by Jaime Davis, The Fixer
You know those cute little vignettes sprinkled throughout When Harry Met Sally? The ones with all the A-DOR-ABLE couples talking about their meet-cutes and the Real Life stories behind their Real Life love stories? I love them. All. Every single one of them. And here’s an MJ secret for you: I L-O-V-E When Harry Met Sally. In fact, I have adored this film since I was about 10 years old. It was always on tv or cable or we must have owned a copy growing up because I knew every line, every Billy Crystal white man / white sneaks ensemble, every Meg Ryan face-scrunch. Once, while watching, I even asked my dad if I was high-maintenance or low-maintenance, because the way Harry told Sally she was high-maintenance made it very clear to me that I soooo needed to be low-maintenance.
When I started to really get into writing and screenwriting and filmmaking, one of the first movies I investigated was…you betcha…When Harry Met Sally. And one of the first things I learned about the film was that those cute little vignettes with the Real Life Couples were a Real Life Hollywood Scam. Yup. All actors. All written for the film. What a fucking letdown.
And that was my first introduction into the wonder that is Making the Movies! It didn’t stop me from wanting to be a part of it all. I moved to Los Angeles two days after graduating from film school, equal parts idealist and optimist. In the weeks leading up to my move, I packed up my entire apartment, wore a cap and gown on a stage, broke up with someone, and then all of a sudden I was driving for the first time in four years, on the (seemingly treacherous) 405 in southern California of all places. How did I get there?
And then right after that I was interning at Kevin Spacey’s production company, Trigger Street, answering phones and organizing script submissions and running personal errands for my bosses in West Hollywood in my rented Daewoo station wagon (yes, I rented a car for the first two months I lived there and the rental car company gave me…a station wagon). And then after that I was dropping something off on a set and noticed a homeless man dancing and muttering to himself in a corner. Right as I was about to mention it to one of the AD’s I realized that the homeless man was actually Bob Dylan. Because this was the set of Masked and Anonymous. Only in the movies, folks.
And then there was that time I saw Eliza Dushku in a Baja Fresh on my lunch break. And then that other time, at another Baja Fresh, that I saw Kato Kaelin. I still don’t know what’s worse: that I spent so much money at Baja Fresh during that time, or that I actually knew who Kato Kaelin was.
And then I was in a meeting at Trigger Street (Spacey not present), being told about their upcoming production / marquee Bobby Darin biopic Beyond the Sea, which Spacey co-wrote, directed, and starred in. I didn’t make any friends that day when I told my co-workers I thought Spacey was too old to play Darin and they should cast Michelle Williams instead of Kate Bosworth to play the famously alcoholic Sandra Dee. I didn’t think Bosworth had the chops for that kind of role. And Darin died when he was 37. Spacey was 45 when he filmed Beyond the Sea. I know that age shit flies all the time in Hollywoodland, but at the time I was a hugeeeee Bobby Darin fan and I just couldn’t stand the thought of Spacey playing my beloved.
And then I was hired by my bosses at Trigger Street to be a PA on The United States of Leland, a mostly forgettable indie starring Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams (ha!), and Don Cheadle. Being on a set full-time felt surreal – I had graduated to working on actual film sets! YES! I hadn’t yet accomplished what I sought to do (ahem, ruling Hollywood with an Iron Lady fist!) but I was on my way.
Until I wasn’t.
Because I didn’t, couldn’t feel comfortable on sets, no matter how hard I tried. No matter how many I visited as an intern, and then later as a production assistant, and then as a casting director after that. Working as a PA, half the time you’re just standing around waiting for someone to bark orders at you, painfully aware that you have no real purpose. And then the other half of the time your Production Coordinator sends you on random runs to Rite Aid for lady-specific items, makes you order and grab coffee for the entire production office staff (LA coffee orders are sooooo complicated. That scene in LA Story is REAL LIFE), and then has you drive about an hour away to some weird chichi vintage furniture store to pick up a stupid foot stool she bought for her perfectly decorated Los Feliz Spanish-style home. And then when you’re not doing those things you’re holed up in the production office with said Production Coordinator who drops names of directors she’s, like, totally talked to on the phone and regales you with tales of O.J. Simpson’s older son who she, like, totally dated while attending USC film school. Christ.
This was not what I signed up for. This was not what I imagined when I pictured my favorite films being made, pictured my favorite stars making them. Not what I envisioned when I watched Singin’ in the Rain or Living in Oblivion or The Player, or any other movie about the glory of making movies.
And so for the two years that I lived in Los Angeles and worked in film production, a funny thing started to happen…I started to hate movies. I didn’t watch them anymore. I couldn’t, and wouldn’t. I knew too much! I heard too many on-set stories about this actress all heroin-ed out day after day and this leading man boning this leading lady. Too much had happened to me! As a production peon, you’re the first person to get yelled at by anyone who gets stressed out on a set. Which is everyone. I got yelled at for no reason, for specific reasons, by the highest of the high to the folks right above me. And you know what? I just got sick of it. And I started not to care. And that made me incredibly sad. Because movies were (and are) my first love (besides my family of course). And I hated not having them in my life anymore.
So I broke up with movie making in order to get back together with movie watching. It took me a few years to feel okay with my decision – it had been my dream for so long to actually MAKE MOVIES. But I realized I didn’t need to be in Hollywood to do that. And maybe my idea of making movies doesn’t have to mean being on a film set in Los Angeles, gophering and being everyone’s whipping bitch. So maybe there’s another way. Who knows what’s next. For now, I’m enjoying the watching and the writing about and the sheer loving of movies. Even those silly little fake vignettes in When Harry Met Sally. I will always love them.