Will the real LA….. please stand up?
Los Angeles, the city of angels.
A city built in the middle of a desert. A city built on dreams. A city built on great storytelling. So much has been said about Los Angeles, all one need do is watch Lynch’s MULHOLLAND DRIVE and one starts to understand.
I first moved to LA in 1993 to start Digital Domain. I dreaded the move, having lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for for almost two decades. San Franciscans, especially those of us in media, hated LA. Moving to LA was considered to be the great cop out. The city by the bay had a long standing issue with its big sister 400 miles to the south. The Giant/Dodger rivalry was just the tip of the iceberg. San Francisco had long been the financial capital as well as the most sophisticated city in California, or so we thought. San Francisco had a history, albeit only one that spanned about 150 years. LA seemed like its history started when Hollywood did. San Francisco had a very diverse population, not just in terms of ethnicity, but also in terms of one’s vocation. The Bay Area was not a company town. One could go to a party and meet people that were employed in various fields. Los Angeles on the other hand seemed to be very segregated. There were folks that were in the “biz”, folks that wanted to be in the “biz” and the other fifty. San Franciscans always put LA down. Angelinos thought San Francisco quaint.
It took me awhile to get comfortable with names like Cahuenga or Tijunga, or that when driving on a freeway, when I used my turn signal to indicate that I wanted to change lanes, all the other cars would speed up, ensuring that I would stay in my lane, and miss my exit for Port Hueneme (?). I was, and to an extent, still am confused by Freeways that have names instead of numbers. Sometimes the freeways have the same names but different numbers and sometimes the same freeway will go in all directions, north, west, east and south. WTF!!!!
But I first realized just how strange LA was when I went to my first LA movie premiere party. TRUE LIES premiered on July 15, 1994. The screening was at Mann’s Village in Westwood but it was the extravagant party afterwards that made me uncomfortable. I arrived at the location with my then wife, and was treated as the nobody that I was. I walked around the party watching all the “beautiful people” air kissing, feeling very out of place. After about an hour of this, I decided it was time to leave. As we were walking out, someone from the press saw me and tried to get my attention. Once there were cameras flashing at me, a crowd gathered. Someone mentioned I was Cameron’s partner and then I was surrounded. Being Jim’s partner never felt so good… really. One second, I was invisible, then one second later having had some connection with a famous director, I was “someone”.
Years later, after my divorce, having dated a few “wanna be” or more to the point “never was” actresses, I really got it. One night, my date said to me that she had been out the other night at an industry event and had met the writer of CRASH. I got pretty excited because CRASH had blown me away and I had quickly become a fan of the writer/director.
“Wow, you got to meet Paul Haggis, what was he like?”, I said.
” No, I met Jim Franklin, the writer”, she protested.
“No, Lucy, the writer’s name is not Jim”, I said.
“He showed me his card… he was the writer of CRASH”, she continued.
Los Angeles, the city of lies.
I wondered, is this the way it works in this town. Fake it till you make it.
When I started DD, I needed to hire a handful of senior people that would help me build this new company. DD needed technologists, producers, visual effects supervisors, artists, finance people, lawyers , human resources and a plethora of others that would allow us to scale up to become one of the largest studios of its kind in the world. Many of these folks I had known over the years and some of them would come highly recommended from folks I had known over the years but a few would come to our attention from folks that we didn’t know.
One fellow, (who will remain nameless, though I’ll call him Richie) , came recommended from folks that I didn’t know. I met him and his wife and while he was charming, well connected and very senior, it was his wife that won me over. She seemed so down to earth. I offered him the position and I did so never having checked any references. He had been in the business for a very long time and seemed to know everyone. Some said he had the greatest rolodex ever. Unfortunately he did not live in LA and so when we hired him, we had to offer him temporary housing for a short while, until he relocated to the LA area.
I guess Richie had been used to the “high life” in his previous positions because he demanded to be put up in a very toney Santa Monica hotel. I assumed that he would stay at the hotel for a week or so until he found an available rental. Richie stayed for a long time. We later found out that he had cut a deal with the management at the hotel that after DD had paid its bill, the extra amount that the hotel billed found its way into Richie’s pocket. Richie was a piece of work, he only traveled in style…. town cars, business class, five star hotels, rooms with a view. Richie was wild. Richie didn’t know much about technology, filmmaking or for that matter, much about anything. Though Richie seemed to have “secrets” and knowledge of certain indiscretions about powerful people in the biz. Richie would accompany me on all the speeches I would give. Richie had the uncanny ability to open doors. Richie was tan, well dressed and glib. Richie spent company money like we were, well, rich, which we weren’t. This went on until we discovered that Richie was doing certain things that didn’t fit well within our code of ethics, and so, Richie was fired.
