Monday, May 5, 2008

Becoming a Universal Studio Tour Guide: Round 2

Last Friday I drove to Universal Studios (conveniently under fifteen minutes from my apartment, also in The Valley) for an open call to be a Universal Studios tour guide.

NBC/Universal is not only the number one studio in terms of filming television shows and movies, it’s also a theme park and major tourist attraction. They hold an open call for new seasonal tour guides only once a year.

The first round was very quick! Near the general ticket booths and the popular landmarks seen below, I entered a
VIP area. After filling out a short contact info form I ascended a staircase to a beautiful VIP lounge with movie poster, stunning plants and a bar. Manager types sat at three stately wooden tables, quickly reviewing your resume and having a mere two minute conversation with each applicant. Just like that, the first round was over.

I wish I could say the same for the online application I had to fill out; its twenty pages of personality questions took forever!

Having received a callback from the initial open call, I attended a second round audition this afternoon at a nearby hotel. About sixty actor-types assembled and for the first two hours the pros and cons of the job were reviewed. Thank goodness that executive speaking had started as a guide himself and therefore broke up the logistics with wit.

They are very straightforward about the pros being amazing, while the cons are so, so bad! The pros are listed in a previous entry and the main drawback is the income. You’d think a skill-base position with a multi-step screening process would pay well, but it starts at $9.50 an hour and new employees are “seasonal” or part time. NO
ONE can live in LA on $9.50 an hour full time, let alone part time.

Before a fifteen minute break we were told that there were absolutely no hard feelings if we didn’t return; they understand that it’s just not for everyone. To my surprise less than a dozen people left; forty-seven returned for the audition.

After the break we were given nametag stickers with a letter/number code printed on them; we were sitting in five rows of eight to ten and each row represented a letter (A to E) and each person was a number (1 to 10). Each row took turns going in front of the group completing the following three audition tasks:

#1. Cold Read

We were given a section of the guide script; each paragraph was numbered. After about a minute to read over it, we went down the line reading our designated paragraph, elementary school reading time style. Obviously they were looking for people who didn’t merely read, but also had personality and were articulate and vocally strong.

#2. Improv

A manager started a story and each auditionee had to continue it for about twenty to thirty seconds until the manager rang a bell and the next person took over. It was like a game played on Who’s Line is it Anyway? As I recall, the topic starters all related to celebrity gossip and quickly morphed into hysterical tales. The point of this was to test our listening skills and see if we could think on our feet.

#3. Pageant Questions

Finally, two of the manager/executive types took turns asking each person a single question. They were anything from “Where are you from and why should I visit?” “Name a non-family member who inspires you,” to “What’s your favorite movie,” “Who’s the most over/under rated actor?” and “Living or dead who do you want to have supper with?” This was to further test our ability to think quickly and see if we’re personable. At one point someone joked it was like the Miss America pageant.

My group read the part of the script about the making of Jaws. I was rather proud of myself in the next two parts of the challenge! Earlier two women had dissed actress Scarlett Johansson; the manager couldn’t resist making our story that she and Ryan Reynolds had gotten married and… The two women in front of me talked about them boarding a plane, but the paparazzi followed them in flight!

When the bell rang I said: “So they made an emergency landing in
Iowa… Unlike LA, where people think she’s overrated, people in Iowa love Scarlett so they threw them a huge party to celebrate their wedding with all the fixins!” Ring. I got really good laughs on “Iowa,” the overrated reference and “fixins.” Although, I wasn’t going for one with “fixins.” I guess my Midwest is showing!

For the question, the woman before me was asked to choose between American Idol and Dancing with the Stars. Noting my nonverbal agreement to her choice of Idol the manager asked me, “So you’re also an American Idol fan?”

“Sort of, but I’m a bad fan…” I shook my hands back and forth.

“Okay, do you know who’s left?”

“Crap!” I thought to myself, “Actually no. I recently moved, so I really haven’t caught much TV for the past month,” I answered, thinking it was going badly.

“Okay, well, pretend you’re at a cocktail party and give me four statements about Idol that you would make to keep people from knowing you really haven’t followed this season.”

Sweet redemption! What a great question!

Holding a pretend cocktail glass in my hand I replied, “Yeah, she was totally off pitch, Dog… So where do you think we can get what Paula’s on this season; I’ll be we have to go down to
Tijuana!... When is Seacrest going to come out already, I mean, come on!!... Yeah, the guy with the funky hair is defiantly the winner…”

I got huge laughs, I mean HUGE! I have to wonder though, would "which hot chick do you think Simon is doing?" have been better than the hair one? I thought it, but didn't want to deliver two adult jokes. The story telling exercises tended toward sex and drug jokes and while it was all really funny, I wondered if it worked against some people since it's a family venue and real tour guides surely have to keep their humor pretty clean.

I was in the fifth and final row and after we were done the four manager/executive types asked for a moment to tally the scores. It didn’t take long at all for them to thank us all and say if they did NOT read our letter/number we could go, but if they did we needed to stay to schedule a final, regular, twenty minute, one-on-one interview.

They had said they were looking for twenty to twenty-five people to move on to the third round and indeed, half the room was cleared. As you might imagine, the people who sat in the front row were go-getters and seven out of ten of them moved on. I was in the last row; only three of eight of my fellow Es made the cut.

And YES, I was one of them! My third round interview's next week.


Anonymous said...

I just know you are going to get it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I have a feeling.
I'd still like to have your mailing address, sent privately.
Nancy M.=Ohio/buried in wildlife babies at the moment

Jenny said...

i was a tour guide at OSU, not the same thing really but i loved it! :