Is your only obstacle to breaking into the glitter factory that is showbiz your absence of any acting, singing, dancing, writing, or directing talent? Well, don’t start moving back in with Mom and Dad just yet: Here are nine jobs that may not get your name up in lights, but will get you near the bulbs.
CUE CARD HOLDER
ROLE MODEL Tony Mendez, Late Show With David Letterman
JOB DESCRIPTION As Dave’s personal letter man (known to viewers as ”Inky”), Mendez does all of his own printing. ”You have to learn how to print legibly and fast [for last-minute changes], and go out on the floor and not trip over anything, not drop the cards, not lose your spot, not bump the camera, and not cast a shadow.”
RESUME Began on variety shows in 1968 (like Dean Martin’s and Carol Burnett’s); after 20-year hiatus as Broadway dancer, did nine years on Saturday Night Live, 10 years so far on Late Show.
TRICKS OF THE TRADE The closer Mendez is to an actor, the smaller he writes so his reader’s eyes won’t move.
HOW TO BREAK in Jobs are few in New York, especially during card-dependent SNL’s off-season. But in L.A., try card agencies like the bicoastal Videocue (Mendez’s employer), and bring a steady hand, since you’ll have to print for the tryout. Younger applicants have an edge (agility is needed to dash around the set while avoiding cables and cameras), and though TV experience is not necessary, it is helpful, says Mendez. ”Somebody who’s been an intern in a TV studio and knows how to behave and not bother the stars has an edge.”
ROLE MODEL Tim Monich
JOB DESCRIPTION Helps actors think outside the voice box; usually stays for entire shoots to help them master accents.
RESUME As a Juilliard speech teacher, was first hired by producer friend to help Arnold Schwarzenegger in his looping sessions for 1984’s Conan the Destroyer. Eventually left professorship to work on more than 75 films, including Dead Man Walking, X-Men, and Leonardo DiCaprio’s next, Gangs of New York.
TRICKS OF THE TRADE ”The most important tool you have is your obsession.” When hired to teach an accent unfamiliar to him, Monich goes to the region for at least a week, listening to and taping locals.
HOW TO GET IN After studying voice and speech, work in the theater or as a teacher: The thespians you meet there will hire you when they become movie stars and need their tongues tutored, as did Monich’s Juilliard students Robin Williams, Kevin Spacey, and Val Kilmer.
ROLE MODEL Joseph Dianda
JOB DESCRIPTION What the cinematographer envisions, the key grip makes happen, inventing devices to set up tricky lighting or steer a sneaky camera move. ”Ninety percent of my job is solving problems. A good key grip has to have very good ideas and a mechanical skill to make things happen.”
RESUME Worked for free for a New York lighting house until landing jobs on commercials, industrials, and Troma movies and indies. Moved to L.A., got a grip on such features as Wag the Dog, Boogie Nights, and the upcoming thriller Glass House, with Diane Lane. ”It took me 15 years. Time will make you the best.”
TRICKS OF THE TRADE When Wag’s cinematographer wanted to light a mansion scene from above and the home’s owners forbade hanging lights, Dianda found a 16-foot helium balloon to suspend the bulbs from. ”Sometimes I use the expression ‘I’ll just MacGyver that together.”’
HOW TO GET IN Start as a lowly production assistant (read: entry-level grunt); PA jobs can be found by either networking through anyone remotely attached to the industry, or relentlessly calling production managers on films currently shooting (listed in each Friday’s Daily Variety). While on the set, learn all you can. ”It doesn’t matter if you’re working for a little bit of money — figure things out, then go in that direction full on.”
ROLE MODEL Keith Lanoux
JOB DESCRIPTION On rock tours (now with Marilyn Manson), he makes sure the guitarist doesn’t fret: He tunes up before show time, hands off new guitars between songs, and generally keeps all of the axman’s amps, pedals, and mechanics working.
RESUME While working with the band of Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony’s brother, met VH crew chief, who recommended him for a tour with metal rockettes Vixen in 1983. Graduated to bigger bands and tours of wildly varying styles, including Stone Temple Pilots and Air Supply. ”I don’t care who I work for, as long as they’re paying.”
TRICKS OF THE TRADE You don’t need to be a guitar god. Lanoux is a mechanical engineer who ”only knows three chords… but I can play them in any combination!”
HOW TO GET IN ”There’s no company or school to be one.” You can either work for a soon-to-be-signed band for free, learning everything on the job, and hope they hit big, or work at a guitar store where many musicians come in. ”When they go on the road, they say, ‘Hey, I need a tech,’ and you go with them.”
ROLE MODEL Chuck Yerger
JOB DESCRIPTION Teaches young singers on tour or actors on the set based on their regular schools’ curricula.
RESUME After 21 years in Pennsylvania public schools, moved near Orlando, Fla., where, on recommendation of former actress-student, signed up with leading tutor agency, On Location Education (OLE), and taught Melissa Joan Hart (during Clarissa Explains It All), and the Mickey Mouse Club’s teenyboppers-to-be (Britney, JC, Justin, Christina), among others.
JOB REQUIREMENTS In California (and on California-based traveling productions), ”studio teachers” — who also serve as on-set advocates, making sure all child labor laws are followed — must have elementary- and secondary-school credentials. Rules vary for other productions.
REFLECTED GLORY Yerger served as ‘N Sync’s Lance Bass’s lifeline during celebrity Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, helping him answer the 125,000-dollar question. ”The most terrifying 30 seconds of my life.”
