Wednesday, July 2, 2008

My job is becoming work. :(

My position as a Tour Guide at Universal Studios is undeniable cool, but it's really stressing me out!

To follow up on my previous post, I consulted with my acting teacher (who, again, is also a casting director) about whether to go to work today or to a non-union no-pay short film audition. He said if I need the money, to go to work, especially considering the films casting director will be a guest in our class later this summer. Of course, the goal with all the casting directors we do cold reads for in class is that they'll call us into their offices to audition for paid work. So I declined the audition and will be tour guiding all afternoon.

I was so busy throughout my Tour Guide training that I never actually wrote about it or the job itself. Some of you may have taken the 'world famous Universal Studios Hollywood Tour' but for those of you (like me) who are clueless, here's the quick and dirty...

175 guests are loaded onto a four car tram and driven through the front and back lots of the actual, working studio. A guide, like me :), speaks to the guests via airplane-like TV monitors and plays video clips throughout the tour.

The front lot is kind of boring, consisting of sound stages and production bungalows. They're not much to look at, but there's the possibility of seeing a star, as the TV shows CSI and LIFE currently use several of our sound stages, movies are always coming and going and production bungalows are where writers, directors and producers meet to develop the next big hit!

The back lot consists of our outdoor, free standing sets. It's amazing how many different things have been filmed in the exact same places; current TV shows, films, commercials and photo shoots use the the same sets where legendary Hollywood icons got their start, and the tram rolls right through it.

Each area has a name - Denver Street are the oldest sets, used for the first silent Westerns; Sandra Bullock just used it for parts of her new film, All About Steve. Another section of Western sets are called Six Points Texas, which is connected to Old Mexico, where the recent Indiana Jones film shot scenes. What we call the Square of Warriors has grand facades used for Rome in Spartacus and Genovia in The Princess Diaries 2: A Royal Engagement, among other things. Little Europe is my favorite because it's just cool looking and has a laundry list of diverse projects that have shot there; you can currently see it on the big screen in Adam Sandler's You Don't Mess with the Zohan. Other examples are all three Pirates of the Caribbean films, All Quiet on the Western Front, The Good German, Cinderella, The Pink Panther, Michael Jackson's Moonwalker video, and TV shows including Heroes, Alias, Beverly Hills 90210... Those are just a few... Little Europe includes the Court of Miracles where monster movies of the 1930s and 40s came to life, including Frankenstien, Dracula and The Hunchback of Norte Dame. The recently charred metropolitan sets also have a unbelievably long filmography, which I am not taking the time to memorize until they're rebuilt! The tram doesn't go down Elm Street, but it includes a house currently seen in Will Smith's Hancock, as well as the To Kill a Mocking Bird house. What is currently Wisteria Lane with all the Desperate Housewives homes used to be called Colonial street and the same homes belonged to The Munsters, Ben Matlock, Freddie Kruger, the Hardy Boys and were seen in The Burbs, Animal House, Providence and Nelly's Delimma video, to name a few... The tram also goes by parts of Whoville from Ron Howard and Jim Carey's Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the Bates Motel and Psycho House from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho and the realistic crash site from Stephen Spielberg and Tom Cruise's War of the Worlds (which features an actual, wrecked 747 jet).

That may sound like a lot, but to make the tour more entertaining it includes "animations." They're not like cartoons, but rather mechanical features. I can't stand when guests incorrectly call them "rides" because they're certainly not... it's kind of hard to explain... The most famous is probably the Jaws animation, in which the tram stops by an area we call Amity Island, although we later admit it was Cabot Cove from the filming of Murder She Wrote. Anyway, there's a small pond and a mechanical shark pops up. There's more to it than that, but I don't want to spoil it with too many details in case you ever plan to take the tour. We have an animation called "Earthquake," which of course, simulates an earthquake. The King Kong animation was pretty cool, but it's where the fire started and something new will be rebuilt in its place. They haven't announced what it will be yet, but good ole banana breath is not coming back. (A fake banana smell was actually pumped in as the giant mechanical ape roared and shook the tram!) There are a few other animations, but again, I feel bad giving too much away.

I know, I know, it's amazing that I get paid to tell people about all of that! It's a really fun job, but now let me tell you where the stress comes in... The tour usually runs about 45 minutes, but the actual route is always changing. Various areas might be shut down because something's filming there, or an animation might be closed for repairs. Of course there's a map in the dispatch office that shows you what the route is each day; you simply have to know multiple transitions to get you from area to area, depending on the various routes. The greater anxiety comes from never knowing when you're going to "stall." The animations take two or three minutes and you may have to sit and wait for the tram ahead of you to finish, or two trams ahead of you, or THREE! A tram ahead of you may have broken down. Your tram might break down and you have to keep the people entertained while it's either fixed or your guest are moved to another tram. The last time I worked I heard a horror story about a tram having to wait FIFTEEN minutes while the driver of a production truck was located to move it out of the way!

No matter where you are or why you're stopped, you have to just keep on talking and make your guest think that you are supposed to be saying whatever it is that you're saying. Thank goodness there are clips you can play to buy you time, but you have to be familiar with the clip list and know which to play where. The key is your ability to logically transition from topic to topic and clip to clip. I've not yet had to deal with a tremendously long stall, but I have come dangerously close to running out of information, then thankfully we started moving again!

I know it's just a matter of time before a stall horror story happens to me! I had to prove that I could think on my feet as part of the audition process, but when you're out there on the route, sometimes you just draw a blank. Not to mention the fact that I'm not actually a movie buff; I grew up without cable or a VCR in a family that didn't go to the movies! While I think the information is awesome, it does not come organically to me. During our training, they purposely stalled us a bit, but never more than a couple minutes. I know I should be prepared for stalls in every given area of the lot, but I don't feel like I am. As the summer season gets busier and busier, I am more and more nervous about going to work! It's almost like I want an incident to happen to me, so I can have it under my belt.

As a performer I know the only reason why I ever get nervous - it's always due to a lack of preparation. I've spent more time and energy worrying about this than actually studying my material. Like right now, why the hell am I blogging? I have a shift in nine hours, I should be sleeping or reading my three-inch-thick training manual!

So that's exactly what I'm going to do...

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