It was 10 years ago today that yours truly moved to New York.
Well, sort of.
Have I told this story before? I don't know ... I'm now old and senile ... or at least 35 and senile. Depending on your perspective, you can choose which phrase to go with. All I know is that the past decade has flown by while taking forever. The events leading to and involving my move seem like they were just yesterday while also feeling like a lifetime ago. These contradictions make perfect sense, however, because my move to New York was something that took a long time to happen very quickly.
At the beginning of 1994, I was 24 years old, two years out of UCLA (sans degree), a bit over seven years into my Los Angeles sentence, a brief career as an entertainment journalist behind me, and working at a small but very reputable talent and literary agency in Beverly Hills. Having never wanted to be an agent, though, and feeling like it was time to move on and get to work in development and production, preferably for a producer or director, I decided it was time to move on. In fact, it was the previous September that I had come to New York and decided that not only did I need to leave L.A., but I had to, at some point in my life, live in New York City.
So I then proceeded to look for a job in New York while living in L.A. But not just any job. Oh, no. I wasn't prepared to come back here and wait tables or work in a bookstore or what have you; I was coming from a good position, and I didn't want to put a halt on my career progress. (A decision that, of course, became someone ironic some years later.) I was only going to come to New York for the right job.
For most of the end of 1995 and beginning of 1996, I was focused on finding that perfect job at some production company -- Good Machine, Tribeca, Killer, etc. -- that would enable me to pack up and leave my annoying Los Angeles life for an exciting New York one. In the mean time, I had grown out of my job at the agency; my boss (who loved me) knew I didn't want to be an agent, and I didn't push for a promotion (which she would have given me, I'm sure); and I was pretty unhappy there, even as I kept working 10-14 hour days for very little money. And yet, when a casting director offered to hook me up with an interview to be Tony Scott's assistant, I said no. When another told me Joel Schumacher was looking for an assistant, I passed. Not because I didn't want to work for either of them, but rather because if I got and took one of those jobs, how could I continue to look for something in New York, potentially get it, and leave right away? (Easy, of course. It happens all the time, especially in the film industry in L.A. But I had a hard time thinking that way. Still do, in fact.)
Of course, when you have very few New York contacts and even fewer (read: no) New York friends, it's quite difficult to find a position in as small and insular a world as the New York film industry. I came close to something, I thought, in April, after a then-client at the agency (Noah Emmerich, who can currently be seen in Little Children) put me in contact with his brother who was an exec at New Line Cinema. (That would Toby Emmerich, at the time the President of Music at New Line before becoming the President of Production, a position he still holds). I was told about a job as assistant to the then-Exec VP of Fine Line Features, a guy named Jonathan Weisgal, and as my "in" was pretty good, I was able to get an interview in L.A.. (If you've been in and around "the biz" for a while, you've probably heard of him. I won't suppose whether what you've heard is good or bad ... and I'll just leave it at that.) I really thought I had the job. We seemed to get along, and even in our interview, he proposed a schedule, if he decided to choose me. And at the time, Fine Line would have been a great place to be able to come to.
My optimistic thoughts about getting this job lasted for a good four-to-five weeks before I found out (accidentally, in fact, during a follow-up phone call) that someone else had been hired not just for that position but also for another position that Weisgal was having me considered for at Fine Line in L.A. Well, this was a pretty big blow, and by mid-May, I had kind of given up on my New York dream, at least for the time being, realizing that I just needed to get into a new job, away from the agency. I managed to get several meetings and interviews, some even for positions I was really excited about, but nothing came about. Meanwhile, my boss had decided that it would be in my best interest for her to light a fire under me: she wanted to create an end date for my working there, whether I had another job or not. She figured this would make me look harder ... or something.
As luck, fate, fortune or whatever you want to call it would have it, I wound up finding what seemed like the perfect job almost by accident. One of the agents at the agency was a good friend of mine named Stephen, and he was from New York. He was coming here for the Jewish holidays, and I decided that I would drive home to San Francisco for Rosh Hashanah, fly to New York after the holiday, hang-out with my friend for about a week, fly back to San Francisco before Yom Kippur, and then drive home to L.A.
My agent friend had a client who also happened to be Harvey Weinstein's senior personal assistant named Chris. Harvey apparently loved Chris, because he would continuously decide to quit in order to pursue his screenwriting career, and in order to keep him, Harvey would give him a raise or add a perk or allow him to work fewer days during the week. (I think he was down to three days in the office at the time.) After a great week just walking around visiting bars, Stephen and I went to have lunch with Chris at Cippriani Downtown. It was Sept. 21, 1996 -- I obviously remember because that happened to be my birthday; my 25th birthday, in fact, which I considered a big deal because it meant that a) my car insurance rates would drop and b) I could rent a car from any company anywhere in the country. (Yeah, these were milestones!)