HOW TO GET IN Once an accredited teacher, call an agency like OLE, but ”be willing to travel to where the work is.” Touring Broadway shows need tutors, as do films shooting at unpopular locations.
ROLE MODEL Steve Hollander
JOB DESCRIPTION He’s the set taskmaster on Late Night With Conan O’Brien, making sure scenery and props are in place, skit actors are cued, and guests are in makeup, and gives Conan the wrap-up signs.
RESUME After varied production jobs, ranging from running edit sessions to driving Bill Cosby to The Cosby Show set, got a PA gig on Late Night as it kicked off in 1993, and within a few months took over as the assistant stage manager. ”I’ve been with Conan since before there were desks.”
TRICKS OF THE TRADE With Conan, and on side jobs for NBA games (where he works solely with the commentators), he’s learned that ”sometimes some people’s demands are higher than others, and you have to learn to adapt to each [one’s]…. I want to make it comfortable for them without kissing their butts.”
HOW TO GET IN There’s no required career track, but working a wide array of TV jobs helps, since you’ll be dealing with every department. ”I’ve incorporated a little of each job I’ve had into being a stage manager.”
ROLE MODEL Keith W. White
JOB DESCRIPTION Captures every pratfall, wacky misunderstanding, and one-liner through his lens.
RESUME After USC film school, shot hour-long shows like Magnum, P.I. and Falcon Crest; moved to Newhart in the early ’80s because the two-day workweek let him coparent his daughter. Since then, has worked on Coach, Murphy Brown, and CBS’ new mid-season replacement, Kiss Me, Guido.
TRICKS OF THE TRADE With four-camera shoots on a tight stage, each cameraman needs to know where and when to move in the script. ”You need near-photographic memory and organized shorthand note-taking skills” for what the director tells you.
UPSIDE A sitcom crew generally remains intact throughout a show’s run, so you have 44 days’ guaranteed work (88 if you get on two comedies), and can be paid well enough to offset the six months off. However….
DOWNSIDE If your show’s axed, a new job is tough to find since other shows are staffed. ”All the ships are out to sea, and there’s no ships leaving…. Last year I had three shows canceled [including The Mike O’Malley Show] in a 12-month period…. You go from 100 percent income to eight percent.”
HOW TO GET IN First, learn to shoot in classes at film or extension schools. Once you’re camera-ready, join the I.A.T.S.E. Cinematographers Guild (you typically need 100 days’ paid experience within three years — anything from a commercial to a porn movie counts). Then start networking with producers by either stalking them at camera-rental houses or sneaking on studio lots. ”If you look bored, tired, and overpaid, you can walk into any studio. And a clipboard will get you in anywhere.”
ROLE MODEL Martha Pinson
JOB DESCRIPTION If an actor’s fake scar appears and disappears in the same movie scene, it’s her fault. The continuity queen sits next to the director, making sure all dialogue is said, that an actor’s movements, makeup, and clothing are consistent, and that no items large or tiny have been accidentally moved around the set.
RESUME Began as PA on indies, and sat in with script supervisors until she could take over; since then has worked on Dressed to Kill, Wall Street, and Bringing Out the Dead, among other New York productions.
TRICKS OF THE TRADE She also makes sure actors look realistically disheveled (if, say, the character has just woken up), but she won’t argue in the face of prima donnas. ”[I’ve had actors tell makeup artists], ‘I’m not getting out of bed looking like that. I refuse to look bad.’… I don’t interject too much on the interpretation. That can be frustrating, but you learn to butt out.”
HOW TO GET IN Jobs are all word of mouth, so it’s a matter of meeting someone on a set and impressing them with your love of detail. ”Paying attention and taking notes, that’s 80 percent of it.” You also must know how a film pieces together, so read books on continuity, screen direction, and editing, and spend time observing on a set and in a cutting room. ”You can see the results of sloppiness.”
ROLE MODEL Elma Linz Kanefield
JOB DESCRIPTION When performers — from actors to singers to dancers to clowns — are pouring their hearts into their work, this licensed clinical social worker gets into their heads. Her clientele ranges from the moderately successful to the fabulously famous (and don’t even think about getting her to spill names), and she helps them with both personal and professional quandaries, which are usually the same thing. ”My office is a metaphor for ‘all the world is a stage’…. You can’t do on stage what you can’t do off stage. [For example], if you can’t trust yourself off stage, you can’t trust yourself on stage.”
RESUME She knows the mind of the performer from the inside, having pursued a career as an opera singer. When her voice abruptly cut out at age 26 due to what she thought was a psychological block, she found a new voice in her present profession. She practiced in St. Louis before relocating to New York (where she founded Juilliard’s department of psychological services), and now exclusively treats performers in a private practice. ”The profession, the public, and also the craft can really exacerbate or create psychological problems if someone is vulnerable to them. That’s showbiz!”
TRICKS OF THE TRADE Her office has a piano and small stage, so her patients can express themselves through their talents. ”I’ll make suggestions about a feeling, ‘What if you were feeling x, y, or z, how would that sound on the piano?’ It’s a way to break through in a language they know well.”
HOW TO DO IT First, you need to work on your own psychological well-being, according to Elma. Then there’s the small matter of getting your graduate degree in either social work, psychology, or psychiatry. And perhaps equally important, it helps to have, if not experience in the performing arts, at least a basic understanding of the field. ”I know the audition process, I know the rehearsal process, I know the teaching process. They don’t feel like they’re speaking a foreign language [with me].”