Bowling with Jason Bateman and Kiefer Sutherland
by Dani Alpert
I was a sophomore film student at NYU when I decided to spend the summer working in Hollywood. I wanted nothing more than to experience a professional shoot. If I was going to have a career in the business of show, then I needed to pop my Hollywood cherry, so to speak.
“It’s who you know,” is a cliche for a reason. I was fortunate to have one of the biggest entertainment lawyers in my family (through marriage) in my stable of limited contacts (I was only 19) and he hooked me up with my first PA job. It was the NBC television movie, Can You Feel Me Dancing?, starring Justine Bateman, Jason Bateman and Max Gail. It was the story of a young blind woman struggling for her independence. Just like me, minus the blind part.
The blessings didn’t stop there. My boyfriend at the time was friends with one of Richard Pryor’s daughter’s. She would be in New York for the summer, so her mother wanted to rent her bedroom. Wait. Not only would I be working with Mallory Keaton but I would be sleeping in Richard Pryor’s daughter’s bed. I had hit the jackpot. I felt famous even before doing anything.
During the first week of pre-production, I met Justine. I tried hard to be cool and at the end of our conversation, she confessed her envy of my film school studies. Shit, I didn’t want her to feel bad about not going to college, so I said something like, “It’s never too late. If you really want to go, you’ll go.” She was still on Family Ties, and I was pretty sure that she wasn’t going to leave the show to spend three hours studying the opening credits of Chinatown, like I had to.
I was sent on many errands, to many vendors, taking many freeways during my Hollywood summer. Remember, there weren’t cell phones, GPS or Mapquest in 1986 and I got lost every single friggin’ outing. Every time that I returned to the office (sometimes hours later) I expected to be fired. However, these mishaps taught me how to be resourceful and think on my feet. After twenty plus years in the business, working as a production assistant prepared me for every job that followed.
I wasn’t fired and I made it to production and onto the set. It was love at first sight. I had no idea what I was doing or what a Gaffer was, but I was hungry. I learned the importance of hustling and not to stand around waiting for direction. These skills served me well when I started pursuing a career in writing and hunting for an agent.
I got cozy with the set photographer, who was friends with Justine, and one night she invited me to go bowling. Much to my delighted surprise, Jason Bateman and Kiefer Sutherland joined us. Yup, I bowled with Kiefer. I was getting more and more famous by the hour. This was it. This was going to be my life. This was the break that I needed; bowling with Kiefer Sutherland and Jason Bateman.
The thing about being young and naive is that you don’t know that sitting in a director’s chair, next to the producer, to pick his brain, just isn’t done. I had balls back then. Some days I miss those balls.
On the last day of production, a Grip asked me why I was going back to school. He thought it was a waste of time, especially since I had a foot in the door. My parents didn’t agree. After graduating, I moved to Hollywood and stayed for 16 years. I’m not advocating that people don’t go to film school, but I learned all that I needed to know from my first PA experience.
I never tired of being on a set. Although I stopped PA’ing shortly after arriving in Hollywood, I always carried that excited 19-year old PA virgin around with me. Now that I’m a writer and filmmaker, I still reference that first PA gig. I gained an invaluable work ethic, and a broad understanding of how movies are made.
I learned from professionals what you cannot learn from a book. There is no substitute for hands on experience and I am grateful to have popped my cherry on Can You Feel Me Dancing?.
I used to wonder what would’ve happened had I stayed in L.A in 1986. Who knows, I could now be one of Kiefer’s ex-wives.Tags: Breaking into Hollywood, Can You Feel Me Dancing?, Dani Alpert, Entertainment industry, Hollywood, Jason Bateman, Justine Bateman, Kiefer Sutherland, Life lessons, Production assistant (PA), Writer-Director