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Call Rewrite: Editor's Tale Needs Hollywood Ending

L.A. STORIES: A slice of life in Southern California.

August 23, 1992|ALAN ACOSTA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SCENE 1:

So there I was, minding my own business, doing my job as the morning editor on The Times' city desk. When you pull the morning shift, you get a grab bag of calls: angry subscribers, eccentrics and overzealous PR agents. Everyone has a gig they want to sell you.

So it came as no surprise when a chipper young woman named Patty called. She worked for an agent who was casting a television movie called "Mother's Day," a drama based on the Houston woman convicted of plotting a murder to help her daughter make a high school cheerleading squad.

I braced myself for the inevitable request for us to cover a media event related to the movie. But Patty had something different in mind.

"We're trying to cast journalists as journalists, and based on the profile, you sound like you could be perfect for one of the roles," Patty said.

"And just what is that profile?" I asked, trying not to sound too interested.

"Well, it's a Latino male, medium build with a nice smile, in his late 30s to early 40s," she said. "Just one more thing: The character, and I don't want you to take this the wrong way, looks like Michael Dukakis. . . ."

Before I knew it, Patty--who had gotten my name from a colleague--had me booked for an interview that afternoon. The buzz quickly circulated throughout the newsroom that I was on the verge of Hollywood stardom. I was unfazed. After all, I reasoned, I'm a successful Columbia Journalism School grad, not some starving artist waiting tables until that big break comes. I didn't actually want the part.

The experience would be part of my intellectual evolution, an opportunity to learn a little more about the crass, manipulative kingpins of the mythical Hollywood empire. In short, how could someone like me--a charter member of Dan Quayle's cultural elite--remotely care about being involved in such a lowbrow endeavor as a television movie?

With this lofty world view, I drove to a small row of converted apartment buildings in Studio City.

SCENE 2:

I enter the makeshift office and look around. There are a couple of folding tables and brown metal folding chairs. And not a casting couch in sight.

Patty shakes my hand between a flurry of last-minute phone calls to aspiring actors and their agents. "Oh God. Brain dead, brain dead," she says at one point, referring to a secretary who has just put her on hold. When she has a free moment, she hands me a manila envelope with "newscaster" written on it.

Oh my God . They want me to play the part of a broadcast journalist.

Patty remains efficient and bright. "Now just read this like a reporter would," she says as she hands me my lines. I do not have the heart to tell her that print journalists--who have an ages-old feud with broadcast journalists--do not read stories. At least not out loud.

The auditions are in an adjacent room. Another efficient woman dressed in a white T-shirt and capris is shuttling people in and out at just short of the speed of light. Some of the actors spend as little as two minutes in the room.

Geez, how can I get a decent audition in two minutes?

At this point I realize something has gone awry. I am no longer the removed observer, involved in a life-enriching experiment. I begin to mark my script for vocal emphasis. I size up the competition: Who among the actors milling about is gunning for my part?

I want the part.

Badly.

Finally it is my turn. My chance to be a star. The lady in capris ushers me in for introductions.

SCENE 3:

Although no one is introduced by title, I take the three men to be producer, director and casting director. I sit in a white plastic patio chair opposite the trio. The man in the middle--tall, thin and 40ish--does all the talking. His cohorts, like Frick-and-Frack bookends, sit quietly.

"So you're a radio reporter," he says breezily.

"No, I'm an editor for the Los Angeles Times."

When he hears where I work, he tells me of his brief stint running errands for a San Francisco paper in his youth. And although I have nearly 10 years in the business, we manage to spend most of the time talking about him.

We chitchat. I am witty and wry. I make the three men laugh several times. Then the man in the middle says: "OK, in your best superficial broadcast voice, read your lines." I am mortified. No one really explained that I was going to have to act . I thought they just wanted a journalist.

I have a momentary lapse of integrity. "Geez, for this I spent $20,000 at Columbia," I blurt out. They all laugh, and the man in the middle jokes about how he had a line like that in another project, except it was Juilliard.

I take a deep breath and begin to read.

SCENE 4:

Well, what can I say about my dramatic exposition? I did just as Patty had instructed: I read the lines just like a reporter would. A print reporter.

When I finish with my four paragraphs, the tall man in the middle says, "Well, thank you very much. You're a good candidate for the part."

A "good candidate"? Why not just call me pond scum?

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