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The Big Leap

March 11, 2007|Deborah Netburn | Deborah Netburn is an entertainment reporter for

There are a lot of somebodies in Hollywood, but there are even more nobodies--the workaday dreamers who give L.A. its unique texture and energy. In a town where writers want to be actors and video store clerks yearn to direct, hopefuls like Brad Burnett, Dino Pergola and Matt and Greg Bell became faces in the crowd when they moved here from the heartland. We took a closer look as they hustled valet jobs and unpaid agency internships, learned how to write screenplays and found ways to measure success one meeting at a time. This is the story of their first year in L.A.



Brad was the first to leave. He dropped out of Ohio State with just a few classes left on his degree and a vague plan to move to L.A. and become an actor. There weren't any acting classes at OSU, or at least none that Brad ever took, but he made it a point to watch "Inside the Actors Studio" and figured that was a start. Besides, he'd done some research: Brad Pitt didn't get famous until he was 28. Brad Burnett was only 22, so he had time. He got a steady gig doing lawn maintenance and saved his money until he could buy a 10-year-old GMC Safari big enough to fit a mattress in the back. And when he stopped by OSU to say goodbye to his buddies, he asked Dino Pergola to come along for the ride.

There are two routes to L.A. from Ohio--the northern one through Denver and the southern one through Texas. Brad and Dino chose the southern route. They stopped to party with Dino's brother Rocco in Albuquerque, got caught in a dust storm in Nevada and a snowstorm in Arizona (they had to sleep in the van that night), and had their picture taken with Michael Madsen from "Reservoir Dogs" at the Bellagio in Vegas. That's when Dino's money ran out and he had to go home, so Brad drove the last leg alone.

When he got to L.A. he took the Hollywood Boulevard exit off the 101 just to check it out. Traffic started backing up as he neared Grauman's Chinese Theatre. He rolled down his window and asked a cop what was going on. It turned out it was the premiere of "Ocean's 12," and George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta-Jones would be arriving any minute. Brad didn't have anywhere to be, so he parked the van and made his way through the crowd until he was standing seven feet away from the biggest stars in the world. The people around him screamed, but Brad didn't feel nervous or excited or any of that. He thought: "So that's what my competition looks like."

For three weeks Brad slept in his van, alternating between the parking lots of the Days Inn and the Hilton in the Valley. He considered renting a houseboat in Marina del Rey and discovered he could take a free shower there even if he didn't have a key to the bathroom, and he got a job as a waiter at the Mountaingate Country Club. Eventually he found an apartment in Encino--one grimy room with a kitchen sink but no stove--for less than $600 a month. He didn't know anything about the neighborhood, and for the first few nights he went to sleep clutching an air gun and a Maglite just in case.

Then he got lucky. A college friend told him to call his father, who worked in the industry. Through him, he met a woman who offered to take his head shots for free and an older male photographer who took him to some fancy parties. Brad figured that making it in Hollywood was going to be easier than he thought. Then he started to worry that the photographer was a creep, and that was the end of that.


Dino was depressed. His whole life he wanted to be a sports agent, but since that usually requires a law degree, he'd decided maybe being a talent agent was more up his alley. He knew he'd be moving to L.A. someday, and hoped to get out there by June. But at the end of spring semester, supposedly his last, he found out he needed another math credit in order to graduate, which meant he'd have to take a class over the summer.

In the meantime he looked for internships. He researched talent agencies, casting agencies and production companies online and sent out more than 60 resumes. He got a dozen calls back. One was from a guy named Marc Bass, who ran a small eponymous talent agency. Bass had grown up in Ohio and graduated from OSU too, which is why Dino's resume jumped out at him. He told Dino to call when he got to town but never expected to hear from him again. Midwestern boys work hard, but Bass knew that unless they were in L.A. when they first contacted him, 90% of the time they never actually moved west.

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