As we sat at lunch, we talked about a bunch of stuff, especially Chris's jobs and, more interestingly, the perks he was receiving at that time working for Miramax, which seemed counter to anything else one had ever heard. But he seemed to have it cushy. He asked us if we wanted to see a Broadway show -- Rent was less than a year old at the time and mid-hype, so he got us free tickets to us. He arranged for a car to take us there and everything. VIP treatment for no reason ... go figure.
Then he said to me, "Stephen tells me you want to move to New York. You know, Bob is looking for an assistant." Bob as in Bob Weinstein who at the time was concentrating heavily on Dimension Films because Scream had recently come out as a big hit and Dimension was ramping up all its activity. "But you don't want to work at Miramax. The place is totally disfunctional, and nobody knows what they're doing."
I had heard all the rumors about working at Miramax, but I also always thought you probably couldn't wind up at a place more central to the New York film industry at the time. If the big-four agencies at the time (CAA, ICM, William Morris and UTA) were the hub of activity and information in LA, 375 Greenwich Street (the home of Miramax) seemed to be the hub in New York, regardless of how other industry-ites felt about that or the company.
"But Colin Callender at HBO NYC is looking for an assistant," Chris continued. " I know because they wanted to hire me. He's great, and they're new and doing exciting things. I can put you in touch with him if you like."
This excited the hell out of me, though. I had heard of HBO NYC Productions; it had been created just about seven months earlier, and I remembered reading about it in Variety. It was to be a smaller counterpart to HBO Pictures, creating edgier, more 90s indie film-like fare for the network, which at the time was still far better known for its original films than original series. HBO NYC was going to be the Fine Line to HBO Pictures' New Line, or the Miramax to Disney's ... well, Disney/Touchstone/Hollywood.
But I was also excited because I knew my boss in L.A., Susan Smith, was friends with Colin. I called her from lunch; she called Colin; he gave her the number of his outgoing, soon-to-be-promoted assistant, which she passed on to me; and the ball was rolling.
I was back in L.A. by Sept. 24. During the next two weeks, I met with Colin's outgoing assistant, and then I met with Colin one morning in the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Before the end of our interview, he had hired me.
I had two weeks to wrap-up my life in L.A., get out of my apartment lease, sell my car and other furniture I wasn't going to bring, pack-up, figure out where I would stay and hopefully live in New York, and all the other things involved in a cross-country move to a place where you know a total of three people. It was terrifying and the most exciting thing I've ever done. And on Oct. 23, 1996, just a month past my 25th birthday, I started work at HBO. (HBO NYC Productions was merged with HBO Pictures to become the single HBO Films in 1999 when Colin was promoted to become the President of the entire division and moved to Los Angeles.)
So, that "sort of" from above. It's complicated. You see, I guess in a way, I moved here on Oct. 22, since that's the day I actually flew from L.A. to New York. But on the other hand, I went back to L.A. four days later (after three days of work) for four days to finish packing and moving -- I didn't actually vacate my L.A. apartment until the following weekend. And for those first four nights, I stayed on a friend's couch. The tiny but great-deal studio I lucked into on E. 3rd St. didn't become mine until I returned the following week on Oct. 29, not returning to L.A. again for a year or two. And then all the stuff that was delivered by my movers ... well that didn't get there until mid-November.
But since I tied my move to getting a job, and since the actual dates are all over the place, I've always treated that first day at HBO NYC as the day I moved, the day my New York life began.
Now ... 10 years later, it's more than simply "bizarre" to look back, for more reasons than I care to get into in this space. Ten years ago, 42nd Street was at the beginning of its transformation and Disneyfication. Ten years ago, the thought of another Bush in the White House would have seemed laughable. Ten years ago, this internet thing was just starting to really explode and make lots of people rich ... and others, not-so-much. Ten years ago, there was no TiVo/DiVo, I was still watching everything on VHS, and I walked around with a stuffed CD case and portable CD player rather than an iPod. Ten years ago, the Lower East Side was still ungentrified and crossing Avenue B in the East Village took a ton of courage; I never even though of walking all the way to C. Ten years ago, I bought my first air conditioner at Nobody Beats the Wiz. Ten years ago, Renee Zellweger said, "You had me at "hello," and The English Patient was on its way to being named Best Picture over Fargo. Ten years ago, The WB and UPN were still new, the former premiering Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the latter ... still a joke! Ten years ago, Gene Kelly, George Burns, Krzysztof Kieślowski, Ella Fitzgerald, Claudette Colbert, Carl Sagan, Tiny Tim and both Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls died. Ten years ago, I never really thought about if I'd still be here ten years later. Ten years ago, I never anticipated I would be priced out of Manhattan. Ten years ago, I never could have imaged what New York would look like now. Ten years ago, I couldn't picture what it might mean to turn 35.
OK, with that last one, I guess I still can't. But that, I suppose, is just one reason why 10 years seems so long and so short ... all at the same time.