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The Audition

My Halloween Story: Several years ago, 2004 to be exact, I had the pleasure of coaching an actress who had a supporting role in a popular television series. This was not a totally new position for me as I had written, directed, and produced more than a decade of television shows, but certainly not at the level of the formidable studios I was to visit. So when the parents of this woman asked me if I would step in as a coach, due to their busy schedules, it wasn't a problem, or so I then thought.

This actress had certain disabilities in retaining dialogue so the challenge was on! After several visits to this woman's home I concluded that I would have to repeat my efforts on the day the production company would film, and certainly have several rehearsals prior to the filming date.

Sony/Columbia Pictures StudiosNow where was this television production filming? None other than the famous Sony/Columbia Pictures Studios in Culver City, California. This was the first of the many times I was to be on this famous lot. There, on the day of arrival at 4:00 a.m., we were put through a series of security checks. Fort Knox never had it so good! I wondered after nearly forty minutes had passed, and so much calling into several buildings by the guards behind a bullet proof booth, if we'd ever get into the studio?

The MGM Building seemed somewhat small and squeezed in, from the huge studios on the lot. It was separate from another building with classic 1930's-1940's style. This was the first building we were to enter. Then we went up a few stairs where once, Clark Gable, had stepped. I was in awe. Soon we would be meeting the producers.

A guard gave us directions and some form papers to be signed. It was not the first of the papers we were to receive, nor was it the only place we were to wait. I was to learn later that one of the groups of papers contained a small section of the script.

Robert A. YoungThere was constant video recording of our presence. After going up an elevator for yet more papers, getting them and going back outside this building, one of the guards pointed to the building diagonally across from where we had exited the MGM Building. That building was circa 1960, and is the Robert Young Building on the Sony/Columbia Studios Lot.

We entered the Robert Young Building with much anticipation, and anxiety. The audition process is completely at, and by the direction of the producers. I counted three men and four women in the room set aside for such meetings. They sat behind or at the side of a long table. There was a video camera on a tripod aimed dead center of where the actress was to stand. This was in one of the many rooms in the Robert Young Building on the old MGM Lot.

The producers were sitting patiently in their chairs with bound scripts placed in front of them. They seemed somewhat uncomfortable. It was a setting fraught with tension. I was to learn that there were several actresses reading for the same part in this production as the actress I was coaching. All of us were escorted by Production Assistants into a separate room to rehearse, and "relax". There was double the tension with each actress giving out vibes of competition. Coffee was offered that morning, and no one wanted any.

What stands out mostly on the huge Sony/Columbia Pictures studios lot is the cement driveways. Mostly, golf carts are used by the producers, directors, and talent. The lot streets are mostly devoid of any plantings or trees. The sun bears down on the white-walled studio buildings as they glimmer in the strong light. I believe it was hotter in those audition rooms than outside that day?

Before the audition, which was now almost 11:00 a.m., (I had been up at 2:30 a.m. to go down to Culver City), we painstakingly sat waiting as each actress was asked one by one to come into the room where the producers would record and watch each audition.

When it came time for the audition time, I was practically without any energy as I had coached, and rehearsed my actress friend repeatedly, and not very successfully. I recall going over script lines while riding in the golf cart with the Assistant Director and a Production Assistant. I wondered if my actress friend would be strong enough by the time of the audition. I couldn't see how anyone could concentrate at all with such stress?

Our time for the audition arrived. We were escorted into the producer's room, and one of them asked for my actress friend to stand in the middle of the room. I sat down on the sidelines rigid with fear for this woman who barely remembered a sentence. My lips were clamped shut, and my mouth dry. Terror held forth inside of me. I can only say that I've learned great respect, and how truly courageous actors are to attempt such careers if this was any example.

One of the producers asked my actress friend to start her audition after they had read the lines in the script prior to hers. There were all of five or six lines. The first attempt was awkward and missing words. The actress cheerfully asked for another attempt, and the kind producers gave her another chance, and even a couple of more chances. I was impressed. So at last, the game was on. I barely remember anything until a Production Assistant was escorting us out of the room.

We rode home tired, and talking about the other actresses that were auditioning that day for the same role. The ride home couldn't come soon enough for me as we were drained from the early hours up and about. Not to mention the enormous challenge of coaching and the auditioning process.

The next day a copy of a partial script arrived by special messenger to my home. This confirmed that my actress friend had gotten the part. It was a "Supporting Role", and her name would appear on the beginning credits of the show. It was really very thrilling for her, and I did feel better about my coaching skills. I telephoned my actress friend who had also received her revised script. We began rehearsals later that week after it was confirmed that there would be a "Shooting Schedule" date set.

The Shoot - October 31st, 2004

After much preparation and patience, my actress friend had repeated her lines so many times I wondered if "Ripley's Believe it or Not" had any room in their archives for a record set on how many times a coach can listen to the same lines. Nevertheless, we were once again ready to roll down to Sony/Columbia Studios, in Culver City, California.

