The traffic is seamless in Los Angeles. It's Saturday morning on the San Diego freeway, and I'm Horatio Alger in
a rental car, jamming crazily through the traffic towards the next exit, in search of the Michigan graduates who have
made it in the City of Dreams.
The whole idea for the story had come from a friend, Jim Falkenstein, who headed west in August with his M.A. in
Telecommunications from Michigan. He spent a month agonizing overhis resume only to discover that no one even
wanted to see it when he got to Hollywood.
"No one gave a shit about my resume," he told me. "All that counts out here is your personality - whether people
like you or not." He found a job after being invited to a Hollywood party by another Michigan student who was
wirking in Los Angeles for the summer. Schmoozing at the party, he met someone who had given him a number to
call. There was a job on the other end. A perfect story, I thought - the rotten core at the heart of the American dream.
supposed to do. got me into AFI
(American Film Institute)," he says
It's Sunday morning and we're
sitting in his kitchen drinking powerful
coffee. Gentz, who is 30, got his film/
video degree in 1982, and even with
his Masters degree from the AFI, he
maintains that he still had to start at
"I started off working as a gaffer
and a camera assistant, and even those
jobs weren't easy to get. It took me a
year to get those jobs. There's tons of
people who can do the job. You meet
people, you become friends with them
- people would rather work with their
friends. So if you are reasonably
talented, and you meet a lot of people,
you'll get a job."
I ask him how he managed to get to
the next stage. He grins, as if to
indicate that it was not a life and death
"Well, one director let me shoot
something - I had worked as a gaffer
for him - and it turned out pretty
good. And that director got me some
Gentz works as an independent, but
does about half of his work for the
music video wing of Propaganda Films.
He has shot videos for Michael Bolton,
MC Hammer and k.d. lang, among
others. "Music videos are great because
you get to experiment. You don't have
a lot of money, but you can do some
strange things, as long as the people
I'm curious to know if he wants to
work on feature films.
"People always say that they want
to move into features," he says. "The
problem with features is that when you
start out, you have to do low-budget
pictures. You don't have enough time
to do good work, so you can't prove
your abilities, and you can't make it
"I've been offered a couple of low-
budget films - a Kung Fu film and a
science- fiction film, but I don't want
to do that. It's hard to do good
cinematography on a low budget. I
mean, look at Sex, Lies and Videotape,"
he exclaims. I nod, not sure what he
means. Beside him, his ten-month-old
son Benjamin is firing Cheerios in my
direction, but Gentz doesn't notice.
"It looked terrible," he says. "But
no one is going to trust you with seven
million dollars if you've never done a
feature. There's a catch-22 there."
"Well, the thing that happens, I
guess, is the same thing that happens
in videos and commercials. You work
with a director who moves up into
features and who trusts you and insists
on you - you get that one break, and
you can do it."
He pauses. "Most people come out
here and they want to be a director and
they think that's all there is out here.
There are so many great levels, from
editor to producer to camera work to
set design. Well, you can't call
production assistant a great job, it's a
shitty job, but I mean, the set
designers, you would be amazed at
how much pride they take in their little
models! It's a tightly knit system."
He shrugs and says, "You'll find out
when u get out here. If I was to
explain it, no one would listen,
because they all have this idea like
'I'm going to be number one guy.'
It's just that the media want a star."
Susan Levine finds ta ent. She is I an
explaining how she finds scripts and shu
develops them, and I'm listening sunj
very carefully. I'm at the point of into
abandoning this journalism gig and nob
writing some real fiction. ver
"I came out here five years ago (
from Michigan," she says, "And I sch
got a job as a PA (production to N
assistant) on home exercise videos. I be
would stand next to the director and lobi
hold script cards for $100 a day." He
I almost fall off the seat.
"I worked my way into the alur
research department, finding stories Arb
from newspapers and magazines. He'
Then last year, I became associate intc
director of-script development,
which involves meeting with a lot of mo,
agents and searching for taTent." and
"So how important is a good rec
resum6?" I ask. me
She frowns. assi
"Well, unless your resume is cab
amazing - like you have won an
international film festival award, or
something like that - you're just can
going to be a kid out of school with per
no experience, and the best that -a
anyone can do for you is recommend was
you for a PA job."
