For several years, I had teamed up with Lee Shapiro to co-write screenplays with him. We wrote three together and each of us also had our own individual ones. We took many trips from Central Florida to Los Angeles to meet with various studios and production companies to pitch our scripts and met virtually every company at one point or another—some multiple times. While it never panned out the way we had hoped for one reason or another, each trip offered unique and sometimes baffling experiences.
The way studio backlots work is that a production company will sign a development or distribution deal with the studio and then be allowed to set up camp in one of their office buildings or bungalows on the studio lot. This came in handy for us because at the time, we were renting a very small office (picture a walk-in closet that we shared with several others) at Universal Studios in Orlando. There was no distribution deal, just a landlord-tenant relationship. But the good folk in Hollywood didn’t know any better. So they graciously took our meetings when we called to say we were taking a trip out to the Left Coast on business.
On one such trip, we visited Sony Pictures, home of Columbia Pictures, Tri-Star Pictures, and a whole slew of other companies. We had at least one scheduled meeting and planned to talk with several other contacts while we were there. One of them was Gracie Films, owned by renowned filmmaker and TV series creator James L. Brooks, and home of The Simpsons. We had sent a synopsis to a comedy we wrote to one of the execs with Gracie Films and wanted to meet with her in person, even if it was just to say hi so she’s associate faces with the names. Gracie was located in a two-story bungalow in the back of a building that seemed deserted. We happened to wander into the offices belonging to Zucker/Abrams/Zucker Productions and discovered various props from Airplane in the lobby, which thrilled us to no end. Up the stairs we went, only to find the Gracie Films lobby empty—and on the wall just inside the door was a huge sheet of paper with all of the characters from The Simpsons drawn on it accompanied by autographs from the animators and voice actors. And no one was at home. Yoink!
Actually, no yoink, as both Lee and I are honest people. But the temptation was there. Instead, we wandered down the hall and eventually found another inner office with a receptionist desk that happened to have a person sitting at it. Behind her was the office belonging to James L. Brooks himself. The door was shut, so we inquired if he was inside. Indeed, he was. We told the receptionist who we were wanting to see and that we’d return later.
Off we went to conduct our other business and wander around the Sony backlot, having never been there before. As promised, we returned to Gracie Films, cutting through that deserted building in the process. It had a huge, open lobby and a podium of sorts at one end with a phone sitting on it. Presumably this area was used for something official, just not at the moment. We went back up to the second floor and found the front office to Gracie Films now manned by a receptionist who told us the woman we were trying to meet was off site but would be back later. So off we went for the second time.
Each studio has a store that sells merchandise from their movies and TV shows, but for some reason we were unable to find the Sony store. We saw pretty much every other part of the studio except for that. As we yet again ventured to Gracie for our third visit, we took our shortcut through the empty building, but this time it was occupied—some random woman was talking on the phone at the podium. Lee and I weren’t acting any differently than we normally do and I honestly don’t think we projected an unprofessional air or even an attitude of any sorts. We did our usual joking around, but nothing obnoxious. The woman interrupted her phone conversation to see if we needed help, and we asked her where the Sony store was. After she told us, we thanked her and headed out, only to hear her mutter under her breath, “Writers!”
Up the stairs we went. This time the Gracie receptionist was joined by some young guy who looked like he was fresh out of college, if even that. We asked the receptionist if the woman we had been trying to see was in yet, but before she could answer, the punk butted in. “You must be the guys from Florida,” he said, disdain dripping from his voice upon saying our home state. We acknowledged that we were they. He looked us up and down with a scowl. “Mr. Brooks is an A-list director. He only works with other A-list talent.” Of course, we weren’t wanting to meet with Mr. Brooks, but rather with his lowly and elusive executive. We left yet again, unsuccessful in that particular quest. We never did get to talk with her, but received a very polite rejection letter some time later.
Deflated with defeat and humiliation from a creep who was most likely an intern with delusions of grandeur, Lee and I headed to finally locate the Sony store. Which we did. It was closed.
We stood in the middle of the street outside the store like a pair of lost children, uncertain what to do next. Everything was closing up and we had seen the majority of the lot. There are only so many exteriors of sound stages you can see without growing bored of it. One of those stages was on the opposite corner across the street from the store, and Malcolm in the Middle was being filmed there that day. We considered attempting to sneak in to watch the production, but chose against it. We didn’t want the day ending with us being forcibly removed from the property.
Before we had a chance to leave, a woman ran up to us. She was frantic and out of breath. “I’m supposed to be on set right now. Where can I change into my costume?” We looked around and saw what appeared to be a portable changing room next to the sound stage. Of course, we were only visitors on the lot ourselves and didn’t know anything from anything. That didn’t stop us from pretending we knew what we were doing. So we pointed to it and told her she could change there. She thanked us profusely and ran to the tiny building. Hopefully it wasn’t Bryan Cranston’s private dressing room.