We were back at the Guard Gate, facing the same scrutiny as before. Nothing was left undone with the security measures taken every step of the way. Again, my actress friend and I were up before the crack of dawn. Our driver had gone beyond the speed limit going over one of the numerous mountains into downtown Los Angeles, and in a private section of a canyon. Try to imagine a motorcycle policeman pulling us over in the pitch dark on a fifteen mile and hour road with absolutely no traffic whatsoever. Our driver got a mighty big fine at 3:30 a.m. It was an anti-climactic moment before we'd even arrived at the studios.

Julia RobertsAfter passing the guard house, on the Sony/Columbia Pictures Studios Lot, the time was ticking away as we once again were personally escorted by security to a rather lavish trailer, I thought. The guard remarked that this trailer had once been used only by Julia Roberts.

Inside the trailer was a complete mini-kitchen with microwave, coffee & cups, refrigerator, sodas, bottled water, etc.; It even had a DVD/CD player along with headphones. This is where my actress friend and I were to rehearse and get ready for the filming. It was 11:30 a.m. The interior displayed comfortable lounging areas, tables and chairs. Production Assistants suddenly appeared asking if there was anything we needed; I couldn't imagine what. They would soon be back with contract papers, of which were legal sized sheets of paper. I recall there being at least four sets; all of which had to be signed.

The contracts were all encompassing with details of payment upon broadcast(s). The specifics were more extensive and complicated than my actress friend could easily understand. It was explained, by the Production Assistants, and I gently made sure to read the papers for any red flags. Whatever wasn't understood got put to the side for my friend's managers, and advisors to sort out.

Simon Baker & MeThe next step was to go to the make-up trailer. This was an enormous trailer with plenty of room that contained photos of actors, plenty of counter space, long rectangular mirrors, more make-up and brushes than can be counted and professional salon chairs. Two of the Sony/Columbia Pictures Still Photographers approached us in the trailer and asked to take our pictures. No sooner had that happened, when the Australian Actor, Simon Baker, came in. Mr. Baker was all warm smiles, and his handsome, gentle, features were equal to his well-known blond hair. The photographers asked that he be good enough to decorate one or more of our photos in the make-up trailer. He was completely charming, and did so.

After almost two hours, the producers asked that my actress friend be brought to the set. We walked over several covered cables and up a ramp into an opening in one side of a huge studio. There was so many cables, lights, fixtures, and flats that we had to be guided through to the staging areas for safety reasons. There was a "Craft Services" table close to a wall of the immense studio wall with every brand of soda, and bottles of water for the hundreds of crew that were all around and up and down on scaffolding or behind sets.

We were eventually met by two of the television producers who had big smiles on their faces, and warmly greeted my actress friend, and myself before introducing her to the director, cameramen, lighting director, etc. It wasn't long before "Action" was shouted by the director, and the cameramen hoisting their heavy cameras onto their broad shoulders with cables dripping from them.

In less than an hour the filming was completed for my actress friend's part in the show. After thinking we would immediately go home we were surprised by a generous offer from the producers to have lunch in the famed restaurant on the Sony/Columbia Studios Lot. We were told to order anything on the menu. I put my PBS-TV baseball hat on my extremely short hair, due to California's extreme heat. We were asked to wait for the producers that wanted to take us to the restaurant in their golf cart. What a thrill and they were so wonderful to us!

Kevin JamesI looked a wreck after a long day, but it had been worth it to see a friend have an experience of a lifetime. Oh, we also ran into Kevin James, filming "King of Queens" when he drove his car up to the side of one of the studios as we were leaving. We said 'hello' and how much I enjoyed his production. Then we went on our way.

Kirsten DunstAt the studio Guard Gate, the afternoon was developing into a light wind, and cooling that Halloween Day. I noticed a familiar face on the other side of a fenced area. It was the actress, Kirsten Dunst. She was wearing bright orange dangling earrings. I said, (kind of snarky) "Oh, I see you have those ten cents Halloween earrings!" "No", Ms. Dunst replied, "I'll have you know that these are eight hundred dollar Hawaiian (she named the stones)!" Ms. Dunst came right up to the fence that divided us, to look at my face, first in anger, and then when I smiled, she backed down and said, "Oh, I have to run or I'll be late to the set." That film was "Spiderman 2".

After the complimentary luncheon courtesy of the producers of "The Guardian" the Assistant Director, took my actress friend and I on a private tour of the entire Sony/Columbia/MGM Studio's Lot.

The entire tour took well over an hour an included a viewing in the old main building of MGM's lobby. There are half-circle stairs up to the front of this building. Inside, there are many Oscars lined up behind glass and inset into the walls interior. Each Oscar is spot-lighted, and a plaque designating who received it.

The tour ended with my actress friend and I being treated to a couple of small gifts from the Sony/Columbia Pictures Store on the vast studio grounds. Truly, an exceptionally nice experience, and a memory that will last forever.

What a day!

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