Tuesday, January 08, 2008
Tales From The Tour
LOVE, HOLLYWOOD STYLE is not autobiographical, but it WAS inspired by my first job out of college. Like my main character, Tracy, I was also a tour guide at a major motion picture and TV studio. Since today is the book’s official release day (yay!), I thought it might be fun to share one of my favorite work stories...
Let me first make it clear that I did not work at a studio that doubled as a theme park. We did not have trams carting a hundred people around while my voice was projected over a sound system. King Kong did not attack us. And the only earthquake ride we had was if there was an actual quake. Our tour consisted of approximately a dozen people walking through the studio, looking at the outsides of buildings while I talked about the history of what was filmed inside. Since it was a working studio, there was no guarantee that you’d get inside any of those buildings on any given day or that you’d see any celebrities at all.
The summer I worked as a tour guide, THE BIRDCAGE (starring Robin Williams, Nathan Lane, Gene Hackman, Dianne Wiest, etc...) was filming on the lot. Word quickly spread among the guides that there was a good chance for celeb sightings if you took your tour down this one alley that I usually bypassed. Naturally, I planned to alter my normal tour route the first chance I got.
The next time that I was scheduled to guide a tour, I picked up my group and briefed them on the proper tour etiquette as usual: “No approaching the actors. No photos of the actors. This is their workplace. There’s no guarantee that we’re going to see any actors, but if we do, it’s preferred that we let them go about their work without interruption.” No one complained about the rules, but that didn’t necessarily mean they’d behave themselves. Remember, these were free-range tourist, not contained to a tram car. I’d already had one couple disappear on me earlier in the year (but I did find them before anyone found out).
I spent the first part of the tour gauging my group’s behavior. If there was any risk of someone going insane on me, I would just bypass the BIRDCAGE alley, and they would never know. An hour into the tour, things seemed pretty safe. So I took them down the alley. We were only a few steps in when Robin Williams stepped out of his trailer right in front of us. I was thrilled to see that my group behaved exactly as they’d been instructed. They did not approach Robin Williams. They did not try to take pictures of Robin Williams. They did not accost Robin Williams.
They also did not move. At all. They were frozen in place, staring at the actor as he smiled and said a polite “hello.”
“Okay,” I said, continuing the tour. “Down this way we have...” Nothing. I had ceased to exist.
“And we’re walking...” I reminded them. But they were not walking. They were not going anywhere.
Things were getting awkward. I had a dozen tourists encircling Robin Williams who just wanted to get out of his trailer. I was already imagining the calls to security and me losing my job. And that’s when Robin Williams did something I will never forget.
He took over my tour.
The actor sprung down the steps of his trailer and starting doing improv, pointing out all the buildings around us and sharing their rich histories. It was all lies, but no one really cared. We were a captive audience as he deftly walked us down the looooong alley spouting off whatever came to his intensely creative mind until he said good-bye and dashed into the makeup trailer at the other end.
Even though there was nearly an hour left in the tour, as far as I was concerned my work was done. Nothing I could tell them from my regular tour script could compare to what we’d just seen.