Monday, August 01, 2011

Gone Hollywood or on tour with On Tour.

LA. It goes by many names: City of Angels, La La Land, Southland, and sometimes Hollywood's nickname -Tinsel Town. Of course, years ago the urban sprawl that is Los Angeles became synonymous with it's smaller district-Hollywood just as Hollywood became a metonym for all American cinematic endeavors. The independent film industry came west around 1910 to escape the machinations of the Motion Picture Patents Company also known as the Edison Trust and co-opted many of the then Orange fields. The trust controlled all film making and distribution and was an alliance of all the major companies. The trust was weakened in 1911 when Eastman Kodak renegotiated with the Trust to sell raw film stock outside of the trust. By WWI, European film production halted and Hollywood began producing feature length films in a State with a judicial system that was unfriendly to Patent lawsuits. The New York/East Coast based monopolies were slow to create feature length movies and by 1915, the Federal government broke up the monopoly. With the triumph of Cecil B. DeMille's The Squaw Man and D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation, Hollywood and Los Angeles' reputation as the film making capital of the world was secured. The recording industry and Television followed in the forties and fifties reinvigorating the reputation of the town as a total Entertainment capital.

Los Angeles today is still the center of a multi-media entertainment industry. Many people, who come to visit LA don't get that. They see the horrendous traffic, the tons of stereotypical actor "types" and the massive hype from huge billboards to lamp post banners and they make their jokes. But they just don't get it. They don't get LA. The core of LA, The West Side, Hollywood & Downtown and surrounding areas of Burbank, Studio City, Santa Monica, much of the San Fernando Valley & some of the Beach Cities is made up of a lot people who work in the industry, many others support the industry with multitudes of service oriented businesses. I would guess that maybe 50% of the population is not indigenous or descended from the indigenous population. That group came to LA for the industry. Ironically, many born here, who loathe the industry's side effects, want to get out, many can't but many are biding their time.

Most of LA is friendly and very laid back but with good reason. Comedians joke about the bleaching effects of the sun being the reason, but it is simpler than that. It's the industry effect. Almost everyone is friendly because they never know who they are talking to and who might one day change their fortune. Yes, their is a certain degree of "Eddie Haskell" phoniness but it is still friendly which is better than surly. Bad behavior often comes from the most successful or quickly successful, who become drunk with fame and excess as wells addled by booze and drugs like Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen. The laid back pace and attitude is also easily explained. The sheer size of the population area and the variety of geographical features- mountains, valleys, beaches and the accompanying road congestion manifests itself in fostering a laid back attitude because- why hurry when the traffic will only hold you up. It's hard to hurry when the top speeds on most roads don't reach 40 mph. Heck, the so called Freeways barely reach 50 in non rush periods and crawl at rush times. It must be terribly ironic to sit in 5 to 8 lane bumper to bumper Freeway traffic and have to read the sign that says Speed Limit: 65. So, if you can't rush- relax! Hence, a laid back personality permeates the region.

I love it. Cruising the avenues and boulevards of " broken dreams" , you begin to appreciate the 50's concept of "cruising" as depicted in films like American Graffiti. My friends and I thought we were cruising our local towns when we were in High School but we were going much too fast by LA standards. Driving the local streets of LA's core is a pleasure. The street signs are informative and the traffic is so leisurely that it is easy to find most any address. Driving around you can easily see the sights and appreciate the architecture from the drivers seat. And then there is the weather: why rush when the weather is so beautiful and mild so much of the year. The average temperature is 72. There is a glory in the mountains, the flora and fauna,when not sun bleached by the sun, especially the succulents, that can be quite beautiful.
For an outsider, there are always cultural differences in each part of the country. LA has it's share of neighborhood variety but nothing out of the ordinary. The once distinctive minorities seem to blend much more into the mix but perhaps that's because they blend so well across the urban centers of the country. No, it's not the people who stand out but the messages of the media. Hollywood's Seeming demand that people be " beautiful" has reached ridiculous heights. Yes, the TV news people are the most plastic anywhere in the world but the need to be " beautiful" now extends to commercial ads, complete with jingles, for Lap band surgery. The lyrics are something like " If you want good things to begin Just call 1-800- GET -THIN" !!! Yikes!
Other than that disturbing note, this has been a wonderfully relaxed portion of my trip. I am "On Tour" in more ways than one. Part of my purpose in coming to LA was to see friends and alums. The visits have exceeded all my expectations. Roy Schwartz from '88, now a business man and musician, met me at the airport, drove me to my rental car and then took me to see Billy Kaplan and Scott Smolev, class of '91 who were working Audio production on a new NBC reality show Fashion Star, at Culver Studios. This was where they filmed parts of Gone With the Wind. In fact, the administration building was used for David O. Selznick's company logo.

Roy and I were surprised to see that alumna actress and writer, Adria Lang, class of '94, was doing production work for them as well.

That evening Adria drove me to the Silverlake section of town to meet with Janet Song, class of '88 who graciously invited me to a Dodger game. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience even though the Dodgers lost. Janet is acting and working or a major health organization, where she often works on theatrical events.

Thursday, I made my way to Burbank for lunch and a tour of Disney Animation Studios from Mike Weissman, class of '06.

Friday, found me back in Burbank.( albeit after a missed turn put me on a harrowing ride on the 101 Freeway. It is near impossible to cross 6 lanes of moderate traffic to try and make an exit on a ramp that is less than a 1/4 mile from the entrance: I got off at the second exit instead).
I finally made it to Warner Brothers Studio ranch for lunch and a tour of Warner Animation Studios with recent Emmy winner, Kevin Schinick, class of '87 and creative force behind Mad TV on cartoon network, ad his brother Scott, class of '91( one of my English students.

Friday night, I had dinner with old college friends, Phil and Monica Rosenthal, their son Ben and their friends. Phil is also a multi- Emmy award winning writer and producer and Monica is a successful actress. They took me to the exquisite restaurant, Mozza, a creation of Mario Batali and his partners. I am very grateful to them for their warm hospitality and I had a really good time.

Later that night, I went for drinks with Brett Lewis, class of '89. Brett is a comic book artist and writer and he has also written for animation and had his work adapted into film.

The hotel was in a great location and had a roof top pool area. I spent my free time making good use of it.

Saturday, I had lunch with Bari Harelick Winter and her husband. They are both editors, he's in sound and she's in film & video. Friday evening, I went with Adria to see a very funny play, ReAnimator: the Musical. It was wonderful silliness. After that I had a late dinner at the famous Canter's Deli with actor Richard Werner, class of 86, my very first year with On Tour. There were a few others that I wanted to see but time and obligations prevented us. However, I was surprised as I was leaving Canter's. As I was speaking to Rich, a young man was walking into the Deli and I recognized him and he me. It was Stu Silverman, class of '95, who I didn't even know was in LA. He is now a successful editor, as well. These things always happen to me. Truly, it's a small world.

Sunday, I had breakfast with the ’91 group, spent the remainder of the day hanging out with Roy until I had to go to the airport and then flew off to Chicago.

The LA leg of my tour has been very successful on many levels. It has been relaxing and refreshing, informative and enlightening and it is always great to see and share good times with old friends. For all these friendships, I am truly blessed. It is also particularly rewarding to see so many students excel in the very tough fields of the arts.

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