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