sunset (whether or not they consume the calories in those ginormous pancakes is irrelevant).

19. The four seasons of Los Angeles are as follows: Awards, Wildfire, Earthquake, and Pilot.

20. Celebrities - they're just like us. Except they get stuff for free (even though they earn 100 times more than us), pay people to polish their reputations, and come with truckloads of insecurities.

H.P.M.


Theme Song of the Month: October 2011

Color me indecisive.

I'm going back and forth among three singles that have been tickling my fancy recently, hence my delayed choice for this month's anthemic tune.

The first is Lady Antebellum's "We Owned The Night." The country trio finally won me over during their Saturday Night Live performance last week (btw, Melissa McCarthy, I love you), and I can't help but feel like taking an impromptu nocturnal road trip up the coast or lighting a bonfire somewhere up in Malibu whenever I hear this breezy track.

Then there's James Morrison's duet with Jessie J, "Up," a song with a message I can certainly use to help me get through the rest of this "interesting" year.

But it's Mayer Hawthorne's "The Walk" that has completely won me over, and the video for this soulful throwback stars that hot chick from The Event, who could very well be JoJo's older sister.



All three songs are worthy selections for the season, but you know me: I just can't say no to a bespectacled crooner who doesn't take himself too seriously.

H.P.M.


MASQUERADE: 2011 Fall Playlist, Vol. 2

While you put the finishing touches on that slutty Halloween costume you'll eventually throw together at the last minute you may want to play these 25 tracks to help you get into the mood. Soulful throwbacks, mesmerizing vocals, and high-energy dance is what's on the menu. My second fall compilation of 2011 is now being served.

*And yes, those would be download links to some of the tracks below (get 'em while they're hot).

1. "We Found Love" by Rihanna feat. Calvin Harris
2. "Just In Love" by Joe Jonas
3. "I Like How It Feels" by Enrique Iglesias feat. Pitbull
4. "Shake It Out" by Florence + The Machine
5. "Russian Unicorn" by Bad Lip Reading - Upon the first listen, you may not get the lyrics at all. That's because it's one of those songs you need to see to believe. The geniuses behind BLP have produced a single as an alternative to the Michael Buble video for 2009's "Haven't Met You Yet," and the result is a hysterical exercise in random absurdity:



6. "The Lady is a Tramp" by Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga
7. "Au Revoir" by Cascada
8. "Sexy and I Know It" by LMFAO
9. "All Night Long" by Demi Lovato feat. Missy Elliot - The former Disney princess/tabloid fixture surprises with this bump-and-grinder produced by the trying-to-stay-relevant Timbaland. And the Missy cameo is a welcome appearance.
10. "Earthquake" by Labrinth feat. Tinie Tempah
11. "Good Feeling" by Flo Rida
12. "On Display (Arkatone Radio Mix)" by Melissa Gorga - The remix of this disposable dance fluff from the New Jersey Housewife I've grown to root for ain't too shabby.
13. "Paradise" by Coldplay
14. "The Sound of Missing You" by Wildboyz feat. Ameerah
15. "I Surrender" by Clare Maguire:



16. "Bedroom Eyes" by Dum Dum Girls
17. "Playmate to Jesus" by Aqua - Who'da thunk I'd still be jamming to the guys who gave us "Barbie Girl" 14 years ago? This mid-tempo pop number hails from the halfway decent Megalomania which was recently released overseas.
18. "Beautiful People" by Benny Benassi feat. Chris Brown
19. "The Muppet Show Theme Song" by OK Go - To prepare you for the upcoming Muppets reboot.
20. "Take Over Control" by Afrojack feat. Eva Simons - Despite its release last winter, Top 40 seems to have finally caught on to the Eurotrashiness of this track.
21. "25/8" by Mary J. Blige
22. "Crazy" by Electrolightz
23. "The Walk" by Mayer Hawthorne - A soulful jam from a funkier, nerdier version of Robin Thicke:



24. "Without You" by David Guetta feat. Usher
25. "What Doesn't Kill You (Stronger)" by Kelly Clarkson