I have this image of agents in my and
head, and I ask her what they are
"The common denominator is was
their capacity for speed. They seem bec
to be constantly buzzing around
town, meeting people, attending woi
parties and going to screenings and in r
really living the fast life, not so in I
much socially as businesswise. They Pro
really have to keep up on what's dir
going on, who's who, and what's Fin
what, because they are always Ma
looking for work for their clients." Be
Her company, Longbow the
Productions, is only three years old, cor
and will soon be embarking on its
first production. I ask her what sort can
of films they will make. the
"We want to do real story, cor
character-driven pieces, stories with
a lot of heart and ethical centers. per
Stories with heroes and hope." an
I'm confused. teli
"Do you mean films with a social ha
conscience?" I ask, immediately the
regretting the question. Ly
"Well, we'll do a lot of true
stories and some fiction. We enjoy dir
looking for stories with hard edges." Mi
Has she any advice for hopeful Co
"I do recommend any student
coming out here to bring something: ma
If you're a writer, bring a script, pei
don't just say you're a writer. It's co
easy enough to get a PA job, but it's me
very difficult to rise up from there, hir
unless you've got a mentor situation. yoi
Write a script - even if it stinks, it's wil
a calling card. Everybody is looking
for a new voice." fea
Susan Savage is ordering
"I'll have a cappuccino with
that," she says: She breaks into her
Valley Girl accent and says "when in
I nod in agreement, squinting.
My system has been out of whack for
three days - I have discovered to
my horror that the entire city gets up
at 7 a.m.
Savage is talking very fast
between mouthfuls of food,
occasionally flashing a knock-down
smile, or pausing to brush back her
hair. She is telling me how she got
her first acting job.
"I wanted to act, but there are so
many actors out here. I always hear
that there are seventy-two thousand
actors here, and only five percent are
working." She laughs and adds "And
mostly in restaurants."
"I lived in a dining room for
almost a year while I was working in
a posh Italian restaurant where all
the Hollywood types used to eat. I
got my first commercial working
there. I was serving the creative
director of Ogilvy and Mather - I
kind of insulted him, but he was
being a jerk - so I made some
comment and he said 'Obviously
you're not a waitress, what do you
do?' I told him I was an actress, and
the next day, I got a phone call to do
my first commercial."
Savage graduated from Michigan
in 1985 with a film/video degree, and
came out to California to do aMasters
in Acting at the California Institute
for the Performing Arts. She was
involved with a theater company for a
while, but soon found herself doing
lucrative commercial work.
"Then I got my first television
role on Highway to Heaven." She rolls
her eyes and laughs. "I know, it's
sappy, but it was my first role. I spent
five days on the set, and I only got
one piece of direction from Michael
(Landon) the whole time. I was so
nervous. I played a character called
Kate who was awkward, tall - a
volleyball player - socially inept, a
cretin. I started doing the scene, and
Michael said 'Cutl Susan... you are
Kate. Be Kate.' And I'm thinking
'thanks a lot.' That was the only
directing I got."
I ask if being tall is a problem
"I was up for a two-year contract in
Santa Barbara, but I was too tall. My
height has been a detriment. But
what can I do?"
She turns on the Valley Girl accent
"I'lljust run out and have an
I'm watching the other people in
the restaurant, and feeling
increasingly like a toad. I nod at some
"There are so many vacuous
airheads, men and women, walking
around this town," she says. "This
town is based on looks. But there are
some real intelligent people out here
too, very well read, and many of them
are from the East and Midwest."
I ask her if the Michigan network
was any use to her.
"Well, I used to say 'Oh, you're
from Michigan,' and I would be
beaming like a puppy, and thinking,
'Now we can talk,' but I've had my
run-ins with some real sleazeballs
from Michigan." She leans towards
the tape recorder and adds,
"Especially fraternity guys."
What has she got planned?
"Well, I have a small part in
Gabriel's Fire, and I have lots of
commercial work. I've always wanted
to work in film, and I do see myself
doing it at some point. It's difficult.
There's such nepotism in this town. I
don't want to be a groupie - I want
to maintain my personal integrity."
I spend the afternoon on the beach,
watching the waves through the fog. It's
hard to see the road on the drive back
through the mountains. Someone threatens
to get sick in the back seat, so I slow down
ob Gentz understands exactly
what Michigan did for him.
"Michigan did what it was
WEEKEND October 12,1990