Climbing the Gates of Paramount – Valuable Tips on How to Break Into the Film Biz

In defense of Aleksey Vayner… I don’t know how many of you are aware of this guy. He’s a junior at Yale who sent a video resume to financial institutions. On the video, he stages a mock interview with a screen presence that rivals the pretension of William F. Buckley. In a comical, self-important tone, Vayner talks about his personal philosophy, which sounds like a pastiche of some well-worn self-help motivational books and dialogue from the “Rambo” franchise. Things like, “Failure is not an option.” Then, to really push the “resume” into the absurd, Vayner includes clips of himself supposedly ski jumping, breaking a stack of bricks with a martial arts strike, ballroom dancing, hitting a “140 mph” tennis serve and lifting “495 lbs.”… damn, just short of 500. I like the way he showed some restraint, here. I mean, who would believe that he could bench press 500 lbs? But 495… sure.

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So, he may have embellished his exploits a bit. Some joker in the personnel department at one of the investment firms that Vayner applied to leaked the video resume. A little site called YouTube (valued at a 1.65 gazillion dollars) got a hold of it and the rest is history. The kid is the laughing stock of the internet – which, I guess, means the world.

Yale newspapers and blogs have had a field day feeding on one of their own. And honestly, I feel sorry for the kid. He didn’t want everyone to see this video. Just prospective employers. And sure, that’s a little stupid. But what’s with all those ponces at Yale making fun of him? Haven’t we all done stupid shit? I’m the King of Stupid Shit. The kid was just trying to get a job. Although, Vayner also claims to have authored a book, Women’s Silent Tears, a women’s perspective of the Holocaust, which consists of plagiarized passages from other books. Okay, so maybe he’s a little nuts.

I am reminded, however, of my own attempt to find employment while roaming around New York, suffering from something like dissociative fugues during the recession of the early 90’s. I wrote a series of humorous (or, so I thought) letters to magazines. The letter was corny and I’d hate to have anyone publish it. All I remember was ending it with, “At least interview me, I own a great new suit.”

A couple of the magazines actually called and asked me to come in for an interview. The interviews were disasters. The junior editor of a magazine, Connoisseur, was very cool and informed me that I would need a trust fund to work at the magazine and survive in New York. All the other new employees had them. In fact, he made it clear that I may be the only guy in New York City without a trust fund.

My next interview was Vogue magazine.

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I don’t remember who I interviewed with but I remember that she looked like my alcoholic/saidistic 6th grade math teacher. Her face looked like one of those Northern European renaissance portraits by Jan Van Eyck or Hans Holbein of royalty who pose with an expression that looks like they are in desparate need of a good shit.

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She asked me what it was about Vogue that I found interesting. I told her that I thought the magazine smelled really good. I then laughed too loud out of nervousness. She managed to not move one muscle in her face in response. I could have stood up and urinated on the coffee table between us and generated less disdain.

I didn’t get the job. In fact, I barely made enough money to survive that year, slept on couches of college friends with practical degrees in finance and listed my occupation as “Malcontent” on my IRS return.

So, how far have I come?

A few months ago, I surpassed some of my past stupidity in the interview process. I was up for a pretty high profile job at Paramount. MTV Films was thinking of re-making Urban Cowboy.

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I worked with a producer and put together a treatment. In fact, I spent so much time developing this thing… discussing, endlessly, what Bud’s dream is and what Sissy’s dream is. Character arcs and narrative spines and all that shit that development executives love to talk about ‘til the fucking cows come home. In fact, I could have filmed a clay-mation version of the film all by myself in the time we spent discussing Bud’s character arc. And, honestly, the most impressive thing about the original was Debra Winger riding a mechanical bull in a flimsy top. It literally launched me into puberty.

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So, anyway, this was my final pitch to MTV Films. I got to the Paramount gate and realized that I forgot my wallet. Since 9/11, the studios are insane about security. They wouldn’t let me in. I told them that I was expected at MTV Films. Yes, I was on the list with a drive-on pass, but without an ID to prove who I was, someone from MTV would have to come to the gate and walk me in.

I drove away. I was too embarrassed to have everyone in the meeting know that I was stuck at the gate. So, I drove into the adjacent neighborhood and parked on the street. I walked past the main gate and along the wall surrounding the studio compound. That’s it. Fuck it! I’m going over the wall.

paramount.jpgIt’s not an easy wall to get over. You have to find a remote area, preferably far away from the building in which your meeting is scheduled. At this point, I was late and imagined executives at MTV watching as a prospective writer/director climbs over the studio wall outside their window.

I found a spot and began climbing, immediately grateful for all the pull-ups I’ve done at Venice Beach.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
Studio security. I didn’t even see him walk up.
How does one respond? “I’m going over the wall,” I say.
“I can see that.”

I thought about running. I could have outrun him. But I felt stupid. There, I was… a man in his 30’s climbing a wall to get a job.

A mild, perfunctory threat of arrest was made, but I could tell the Security Guard’s heart wasn’t in it and I detected a degree of admiration that I actually made the climb.

Someone eventually had to come from MTV Films and escort me onto the lot. I felt like I was taken to the principal’s office. As for Urban Cowboy, I didn’t get the job. After all that work, detailed treatment and the distillation of “Bud and Sissy’s dream.” And my erotic memories of Debra Winger on the bull. And my climbing skills.  My agent told me that things are pretty shaky and unstable at Paramount  right now and the project wasn’t moving forward. Frankly, I think I shit the bed on the pitch. I was a little distracted, after all (and winded).

So, back to our young Yalie, Aleksey Vayner. a-vayner-dancing.jpg

I hope the guy gets a job and he can laugh at this misstep eventually. Internet infamy is ephemeral, let’s hope. If someone has footage of my athletic entrance onto the Paramount lot, I wouldn’t mind a good laugh at my expense. That kind of perspective comes with age. And being the King of Stupid Shit.

And, finally, here’s the tip: If you really want to break into Hollywood… and nothing else works… there’s a little section of the wall surrounding Paramount Studios near the corner of Melrose and Van Owen that is relatively easy to scale. I suggest comfortable shoes with traction.

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4 responses to “Climbing the Gates of Paramount – Valuable Tips on How to Break Into the Film Biz

  1. OH MY GOD.
    I can’t believe you were caught by Paramount security. I can’t believe you even tried to scale the fence.

    I think you should go ahead with your claymation Urban Cowboy.

  2. Great story! Have you ever considered a career in mountain climbing?

  3. Bill, I probably should consider a career in mountain climbing. Of course, I’ll have to clear that with my agent, manager and lawyer. And make sure they get 10%.
    I do have a fear of heights. That could be limiting. But I also have a fear of blood-sucking, lying bastards and that never stopped me from pursuing a career in Hollywood.

  4. SusanHudgensMoore

    Good to read that you still know the guy who sent headshot on a campaign poster to get an interview.

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