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Dear Diary, my life officially begins today

by Abdi Nazemian

My first Hollywood job was not actually in Hollywood, but in New York. I was in college; a freshman whose cubicle-sized dorm was covered in wall-to-wall photographs of old movie stars. With black-and-white images of Dietrich, Crawford, Harlow and their fellow goddesses staring down at me, I dreamed of a career in the movies.

Perhaps that’s why I responded to an ad for a job as a locations intern on the set of a movie called The Pallbearer, starring one “Friend” (David Schwimmer) and one relatively unknown actress named Gwyneth Paltrow. I had no idea what a locations intern was, but I knew it would get me into the inner circle of the dream factory. My only previous brush with the film industry came when I was twelve years old and asked to audition for the Al Pacino movie, Sea of Love (they needed a boy my age who could speak Farsi). The day I auditioned, I wrote, “Dear Diary, my life officially begins today.” I didn’t get the part, and my life’s commencement was indefinitely postponed.

My time on the set of The Pallbearer did not start well. I was told that there was no room for me in the transportation van, and that I would have to take the subway to work. This wasn’t so bad when we were shooting in Manhattan. I remember one joyful day when we found a stray dog on the street, and the young actress named Gwyneth adopted him, and named him after the street we were shooting on.

Abdi at eighteen

“The least authoritative person in Brooklyn.”

Then the production moved to Brooklyn (the Brooklyn of 1995). While the rest of the crew rode in the comfort of the van, I took the rickety aboveground J train to the set, a cemetery far above street level. My job was to stay on street level with a walkie-talkie. When word came through my walkie-talkie, I was to ask the people of Brooklyn to be quiet because an important film was shooting in their neighborhood cemetery. I was a skinny eighteen-year old club kid in hand-painted, glitter-covered platform shoes. I was, in short, the least authoritative person in the neighborhood, and uniquely unsuited for the internship.

I came to dread the subway ride to the set. It felt like an old wooden roller coaster, and I didn’t even have the courage for modern steel roller coasters. One day, I was standing on the street with my walkie-talkie, waiting for instruction. Instruction never came. I spent a whole day doing nothing but standing and waiting. I didn’t know then that standing and waiting was the norm for most movie sets, and I decided I had better things to do. I had philosophers to read for my core curriculum classes, Dietrich films I hadn’t yet seen, club kids to befriend, and shoes to douse in glitter.

And most importantly, I had a burning desire never to get on that J train again. I walked up to the cemetery, returned my walkie-talkie, and sashayed away from my first Hollywood job. Not long after, I caught a headline on the cover of The New York Post. There was a major collision on the J train, which killed the motorman and injured fifty passengers. I shuddered, imagining myself on that train.

I may have given up a lot by walking away from that walkie-talkie, but I learned to trust my gut, and my gut told me that what I loved about film was storytelling, not locations. My next Hollywood job was an internship for director Alan J. Pakula. I didn’t interact with him often. He was usually in his office working on a script about FDR. Still, I was inspired by the creative energy that quietly buzzed through his offices. During my internship for Pakula, I read countless wonderful scripts; the first was Being John Malkovich.

At the end of the internship, the Director of Development told me that if I was serious about a career in film, I should buy a one-way ticket to Los Angeles. I took her advice. There was one little problem, though. I barely knew how to drive. I felt safer on that J train than I did behind the wheel of my Rav4, but with some effort, I eventually learned how to drive. And with even more effort, I learned how to find my voice as a screenwriter and author, which I’ve come to realize is the Hollywood job I always wanted.

Abdi Nazemian

About Abdi Nazemian

Abdi Nazemian has written four produced films, and way too many unproduced films. Abdi is not the inspiration for Madonna’s children’s book The Adventures of Abdi, though the illustrations do look suspiciously like him. His first novel, The Walk-In Closet, was just published by Curtis Brown Digital. Set against the backdrop of "Tehrangeles," it tells the story of two best friends juggling a fictional relationship, trying to make it in Hollywood, and searching for meaning. You can visit Abdi at his website abdaddy.com and follow him on Twitter @Abdaddy and Facebook.

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