“Tribeca Productions, this is Jane.”
by Jane Gering
“Tribeca Productions, this is Jane.”
A large black phone with endless extensions sat before me. The small digital clock to the left of my early-issue Apple computer clicked to “9:01.” All hell broke loose. Ringing, buzzing, more blinking lights than the Mars Rover…
“I have Scott Rudin…” (Where’d they have him?)
“I have Byrdie Lifson Pompan from CAA…” (A bird landed where?)
I fielded each incoming call the best I could. Sloppily writing every four syllable, hyphenated name down on a lined pad in front of me so that I could transfer them onto the lined phone sheet when the onslaught subsided. I felt like an ADHD elf from the North Pole. Good list. Bad list. Left word (where’d they leave it?). Call back.
“Tribeca Productions, this is Jane.” I said.
A booming voice on the other end launched into a complicated dissertation about back end points and break-evens. It was my first day working for Robert De Niro’s long-standing and legendary partner, Jane Rosenthal, and I knew immediately what was going on. The high profile lawyer screaming at me on speakerphone had mistaken me for my boss. While part of me enjoyed this uncensored window into the wheeling and dealing that made up a typical Hollywood phone call, I quickly thought better of it and outed myself as “the wrong Jane.”
Embarrassed and annoyed, the lawyer coldly snapped, “Well then, don’t answer the phone and identify yourself as Jane when clearly she’s THE JANE that counts.”
Before I had had time to spill Jane’s cappuccino, mess up her sushi order from Nobu or forget to send a town car for an Oscar-winning screenwriter in town for twenty-four hours of very expensive re-write work (all things I’d do before day’s end), the core of my identity was already being challenged. In the first twenty minutes of my career. All that I thought I was (Jane from Varsity Lacrosse, Jane from Greenwich, CT, Jane from Yale, etc.) was seemingly gone. Sure, I’d been warned that first jobs (and especially first days at first jobs) could be difficult, but even compared to some of the ridiculous “tie-my-shoe” antics my fellow recent graduates were reporting from the bowels of Wall Street, a loss of personal identity seemed to go beyond reasonable.
My name meant something to me, to my friends, my former teammates, my family and as I stared at the blue and white photo of the Greek Parthenon on my lukewarm cup of deli coffee, I vowed not to go down without a Herculean fight.
But by Wednesday, the morning after my boss erroneously received a plastic bag from Fairway Market with my lost umbrella, and the messenger service delivered a stack of “must act now” spec scripts to my apartment instead, I knew it was time to address the issue. Perhaps she’d like to go by Ms. Rosenthal, I wondered? As I followed Jane into her office and began reviewing the chocolate brown Filofax she kept neatly by her phone, it hit me.
Could I negotiate the talent deals for Wag the Dog? Or give notes to David Mamet in twenty minutes? Or speak to Wendy Wasserstein at lunch about the problems with her second act? Or meet the contractors at The Grill to go over the plans for the new sprinkler system? Or pick the title credits for the NBC pilot? Because if people call and think they are speaking to Jane, that kind of checkerboard dexterity was what was expected.
Everything I had done as Jane Long wasn’t gone exactly. It had bought me the ticket to this moment — to the too big, poly-blend blazer from French Connection, to the uncomfortable Aldo loafers, to the new too short bangs, to the purse with a MetroCard in the side pocket, to this room. But now that I was here, she was Jane from Tribeca and I was the person with the clipboard standing next to her. For the past twenty years, she had earned her “Jane” first on Broadway, then at CBS and now in New York and my only proof of ownership was a notarized birth certificate.
Despite its superficial foibles, what that lawyer had tried to tell me was that at its core, Hollywood is a meritocracy. It’s not an old boys network, a country club or the Junior League. It wasn’t my place to get Jane to change her name, quite the opposite.
Hollywood is a “put up or shut up” kind of place, a big cattle call of a commercial and if I wanted my name in the title, I’d better be prepared to do the work to get it.
I shrugged as I passed Jane the padded envelopes of scripts I’d mistakenly received the night before. “My middle name is Alexander. Maybe you can call me something to do with that?” Too busy for her assistant’s existential crisis, Jane waved her hand in the air and signaled me to start reading the names from her phone sheet.
Five days later, as the out-of-town, Friday night diners finished their New York Strips and made their way out of the Tribeca Grill, I sat with my Brother P-Touch on my desk and a leftover spicy tuna roll balanced in my lap. The phone rang one last time. I leapt for my Plantronics earpiece and lifted the receiver.
“You’re still there?” Jane asked over the background sound of soft music and children playing.
I responded that I was and after going over her travel plans to London on Sunday, the logistics for a table reading back in New York on Tuesday and the weekend reading list, she paused for a second.
“I got it. “
“Got what?” I asked. My mind racing through the packages, FedExes and shopping bags I had sent uptown.
“If you make it through the month, we’ll call you Little Jane.”
I smiled at myself in the dark warehouse window over my desk.
“Little Jane? Sounds good.” I said readily.
Never has a below-the-line title felt so above-the-line.Tags: Breaking into Hollywood, Byrdie Lifson Pompan, David Mamet, Entertainment industry, Hollywood, Hollywood assistant, Jane Gering, Jane Rosenthal, Scott Rudin, Tribeca Productions, Wag the Dog, Wendy Wasserstein