Thursday, July 24, 2008

Foot in the Door

I worked at a production company yesterday. Owned by a director of many big, recognizable movies, and operated by the producer of most of those movies, I looked forward to “getting my foot in the door” of this well-reputed company. What I intended to do once my foot was in, I didn’t know exactly. Build contacts, maybe. They say contacts are good to have in this industry. Learn the ropes of the inside business, maybe. They say you have to have experience to get experience. Astonish the entertainment world with my good looks and quick wit, maybe. Yes, certainly.

I would be filling the seat of The Producer’s assistant while the staff was out at a ballgame. The office was supposed to be closed for the occasion but The Producer decided he needed to get some work done instead. Hence, they called a temp to cover for his assistant, Brian. Brian was in the office when I arrived. He just wanted to get me acquainted with basic procedures and protocol before he took off for the game. I’d be “rolling calls” and revising word documents. Sounded easy enough. He warned me about The Producer:

“He’s a large man, and short-tempered. He’ll get angry. He’ll shout. Don’t worry. He’s not mad, it’s just what he does. Usually he yells at me, but today he’ll be yelling at you.”

Okay, no problem, I thought. I’ve dealt with his type before. I don’t ruffle easily. I’ll be fine.

“You’ll be fine,” Brian said. Then he left.

I was the only person in the office, and the phones were not ringing. It was very quiet. I flipped through scripts and memos on Brian’s desk, trying to acquaint myself with the company’s work. I killed some time on the internet. I helped myself to a drink from the fridge. Then the phone rang. It was The Producer, wanting to “roll calls." I was to read from a list of received calls, and scheduled, outgoing calls. I was to get him on the phone with whomever he felt like talking to from that list. I put him on hold, I dialed the number for a woman named Corinne, I waited for her to get on the phone, and then I pushed the “conference” button. It didn’t work. The call kept getting disconnected. The Producer kept calling me back and asking me to do it again. Corinne laughed. I apologized, she assured me it was no problem, she'd wait, don’t worry about it. Meanwhile, on the other line, The Producer’s tone got louder and louder, angrier and angrier, yellier and yellier each time he called back. I was sweating. I was pushing buttons, I was rubbing my brow, I was apologizing profusely. Finally The Producer screamed, “I’ll call her myself!!” and hung up.

I sat down. My face caved in and a fire ignited in its place. Through the heat, I remembered Brian telling me to call him if I needed any help. I put my hands to my head, pawed through the flames for my face, and pulled it back into position. I reached for the phone and dialed Brian. I explained my crisis to him, and he told me what I needed to do: stay on the phone during the conference. Don’t hang up. The call disconnects if you hang up. Industry assistants always stay on calls, to take notes. The phones are rigged that way.

“Don’t worry, you didn’t know. I should have told you,” he said.

Some minutes later, The Producer called back. As if the past catastrophe had not transpired, as if he were calling me for the first time, he calmly directed, "Connect me with Corinne."

"I thought you were going to call her yourself."

That's the response I wanted to give. But instead, I said, "Absolutely." I connected them, and I stayed on the line, like a good assistant. Following that call, I placed him on another and another and another. I listened, I took notes, I felt certain that in my new mastery of industry phone protocol, I was impressing the socks off these power players.

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