Well, that didn’t stop him. After all, this is LA. This fellow has gone on to several high profile gigs, now gives speeches himself (though he has borrowed a bunch of his rap from others) and has, according to some sources, said that he personally started Digital Domain.
That all being said, I guess I too have succombed to the LA syndrome as well. In the late 1990′s, for some strange reason ( maybe because of Rich), I was considered to be a leading expert on technology. Digital was a catchword that appeared everywhere. I was actually voted to be one of the top 100 most influential persons in the digital world in 1998. Hmmm, don’t believe what you read.
It is because of that lofty position that I received an invite to write an article for Qwest Communications annual report. Mark Dowley, a senior executive at McCann Erikson asked me to write something about the digital age for Phil Anschutz, at the time, Chairman of Qwest Communications. He made me an offer that I found difficult to refuse. In return for said article, I would be invited to the 2001 PGA Pro Am event, The International at Castle Pines Country Club in Colorado. I was, at the time, an aspiring golfer. I fell in love with the game after reading my friend’s book, “Golf In The Kingdom”. I was, and still am, a terrible golfer, though when Dowley asked me what my handicap was, I thought if I told him the truth ( a 29), I would not be invited. I lied and told him I was a 14. I don’t remember what I wrote but I do remember the golf.
I flew to Denver where a car was waiting to whisk me off to Castle Pines. I checked into the lodge and was told that I would need to be downstairs bright and early, 6AM. I don’t think I slept that night, I was so excited by the thought of playing golf on this course in this event. Six AM came quickly. I put on my golf attire and headed to the lobby. I got on the bus with a lot of white middle aged guys and we drove over to Castle Pines. It was pristine. I checked in and found out that my pro was to be Mark O’Meara. We were to play best ball, that is the best shot of the foursome would be played and the other three in the foursome would drop their ball at the spot where the “best ball” lied. Then each of us would hit again, and once again, the “best ball” would be the next drop, and so on.
At check in, each amateur received a goody bag which included a great putter and a pair of Nike golf shoes. We also met our caddy. My caddy was named Steve. Steve was about 30, stood about 6 feet tall and most probably had a single digit handicap. Steve wore a white jump suit and emblazoned on his back was “ROSS”. Wow.
We headed to the driving range. There were press and spectators everywhere. I grabbed a 7 iron and started hitting perfect 155 yard draws. I hit my nine iron like a champ. As I reached for my driver, a loud claxon sounded.
Steve said ” Okay Mr. Ross, we tee off on the 18th, it’s a shotgun round. Do you have a few sleeves of golfballs?”
“No, I assumed that the tournament provided balls”, I said.
“Well, no sir, they don’t. Why don’t you head over to the Pro Shop and buy a few sleeves, this course eats golfballs and with you as a 14… I’d buy at least two”, Steve answered. ”I’ll carry your sticks to the 18th tee… I’ll meet you up there”.
I headed to the Pro Shop. There was a line at the register. Earlier that day I was given a little gold lapel pin that indicated I was a “player”. Little did they know. After what seemed an eternity, I finally flashed my pin and moved to the front of the line. I paid for the balls and headed up the cart path of the 18th fairway. I heard the PA announce the first foursome.
“On the tee from Jupiter Florida, Ernie Els”, the PA blared.
I started to run. I zig zagged between the throngs, stumbling on occasion. I reached the 18th tee completely out of breath and tried to make my way to the tee box. A security guard stopped me, wondering who this madman was. I flashed my pin. He still didn’t believe me, but Steve spotted me and waved me in. The security dude relented.
“On the tee from Malibu California, Scott Ross”, the PA bellowed.
Steve handed me my driver. I stepped up to the tee box, which was surrounded by bleachers filled with about 100 spectators. I teed up my ball, driver in hand and looked down the 18th fairway, which was lined by even more spectators. I addressed the ball. I waggled my driver, slightly touching the ball. It fell off the tee. I teed up again. I waggled again. I touched the ball again, watching it fall off the tee. Again.
I could hear the gasps from the crowd. The laughter from some. I teed it up one more time. No waggle this time, I hit the ball and it took off. A duck hook directly into the crowd. Thank god I didn’t hurt anyone. People starting yelling… “Way to go Ross!”, “Be the man, Ross” ….
I watched the other three tee off. O’Meara hit it 325 yards in the center of the fairway. Clearly we weren’t going to play my ball. I left my ball where it landed and headed down the 18th fairway, head hanging. Steve caught up to me. I handed him my driver, he handed me a new ball.
“Mr. Ross, don’t worry, it happens to all of us, you’re a 14 handicap, you’ll do better as you calm…” Steve said.
“Steve, I’m a 14 handicap in LA, in Colorado, I’m a 29″, I said.
I’m not sure Steve understood, after all, he was from Ft. Collins.
And I guess, now…. I was from LA.