It was an unnamed company advertising an unpaid internship; I applied for it among dozens of others. When the company called me back they gave me their address, which was right in the middle of the DreamWorks lot. At first I thought certain it was a mistake.
I needed to pass through three security stops before I could interview with my future boss, an assistant to Steven Spielberg’s former assistant turned new producer. I’ll name my boss Jennifer for the purposes of this essay. The security guards eyed my dust-brown, green ‘99 Civic more than once while they searched their listings for my name. I tried to stay cool and confident. To enter the main courtyard you had to enter through the monolithic gates from Jurassic Park.
The office where I would be interviewed was beside a ranch-style mansion where the top executives’ offices were and where their Oscar statuettes were proudly displayed. Jennifer took me from the main courtyard back to her offices, punching a few security codes along the way. She briefed me on what my internship would entail (photocopying, running errands and answering phones), and revealed that internship existed because they were making a movie called RedEye.
She asked for an address and, before I could think better of it, I told her I was sleeping on my cousin’s sofa. Her perfectly coiffed hair stopped bouncing with lively chatter. A split second later, she recovered her practiced air of grace and handed me the piles of paperwork that had to be filled out. “Well, your resume looks really good! We’re glad to have you, Sam!”
Months later, actually on my 24th birthday as it happened, Steven Spielberg came to the office next to me to discuss budget difficulties with War of the Worlds. Three hours before he entered the building, his core group of assistants scouted the place and planned his menu, his seating arrangement and his every move. I was a stable boy watching the court prepare for the arrival of the king. They stared in my office from time to time. I’d always assumed that Spielberg didn’t really exist. He was just like a character in one of his movies.
I wondered if I would see Spielberg walk past. Then I felt embarrassed for being so excited to see a person walk through a hallway. Maybe I could accidentally be in the hall when he walked in?
I looked up and saw Spielberg. Later, sitting at the desk eating my lunch, I heard the ‘meet and eat’ just behind the wall. And sitting there, listening to Spielberg talk, I wondered – how had I gotten here?
I’d left Virginia in August. I’d put everything I owned into my trunk, and it had taken me over a week to drive cross-country. I emptied my bank account to afford the trip. The gravity of this place drew me in. Most film jobs were in LA and you had to be here to get them. Four years of studying film had not prepared me for Hollywood and I knew it, but I was very optimistic still.
I drove headlong to an address of a cousin in Long Beach. He’d said I could temporarily crash on his sofa. The last time we’d met was when our grandfather had had cancer. He’d said I had British accent, and I should use that because girls love accents.
My classmates back in England didn’t think I had a British accent. In fact, they delighted in mimicking of my American accent.
The Cherry Street exit off the 405 passed a gleaming new Home Depot on the top of Signal Hill. Then it sunk sharply down the hill to beige Laundromats with broken carts in half-filled lots, while clothes hung out of windows like curtains.
Jennifer had said I could read while waiting for calls and in between tasks. Mostly I’d been reading optioned screenplays from a nearby closet full of them. After reading the umpteenth quirky comedy about assassins, I decided to risk professional suicide. Normally, I did my daily bible reading at home to avoid any risk. But for 90% of the day the office was completely empty. All of the rest of the staff worked on the RedEye set. My main role as an unpaid intern was primarily to avoid the bad look of a completely empty office. Basically, I was a living mannequin. So why not use my isolation? I could quickly and quietly read my bible at lunch, hidden below the desk while I ate my food.
No one at DreamWorks would ever be the wiser. My timid brand of boldness very much impressed me, and after getting away with it for a couple of days, I decided to bring the bible actually onto the desk to read it!
Unexpectedly, my boss Jennifer chose that day to pop into the office. She saw my Bible and stopped right in her tracks.
She stood speechless for a moment before smiling. She talked about an interview she’d read where Denzel Washington had said the Bible was his favorite book to read. Denzel was really cool, she said. If he liked the Bible, what was so wrong with it? She wondered aloud how people could be so shallow to judge other people’s reading choices.
But, after that day, my internship at DreamWorks was over.
Jennifer never said why she ended my internship a month earlier than scheduled and never contacted me about her promised potential renewal of the internship for 2005.
I wasn’t angry; I wasn’t bitter. My internship would still look great on a resume, as Jennifer had assured me at first when I took it. However, my first burst of heedless optimism was gone. I realized suddenly I was broke and sleeping on a friend’s sofa. I had mortgaged everything on this one internship. My mind was stale toast. I didn’t have the resources to try other options. Or perhaps I just didn’t have the heart to try.
My timid boldness didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped.