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COVER STORY : Lights! Camera! Access! : Film Training Program Gives Troubled Youth a 2nd Chance : Judy Brandon

May 26, 1994

"Sometimes I get frustrated and sad. Then I see the light at the end of the tunnel." *

Five years ago, Judy Brandon couldn't handle her modeling career and her son. So she let go of both.

A Pittsburgh native, she has worked as a model since age 13. At 23, she moved to Los Angeles and fell into a bad crowd. She started drinking and smoking marijuana, eventually becoming addicted to cocaine. Still, she kept modeling.

"I was a functioning alcoholic. I had a pattern, a schedule," said Brandon, 32, who lives in Culver City. "I would wait until my son went to bed. I would do the mother thing, do some (fashion) shooting and then do drugs. It was the best-kept secret."

Her addiction eventually slowed her career and distracted her from her child, whom she sent to live with his grandmother. She checked into an Alcoholics Anonymous program and when she became sober, she got her son back and enrolled in the Amer-I-Can program, where she works part time as a counselor.

There, she met Thompson and jumped at the chance to learn how to become a production assistant to support herself. She now works on the "Picket Fences" television series. "Judy is an amazing person," said Alice West, senior executive producer of "Picket Fences." The production assistant position, West said, "is a tough job because it's at the bottom of the pecking order. It's a job where people aren't always nice to the P.A. because it's at the bottom. . . . But she gets through it all, and it doesn't change her."

Brandon said she wants to "get more involved in what producers do. I want to learn editing and then possibly become an associate producer on a television series. It's a slow, long process, but its attainable."

Brandon's son John, now 13, is an honors student at Culver Middle School and wants to become a writer.

"Coming from where he has been, with an alcoholic mother . . . sometimes I want to cry when I see how much better his life has become, through me getting better."

Still, starting at the bottom, in your 30s, can be difficult. "Sometimes I get frustrated and sad," she said. "Then I see the light at the end of the tunnel."

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