"Hi, my name is Jefferson. I'll be your waiter tonight . . . and your writer, director, producer and star."
It is one of the enduring cliches of Hollywood that everyone who parks cars or waits tables is actually a screenwriter or actor earning rent money while struggling to find their tickets out of there. Well, for nine of the waiters working at Beverly Hills' Yanks restaurant last year, the escape route from Hollywood servitude could be a movie based on the cliche itself. Pooling their limited resources and boundless enthusiasm, they made an $8,000 motion picture about and starring themselves and are now maybe on the brink of film careers.
The film, appropriately titled "The Ticket Outta Here," will have its world premiere Monday night at the AFI Los Angeles Film Festival and will screen later this month at both the Houston Film Festival and a special tribute to American independent filmmakers at the Kennedy Center in Washington. Jefferson Davis, the head filmmaker among the waiters, has been visited by representatives from both Creative Artists Agency and International Creative Management and last week showed his film to producers at a private screening at Columbia Pictures.
"I thought it would be a film of practical interest to a very large section of the Los Angeles population, i.e. the actors who are trying to get work," said AFI Film Festival director Ken Wlaschin, in explaining why he invited the film to his festival. "The thing that appeals to me most were the factual bits, the statistics in the beginning how much actors earn, and the face-the-America stories where they tell an anecdote of the bad things that happened to them when they tried to become an actor or actress."
So, who is Jefferson Davis and what is "The Ticket Outta Here"?
"It's not 'Gone With the Wind,"' said the 29-year-old Davis, who moved to California from Midway, Miss., to pursue his dream of acting. "That's what my dad said when he saw it. My dad's name is Billy Joe. We're farm folks. The only other films he's seen had John Wayne in them."
"The Ticket Outta Here," shot with a home video camera and transferred to 16-millimeter film, follows nine aspiring actors who, while working together at the same restaurant, decide to shoot a homemade documentary about how tough it is to become an actor. Five years later, they gather at a back-yard barbecue and learn that only one of them actually made it--as a cut-rate, B-movie actor.
About a year ago, Lisa Caryl, Ann Fink, Jerry Gideon, Romy Rosemont, Sara Peery, Lauren Sterling, Rusty Schwimmer, Eric Zane and Davis were serving tables together at Yanks. All were professional actors, but their combined acting revenue in 1989 was just $13,391. Davis, who says his biggest movie role was one that was cut from Emilio Estevez's "Wisdom," came up with the idea for a movie as a way to show off their collective talent.
There was some skepticism in the kitchen.
"I certainly didn't believe it myself," said Schwimmer, 28, who has an upcoming role as a violent drunk in "Highlander 2." "I thought, 'Yeah, right. Video camera. Cool. We'll play. It'll end up on a shelf in somebody's home video library.' "
Davis wrote a script, paid $1,300 for a video camera and ran ads in Drama-Logue to find a crew. "We got at least 100 applications," he said, "but then I told them we were shooting with a home video camera and they just laughed."
Still, he managed to scrape together a crew of five. A friend let them into the old, abandoned Lucille Ball building on the Paramount lot to rehearse, and filming took place over one week last June at a borrowed house in Inglewood and after-hours at Yanks.
The soundtrack was created by a friend of Davis', Bill O'Neil, who "just kind of played along" to the video on a digital synthesizer one afternoon. The music was recorded onto a cassette, and then laid directly into the video camera on Channel 2. All the dialogue was recorded on Channel 1.
"The Ticket Outta Here" even has an original song to boast. "Babbie Green, a friend of a couple of the actresses, stopped by during one of our rehearsals," Davis explained. "When she went home that night she wrote this song, 'I Want to Be a Movie Star.' So we sneaked into Capitol Records late one night and recorded the song in Studio B, a very famous studio. Babbie played the piano and Lisa Caryl, one of the actresses, sang the song."
No cast or crew members were paid for their work. Costs were held down through donations, letter-writing campaigns, even T-shirt sales.
"We printed up these little T-shirts, and we've been selling them for six months," Davis said. "They say, 'I know this crazy group of kids who got together with a home video camera and shot a film and now they want me to buy this cheap T-shirt for $15. And then they told me that I'd be listed as a co-co-producer in the credits of the film. Only in Hollywood.' "
Sure enough, Davis said all 150 or so T-shirt owners are credited at the end of the film.
And the credits, by the way? They were shot for 85 cents each. "We made transparencies at a copy shop and taped them to a window," said Davis, who's currently waiting tables at Chaya Venice. "My friend got the camera on one side, I took a mirror on the other side, and we flashed the sunlight over the credits so they lit up."
Only in Hollywood.