I've tried to keep in touch with many of my friends, both from Hawai'i and Seattle, since my move here to California. It's funny how my whole pursuit of a career in the entertainment industry seems so glamorous to everyone. Yes, I worked in production for the television show The Office last season where I got to meet the whole cast and crew and yes, I did a lot of background (extra) work where I got to be on shows such as Heroes, ER, The Office, Chuck, CSI: NY, The Mentalist, Lie To Me, Eli Stone, Better Off Ted, Lie To Me, Dollhouse, Samantha Who, amongst others; and a number of movies as well. I've made a lot of connections and I've gone through a lot of struggles since moving here and there's nothing else I could see myself pursuing. However, "glamorous" would probably be the last word that I'd use to describe my stay here. Then again, when I spoke to my friends, I'd leave out all the bad stuff and I'd tell them what they expected to hear. I'd talk about being on set, the wonderful catering, and rubbing shoulders with the cast and crew. So it's no wonder why they had this "glamorous" perception of how I was living.
There were very few people whom I confided on what I was really going through, mainly because I was so embarrassed. I had gone from working at Microsoft in Seattle and living in a nice condo to the mishap that I can only label as "Febuary 2009". When I spoke to people, they seemed so impressed that I had the courage to drop everything to pursue my dream that I didn't want to disappoint them on the reality of my struggle. Now, with the dawn of February 2010, a year has passed since the beginning of the setting of my story and I've come so far that I feel more open in speaking about this. Some of you have heard this story already, most of you haven't. But here it is, raw and uncut.
Before we head into February 2009, let's rewind a bit to August of 2008. That was when I moved down to Cali from Seattle. It was really out of the blue and it completely caught all my friends off guard. In fact, from the moment I made the decision to move to the moment I actually flew down, only a week had passed so you could only imagine how surprised everyone was when I announced my goodbye party. Hey, I knew the Assistant Director for The Office and was given the opportunity to work on the show so how could I pass that up?! She told me that the money wouldn't be lucrative so I should save some money before I head down.
But, upon speaking with my grandmother about the opportunity, she advised me in heading down as soon as possible, saying that I could stay with her sister (who lives 40 minutes outside of downtown LA) and that she would send me money to help me ship my stuff down and even buy me a one way ticket down to LA!! Even though I hadn't spent any time saving money, things looked good since I didn't have to worry about a place to stay and how I was gonna get down to LA and the only thing left for me to worry about was getting a car. So my grandmother, being the most loving and generous person I know, sends me an extra grand to go towards a car. Even though it's impossible to find a dependable car for a grand, I was extremely grateful for the extra cash and with the help of my cousin and her boyfriend, I was able to find a '93 Civic for $1200. The suspension was messed and the interior was tore up but the engine was only four months old so that pretty much sold me. Little did I know how much the phrase, "you get what you pay for" would mean (especially in this case), but we'll get into that later.
So that was that. Within a matter of days, I sold what I could, shipped my stuff down to my aunt's place, packed the rest, jumped on the plane and I was up and off to good ole LA. It started off pretty good. I signed up for a background casting agency called Central Casting. It was $25 to sign up and there were no monthly fees but it was definitely a hustle because the process of getting background work is so tedious. You have to call in to the casting service, listen to the plethora of automated castings and then reply to the those in which you fit the description in hopes that you're what they're looking for. Since it's only background, it's relatively easy to get cast given that you're in the background and won't really be seen. But after a couple of weeks of going through the painful process of calling in daily, I decided to sign up for a calling service (agency that finds you work so you don't have to call). It cost $75 a month but it wasn't too bad given that you make more than that in one day and I started to get more work through them then by myself.
So there I was, alternating between doing background on different shows and PAing on The Office. Work was fun but inconsistent. Booking three or four days between the two was considered a good week and when I did, the days were really long. With every day of shooting you're looking at days that last anywhere between 12-18hrs. Add to the the fact that my aunt's place was so far from downtown LA, I had to leave 2hrs before my call time, to make up for traffic, only to take another full hour to get back home. So needless to say, my sleep was precious to me. But not as much as my money.
Minimum wage. That's what being non-union paid. $64 for 8 hrs. Only good thing was that since the days were so long, you pretty much were guaranteed overtime. And for the most part, we got fed so I didn't have to worry about food. But still, between all my student loans, paying rent to my aunt, and the money being spent on gas, I was pretty much scraping on by the skin of my teeth.
Then December 2008 came like a clown out the darkness that kick you in the balls and runs away giggling. The Office was on hiatus and I wasn't getting any background work. I went for weeks without work and to save money, I just stayed at my aunt's and played video games on the TV that they didn't use in the backroom (they mainly watched TV in the living room).
With the turn of the new year, I still wasn't getting any work and I could tell that my aunt and uncle were getting a little agitated at my staying home. It was hard getting them to understand the inconsistency of starting off in this industry. We had some run ins even within the beginning months of my stay and, from that, I could tell that my staying there had been a problem from day one. I thought that if I kept to myself, cleaned after myself and pretty much remained "invisible", I wouldn't bother them and be a problem.
So about a week or so into January 2009, on a Monday night, my uncle comes up to me out of nowhere while I'm watching a movie and says, "You know, sometimes we want to watch TV on this one, but we can't because you're here and it's tearing the family apart. Could you be out of here by Friday?"
I was speechless.
Not wanting to say something that would make matters worse, I replied with a brief, "OK" and went back to my movie, not even paying attention at this point and just thinking about what I was gonna do next. I thought about how I could maybe just keep most of my stuff at their place, get a P.O. Box, take the clothes that I need for work, sleep in my car, shower at 24 Hour Fitness and save money until I got my own place. But just as I decided on that plan, my uncle turns back and adds, "By the way, if you leave any of your stuff here, we're gonna throw it out."
So there I sat, Jackie Chan yelling in the background, thinking about what what I was gonna do with all my stuff and where I was gonna stay with just a little over $400 to my name and only four days to do it.
...To be continued...
Part 1: Where's the Love?
Part 2: Moving Day
Part 3: The Shady House
Part 4: False Salvation
Part 5: Four Star Hotel
Part 6: Do Unto Others
Part 7: So Close, Yet So Far
Part 8: Dent of Hope