Busy production company seeks receptionist
by Gaylyn Fraiche
My first job in Hollywood came from a blind ad in The Hollywood Reporter. I was armed with my three-week-old Radio-TV-Film degree from the University of Texas and eager to start my career in movies and TV. I wanted to be a producer to tell great stories that inspired others the way that movies and television have inspired me. I had no connections. My aunt’s friend let me stay with her. My plan was to stay for two weeks to find a place to live, get my stuff and come back and find a job. Ironically, my friend had no TV, so I was trolling the trades partly out of boredom.
I called the phone number listed in the ad a few minutes before 9:00am. The head of administration answered the phone and had me go in that morning. She told me they did made-for-TV movies and series. One of the partners had won the Emmy the year before for Inherit the Wind. I was good to go! In the midst of my good interview with the partner’s executive assistant, he interrupted because he needed her. When they were done, she coaxed him into meeting me… for 5 minutes. She told me later his response was something like, “She’s fine. Hire her if you want.” I started as their new receptionist the next day.
It was a real working production company with a staff of about 10 people. They made 3-5 MOWs a year and did 3 series in the time I was there. The first TV series up was The Outsiders. It was based on the beloved S.E. Hinton novel that was also one of my favorite movies. I was thrilled!
I loved that job. Being at the front of a small office, I met every writer, director, actor and crew member who walked in the door. I befriended them and got their life stories while they were sitting in the lobby. If you know me, you know I’m not exaggerating. I learned about development, production and post production. I was a sponge. I made one of my best friends. We went to sets after work to see everyone in action. We were “the girls from the office,” and our in-house transportation coordinator would walk us right up behind the camera so we had a bird’s eye view.
Casting was often done out of our office. I saw every actor I’d ever liked on TV. I met people like Robert Wagner, Robert Blake and Chuck Connors. My boss thought I was too young to know who The Rifleman was, and he couldn’t understand why some 20 something was drooling over Robert Wagner.
One of my favorite stories took place when they were down to the wire casting the lead in a series. We were 3 days from shooting and had seen every cute actor between the ages of 28-45. Test deals were in place. The EPs, writer, casting director and studio execs were disagreeing loudly in the conference room next to my desk. I had met every actor who came in… and there were no women on the creative team. My boss opened the conference room door, pointed at me and said, “Get in here and tell them who you like.” I did, and they all grilled me as to why, etc. It was heated.
Here I learned a huge lesson: people in Hollywood want your opinion, especially if it validates theirs. My boss knew I liked the same actor he did. Good thing I didn’t change my mind! That actor got the role, and we are still friends to this day.
A couple of the lessons weren’t as fun. I was downsized for the first time, when their deal expired. We all felt like we were a family. Lesson there: it wasn’t personal, it was business. They did take care of me by making me a freelance reader and hiring me on the movies to do set PA work. When they got another series, they brought me in to be the writers’ assistant. We still keep in touch and I had lunch with one of the partners recently, who contacted me after he saw my name on a movie poster.
I didn’t go to film school to answer phones, but I learned everything I could from that job and moved up the ladder. Attitude is everything. Get your foot in the door. I wish everyone starting out to have such a good experience and pay it forward to the next generation coming in.Tags: Entertainment industry, First Hollywood job, Gaylyn Fraiche, Hollywood, Life lessons, Production, Robert Wagner, Television