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There's No Place Like Home

POSTCARD FROM LOS ANGELES

By Sarah Jacoby

After jamming the remaining sweaters in boxes, dragging down the last bag of trash that had accumulated over the past year, I fled; I fled from the constant gray drizzle, the looming brick and threatening deadlines that define Harvard to the palm trees, cloudless skies and pink stucco that are La-La Land, Los Angeles, home. A compilation of luck and lack of planning landed me a job as a production assistant in the business Los Angeles is renowned for worldwide--the movie biz.

The movie I would work on was a Disney film starring Richard Dreyfus and a six-foot-tall, beautiful blond, who both spent a good portion of the movie in black face and tribal garb. It had a shaky story line, a $30 million budget--modest as major studio productions go--and was filming initially in a warehouse in a deserted industrial area of Los Angeles. One of the priorities of a production assistant such as myself was to keep the set clear of interlopers and silent while filming. This included asking a variety of passers-by to reroute and walk behind the camera, admonishing the crew to stop their conversations and, in my case, making sure the air conditioner was off.

My first day, I was handed a walkie-talkie and led to the air conditioner. My instructions were to turn it off when I heard "Rolling" on the walkie and to turn it back on when I heard "Cut." My air conditioner those first weeks was a bright blue 60 tonner, the first of the many whose tonnage, idiosyncrasies and routes of their air hoses I would come to know and respect. And so there I was my first day, in a sliver of overgrown land between the warehouse and a meat packing plant from which an ominous stench poured forth. But the sky was clear and the sun was bright. I had arrived in Movie Land...at the very bottom, and I heaved a sigh of relief: no responsibilities, no pressure--just me and my purring air conditioner.

Although air conditioning was an integral part of life on the set, and the temperature was an issue of constant concern, this movie was really about food. The craft service table was a table laden with food, a constantly evolving landscape of savories designed to keep the cast and crew pleasantly satisfied in the six-hour gaps between meal times. There were bowls of dark red cherries and bright nectarines, boxes of pastries and muffins, bagels and lox, fresh blended fruit smoothies. Then came the mid-morning snack--perhaps shrimp cocktail, buffalo wings, fried jalapenos, mozzarella, basil and roasted pepper sandwiches. And that was all before lunch.

Lunch, like breakfast, was served by the caterer. The grill would offer spicy chicken breast or pork chops with mango chutney, maybe filet mignon or king crab legs, perhaps lobster tail or salmon filets. Then there were vegetables: asparagus, fresh corn, artichokes; pastas; tons of salads; and an ample dessert selection. Some bypassed the caterer's options and went straight to the craft service truck, which was fully stocked with deli meats, cheeses, bread and whatever else you might need to make the sandwich of your dreams.

After lunch the craft service table was again prepared for those of us who were still hungry. There were platters of cookies and brownies from a bakery, cheese and crackers, chips and dip, sushi, ice cream, root beer floats and the Mocha Man.

The Mocha Man's arrival was eagerly anticipated. In he'd come with the tools of his trade--espresso maker, blender, coffee bean grinder. And everyone would flock around him, ordering their ice-blended mochas, with a double shot of espresso, no sugar, just sweet 'n' low, extra-chocolate, banana, decaf, please...and just a dab of whipped cream. Or maybe a hot cappuccino.

Then one day he didn't come. "Where is my mocha?" grumbled one electrician and grip after another, intimidating tools dangling off their belts. The drastic announcement was made. In a cost-cutting measure, the Mocha Man would come only three times a week. The crew, faced with a question of survival, took matters into their own hands.

The first assistant director had recently acquired a puppy, an adorable mutt, that came to set every day. A Polaroid was delivered to her, of Mickey (the dog) and scrawled on the photo were the disturbing words, "Mochas or the mutt dies!" Taking it as a prank, she ignored the missive. Soon a second Polaroid arrived; this time a gun pointed at poor Mickey's head, the message implicit. Despite the assistant director's rising panic, the producer refused to take action. She sternly responded, "Kill the mutt!" A third picture arrived: Mickey splayed on the ground, eyes closed, the gun lying beside him. Mocha service was promised to be reinstated on a daily basis.

The promise proved hollow when the next week on Tuesday the mocha man again didn't show; this time the photograph was of a bound and gagged Richard Dreyfus. The producer stood firm, willing to sacrifice even her star to avoid the extra expenditure. So the mocha man came only three times a week, and both Mickey and Richard survived to tell the tale.

But life usually wasn't too hard in Movie Land, and indeed it was often quite a pleasure; I ate well, stayed cool, did my job. The fact that I could have conversations about something other than concentrations, final clubs or rooming situations was a welcome relief. I could survive outside the bubble of Harvard land in the real world, even if it was within the bubble of Hollywood.

After filming ended, I had one more movie-making adventure. The other production assistants were making an experimental short and asked if I'd like to be in it. I agreed. A week later I found myself on the Venice boardwalk in a purple grape costume. Giant purple foam cantaloupe-sized grapes cocooned me, long sleeves and past my knees. Tourists asked if they could take my picture, and a few new pick-up lines floated by: "Can I squeeze your grapes?" One of my high school teachers walked by, barely surprised to see me dancing in my grapes at the beach.

The wool sweaters safe in the Dunster squash courts were a distant memory as I posed in the sand, a giant purple vision, as the skateboarders shook their heads in disbelief. The waves crashed, the palm trees swayed in the background, the rollerbladers whizzed by and I vogued for the camera, home in La-La Land. Dorothy said it best in the Wizard of Oz, "There's no place like home."

Sarah B. Jacoby '99 continues to relax in Los Angeles.

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