Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Hollywood Days and Night(mare)s: Being SWAT-ed

In the spring of 2003 I was working as a production assistant--or PA--for a TV production company at the Hollywood Center Studios.  For those who aren't familiar with that acronym, a PA might more commonly be referred to as a gopher, as in "go for" shit that people who make more money than you request (the animal equivalent of this is the game of fetch).  This can be anything from a run to Staples for office supplies, hitting up Smart & Final for food for the drones and ogres who make the "magic" of TV happen (this was my specialty, actually) or simply driving about the greater L.A. area on whatever menial tasks need doing.

Whatever euphemisms you might choose to apply, PA-ing is basically the bottom rung on the Hollywood ladder.  (Even interns get to leave whenever they want for the simple reason that they don't get paid.)  It's long hours for little pay and even less recognition.  (However, I did get to move up, but more on that another day.)  If you don't want to do the work, there are a hundred others fresh off the bus from nowhere who will do it just for the chance to work in "the Industry."

Actually, I didn't so much mind going on "runs."  I'm a car guy, and alone on the roads of L.A. I could commune with the music, Howard Stern or my own thoughts and get paid a token mileage stipend for driving around town on official business.  (Funny how the actual mileage traveled was more than frequently artificially inflated on reports by myself and the other bottom feeders.)  It was also a great way to get to know the megalopolis of the Los Angeles area and discover all of the nooks, crannies and byways heretofore unknown even to someone who had been in town for over six years.  Plus, runs provided a way to escape, even if for a few precious minutes, the egomaniacs, wastoids, burnouts and fuckheads back at the office who constitute the backbone of the entertainment business.

One schematically sunny Southern California day, I was sent across the hills to the ABC/Disney HQ in Burbank on an errand whose purpose I have long since lost to the entropy of time.  So I navigated north in my 1993 teal-blue Toyota Paseo out of Hollywood along Cahuenga Blvd., turning right on Barham, which turned into Forest Lawn as it snaked past the eponymous cemetary, and through the hills above Burbank and down onto Riverside Drive next to the 134 freeway.

The ABC headquarters is, to my eyes, a rather dyspeptic edifice that tries too hard to make you think of their Disney overlords with its Mickey hat from Fantasia crowning the front entrance and general sprinkling of the fairy dust from Walt's loins reminding you that you are, in fact, in Tinseltown.  That said, the lobby of the building actually boasts a rather decent collection of vintage photos of the construction of various studios in and around Burbank in the last century.  I recall looking at a B&W  photo of some important-looking men in business attire turning up earth at the groundbreaking for some facility and thought to myself, "They're all dead."

Anyway, after parking my Paseo in the delivery area of the parking structure, for some strange reason I found the door where I'd entered the facility on previous runs for some reason blocked to pedestrian traffic.  I recalled that there was a large footbridge from the parking structure to the corporate offices, so I traversed the raised pathway.  To my relief, the door at the end of the bridgeway was unlocked.  I pulled it open and... eyes beheld the backs of a group of men in SWAT gear, assault rifles drawn.  My brain tried to find logical explanation for this, but all my synapses can fire upon is that I have stumbled inadvertently into a police hostage situation.

Then I hear, from just down the hall, "OK, go!"

The men of the SWAT team began marching in formation down the hallway before turning a corner, their weapons still drawn.

No police situation.  No armed insurrection against Walt's progeny or their hangers-on.  Nope, I'd just stumbled, rather inadvertently, onto the filming of an episode of Alias.  It had been an AD (assistant director) telling the actors in SWAT attire to begin their march for a take.

Fortunately, no one saw me, and I was able to slink away and back to the garage to ask the attendant where I should go for the long-forgotten task for which I had been dispatched from the other side of the hills.

Let that be a lesson: In Hollywood, nothing is as it seems.  But in nearby Burbank, clearly the locations departments sometimes forgets to block off a hot set.

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